'Antiquities of Scotland' Index

The footnotes in (brackets) where written by Robert Burns himself to help explain the poem. I have added the usual crosses with explanation of the language used. The poem is included due to the references to the caves below Culzean Castle, however it is a fascinating insight into the old traditions associated with Halloween and well worth struggling through!


by Robert Burns

"The following poem will, by many readers, be well enough understood; but for the sake of those who are unacquainted with the manners and traditions of the country where the scene is cast, notes are added to give some account of the principal charms and spells of that night, so big with prophecy to the peasantry in the west of Scotland. The passion of prying into futurity makes a striking part of the history of human nature in its rude state, in all ages and nations; and it may be some entertainment to a philosophic mind, if any such honour the author with a perusal, to see the remains of it among the more unenlightened in our own." -Robert Burns

Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain,

The simple pleasure of the lowly train;

To me more dear, congenial to my heart,

One native charm, than all the gloss of art.


Upon that night, when fairies light (1)
   On Cassilis Downans
(2) dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
   On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the route is ta'en,
   Beneath the moon's pale beams;
There, up the cove
(3), to stray and rove,
   Among the rocks and streams
                          To sport that night.

(1)Is thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other mischief-making beings are abroad on their baneful midnight errands; particularly those aerial people, the fairies, are said on that night to hold a grand anniversary. - Robert Burns

(2)Certain little, romantic, rocky, green hills, in the neighbourhood of the ancient seat of the Earls of Cassilis. - Robert Burns

(3)A noted cavern near Colean house, called the Cove of Colean; which, as well as Cassilis Downans, is famed, in country story, for being a favorite haunt of fairies. - Robert Burns

Among the bonny winding banks,
   Where Doon rins, wimplin' clear,
Where Bruce
(4) ance ruled the martial ranks,
   And shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
   Together did convene,
To burn their nits, and pou their stocks,
   An' haud their Halloween
                           Fu' blithe that night.

 (4)The famous family of that name, the ancestors of Robert, the great deliverer of his country, were Earls of Carrick. - Robert Burns

The lasses feat, and cleanly neat,
   Mair braw than when they're fine;
Their faces blithe, fu' sweetly kythe,
   Hearts leal, and warm, and kin';
The lads sae trig, wi' wooer-babs,
   Weel knotted on their garten,
Some unco blate, and some wi' gabs,
   Gar lasses' hearts gang startin'
                           Whiles fast at night.

Then, first and foremost, through the kail,
   Their stocks (5) maun a' be sought ance;
They steek their een, and graip and wale,
   For muckle anes and straught anes.
Poor hav'rel Will fell aff the drift,
   And wander'd through the bow-kail,
And pou't, for want o' better shift,
   A runt was like a sow-tail,
                             Sae bow't that night.

(5)The first ceremony of Halloween is pulling each a "stock," or plant of kail. They must go out, hand in hand, with eyes shut, and pull the first they meet with: its being big or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells-the husband or wife. If any "yird," or earth, stick to the root, that is "tocher," or fortune; and the taste of the "custock," that is, the heart of the stem, is indicative of the natural temper and disposition. Lastly, the stems, or, to give them their ordinary appellation, the "runts," are placed somewhere above the head of the door; and the Christian names of the people whom chance brings into the house are, according to the priority of placing the "runts," the names in question. - Robert Burns

Then, staught or crooked, yird or nane,
   They roar and cry a' throu'ther;
The very wee things, todlin', rin,
   Wi' stocks out owre their shouther;
And gif the custoc's sweet or sour.
   Wi' joctelegs they taste them;
Syne cozily, aboon the door,
   Wi cannie care, they've placed them
                             To lie that night.

The lasses staw frae 'mang them a'
   To pou their stalks of corn: (6)
But Rab slips out, and jinks about,
   Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippet Nelly hard and fast;
   Loud skirled a' the lasses;
But her tap-pickle maist was lost,
   When kiuttlin' in the fause-house(7)
                             Wi' him that night.

(6)They go to the barnyard, and pull each, at three different times, a stalk of oats. If the third stalk wants the "top-pickle," that is, the grain at the top of the stalk, the party in question will come to the marriage-bed anything but a maid. - Robert Burns

(7)When the corn is in a doubtful state, by being too green or wet, the stack-builder, by means of old timber, etc., makes a large apartment in his stack, with an opening in the side which is fairest exposed to the wind: this he calls a "fause-house." - Robert Burns

The auld guidwife's well-hoordit nits, (8)
   Are round and round divided,
And monie lads' and lasses' fates
   Are there that night decided:
Some kindle coothie, side by side,
   And burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa, wi' saucy pride,
   And jump out-owre the chimlie
                           Fu' high that night.

(8)Burning the nuts is a favorite charm. They name the lad and lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and according as they burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the courtship will be. - Robert Burns

Jean slips in twa wi' tentie ee;
   Wha 'twas she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, and this is me,
   She says in to hersel:
He bleezed owre her, and she owre him,
   As they wad never mair part;
Till, fuff! he started up the lum,
   And Jean had e'en a sair heart
                           To see't that night.

Poor Willie, wi' his bow-kail runt,
   Was brunt wi' primsie Mallie;
And Mallie, nae doubt, took the drunt,
   To be compared to Willie;
Mall's nit lap out wi' pridefu' fling,
   And her ain fit it brunt it;
While Willie lap, and swore by jing,
'   Twas just the way he wanted
                            To be that night.

Nell had the fause-house in her min',
   She pits hersel and Rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
   Till white in ase they're sobbin';
Nell's heart was dancin' at the view,
   She whisper'd Rob to leuk for't:
Rob, stowlins, prie'd her bonny mou',
   Fu' cozie in the neuk for't,
                             Unseen that night.

But Merran sat behint their backs,
   Her thoughts on Andrew Bell;
She lea'es them gashin' at their cracks,
   And slips out by hersel:
She through the yard the nearest taks,
   And to the kiln goes then,
And darklins graipit for the bauks,
   And in the blue-clue (9) throws then,
                             Right fear't that night.

(9)Whoever would, with success, try this spell, must strictly observe these directions: Steal out, all alone, to the kiln, and darkling, throw into the "pot" a clue of blue yarn; wind it in a new clue off the old one; and, toward the latter end, something will hold the thread: demand, "Wha hauds?" i.e., who holds? and answer will be returned from the kiln-pot, by naming the Christian and surname of your future spouse. - Robert Burns

And aye she win't, and aye she swat,
   I wat she made nae jaukin',
Till something held within the pat,
   Guid Lord! but she was quakin'!
But whether 'was the deil himsel,
   Or whether 'twas a bauk-en',
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
   She didna wait on talkin'
                            To spier that night.

Wee Jennie to her grannie says,
   "Will ye go wi' me, grannie?
I'll eat the apple (10) at the glass
   I gat frae Uncle Johnnie:"
She fuff't her pipe wi' sic a lunt,
   In wrath she was sae vap'rin',
She notice't na, an aizle brunt
   Her braw new worset apron
                          Out through that night.

(10)Take a candle and go alone to a looking-glass; eat an apple before it, and some traditions say you should comb your hair all the time; the face of your conjungal companion, to be, will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder. - Robert Burns

"Ye little skelpie-limmer's face!
   I daur you try sic sportin',
As seek the foul thief ony place,
   For him to spae your fortune.
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
   Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
   And lived and died deleeret
                         On sic a night.

"Ae hairst afore the Sherramoor, --
   I mind't as weel's yestreen,
I was a gilpey then, I'm sure
   I wasna past fifteen;
The simmer had been cauld and wat,
   And stuff was unco green;
And aye a rantin' kirn we gat,
   And just on Halloween
                         It fell that night.

"Our stibble-rig was Rab M'Graen,
   A clever sturdy fallow:
His son gat Eppie Sim wi' wean,
   That lived in Achmacalla:
He gat hemp-seed, (11) I mind it weel,
   And he made unco light o't;
But mony a day was by himsel,
   He was sae sairly frighted
                        That very night."

(11)Steal out, unperceived, and sow a handful of hemp-seed, harrowing it with anything you can conveniently draw after you. Repeat now and then: "Hemp-seed, I saw thee, hemp-seed, I saw thee; and him (or her) that is to be my true love, come after me and pou thee." Look over your left shoulder, and you will see the appearance of the person invoked, in the attitude of pulling hemp. Some traditions say, "Come after me and shaw thee," that is, show thyself; in which case, it simply appears. Others omit the harrowing, and say: "Come after me and harrow thee." - Robert Burns

Then up gat fechtin' Jamie Fleck,
   And he swore by his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;
   For it was a' but nonsense.
The auld guidman raught down the pock,
   And out a hanfu' gied him;
Syne bade him slip frae 'mang the folk,
   Some time when nae ane see'd him,
                         And try't that night.

He marches through amang the stacks,
   Though he was something sturtin;
The graip he for a harrow taks.
   And haurls it at his curpin;
And every now and then he says,
   "Hemp-seed, I saw thee,
And her that is to be my lass,
   Come after me, and draw thee
                       As fast this night."

He whistled up Lord Lennox' march
   To keep his courage cheery;
Although his hair began to arch,
   He was say fley'd and eerie:
Till presently he hears a squeak,
   And then a grane and gruntle;
He by his shouther gae a keek,
   And tumbled wi' a wintle
                      Out-owre that night.

He roar'd a horrid murder-shout,
   In dreadfu' desperation!
And young and auld came runnin' out
   To hear the sad narration;
He swore 'twas hilchin Jean M'Craw,
   Or crouchie Merran Humphie,
Till, stop! she trotted through them
   And wha was it but grumphie
                       Asteer that night!

Meg fain wad to the barn hae gaen,
   To win three wechts o' naething; (12)
But for to meet the deil her lane,
   She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits,
   And two red-cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets,
   In hopes to see Tam Kipples
                       That very nicht.

(12)This charm must likewise be performed unperceived and alone. You go to the barn, and open both doors, taking them off the hinges, if possible; for there is danger that the being about to appear may shut the doors, and do you some mischief. Then take that instrument used in winnowing the corn, which in our country dialect we call a "wecht," and go through all the attitudes of letting down corn against the wind. Repeat it three times, and the third time an apparition will pass through the barn, in at the windy door and out at the other, having both the figure in question, and the appearance or retinue, marking the employment or station in life. - Robert Burns

She turns the key wi cannie thraw,
   And owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawnie gies a ca'
   Syne bauldly in she enters:
A ratton rattled up the wa',
   And she cried, Lord, preserve her!
And ran through midden-hole and a',
   And pray'd wi' zeal and fervour,
                       Fu' fast that night;

They hoy't out Will wi' sair advice;
   They hecht him some fine braw ane;
It chanced the stack he faddom'd thrice (13)
   Was timmer-propt for thrawin';
He taks a swirlie, auld moss-oak,
   For some black grousome carlin;
And loot a winze, and drew a stroke,
   Till skin in blypes cam haurlin'
                     Aff's nieves that night.

(13)Take an opportunity of going unnoticed to a "bear-stack," and fathom it three times round. The last fathom of the last time you will catch in your arms the appearance of your future conjugal yoke-fellow. - Robert Burns

A wanton widow Leezie was,
   As canty as a kittlin;
But, och! that night amang the shaws,
   She got a fearfu' settlin'!
She through the whins, and by the cairn,
   And owre the hill gaed scrievin,
Whare three lairds' lands met at a burn (14)
   To dip her left sark-sleeve in,
                      Was bent that night.

(14)You go out, one or more (for this is a social spell), to a south running spring, or rivulet, where "three lairds' lands meet," and dip your left shirt sleeve. Go to bed in sight of a fire, and hang your wet sleeve before it to dry. Lie awake, and, some time near midnight, an apparition, having the exact figure of the grand object in question, will come and turn the sleeve, as if to dry the other side of it. - Robert Burns

Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,
   As through the glen it wimpl't;
Whyles round a rocky scaur it strays;
   Whyles in a wiel it dimpl't;
Whyles glitter'd to the nightly rays,
   Wi' bickering, dancing dazzle;
Whyles cookit underneath the braes,
   Below the spreading hazel,
                   Unseen that night.

Among the brackens, on the brae,
   Between her and the moon,
The deil, or else an outler quey,
   Gat up and gae a croon:
Poor Leezie's heart maist lap the hool!
   Near lav'rock-height she jumpit;
but mist a fit, and in the pool
   Out-owre the lugs she plumpit,
                   Wi' a plunge that night.

In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
   The luggies three (15) are ranged,
And every time great care is ta'en',
   To see them duly changed:
Auld Uncle John, wha wedlock joys
   Sin' Mar's year did desire,
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,
   He heaved them on the fire
                     In wrath that night.

(15)Take three dishes, put clean water in one, foul water in another, and leave the third empty; blindfold a person and lead him to the hearth where the dishes are ranged; he (or she) dips the left hand; if by chance in the clean water, the future (husband or) wife will come to the bar of matrimony a maid; if in the foul, a widow; if in the empty dish, it foretells, with equal certainty, no marriage at all. It is repeated three times, and every time the arrangement of the dishes is altered. - Robert Burns

Wi' merry sangs, and friendly cracks,
   I wat they didna weary;
And unco tales, and funny jokes,
   Their sports were cheap and cheery;
Till butter'd so'ns, (16) wi' fragrant lunt,
   Set a' their gabs a-steerin';
Syne, wi' a social glass o' strunt,
   They parted aff careerin'
                  Fu' blythe that night.

(16)Sowens, with butter instead of milk to them, is always the Halloween Supper. - Robert Burns


This recipe was taken from the 'Scots Independent' site



Sowens, or Flummery as it is known in England, is a sweet dessert which needs three days to prepare (not all of three days!)

Ingredients (Serves six):

3 oz/ 75 g fine oatmeal

coarsely grated rind and juice of two oranges

1 oz/ 25 g caster (superfine) sugar

half pint/ 300 ml double (heavy) cream

2 tbsp/ 30 ml clear Scottish honey (heather blossom if possible)


Put the oatmeal in a bowl and just cover with cold water. Cover and leave to stand for 24 hours, adding a little more water as necessary to keep the oatmeal covered. Strain off the liquid and tip the oatmeal back into the bowl. Pour over 2 pints/ 1.2 litres fresh water and leave to stand for a further 24 hours. Strain through a sieve into a saucepan, pressing the oatmeal with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the oatmeal. Strain the orange juice and put in the saucepan with the sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until thick, stirring all the time. Remove from the heat and leave until fairly cool, then stir in half the cream. Pour into six individual serving dishes and leave to set. Whip the remaining cream until peaking. Top each flummery with a spoonful of the whipped cream, trickle the honey over and sprinkle with the orange rind.




The Scots Dialect Dictionary - compiled by Alexander Warrack MA


The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Burns with an appreciation by Lord Rosebery. 1902 - published by Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd.


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