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The Scottish Spring Equinox



This is when the sun heads north over the celestial equator

to bring a new season of life and light

following the long winter months.

There have been many traditions and superstitions

linked to Spring in Scotland with many omens of the season said to predict the health of families, crops and livestock

for the year ahead.


In the Celtic mythology, the spring equinox - or Alban Eiler - was the day that night and day stood equal and the rare balance was seen as a powerful time for magic and nature.


In the Western Isles, a large dish of porridge made with butter and other good ingredients was tipped into the sea in the belief it would draw valuable seaweed ashore.

The Big Porridge Day was held in late Spring or on the Thursday before Easter.

Then, it was known as Shore Thursday or Maundy Thursday.

The ritual would be at its most effective if carried out on a stormy night.

The porridge was poured into the sea on every headland

where wrack used to come.

Next day the harbours were full,

The meaning of the ceremony seems to have been

that by sending the fruit of the land into the sea,

the fruit of the sea would come to land.



A wisp of straw - or sop seile in Gaelic -

was used to deposit drops of water

that had come into contact with silver or gold,

such as a wedding ring, around the house.

The ritual was thought to protect the house

and its occupants from the evil eye.

In Spring, horses, harnesses and ploughs

received a similar treatment before being sent out to the field.


Superstitions were particularly acute

in the Highlands and Islands during Spring,

with omens said to readily determine the luck and fortune

- or misery and suffering - for the year ahead.

It was considered unlucky to hear the first call of a cuckoo before eating breakfast.

Some were said to sleep with a piece of bread

under their pillow to avoid the predicament.




Such was the serious belief in Christ’s crucifixion,

it was held that “on no account whatsoever”

should iron be put in the ground on this day.

Some refused to put iron in the ground

on any Friday whatsoever.

No ploughing was done,

and if a burial was to take place on Good Friday,

the digging would be done the day before with the earth settled over a coffin on Good Friday

using only a wooden shovel.


A bride’s bed Some regarded the first day of Spring

as St Bride’s Day, which fell on February 1.

There are some accounts of a sheaf of oats

being dressed in woman’s clothes to mark the new season.

Others have recalled a bed of birch twigs

made by the servants of the house for their mistress.

Once prepared, the women would shout

“bride, bride, come in your bed is ready.”

On Tiree, cock-fighting was practised on St Bride’s Day

and gifts given to the schoolmaster.

In the evening, a ball was usually held.


 Hunt the Gowk

The old name for April Fool’s Day,

tricks would be played and lies told on April 1

but the foolery had to finish by noon -

or the joke would fall on the tricketer.

Hunting the gowk was originally played

to send someone on a foolish errand.


 Preen-tail Day or Tailie Day

More joking would follow when paper tails

were attached to the backs of unsuspecting people.


 Glen Saturday

More recently, Glen Saturday fell

on the third Saturday of April in Kilmarnock

with notices pinned in shop windows to invite children

to pick daffodils at Craufurdland Castle.

Young people would gather in droves to gather “glens”

- or daffodils - which grew in large clusters on the lawn

at the back of the mansion.

Youngsters were most welcome on the property

and would leave with armfuls of the flowers,

some which were then sold on by the children

for pocket money.


 Vore Tullye - the Spring Struggle

According to Orkney legend, the Vore Tullye

was a fierce battle between the Sea Mither -

the life giving summer sea - and Teran, the spirit of winter with the two clashing as one season gave way to the next.

The encounter is said to have lasted for weeks

and manifested itself in devastating storms

that churned the sea into a boiling froth,

The Sea Mither would always win the battle,

with Teran banished to the sea bed

until the Autumnal Equinox,

where he would rise and win supremacy once again.




There was a festival for "Eastre",

a Saxon goddess of fertility,

in pre-Christian times which was integrated

into the Christian calendar.

The date is moveable, because the calculation

is based on phases of the moon.

In Scotland, to this day, "hot cross buns" are baked,

containing spices and fruit and with a white pastry cross.

On Good Friday, no ploughing was done

and no seed was sown.

The custom of rolling painted,

hard-boiled eggs down a hill took place on Easter Monday.

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