15 ancient Scottish superstitions and their origins

Friday the 13th is traditionally thought of as an unlucky day, but what are other superstitions?

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty

Many superstitions date back to pagan times, and, in some form, they’re still around today - just as many other customs from the pre-Christian period have died out. Some of them pop up in everyday conversations - ”touch wood”, for example - while others are still adhered to, unconsciously or otherwise (even if you don’t believe that walking under a ladder will bring bad luck, you’d probably still avoid it; a smashed mirror, as well as bringing seven years of bad luck, would be a pain to clean up). Scotland has a unique set of superstitions - some well known, others less so. Since superstitions exist to give protection to the things we hold dear, a majority of them concern the shielding of family members - especially children - from harm. Here are some of the strangest from ancient Scotland.

Babies were given whisky to ward off evil spirits.
After being given their first dram, babies would then be fed a mixture of oatmeal and water to give them strength.

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    When leaving the summer pastures on Lammas Day, August 1, to take cattle back to the strath, a small cheese of curds was made from that days milk for luck and goodwill.
    To cure a child of teething troubles, it would be given a bannock - a flat, round loaf of bread - to play with until a piece broke off, which would then be fed to them.
    Being a black sheep of the family is an idiom with origins in the north of Scotland. Farmers believed that the birth of a black sheep spelled doom for the remainder of the flock.
    No fire materials were shared by farming households on the first day of every quarter of the year - New Years Day, St Brides Day, Beltane and Lammas. It was believed that by doing so the health of the herd would be weakened.
    In ancient Scotland it was considered unlucky to get out of bed on the left hand side. If someone had a bad day, or if something unfortunate happened, people said: I did not rise on my right hand today.
    When a person put on a new suit, it was customary to wish him luck. It was considered unlucky, however, if a woman was the first to make the gesture.
    The bad fortune feared after opening an umbrella indoors dates back to ancient Egypt, but its no surprise that the superstition took hold here. Opening a brolly in a household is said to bring bad luck.
    The stealer of salt and the stealer of seeds/two thieves that get no rest. A high value was generally placed on salt and if it was loaned out of the house, it had to be returned as quickly as possible.
    Handselling is a gift-giving gesture intended to bring good luck to its recipient as a celebration of a new event - in many cases, a baby. Infants were often handed silver coins as it was believed to bring wealth.
    Howdies - a type of midwife - were a crucial presence in the act of childbirth until the 1950s. They ensured various superstitions were adhered to in safeguarding a newborns safety such as untying knots and turning over mirrors.
    Some thought that rocking an empty cradle would enhance a womans fertility. Others, though, thought that doing this was actually bad luck, and would bring about a babys death.
    Queen Victoria helped popularise its fortune-giving properties by writing of John Brown: No Highlander would pass by it without picking it, for it was considered to bring good luck.
    The cutting of childrens nails and hair was approached warily - clippings of both were sought by witches as ingredients for spells.