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The Imagine Alba Podcast- Did Scotland Invent Halloween?

Skeletons, spirits and haunts…yes it’s that time of year again, friends! And while according to Shel Silverstein, your friendly dentist invented this spooktacular holiday, many of the roots of our modern Halloween can actually be found in Scotland.

Transylvania may have Dracula and Salem may have witches, but Scotland is arguably the home of Halloween. On this episode, we explore how a Gaelic harvest festival transformed into an $8 billion dollar holiday as we…imagine Halloween.

Music on this episode is by The Kings Road and the Albanauts. You can purchase and download the music to help support the podcast here.

Halloween- a poem 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.-R.B.


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

On Cassilis Downans dance,

Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,

On sprightly coursers prance;

Or for Colean the rout is taen,

Beneath the moon's pale beams;

There, up the Cove, to stray an' rove,

Amang the rocks and streams

To sport that night;


Amang the bonie, winding banks,

Where Doon rins, wimplin, clear,

Where Bruce ance rul'd the martial ranks,

An' shook his Carrick spear,

Some merry, friendly, countra folks

Together did convene,

To burn their nits, an' pou their stocks,

An' haud their Halloween

Fu' blythe that night.


The lasses feat, an' cleanly neat,

Mair braw than when they're fine;

Their faces blythe, fu' sweetly kythe,

Hearts leal, an' warm, an' kin':

The lads sae trig, wi' wooer-babs,

Weel-knotted on their garten,

Some unco blate, an' some wi' gabs

Gar lasses' hearts gang startin

Whyles fast at night.


Then, first an' foremost, thro' the kail,

Their stocks maun a' be sought ance;

They steek their een, an’ grape an' wale

For muckle anes, an' straught anes.

Poor hav'rel Will fell aff the drift,

An' wandered thro' the Bow-kail,

An' pow't for want o' better shift

A runt was like a sow-tail

Sae bow't that night.


Then, straught or crooked, yird or nane,

They roar an' cry a' throu'ther;

The vera wee-things, toddlan, rin,

Wi' stocks out owre their shouther:

An' gif the custock's sweet or sour,

Wi' joctelegs they taste them;

Syne coziely, aboon the door,

Wi' cannie care, they've plac'd them

To lye that night.


The lassies staw frae 'mang them a',

To pou their stalks o' corn;

But Rab slips out, an' jinks about,

Behint the muckle thorn:

He grippit Nelly hard and fast;

Loud skirl'd a' the lasses;

But her tap-pickle maist was lost,

Whan kiutlin in the Fause-house

Wi' him that night.


The auld Guidwife's weel-hoordit nits

Are round an' round divided,

An' mony lads an' lasses fates

Are there that night decided:

Some kindle, couthie, side by side,

And burn thegither trimly;

Some start awa, wi' saucy pride,

An' jump out owre the chimlie

Fu' high that night.


Jean slips in twa, wi' tentie e'e;

Wha 'twas, she wadna tell;

But this is Jock, an' this is me,

She says in to hersel':

He bleez'd owre her, an' she owre him,

As they wad never mair part,

Till fuff! he started up the lum,

An' Jean had e'en a sair heart

To see 't that night.


Poor Willie, wi' his bow-kail runt,

Was brunt wi' primsie Mallie;

An' Mary, nae doubt, took the drunt,

To be compar'd to Willie:

Mall's nit lap out, wi' pridefu' fling,

An' 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 an' 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, stownlins, prie'd her bonie 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,

An' slips out-by herself:

She thro' the yard the nearest taks,

An' for the kiln she goes then,

An' darklins grapet for the bauks,

And in the blue-clue throws then,

Right fear't that night.


An' ay she win't, an' ay she swat,

I wat she made nae jaukin;

Till something held within the pat,

Guid Lord! but she was quaukin!

But whether 'twas the Deil himsel,

Or whether 'twas a bauk-en',

Or whether it was Andrew Bell,

She did na wait on talkin

To spier that night.


Wee Jenny to her Graunie says,

"Will ye go wi' me, Graunie?

I'll eat the apple at the glass,

I gat frae uncle Johnie:"

She fuff't her pipe wi' sic a lunt,

In wrath she was sae vap'rin,

She notic't na an aizle brunt

Her braw, new, worset apron

Out thro' that night.


"Ye little Skelpie-limmer'-face!

I daur you try sic sportin,

As seek the foul Thief onie place,

For him to spae your fortune:

Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!

Great cause ye hae to fear it;

For monie a ane has gotten a fright,

An' liv'd an' di’d deleeret,

On sic a night.


"Ae Hairst afore the Sherra-moor,

I mind't as weel's yestreen-

I was a gilpey then, I'm sure

I was na past fyfteen:

The Simmer had been cauld an' wat,

An' Stuff was unco green;

An' eye a rantin Kirn we gat,

An' just on Halloween

It fell that night.


"Our Stibble-rig was Rab McGraen,

A clever, sturdy fallow;

His Sin gat Eppie Sim wi' wean,

That liv’d in Achmacalla:

He gat hemp-seed, I mind it weel,

An' he made unco light o't;

But mony a day was by himsel,

He was sae sairly frighted

That vera night."


Then up gat fechtan Jamie Fleck,

An' he swoor by his conscience,

That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;

For it was a' but nonsense:

The auld guidman raught down the pock,

An' out a handfu' gied him;

Syne bad him slip frae 'mang the folk,

Sometime when nae ane see'd him,

An' try't that night.


He marches thro' amang the stacks,

Tho' he was something sturtan;

The graip he for a harrow taks,

An' haurls at his curpan:

And ev'ry now an' then, he says,

"Hemp-seed I saw thee,

An' her that is to be my lass

Come after me, an' draw thee

As fast this night."


He whistl'd up lord Lenox' march

To keep his courage cheary;

Altho' his hair began to arch,

He was sae fley'd an' eerie:

Till presently he hears a squeak,

An' then a grane an' gruntle;

He by his shouther gae a keek,

An' tumbl’d wi' a wintle

Out owre that night.


He roar'd a horrid murder-shout,

In dreadfu' desperation!

An' young an' auld come rinnan out,

An' hear the sad narration:

He swoor 'twas hilchan Jean McCraw,

Or crouchie Merran Humphie,

Till stop! she trotted thro' them a';

An’ wha was it but Grumphie

Asteer that night?


Meg fain wad to the Barn gaen,

To winn three wechts o' naething;

But for to meet the Deil her lane,

She pat but little faith in:

She gies the Herd a pickle nits,

An' twa red cheekit apples,

To watch, while for the Barn she sets,

In hopes to see Tam Kipples

That vera night.


She turns the key, wi' cannie thraw,

An' owre the threshold ventures;

But first on Sawnie gies a ca',

Syne baudly in she enters:

A ratton rattl'd up the wa',

An' she cry'd Lord preserve her!

An' ran thro' midden-hole an' a',

An' 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 chanc'd the Stack he faddom't thrice,

Was timmer-propt for thrawin:

He taks a swirlie, auld moss-oak,

For some black, grousome Carlin;

An' loot a winze, an' drew a stroke,

Till skin in blypes cam haurlin

Aff 's nieves that night.


A wanton widow Leezie was,

As cantie as a kittlen;

But Och! that night, amang the shaws,

She gat a fearfu' settlin!

She thro' the whins, an' by the cairn,

An' owre the hill gaed scrievin;

Whare three Lairds' lan's met at a burn,

To dip her left sark-sleeve in,

Was bent that night.


Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,

As thro' the glen it wimpl't;

Whyles round a rocky scar it strays,

Whyles in a wiel it dimpl't;

Whyles glitter'd to the nightly rays,

Wi' bickerin, dancin dazzle;

Whyles cooket undeneath the braes,

Below the spreading hazel

Unseen that night.


Amang the brachens, on the brae,

Between her an' the moon,

The Deil, or else an outler Quey,

Gat up an' gae a croon:

Poor Leezie's heart maist lap the hool;

Near lav'rock-height she jumpet,

But mist a fit, an' in the pool,

Out owre the lugs she plumpet,

Wi' a plunge that night.


In order, on the clean hearth-stane,

The Luggies three are ranged;

An' ev'ry time great care is taen

To see them duely changed:

Auld uncle John, wha wedlock's joys

Sin' Mar's-year did desire,

Because he gat the toom dish thrice,

He heav'd them on the fire

In wrath that night.


Wi' merry sangs, an' friendly cracks,

I wat they did na weary;

And unco tales, an' funnie jokes,

Their sports were cheap an' cheary:

Till butter'd So’ns, wi' fragrant lunt,

Set a' their gabs a steerin;

Syne, wi' a social glass o' strunt,

They parted aff careerin

Fu' blythe that night.


Enjoy our podcast about Scotland! If you visit Oban, be sure to get in touch about an Oban Walking Tour or Graveyard Tour, We can also help you plan your ultimate Oban holiday! We look forward to hearing from you.

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