The Scots are an intensely practical bunch. They may have second sight and never doubt that the Fae exist but when it comes to the seasons I’m willing to bet they used what they saw before them to determine the seasons.
So I was having a discussion this morning about the correct date of An Fheill Bride and a commenter mentioned it was the Pleaides.
There is only one problem with that, it rains a lot in Scotland and if you have many days of rain how do you even see the Pleaides? My contention is that they would have used what was around them like any other agricultural people. There is a branch of science/meteorology that is studying whether signs now to see how accurate they are. (The precise ology escapes me at the moment but Horticulture Magazine used to refer to it all the time.) Hence the tradition of ewe’s milk, if the sheep haven’t given birth and you don’t have lactating ewes you aren’t going to have your holiday until they do.
Below are the traditions and the Gaelic rhymes that refer to the holiday from the Carmina Gadelica, collected by Alexander Carmichael and his notes on the collecting:
|‘Moch maduinn Bhride,
Thig an nimhir as an toll,
Cha bhoin mise ris an nimhir,
Cha bhoin an nimhir rium.’
|Early on Bride’s morn
The serpent shall come from the hole,
I will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest me.
|La Feill na Bride,
Thig nighean Imhir as a chnoc,
Cha bhean mise do nighean
’S cha dean i mo lochd.’ [Imhir,
‘La Fheill Bride brisgeanach
‘Thig an nathair as an toll
|The Feast Day of the Bride,
The daughter of Ivor shall come from the knoll,
I will not touch the daughter of Ivor,
Nor shall she harm me.
On the Feast Day of Bride,
The serpent will come from the hole
The ‘daughter of Ivor’ is the serpent; and it is said that the serpent will not sting a descendant of Ivor, he having made ‘tabhar agus tuis,’ offering and incense, to it, thereby securing immunity from its sting for himself and his seed for ever.
|These lines would seem to point to serpent-worship. One of the most curious customs of Bride’s Day was the pounding of the serpent in effigy. The following scene was described to the writer by one who was present:–‘I was one of several guests in the hospitable house of Mr John Tolmie of Uignis, Skye. One
of my fellow-guests was Mrs Macleod, widow of Major Macleod of Stein, and daughter of Flora Macdonald. Mrs Macleod was known among her friends as "Major Ann." She combined the warmest of hearts with the sternest of manners, and was the admiration of old and young for her wit, wisdom, and generosity. When told that her son had fallen in a duel with the celebrated Glengarry–the Ivor MacIvor of Waverley–she exclaimed, "Math thu fein mo ghiullan! math thu fein mo ghiullan! gaol geal do mhathar fein! Is fearr bias saoidh na gras daoidh; cha bhasaich an gaisgeach ach an aon turas, ach an gealtair iomadaidh uair!"–"Good thou art my son! good thou art my son! thou the white love of thine own mother! Better the hero’s death than the craven’s life; the brave dies but once, the coward many times." In a company of noblemen and gentlemen at Dunvegan Castle, Mrs Macleod, then in her 88th year, danced the reel of Tulloch and other reels, jigs, and strathspeys as lightly as a girl in her teens. Wherever she was, all strove to show Mrs Macleod attention and to express the honour in which she was held. She accepted all these honours and attentions with grace and dignity, and without any trace of vanity or self-consciousness. One morning at breakfast at Uignis some one remarked that this was the Day of Bride. "The Day of Bride," repeated Mrs Macleod meditatively, and with a dignified bow of apology rose from the table. All watched her movements with eager curiosity. Mrs Macleod went to the fireside and took up the tongs and a bit of peat and walked out to the doorstep. She then took off her stocking and put the peat into it, and pounded it with the tongs. And as she pounded the peat on the step, she intoned a "rann," rune, only one verse of which I can remember:–
On the day of Bride of the white hills
The noble queen will come from the knoll,
La Bride nam brig ban
|‘Suipeir is soillse Oidhch Fheill Bride,
Cadal is soillse Oidhch Fheill Paruig.’
|Supper and light the Night of St Bride,
Sleep and light the Night of St Patrick
The dandelion is called ‘bearnan Bride,’ the little notched of Bride, in allusion to the serrated edge of the petal. The linnet is called ‘bigein Bride,’ little bird of Bride. In Lismore the oyster-catcher is called ‘gille Bride,’ page of Bride:–
|‘Gille Bride bochd,
Gu de bhigil a th’ ort?
|Poor page of Bride,
What cheeping ails thee?
Bride is said to preside over the different seasons of the year and to bestow their functions upon them according to their respective needs. Some call January ‘am mios marbh,’ the dead month, some December, while some apply the terms, ‘na tri miosa marbh,’ the three dead months, ‘an raithe marbh,’ the dead quarter, and ‘raithe marbh na bliadhna,’ the dead quarter of the year, to the winter months when nature is asleep. Bride with her white wand is said to breathe life into the mouth of the dead Winter and to bring him to open his eyes to the tears and the smiles, the sighs and the laughter of Spring. The venom of the cold is said to tremble for its safety on Bride’s Day and to flee for its life on Patrick’s Day. There is a saying:–
|‘Chuir Bride miar ’s an abhuinn
La na Feill Bride
Is dh’ fhalbh mathair ghuir an fhuachd,
Is nigh i basan anns an abhuinn
La na Feill Padruig
Is dh’ fhalbh mathair ghin an fhuachd.’
|Bride put her finger in the river
On the Feast Day of Bride
And away went the hatching mother of the cold,
And she bathed her palms in the river
On the Feast Day of Patrick
And away went the conception mother of the cold,
Another version says:–
|‘Chuir Brighid a bas ann,
Chuir Moire a cas ann,
Chuir Padruig a chiach fhuar ann.’ (?)
|Bride put her palm in it,
Mary per her foot in it,
Patrick put the cold stone in it,
|La Bride breith an earraich
Thig an dearrais as an tom,
Theirear "tri-bhliadhnaich" ri aighean,
Bheirear gearrain chon nam fonn.’
|The Day of Bride, the birthday of Spring,
The serpent emerges from the knoll,
‘Three-years-olds’ is applied to heifers,
Garrons are taken to the fields.
In Uist the flocks are counted and dedicated to Bride on her Day.
|‘La Fheill Bride boidheach
Cunntar spreidh air mointeach.
Cuirear fitheach chon na nide,
’S cuirear rithis rocais.’
|On the Feast Day of beautiful Bride
The flocks are counted on the moor.
The raven goes to prepare the nest,
And again goes the rook.
|Nead air Bhrighit, ugh air Inid, ian air Chasg,
Mar a bith aig an fhitheach bithidh am bas.’
|Nest at Brigit, egg at Shrove, chick at Easter,
If the raven has not he has death.
The raven is the first bird to nest, closely followed by the mallard and the rook. It is affirmed that–
|‘Co fad ’s a theid a ghaoth ’s an dorus
La na Feill Bride,
Theid an cathadh anns an dorus
La na Feill Paruig.’
|As far as the wind shall enter the door
On the Feast Day of Bride,
The snow shall enter the door
On the Feast Day of Patrick.
In Barra, lots are cast for the ‘iolachan iasgaich,’ fishing-banks, on Bride’s Day. These fishing-banks of the sea are as well known and as accurately defined by the fishermen of Barra as are the qualities and boundaries of their crofts on land, and they apportion them with equal care. Having ascertained among themselves the number of boats going to the long-line fishing, the people divide the banks accordingly. All go to church on St Bride’s Day. After reciting the virtues and blessings of Bride, and the examples to be drawn from her life, the priest reminds his hearers that the great God who made the land and all thereon, also made the sea and all therein, and that ‘murachan na mara agus tachar na tire,’ ‘cuilidh Chaluim agus cuilidh Mhoire,’ the wealth of sea and the plenty of land, the treasury of Columba and the treasury of Mary, are His gift to them that follow Him and call upon His name, on rocky hill or on crested wave. The priest urges upon them to avoid disputes and quarrels over their fishing, to remember the dangers of the deep and the precariousness of life, and in their fishing to remember the poor, the widow and the orphan, now left to the fatherhood of God and to the care of His people. Having come out of church, the men cast lots for the fishing-banks at the church door. After this, they disperse to their homes, all talking loudly and discussing their luck or unluck in the drawing of the lots. A stranger would be apt to think that the people were quarrelling. But it is not so. The simultaneous talking is their habit, and the loudness of their speaking is the necessity of their living among the noise of winds and waves, whether on sea or on shore. Like the people of St Kilda, the people of Barra are warmly attached to one another, the joy of one and the grief of another being the joy and grief of all.
|SLOINNTIREACHD BHRIDE||GENEALOGY OF BRIDE|
|p. 174||p. 175|
|SLOINNEADH na Ban-naomh Bride,
Lasair dhealrach oir, muime chorr Chriosda.
Bride nighinn Dughaill duinn,
Mhic Aoidh, mhic Airt, nitric Cuinn,
Mhic Crearair, mhic Cis, mhic Carmaig, mhic Carruinn.
Gach la agus gach oidhche
Cha loisg teine, grian, no gealach mi,
|THE genealogy of the holy maiden Bride,
Radiant flame of gold, noble foster-mother of Christ,
Bride the daughter of Dugall the brown,
Son of Aodh, son of Art, son of Conn,
Son of Crearar, son of Cis, son of Carina, son of Carruin.
Every day and every night
No fire, no sun, no moon shall burn me,
SMALADH AN TEINE 
|CAIRIDH mi an tula,
Mar a chaireadh Muire,
Claim Bhride ’s Mhuire,
Car an tula ’s car an lair,
’S car an ardraich uile.
Co iad air lian a muigh?
Bial Dia dh’ orduich,
SMOORING THE FIRE
I WILL build the hearth,
Who are they on the lawn without?
The mouth of God ordained,
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