The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 4/Some Folk-Lore of the Sea
|←Fight of the Witches|| The Folk-Lore Journal, Volume 4
Some Folk-Lore of the Sea
|Folk-Lore in Mongolia→|
SOME FOLK-LORE OF THE SEA.
By the Rev. Walter Gregor.
SAINT ELMO'S Light is called Covenanter, or Covie's Aunt, in Portessie; Fiery Cock, in Crovie; Jack-o'-lantern, in Nairn; Jack's lantern, in Findochty. When it appears, some fishermen fancy that they will never get to land, or that some disaster will fall upon them. (Portessie). Some think that the death of one of the relatives of the crew is not far off, and that the light is the ghost or spirit. (Nairn.)
The phosphorescence of the sea goes in Nairn by the names of "burnin wattir" and "fiery wattir."
When it begins to appear on the sea, a Nairn fisherman would say: "The sea's firin"; and when at the herring-fishing, before casting the nets, "Wait till the wattir fires."
The dulness that appears in the sea during the month of May is spoken of as "the easterly wattir"; and the fishermen say, "The sea's alive wi' the livin breed," or, "The sea's alive wi' the livin vermin." (Crovie.)
In Buckie and the neighbouring villages the sound of the sea coming from the west bears the name of "the chant fae (from) the saans (sands) o' Spey," and is regarded as a token of good weather. The Nairn folks call this wind from the west "the sooch (ch guttural) o' the sea," and regard it as a forecast of fine weather.
At Portessie and along the shore of the Moray Firth, on the Banff and Morayshire coasts, before a storm from the north or north-east, the sea becomes perfectly calm, "like a beuk (book) leaf," as my informant expressed it, and the phenomenon is called a "weather gaa."
The swell before the storm is called "the win-chap." (Portessie.) The broken water on the shore goes by the name of "the breach." (Nairn.) When the waves are heavy at the month of the harbour (Nairn), so that the boats cannot go to sea, the fishermen say, "There's ower muckle sea-gate."
The fisher folks of Portessie say that the sea before any disaster of drowning has "a waichty (weighty) melody," "a dead groan," or simply "a groan." In Nairn they speak of "a waichty groan" before any fatality takes place.
In Portessie and Buckie the belief exists that the sea cannot become calm till the body of the drowned that is destined to be buried has been found;—in the words of my informant, "gehn (if) the body is t' get cirsent meels (consecrated ground), the sea's never at rist (rest) till the body's ashore."
Said a Portessie fisherman: "We were going to Beauly with fish and oil. The wind came down strong against us, and we had to go into Burghead. We lay there for two days, with the wind always a-head. There was a queer woman in Forres, and we did not know whether the woman, in whose house we were, sent for her or not, but she came into the house. She asked us what we were doing here. We told her. She said we would be in Beauly in two hours. We went out, and, though the wind was against us when the woman came in, found it had changed in our favour. We put out at once, and in two hours we were in Beauly."
"We were in Potmahomack once. A woman there baked a bannock, and gave it to one of the crew, with strict orders not to break it till he reached home, in order to get a 'roon win'.' The bannock was carefully rolled in a napkin, and put into his breast. In climbing up a rope into the boat—'breestin' the boat'—the bannock was broken. The wind was quite favourable when the boat set sail, but in a short time a heavy breeze came down, and home was reached after the greatest difficulty."
"On another occasion," said he, "we got a piece of twine with three knots upon it. One knot was to be loosed when the sail was hoisted. The second was to be loosed after a time to freshen the wind. All went well for a time, but after a little it fell 'breath-calm.' The third knot was loosed, but hardly was this done when a storm burst upon us, and we hardly escaped with the life."
A fisherman of Banff was at one time in Invergordon. When there, he showed some kindness to a woman by giving her fish. When the boat was about to return, the woman presented herself, and gave the fishermen a bottle with strict orders not to uncork it till they reached harbour at home. Curiosity, however, overcame all fears, and the boat had not half accomplished the voyage when the bottle was unstopped. In the course of a short time a breeze burst upon the boat, and it was with the utmost difficulty land was reached. (Told by J. R., Rosehearty.)
When the tide is running on the parts of the sea between the shallows and the deeps there is commonly a good deal of swell, and, if the weather is in the least rough, great care must be taken in passing through this swell. It is called "the tripple o' tide." (Pittulie.)
When the tide is lowest it is called "slack tide" (Findochty), and the point of time is called "the slack o' the tide."
At Portessie the fisher folks do not begin any piece of work, such as barking nets, baiting lines, &c., except when the tide is "flouwin." As my informant said to me, "I pit on the barkin pan fin the tide begins t' flouw."
Hens must be set when the tide is flowing. The chickens are stronger, and thrive better. (Buckie.)
In parts of the West Highlands the fisher folks build rough stone-dykes across the mouths of the small inlets, so as to form convenient places for keeping crabs and lobsters alive. My informant said he has often seated himself on a dyke and watched the conduct of the prisoners, and the moment the water of the rising tide entered through the stones they were in motion to meet it.
Here is a theory of the movements of the herring. When the tide begins to rise, the herrings that were lying at the bottom rise, and are carried southward with the flowing tide. When the tide begins to ebb, the herrings again go to the bottom, and lie till the tide begins to flow, when they again rise, and are carried farther southward. This accounts for the southern migration of the herring. (Findochty.)
Some boats are supposed to be unlucky, "have an unlucky spehl in them." I heard of a carpenter, now dead, that pretended to forecast what the fortune of the boat would be by the way a certain "spehl," or chip of wood, came off when he began the work of building.
Fishermen (Nairn) speak of "he-wood" and "she-wood," and they say that a boat built of "she-wood" sails faster during night than during day. They believe that one built of "stealt" (stolen) wood does the same. "A thief goes fast at night," said my informant.
To secure luck in fishing, the owner's wife must, when the boat is tarred, put on the first mop of tar. (Porthnockie.)
The boat has always to be turned, when in harbour, according to the course of the sun. The phrase in Buckie is: "Pit the boat's head wast aboot" (west about).
When a new boat was to be brought home (Crovie), those, that were to do so, set out when the tide was "flouwin." When the boat arrived, the village turned out to meet her, and bread and cheese, with beer or whiskey, were given to all. A glass, with spirits or beer, was broken on the boat, and a wish for success was expressed in such form as: "I wiss (wish) this ane may gyang (go) as lang safe oot and in, an catch as mony fish as the aul' ane."
It is accounted unlucky to go for a new boat, and come back without her. J. Watt, of Crovie, went to Pennan for a new boat. She was not finished, and he had to return empty-handed. He went for her some time after, and brought her home on Saturday. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, he proceeded to the fishing, and everything went right. But there was something that had to be remedied about the sail. The boat had to be taken to Macduff for this purpose. On Friday the journey was undertaken. When off Gamrie Mohr, a high headland, a gust of wind came down, and sank the boat. One man was drowned. The boat was afterwards recovered, but she had to be sold, as the crew would not go to sea in her. She proved a good sea-worthy craft. The gusts off this headland go by the name of the "flans o' Mohr," and are accounted more dangerous than the gusts or "flans" off the other headlands. (Flan, a gust of wind from above.)
When the new boat was brought home (Portessie), the fisher folks assembled beside the boat. One of them "flang here in ower the boat, sang oot the boat's name, and three cheers wiz geen (given)." Then followed the "boat fehst" (feast)—bread, cheese, whiskey, or porter, or a dinner of broth, beef, &c., accompanied with quantities of whiskey. At this feast attended often all the men of the village, if small, and each set of men sat together. In each of the large fishing boats there are eight men besides the skipper. Each man has his own seat in rowing, and always keeps it. Counting from the stem, the first man on the left is called "the aivran hank," or "hanksman," whilst his companion on the right is called "the farran hank," or "hanksman." The second two go by the names of "the aivran mid-ship" and "the farran mid-ship." The third pair has the names of "the aivran slip" and "the farran slip"; and the fourth, those of "the aivran boo" and "the farran boo." The master is "the skipper." At the feast all the skippers sat together, all the "aivran hanksmen," or "aivran hanks," sat together, and so on with the others. The drinking was often carried far into the night, and even into the morning. A common toast was, "I wis you may burn 'er."
A toast, frequently used at feasts and drinking bouts, was:
"Health t' men, an death t' fish,
When a new line was to be made by a few neighbours, it had to be begun when the tide was rising, and finished without any interruption, so that all might have a share in the "allooance," that is, the whiskey that was drunk for luck, on completion of the work. (Crovie.)
In Portessie, Buckie, and other villages, the first one that enters the house when a "greatlin"—a great line, that is, a line for catching cod, ling, skate, and the larger kinds of fish—is being made, has to pay for a mutchkin of whiskey, which is drunk in the house after the line is finished. "The line gets the first glass," that is, the first glassful is poured over the line.
A story is current that an old fisherman, who was somewhat fond of "a dram," had very often a new great line—"ane in the month" the explanation of which was, that he kept one by him, and, when he was anxious for a glass, he took out his new line, so that, when a neighbour came in, he was busy measuring it off, and working at it. His "teename" was Old Pro.
The first hook baited is spit upon, and then laid in the scull. My informant told me that she invariably followed this practice. She also told me that it is a custom to spit in the fire when the "girdle" is taken off the fire when the baking of the bread, oaten cakes, is finished.
The Good and the Ill Fit, &c.
If one with an "ill fit" was met when going to the boat to proceed to sea, there were some that would not have gone till the next tide had flowed. (Buckie.)
There were some that, if they had met one who asked them on their way to the sea where they were going, would have struck the one so asking "to draw blood," and thus turn away the ill luck that was believed (Portessie) to follow such a question.
A person with flat-soled feet is looked upon as an "unlucky fit." (Nairn.)
It is a notion among some that if you see below one having an "ill fit," no harm will follow. One morning a Spey salmon-fisher said to his companion on meeting him to proceed to their work, that he had met a certain man well known as having an "ill fit." "We'll hae naething the day, than." "Oh, bit he wiz ridin, an I saw through aneth (below) the horse-belly," was the answer.
Another mode of counteracting the evil of an "ill fit" is to have "the first word o' the one that has the evil power," that is, to be the first to speak. An old woman of the name of P—— lived in Fraserburg. She had the repute of having an "ill fit," and fishermen did not like to meet her. She kept a cow or two. and pastured them along the sides of the public roads, and no one that passed along the roads ever could have "the first word on her" She made it a point of being the first to speak. (Told by a Pittulie fisherman.)
As some people are looked upon as having an "ill fit," others are regarded as carrying luck with them. Such as have led an immoral life, whether man or woman, are those that bring success, and the name of such a one is used as a talisman. Thus (Buckie) when beginning to shoot the lines one of the crew will say, "We'll try in ——'s name for luck." When the line, on being hauled, sticks on the bottom, it is said, "Up, or rise ——." Sometime ago, the name of Maggie Bowie, an old woman, was frequently used. (Portessie.) In Buckie a talisman was "Nelltock," the familiar name of a well-known woman, and the saying was, "Blow up, Nelltock."
The cat, the rat, the hare, and the salmon are all bringers of ill-luck, and the words were never uttered during the time the lines were being baited. (Crovie.)
To meet the cat in the morning as the "first fit " was the sure fore-runner of disaster that day.
A. R——, of Crovie, did not leave his bed in the morning without calling out "Hish, hish, hish," to drive away the house cat, lest it might be lying near, and thus be his "first fit."
A fisherman will not keep a pig for feeding (Buckie), and the word pig or swine, as well as rottin (rot), salmon, which is commonly called "the fool (foul) beest," hare, and rabbit, are words of ill-omen. (Buckie.)
It is unlucky to catch a sea-gull ("a goo") when out fishing, and keep it on board. My informant told me that one day he caught a gull, with the intention of bringing it ashore to his boy. One of the old men in the boat, in very strong language, ordered him to set it adrift, which was done at once. (Portessie.)
W. W. of Crovie, had gone to the West Highlands to prosecute the cod and ling fishing. The first time the boat went to the fishing-ground the first fish that came up on the line was a ling. The skipper at once ordered it to be thrown overboard, as being unlucky to have a ling for the first fish caught.
The "scull," which holds the lines, must not be overturned in the boat after they have been shot. It is unlucky to do so. (Crovie.) A poor "shot" (catch) of fish is supposed to follow. (Nairn.) It is accounted unlucky to put the foot by accident into the scull ("the scoo") after the lines have been thrown. (Nairn.)
It is unlucky to have a rat on board a boat unless it is caught, and killed. The drawing of blood counteracts the bad luck. (Buckie.)
During the herring-fishing of 1885 a rat appeared in the boat of a Crovie fisherman fishing in Rosehearty. A hunt for the animal was made, and it was caught. The fisherman mentioned the fact on returning to his house, when one of the women said, "Ye'll be sure o' a boat fu' the first time ye gyang oot." Another said, "That's az gueede's (as good's) three hunner (300) cran."
Two Crovie boats were, one spring not long ago, fishing in S. Uist. In the boat of one was caught a rat. The skipper of the other boat made the remark, "This winna (will not) be a rich year fahtever (whatever), for we hinna gotten a beastie."
The Herring Fishing.
In Portessie and other neighbouring villages white stones are rejected both as ballast and as lug-stones for the herring-nets; but in Portessie a "boret-stone," that is a stone bored by the pholas, is looked upon as particularly lucky for ballast.
It is accounted very unlucky to take a stone of the ballast from another man's boat, and, if one did so, he would be resisted. Neither would one allow a "waicht" (weight) of a herring-net to be taken away. These weights, used for sinking the nets, are small stones tied to the lower side of the net. A man had to cross his neighbour's boat to reach his own. In doing so he lifted a weight to use as a hammer to drive a nail in a part of his own boat. He intended to restore the stone; but the owner, in very surly fashion, ordered him at once to lay it down. The luck of the fishing was supposed to go with the stone. (Nairn.)
Some will not give away a "fry o' herrin," that is, a few herrings as a dish. The luck of the fishing goes with them. (Nairn.)
If one of the crew makes his water over the boat's side before casting the nets, the boat would have been brought back at once without the nets having been shot. (Porthnockie.)
When the herring fishing was going on in a poor way, in the words of the fisherman that told me—"Fin we wiz jist driven t' desperation," he would say, "Wife, for God's sake, turn your sark!" (Portessie.)
Another mode to get herring is to put the boat through the "main riggan." My informant said that a friend of his told him he once tried this "fret," and lost his "main riggan."
Another mode of securing herring is the following:—The "tail bow" (buoy)—that is, the buoy fixed to the net thrown first overboard, and, therefore, the farthest from the boat when the whole of the nets—"the fleet"—are overboard,—is cut off in the name of some one reputed as carrying luck. For example, a fisherman of Portessie would say, before beginning to cast the nets, "Cut aff the tail bow in Meggie Bowie's name," to bring the fish into the nets.
J. Watt was engaged in the herring fishing at Gardenston. He was not at all successful, and for over a week had caught nothing One evening as he was proceeding to sea "raither hingen-heedit" (with hanging head), the woman in whose house he was lodging, without saying a word to him, threw the beesom (the broom) after him. That night a good fishing was made. J. Watt told one of the crew (a hired man) what had been done. His remark was: "That's fat (what) did it. Tell 'er t' dee 't (do it) again. (Crovie.)
The same custom holds round the coast.
Another custom to secure a fishing, if it is poor during the herring season, is to throw a handful of salt after the skipper, or any of the crew, as he is leaving the house, or to throw salt over the boat. (Portessie.)
The Haddock, &c.
The black spots on the shoulders of the haddock are called Peter's spots, and it is believed by some fishermen (Crovie) that no one can grasp and hold the fish in the same way. My informant told me he had often tried to do so, and seen others do the same, but to no purpose. The fish slipped from the fingers.
Here are two variants of the haddock rhyme:—
"Roast me weel, an boil me weel,
"Roast me an boil me weel,
Here follows something of a contest between the herring and the flounder or fleuk:—
The herrin' said she wiz the king o' the sea, but the fleuk turnt her moo, an' said she wis 't.
"She thrawd her moo, says she,
It was a custom to go to the sea, and draw a pailful of water, and take it along with a little seaweed to the house on the morning of New Year's Day. (Portessie.)
A fisherman in Crovie had a collie dog. He was always at hand when the boats were putting to sea. One morning when the men were on the beach making ready to go to the fishing, the dog got into a great state of excitement, rushed about, and laid hold of the men when putting the lines into the boats. His conduct was such, that the men did not go to sea. Scarcely had they got their lines back to their houses, than a great storm suddenly burst oyer the Firth. Several boats were lost from the other villages.
On another occasion, the owner of the dog was going with his boat to the south to sell his dried cod and ling. The dog was to be taken along with him. The boat was to sail from Gardenstone, another village about a mile distant. It was with the utmost difficulty the dog could be induced to follow his master. But no sooner did he reach the boat, than he bolted, and ran back, rushed into the house, and hid under one of the beds. He was taken by force from his hiding-place, and carried to the boat. The voyage was performed, and the boat was returning, and had come as far north as Stonehaven, when a heavy storm came down, the boat was driven ashore in the early morning, and two of the crew perished. The third one escaped through the intervention of the dog. He had become entangled about the wreck, and could not free himself. The dog ran to the town, went up to the first man he met, began barking and pulling at him in such a way as to arouse his attention. Off the dog went. The man followed, and soon saw what had happened. The fisherman was rescued. This took place many years ago, but the dog still lives in the memory of the fisher folks.
- Δημωδεις μετεωρολογικοι Μυθοι, by N. G. Polites, p. 14.
- Folk-Lore Journal, vol. iii, pp. 53, 306.
- Ibid. vol. iii. p. 306.
- Ibid. vol. iii. p. 54.
- Folk-Lore Journal, vol. iii. pp. 53, 306.
- Ibid. vol. iii. pp. 53, 54, 306.
- Folk- Lore Journal, vol. ii. p. 356.
- Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland, p. 199.
- Folk-Lore Journal, vol. iii. p. 307.
- Folk-Lore Journal, vol. iii. p. 182.
- Folk-Lore Journal, vol. iii. p. 308.
- Folk-Lore Journal, vol. iii. pp. 183, 310.
- Folk-Lore Journal, vol. iii. p. 183.