Wednesday 16 February 2011

A Method of Recovering Stolen Goods

John Ewen MacRury (1853–1909)
A remarkable method – which may be termed witchcraft – was said to have been a favoured way in which to claim the recovery of stolen goods. This particular tradition was recorded not by Alexander Carmichael – although he may have been aware of it – but rather by his friend and colleague John Ewen (Iain Eòghann) MacRury of Torlum, Benbecula. Born in Benbecula around 1853, MacRury was nearly twenty years younger than Carmichael. He died in Airdrie Poor House aged fifty-four in 1909. Between 1887 and 1895 he gathered in a great deal of material at the behest of Carmichael who remembered him as: ‘A highly intelligent man, for whose knowledge of old lore I am greatly indebted in this work.’ The following example of his collecting, where the original spelling has been retained, was entitled in the notebook as ‘Togal an Doinis’ or rather ‘Togail an Donais’, which, in other words, was ‘Raising the Devil’. No reciter is noted down from John Ewen – he was a tradition bearer himself – but it is likely that he heard this anecdote from someone in Uist:

This extraordinary stroke
of art in olden times
was very effectual am-
ong the inhabitants of
the North. When anything
was stollen, and no
clear clue attached could be found
to any person in par-
ticular, all under sus-
pission were named out
by the looser to the
party gifted with the
art, their names were
written on parchment
or paper, and if the
party could not write
there was a different
mark for every one
under suspission.
The paper was fould
ed longways, and rub
bed between the pa[l]ms
of his hand, and in
the name of the Dev
il allowed to fall
gently into a basin
or a big bowl full
of cold water. If the
name of the guilty
party was among them
it would go to the
bottom and the rest
would float on
on the surface. Then the party
possessed of the art
was to inform the thief
of what happened and
unless the stolen
property was restored
to the right
ful owner within three days
the whole affair was
proclaimed publicly
and would be compelled
to submit.
They greatly object
ed to the raising of
the D[evil] as several y[ea]rs
famine was
sure to follow in
the township after

CW1, fos. 32r–33.
Carmina Gadelica, ii, p. 381.
Image: John Ewen MacRury (1853–1909). Reproduced with the kind permission of Calum Laing.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]