Geasagan, ‘superstitions’ is the word of the week I have chosen for today. I discovered the word in our Fieldwork Archive and I thought it would be quite appropriate given it was Friday 13th last week.
The word Geasagan was recorded in Breakish, Skye in 1970. We have a few other words with the same meaning in our Corpus: géillinean which comes from Aultbea in Ross-shire, geaslagan recorded by an informant in South Uist in 1987-88, with geaslagach coming from the same place and meaning a superstitious person.
Saobh-chrabhadh (South Uist) or saobh-chreideamh are the first entries listed on Dwelly for ‘superstition’, these are perhaps the words more of you will recognise, but géillidhean and geasalanachd also appear. There are many superstitious tales or anecdotes to be found on our website; below is just a selection of the most interesting ones I have found:
Cameron wrote in The Gaelic Names for Plants that the bards used to think that the best poetic and lyrical ideas came from the hazel tree: It was believed that Hazel trees grew over the fountains from which all rivers stem, and the beautiful nuts of the Hazel trees fell into the rivers. These were then eaten by the salmon, thus causing the red spots on the belly of the salmon, and it was believed that any bàrd who ate this salmon would be blessed with the ‘sublimest poetical ideas’. This exact thing happened to the great Irish legend, Fionn MacCool, and it is from this story that the phrase ‘Bradan an Eolais’ - ‘The Salmon of Knowledge’ came. J. McDougall wrote about this in his book Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English Collected from Oral Tradition.
Another superstition we have recorded in our Fieldwork Archive is connected to the crois-iarna or ‘distaff’. The informant of this came from Barra, however the superstition itself was recorded in Dunoon. It was believed that ‘a lad growing too quickly could be hit by a distaff and he would stop growing’ – not sure how effective that was though!
One final superstition I discovered was ‘Geaslanachd na Gealaich’ - ‘The Moon’s Superstitions’ in Carmina Gadelica. This record was taken from an old man in Eigg:
‘Cha mharbhadh na seann daoine muc no caora, gobhar no bó làmhaig anns an earra - dhubh.
Tha feòil beothaich gun bhlas gun bhrìgh , gun sult gun saill , anns an earra - dhubh.
Cha mhó a bhuaineadh iad caol cuill no caol seilich a chon chliabh no chraoileag no craobh
ghiuthais chon daraich ann an earra - dhubh na gealaiche.
Tha brìgh an fhiodha a ' dol dh ' an fhriamh agus am fiodh a ' fàs bruanach brisg, gun bhladh gun mhath.
Bha na seann daoine ris a h - uile seo ri lìonadh no ri airde na gealaiche.
Bha na seannraidh beachdail anns na nithean nàdarra, mar nach bheil ògraidh an latha an diugh.’
— ‘The men of old would not kill a pig nor sheep nor goat nor axe - cow at the wane of the moon.
The flesh of an animal is then without taste, without sap, without plumpness.’
If you would like to find out about some more, you can listen here to Nan MacKinnon talking about fishermen who believed that they wouldn’t catch anything if they saw a rabbit or ate an egg before going out to sea.
I’m sure there are many more superstitions out there that I haven’t spoken about here - if you know of any others that are interesting or that still exist today, why don’t you let us know on Facebook or Twitter.
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