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March 7th 1791

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Riddling in the barn

The Rev James Robertson was minister of Callender at the time of the First statistical Account and contributed an article on the parish of Callender. He was also something of an authority on the many old customs in the Highlands which by this time were beginning to die out. He spoke of the various methods used to try and determine the appearance and figure of future loved ones.

“One mode of knowing the appearance and figure of their future spouse was this. The person went to a barn which must have two opposite doors. Both doors were opened. A riddle was taken, into which a piece of money was thrown; no matter whether a coin, or brooch or piece of plate. The person began immediately to riddle the silver, in the name of the Evil spirit, or the Worst Man, as he is commonly called in Gaelic. During this transaction the figure of a person came in, and took the riddle from the person who was employed; and this vision was understood to have the exact figure, and stature, and appearance of the future spouse. A man of veracity told me not long ago, about this very charm, that had happened to people with whom he was intimate in his youth.

He lived then in his grand-uncle’s house. His grand-uncle’s servant went to the barn, to riddle the silver, upon All-Hallow even. There came in the figure of a woman, who took a faint hold of the riddle, but not so much as to take it out of his hand. He continued still to riddle, and there came another female apparition, and passed in the same manner. Immediately thereafter there came in four people carrying a coffin on a bier, in the ordinary way used at funerals, and passed through the barn. He was so terrified, that he started back till this procession passed away. But before he could make his escape, the figure of a third woman came in and took the riddle from him. He left the barn instantly, and came to the dwelling house in great terror and agitation. The person who told me was at this moment in the house. The master of the family examined his servant strictly, in the presence of all, where he had been, what he had been about, and if he had seen anything. The servant told every circumstance as above related. The old man replied, ‘You shall be three times married, and you have already seen the funeral of your two first wives.’ The man was actually married three times, buried two of his wives, and died himself before the last wife.

However incredible this story may appear, I see no way to overturn it. I have heard of other adventures of this nature, where the woman went in to riddle in the barn, and the apparitions of men came in, with their clothes wet or bloody; and these women’s husband are said to have been drowned or killed.” 

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