Hogmanay, the Scottish name for New Year, is most closely allied with ancient pagan rites of cleansing, the underlying premise being that there had to be a concerted effort to remove the old and decayed from ones home and personal life before the New Year could properly approach and take up residence.
The women would get thoroughly busy and scrub the daylights out of everything; the dead and done for was tossed in a pile and burned on bonfires to commit the unwanted in the neighbourhood to the flames, so that it could not impede the arrival of all that was new.
The human mind too had to give up old ways and worn concepts, which is an admirable project, although the imbibing of liquor in vast quantities must seem, on first look, to defeat the purpose. However some argue, usually from the outside of an empty bottle, that taking a drink to clear the ‘heid’ and induce an empty mind is as good a way as any.
Of course it’s difficult, there is a balancing act to maintain, because there are the Christmas celebrations to get through a week before Hogmanay, and then later in January there are the heady remembrances of the great iconic Scots poet, Robert Burns to celebrate. Truly it’s hardly worth getting sober; it’s a tricky tight rope to traverse, don’t you think?
On New Year’s Eve in rural Scotland a determined effort is made to rid the house and yard of the unwanted spirits, some of them no doubt old and decrepit and ready to go; the others, well, they’re young and frisky and watching to take advantage of any crack in human intentions.
On the stroke of midnight out the man of the ‘hoose’ would go, double barrel shotgun in hand, to shoot rounds of warning shot up into the air and deter those pesky chancers. But like everything else in life there were inherent dangers in this activity, especially if the lord and master had been on a course of liquorous intake to reach that point of essential nothingness, for more than the bums of spirit vagrants got peppered. Often the cold light of the following day would reveal that what had been taken as the form of a boggle would turn out to be the remnants of the weather vane, or the post box, even the dormer windows.
It’s so difficult! Whether one is existing in the present or lost to it, the chances of encountering illusion are ever-present.
Letting off firearms to cleanse the neighbourhood is probably not a bright idea these days. There are too many people who’ll quickly get the wrong idea, people who have no understanding of another world that has to be kept in its place, people who are paid handsomely to look for trouble everywhere, the soffits of farm buildings not excluded.
No one quite knows the origin of Hogmanay, but ‘Hug Me Now’, is definitely not part of the original intent. Yet another narrow path to tread for those seeking emptiness, who might be excused, when in that spirituous condition, for making a grab at that which is definitely forbidden, usually reserved stock – other folk’s husbands and wives.



  1. I recall a piper playing, marching up and down in the snow at midnight in front of the Shoolbraids’ house many years ago; was the purpose of that to send away unwelcome spirits, or to welcome in the new?

    • Hi,Elizabeth, so can I she did it for several years. A young American woman playing the pipes, and not half bad. Can’t for the moment recall her name, remember she subsisted on chicken wings and cabbage.
      Note, when you suck on the pipes the good stuff comes in, when you blow the deck gets cleared!


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