BRECHIN The Ancient City

Hallowe'en - a story by Colin Gibson (originally published in the Dundee Courier)

Fun and frolic there may be, but Hallowe'en still has an eerie quality of its own.

Nowadays it means guisers and turnip lanterns, Hallowe'en cakes in the shops, iced in orange and black and decorated with silhouettes of witches and black cats.

Yet these are but the shadowy survivals of the solemn rites of our ancestors when they held their ceremonies of sacrifice and purification around their cairns and megalithic circles.

It was the time of year when the sun failed in strength, and left nature to the powers of darkness.  Witches and warlocks and all the denizens of the "other world" were out and about, and liable to do harm.

Hence the use of bonfires and flaming torches as protective measures.

Centuries ago, Hallowe'en bonfires could be seen burning at night over the whole of Scotland.

Such hills as Dundee Law, Kinnoull at Perth, Evelick Hill in the Carse, East and West Lomond, Hunter's Hill at Glamis, and Kirriemuir's Catlaw all formed links in this chain of fire.

A place long associated with Hallowe'en witches was the Caterthun, north-west of Brechin.

To transport and build the immense rampart of stones on this 900 ft hill seemed far beyond human capability, and it was believed to be the work of witches who held their revels there on Hallowe'en night.

Nowadays, well-lit streets dispel any witches that are liable to be around.  But years ago, whenever I crossed Brechin's 800-year old bridge over "Auld Esk" in the gathering dusk, I had a feeling that I might well meet an apparition of some sort - possibly the ghost of an oldtime salmon poacher, or even the Ancient City's witch-wife Jonat Coupar and her branded dog!


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