Orkney Halloween Traditions

Like in many parts of Scotland, Halloween has been celebrated in Orkney for years.

Until recently, however, Halloween in Orkney was known as "Devilment Night”; a night of pranks and havoc caused by the youngsters of Orkney, as well as the occasional adult. Fair warning, those venturing out late on the 31st of October, or early on the 1st of November may meet hay bales in the middle of the road. Other Devilment Night stories remember wheelie bins being relocated around the island, picnic benches on top of phone boxes and boats turning up in the most bizarre of places!

These pranks are fairly harmless and the most Orcadians and willing to turn a blind eye to the mischief of the night.

There are many other Orkney Halloween traditions; let us know if you have even partaken in them.

Neepy Lanterns

Before the American pumpkin became a Halloween favourite, many Scots and Islanders used neeps (or swedes if you live outside of Scotland) for lanterns. They follow a similar idea to pumpkin carving; hollowing out the middle, creating a face on the outside and using a tea light.

Neepy Lanterns are a fair challenge to carve, however, due to their smaller size and hard innards so we can see the appeal in the soft insides of a pumpkin!

Pro-tip for the neepy lantern; using a “lid” that’s slightly larger than the neep can make the lantern look like they’re wearing a hat.

Penny for my pop

In Stromness, their traditions take a slightly different slant. Instead of lanterns, the children would carve heads from turnips and impale them on sticks. They would then take their turnip-victim from door to door asking for a “penny me Pop”.

This is an updated version of the older anti-Catholic tradition where they asked for a "penny to burn the Pope". Likely not PC enough for 2022.

Orkney Ghost stories

Like many places around Scotland, Orkney has a marvellous tradition of storytelling, however, it was always an oral tradition. Because of this, few stories exist in a written form today and still rely on grannies and grandpas retelling ghost stories for their little ones.

The Golden Chain, of unknown origin, is one that made it into a written format:

There was once a man from Rackwick, in Hoy, who was travelling home late one night.

Picking his way carefully along the clifftop path he encountered two strange men.

The travellers were dressed in the garb of sailors and said nothing to the Rackwick man, save ask him for the time.

Rather bemused at finding two strangers abroad on such a dark night the Rackwick man pulled his watch from his waistcoat pocket and told the two men the time, all the while trying to see whether he could recognise them.

The stranger nodded and then asked the man where he had obtained such a fine watch.

Slightly suspicious at first, our homeward-bound traveller replied that he had purchased the watch on the Scottish mainland a few months previously, while there on a fishing trip.

He watched the inquisitive strangers carefully, fearful that they might be out to rob him.

The stranger smiled. "If you look carefully at the watch, there is a number stamped within. Upon the back of the case is the number 221268."

"Well truth be told, I have never paid the watch much attention," said the Hoyman. "but I will check if it makes you happy."

Opening the watch and squinting at the casing by flickering matchlight, sure enough, the number was there. Exactly as quoted by the dark stranger.

The stranger nodded, seemingly ignoring the Hoyman's look of amazement, and simply pointed to the bottom of the cliff.

"Go to the beach at the bottom of this geo and there, on a ledge, you will find my mortal remains. Check within the pocket and you will find the chain that belongs to your watch. Go now and recover the remains, give them a fitting burial and you shall never want for anything again, so long as you live. But fail and you will have no rest. Day or night!!"

At that both figures vanished, melting into nothingness like grey sea mist. The Hoyman was terrified and took to running, as fast as his feet would carry him, along the cliff-top path and back to Rackwick. Only there, once safely behind his bolted door, did he pause for breath.

The next morning dawned grey. The man lay in his bed until late contemplating the events of the night before - in particular the solemn spectre's grim warning about failure.

Finally, plucking up the courage, he threw back the covers, dressed and stepped out into the cool winter morn. A short while later he had gathered a small band of older fishermen, and the group set out for the specified geo.

Sure enough, upon their arrival, upon a ledge lapped by the sea, they found a skeleton, dressed in tattered rags. The man checked the pocket and withdrew a glistening gold chain. The fishermen quietly recovered the remains of the perished sailor and returned with them to Rackwick.

The remains were finally laid to rest some days later within the hallowed ground of the old churchyard.

Never again did a traveller encounter the two lost sailors.

Thanks to http://www.orkneyjar.com/ for the story.

October 27, 2022
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