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Myths and legends - The Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland – Ghosts



Type of Spiritual Experience


This is an ethnographic study of the inhabitants of the North-Eastern area of Scotland in the mid-19th century, at a time when an agrarian, barter economy still prevailed. 

A description of the experience

From Notes onThe Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland By Walter Gregor  [1881]


THERE was hardly a mansion in the country in which there was not a haunted room. In one room a lady had been murdered and her body buried in a vault below it. Her spirit could find no rest till she had told who the murderer was, and pointed out where the body lay. In another, a baby-heir had its little life stifled by the hand of an assassin hired by the next heir after the baby. The estate was got, but the deed followed the villain beyond the grave, and his spirit could find no peace. Night after night the spirit had to return at the hour of midnight to the room in which the murder was committed, and in agony spend in it the hours till cock-crowing, when everything of the supernatural had to disappear.

In the wall of another had an unjust relative, that the estate might become his own, concealed its title-deeds. But there was no rest for him in the other world till the title-deeds were given back, and the estate had returned to the rightful heir. Come he must to the room in whose wall the documents of the estate lay hid.

Generation after generation must those troubled spirits return to the scene of their life, and wait till some one was found bold enough to stay in the haunted room over night, and question the spirits what they wanted.

Now and again one was found with heart enough to face the spirit. The haunted room was made ready. He, who was to do the daring deed, about nightfall entered the room, bearing with him a table, a chair, a candle, a compass, a crucifix, if one could be got, and a Bible. With the compass he cast a circle on the middle of the floor, large enough to hold the chair and the table. He placed within the circle the chair and the table, and on the table he laid the Bible and the crucifix beside the lighted candle. If he had not a crucifix, then he drew the figure of a cross on the floor within the circle.

When all this was done, he seated himself on the chair, opened the Bible, and waited for the coming of the spirit. Exactly at midnight the spirit came. Sometimes the door opened slowly, and there glided in noiselessly a lady sheeted in white with a face of woe, and told her story to the man on his asking her in the name of God what she wanted. What she wanted was done in the morning, and the spirit rested ever after. Sometimes the spirit rose from the floor, and sometimes came forth from the wall. One there was who burst into the room with strong bound, danced wildly round the circle, and flourished a long whip round the man's head, but never dared to step within the circle. During a pause in his frantic dance he was asked, in God's name, what he wanted. He ceased his dance, and told his wishes. His wishes were carried out, and the spirit was in peace.

Excessive grief for a departed friend, combined with a want of resignation to the will of Providence, had the effect of keeping the spirit from rest in the other world. Rest could be obtained only by the spirit coming back and comforting the mourner by the assurance that it was in a state of blessedness.

When a murder was committed and not discovered, often has the spirit of the murdered one continued to come back and torment the murderer till a confession of the crime was made, and justice satisfied.

Sometimes the spirit itself was the executioner of vengeance. A man murdered his lady-love; he escaped to sea. One stormy night a bright light was seen at a distance; every eye was upon it. It came nearer and nearer. As it came nearer, it began to assume a human form. Nearer yet, till it was close to the ship. It bore the look of a beautiful lady with sorrow and reproach on every feature. Among the crew

"There was silence deep as death;
And the boldest held his breath
For a time."

A voice came from the lady calling one of the sailors by name. Well did he know that voice. It was a voice he once loved to hear; but now it struck terror into him, and he trembled in every limb; there was a spell on him. He must come forth, and over the bulwarks and down the ship's side; the lady-ghost clasped him in her arms, and both disappeared in a "flash of fire."

The belief was that not only houses, but also that certain spots, woods, parts of public roads, bridges, and some churchyards were haunted by ghosts. In one spot candles have burned night after night. Across this part of a road what seemed a body of men marched in close array. Near this wood every night appeared a sheeted ghost. The church-bell in this churchyard has been heard ringing at midnight loud above the howl of the storm. Those who were aware of such haunted places, after nightfall made a long round-about to avoid passing them

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items


Activities and commonsteps



Visiting telluric hot spots