With the end of the year upon us, it’s a good time to have a good clear out and tidy up in the home in readiness for the New Year. This is one of many Scottish traditions carried out at Hogmanay and it is known as ‘redding’ the house. The New Year should bring a completely fresh start, so the entire house is cleaned and the dirt swept out of the back door along with the ‘auld year’. At midnight on Hogmanay, the back door is left open to allow the stagnant energies of the Old Year out, and it is considered very bad luck to open the front door before midnight and the arrival of the ‘first foot’, who brings in the energy of the New Year. As a child growing up in Glasgow I remember we used to do this in our house, and such traditions were even stronger in Aberdeen where we sometimes spent New Year visiting relatives. My sister was once chastised by our aunt (who was very superstitious) for opening the front door at ten minutes to midnight to let the cat out! It’s not just about having a clean house for your expected visitors, although clearly that is important; you don’t want any stagnant energy left in the house after ‘the bells,’ especially if the household has seen tragedy or experienced a bad year financially. It was also traditional to make sure that all your household debts were cleared and bills paid by the end of the year so that all ties to the past are severed and closed. Although this is a worthy aspiration, it is unlikely that many people are in a position to do this in today’s society.
Many Hogmanay traditions are centred on fire and the hearth. The hearth was always cleared of old ashes on Hogmanay, and a new fire laid ready to be lit after ‘the bells.’ We can see in this a remnant of the mid-winter fire festivals, where the emphasis is on keeping the lights burning through the darkest part of the year. Hogmanay was the main winter holiday in Scotland (Christmas was just a normal working day until 1958), so the main celebrations always took place at the New Year. Even today, January 2 is still a public holiday in Scotland but not in England. Many local festivals continue the traditions today, such as the ‘Burning the Clavie’ at Burghead in Moray, where a flaming half-barrel of pitch and sawdust on the end of a pole is carried through the town (although this occurs on 11 January, a hangover from the old Julian calendar); the carrying of flambeaux through Comrie in Perthshire, or the swinging fireballs that are whirled round the heads of strong young men marching through Stonehaven. These are all cleansing rituals intended to banish the darkness and drive out ‘evil spirits’ from the towns. In many cities such rituals have been replaced by firework displays, but the basic intention is the same.
Traditionally the first person across the threshold after the bells (the ‘first foot’) would carry a lump of coal to ensure that there would always be warmth and fire in the house. This would be used to start the first fire of the year. Other traditional gifts would be salt, which was a traditional gift of friendship that could be used to symbolically cleanse the house; some food, usually a black bannock or bun, and of course a small bottle of whisky; these last two to ensure that the family would never want for food or drink. The ‘first foot’ should ideally be a tall, dark-haired stranger to ensure good luck for the household, but in many houses just to make sure that there was a first-foot, the man of the household would exit the back door bearing the required offerings, run round to the front and stand outside the front door ready to be welcomed in immediately after the bells. Woe betide the household whose first-foot was a blonde or red-haired man or woman; this was considered to be dreadfully unlucky.
Another cleansing ritual that many houses carried out was to purify the dwelling with something representing each of the four elements. Firstly a branch dripping with water, ideally from a ford ‘crossed by the living and dead’ (i.e. on a coffin path), was used to sprinkle the water around all the rooms. This was followed by a flaming branch of juniper to ‘smudge’ the interior of any remaining detrimental energies, until the place was so thick with smoke that it made everyone cough, whereupon all the doors and windows were opened and a restorative ‘dram’ was issued to everyone present to soothe the ‘thrapple’ (throat). Sometimes salt, to represent the element of Earth, was sprinkled round the perimeter of the house, which formed a protective barrier against any malevolent spirit energy.
We can take something of these traditions and use them to space-clear our own homes of detrimental energies at this time of year. One that my mother taught me is to quarter an onion and place the four parts in the outermost corners of the house. These are then left overnight to collect all the detrimental energies, and then taken outside and either burned or buried in the ground. A variant of this is to place an egg at the centre of the house, which is then disposed of in the same manner.
Smudging the house is a good idea too, and although it may be hard to find a juniper branch where you live, you can use the now widely-accepted white sage from Native American tradition. You can buy white sage sticks in any ‘new-age’ shop. Just light the end until smouldering then waft it around, traditionally using a feather, making sure you get the smoke into all the corners. You can also precede your smudging by going around inside the house with a noise-making device like a drum, bell or singing bowl – even a saucepan and wooden spoon will do – to release any stuck energies, then finish off with your smudging.
By combining some of the traditional rituals with our space-clearing techniques, we can give the old stagnant energies in our dwelling a good shake-up and space-clear the house ready to start afresh in the New Year. Give the place a good clean, make sure everything is tidy, and then decide what space-clearing methods to employ. I still like to do the quartered-onion routine, smudging, and leave windows and door open for the bells.
Then all you need to do is to make sure that you have some whisky on hand to welcome your ‘first foot’ – or perhaps you know someone fitting the required description who you could book in advance?
If you would like to have a more in-depth check of your house to resolve any detrimental energies, geopathic stress, psychic issues, and survey for electro-pollution, you might wish to consider engaging my services for a consultation. A full home consultation takes around 3 hours on-site and can make a tremendous difference to the energy of your property and the health of the inhabitants.
Check under the ‘services’ tab for more information.
Happy New Year, and “lang may yer lum reek!”
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3 thoughts on “Space-Clear Your House for Hogmanay”
Wonderful information Grahame, and so similar to what people always observed here in Ireland. Cleaning the house, a tall dark haired man to be the first to enter after midnight; and never anyone with red hair! I recall my old neighbour Seamus telling me that one years ago. Also bearing coal ,or salt on first footing. Here they have a strange tradition of making Christmas Bread to chase away bad luck and used portions of it to either throw at the front door, or bang against the walls and doors inside?? Honouring the recent dead also often happens at this time as well, as at Samhain. Letting out, or sweeping away the old year was traditional as well, using the back door. Which is curious having lived here, as none of the really old houses have a back door. Our cottage is 1850’s and only has one door in and out. We had to knock another one through a 3 foot thick wall stone as a modern fire escape! Also people here tend to come in via the back door and hardly ever use the front door, save for the priest! Maybe some of these traditions were more common in towns? Mistletoe was placed beneath your pillow if you were single on this night so you would dream of your future partner and a large meal was often taken and no work would be done on that day. One curious custom was connected with Cú Chulainn (probably in the North?). It involved cleaning all the dishes so Cú Chulainn would leave you treats. Or, taking out all the purses and wallets from the house just before midnight and bringing them back in just afterwards, so that people won’t have money trouble in the New Year. Which reminded me of what you said about clearing all debts at this time Grahame. We also had the Wren Boys, ‘Hunting the Wren’ or ‘Wran” on St. Stephens Day, and The Mummers who went from house to house performing their Mystery play (both still do today in some areas). I taught a lovely couple last January, just before lockdown, up in Co. Leitrim, how to make their own straw hats and costumes. Edwina and Brain have since started up The Mummers Project, visiting older people locally and playing and dancing for them to help them cope with being so isolated. So wonderful to see such an old Irish tradition brought back, to help with our present, very unusually News years situation. Also to see the hats that I help them make being used so positively! Here is a link to one of their You Tube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53uFUqxS8Fg&feature=emb_title
Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh! (Happy New Year!),
Really interesting to hear of the Irish traditions Melanie. I’ve always thought that the wren-hunting was mainly an English thing, but Frazer’s Golden Bough says that it ‘still takes place in parts of Leinster and Connaught’. Mind you, my copy dates from 1954! :-0
I love the Modern Mummers too – we need more of this sort of thing!
happy New Year to you and yours.
Good old Frazer! I think ‘Hunting The Wren’ was far wider spread tradition, and we even have a local pub of that name in Woodford. It was more of a St. Stephens Day tradition, while The Mummers are more linked to the festive season in general. They are all gradually coming back into fashion over here, and long may that continue! Thank you Grahame and heres hoping we all have a far better dowsing year in 2021!