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!”