Sconemac's, The Burning of the Clavie

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The Burning of the Clavie
(Part of the Celebration of Samhain)

Samhain, traditionally celebrated by a feast held in honour of the ancestors. Samhain was the great "gathering of the tribes". People would travel great distances to attend their tribal feast. The festival actually lasted over a period of nine days. What has come down to us in folklore customs associated with "halloween" in the form of disguising or dressing up for Halloween, pumpkin lanterns and apple dunking is but a faint shadow of this ancient Celtic fire festival.

In present times another of these celebration (one of these ancient fire festivals) takes place every year at Burghead, in Moray. This is known as "the burning of the clavie", which is carried out on the night of January 11 (New year's Day according to the old calendar) however the custom has many similarities with the Celtic festival of Samhain.

The clavie was once a herring barrel filled with tar and packed with staves. Today, iron-hooped whisky barrels daubed with creosote are used. The barrel is nailed onto a carrying post - the same nail is used every year. The clavie is lit by a peat from the hearth of an old Burghead Provost, and from there carried by the elected Clavie King. Each of the ten or so men (usually fishermen) take turns to carry the burning clavie clockwise around the streets of Burghead, occasionally stopping at the houses of former eminent citizens to present a smouldering charred coal of the clavie in the doorway to bring the household good luck for the year ahead.

The men proceed to the stone altar of an old fort on Doorie Hill, the clavie is set down here and more fuel is added until the hillside is ablaze with a beacon of fire.

This is the burning of the Clavie, and dates back to pagan times.

Nancy MacCorkill, F.S.A. Scot
Poet, Author, Researcher,
Historian of the Ancient Clans of Scotland



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