THE STONE OF DESTINY
The ancient custom of conveying the mortar stane of Fordyce to a maid’s door on Hogmanay Nicht, sadly, no longer takes place. It is said that the ritual began after an almost unbelievable course of events at the house of Maggie Wilson, who lived in the village at one time. Maggie had four daughters in all, each one, it seems, being very plain in appearance. As time went by, she became concerned because none of the girls could find husbands.
Around this time, Maggie acquired a mortar stane, which she set at the house door. This was a hollowed stone in which grain would have been pounded to remove the husks, or it could have been used to dye material. Soon after its arrival, the girls each found a man, and were all married at a broadside. Village folk joked about the weddings and suggested that Maggie’s luck might be hidden in the mortar stane, which now sat at her door.
One night, then, a few lads, with good intent, decided to remove the stone on Hogmanay Night and leave it at the door of another spinster in the village who needed help in the marriage stakes. They decided that the stone should remain at its new destination for a full year for the luck to take effect. And it worked: the chosen maid was married before the next year was at its close.
Portsoy poet Thomas Anderson wrote of the fun of the night in his poem,
‘The Mortar Stane’
Here is part of it:
‘I mind ae night a consultation
About the Stane’s new destination,
When after grave deliberation,
The cart came birlin,
Then quickly it gat exaltation,
An’ aff gaed hurlin.
Some at the wheels – at ilka tram,
Roun’ the hin’ door, what we could cram;
While mony a weary squeeze an’ jam
Gat tae an’ finger,
As roun’ the toun slap-dash we cam’ –
We didna linger.
High on the Stane sat, hiddle-diddle,
Auld Davie Quaver wi’ his fiddle;
Nae slough, quagmire, green-breeze, or puddle
Could stop our way;
But dash thro’ a, up tae the middle,
‘Mang dub an’ clay.
An’ when we reach’d the destin’d door,
Wi’ sic a noise, din, an’ splore,
“Hie! Stop the cart! Some dozens roar –
Out wi’ the Stane!
She’d sham’d its virtues ance afore,
We’ll try’t again.”
Up gaed the cart, doun gaed the Stane:
Ohone! It gaedna doun its lane –
Wha thought on Davie? Sorra ane,
Or on his fiddle,
Till heelstirhead puir Davie’s gane,
Into the puddle.
Some shook for fear that we had fell’d him,
Some wad hae laughed tho’ ye’d kill’d them,
While ithers danc’d an’ jeer’d an’ tell’d him
To gi’es a tune;
Gude only pity those who smell’d him,
Oh, sic a fume.
We pu’d him dreepin’ frae the mire:
Guess ye if he was in sma’ ire:
The dubs had quench’d Apollo’s fire,
An Davie sware,
Tho’ he should beg through toun an’ shire,
He’d play nae mair.
The fiddle’s back was fairly broken,
The soundstick thro’ her belly cockin’;
The bow in twa, as clean’s a docken,
O vile mishap!
Fiddler an’ fiddle baith soundly slocken,
Frae tae to tap.
But aye we carried on the splore,
Nor halted till at Jeanie’s door
The Stane was set; syne sic a roar
As rent the air!
Fu’ brawly Jeanie kent what for
The Stane was there………..
For years after, the tradition of moving the mortar stane to a maid’s door on Hogmanay Night continued and was never known to fail. The chosen maid would be married within the year. Its powers became known to all in the district, and such was its fame that a party formed in Bogmuchals to come and carry it off. A guard was mounted by the Fordyce lads, and nothing came of the attempted raid.
The mortar stane came to a rather untimely end. On one Hogmanay Night, it was lain at the door of a maid who felt she had no need of help in finding a man. So infuriated was she that she vented her anger on the stone and broke it. A substitute stane was found, but it never seemed to possess quite the same degree of good fortune as had resided in Maggie’s stane. However, it did work for Bess Ewan and Davy Hay. The young lads of the village deposited the stane at her door on Hogmanay Nicht, 1937. She and Davy were engaged on July 21, 1938 and married on December 3 that year. In an interview in ‘The Weekly journal’, December 4, 1947, Bess was quoted as saying: “The Fordyce Mortar Stone, you can tell them it worked with me”. Her husband dug his hands shyly into his dungaree pockets and added: “Aye, we were married within twelve month – just like it says”.
no images were found
Our Hogmanay tale ends there. What fun there must have been!
no images were found