“On Hallow-Mass Eve the Night-Hag will ride”

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In Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley  (1814), a book often heralded as one of the first historical novels, Edward Waverley pays a visit to the Baron of Bradwardine at Tully-Veolan. While there, the Baron’s daughter, Rose Bradwardine sings a haunting ballad about “a projecting peak of an impending crag” that had acquired the strange name of ‘Saint Swithin’s Chair.’ Saint Swithin’s Chair is described as “the scene of a peculiar superstition, of which Mr. Rubrick mentioned some curious particulars, which reminded Edward Waverley of a rhyme quoted by Edgar in King Lear.” The song states that if a person is brave enough to sit on Saint Swithin’s Chair and utter the spell on hallow-mass eve, they can stop the night-hag and ask her three questions which she must answer.  After her pleasing rendition of the spooky ballad, Rose describes it as a fragmented recounting  of “the return of the Baron from the wars, and how the lady was found “clay-cold upon the grounsill ledge.”

While Waverley seems enthralled by the creepy legend and desires to hear more, the Baron  of Bradwardine displays a “strange defiance of the marvellous” and dismisses it as

“…one of those figments…with which the early history of distinguished families was deformed in the times of superstition; as that of Rome, and other ancient nations, had their prodigies, sir, the which you may read in ancient histories, or in the little work compiled by Julius Obsequens, and inscribed by The Learned Scheffer, the editor, to his patron, Benedictus Skytte, Benedictus Skytte.”

Saint Swithin’s Chair

On Hallow-Mass Eve, ere ye boune ye to rest,
Ever beware that your couch be bless’d;
Sign it with cross, and sain it with bead,
Sing the Ave, and say the Creed.

For on Hallow-Mass Eve the Night-Hag will ride,
And all her nine-fold sweeping on by her side,
Whether the wind sing lowly or loud,
Sailing through moonshine or swath’d in the cloud.

 

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The Lady she sat in Saint Swithin’s Chair,
The dew of the night has damp’d her hair:
Her cheek was pale – but resolved and high
Was the word of her lip and the glance of her eye.

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She mutter’d the spell of Swithin bold,
When his naked foot traced the midnight wold,
When he stopp’d the Hag as she rode the night,
And bade her descend, and her promise plight.

He that dare sit on Saint Swithin’s Chair,
When the Night-Hag wings the troubled air,
Questions three, when he speaks the spell,
He may ask, and she must tell.

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The Baron has been with King Robert his liege
These three long years in battle and siege;
News are there none of his weal or his woe,
And fain the Lady his fate would know.

She shudders and stops as the charm she speaks;
Is it the moody owl that shrieks?
Or is it that sound, betwixt laughter and scream,
The voice of the Demon who haunts the stream?

The moan of the wind sunk silent and low,
And the roaring torrent had ceased to flow;
The calm was more dreadful than raging storm,
When the cold grey mist brought the ghastly Form!

 

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