Lykewake Pipers Tales

Acts of the Synod Of Moray 1640

The Brethren being informed of and deeplie weighted with the superstitious and heathnish customes practised at Lykewakes in manie places within this diocie, at which time sin and scandell does greatlie abound, to the dishonour of the Great Lord and offence of sober Christians, for redressing thereof and that the deportment and cariages of such who resort these Lykewakes may be as becometh Christianitie, the Brethren forsaid ordains that the ordinarie crowding multitude of profane and idle persons be debarred, and that none frequent or countenance these meetings but three of the defuncts nearest relations or those that may be useful for Christiane Counsell and comfort to the mourners and afflicted, discharging stricklie all light and lacivious exercises, sports, Lyksongs, idling and dancing and that anie present at such occasions behave themselves gravely, christianlie, civilly and soberlie, spending the time in reading the scriptures and conferences upon mortalitie ; Ordaining this Act to be publicklie read throught the diocie.’

This opens up a whole area of inquiry. What were Lyksongs and have any survived? What was the light and lacivious exercises? Sports? and dancing? Was this a celebration or a fun send-off for the deceased?

Lykewake dance to slow bagpipe or violin music.

The subsequent statement particularly refers to the united parishes of Crathy and Braemar in the county of Aberdeen; and the practice which it records was not completely discontinued about the year 1726.

‘However inconsistent and absurd such a practice may appear to most people now (and it would be considered as ridiculous at this period, even in the same country where it once prevailed), when any member of a family died, a musician was immediately sent for, and before the internment, as soon indeed as possible after the person had expired, the whole family, excepting the children, were desirous to vent their sorrow by a kind of dancing. The musician accordingly played on the violin or bagpipe slow plaintive music, the nearest friends (that is relations) of the deceased appeared first on the floor, took the first dance, and expressed their grief by their motion as well as by their tears. The honest man who communicated the account of this custom to our author, likewise told him that it was just about wearing out at the time when he was first employed as a musician; that in this capacity he was called to three or four of these houses of mourning, and that the custom, though very prevalent before in the country, was soon after universally discontinued’

The person whose authority is here quoted was a celebrated performer on the violin, John Cameron, descended of a respectable family of that name, and a native of the parish of Crathie.

From The History of Poetry in Scotland, David Irving Edinburgh 1861, p155 (notes) (life of the author (pxix) prefixed to Helenore; or the Fortunate Shepherdess, a pastoral Tale, by Alexander Ross, Dundee 1812)