The Devil and Piping


O Thou.’whatever title suits thee;-
Auld Hornie, Satan, Nick or Clootie ; -
Wha in yon cavern grim an’ Sootie ,
Clos’d under hatches
Spairges about the brunstane cootie
To scaud poor wretches:

— Address to the Deil, verse 1, Robert Burns

As the devil is author of charms and spells, so is he the author of several baudy songs which are sung. A reverend minister told me, that one who was the devil’s piper., a wizard, confessed to him that at a ball of dancing, the foul spirit taught him a baudy song to sing and play, as it were this night, and ere two days passed, all the lads and lasses of the town were lilting it through the streets; it were an abomination.
— George Sinclair, Satan's Invisible World Discovered, 1685 (Edinburgh1871) p.p.163, 219)


The most approved charm against cantrips and spells was a branch of the rowan tree plaited and placed over the door. This sacred tree cannot be removed by unholy fingers.

"Rowan tree and rid threed,

Pits the witches tae their speed"

(Cromek; Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Songs , London 1810 p.p 232)

Banishing Fairies

"Whare the scythe cuts and the sock rives,

Hae done wi' fairies an' bee-bykes".

The land once ripped by the ploughshare or the sward passed over by the scythe proclaimed the banishment of the fairies from that land forever . (Cromek p.248)

Dancing with the Devil

At the conclusion of what may be termed the ‘business’ side of the meeting, (with the Devil) the festivities of the evening began and usually ended in dancing. The ceremonial dances were the ring dance, and a complicated version of follow-my-leader dance, in which it was not uncommon for the devil or coven master to lead. At the North Berwick meeting Geilie Duncan played on a trump (jews harp) we are told, and John Fian (masked) led the dances. Some of these dances survive to the present day and one known as La Volta is said to be the origin of our present day waltz.

The music was frequently supplied by the master who either sat in the centre of the ring of dancers, or led the dances. Jonet Lucas was accused , ‘Thou and they was under the conduct of thy master the Devil, dancing in ane ring, and he playing melodiously upon ane instrument.’

Isobel Cockie at the same gathering disapproved of the Devil’s playing: ‘Thou wast the ring leader, next Thomas Leyis; and because the Devil played not as melodiously and well as thou could, thou took his instrument out of his mouth, then took him on the chaps therewith and played thyself there on to the whole company.’

We are indebted to John Stuart of the Paisley coven for an interesting detail regarding the Devil’s singing;

‘His voice, sounded hollow and goustie’

Lascivious dancing.JPG

Sinclair who declares the devil to be originally the author of several baudy songs, goes on to relate a tale about a piper to whom the devil, ‘At a ball of dancing taught him a baudy song to sing, and play as it were this night, and ere two days past all the Lads and Lasses of the town were lilting it throw the street. It were an abomination to rehearse it.’ (this recalls the story that the tunes of songs are made by Angels while the words by the Devil)

A coven of witches was discovered at Borrowstownes (Bo’ness) and of Annaple Thomson the chief witch it is recorded, ‘Ye and ilk ane of you was at ane meeting with the devil and other witches at the cross of Murestaine, upon the threttin of October last, where you all danced, and the Devil acted the Piper.’

Helen Guthrie of the Forfar coven, confessed, ‘They daunced together, and the ground under them was all fyre flauchter, and Andrew Watson hade his usuale staff in his hand, altho he be a blind man yet he daunced as nimbly as any of the company, and made also great meriment by singing his old ballads, and Isobell Shyrrie did sing her song called Tinkletum Tankletum, and that the Devil kissed every one of the women.’

From Rowan Tree and Red Thread – Thomas Davidson, Edinburgh 1949 p16 & 17