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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1952 (SND Vol. III). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

CLAVIE, CLEVIE, n. [′kle:vi]

1. A torch carried round the boats in Morayshire fishing villages on New Year's Eve with the object of “blessing the boats” and ensuring a successful season. This is regarded as a survival of the old Druidical fire worship.Mry. 1705 Session Records of Kinneddar (23 Dec.) in Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot. (1875) X. 656:
Did guard ye Seamen to beware of ye old Heathenish superstitious practice of carrieing lighted Clevies or torches about yr boats on new years even.
Mry. 1929 J. M. McPherson Prim. Beliefs N.-E. Scot. 22:
As late as 1875 the Clavie was duly carried to one vessel just ready for sea. . . . Only when faith in its virtue had died out — this vessel appears to have been sunk — did the Clavie cease to be carried round the boats.

2. A tar-barrel, filled with fir wood and combustibles and supported by a wooden pole and stays, which is burnt in the village of Burghead, Moray, on Hogmanay (Old Style) and is “intended to provide the town with good fortune and good health for the coming year. . . . Strong, sure-footed men are chosen as bearers, for if they stumble or fall, bad luck to the town will follow” (Mry. 1939 F. Drake-Carnell It's an old Sc. Custom 34). Gen. found in phr. the burning of the clavie.Mry. 1861 J. Macdonald in Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot. (1863) IV. 360:
Of late, the burning of the clavie has degenerated into a mere pastime, and will probably soon be numbered among the things that were.
Mry. 1932 Scotsman (12 Jan.):
The annual sacrifice to the god of fire known as the burning of the clavie, which is . . . the last fire festival in this country, was carried out last night at Burghead. . . . The clavie . . . was carried at a trot through the streets to the Doorie Hill, where it was placed in its stone cradle. . . . As the flames died down the crowd swarmed up the hill and scrambled for the charred faggots, many of which will be sent throughout the world as emblems of luck to natives of the town abroad.
Mry. 1936 Times (13 Jan.) 9/5:
The Clavie was as usual . . . carried at a trot through the principal streets of the town and “lucky” blazing faggots were flung into the houses of Provost Chisholm, ex-Provost Gordon, and other prominent residents.

[Origin unknown. Cf. however Clivvie, clevie, clavie, a cleft in a piece of iron or wood for holding a fir-candle. The first known reference to the custom of carrying lighted torches round fishing boats is contained in Records Presb. Elgin (11 Jan. 1655), where, however, the word clavie is not mentioned (see Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot. X. 652). At that time participants in this “Idolatrous & heathenish practice” were punished by the presbytery. The word first appears in the Kirk-Session Records Par. of Duffus (7 Jan. 1666): “sex skippers . . . were delated for burning their clavies upon Satturday last before new yeires even.” The practice (applied to crops and cattle) has also been recorded in the inland parish of Inveravon, where it may either have been copied from the fishermen, or may be instanced as proof that the custom was once prevalent throughout the country. A more likely orig. is ad. Gael. cliabh, a basket, used for holding the combustibles.]

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"Clavie n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 19 Jul 2024 <>



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