Taigheirm
A magical sacrifice of cats to the infernal spirits, formerly
practiced in the Highlands and islands of Scotland. It is believed
to have been originally a ceremony of sacrifice from the
more northern lands to the subterranean gods, which became
in Christian times an invocation of infernal spirits. The word
taigheirm signifies either an armory, or the cry of a cat, according
to the sense in which it is used.
An early description of the ceremony, which must be performed
with black cats, is given in George C. Horst’s Deuteroscopie
(1830)
‘‘After the cats were dedicated to all the devils, and put into
a magico-sympathetic condition by the shameful things done
to them, and the agony occasioned them, one of them was at
once put upon the spit, and, amid terrific howlings, roasted before
a slow fire. The moment that the howls of one tortured cat
ceased in death, another was put upon the spit, for a minute of
interval must not take place if they would control hell; and this
continued for the four entire days and nights. If the exorcist
could hold it out still longer, and even till his physical powers
were absolutely exhausted, he must do so.’’
When the horrible rites had been continued for a time, the
demons began to appear in the shape of black cats, who mingled
their dismal cries with those of the unfortunate sacrifices.
At length a cat appeared of larger size and more frightful aspect
than the others, and the time had come for the exorcist
to make known his demands. Usually he asked for the gift of
second sight, but other rewards might be asked for and received.
The last Taigheirm was said to have been held in Mull about
the middle of the seventeenth century. The exorcists were
Allan Maclean and his assistant Lachlain Maclean, both of
whom received the psychic gift of second sight.
Of this particular ceremony Horst stated
‘‘The infernal spirits appeared, some in the early progress
of the sacrifices in the shape of black cats. The first who appeared
during the sacrifice, after they had cast a furious glance
at the sacrifices, said—Lachlain Oer, that is, ‘Injurer of Cats.’
Allan, the chief operator, warned Lachlain, whatever he might
see or hear, not to waver, but to keep the spit incessantly turning.
At length the cat of monstrous size appeared; and after it
had set up a horrible howl, said to Lachlain Oer, that if he did
not cease before their largest brother came he would never see
the face of God.
‘‘Lachlain answered that he would not cease till he had finished
his work if all the devils in hell came. At the end of the
fourth day, there sat on the end of the beam in the roof of the
barn a black cat with fire—flaming eyes, and there was heard
a terrific howl quite across the straits of Mull into Mowen.’’
By this time, the elder of the two men was quite exhausted
and sank down in a swoon, but the younger was sufficiently selfpossessed
to ask for wealth and prosperity, which both received
throughout their lifetime.
Shortly before this, Cameron of Lochiel received at a
taigheirm a small silver shoe which, put on the foot of a newborn
son of his family, would give courage and fortitude to the child.
One boy, however, had at his birth a foot too large for the shoe,
a defect inherited from his mother, who was not a Cameron.
His lack of the magically bestowed courage was apparent at the
battle of Sheriffmuir, where he fled before the enemy