Quaaltagh

(Pronounced kwol-tag)

Q posts are hard, no?

Here’s part of the story I haven’t told y’all yet, but it’s all well documented and everyone from my Chicagoan neck-of-the-woods has heard this one a million times. It’s a groovy story which I often have to constrain myself to keep from romanticizing.

My mentor, Bertie, was left a great boon. Well, more of a mixed blessing. A few weeks before her mentor, Frieda, passed over, Frieda gave Bertie directions to pick up a box she had left for her at a local monastery. This is the part that “gets me.” I start imagining secret passages a la Agnes of God, Gothic Romance sliding panels and mysterious codes woven into tapestries in a way that crosses Dan Brown’s imagination with The Name of the Rose mystique. Needless to say, the box was an old heavy wooden file cabinet locked in a clearly marked storage room in the monastery’s canticle. But! The box contained a trove of delights. It contained Frieda’s journals from the years she had spent on The Isle of Mann as well as the journals of three associates, two copies of a (handwritten) unfinished manuscript of our tradition, an audio recording of her introduction to the manuscript, and assorted notes, correspondences, and papers. This was five years before I left Chicago and Bertie. I was able to peruse many of the journals and documents and helped Bertie categorize some of the contents; it was an overwhelming task – especially during the first years of mourning. Bertie has, since I moved South, published some of the material over several books.

One part I remember very clearly was a custom involving a quaaltagh. Lest I send you Googling my Q, quaaltagh is the Manx word for the first person you meet when you leave your home. I don’t know much about Manx traditions and haven’t had my hands on Frieda’s papers since before my youngest was born, so I can’t tell you more than this. I do know that in several Wstern European traditions it’s fairly typical to pay attention to both the first person you meet outside your home on the first day of the year and the first person who crosses you path outside your home on the first day of the year.

But Bertie used to tell us all sorts of beliefs concerning each day’s quaaltagh. Many of these were omens or to be used as divination symbols would. (Note to self: write a post telling Amy about what happened with the eggs.) Bertie mixed much of what Frieda taught her with the stuff she learned while doing mission work during the end-days of Duvalierism. So, to be honest, I can’t say where much of her quaaltagh lore came from.

In Western traditions, I know that a quaaltagh is called a “first foot” a “blue bird” or a “lucky bird” depending on whether the person is coming in or if it is a person you have met while out. (I wonder if this is where “early bird” specials come from.) Either way, the connotations are pretty much the same. The quintessence of the superstition is that you want the person to be a quixotic, strapping, young, tall, dark, and handsome man. No gingers need apply. And women are right out. I’ve heard folks tell tales of quidditative grannies standing on the front porch on New Year’s Day with a shotgun to prevent a quadragenarian quean from crossing the threshold first.

But those are pretty typical traditions. My darling Bertie used to tell us a few more specific things about meeting up with folks. Those dressed in all black meant one thing, folks who speak to us first meant another, folks with a limp were one sign, and folks wearing hats were another. If you first met a child you were to offer something, if you first crossed paths with a grown neighbor, you were to quote a particular phrase.

Animals were a whole ‘nother story.

Anyone else have such queer customs?

B, an abundance of Q, and 93,

TBW

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).

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One comment on “Quaaltagh

  1. Quite! I’ve never heard of this custom, but I was enthralled by the description of the locked filing cabinet. Very interesting.

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