Thursday, 8 March 2012

It's that sieve again!

Here's an update on the use of sieves in punishments. While reading some very entertaining pages of the Presbytery of Orkney Minute book for 1639-1646, I found a curious entry about a woman called Janet Sutherland from South Ronaldsay:

"Ordaines the Brethren to make search in their congregations for Janet Sutherland fugitive from South Ronaldsay for turning the sieve and shiers, and to use diligence to put her home to her owne congregation to undergo orderly tryall" From the minutes for 3rd November 1643.

It turns out (pardon the pun) that sieve is another name for riddle, and in the Scottish National Dictionary there is the following definition and example of an explanation from 1825:

"As in English, a coarse-meshed sieve. Phrs: the riddle and the shears a method of divination (1) Fif., e Lth. 1825 Jam.:The riddle is set on its side, the points of a pair of large scissors being so fixed in it (separate from each other), that the riddle may be suspended by the hold taken of it by the scissors. One handle of the scissors is placed on the finger of one person, and the other on that of another. Some words, to the same purpose with the following are repeated : By St Paul and St Peter, did A.B. steal my yarn? or whatever is lost. If the person be innocent, the riddle remains motionless, if guilty it immediately turns round...This, among the other superstitious customs common on Halloween is also used as a mode of divination in regard to marriage."

This could be the reason why, as mentioned in a previous blog, the man was punished by being made to wear a sieve on his head. 

Reference OCR/4/1 Presbytery of Orkney Minutes 1639-1646

Our first encounter with sieves here.

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