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18th century. . . . 'The Seven Stars' is an expression found in Middle English. The reference is not-as one might at first guess-to the seven stars of 'St. George's Wain' or the Great Bear, but to the 'seven' planets; Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, from which our days of the week are named. The Sun was then a mere planet, and went round the earth.

"There is an old nursery rhyme, called 'A gaping wide mouthed waddling frog,' which is parallel to this. There are twelve objects, quite different and quite secular, but one of the set is the same, viz. :—

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A short time ago my attention was called to a book written by a Mr. John Spence, on "Shetland Folk-lore," published in 1899 at Lerwick. Among other things he gives an account of how a woman did away with the witch's evil influence over her cattle. During the process of breaking the spell, the woman repeats words very similar to those of "The Seven Stars." I give the passage in a footnote.2

The tune of “The Seven Stars," after having written

2 "A woman who suspected that her cows had been witched, repaired to a marsh between two lairds' lands, and pulled fifteen green nettles by the roots. These were bound in a sheaf and placed on the looder of a water-mill.

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Then the woman, providing herself with a triangular clipping of skrootic claith (brown or dark coloured cloth), two noralegs (needles with broken eyes), a flint and steel and a box of tinder, went to the mill at the hour of midnight, and, taking the bundle of nettles, wended her way to the kirkyard of the parish. Arriving there, she went to the east side of the yard, and crossed the dyke back foremost.

"Selecting an open space, the nettles are unloosed, and twelve of the number

it down as it was sung to me, I sent to Mr. Matthew Hale to revise. This he has very kindly done, and he makes the following observation :—

“The song has been originally intended for three voices, or possibly four, one of which would be a 'drone." "

are placed end to end so as to form a circle. They are counted out backwards' while the following formula is slowly repeated :

"Da twal, da twal Apostles;

Da 'leven, da 'leven Evangelists;
Da ten, da ten Commandments;
Da nine, da brazen shiners;
Da eight, da holy waters;

Da seven, da stars o' heaven;

Da six, Creation's dawnin';

Da five, da timblers o' da bools;
Da four, da gospel makers;

Da tree, da triddle treevers;

Da twa lily-white boys that clothe themselves in green;

Da een, da een dat walks alon', an' evermore sall rue.

"Two of the remaining three nettles are now placed in the centre of the circle in the form of a St. Andrew's Cross. The two noralegs are also stuck into the claith in the form of a cross. Then with the moralegs in the one hand and the odd nettle in the other, she takes her stand within the sacred circle and exclaims :

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"With this green nettle

And cross of metal

I witches and wierds defy;

O' warld's gear gi'e me nae mair
Than the luck back ta da kye.
Whae'er it be, else he or she,

Dat's hurtit me an' mine,
In sorrow may dey live an' dee,

In pörta may dey pine.

Then, suiting the action to the word, she sets fire to the tinder, saying, 'So perish all my foes.'


'This weird performance is now over, the nettles are collected, and the woman returns to her home in the small hours of the morning. The nettles are buried in the gulgraave o' da vyeadie (open drain) of the byre. The moralegs are stuck into the byre wall near the vagil baand of the cow, and as both rotted and corroded, so the witch was supposed to be seized with some wasting disease." -"Shetland Folk-lore," by John Spence, F.E.I.S., Lerwick, 1899, pp. 141-143.

When sung, a singer begins by singing:

"I sing the one oh!"

Another singer asks the question in the same tone :

"What is the one oh?

The first singer then sings the words referring to one. This process of question and answer is repeated for each number, the company joining in at the words of the previous number and singing the numbers back to one, similar to the repetitions in "The House that Jack built."

I give the song in its complete form on pages 193-196.

The Seven Stars.

I sing the one oh!

What is the one oh?

12's the twelve a - pos - tal-lers; 11 e - leven e

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The Seven Stars-continued.

6 of them bright shiners;

5's the thim-bles in

a bowl, and

4's the gospel makers, and 3, three's the he

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2, two's the li-ly white bush be-low the gar-den green, oh! and

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