Whuppity Scoorie

By the kirk1


Spring festivals and rituals are relatively few in Europe,
and mostly revolve around the Christian calendar and the Easter/Passover
season.  However, in many ancient
cultures (including Roman and Hebrew), the new life of spring marked the New
Year, and was marked accordingly.  Even
in Great Britain, the numbered year began on March 25 until 1752
and the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.


The annual observation of Whuppity Scoorie, in the historic
town of Lanark in the Scottish Lowlands, seems to hark back to an ancient
system like that of the Romans, wherein the month of March was the first of the
year, and March 1 New Year’s Day.
On that date, several weeks before the vernal equinox, Whuppity Scoorie
observes the increasing light of the new year chase away the receding darkness
of winter, whilst adding in a little chasing of its own.


The origins of the event are unknown, as is its precise
purpose, but Whuppity Scoorie contains enough diverse symbolism to suggest that
it is more than a mere New Year festival or pagan ritual; it is very probably
several such things combined.  Suggestions
include such things as a penitential act of repentance and ‘scooring’ (ie.
cleansing), a winter exorcism rite of the sort common elsewhere in Britain, a celebration of
lengthening days and the lifting of the children’s winter curfew.  This final possibility is given added credence
by the Victorian-era practice of the town’s boys concluding proceedings by
marching two miles to meet their counterparts from New Lanark in battle (all
apparently with both communities’ full approval, including that of the police).

Boys fight



Every year, on the first day of March, the local children
gather at Lanark Cross by St Nicholas Kirk in anticipation for the 6pm
bell.  But when the hour strikes, it is
not the church’s main bells that are rung, but the town’s ‘Wee Bell’, which has
remained silent for the 6 months of darkening days and winter.

Start line

At the sound, the children start to race around the Kirk,
swinging paper balls above their heads and making as much noise as they can.  After three laps, members of the Community
Council throw handfuls of coins into the air for the children to scrabble

Coin throwing

The ritual itself is short and rather haphazard, but
provides the focal point for a wider community event, both on the evening of March 1 and in the week-long
storytelling and arts festival.


Until recently, prizes were awarded for the first boy and girl to
complete the three circuits, but this has now ceased in an attempt to making
the running safer for the smaller children by removing the competitive aspect.  Younger children are also dissuaded from joining in the coin scrabble.

Picking up coin

The earliest
known record of the tradition is from a local newspaper article, written in
the mid-19th century.  Whuppity Scoorie was still
called ‘the wee bell ceremony’ at the time, confirming the antiquity of that
aspect of the ritual.  The custom’s
popular name was first attested in 1893, by which time the ceremony was known
to be over 120 years old.

Lanark used to have a racecourse and the ‘Lanark Silver
Bell’ is thought to be one of the oldest racing trophies in Europe, although its link to the ‘Wee Bell’ is unknown.

Now, I’m not generally into Krishna, but I like this

The world is imprisoned in its own activity,
except when actions are performed as worship of God.
Therefore, you must perform every action sacramentally,
and be free from all attachment to results.


So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory
of God.

Tax & Tithing

Right, some theology.

If you know your Old Testament, you'll be aware that the practice if tithing is instituted while the Israelites are in the wilderness, having exited Egypt.  They are told that a tenth of everything is to be 'holy to the LORD' (holy meaning 'set apart') and therefore given to the Levites, who are in charge of the Tent of Meeting and religious stuff generally.  A tenth of that tenth is burned as an offering, with the remainder being for Temple upkeep, the priests' living costs, and alms for the poor.

This practice is continued throughout the Bible, and through the history of the Church.

My question:
Since we all pay tax to government – which functions in a very similar, distributive way as the Biblical tithe (paying for public buildings, public servants and 'alms') – is it appropriate to regard tithing to the Church as separate to taxation?

My thoughts (at present):
I think that the Biblical-era tithe did function, to all intents and purposes, in an identical manner to contemporary taxation.  The difference being that tax is purely practical, not moral – the government doesn't tell us to pay our tax because of how it reminds us that all wealth belongs to God, and that in giving it we are releasing ourselves from bondage to it.  That would be weird.  Taxation fulfils the practical purpose of tithing, but doesn't express the underlying motive of God in instituting the practice in the first place.  That's just not what He was getting at.

God doesn't need our 10%, we know that.  We know that he's really after our hearts and that the actual issue of 'to tithe or not to tithe' is basically a red herring.  The issue would be more obvious if the question was more like 'to be generous or not to be generous' or 'to put faith elsewhere but money, or not'.  Therefore, I am not a fan of popping our 10% in the offering basket, or feeling guilty if we haven't.

[By the way, my view on this may well be coloured by the fact that, more often than not, churches prioritise their tithes-and-offerings money incredibly badly – something like 80% of Church income is spent on buildings, salaries, PA systems etc., while only 0.01% is spend on missions in the unreached world.  Badly remembered statistics, but that's the gist.]

So, do we tithe or not?  If I had an answer, it'd be something like 'yes, but differently'.  I personally think that a lot of our dependence on 'ministers' would disappear if we stopped tithing to the Church (we might even end up with congregations of a more manageable, personal size too), but the real issue, I think, is do we give out of obligation – because the Bible says '10%' – or because it is good to be generous with all that we have.  And once we've worked out our motives, we might then be free to realise that anywhere we give is good, because giving is good.  We can give money to church, but we can give everywhere else too.  We can give all that we own, or give our spare time, or give our prayers or our work or our company.  That's generosity, I think.  That's what God was getting at.

Frank Skinner says it for me

I've just finished reading an article by Frank Skinner's in the Times and feel like adding it to the Canon.  I would normally put a link to it, but it's so fricking good I'm going to put the whole thing here …


I’m a Roman Catholic and I go to church every Sunday. Towards the
end of Mass, there’s a thing called the Sign of Peace. We all shake
hands with everyone in shaking distance and say “peace be with you”.
Last Sunday the priest told us to drop the handshaking element to show
our solidarity with Wayne Bridge.

That’s one of the things I love about being Catholic. You can tell
the highly suspicious non-Catholics — their imaginations fired by talk
of kissed statues and venerated fibulas — about almost any odd
behaviour in a Roman Catholic church and they’ll believe you.

To many British people, Christianity seems like a weird but
unexciting theme park. Personally, I like our ever-dwindling status. I
even like our ever-dwindling numbers. There was a time when social
pressure made people go to church. If anything the reverse is now true.
Most adults you see in church nowadays are there because they want to
be there. That’s not decline, it’s progress. The wheat has been
separated from the chaff. We get quality, not quantity, in the churches
and the chaff can enjoy a nice lie-in. That’s just as well, because
there’ll be little opportunity for slumber when they’ve got a demon’s
pitchfork up their arse.

Christians have always worked best as an unpopular minority. We were
surely at our most dynamic when we knelt, eyes to Heaven, hands clasped
in prayer, with a Colosseum lion bounding towards us.

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That’s why I think Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury,
is wrong to get his cassock in a twist about changing attitudes to
Christianity in this country. He speaks of a “strident and bullying
campaign” to marginalise Christianity. But that’s great news. “Blessed
are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all
manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

We’re going to have Brownie points coming out of our ears. The
evidence of such bullying, many Christians would argue, was evident in
two recent incidents when a teacher was sacked and a nurse suspended —
both because they offered to pray for sick people. I agree that those
punishments seem wrong-headed but both women will receive huge
blessings for enduring such injustice. Surely their mistake was
up-fronting their intentions.

I’ve prayed for loads of friends, most of them atheists. I tend not
to tell them. If I do tell them I fear my motivation for doing so is
largely ego-based. I’m just trying to show how nice and caring I am.
It’s much healthier to do it on the sly. “When thou prayest, enter into
thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which
is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee

Lord Carey feels that Christians have been too soft. He said that if
you behave like a doormat, you get treated like one. I’m a little wary
of muscular Christianity. It’s been used to justify everything from the
Crusades to the shooting of abortion doctors. It seems to be in direct
contradiction to “Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on
thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”.

This is the doormat as positive role model — a doormat who’s more
concerned about the “welcome” than the muddy feet. Surely the central
image of Christianity is someone who can shoot fireballs out of his
fingertips allowing himself to be nailed to a wooden cross — submission
as the ultimate show of strength — love as impenetrable armour. Most
British Christians are badly dressed, unattractive people. We’re not
pushy and aggressive members of society. We’re a bit like Goths — no
one can remember us being fashionable and we talk about death a lot. I
love the glorious un-coolness of that.

The oppression of Christians in some other countries is completely
unacceptable. I obviously wouldn’t want to see such genuine persecution
of Christians in the UK, though that blessing for the reviled and that
championing of the turned cheek would, strictly speaking, still apply.

As Lord Carey admits, here it’s more about some local council not
wanting to call Christmas “Christmas” in case it offends someone. I’m
hoping that, with the rise of secularisation, Christians will be able
to claim Christmas as exclusively their own again. I’m sure the new
atheists, many of whom point out that Christianity cynically
appropriated pagan festivals, would not want to be guilty of similar
hypocrisy. Don’t come begging for church weddings or christenings
either. Maybe a bit of strictly observed us-and-them will lead to a new
Christian unity.

I went to a debate this week. The motion was “England should be a
Catholic country again”. I ended up voting against. The marriage of
Church, any church, and State seems alien to the teachings of Christ.
Power corrupts and British Christians should be happy to continue
relinquishing it. The Catholic Church lost more than it gained when it
got into bed with the Emperor Constantine.

Christians tend to save their best work for the “voice in the
wilderness” genre. We are most impressive when operating as a secret
sect, kneeling in small, candle-lit rooms and scrawling fishes on
walls. I’m enjoying this current dose of persecution. It’s definitely
good for the soul.