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The Burrey Man

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Green man walking with burs with bubbles in background

During the 17th and 18th Centuries in Scotland, the Burrey Man was an important traditional icon to fishermen in Aberdeen. If the fishing was bad, it was seen as the Burrey Man's responsibility to change that. Fish was important to the Aberdonians - it was not only the main trade of the town, but the staple diet of many of the inhabitants. Bad fishing not only spelled financial ruin, but possible starvation as well.

The Burrey Man was chosen from the inhabitants of the town, and was covered in burrs1. He was then made to walk through the town and out into the country. The bad luck affecting the fishing was supposed to stick to the burrs, and the poor banished man was to carry them out away from the town. What was meant to happen after that remains largely unknown; possibly he returned without the burrs, or perhaps he had to keep away for a particular period of time to make sure that the bad luck could not return with him.

From what few records remain, it appears that after walking through the town, the Burrey Man would be chased and set upon. It was normally around Stonehaven, a small town south of Aberdeen, that the poor man was caught and beaten. Several times the townsfolk carried this too far and the Burrey Man was killed as a result of the townsfolks' enthusiasm to rid themselves of the bad luck.

The practice stopped in the 1860s when missionaries came and settled in the east coast area of Scotland. The missionaries brought their own particular brand of Evangelical Christianity, and opened up the first Seaman's Mission to help the population in times of need. They also banned the Burrey Man tradition as a Pagan ritual, and as the missions were now in place to look after the townspeople during times of hardship, the Burrey Man soon passed into the obscurity of legend.

1Very prickly seed pods.

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