The Tradition of Scottish Saining

Burning Juniper

Saining is a Scots word for blessing, protecting or consecrating. Scottish Gaelic seun and sian, and the Old Irish sén – “a protective charm.” (The action of burning a herb or plant commonly referred to in the West as Smudging)

Traditional saining rites may involve water that has been blessed in some fashion, or the smoke from burning juniper, accompanied by spoken prayers or poetry. A less formal method can be making signs to protect against evil, such as the sign of the cross.
In Shetland, the custom of making the sign of Thor’s hammer is used to sain the goblet that was/is passed around at Hogmanay celebrations.
An old Hogmanay (New Year’s) custom in the Highlands of Scotland, which has survived and seen some degree of revival, is to celebrate Hogmanay with the saining of the household and livestock.

Early on New Year’s morning, householders drink and then sprinkle ‘magic water’ from ‘a dead and living ford’ around the house (a ‘dead and living ford’ refers to a river ford, a shallow part of a river that can be waded through or stepped across on the top of stones) that is routinely crossed by both the living and the dead).
After sprinkling of the magic water in every room, on the beds and on the home’s inhabitants, the house is sealed by closing all windows and exterior doors and branches of juniper are set on fire and carried throughout the house and byre( barn or cowshed).
The juniper smoke is allowed to thoroughly fumigate the buildings until it causes sneezing and coughing among the inhabitants. At this point, all the doors and windows are opened to let in the cold, fresh air of the new year. The woman of the house then administers ‘a restorative’ from the whisky bottle, and the household sits down to its New Year breakfast.

Saining is also common practice in modern traditions based on Scottish folklore, such as blessing and protecting children and other family members. While many of the surviving saining prayers and charms are Christian in nature, others that focus on the powers of nature are used as part of Gaelic Polytheist ceremonies.

Juniper’s magical quality of spiritual, energetic, and physical protection. The wisdom of the tree is vast, and its resilience in the face of the harshness of life is inspiring and strengthening. Calling on its medicine and wisdom by burning its foliage and asking it for good intentions, personal strength, guidance, challenges with greater determination, courage, and inner strength.


May the blessing of light be on you, light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine upon you like a great peat fire,
so that stranger and friend may come and warm themselves at it.
May light shine out of the two eyes of you,
like a candle set in the window of a house,
bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm.

May the blessing of rain be on you,
may it beat upon your spirit and wash it fair and clean,
and leave there a shining pool where the blue of the heavens shine and sometimes a star.

May the blessing of earth be on you,
soft under your feet as you pass along the roads,
soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of the day.

May it rest easy over you, when at last you lie out under it.
May it rest so lightly over you that your soul may be out from under it quickly,
up and off on its way to the gods.

And now may the gods bless you, and bless you kindly.

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