After attending Lasswade Parish Church Sunday School, I seem to remember the next stage in the church’s religious education programme was Bible Class, then in my teenage years I joined the Youth Fellowship. During a meeting, on a dark, driech, winters night we stepped over onto the dark side.
The Youth Fellowship met one evening each week and discussed topical stuff, with a Christian twist. There was plenty to discuss, it was the mid 60s; Vietnam, Civil Rights, Kennedy had been assassinated, space travel, the Cold War, with the ever present threat of nuclear annihilation. Occasionally a local person of note would give a talk. But, for teenagers there was the distraction of Pop Music, fashion, television. The attendance at the meetings became sporadic. One dark, wet November night there was a gathering of only five members in the cold church hall. I have no recollection of who was there at the time, but there was at least one girl the rest boys.
As the large bunch of keys, collected from the Beadle, included the keys to the church we decided to use the vestry, a small room, off the church, where the Minister changed into his robes before a service, wedding or funeral. And so the draughty hall was abandoned and, braving the wind and drizzle, we sloped off down the path, illuminated for brief moments by the moon, through the church garden to the much cosier vestry.
This particular evening there was no enthusiasm for putting the world to rights. Bored, we chatted about the latest singles chart, examined the Reverend Kennedy’s garments and tasted a little from a bottle of wine, unfermented for the sober Scottish Protestant communion. What to do?
I, along with my brother and friends, had recently dabbled with a Ouija Board. On our kitchen table we had contacted amongst others, a dead miner and a distant relative. Of course, there was the lingering suspicion that someone was manipulating the glass, pushing it around the letters and numbers for a laugh. My fellow members of the Youth Fellowship listened to my description of all this and how anyone could set up a Ouija Board. Sat round a circular table it was all too tempting. A note pad was discovered in a desk drawer along with a felt tip pen, and soon the alphabet and numbers, a yes and no, written boldly on squares of paper, were arranged neatly around the table. A candle was lit and four fingers placed on top of an upturned glass. The fifth person was delegated to taking down the message, the possessors of the four digits would not look at the glass; this to avoid cheating. The imprudence of performing a séance in the Parish Church, a place of God, was disregarded in our excitement. We were about to dance with the devil.
“Is anyone there?” The observer asked tentatively.
A nervous finger twitched and the glass moved. Our collective breaths were held, the candle guttered.
“Is anyone there?”
The tumbler moved again, with a squeak it slid over the oak table top to the paper square with ‘Yes’ written in capital letter. In unison four suspicious pairs of eyes looked up, then back down at our feet.
“Are you a man?”
Squeak, squeak, the tumbler arrived at ‘Yes’.
“Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
“Ask what happened to him!” Hissed one of the fingers.
“What happened to you?” Our observer enquired.
At this point the tumbler started to slide, squeaking and scraping across the polished top, to one letter, then to the middle, then to another letter. It was spelling something out. The tension was palpable. Rain spattered against the window pane, the door rattled in the wind.
K, squeak, squeak, I, scrape, L, squeak, scrape, L, squeak, E, scrape, D.
“What’s he saying?”
“Killed.” The observer, with a tremulous voice .” He says he was killed!”
At this point the glass starts to skid around, backwards and forwards: K.I.L.L.E.D, K.I.L.L.E.D, K.I.L.L.E.D. Then it squeaked to a stop. Probably at this point we should have stopped too. But of course, we were inquisitive, we needed to know more.
“How were you killed?”
Our Spirit visitor declined to answer. Our inquisitor tried another tack.
“Where were you killed?”
The glass, almost instantly set out across the table, backwards and forwards.
Y, squeak, U, scrape, G, squeak, squeak, O, scrape, S, scrape, squeak, L, squeak, A, scrape, V, I, sqeeeeeeeek, A.
“Yugoslavia……honestly,” said observer, uncomfortably aware that it sounded suspicious, far fetched, “it spelt out Yugoslavia. ‘m no kiddin’!”
“Four pairs of eyes stared in disbelief at our observer.”
“’am no jokin’.” He confirmed.
“Okay, who are you?” Demanded one of the ‘fingers’, speaking to the tumbler.
Squeak, squeak, squeak. The tumbler was on the move, we were about to receive an answer.
“Christ!” our observer said under his breath.
Fingers were snatched from the glass, the light quickly switched on, the candle extinguished, and the evidence: the paper squares, the letters and numbers, swept up and pocketed. The Vestry door locked, we hurriedly walked up the path to the Wee Brae, the actors in a horror movie, tacit partners in an unmentionable event. We hastily made our goodbyes, my four companions heading, I recall, down the brae to the well lit main road, leaving me to the lonely climb up the Wee Brae to Bonnyrigg. The brae, lined with trees, creating a claustrophobic, dark tunnel. The wind whistled through the high branches and the Moon, through the scudding windswept clouds, illuminated ghostly forms. I was Tam o’ Shanter, the subject of Robert Burn’s poem, chased by imagined witches and ghosts. But unlike Tam, I was sober. Cold sober.
The wind blew as ‘twad blawn its last
The rattling showers rose on the blast
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow’d
Loud, deep, and lang the thunder bellow’d
That night, a child might understand
The Deil had business on his hand.
I arrived home, breathless, slightly disheveled, never so glad to be with my family. I don’t think we, the participants ever talked about that night again. It all started as a bit of teenage fun, adolescence bravado. But had we inadvertently danced with the devil or had one of us been a very clever joker?