In the village of Bragar, on the Isle of Lewis at Hallowe’en was perhaps the British Isles most peculiar custom which involved a sea creature called Shony . The main source is Martin Martin’s Description of the Western Isles (1703):
“one of their number was picked to wade into the sea up to his middle, and carrying a cup of ale in his hand, standing still in that posture.
He notes that once in the sea he would cry out with a loud voice saying:
“Shony, I give you this cup of ale, hoping that you’ll be so kind as to send us plenty of sea-ware for enriching our ground for the ensuing year”,
Then the ale was thrown into the sea. John Cameron in the 1900 Gaelic Plants of Scotland adds it was Mulvay church and that it was sanctioned by the Church of Scotland indeed, Thisleton-Dwer 1900 Popular British customs present and past adds that it was
“performed at night and on his return to land the people went to church and put out the candle burning on the altar, then went to the fields where they drank ale and spent the rest of the night dancing and singing.”
When the custom died out is unclear but interestingly Fiona Mcleod in her 1912 Iona tells of a Hebridean nurse who told her about Shony and she adds:
“I was amused not long ago to hear a little girl singing, as she ran wading through the foam of a troubled sunlit sea, as it broke on those wonderful white sands of Iona:-
“Shanny, Shanny, Shanny,
Catch my feet and tickle my toes!
And if you can, Shanny, Shanny, Shanny,
I’ll go with you where no one knows!”
It is clear that Shony and Shanny was the same. Interesting it is also the name for a blenny fish! She added that its power was not forgotten:
“whose more terrifying way was to clutch boats by the keel and drown the sailors, and make a death necklace of their teeth. An evil Shony; for once he netted a young girl who was swimming in a loch, and when she would not give him her love he tied her to a rock, and to this day her long brown hair may be seen floating in the shallow green wave at the ebb of the tide. One need not name the place!”
Cameron suggests that the Shony was
“Sjone a Scandinavian Neptune. This offering was a relic of pagan worship introduced into the Western Isles by the Norwegians.”
One wonders what Shony’s response is now that it is now regularly celebrated!