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The Skeab Lome – A Manx Curse

by Bernadette Weyde
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The curse and ritual of the Skeab Lome (Besom of Destruction) does not appear to have an exact parallel in any other nation’s folklore, though the association of the broom plant with witchcraft has been widespread. In some parts of England there is an old saying, ‘If you sweep the house with blossomed broom in May, you sweep the head of the house away.’

In India the dead of the sweeper caste are buried face downwards to prevent the spirit from escaping, for a sweeper’s ghost is regarded as extremely malevolent.

The Manx word ‘lome‘ (naked or bare), as it is used in the name Skeab Lome, has the added significance of complete destruction. It has a similar implication in the now forgotten exclamation, “Losta lome!” literally ‘the naked fire!’ or as Kelly translates it, ‘Hell fire!’ – the fire of perdition; a cry used by the Manx in extreme and desperate urgency.

Skeab Lome was, therefore, a curse of annihilation, aimed first of all at the ‘chiollagh‘ or hearth, the gathering place and centre of family, with its ever-burning turf fire, mystic symbol of life – in early times in the middle of the one-roomed ‘thie-mooar‘ or ‘great house’ and later at what was sometimes called ‘the upper end of the house.’

THE RITUAL OF SKEAB LOME

In the full ritual of Skeab Lome the person uttering the imprecation carried a besom with which she made the gestures of sweeping. Her hair was uncovered and fell loose upon her shoulders; her face was turned to the door of the enemy’s house. And as she swept she cursed.

There were many variations and abridgements of the maledictory formula. The following, used in Rushen in 1744 is typical:

 

“Dy jig Skeab Lome ort hene, er dty hiollagh, er dty hlaynt, er dty chooid as er dty chloan!”

 

“May the Besom of Destruction come upon thee thyself, upon they hearth, upon they health, upon they possessions and upon thy offspring!”

 

A Kirk Patrick curse of 1735 was:

 

“Skeab Lome, chiollagh gyn chloan, as follym faase gyn cass gyn rass, er y dooinney slesh y Cleiy!”

“The Besom of Destruction, a fireside without children, and an empty desolation with neither root nor seed upon the man belonging to the Cleiy!”

 

A person often knelt to pronounce the curse, for, like the removal of the coif and kerchief and the loosening of the hair, the act of kneeling was believed to magnify greatly the potency of the imprecation.

Rise off your knees! Curse nobody on your knees!’ cried a horrified Maughold man in 1745, on seeing an aggrieved neighbour suddenly drop to the ground to curse a false accuser.


(source: IOM Natural History & Antiquarian Society Vol V No.1 1942-1946; photo)

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