Last week’s term – Dandy Grey Russet – introduced me to the concept of the Devil’s Nutting Bag. Never heard of it before, needed to know more, so must write post 🙂
According to Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics. Myths, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore of the Plant Kingdom by Richard Folkard, the Devil is on the lookout for those who go nutting on a Sunday. Children were warned that to do such meant the Devil, disguised as a gentleman, would hold down the branches for them.
The tradition of a Nutting Day dates back to 1560 Eton, when boys were given a half-holiday to gather nuts, creating the phrase “gone a-nutting.” Consequently, as one might suspect from a tradition associated with young boys, going “a-nutting” soon became a euphemism for sex and seduction, giving rise to its own saying, “a good year for nuts, a good year for babies.”
The 17th Century play Grim, the Collier of Croyden addresses those devil nuts – in both literal and seductive sense – in verse.
After a run-in with the Devil, minds are changed about the seductive pull of going a-nutting.
The worst day of the year to gather nuts is September 14th, according to a letter written by Northamptonshire poet John Clare to his friend, William Hone, in 1825.
On Holy Rood Day it is faithfully and confidently believed by both old and young that the Devil goes a-nutting on that day and I have heard many people affirm that they once thought it a tale till they ventured to the woods on that day when they smelt such a strong smell of brimstone as nearly stifled them before they could escape out again…
The safest day to gather nuts is September 21st, when legend has it the Devil was out gathering nuts and ran smack into the Virgin Mary. In his fright, he dropped his bag and fled. The dropped bag of nuts formed a hill in Alcester, Warwickshire, which has henceforth been known as The Devil’s Nightcap.
So not only is the devil busy spitting on blackberries in September, he’s also out tormenting nut gatherers. Fusty Old Scratch.
Folklore is fascinating.