Am Bréid / The Kertch
from The Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations
Am bréid (the kertch or coif), was a square of linen formed into a cap and donned by a woman on the morning after her marriage. It was the sign of wifehood as the stiom (the snood) was the emblem of maidenhood. The linen of the kertch was pure white and very fine. The square was arranged into three angles symbolic of the Trinity, under whose guidance the yound wife was to walk. From this it is called curachd tri-chearnach(three-cornered cap). The kertch was fashioned to the hair with cords of silk or pins of silver or of gold. It is said to have been very becoming and picturesque. It is mentioned in many of the sayings of the people as:bréid ban (white kertch); bréid cuailean (hair kertch); breid beannach(pinnacled kertch); bréidan crannaig (kertch on props); bréid cuimir nan crun (the shapely coif of the crowns); and bréid cuimir nan tri crun (the shapely coid of the three crowns). It is also spoken of in many songs:
Never on thee be seen kertch
Upon feast-day or church-day,
And never be seen thy children
Going to the temple of baptism.
Were I to obtain myself
Thee with the blessing of the clerics,
It is I who would be joyous
At seeing on thee thy kertch
The first Sunday.
Her hair in coils, curled, curved,
And in clustered folds has my beloved,
And though beautiful it seems within the snood,
It would not look worse beneath the kertch.
Well becomes thee the white kertch,
And cords of the fine silk
Binding it upon thee.
The song from which this last verse is quoted had curious wanderings and narrow escapes – from Lochaber to Lahore, from Lahore to Lochalsh, and from Lochalsh to Skye and Uist. It was taken down at Howmore, South Uist, from Peggie Macaulay, better known as Peggie Robertson and “Peigi Sgiathanach” (Skye Peggie)…
The Kertch Blessing
A thousand hails to thee beneath thy kertch,
During thy course mayest thou be whole,
Strength and days be thine in peace,
Thy paradise with thy means increase.
In beginning thy dual race, and thou young,
In beginning thy course, seek thou the God of life,
Fear not but He will rightly rule
Thine every secret need and prayer.
This spousal crown thou now hast donned,
Full oft has gotten grace to woman,
Be thou virtuous, but be gracious,
Be thou pure in word and hand.
Be thou hospitable, yet be wise,
Be thou courageous, but be calm,
Be thou frank, but be reserved,
Be thou exact, yet generous.
Be not miserly in giving,
Do not flatter, yet be not cold,
Speak not ill of man, though ill he be,
If spoken of, show not resentment.
Be thou careful of thy name,
Be thou dignified yet kind,
The hand of God be on thine helm,
In inception, in act, and in thought.
Be not querulous beneath thy cross,
Walk thou warily when thy cup is full,
Never to evil give thou countenance,
And with thy kertch, to thee a hundred thousand hails!
Another bit of information for those who are interested in honoring and taking up this tradition, a married woman who wears the kertch or am breid is sometimes known as a bréideach or “woman with the bréid.” Reading these blessings and traditions I love imagining the ways that modern day Pagan rituals of taking up the veil can be celebrated – but more on that later! Also, make sure to take time to enjoy the original blessings in Scottish Gaelic.