A magical sacrifice of cats to the infernal spirits, formerly practiced in the Highlands and islands of Scotland. It is believed to have been originally a ceremony of sacrifice from the more northern lands to the subterranean gods, which became in Christian times an invocation of infernal spirits. The word taigheirm signifies either an armory, or the cry of a cat, according to the sense in which it is used.
An early description of the ceremony, which must be performed with black cats, is given in George C. Horst's Deuteroscopie (1830):
"After the cats were dedicated to all the devils, and put into a magico-sympathetic condition by the shameful things done to them, and the agony occasioned them, one of them was at once put upon the spit, and, amid terrific howlings, roasted before a slow fire. The moment that the howls of one tortured cat ceased in death, another was put upon the spit, for a minute of interval must not take place if they would control hell; and this continued for the four entire days and nights. If the exorcist could hold it out still longer, and even till his physical powers were absolutely exhausted, he must do so."
When the horrible rites had been continued for a time, the demons began to appear in the shape of black cats, who mingled their dismal cries with those of the unfortunate sacrifices. At length a cat appeared of larger size and more frightful aspect than the others, and the time had come for the exorcist to make known his demands. Usually he asked for the gift of second sight, but other rewards might be asked for and received.
The last Taigheirm was said to have been held in Mull about the middle of the seventeenth century. The exorcists were Allan Maclean and his assistant Lachlain Maclean, both of whom received the psychic gift of second sight.
Of this particular ceremony Horst stated:
"The infernal spirits appeared, some in the early progress of the sacrifices in the shape of black cats. The first who appeared during the sacrifice, after they had cast a furious glance at the sacrifices, said—Lachlain Oer, that is, 'Injurer of Cats.' Allan, the chief operator, warned Lachlain, whatever he might see or hear, not to waver, but to keep the spit incessantly turning. At length the cat of monstrous size appeared; and after it had set up a horrible howl, said to Lachlain Oer, that if he did not cease before their largest brother came he would never see the face of God.
"Lachlain answered that he would not cease till he had finished his work if all the devils in hell came. At the end of the fourth day, there sat on the end of the beam in the roof of the barn a black cat with fire—flaming eyes, and there was heard a terrific howl quite across the straits of Mull into Mowen."
By this time, the elder of the two men was quite exhausted and sank down in a swoon, but the younger was sufficiently self-possessed to ask for wealth and prosperity, which both received throughout their lifetime.
Shortly before this, Cameron of Lochiel received at a taigheirm a small silver shoe which, put on the foot of a newborn son of his family, would give courage and fortitude to the child. One boy, however, had at his birth a foot too large for the shoe, a defect inherited from his mother, who was not a Cameron. His lack of the magically bestowed courage was apparent at the battle of Sheriffmuir, where he fled before the enemy.