🌱Happy St Bride’s Day/Là Fhèill Brìghde or Imbolc/Imbolg to those celebrating 🔥

💧Have a watch/listen to a story about St Brìde in Scottish Gaelic or English from the wonderful, new Map of Stories website:

📰 More folklore & folk customs can be found in this great article from the West Highland Free Press.

🐍 Also, for people interested in our native adders, some seasonal folklore associated with them may be of interest – read here. You also might want to have a look at last year’s Là Fhèill Brìghde post.

✨Lastly, some brilliant thoughts on Brìde/Brigid that are well worth the read so I’m re-sharing this year from Monumental Ireland’s FB page. It’s fantastic that in Ireland, as of this year, St Brigid’s Day has been made a Bank Holiday with the aim of celebrating women there 🥳

📸 Featured Photo Credit: Pexel

🥂Happy New Year! Bliadhna Mhath Ùr! Guid New Year & lang may yer lum reek 🔥

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 My highlight of 2022: finally managed a – far too short – trip back to Scotland to see family & friends after almost 3 years (due to the pandemic)! Hope everyone has had a great festive season & new year too! Here are some wee seasonal links that may be of interest ⬇️

📖 You can read all about Scottish, particularly Scots, Hogmanay & New Year traditions on the Scots Language Centre Website.

🎧 If you missed it, have a listen to the most recent Stories of Scotland podcast episode for some haunting Hogmanay stories here or wherever you get your podcasts.

🐍 If you want to read even more, you might like to have a look at some previous blog posts on both Gaelic & Scots seasonal traditions:

📸 Featured Photo Credit: Pexel

🎅🏻Merry Christmas🎄Nollaig Chridheil ⭐️Blythe Yule to all celebrating!

Hope everyone had a great day ☺️

🎧 Anyone who likes a chilling Christmas ghost story should have a listen to the latest Christmas Special of the Uncanny podcast – in it we’ve got someone from Scotland telling us about his experiences that centre around Christmas time – listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

(⚠️The above mentioned Uncanny is a brilliant podcast in general, though for this particular episode I would flag one thing – Evelyn, who to be fair isn’t a folklore expert, unfortunately mashes together genuine traditional Scottish folklore/practices such as ”charring the old wife” & “the Cailleach” with imported modern Neopagan concepts such as ”the triple goddess/maiden-mother-crone” & “pagan sabbats” which have nothing to do with native Scottish traditions…This is obviously disappointing not only in terms of misinformation, but also in terms of horror/potential folkloric explanations for what happened – if you look beyond the imported “the Cailleach is the winter crone aspect of the triple goddess” & go into the traditional Gaelic lore, you’ll find various entities with the Cailleach titles that can be quite scary, dangerous & even deadly. This, imo, would make much more sense than any goddess in the scenario presented as well as avoiding misrepresentation of Gaelic culture 💭)

🏷️ Have a look at the “The Cailleach” topic tag for more info, folklore & resources regarding these Scottish Gaelic entities.

📚 There was also brief mention of the Scottish Witch Trials, so if you want to learn more about those you can look at the topic tag & resources section.

🔍 Lastly, you might want to search for previous posts on Christmas customs, folklore etc 🐍

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

Flora MacNeil & Challenging Themes in Traditional Scottish Gaelic Songs🩸

🎶📺 There’s a fab documentary about Scottish Gaelic singer & tradition bearer Flora MacNeil (1928-2015) available to watch on YouTube. It features information about her life, her contribution to the survival of traditional Gaelic songs, her building of ties with Ireland & Brittany, & of course you can hear her singing too 🎙️⬇️

🩸An interesting challenge in performing & preserving some of the traditional songs was raised in the documentary – at one point some were worried that they may be too grizzly for modern, non-Gaelic audiences & even give the “wrong impression” of Gaels. In particular this worry was surrounding old songs mentioning the drinking of the blood of slain male relatives or spouses/lovers by female protagonists in their extreme grief & devotion. This behaviour is occasionally associated with male characters but is usually associated with mourning women.

⬇️ I’ve put a couple of online examples (I sadly couldn’t find any of Flora herself singing these ones) below so please read on for those…

“Cumha Ni Mhic Raonuill” (sometimes “Caoineadh Nic Raghnaill”) – a song about the Keppoch murders (associated with the infamous Well of the Seven Heads monument) thought to be composed by a grieving sister contains the verse:

“No fume, smoke or haze pouring out,
Your chamber’s door I opened –
Your blood spilled over my shoes!
I barely refrained from drinking my fill.”

You can read more on Women’s Poetry & listen to a version in Gaelic on Tobar an Dualchais. (More information on the Well of the Seven Heads can be found on Canmore)

Another example mentioned in the documentary is “A Mhic Dhùghaill ‘ic Ruairidh” – a song in which a woman laments the murder of her lover & curses those involved, containing the lines:

“And your blood on your lovely chest, pouring through your shirt
Although I drank, my love, some of it, it did not heal your wounds”

Listen to a version in Gaelic again on the indispensable Tobar an Dualchais.

You can also listen to & read the lyrics in both Gaelic & English by a modern Scottish artist Julie Fowlis on this lyrics site.

💭 I think a lot of old ballads, stories etc can be quite grim in many cultures & can tell us a lot about people’s attitudes at the time. I’m glad traditional Gaelic singers like Flora MacNeil, & current Gaelic singers like Julie Fowlis, didn’t/don’t shy away from difficult themes so these songs haven’t been lost.

🐍 If you found all this interesting, you may also like to read a previous post on the Scottish Gaelic lament Griogal Cridhe here. In some surviving versions of this old song the singer also makes reference to blood drinking, saying she would have if she could.

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

🗓 Scottish Government Consultation on commitments to Scottish Gaelic & Scots languages closes 17th November 2022 – be sure to have your say! 🗓

💭 In Scotland, as with English speaking countries in general, language learning is unfortunately severely undervalued which leads to many never properly learning &/or using any languages other than English. I think it also leads to people being less aware of the inextricable connection between language, culture & worldview; an example of which is nicely put in the image below ⬇️

Made & shared by BBC Speak Gaelic, a language learning programme, website & podcast for Scottish Gaelic learners 👩🏻‍🏫

⚠️ When a language dies we sadly lose not only words but also ideas & culture along with it. Anyone into Scottish history should be aware of a very famous historical example of this in the Picts, whose language has been lost after being superseded by Gaelic & Norse, frustratingly leaving us with very little idea about Pictish beliefs, worldview etc 😞

⭐️ So, let’s not let this happen with Scottish Gaelic or Scots! Let’s stop putting these languages down as “dead”, “just not speaking English properly” etc when they aren’t. Let’s stop seeing learning & using languages native to Scotland as a barrier when it isn’t – it’s an asset that not only helps people see the world & communicate in a different way, but also helps them get the skills to learn other languages should they wish to do so. It’s not like the human brain can only handle 1 or 2 languages max lol 🧠

💬 You can make your views known by filling out the online consultation ⬅️

📄 The consultation paper is available in:

📚 Further reading/watching:

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

🔥 Oidhche Shamhna Shona Dhuibh & Happy Hallaeen/Halloween if you’re celebrating ☺️!!

👻 This is one of my absolute favourite times of the year, filled with great memories! If you’re the same then you might be interested in reading some wee facts about Halloween if you haven’t already here ⬅️

🎧 Additionally, if you enjoy a good chilling story – & some comedy too – you might want to have a listen to these Irish stories as they contain many similar elements to Scottish Gaelic stories. The first story in particular has elements of how to protect your household from any dangerous Otherworldly denizens that will be very familiar to anyone aware of Scottish lore – for example carefully smooring the fire & making sure any dirty water used for washing etc was thrown outside before bed. Another fascinating thing is that linguistically this story is thought to be over 1000 years old! Hopefully that’s got you interested – listen on the Story Archaeology website or wherever you usually listen to podcasts 🎙

💧 Then if you fancy more listening Tobar an Dualchais has some brilliant vintage recordings to listen to, such as this one about using an egg for traditional seasonal divination in Shetland & this one about Halloween traditions such as guising in South Uist👂🏻

🍬 P.S. If you get any guisers coming to your door I hope you get them doing their party pieces/turns, none of this “trick-or-treat” only lol! There are some brilliant vintage photos of some South Uist costumes in 1932, that may be similar to what the boys wore in the above mentioned recording, on The National Trust FB page 📷

📸 Featured photo credit: Pexel

Cochno vs Kilmartin – fascinating talk on major rock art sites now available on YouTube (plus some Scot Arch Month 2022 Highlights) 📺

A fabulous talk given by Dr Kenny Brophy from University of Glasgow for Kilmartin Museum is now available to watch for free online, running time approx. 120 mins including Q&A. In it he talks about his work on the Cochno Stone & West Dunbartonshire sites, the value of archives for not only historians but archaeologists too, & how important contributions from well-informed amateurs can be. He then compares this to better known rock art sites in Kilmartin Glen. I’ll embed the video below & I highly recommend you have a look at the Kilmartin Museum YouTube channel to see their other interesting talks as well ⬇️

Link: https://youtu.be/utg9wuccS88

It’s brilliant this kind of information is available to the public for free & hopefully it’ll encourage people to – responsibly – visit these sites. A general guide for doing that can be found here ⬅️

Also, if you’re interested in this particular form of cup & ring style rock art, you may want to have a look at previous posts here & here where you can read, watch more videos, interact with 3D models etc 🐍

Speaking of information available for free here are some more highlights from Scottish Archaeology Month (September) 2022:

Hopefully this wee round-up was of interest ☺️ For more archaeology have a look at the Archaeology topic tag 🏷

📸 Featured Photo credit: Me, Kilmartin Glen – Achnabreck rock art featuring distinctive “cup & ring” marks

Mare Stanes (Hag Stones) – Keeping the Nightmare at Bay 🌌

Small stones with one or more naturally occurring holes in them, usually found near water, are commonly known as “hag stones” in much of the English speaking world. In this article I’m going to explore what I’ve found in terms of names for them in Scotland and their use as a defense against nightmares in particular. From what I’ve seen floating about on social media etc, there seems to be a wee bit of confusion about this so hopefully this article will be helpful for anyone interested in the topic – it was certainly interesting for me to try to pin down sources etc for certain claims I’d seen made!

The lovely examples shown in the Featured Photo above were taken by and used with kind permission from the fabulous artist Jane Brideson. As always I’ll be listing and linking my own sources at the end along with links to Jane’s work for anyone interested.

What is a nightmare? 💭

Before getting into it, I think it’s a good idea to define “nightmare” in the historical and Germanic-influenced cultural context in which these charms were commonly used. Though nowadays it just means bad dream or even bad situation, in the past it used to be a wee bit different. Historically, a nightmare is often described in a very similar way to what we would now call sleep paralysis – nighttime attacks by some kind of evil entity that sits on the sleeper’s chest, preventing them from moving and filling them with terror, often leaving them feeling drained after the attack.

In areas of Scotland with Germanic linguistic and therefore cultural influence – the Lowlands where Scots Language was born, and of course places like Shetland and Orkney by way of old Norse culture – this evil entity was known as the Mare or Mair, sometimes later Mara. The Mare seems to have been thought to be female, usually appearing in the form of an old hag or otherwise scary-looking female figure. Although there are some stories involving her shapeshifting/appearing as animals, including a female horse, I personally couldn’t find anything to back up the claim I’ve seen by some modern practitioners that she was generally seen as being an evil horse entity. Plus, given that in addition to attacking people in their sleep the Mare was infamous for letting horses out of their stables and riding them around all night, exhausting them – much easier to do in human-like form than horse form lol! The confusion may come from the fact that “mare” meaning female horse and “mare” in nightmare are spelled and pronounced the same in modern English. However, they have different etymologies – the origin of “mare” in the English nightmare or the Scots Mare is widely thought to have come from a word meaning crushing or pressing, not female horses.

Hag Stones in Scotland – Mare Stanes 💧

On to the name of these stones. In Scotland, “hag stones” are traditionally known as “mare stanes” in Scots due to their association with being able to keep away the above mentioned Mare. They were also sometimes known as “adder stanes”, but this usually applied to either more colorful natural glass, or man-made items such as rediscovered Neolithic spindle whorls or colourful beads. I’ve sometimes seen people post pictures of mare stanes saying that they were known as “Druid beads” or “Druid stones” etc but this doesn’t seem to have been the case, at least certainly not in Scots. In Scottish Gaelic they had Druidical beads (gloine nan draoidh) and adder/serpent stones/beads (clach nathrach/glaine nathair), but again these historically referred to more colourful and/or man-made stones or beads with holes in them. To be fair, I have to note that modern online Scottish Gaelic dictionaries such as Learn Gaelic do sometimes lump everything together when translating into English, which does make things more difficult to tell apart. In some old sources these terms are hyphenated as “hag-stone” and “mare-stane”.

Mare Stane Charms (and human teeth)! 🦷

The most common way to use mare stanes to either protect people and horses from the Mare was to hang a stone on or above the sleeper’s bed, or in the stable where the troubled horse was kept overnight. There are stories of people who used these stones always taking them with them when they stayed the night somewhere else, not liking to be without them. Some sources also state that this practice was particularly popular in fishing communities. Additionally, this type of folk magic – not witchcraft – with mare stanes was used by some to protect against witchcraft in general as well as nightmares in the old sense of the word. Then into the 1800s you see people using them against “bad dreams” in general rather than specifically attacks by the Mare.

A particularly interesting mention of a mare stane charm I came across while researching was in “Scottish Charms and Amulets”:

One of the stones has two human teeth inserted and fixed in the natural holes in the stone. It was known to have been seventy years in one house, and was given to Mr A—, of Marykirk, by an old lady. She had used it to ward off bad dreams.
pg458 (see links at end)

I’ve never seen the use of teeth mentioned anywhere so I have quite a few questions, and would especially like to know whose teeth were used. If anyone reading has any further information or sources on this I would love to see them! I have to admit the image in my head of 2 teeth shoved in the holes in the stone gives me trypophobic heebie-jeebies just a wee bit lol! (There’s no picture provided in the source)

The last thing I wanted to look into – again something I’d seen done on social media – was the potential combination of mare stane charms, horse hair and spoken charms against nightmares in Scotland. Early Modern English text “The Discoverie of Witches” (1584) mentions both a charm calling on St George to protect the sleeper from nightmares, and the hanging of a stone over their bed in the same section where the sceptical author proposes that there’s no supernatural cause at play here, so these charms are useless or even fraudulent. (It is in fact the purpose of the book to argue that witchcraft, folk magic etc don’t actually exist). This book was cited as the source for using the spoken charm and the stone together in one modern example I’ve seen, however even in the source it’s not entirely clear whether that’s the case or if these are just 2 different methods people used.

Moreover, the Scottish versions of the spoken charm – usually involving either Arthur, potentially King Arthur, or an unnamed “man of might” – don’t mention the use of any stone, and any hair used is human, usually from the charmer. The Scots versions I came across most commonly came from Shetland and are in the local dialect. I’ll put some of the versions I’ve talked about below as even if they aren’t necessarily related to using mare stanes, at least not directly, they’re still interesting to read:

De man o' meicht 
He rod a' neicht,
We nedder swird
Nor faerd nor leicht.
He socht da mare,
He fand da mare,
He band da mare
Wi'his ain hair,
An' made her swear
By midder's meicht,
Dat sho wad never bide a neicht Whar he had rod, dat man o'meicht.
from Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning the Orkney & Shetland Islands, pg145 (See links at end)
Arthur Knight
He rade a' night,
Wi' open swird
An' candle light.
He sought da mare;
He fan' da mare;
He bund da mare
Wi' her ain hair.
And made da mare
Ta swear:
'At she should never
Bide a' night
Whar ever she heard
O' Arthur Knight.
from Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning the Orkney & Shetland Islands, pg145 (See links at end)

Mare stanes and their equivalents in other languages/cultures have other uses such as protection against witchcraft as mentioned, as well as healing, ensuring safe births and so on. I felt these uses were better known so I haven’t gone into detail about them here. I hope details I did give about them being charms against the Mare were of interest though and that there being no apparent Druid etc connection wasn’t too disappointing!

📚 Source and Further Reading/Listening/Watching list:

🎨 Have a look at Jane Brideson’s art on The Ever-Living Ones, on Facebook here & here, & on Instagram

📸 Featured Photo Credit: Jane Brideson – used with kind permission ☺️

⚠️ LAST CALL – consultation on a legislative pardon for those convicted of “witchcraft” ends tomorrow (15th Sept) 🗓

If you’re interested in helping achieve a legislative pardon for all those convicted of “witchcraft” during the Scottish witch trials be sure to have your say before the consultation closes on the Scottish Parliament Website ⬅️

After an official apology being given earlier this year by the Scottish First Minister on International Women’s Day this is the next step in achieving justice for & memorialisation of all those, mostly women, who suffered so much after being falsely accused of witchcraft during the witch trials of the Early Modern Period ⚖️

There has also been an acknowledgement & apology this year from The Church of Scotland for its role in the trials, showing we’re well on the way to achieving our goals. So, please take the time to add your voice to the government consultation if you haven’t already 📄

For more information & updates follow the Witches of Scotland podcast & campaign 🎧

Hopefully it won’t be too long until justice is served & then a state national memorial created 🤞🏻

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

Tobar Nam Maor – a Pictish symbol stone with a Scottish Gaelic name

💧Tobar Nam Maor is a standing stone with Pictish symbols that got its name when it was found being used as a cover stone for a well of that name in 1910. Here’s a brilliant 3D model you can have a look at & interact with on Sketchfab:

📝 The name translates to “The Well of the Stewards”, or sometimes “Shepherds”. It’s been pointed out by those better at Scottish Gaelic than me – I’m still learning – that sources labelling it Tobar NA Maor rather than Tobar NAM Maor are incorrect, likely dropping the “m” from the end of “Nam” by mistake due to the next word beginning with “m”. This shows us how important it is to double-check things in the original language of the items we’re researching, particularly if they’re minority languages like Scottish Gaelic because this makes any issues both more likely to occur & more likely to be overlooked, even by otherwise reliable sources unfortunately…

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 More details on the Scottish Gaelic name issues – “nan” (or “nam” in the case of words beginning with b, f, m or p) is the genitive article for plural nouns & so can be used with both masculine & feminine nouns to indicate possession or close association. However “na” as a genitive article is not only singular, but cannot be used with masculine nouns like “maor”, so this grammatical impossibility is what tells us that the “m” in “nam” has been dropped. Hopefully that made sense & I obviously welcome any comments native &/or fluent Gaelic speakers may have. See these helpful tables from Learn Gaelic for further clarification.

⭐️ Canmore Info for this stone can be found here

⭐️ Highland Historic Environment Record info can be found here

⭐️ Further HER entry showing a source with an example of correct spelling & translation can be found here

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel