Corn Dollies at Lammas & Lughnasadh/Lùnastal – “The Clyack” & “The Cailleach” 🌾

🌾Just a wee post to highlight a couple of contrasting beliefs about seasonal corn dolls (actually made of wheat or similar grain plants) in Scotland. I feel it’s interesting & is a good example of how there wasn’t, & isn’t, a singular pan-Scottish culture – cultural & linguistic influences vary by area 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

📖 I’ll start with “The Clyack” as at least in my personal experience she is less well known nowadays. The Dictionaries of the Scots Language is a wonderful resource for both language & culture – which should be no surprise given how closely they’re interlinked – so here’s an extract from an entry on making a “Clyack”, an old custom for Scots speakers at this time of year:

“…“The last sheaf of corn to be cut at the harvest” (e.Rs.1 1929; Mry.1 1912), gen. cut by the youngest person on the farm. It was dressed to represent a maiden, or decorated with ribbons and carried home in triumph. At “Aul' Eel Even” it was given to the oldest (or sometimes to the best) animal on the farm, or to a mare in foal. Usually in phr. to tak, get (Abd. 1863 G. Macdonald D. Elginbrod xi.) or hae clyack. In the south of Scot. this is called the kirn (see Kirn, n.2, 2), elsewhere the Maiden. Sometimes used attrib. with sheaf…”

To read the full entry plus examples of use in extracts from old books newspapers etc see the DSL website ⬅️

❄️ In Scottish Gaelic culture however this last sheaf wasn’t considered in such a positive light. It was referred to as a “Cailleach” (hag, the spirit of the harvest) & having to look after her all winter was undesirable as it was thought to be a bad sign. Folklorist John Gregorson Campbell asserted that no-one wanted to have to take in & feed this “Cailleach” over winter. I suppose a surprise extra mouth to feed, even symbolically, over the harshest time of year wasn’t a welcome thought. He also states that this harvest hag spirit is the same as the one being taunted in the New Year rhyme chanted by groups of boys as the went round the houses – there appear to be 3 Cailleachan mentioned in that rhyme, so I’m guessing it’s the one with sharp sticks in her eyes & stomach. You can read the rhyme & translation here in this article I wrote earlier this year, along with more info on Campbell’s indispensable writings on Scottish Gaelic culture, now put together in one book: The Gaelic Otherworld 📜

🔥 You can read more about Scottish Gaelic Lùnastal customs & see photos etc online at The Cailleach’s Herbarium – have a look at their great article on wheat weaving in general too ⬅️

🐍 Additionally you might want to have a look at the Language & Folklore, Folk Customs & Folk Magic sections of the Resource Pages, &/or related topic tags that can be found either the the bottom or on the right-hand side of any page depending on your device 🏷

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

🔥Happy Lùnastal &/or Lammas to those celebrating 🌾

🗓 1st August is the modern fixed date of the Scottish Gaelic fire festival of Lùnastal/Lughnasadh & the Scots festival of Lammas, associated with the first harvests of the year (though the actual harvesting often happened later depending on local climate) 🌾

📰 Here’s a nice wee article by Raghnall MacilleDhuibh on some songs & folk traditions associated with this old Gaelic fire festival such as divination, saining & visiting holy wells in the hope of healing both physical & mental health issues – well worth a read ⬅️ Like any fire festival it’s a time when supernatural forces were/are thought to be more active than usual, so things like saining for protection are a feature 🌫

💧If you’re planning on visiting any wells yourself, have a look at this helpful guide before you go from the Woven Land Network 🌱

🎧 You can also listen to some 1st August events that happened in Barra in Scottish Gaelic & read an English summary on Tobar an Dualchais 🐴

🔥 It’s interesting to note that large fires traditionally lit at this time of year later came to be known as ‘Baal Fires’. Why ‘Baal-Fire’? As the DSL puts it: “Bale and bale-fire are mod. revivals of the 19th cent. The spelling baal is due to a fanciful connection with the pagan god, Baal.” – people have also tried to make this connection with the Phoenician God Baal & Bealltainn, but it’s just as fanciful & isn’t backed by any evidence 📖

🐍 Lastly, for anyone that missed it – a recent article on St Enoch mentioning a sadly now lost healing well in what’s now the centre of Glasgow can be read here

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

St Thenue or Enoch, mother of the patron Saint of Glasgow – conversion, miraculous survival, witchcraft accusations & a healing well 🐟

🗓 Today, 18th July, is the Feast Day of St Thenue (spelled various different ways) or St Enoch. She was mother of the much more well known St Kentigern or Mungo, the patron Saint of Glasgow. For this day I thought I’d write a wee bit about her story & places dedicated to her, especially since many who regularly pass through places like St Enoch Square in Glasgow aren’t aware of the legends behind the name.

⚠️ Trigger Warning for sexual violence in story below ⬇️ Given these events are said to have taken place in the 6th century some details vary from source to source, so I’ve tried to make a basic summary based on the versions I’ve read & I’ll link them all at the end:

Thenue is thought to have been a 6th Century Brittonic princess, daughter of the King of the Goddodin in what’s now East Lothian, who converted to Christianity. After converting, she went against her father’s wishes by refusing to marry the son of the King of North Rheged (now Galloway) because he hadn’t converted & was still following the native pre-Christian religion, as was her father & most of those around her.

Thenue is then thought to have been exiled by her angry father to live as a poor animal herder, where she was later found & raped by the man she had refused to marry. She tried to keep the resulting pregnancy a secret but her father somehow found out, blamed her for the attack, & tried to have her executed by having her thrown from Traprain Law.

Miraculously she & her unborn child survived, making her father think she was some kind of witch. Even pre-Christian belief systems had a concept of “witch” being someone who used magic for selfish, evil ends to harm their community. (The Romans are another infamous example of a pre-Christian society that used to burn “witches” before the Christian Satanic ideas came into being). Despite Thenue obviously having done nothing wrong her father was convinced she was trying to bring shame upon her family & people, even refusing to be put to death, which in his mind would have been the “right” thing to do. Therefore it was decided that she should be set adrift in a coracle up the River Forth to eventually die at sea. However she was rescued by St Serf at Culross & survived, with some stories telling of her coracle being guided by a shoal of fish against the current in order for this to happen.

It was at Culross that Thenue gave birth to Kentigern, who she nicknamed Mungo, meaning “dear one”. When Mungo grew up he travelled around various places in Scotland, preaching & converting people, before ending up in Glasgow where he became a Bishop. Both he & Thenue are thought to have died in Glasgow, with Thenue’s grave thought to be near or even possibly under the present day St Enoch Shopping Centre.

As said at the beginning of this story, the purported events happened so long ago that there are many slightly different versions, none of which we can verify with any certainty. The people involved do seem to have existed at least. The events also fit in with the general early history of Christianity in Scotland – it was spread slowly by individual or small groups of monks, not by force, with people choosing to convert at various times for various reasons. It’s also known that, while not as misogynistic as Greek & Roman societies, pre-Christian “Celtic” societies weren’t exactly bastions of equality either sadly.

💧 St Enoch Shopping Centre, St Enoch Square & St Enoch subway station are well-known modern places in Glasgow city centre. The reason for them being named as such was mentioned above – Thenue’s grave is thought to have been in the vicinity. There are records from the 15th century indicating that there was a chapel housing her bones in the middle of a burial ground, later replaced on maps by a church in the 19th century, before that in turn was replaced by St Enoch Square as we know it today. There was also a street recorded as St Thenue’s Gait, now replaced by Argyll Street & the Trongate, & a St Tenue’s Well which has also sadly been lost. Records show some interesting traditions that were associated with this healing well when it was still in use:

“It was shaded by an old tree which drooped over the well, and which remained till the end of the last century. On this tree the devotees who frequented the well were accustomed to nail, as thank-offerings, small bits of tin-iron probably manufactured for that purpose by a craftsman in the neighbourhood representing the parts of the body supposed to have been cured by the virtues of the sacred spring such as eyes, hands, feet, ears, and others a practice still common in Roman Catholic countries.”

From Saints in Scottish Place Names – see links at end to read full info available

🎨 There are also 2 beautiful murals in Glasgow depicting St Thenue. One is on the corner of High Street & George Street, depicted by street artist Sam Bates as a modern woman with her baby. A wee robin perches on her arm in reference to St Mungo’s first miracle, said to have been bringing his pet robin back to life. The other mural was painted by Mark Worst for Thenue Housing association, just off London Road. This mural includes the fish that are said to have saved Thenue & also features 29 motifs on her shawl in memory of the Glasgow women who died in the 1889 Templeton’s factory disaster nearby. The Thenue Housing Association also has a mask of Thenue carved from stone from the now demolished St Enoch hotel in their office. See links at the end for photos & further details.

📜 According to Medieval Glasgow, St Enoch Shopping Centre unveiled a plaque in 2019 to display the various names Thenue has been known as over time. These are:


The variations in spelling are due to these stories having originally been told orally, spreading across various areas with slightly different pronunciation etc before finally being written down. Hopefully this along with the murals will help to make more people aware of Thenue’s story – even if it was too long ago to establish exactly what the facts are, these stories have cultural value & tell us a lot about what people believed over time. In addition, modern historical fiction writer Nigel Tranter wrote a novel based on these events – I’ll link to a description below for anyone interested in reading a fleshed-out & well-researched imagining of Thenue’s life.

📚 Links & further Reading:

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

🐍 Happy World Snake Day 🌎

🗓 Today (16th July) is World Snake Day! What’s World Snake Day? From Advocates for Snake Preservation:

“An opportunity to celebrate snakes and raise awareness about their preservation. While snakes are threatened by many of the same issues that affect all wildlife (habitat loss, climate change, and disease), negative attitudes toward snakes may be the biggest barrier to their preservation because it often impedes efforts to address other threats.

We encourage everyone to use this day to share positive stories about snakes with their friends and families. Need some inspiration? We’ve got you covered…” – read more here ⬅️

📸 Though it’s not the best photo, the Featured Photo above this post is from the only time I encountered an adder in the wild – I feel really lucky to have had this experience & so I treasure this memory ☺️ Here are a couple more I managed to take of the same snake when it stopped to look at us before slithering away ⬇️

ℹ️ You can can learn more about adders in Scotland, which are our only venomous snakes & a Protected species, through:

🐍 As you may know from this blog, in Scotland we have some interesting folklore relating to adders, but feel free to have a read if you missed it & you’re interested: here 🐍

📸 Featured Photo credit: Me, Lochgilphead

GRT History Month 2022 Round-Up 💫

🗓 June is “Gypsy, Roma & Traveller History Month” throughout the UK. So here’s a wee round-up of some interesting things that were shared this year ⬇️

Glasgow-based Romano Lav, a charity working to challenge discrimination & promote equality for Roma in Scotland, held various events such as a special Roma News & Views episode with themes of solidarity & resistance & “Astar e Iag”, an exhibition of Roma history & resistance which included work by local school children 💙♥️💚

Also, while not based in Scotland, Smith’s Kushti Podcast is well worth a listen too – she covers topics such as Romani Feminism, resistance & police brutality: listen here or wherever you usually get your podcasts 🎧

In addition to celebrating Romani history & culture, GRT history month also celebrates other Travellers including Scotland’s native Scottish Travellers. Tobar an Dualchais had some brilliant posts on their FB page, with particular highlights including: Scottish Traveller Belle Stewart talking about berry-picking & singing one of her songs; Scottish Traveller Duncan Williamson talking about a Henwife with supernatural powers; traditional Traveller crafts such as basketry & tin-smithing; legendary Traveller storyteller Stanley Robertson & “wandering singer” Jimmy MacBeath💧

Am Baile also put together a nice gallery of historic Scottish Traveller images & there was a brilliant article in The West Highland Free Press by the wonderful Jess Smith, Scottish Traveller & storyteller (who is also involved with the Heart of the Travellers charity) 📰

Jess Smith in action reminding us of the importance of passing down stories before telling a scary story about “burkers” herself ⬆️

Both Roma & Scottish Traveller cultures have unfortunately faced much discrimination & extreme prejudice over the years due to being different from the settled majority. The Moving On Song, sung beautifully by Sheila Stewart sadly tells of this. We should be doing all we can to stop this & to educate ourselves to make sure we’re not harbouring any misconceptions or prejudices. You can read a brief history of Scottish Travellers & Roma in Scotland here in this illustrated guide. You can also watch talks on Scottish Traveller history here & here 📚📺🧠

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

💛 Latha Buidhe Bealltainn Sona Dhuibh & Happy May Day!

🔥 Latha Buidhe Bealltainn Sona Dhuibh to those celebrating, & Happy May Day/International Workers’ Day too 💪🏻

🌞 Following on from the Scottish Gaelic traditions posted yesterday, I thought I’d post today about 1st May also being International Workers’ Day – this traditional time of change from Spring to Summer is also a time with a newer tradition of protesting to improve the rights of workers 🪧

🎙 Have a read of a speech given by Trade Unionist Jimmy Reid from Govan on being elected as the rector in 1972 ⬇️

📰 See also: May Day events are held every year in various locations throughout Scotland, for example this year in Glasgow, & here’s lovely image of kids at a 1924 parade shared today by the Glasgow Archives FB page ⬇️

💻 Some further reading on the general history behind May Day can be found here.

🎶 I’ll end with a wee seasonal song that’s not Scottish but an Old Middle English song believed to be one that we have the oldest written record for (fans of The Wicker Man will recognise it lol) – click the link above to view manuscript & lyrics, or see below to listen to a version on YouTube ⬇️

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

🔥Oidhche Bhealltainn Greetings!

🔥 Tonight is Oidhche Bhealltainn (Beltane Eve) – hope everyone celebrating has a good time 💛

📰 Here’s an interesting & relevant article from the brilliant Quern-Dust Calendar online archive:

“…May-Day is universally known to Gaelic speakers as Latha Buidhe Bealltainn, the Yellow Day of Beltane. It marks the first day of summer, but we needn't necessarily regard it as falling on 1 May - in the Old Style which survived until a couple of generations back, it fell on 13 May.

Bealltainn has been derived from beall-teine, "bale-fire" or "beacon-fire" (of which more later), but why buidhe, "yellow"? Well, buidhe is the colour of gold and of sunshine and of whisky and of good luck as well: buidhe dhut, lucky for you! Gold and whisky make little sense here, and the weather of May-Day, far from being sunny, is characterised by glaisean cumhach na Bealltainn, the dreary drabness (or linnet) or Beltane; so that seems to leave good luck.

The best-remembered saying about Beltane is…”

➡️ Continue reading more about dates, language, the role of fire, & of course washing faces in the morning dew in “BETWEEN TWO BELTANES” by Raghnall Mac Ille Dhuibh. (You may notice there’s no mention of any connection to the Phoenician God Baal because there isn’t one – unfortunately it’s a common myth that doesn’t make sense if you know anything about Scottish Gaelic Language)

🩸As mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is one of the times of year when Otherworldly beings were thought to be particularly active, so have a read about this cute wee bird & some surprisingly sinister folklore associated with it in “Yellowhammer Folklore”, a previous short article of mine.

⬆️ Informative post & lovely photo from Stories of Scotland giving more details about morning dew as well as showing people still washing their faces in modern times 💧

🐍 Read more about Bealltainn & its relationship with other major Scottish folk festivals here ⬅️

🗓 Lastly, there are many other festivals taking place in Europe at this time of year – such as Walpurgisnacht – so it’s important not to lump them all together & recognise they all come from different cultures ☺️

📸 Featured photo credit: Pexel

Some Seasonal Spookiness – not just for Halloween!

🗓 Bealltainn, one of the 4 Gaelic Fire Festivals/Old Quarter Days is coming up tomorrow night, & since these are times of year when Otherworldly beings are traditionally believed to more active I thought I’d share some accounts of strange goings on in an abandoned Highland lodge 🏔

🎙 Have a listen to “Case 10: Don’t Sleep in this House” & “Case 11: The Curse of Luibeilt” on BBC’s Uncanny podcast to hear climber Phil tell of his story of what he experienced at Luibeilt then later on in his Glasgow flat – there are also wee updates in the Case 12 & 15 episodes if I remember rightly: listen here or wherever you usually listen to podcasts ⬅️

👻 Or you can read a bit about the case if you rather do that than listen here with this summary on Spooky Isles 💻

🥾 Also here for Phil’s enquiry & the responses he got on this climbing site 💬

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland is of course chock-full of ghost stories from isolated bothies to busy cities, so no surprise podcasts like Uncanny feature some Scottish locations as well as Scottish expert paranormal psychologists etc📍

🎧 If you enjoyed those Uncanny episodes I’d highly recommend the whole series as well as Danny Robins’ other podcasts Haunted & The Battersea Poltergeist – featuring both staunch believers & hardened skeptics many interesting themes are explored such as grief, trauma, fear, memory & perception 🧠

(🐍 What’s a Gaelic Fire Festival/Old Quarter Day? Have a read of one of my previous articles here 🔥)

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

🐣 Happy Easter to all those celebrating ✝️

🌅 Today I’d like to share a couple of interesting Easter-related links, starting with a nice article in the WHFP on Hebridean Easter traditions:

“Early one Easter Sunday when I was about eight, my father came into the bedroom I shared with my sister and said: “Èirichibh, feuch am faic sibh a’ ghrian a’ dannsa!” – ‘Get up and see the sun dancing!’

As I sleepily got out of bed and tried looking at the sun as it rose over Beinn a’ Mhuilinn, it did appear to be dancing as I blinked to adjust my focus, the colours burning into my vision!

Easter is probably my favourite time of year. As we come out of the dark winter months the dawn chorus returns, lambs are born and flowers begin to blossom.

Being brought up on the predominantly Catholic island of South Uist I also associate it with the returning of chocolate to the kitchen cupboard after the long period of Lent!”

📰 Read the rest of the article here on the West Highland Free Press website ⬅️

🐇 Next, here’s a brilliant article from Norwegian historian Maria Kvilhaug addressing many modern myths surrounding Easter traditions in general throughout Europe – where did the egg, rabbit etc symbolism come from? What about claims of connections with ancient Goddesses like Ēostre & Ishtar? Head over to Maria’s site to learn more ⬅️

🧙🏻‍♀️ Lastly, again not Scotland specific but very interesting info about the history behind the “Easter Witches” tradition of Sweden that has some similarities to historical witchcraft belief in Scotland – for example there being certain times when you’d be more vulnerable to supernatural attacks & that there were things you could do to protect yourself – over on Daily JSTOR ⬅️ (Thanks to my Dad for sending it to me the other day ☺️)

Happy Easter Victorian-style lol – shared by University of Aberdeen ⬆️

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

Bible, Key & String – folk divination through time

📖🗝✨I’ve shared posts before regarding using keys & things like Bibles, prayer books or Psalters in folk magic in order to divine certain information, one post concerning the Medieval to Early Modern Period & another the mid-1800s, so I thought I’d share what seems to be an example surviving into modern times. This example of teenage girls using a key, string & a Bible in an effort to find out who they’ll marry was collected from a Margaret Wilson of Lilliesleaf in the Scottish Borders, 1990, recalling her younger years:

“When I was [young], right silly, I used to do these things with friends, girls together. I must have been about sixteen. The girl I worked beside she used a Bible; this Bible was opened at a certain place and a big door key was put in, and string tied round. You each put a finger below the key and you said letters. It was supposed to move at a certain letter; it moved, but I don’t know whether the other person was helping it move or not!”

Scottish Customs: From the Cradle to the Grave by Margaret Bennett (Unfortunately not sure how old Margaret Wilson was at the time of her interview)

⭐️ Previous posts referred to:

Medieval to Early Modern ➡️ here on this site &…

Mid-1800s ⬆️

(Side Note: Margaret Wilson’s account of the method they used also bears obvious similarities to Ouija boards – these aren’t of Scottish origin so I’ve waited to the end of the post to mention them. I think many people now are familiar with the relatively short history of the Ouija board & how it didn’t really get its “demonic” reputation until after films like The Exorcist came out etc, but I thought I’d link an article on it here just in case anyone’s interested: ⬅️ Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, I think it’s interesting how certain things have ended up with very bad reputations in popular imagination while others haven’t despite being very similar 💭)

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel