🌱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

🔥 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

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 ☺️

⭐️ ENDS ON SUNDAY – Scottish Film “Mara: The Seal Wife” ⭐️ UPDATE: EXTENDED ⬇️

🗓 UPDATE: The Mara official FB page has announced an extension of free streaming until Wednesday 17th August, but the Film Festival website itself is now showing an extension until 19th August – worth trying to see if you can still catch it either way!

🎬🌊🦭 Scottish film “Mara: The Seal Wife” is now available to view for free online as part of The Lonely Wolf International Film Festival – the festival finishes on 14th August (this Sunday) so don’t miss it if you haven’t watched it already!

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 It’s great to see films being made in Scotland about Scottish folklore, so hopefully lots of people will be interested in this modern Selkie story. The film is just under 40 mins long, mainly in English with some (subtitled) Scottish Gaelic.

🎫 To watch all you need to do is sign up on the film festival website for a free ticket which will give you a password, then select the film from the main page to enter that password & stream here on the Lonely Wolf website ⬅️

🍿 From the film’s Official FB Page ⬆️

💭 If you have seen it, what did you think? I thought it was brilliant ☺️

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

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

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:

“Teneu
Thenew
Thaney
Thanea
Denw
Thenue”

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