🔥 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

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:

“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

Abortion Access in Scotland – some recent history & the current situation

⚠️ After the disgraceful decision in the US to overturn Roe vs Wade, I think it’s important to remember that anti-choice sentiment is not an exclusively American thing – more than ever we need to make sure that access to abortion in Scotland is not only defended but improved. We’ve made hard-fought progress over the years, but we still have quite a way to go to make sure all people in Scotland can access this kind of healthcare when they need it. In fact, there’s no right to abortion recognised by law anywhere in the UK which many people don’t realise…

Did you know that although abortion has been a devolved issue since 2016, Scotland is still following the older – frankly outdated & extremely paternalistic – 1967 Abortion Act, which is regarded as one of the most restrictive in Europe?

This means that instead of the right to choose to end pregnancy being enshrined in law as recommended by international human rights organisations, it actually remains an illegal act for which both the abortion seeker & provider can be prosecuted for *unless* they meet very stringent guidelines, such as the agreement of 2 separate doctors. This ultimately takes the choice away from the pregnant person & puts it in the hands of doctors, which not only causes delays but also puts them at the mercy of individual doctors’ personal views on abortion, & in some cases even lack of knowledge about local abortion services. Scotland in particular has unfortunately had issues historically with doctors deliberately delaying or refusing to approve abortions due to their personal beliefs, even in big cities like Glasgow where you might not expect it.

Another issue is the provision of late-term abortions. While abortions can be performed at up to 24 weeks according to the Act, in Scotland they are not performed after 18-20 weeks (depending on area) for non-medical reasons. This means that although the facilities are there – you can get them for medical reasons – people seeking abortions for non-medical reasons later on, such as rape victims who may not have sought help sooner due to trauma, are forced to make the decision to either pay to travel to England for one or continue with an unwanted pregnancy. While there is a process in place for claiming back these expenses later, it’s difficult to navigate & the upfront costs can be prohibitive, especially for people on lower incomes. While most abortions in Scotland take place before pregnancy reaches 9 weeks, the situation is obviously unacceptable for those who have not been able to seek help until later for whatever reason.

🌈 As mentioned in the beginning there have been some positive changes in Scotland, & abortion being devolved along with widespread public support for the right to choose means we have a real chance to change things for the better. For example, while the “abortion pill” used to only be available to take at home for those suffering miscarriages, it’s now allowed to be taken at home for abortions, either after collecting in person or via telemedicine. Before this the pill had to be taken in a medical setting, so risked the abortion process starting before reaching home for those who lived further away &/or relied on public transport. This is a good example of an existing framework, in this case for miscarriages, being adjusted to include abortions. So, why not adjust the current framework for late-term abortions due to medical reasons to accommodate non-medical reasons too, so no-one has to travel to England? I feel in Scotland we often like to think of ourselves as being more progressive than other places so it’s ridiculous that our abortion access is still not up to par, especially for a healthcare service that is accessed by 1 in 3 women in their lifetimes globally. It clearly needs to be decriminalised & made accessible for all on the NHS in Scotland.

⭐️ Links for sources of info, further reading & action you can take:

Answer the *current* consultation on establishing ‘safe zones’ around healthcare sites that provide abortions in Scotland on the Scottish Parliment’s website – see Back Off Scotland for more info

Current NHS Scotland information on abortion services can be found on NHS Inform Scotland

Engender report & recommendations to the Scottish Government – a brilliant, comprehensive read (though from 2016 so at least we can say that at least one of the recs, to be able take the “abortion pill” at home, has now been enacted) – can be read here

Fantastic paper published in 2020 on the Scottish Abortion Campaign (SAC) from 1975-1990 – it covers feminism, trade unions, national identity, & wanting to improve things in Scotland – such as removing the need for 2 doctors, which sadly still hasn’t happened yet – rather than just defending the 1967 Act is available through Open Access online here

News article telling the stories of women who had to travel to England for an abortion in The Scotsman

2020 report comparing abortion rights & access across Europe here

⬆️ “You can’t make people use their body to keep someone else alive” – bang on. Even if we’re dead we have to have given prior consent for organ donation, plus certainly when we’re alive no-one would argue that we should be forced to donate organs, give blood etc against our will to keep someone else alive (& that would be a fully formed, conscious person). So why when it comes to pregnant people who don’t wish to be pregnant is this any different? That anti-choicers would give them less rights than a corpse is mind-blowing to me 🤯

🏷 I’ve tagged this post under the “History” & “Religion & Spirituality” tags as it’s very much part of social history & access is very much affected by religious views. In future I’m planning to write about older abortion methods & birth control too.

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

“Proposed Witchcraft Convictions (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill” – Public Consultation now live 📄

💥 Please consider voicing your support for a legislative pardon for all those convicted under the Witchcraft Act 1563-1736 – with apologies from both the State & the Kirk being given earlier this year, it’s now time to pursue the next step in achieving justice for these innocent people. You can read the proposal document & fill out the consultation online here ⬅️

⛏ A similar bill pardoning those convicted during the miners’ strikes was passed recently, so there’s a real chance of success if we can show public support for those unjustly convicted of witchcraft too.

🐍 For previous articles related to the Witches of Scotland campaign for justice see the “Scottish Witch Trials” & “Witchcraft” Topic Tags 🏷

📚 For more background information, links, podcasts, books etc on the trials see the “Witchcraft Beliefs & The Witch Trials” page in the Resources section 🔍

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

Church of Scotland Apologises for Role in Historic Witch Trials

📰 Following the recent decision from CoS to allow their ministers & deacons to perform same-sex marriages comes even more good news on a different front – an acknowledgment of & apology for the harm done during the witch trials of the Early Modern Period:

The General Assembly has accepted a new motion brought forward by Rev Prof Susan Hardman Moore to “acknowledge and regret the terrible harm caused to all those who suffered from accusations and prosecutions under Scotland’s historic witchcraft laws, the majority of whom were women, and apologise for the role of the Church of Scotland and the General Assembly in such historical persecution.”

This comes following the publication of the paper ‘Apologising for Historic Wrongs’ produced by the Kirk’s Theological Forum.

Quoted from the Church of Scotland’s FB page – see embed below ⬇️

There have been individual ministers at various local memorial events for the accused in recent years, so it’s great to now see an official collective announcement 👏🏻 With a State Apology already been given, I’m sure a legislative pardon & a national state monument are not too far off now 🙂!

📢 International reaction: advocacy group that fights for those accused of witchcraft in modern day Africa – they hope that moves like this will help prompt African churches to move to end such accusations, & similarly praised the Scottish state apology given earlier this year due to the Witches of Scotland campaign – here ⬅️

📺 See also recently released documentary on the North Berwick Witch Trials hosted by Lucy Worsley here or where you access BBC iPlayer.

📄 CoS Theological Forum paper mentioned above

🎧 Witches of Scotland campaign for justice

📸 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