🗓 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should be aware of a very famous historical example of this in the Picts, whose language has been lost after being superseded by Gaelic & Norse, frustratingly leaving us with very little idea about Pictish beliefs, worldview etc 😞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

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 ☺️

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

🐍 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

Women’s History Month 2022 Highlights – fashion, health, folklore & trailblazers 💫

Wee highlights post incase anyone has missed the Facebook page posts or wants to come to the info at a later date as things are easier to find on here 🔍 If you do have Facebook please consider giving the page a wee like if you haven’t already, & if you don’t there’s a widget either near the bottom or at the right-hand side of this site – depending on what device you’re using – that should allow to have a look at what’s happening on FB if you want to 🐍👀

⬇️ I’ll put the fashion info below then divide the rest into pages for ease of reference/speed:

🧵Some fashion history for Women’s History Month🪡

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Have a watch of this brilliant wee video of a dress historian reconstructing what’s commonly referred to as a “French Hood”, but interestingly what *may* potentially be more accurately called a “Scottish Hood”:

⭐️ Something important to note is that historically women in Scotland would have usually worn their hair up in some way or at least braided; then certainly in the centuries following conversion to Christianity they would have also covered it with veils, hoods & caps etc, particularly if they were married 👰🏻 Therefore there were long periods of our history when wearing your hair loose & completely uncovered would have been quite scandalous!

🧶 Bonus fashion history myth busting – corsets, stays, bodies etc are another thing that have a lot of misconceptions floating around about them, which are unfortunately often encouraged by films showing tight-lacing scenes etc as if that was the norm. In fact, these were just normal pieces of underwear worn for support by women of *all* classes, so not just posh ‘ladies’ but working-class women who had to be able to do really hard, physical work whilst wearing them. These myths aren’t specific to Scotland but are certainly part of our history & now our pop-culture, so if interested you might like watching:

or

or

🌟 Also, if you like Tudor fashion in general (though again not Scotland specific) this is a good playlist from another dress historian here 🖥

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

The Paisley Witch Trials Revisited – John Shaw of Bargarran’s Manuscript (1696-97) Overview

When I wrote about the Paisley Witch Trials previously I mentioned that some sources give conflicting information as to who exactly was executed in 1697, both in terms of the number and even the actual names. This is unfortunately a common theme when it comes to the Scottish Witch Trials of the Early Modern Period due not only to how long ago they were – increasing the likelihood of documents being lost or damaged – but also to the lack of regard those accused were treated with. Therefore, you can end up different sources giving different names, people being given ‘generic’ names like “Janet/Jenny Horne” when that wasn’t really their name, and even some trial records simply leaving them completely nameless. So, after doing that article about both mass executions of “witches” that took place on Paisley’s Gallowgreen, with a particular focus of the earlier Pollok accusations as they’re less well known in Paisley than the Bargarran ones, I thought I’d try to revisit Bargarran mainly through a primary source from an eye-witness very close to the main accuser: John Shaw, Laird of Bargarran and Christian Shaw’s dad.

Before continuing I’d like to say that this was possible for me to do through the kind help of the staff at The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, where the original manuscript is held. If anyone wishes to see the document in person or enquire about obtaining photocopies please contact the library like I did. I’ll put a link at the end to where you can find the online record and make enquiries.

The manuscript is of some length so I’m going to break down what I’ve found across more than one article. As the title of this article suggests this will be an overview of this source, as well as what it had to say about who was executed in 1697 and Agnes Naismith’s legendary “dying woman’s curse”. Future articles will cover things like the cultural/folkloric elements present in the accusations and “confessions”, and how they relate to other trials, which hopefully people will be interested in too. I’ve been given kind permission to show parts of the photocopied documents, though again if you want to see them for yourself in full please contact the library.

I’ve also split the next bit into pages so people can jump to what interests them if they want to (otherwise the buttons to move to the next page can be found by scrolling down past the share buttons and related articles section):

“There are limited options for Gaelic in the face of a crisis”

📰 A great, thought-provoking article about the options for Scottish Gaelic amidst the current crisis it is facing, particularly in vernacular communities which would be a real loss if they were unable to survive, was recently published in The West Highland Free Press ⬅️

🌈 It’s a challenge without an easy answer, though I did like this wee bit of hope at the end when Hutchison writes:

“And yet, and yet, the siren voices sing… the last 500 years have been replete with Scots encouraging or happily predicting the early demise of Gaelic.

The wise old language thwarted them in the 16th century. May it not do so again?”

⚠️ General Note: the purpose of posting information about Scottish Gaelic & Scots languages is not to try to force them on people, nor to try to give the impression that all people in Scotland currently speak Scottish Gaelic &/or Broad Scots. It’s to try to help people be informed about the linguistic & cultural heritage of Scotland – language & culture are inextricably linked after all, so if our native languages do really die out then so will parts of culture with them, that’s just the reality. Of course languages are living things that change with the times, but that applies not only to decline – it also applies to development, even revival, if that’s what enough people want & choose 🙂

🗃Additional suggested reading for those interested in the history of:

🐍 See also: the Language Page of the Resources section

📸 Featured Photo credit: Me, Boreraig – ruins of cleared township with the sheep that replaced the people in the background, Isle of Skye

Old Year out, New Year in

📖 In relation to yesterday’s post linking Scottish Gaelic & Scottish Lowland New Year traditions, here’s another wee one:

When the hands of the clock are almost on the hour, the head of the house rises, goes to the main door, opens it wide and holds it thus until the last stroke of the hour has died away.

“Welcome in, New Year! When ye come, bring good cheer!”

Then he shuts the door quietly and returns to the family circle. He has let the Old Year out and the New Year in. Instead of, or simultaneously with the opening of the house door, there is often a rush to the windows, and the pealing of the domestic bells (where they hung in a row in the kitchen, they were swept with a broom) and the beating of trays mingle with the clamour of church and town bells, the tooting of horns, the whistling of sirens, and the shouting of exuberant throats, borne in from the streets. (Originally this was no mere welcome; it was a solemn rite designed, like the beating of the house walls by the Hogmanay Lads of the Highlands and Islands, to exorcise all the demonic or malign influences that had accumulated in the home or in the community throughout the past year.) The hullabaloo subsides; the windows are shut; Auld Lang Syne is sung; greetings and small gifts or “hogmanays” are exchanged; glasses are filled- and already the first-footers are on them.

A Calendar of Scottish Customs: Hallowe’en to Yule by F. Marian McNeill

🪟 As can be seen from the above quote there are quite a few variations of this tradition re: if it’s windows &/or doors, who does the opening etc – which ones have you heard about or done yourself? For me it’s open the back door to let the old year out & front door to let the new year in 🚪

🐍 If you’re interested in reading more, have a wee look at the related articles linked below under the Share buttons etc if you haven’t already ⬇️

📸 Featured Photo Credit: Me – cat peering out of an open window, Glasgow