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

🔥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

Beliefs About Witchcraft in Gaelic Cultures (Scottish, Irish & Manx)

I’d like to share an article that I feel is an important read for anyone interested in Gaelic Polytheist Reconstructionism or even wider Celtic Reconstructionism, particularly if they also identify themselves as being a witch.

It’s also a really interesting read in general, especially for those interested in cultural beliefs about witchcraft past & present.

It’s a substantial read as it covers Irish, Scottish & Manx traditional beliefs about magic, various different traditional labels for magic practitioners, & what the word “witch” & its Gaelic equivalents meant both in the historical context (& to some even now) 📚

I feel that even if you don’t personally agree with the authors’ argument that even the reclaimed version of “witch” is not appropriate for Gaelic Polytheists due to its traditional meaning, it’s important to understand the reasons why some people think like this, particularly those who grew up in the culture 🙂 The role of the community & how traditionally people got their labels from their communities rather than declaring themselves to be something is also outlined.

This article was put together by members of Gaol Naofa, an anti-racist & anti-cultural appropriation Gaelic Reconstructionist organisation. (You may notice Annie, the creator of the Tairis website’s name in there). As such, as well as history & traditions, they also go into issues with Wicca, “Traditional Witchcraft” etc & why they don’t wish to be associated with these things. They also explicitly state that practices such as Tarot have nothing to do with Gaelic or wider Celtic traditions.

In terms of folk practice rather than pre-Christian reconstruction, they make a good point that Scottish folk magic practitioners usually stressed their connection to tradition & their gifts coming from the Daoine Sìth, whereas in England & Wales book learning was commonly held as being more valuable. This means that for the latter you have to watch out for any written sources that may have been taken from ceremonial magic, as even centuries before the likes of Crowley the cultural appropriation of closed practices such as Judaism had already begun 😞

Sorry this was quite a long post – I was trying summarise the main points of what, as I said, is a pretty substantial article. I hope anyone interested will of course read it for themselves through the link below 🙂

📑Read the article here.

Read Romani voices on why some feel Tarot card reading is Cultural Appropriation.

(📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel)

Adder Folklore

I’ve always found the contrast of dangerous/harmful vs protective/healing associations with adders in Scotland interesting. There are charms associated with Lá Fhéile Bríde (1st February) & protection against adders due to it being the time of year they usually emerge. Conversely, there are various stones or beads associated with adders used to help people in sickness or childbirth, bring luck or to protect against enchantment year-round. Also, the skin or head of a dead adder could be used to heal people from sickness or even bites from the snakes themselves, for example by being placed in water & having the afflicted person then drink the water 💧

An example of a charm or rann to protect against adders is:

“Early on Bride’s morn
The serpent shall come from the hole,
I will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest me.”

Another, more euphemistic one is:

“This is the day of Bride,
The queen will come from the mound,
I will not touch the queen,
Nor will the queen touch me”

The brilliant Scottish Gaelic Polytheist site Tairis has some interesting notes about the original Scottish Gaelic euphemisms used:

“The other verses were not recorded, but the use of the term ‘queen’ (an rìghinn) is interesting. Gregorson Campbell notes that in Argyllshire and Perthshire serpents were often referred to as “the daughter of Edward”, whereas in Skye they were called an rìbhinn (the damsel), “in both cases the name is probably a mere euphemism suggested by the rhyme to avoid giving unnecessary offence to the venomous creature.” Ronald Black quotes a correspondent from Stornoway, writing in 1981, who remembers his grandmother saying “Air latha Fhéill Brìghde/ Thig an rìoghann ás an toll” (On St Brigid’s day/ The rìoghann comes out of the hole). Here the rìoghann means ‘supple one’, which the correspondent took to mean that the snake simply came out of hibernation at the beginning of spring.The similarity of rìoghann, rìbhinn and rìghinn is striking, however.”

What are called hag stones in some countries are occasionally claimed to have been known as adder/serpent stones in Scotland, particularly Lowland Scotland, as it was thought that the holes in them were made by snakes. However, it’s more likely to have been applied to naturally formed glass like sea glass with holes in it or rediscovered human-made prehistoric beads, or even stone spindle whorls. There were also older Scots terms like etherstane that you may come across in some sources. In the Highlands this term similarly often applied to things like old glass beads, sea glass or colourful stones that had been found with holes through them rather than plainer stone objects – clach nathrach or glaine nathair in Scottish Gaelic, meaning serpent stone or serpent bead/glass. Another term occasionally used for these glass beads is “druidical beads” (gloine nan draoidh), & though in modern times all these terms are becoming quite interchangeable, this doesn’t seem to have been the case historically 📜

In relation to healing, an example of a recording of a story from Shetland about a woman who uses an adder skull she found along with water from a particular well to cure her son can be found on the wonderful Tobar An Dualchais 🎧 Another example is given by John Gregorson Campbell in The Gaelic Otherworld (Black, 2005) of a man who kept a live adder in water so that he could use the water to cure epilepsy. This book also mentions the kinder method of simply putting snake skin that had been naturally shed in water for its healing properties as previously mentioned. George F Black speculates that charms made from snake skin attached to ribbons or girdles may have also been used for healing purposes &/or to aid childbirth – you can read or download the full “SCOTTISH CHARMS AND AMULETS” to read as a free PDF or have a look online at the divided up Electric Scotland version 📑

For more information: Tairis has a good round up of Lá Fhéile Bríde traditions as well as a list of further sources for this info, such as Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica & McNeill’s The Silver Bough Vol 2 📚 Edit: On 1st Feb 2022 The West Highland Free Press published this wonderful article which I highly recommend reading also – plenty in there about Adders, especially with regards to healing, alongside lots of other St Bride’s Day traditions & history 📰

Learn Gaelic & Am Faclair Beag are useful online Scottish Gaelic dictionaries ☺️

⭐️Adder Wildlife Facts

🗓 Quarter Days, Cross-Quarter Days & The “Wheel of the Year” in Scotland may also be of interest

🐍 Wee gallery of photos I managed to take of the adder in the featured photo at the top of the post:

(📸 Featured Photo credit: Me)