🐍 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 🥳
🏴 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 ⬇️
🎧 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 🐍
🎶📺 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 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.
💭 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 ⬇️
⚠️ 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 🧠
👻 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 🎙
🍬 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 📷
💧Tobar Nam Maor is a standing stone with Pictishsymbols that got its name when it was found being used as a cover stone for a well of that name in 1910. Here’s a brilliant 3D model you can have a look at & interact with on Sketchfab:
📝 The name translates to “The Well of the Stewards”, or sometimes “Shepherds”. It’s been pointed out by those better at Scottish Gaelic than me – I’m still learning – that sources labelling it Tobar NA Maor rather than Tobar NAM Maor are incorrect, likely dropping the “m” from the end of “Nam” by mistake due to the next word beginning with “m”. This shows us how important it is to double-check things in the original language of the items we’re researching, particularly if they’re minority languages like Scottish Gaelic because this makes any issues both more likely to occur & more likely to be overlooked, even by otherwise reliable sources unfortunately…
🏴 More details on the Scottish Gaelic name issues – “nan” (or “nam” in the case of words beginning with b, f, m or p) is the genitive article for plural nouns & so can be used with both masculine & feminine nouns to indicate possession or close association. However “na” as a genitive article is not only singular, but cannot be used with masculine nouns like “maor”, so this grammatical impossibility is what tells us that the “m” in “nam” has been dropped. Hopefully that made sense & I obviously welcome any comments native &/or fluent Gaelic speakers may have. See these helpful tables from Learn Gaelic for further clarification.
🗓 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 ⬅️
💭 If you have seen it, what did you think? I thought it was brilliant ☺️
🌾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 📜
🗓 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 🌫
🎧 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 ✨