Scottish Myths and Legends
Scotland has a rich Celtic History> going back over 2,000 years, at a time when superstition was rife and where unusual events were "explained" by stories and inventions which were then passed on by word of mouth. It is therefore not surprising that Scotland has an extensive heritage of myths and legends.
There is an introduction to Celtic Mythology> and Celtic Folklore>.
Finally, the Encyclopaedia of the Celts> contains quotations from many of the historic and legendary events and people.
Spirits and Goblins
>Encyclopedia Mythica is a huge Web site covering many of the myths and legends around the world. With a bit of digging, the specifically Scottish elements within the Folklore> section can be uncovered :
- Black Donald> - the devil - who cannot disguise his cloven feet.
- Boobrie> - water-bird of the Scottish Highlands.
- Brownie> - good-natured, invisible brown elves or household goblins. The younger version of the "Girl Guides" in Britain at least, are called "Brownies" for that very reason!
- Clootie> - another Scottish name for the Devil. The name comes from cloot, meaning one division of a cleft hoof.
- Fachan> - one leg, one arm and one eye.
- Fionn> - Scottish/Pictish magician, warrior and poet.
- Ghillie Dhu> - a solitary Scottish elf.
- Kelpie > - a water devil.
- Lothian> - Lothian traditionally takes its name from King Lot and father of Mordred.
- Monster of Loch Ness> - mythical? Surely not.... First seen by St Columba in 565 a.d.
- Red Cap> - lives on the Scottish Border in ancient ruins of castles.
- Scotia > - a goddess but frequently portrayed as an old hag!
- Selkie - a marine creature in the shape of a seal.
- Shellycoat> - a Scottish bogeyman who haunts the rivers and streams. He is covered with shells, which rattle when he moves.
- Sidhe> the Gaelic name for fairies in both Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland.
Saints Preserve Us!
Legend tells us that a Scottish queen was given a ring by her husband. But she gave it to a handsome soldier and the king found out. He came across the soldier asleep by a river bank, took the ring, threw it in the water and challenged his wife to produce the ring. St Mungo>, who was to become the patron saint of Glasgow, miraculously returned the ring by catching the right salmon and finding it in its stomach. The arms of the City of Glasgow now include a salmon with a ring in its mouth (see graphic at the top of the page!).
Foretelling the Future
There is a long tradition of claims to be able to foretell the future and having the ability to have Second Sight. The most famous of these, was Coinneach Odhar, better known as the Brahan Seer>, some of whose visions for the future are said to have come to pass. He is said to have foretold the site of the Battle of Culloden, the construction of the Caledonian Canal and the doom of the clan Mackenzies of Seaforth while the "black rain" on Aberdeen is said by some to be the coming of the oil industry... But his fame rests on a best-selling book by Alexander Mackenzie published in 1877 and there is little historical evidence for the seer or his prophecies!
Thomas of Ercildoune lived in the Scottish Borders 700 years ago. He lived near the Eildon Hills - where Michael Scot the Wizard instructed three imps to split the single hill into three (it is actually one hill with three peaks). Thomas is supposed to have met the Fairy Queen in the Eildon Hills and she made him to go to Fairyland for three years. On his return he had the gift of poetry and prophecy and usually made his prophecies in rhymes, similar to the more well known Nostradamus. He thus became more popularly known as Thomas the Rhymer>. He is credited with predicting the Union of the Crowns which came to pass in 1603. One of his rhymes was "Tide, tide, whate'er betide, There'll aye be Haigs at Bemersyde". The Haigs did indeed last at Bemersyde in the Borders for many centuries but the line died out in the 19th Century. It looked as though the prophecy had failed - until a grateful nation bought Bemersyde for the World War I leader, Earl Haig> - a distant relation.
Castles with Ghosts
Buildings with long histories tend to collect legends and stories like the moss on their stonework. There have usually been some dire deeds carried out within their walls which give rise to tales of ghosts and tortured spirits still, occasionally, to be seen walking (or floating) around. Scottish castles are no exception. Haunted Castles of Scotland> provides an comprehensive selection but here are a few for starters:
- Borthwick Castle, Lothian> - an apparition of Mary Queen of Scots, dressed as a page boy, is said to appear; she escaped from Bortwick Castle in 1567 in a similar disguise.
- Braemar Castle> - said to be haunted by a blonde haired, pretty girl, possibly a newly married bride who committed suicide because she thought her husband had abandoned her. (A sighting of her was reported in 1987). The spirit of John Farquharson of Inverey is also around - he is known as the "Black Colonel".
- Castle Fraser> - a young woman who was murdered in the castle in the 19th century and dragged down the stairs before being buried. Her blood on the stairs could not be removed.
- Cawdor Castle, Invernesshire - the ghost of a lady in a blue velvet dress has been sighted and so has John Campbell, 1st Lord Cawdor.
- Corgarff Castle> - ghostly screams have been heard in the castle, but nobody has hazarded a guess at who, or what, is making them.
- Craigievar Castle> - the ghost here is of one of the Gordon family who was murdered by being pushed out of one of the windows of the castle.
- Culzean Castle, Ayrshire> - a ghostly piper is heard when a Kennedy is getting married (the castle used to be a Kennedy stronghold). Another ghost seen here include a young woman dressed in a ball gown.
- Edinburgh Castle> - needless to say many ghosts have been reported here, including a headless drummer (seen in 1960), a ghostly piper and one of the dogs buried in the pet's cemetery in the castle.
- Eilean Donan Castle, Wester Ross - A Spanish soldier, killed in the castle or in a nearby battle is said to haunt the castle. And one of the bedrooms is haunted by a Lady Mary.
- Kellie Castle> - The spirit of Anne Erskine who fell from one of the upstairs windows is said to haunt a spiral staircase in the castle.
- Skibo Castle> - although the present castle was built as recently as the 19th century, it is on the site of much earlier buildings. A ghost of a young girl used to haunt old castle. Bones were later found in the castle walls and once they had been buried, the hauntings were never seen again.
- Stirling Castle> - Mary Queen of Scots appears here again - in the guise of the "Pink Lady". There is also a "Green Lady" who appears as an omen of bad news (green is an unlucky colour in Celtic mythology).
Many objects, other than castles, have accumulated their share of myths and legends. Some like the Grave Slabs and Pictish Stones> and Stone Circles and Cairns> have been around for a long time - well over 2,000 years. In particular, Megalithic Mysteries - Stones of Scotland> is an excellent collection of photographs of standing stones and megalithic remains, emphasising the mystical aspects of these reminders of the ancient inhabitants of Scotland.
The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan> associated with Clan MacLeod> is said to be a scrap of cloth torn from the dress of a fairy who had married a chieftain of the MacLeods but had to leave mortal life after twenty years of marriage. Also at Dunvegan Castle> is "Rory Mor's Horn" from which a new chief must drink a bottle and a half of claret in one go! According to the guide book for the castle, the present chief achieved this - in under two minutes!
Legend has it that the Stone of Destiny>, or Stone of Scone, was used by Jacob in in Israel and was brought to Scotland via Ireland. It was used by the kings of Dalriada at their coronations and was taken to Scone around 840AD. King Edward I> removed it to London in 1296 and it was placed under the throne in Westminster Abbey. It was returned to Edinburgh Castle in 1996.
The "Curse of Scotland" is the name given to a playing card, the nine of diamonds. The Duke of Cumberland is said to have scribbled the order to give "no quarter" on such a card before the Battle of Culloden. Others say that the derivation is from the coat of arms of John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair who signed the order for the Glencoe Massacre>.
And finally, no overview of Scotland's myths and legends would be complete without the Legend of Nessie>! As mentioned earlier, he/she/it was first spotted by St Columba> in 565AD but most of the sightings have been in the last 100 years. Perhaps this is due to the greater number of people looking out for the monster or perhaps it is due to the growth in the Scottish tourist industry? But Nessie is now so up to date that she now has her own Internet Diary>!
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