Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
In just one glen of Scotland you may find more folklore tales than anywhere. Scotland's archives of tales are so vast that it would take one a lifetime of reading to even begin to dent the vast literature available to us. Folklore is born within the minds and hearts of the people of a particular locale and Scotland has an abundance of legendary heroes and their tales.
From the forest beasties and heroes to the monsters of the lochs or the sea creatures of the deep there are stories for every palette, for every lover of folklore. Of the writers of these tales there are many and each had his own style and attraction.
Robert Burns, of The woods are lovely, dark and deep... was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland in January 1759. He was lovingly thought of as "The Bard of Ayrshire", or "Scotland's favourite son". From the pen of Burns came such enduring and loved songs and poems as Auld Lang Syne, To A Mouse, A Red, Red Rose and A Man's A Man For A' That. In July 1786, Burns had his first book of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect, known as The Kilmarnock Edition published.
Burns collected and worked to preserve Scottish folk songs and collections of bawdy lyrics that were sung in music halls of Scotland. His style of writing and the subjects he chose was very expressive of the Scottish cultural identity, poverty and social customs of his day. His folk songs and poems were written for the people of his beloved land. In January, Scots throughout the world may gather to celebrate the January 25th birthday of "Rabbie Burns" which is referred to as a "Burns Supper".
Another beloved writer of Scotland was Sir Walter Scott, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in August 1771. Scott was a historical novelist and wrote lasting and fascinating tales such as Ivanhoe and Robin Hood, both set in the days of chivalry during the age of Richard the Lion Hearted. His natural style for prose was well read and well loved.
Scott, in his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft related an ancient legend about sleeping warriors, waiting in a Eildon Hills cave for the day when all Gaeldom will rise against it's oppressors. These soldiers were known as the Fian Warriors and, trust me, you do not want to wake them!.
Another fascinating tale is about Major Weir, written by Robert Chambers in Traditions of Edinburgh. Weir was the last man executed for witchcraft in Scotland, in 1670. He lived with his sister near Edinburgh Castle, in an area of tall antique homes which had dovecot-like gables over the foot way. These were full of inscripted words and sculptures of dark, diabolical meaning. It must have been an uneasy walk for sure to one who had to traverse that foot way in the dark of night!
Much of the folklore in Scotland came from the Gaelic culture. One Scottish lore I love is about the "first footer". The custom is that if the first man who stepped through your cottage door after the first of the New Year was a dark man with fuel for your fire, you would be assured you would have a year free of trouble. It is appropriate and expected that he receive a dram of good whiskey as a gift for his effort!
Among the families of the Highlands, it is also customary with the New Year to circle the heads of the married or pregnant women of the house with burning wood from the fire, held by tongs. This must be done in a clockwise, or sunwise, circle and is considered a blessing. In fact, to do everything in a sunwise direction is an old belief of the Gaels to keep one in harmony with Earth.
Scotland's unique heritage of folk tales, poems, songs and fairy tales belong in the libraries of folklore lovers everywhere. The beauty of the land and the stories of the people are everlasting in the books and hearts of folklorists, and Scots in particular.
'Oh bonnie are the greensward howes,
Whar through the birks the burnie rowes,
An' the bee bums, an' the ox lowes,
An' saft winds rustle,
An' shepherd lads, on sunny knowes,
Blaw the blithe whistle'