Founding Myths: Princess Scota, Goídel Glas and their Links to the Gaelic People

Possibly Akhenaten and Nefertiti, Smenkhkare and Meritaten, or Tutankhamen and Ankhesenamun;
Photo: Andreas Praefcke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

PROGENITORS OF THE GAELIC PEOPLE

In the mythology and pseudo-history of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, Princess Scota and her husband Goídel Glas and their followers were the progenitors of the Gaelic people. The Gaelic people were an ethnic group of Celts, who spoke the Gaelic language, invented by Goídel Glas.

Some modern researchers controversially claim to have identified her as either Meriaten or Ankhesenamun, believed to be daughters of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. Accounts differ, but most conclude that she was the ancestor of the Scotti people, who became the Milesians. They conquered Ireland, the Isle of Man, and parts of Argyle on the island of Britain. These people settled regions of Argyll and other parts of the island of Britain north of where the Romans later built Hadrian’s Wall. This region came to be called Scotland after her and her people.

The lightest green represents the maximum expansion of the Gaelic language and culture (c. 1000 CE), the middle shade shows its reach c. 1700 CE, and the darkest color shows areas that are Gaelic-speaking in the present day. CelticBrain, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the controversy and complexity, a romantic and provocative alternative history of the Gaelic nations emerges. It gives the Gaelic people a long and illustrious history with connections to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Egypt, creating an impressive founding myth.

FOUNDING MYTHS

The founding myths of nations play an important role in national identity, perceived status, and ancient heritage. They help establish the legitimacy of the state and the ruling class to assert ownership over the land. The further back in time, the closer the associations with the great ancient civilizations of the Israelite’s, Rome, Troy, Greece, and Egypt, the better.

It was much more than pretentiousness. It also helped justify the existence of a nation and its ruling establishment. Rulers who could show descent from a distinguished ancestor, or powerful divinity, increased the legitimacy of their claim to rule. Founding myths are an essential part of a nation’s identity and culture. Here we will look at three ancient texts, followed by two modern theories involving the origin of the Scots, Gaels, and their language.

THE 11TH CENTURY LEBOR GABÁLA ÉRENN

The first text is The Lebor Gabála Érenn, or “The Book of Invasions,” an anonymous 11th-century compilation of prose and poetry allegedly telling the history of the Irish people connecting in them back in time to the Biblical Adam through his descendants. It presents a heroic and monumental Irish history comparable to that of the Israelite’s, the Romans, or the Greeks, especially the story of the Trojan founding of Britain by Brutus of Troy. It needed to bring together native Irish myths and the Christian perspective of history. Many scholars see it as an attempt to parallel the pre-Christian history of the Irish with biblical events. Although up to the 17th century, most scholars considered it authoritative variant legends exist that differ in detail. Today the text is not universally accepted as accurate and is not seen as factual.

The Lebor purports to document the settlement of Ireland by six groups of settlers. The first was the people of Cessair. The second, the people of Partholón. The third, the people of Nemed. The fourth the Fir Bolg and the fifth the Tuatha Dé Danann, who are seen as the pagan gods of Ireland and the sixth was the Milesians who became the Gaelic and Irish people.

In The Lebor, the origin of the Gaels is traced back through the eponymous ancestor, Goídel Glas, whose grandfather was Fénius Farsaid, a legendary King of Scythia. According to some traditions, Fénius invented the Gaelic language and Ogham script. In others, it was his grandson Goídel Glas. According to The Lebor, Fenius ruled a kingdom in Scythia by the Black Sea, now part of eastern Ukraine. For reasons unknown, he lost his kingdom and went into exile. Whatever happened, he turned up in Egypt where he had a son named Nial, who married the Pharaoh’s daughter, and they had a son they named Goídel.

At this time, in Egypt, the persecution of the Children of Israel was taking place. Rather than participate in the persecution, the family and their followers went into exile from Egypt. They roamed throughout North Africa before eventually sailing through the Straits of Gibraltar and following the Atlantic Iberian coast northerly before settling along the shores of Galicia.

One of their descendants was Mil, also known as Milesius and Míl Espáine or The Soldier of Spain, and his followers were the Milesians. The Tuatha Dé Danaan, the early rulers of Ireland, had killed the nephew of Mil. So to avenge the killing, Mil launched an invasion of Ireland, taking his wife, Scota, with him.

Although Mil and Scota died in the fighting, their three sons, Eber, Eremon, and Amairgen, conquered Ireland and became the Gaels. Being the sons of Scota, they considered her to be their ancestral mother and also called themselves Scots.

14TH CENTURY – CHRONICLES OF THE SCOTTISH PEOPLE

Now we look at the work of the Scottish chronicler John of Fordun. He wrote the “Chronica Gentis Scotorum” or “Chronicles of the Scottish People”, which consisted of five books in the late 14th century. These works, especially the early parts, are regarded with skepticism by many scholars today.

According to Fordham, the ancestors of the Scots were Egyptians. They were followers of an Egyptian princess named Princess Scota and a Greek, or Scythian prince, called Goídel Glas, sometimes known as Geytholos, Gathelus, or Gaithelus in Latin.

According to this work, the Scots were the descendants of Goídel Glas, the son of King Neolus of Greece, and the Egyptian Princess Scota, his wife. They led a band of followers from Egypt to Spain. Some of their followers traveled on to Ireland led by the son of the King of Spain named Simon Breac, who would become the High King of Ireland. They brought to Ireland the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny, an oblong block of red sandstone, which became the coronation seat of the Scottish kings and also used in the coronation of English and UK monarchs later.

15TH CENTURY – THE SCOTICHRONICON

Scota and Gaedel Glas in a 15th century manuscript of Bower’s Scotichronicon – Unknown author – Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the 15th century, Walter Bower expanded further on this story in his work, “The Scotichronicon.” According to Bower, Goídel Glas was a Greek prince, but his father, the King, would not allow him any position of power. Frustrated by his father, Goídel Glas raised his own army, causing much trouble and destruction. Eventually, his father was forced to rein him in and sent him into exile. Goídel sailed to Egypt with his army assisting Pharaoh Chencres in fighting an invasion from Ethiopia, a powerful kingdom in the region. Their united armies expelled the Ethiopians giving victory to the Egyptians. After this, Goídel helped the Pharaoh to keep the Children of Israel in subjugation. In return for his bravery, loyalty, and military support, Chencres gave his daughter to him in marriage. She was not named then but later became known as Princess Scota,

According to Bower, Pharaoh Chencres died in the parting of the Red Sea in pursuit of the Children of Israel. With his death, the people of Egypt sought reform, and a period of civil disorder and strife occurred. Goídel Glas was seen as part of the old order and forced into banishment. However, he did not go alone. He took his wife, who was to become known as Princess Scota, his army, and many followers who made them their King and Queen. They called themselves “Scots” after Scota, despite having no realm to rule. In Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Scota means “blossom,” and “Scotti” was a synonym for “Irish,” suggesting the Irish and Scots descendants of Queen Scota were “people of the blossom.” (1)

The Scots roamed the North African deserts, eventually sailing to the Iberian Peninsula now known as Spain and Portugal. They settled in the northwest part of the peninsula called Brigancia that the Romans called Brigantium, now known as A Coruña in the province of Galicia. Here, Scota gave birth to a son named “Hyber,” from which “Hibernia,” an ancient alternative name for Ireland, was derived. Thus, the term “Iberian” derives from “Hyber.

They were said to have stayed in Galicia for several generations but faced continued attacks by the local tribes. Some Scots set sail across the sea looking for a new home and eventually reached a region on the island of Britain that we call Argyll today. These people would eventually become known as the “Scotti.” The country north of Hadrian’s Wall was later to built became Scotland.

THE MOUND OF HOSTAGES

Now we move forward thousands of years to an ancient burial site named the Hill of Tara that still exists in modern Ireland. On top of the hill is an ancient burial and ritual site known as the Mound of Hostages, called Dumha na nGiall in Irish, and once the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland. Dr. Sean O’Riordan, an archaeologist of Trinity College, Dublin, investigating the site discovered human remains dated to the Bronze Age believed to be those of a young prince. Around his neck was placed a very rare necklace of faience beads made from a mixture of plants and minerals. Carbon dating of the skeleton gave a date of 1359 BC. The design and manner of making of the beads show them to be of Egyptian origin. Not exactly, but still, near to when the boy entombed at Tara, Tutankhamun, the boy king, was interred in Egypt. Placed around his neck was a necklace of blue-green faience beads similar to the Tara find. A Bronze Age burial ground in Devon also yielded a necklace of like style.

LORRAINE EVANS – “THE KINGDOM OF THE ARK”

In her book “Kingdom of the Ark” Lorraine Evans presents the idea that there are historical and archaeological links between ancient Egypt and ancient Ireland, and Scotland. A discovery in North Ferriby, Yorkshire, of the remains of an ancient shipwreck first thought to be a single Viking long-ship. Further excavation brought to light more wrecks but not of Viking origin. Radiocarbon dated them between 1400 – 1350 BC, earlier than the Viking Age. Evans points out that these dates reasonably correspond to the dates of the Tara skeleton and faience beads and speculates that the boats were of Egyptian origin.

She points to the Scotichronicon and asks what Egyptian faience beads were doing at Tara in Ireland and Devon in England. Of course, there are many answers. For example, they could have arrived through trade, or they may have been gifts to some influential people, from other important people. Then the question arises who traded them or who gave them as gifts. It could have been via traveling traders and merchants who may or may not have been of Egyptian origin. On the other hand, they could also have belonged to an Egyptian. Evans speculates that the Tara prince was an Egyptian and possibly also connected with the Devon necklace.

According to the Scotichronicon, the High Kings of Ireland were descendants of Scota. But, awkwardly, Scota is not a name of Egyptian origin. So, who was she, apart from being an Egyptian princess and Pharaoh’s daughter? So, Evans looked closer to the text. She discovered it gave Scota’s father the Greek name, Achencres, a version of the Egyptian name of Akhenaten, the Pharaoh of Egypt in the relevant period. Therefore, Evans speculates that Scota was none other than Princess Meriaten, the eldest daughter of Akhenaten and his primary wife, Queen Nefertiti. (1) This also links in with beads and skeleton at Tara because Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten by one of his wives named Kiya, and possibly married Ankhesenpaaten, the third eldest daughter of Akhenaten.

PRINCESS MERIATEN

When Akhenaten enforced the new religion of the worship of the Aten – the sun disc – on his people, there was a significant conflict with the priesthood of Amun, the former faith. After Akhenaten died, they restored the worship of Amun as the principal god of Egypt. The standard protocol would have been for the eldest daughter of the Pharaoh Akhenaten to marry her step-brother Tutankhamun. However, the priests of Amun determined to stamp out the Aten religion rejected this. According to Evans, this, with the rumors of plague, was enough to persuade her to marry a foreign prince and go into exile with him, removing further traces of her father from Egypt.

THE TUATHA DE DANNAAN

To answer this question, Evans looked to the myths of the Tuatha de Danaan who inhabited Ireland in this period. The Tuatha de Danaan, or People of the Goddess, Dani, were believed to have established the sacred site of Tara in the valley of the River Boyne.

Tara was their most important sacred ritual and burial place, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, and the place they were inaugurated. The Tuatha de Danaan were considered the gods and goddesses of the inhabitants of Ireland, and their origins stretch way back into prehistory.

According to a different text known and the Annals of the Four Masters, dating from 1632-36, Eremon is the husband of Scota. He and someone named Eber divided Ireland between them into two kingdoms. Eremon ruled the northern realm while Eber ruled the southern kingdom. Evans speculates, Eber and Eremon created two kingdoms unified by the Hill of Tara as a replica of Egypt with its Upper and Lower realms united by Memphis.

There is also the idea the combination of the names of the two gods Ptah-Ra gives Ta-ra or Tara can be pronounced in several different ways. For example, Ptah could be Pi-tah which sounds like Peter. Even so, the way the ancient Egyptians pronounced their language may have been entirely different from the way we would expect.

THE DEATH OF SCOTA

According to the Lebor Gabala, Scota died in a battle at Slieve Mish, near Tralee, Kerry, to be buried nearby in a valley now known as Scotia’s Glen. After her death, the war for control of Ireland continued against three kings of the Tuatha de Danaan; MacCuill, MacCeacht, and MacGreine, whose wives were all goddesses. These were Banba, Fodla, and Eriu. Eventually, the sons of Mil subdued the Tuatha de Danaan taking control of Tara. It is also worth noting the English name for Ireland is derived from Eriu and is also known as Eire or Erin, both derivatives of Eriu.

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and two daughters adoring the Aten
Egyptian Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

RALPH ELLIS – “SCOTA, EGYPTIAN QUEEN OF THE SCOTS”

Ralph Ellis, in his book, “Scota, Egyptian Queen of the Scots,” claims the primary British reference was like the eighth-century historian Nennius. By tracing the sources of Nennius, Ellis thinks he’s found the answer. He believes that the originator of the Scota-Gaythelos story was an ancient text, The History of Egypt, written in 300BC by the Egypto-Greek historian Manetho. Having traced the source, which was, if not contemporaneous, at least reasonably informed – Ellis believes that he can put flesh on the bones of this story. Using Manetho’s text, Ellis asserts that Scota was Ankhesenamun, a daughter of Akhenaton and Nefertiti. She would also become the First Royal Wife of Tutankhamen. After his death, she married a pharaoh named Aye, who Ellis identifies as Gaythelos.


He also gives what he believes is the origin and meaning of the name “Scota.” When the fleet carrying Ankhesenamun and Gaythelos left Egypt to begin their exile, they sailed west into the setting sun. The boat Ra, the Sun-god, rides across the sky was named Shkoti, and her followers gave this term to Princess Ankhesenamun as the fleet sailed into the setting sun. It may have been a nickname or became a title that was to evolve into Scoti over time. (2) In the history of this group of people, there was more than one royal female named Scota. Again, it may be Scota was a term or title and passed on perhaps from mother to daughter.

Ellis speculates that Aye was the father of Tutankhamen, marrying Ankhesenamun after his son’s death. His rule was brief before a religious conflict with the Egyptian people forced him to leave Egypt with his wife and followers, and Ellis tracks their journey. He believes they took sufficient ships to carry around 1000 followers and enough supplies, weapons, and equipment. Stopping to resupply at several points, they managed to navigate the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic coast of Spain, where they settled for several generations. Their son Hiber gave his name to Iberia. Four generations after they first settled, the descendants of Scota made their way to Ireland, giving weight to the idea that Scota was an inherited or passed-on title.

Here Ellis refers to Irish stories supplementing the myths with other evidence. For example, he points to the number of gold torcs or necklaces worn by pharaohs discovered in the country and points to tombs he believes were built using Egyptian knowledge. Ellis believes this demonstrates that Scota’s people brought this method of embalming their dead from Egypt halfway across the world and from Ireland; it was a short voyage across the water to Scotland. Later, Iberian “Egyptians” seeking a new homeland settled in Scotland, and eventually, many of the original Irish “Scots” joined them.

The story of Scota, Gaythelos, and the history of the Gaelic people comes across as deeply mysterious, romantic, and very interesting. But, unfortunately, it is difficult to piece together and hard to tell fact from fiction. Fascinating though they are, all these stories are products of their culture and times, providing a need for some deep-rooted and illustrious ancestry. Many other nations and peoples have their foundation myths which, although impossible to prove, mean a lot to those people.

Copyright 07/12/2021 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright December 7th, 2021 zteve t evans

Dark Beira: The Winter Queen and Maker of the Scottish Landscape

Dark Beira

In Scottish mythology, Beira, also known as Dark Beira, was the great mother of the gods and goddesses.  She was also known as the Cailleach,  or the Cailleach Bheur in the Gaelic traditions of Ireland and the Isle of Man.   According to Donald Alexander Mackenzie, she was usually described as being very  tall and very old and could be terribly fierce when provoked. Her anger could be as strong and bitter as the cold north wind and as wild and unforgiving as the storm laden sea. Every winter Beira reigned undisputed on Earth but as spring approached her subjects grew restless and rebellious against her stern, harsh rule.  They looked forward to the pending return of Angus of the White Steed who was the Summer King and Bride his beautiful consort and Queen.

The King and Queen of Summer

Angus and Bride were loved by all for their arrival brought an end to the dark cold days of winter heralding the return of spring and warmer and lighter days of abundance and happiness. The weakening of her power and the inevitable arrival of the King and Queen of Summer enraged Beira greatly. Although she did what she could to prolong winter by raising spring storms and sending blights of frost eventually  winter had to give way to spring and summer as her power weakened.

The Green Island and the Well of Youth

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

Beira was ancient having lived for thousand of years. She kept herself alive by drinking from the Well of Youth  that has its wellspring on the Green Island of the West. The Green Island was a floating island and a place where there was only summer.  The trees were always laden with blossoms and fruit and the days were sunny and clear.   The island floated freely in the North Atlantic Ocean and the seas around the west coasts of Ireland, sometimes drawing close to the Hebrides.  

Although many bold sailors have tried to find the island few if any have ever succeeded as it is hidden by mists.  It is possible, even on the calmest and brightest of days to sail past it thinking it was just a bank of sea mist in the distance without  realising that the magical Green Island is concealed within. It can sometimes be glimpsed from shore but it will vanish when being gazed upon.  Sometimes it will sink below the waves to conceal it’s forbidden sights from human eyes. Nevertheless, Beira was not human and she knew how to reach the forbidden island when the time came. She knew that the waters of the Well of Youth were at their most potent  after the winter solstice. Therefore she would always visit the Green Island to drink the waters of the Well of Youth the night before the first lengthening day which was the last night of her reign as Queen of Winter.

It was important to drink the water at precisely the right time so she would arrive early and sit in darkness waiting for the very first glimmer of light in the east.  This was the signal for her to drink from pure water of the Well of Youth as it bubbled forth from a crevice in a rock. It was essential that she should drink of the waters in silence and alone, before any bird or animal.  If she should fail in this she would die, shrivel and crumbling to dust.

As soon as the water passed her lips she would begin to grow young.  She would leave the island and return to Scotland where she would fall into a long, magical sleep.  Eventually she would awake as a beautiful girl with long blond hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks to find herself in sunshine. Having rejuvenated herself she was now, with the exception of Bride the Summer Queen, the fairest goddess in the land.  She would wander through the land dressed in a robe of green and crowned with different colored flowers.

The Aging of Beira

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

However, as the months passed by so the year aged and Beira aged with it.  She would reach full womanhood at midsummer and when autumn came the first wrinkles began to appear on her brow and her beauty could be seen to be slowly fading. With the return of winter she was transformed fully into the old withered hag and become Queen of Winter.  She was often heard on stormy nights as she wandered alone through the bitter wind singing a strange and sorrowful song, 

 O life that ebbs like the sea!

  I am weary and old, I am weary and old–

Oh! how can I happy be

  All alone in the dark and the cold.

I’m the old Beira again,

  My mantle no longer is green,

I think of my beauty with pain

  And the days when another was queen.

My arms are withered and thin,

  My hair once golden is grey;

’Tis winter–my reign doth begin–

  Youth’s summer has faded away.

Youth’s summer and autumn have fled–

  I am weary and old, I am weary and old.

Every flower must fade and fall dead

  When the winds blow cold, when the winds blow cold.  (1)

Although the young rejuvenated Beira of the summer was a joy to look upon the aging and bitter Beira of the winter turned into something horrific.   She only had one large eye but her vision was sharp and clear while her complexion was of dark blue giving her a dull and dank appearance.  She had rust colored teeth and long, lank, white hair that covered her shoulders like a bright frost. Her clothes were grey and she carried wrapped around her shoulders a dun coloured shawl which she pulled tightly around herself.  Sometimes she was often heard singing sad songs to herself. 

Days Gone By

It was said that Beira was so old she could remember how changes had come to the land.  She could remember that in some places where there was water there had once been land. Furthermore, she remembered how places that were now land had once been covered by water.  She was once asked by a wizard how old she was and replied, 

“I no longer count time in years.  I will tell you that where the rock of Skerryvore that is the haunt of seals lies in the sea I remember as a mountain that was surrounded by fields.  I remember how people worked in them, plowed them and cultivated them and I remember how the barley grew tall and thick and laden with sunshine. I remember the loch over yonder that but a small tricking spring.  In those days I was young and blithe but now I am old, weak, dark and in misery!” 

Creating Loch Awe

The stories tell how Beira freed many rivers and made many lochs.  She made all the mountains and glens and all of the hills Scotland.  One legend tells how there had once been a well on Ben Cruachan in Argyle which Beira habitually used daily.   Every morning as the sun rose she would lift it’s lid off and in the evening when the sun went down she would replace it.  One evening she forgot to replace it at sunset and this disturbed the natural order of the world.  

With the sinking of the sun water gradually began to bubble forth from the well. The lower the sun sank the more water burst from the well.  Soon a great flood was rolling pouring from the well and streaming and roaring down the mountain into the valley below. The next morning when the sun rose Beira found the valley to be completely flooded in water and in later days this place became known as Loch Awe.

Creating Loch Ness

Beira had another well which also had to be kept from sunset until sunrise. One of her maids, whose name was Nessa, had charge of the well. One evening Nessa was late in returning to recover the well and as she drew near she saw great torrents of water flowing down so strong that she was forced to turn and run for her life.  Beira, who was watching from her home on top of Ben Nevis was furious and cried,

‘You have failed in my trust in you and neglected your task, therefore now you must run forever and remain in the water!”

Immediately Nessa was changed into a river which became known as the river Ness and the loch that was formed from it Loch Ness.   There is a tradition that once a year on the anniversary of the evening of her transformation Nessa appears from the loch as a maiden to sing a sad sweet song in a voice that is clearer and more melodious than any bird. She is accompanied by the beautiful music of golden harps and pipes more melodious than that of fairyland.

Making Mountains

Image by A Owen from Pixabay

In the early days of the world the rivers began to break free and formed lochs and this is when Beira began making the mountains of Scotland.  She carried a great basket strapped to her back filled with earth and rocks. Sometimes she would need to step over the valleys, rivers and lochs but this sometimes caused her basket to tilt to one side causing rocks and earth to fall out.  These would form into hills and cause lochs to form with islands.  

To help her in her task she had eight hags who each had a basket strapped to their backs which was filled with earth and rocks.  One after the other they emptied it in one place so that each basketful built into a huge pile forming a mountain that reached up through the clouds.

The Sons of Dark Beira

According to folklore there were two reasons why Beira made the mountains.  The first was to provide stepping stones for herself as she traversed the country.  The second was because she had many sons who tended to be quarrelsome and would fight one against the other for dozens of years at a time.  Therefore, to punish those who disobeyed her by fighting she would separate them and make them live in different mountain houses. However, this did not stop them fighting because they would climb to the tops of the mountains every morning and throw massive boulders across the landscape at each other.  This is the reason why today we see many great boulders and rocks are strewn on the sides of the mountains or lie in the valleys below.

Beira had other gigantic sons who lived in deep caves in the earth.  Others were horned like deer and others had more than one head. Her son’s were so strong they could easily lift cattle off the ground and placing them over their shoulders carry them away and roast them for dinner.  Each of her gigantic sons were known as a Fooar.

The Origin of Ben Wyvis

One of the hardest tasks Beira had was the building of Ben Wyvis.  She had given her hag servants tasks at other places and because she did not want to hinder their progress she was forced to work alone.  After one particularly arduous and tiring day she stumbled and all the contents of her basket fell in a heap on the ground and it was this that became the mountain known as Little Wyvis.

Magic Hammer

Beira had a magic hammer that she used to help her shape the Scottish landscape.  To make the ground as hard as a rock she struck it lightly with her hammer. To create a valley she struck the ground hard. After she had formed a mountain she would then use her hammer to sculpt  it into a unique form so that she knew one from the other and could use them as landmarks to find her way around. After they were created she would take great joy in roaming the valleys beneath and between them and wandering over the mountain passes.

Animals and Beira

Beira was beloved by all wild animals especially in her younger form.  Foxes would bark out a welcome and wolves would howl greetings from the mountains, while eagles soaring above shrieked in delight at her presence.  She gave her protection to the fleet-footed deer and wide horned shaggy cattle, the black pigs and other creatures that roamed the earth in those days.

She kept goats and cattle on the mountains so that they could graze the sweet mountain grass and these she milked. As soon as the wind began to blow milky froth from the milking pails she knew it was time to lead them down to the shelter of the valleys below.  The froth from the pails covered the hills and lay glimmering in the sunshine. When the rain hit the mountains in torrents and ran down the sides in streams people would look up and say,

“See, Beira is milking her today see how the buckets overflow with milk and run down the mountainside.”

The Whirlpool of Corryvreckan

Beira wore a great shaggy shawl which she sometimes needed to wash but the only place big enough was the sea in the Gulf of Corryvreckan which lies between the Western isles of Jura and Scarba.  She washed her shawl so vigorously she caused a whirlpool in the sea called the Whirlpool of Corryvreckan and was known as her wash pot. There is a legend that a Scottish prince named Breckan was drowned by the whirlpool when his boat became caught in its pull or upset by the waves Beira was making as she washed her shawl.  It took her hag  servants three days to prepare the water to wash her shawl.  When it was ready the noise of the Corry or sea could be heard roaring for twenty miles all around and Beira would commence washing her shawl.  

On the fourth day she would throw her shawl in the whirlpool and trample it with her feet.   She washed her shawl until it was as white as snow and then she draped it over the mountains to dry which was the sign that her reign as Queen of Winter had begun. 

The Creation of the Scottish Landscape

The myth and story of Beira is the story of how the ancient Scottish people expalined the creation of the magnificent landscape they lived and the forces that created it. It provides an explanation for the cycle of the seasons in a way that people understood and could relate to. Although unscientific and perhaps raw and mischievous at times it does have a certain charm and truth that science cannot answer for.

© 19/12/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright December 12th, 2019 zteve t evans

Scottish Folktales: The Haunted Heath

Thomas Cole [Public domain]

This is  a retelling of a folktale called The Murder Hole, found in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Magazine, 1829 and believed to be set in an area of Scotland about three hundred years earlier.

The Murder Hole

In  a remote part of the country there exists a lonely road that runs for miles and miles through an empty and dreary landscape broken by the odd sharp hillock and tor  and a few scattered and tortured trees. On one side of the road stands and old stone cross that seems to stand as a bleak warning to the unwary traveler that they are crossing over a boundary into the unknown.  Beyond that lies a ruined, abandoned church. There are no flowers and In daylight the landscape appears to be covered in a mass of dull grey, green stringy grass but it is a deceptive and dangerous place. From the road the ground looks firm and solid but there  are bogs and marshes whose watery surface take on the grayness of the skies and hide their presence from the unwary and these stretch as far as the eye could see in all directions. The only time their presence can be seen plainly is at times when the veils that shroud this world from the next become thin such as at sunset just before they lift.  Then light from the dying sun strikes the watery surface revealing blood-stained pools and streams that appear from the landscape giving it a surreal and disturbing aspect. At such a time any traveler on that road would be vulnerable to their own thoughts as the veil lifts and the night creatures begin to roam through. The road was bad but it was better to keep upon it than risk the treacherous bogs and marshes that changed and shifted.  These were dangerous for those who did not know the area but the few locals who remained could find their way through safely.

The Hamlet

The only sign of human habitation were a few rough wooden huts clustered both sides of the road  that made up a small almost deserted hamlet situated in the center of this God forsaken place. Anyone using that road from either direction must eventually pass this place though it was not quite fully abandoned.   There had never been many people making their home in these parts at the best of times and slowly people drifted away to settle in a village beyond the moor telling in hushed tones of the malevolence that haunted that strange forsaken place.

Rumor

Rumors filtered out that some evil walked upon the moor and travelers used it less and less and then  only out of dire necessity and never at night. When people went missing, the people from the hamlet scoured the moor each time,  but no body or grave was ever found. No place that may serve as a hideaway was ever discovered that might have been used by those seeking concealment for some reason.

Nevertheless, over the years, people kept disappearing without a trace and the few inhabitants became fewer and fewer.   People told of the terrible black nights that fell upon the land and spoke of hearing the deathly silence broken by unearthly screams of anguish from some distant place on the heath.

A shepherd who had been out on the moor one evening came back with a terrifying account of how he had become lost in the featureless plane and came across three dark sinister figures.  They appeared to be locked in a terrible struggle, each exuding supernatural effort against the other until one of them slowly sank screaming into the very earth.

This along with similar sinister events persuaded the people of the hamlet to pack up their meager belongings and head for the safety of the village on the other side of the moor.  Eventually, the only inhabitants that remained were an old woman and her two sons who owned a humble but ramshackle cottage. They complained that they stayed because they were prisoners bound to this dreadful place by the chains of poverty

The few travelers who used the forsaken road now only did so in groups and would spend the day traveling together and rest up over night at the cottage of the old woman and her sons who were glad of the income they brought.  The lodgings were poor and basic but the safety of four walls around them and a roof over their heads was greater draw than traversing that haunted road in the dark. Sometimes by the firelight the cottagers would tell a story or two of the horrors of the moor and watch  in dark humor at the terror on the faces of their guests. After a sleepless night In the morning they would gladly pay their hosts and continue their journey glad to be gone

The Pedlar-Boy

It so happened that one storm night in November,  a young pedlar-boy rather than listen to the advice of locals and common sense travelled the road alone.  The year before he had traveled this road as part of a group of people and believed himself acquainted and prepared for what a solitary journey may bring but he was wrong

As the night fell and the wind blew he heard the cries and groans of the dying all around him.  Fearing to look to the left or to the right he forced himself onward. At last in the distance he saw the glimmer of a fire through a window and knew he was approaching the cottage and hurried towards it.  Remembering his last stay as a member of a large party he expected a warm welcome. The old woman had regaled them with terror tales and had appeared to take a shine to him begging him to stay

Reaching the door in relief he rapped loudly upon it but despite hearing a great deal of noise and confusion no one answered.  Thinking that the inhabitants might think it was supernatural visitor whom the old lady had spoken so much of on his last visit he looked through a side window.  As he looked he saw everyone was busy. The old woman was rubbing the stone floor and sprinkling a layer of sand over it. Her two sons appeared to be trying to push something large and bulky into a chest pushing the lid down and locking it.  The pedlar-boy tapped on the window seeking to attract their attention causing them all to jump in nervous surprise and glare malevolent at him. This shocked the boy who was expecting a friendly welcome after his last visit. Before he could do anything one of the men rushed out of cottage grabbing hold of him tightly and pulled him roughly inside.

“Wait, wait! I am not what you think I am!  I am only the poor pedlar-boy who came this way last year and you gave shelter. Don’t you  you remember me? I stayed with you last year and you asked me to stay. When I said I couldn’t. you invited me back at any time and here I am,” he said laughing adding, “I am not what you think I am.”

I am but a poor pedlar-boy all alone in the world.  If I died tomorrow know one would miss me – no one would mourn me.  I am completely and utterly alone! ”

The cottagers glared at him suspiciously and the old woman asked “Are you alone?”

“No one would miss you?”  asked the old woman in a whisper.

“No one in the world, ” he answered beginning to feel nervous and sorry for himself, “would shed a tear, or be remotely distressed  if I died this night!”

“Then indeed you are welcome here!” said the old woman looking at the other two slyly.

It was not the cold that made the pedlar-boy shiver and draw near the peat fire. He was thinking that the shelter of any of the dilapidated buildings in the ghost hamlet may have been a better choice than this. Despite the warmth of the fire he still felt chills running through him and now looking upon the sinister aspect of these three cottagers his apprehension grew. Nevertheless being alone and beyond any assistance he determined to conquer his fears, or at least suppress them to prevent them being revealed to his hosts

Nightmare

He was shown to a room that had the look about it that some violent confrontation had taken place.  The curtains hung in tatters, the table had been broken by some mighty blow and whatever scarce furniture graced the room, parts of it lay scattered on the floor.  The pedlar-boy begged for a candle to burn until he had drifted off to sleep and was reluctantly given one. When he had been left alone he explored further and found the door had been broken and to his consternation the latch and lock snapped off.

He tried to compose himself for sleep but his nerves were on edge. It had been a long arduous journey and he eventually drifted into an uneasy slumber.   In his sleep his imagination was working overtime and vivid scenes of terror and horror flashed through his mind. He was in a lucid world of fear where he saw himself being alone and wandering lost upon the haunted heath.  Something followed on behind and people appeared before him warning him not to enter the cottage before dissolving into mist before his eyes leaving naught but a hollow cry echoing in his mind. He found himself sat before the peat fire in the cottage with the three cottagers all looking upon him greedily.  Suddenly the old woman moved and grabbed his arms holding them behind his back and the two men rose and moved slowly towards him grinning malevolently. Then he heard the sound of a slow tortured cry and awoke with a start. Covered in a cold sweat he sat up in bed he listened but could hear nothing. As he gazed fearfully around him his eyes were caught by a movement under the door.   He stared in horror as a stream of bright red blood oozed silently and slowly underneath the door towards him

Escape

Jumping out of bed he crept to the door and peered through a crack into the next room.  Seeing the trail of blood came from a goat one of the men had just slaughtered relief swept over him.  Just as he was about to return to bed one of them spoke to the other saying,

“Hah! This was a far easier victim than last night’s.  It’s a pity all of the throats we have slit were not as quiet or as easy.  It is a good job we have no neighbours for miles around. The old man last night would have woken them all had they heard his cries for mercy.  How he howled when saw you were going to cut his throat!”

“Let’s not speak of it.  I hate blood shed!” replied the other

Oh, you do, do you?” laughed the first.

“I do and it is true.  I prefer the Murder Hole.  It tells no tales, leaves no trace.  There is nothing to get rid of after and no one will ever find them. No one will ever find it and if they do no one will suspect there are over forty dead bodies hidden within it.  It looks nothing more than a deep puddle and small enough for the long grass to bend over it concealing it. Unless you know you could stand next to it and never guess it was there or what it was.”

“Unless of course you step in it,”  replied the second.”

“Indeed, it’s a fact and it sucks them down, so quick, it is a wonder of nature!  How do you think we shall we end the pedlar-boy?” asked the old woman who stood watching hem and pointed towards the door which the pedlar boy was huddled behind trembling.  Her eldest son looked at her and with his knife in his hand and a look of sheer evil motioned his knife across throat.

Although terrified the pedlar-boy had lived all of his life alone in a never ending struggle against the odds of fate.  He had never given up and always won through and despite his fear and the odds against him he was not prepared to surrender his life easily.  One thing he had learnt was there was a time to fight and a time to fly and decided there and then flight to be the best answer. Creeping silently to the window he gently eased it up and slipped out silently.   Once outside he paused to get his bearings but was shaken to the core when he heard one of the men cry, “Curses!  He is gone!  He must have heard and will bring ruin upon us!”

“Let loose the bloodhound!” cried the other

“Make sure he does not escape,” cried the old woman, “do not bring him back here.  Use the Murder Hole for this!”

The Chase

w:Sidney Paget [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The pedlar-boy’s heart stopped at these words  and he feared greatly for his life but he was determined and quickly roused himself and fled into the darkness of the haunted moor.   It was not long before the baying of the bloodhound broke the silence of the night as it picked up his trail. Forcing himself to greater speed he stumbled on through the night but could tell by the baying of the hound and the voices of the men they were gaining on him.

Although he struggled to see in the darkness the hound was unimpeded simply following his scent trail and grew nearer and nearer followed by the men carrying lanterns.   Again he redoubled his efforts and ran blindly through the night but caught his foot on pile of stones, tripping and cutting his hands and knees and staining the stones with his blood.  Stunned he lay on the ground panting and bleeding but hearing the baying of the dog growing louder and the men’s voices following he forced himself up and onward. It seemed like his feet had grown wings and he flew over the moor.  He heard the hound yapping and baying at the spot where he had fallen and if he had dared to have looked back he would have seen it lapping at his blood on the stones where he had lain. To the annoyance of the men it would not move from the spot but continued lapping up his blood regardless of how cruelly they beat it.  At last satiated with blood it refused to take up the scent a second time.

Justice

The pedlar-boy did not know this and continued his wild flight across the moors.  Luckily he did not fall into the bogs but found the road where he could run faster.  Although his assassins continued to seek him they could not find find him. As dawn broke he reached the village on the edge of the moors and knocking on every door raised the alarm.  After the villagers had managed to calm him enough for him to tell them his tale the light of realization dawned upon them. It was the cottagers who had been responsible for the disappearances of so many of their loved ones. Forming themselves into a gang they marched to to the cottage and seized the old woman and her two son and took them back to the village for trial. The cottagers confessed to over fifty murders and took the villagers to show them the Murder Hole where they had disposed of so many of them.  They were duly tried and found guilty and three gibbets were quickly constructed and justice dispensed.

The villages dropped weighted hooks down the Murder Hole and brought up the bones of several victims.  It was impossible to tell how many more were down there. There was also the question of what had happened to those who had not gone down the Murder Hole and some suspected these were disposed of in a in a less than savory way.  Perhaps it is as well that we shall never know, but now at sunset when the veils grow thin and then part, three more wailing ghosts wander the haunted heath.

© 23/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 23rd, 2019 zteve t evans

Thomas the Rhymer and the Queen of Elfland

katherine_cameron-thomas_the_rhymer

Thomas the Rhymer and the Queen of Elfland – By Katharine Cameron (1874–1965) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas was a real Scottish laird who lived in Scotland in the 13th century, though there is confusion over his name which was either Thomas Learmont or Thomas de Ercildoun.  Evidence of his existence is found in charters from 1294 and 1260-80 that mention him.   Although there is speculation that it was the prophetic verses that earned him his nickname it is thought more likely this came from a corruption of his surname. His father was named Thome or Thomas Rymour de Ercildoun.  Ercildoun was the name of the modern village of Earlston in Galashiels which is situated about 30 miles southeast of Edinburgh.       
 
In his time Thomas was a widely respected prophet and clairvoyant with many of his predictions coming true. He successfully predicted the death of King Alexander lll, the succession to the throne of Robert the Bruce, the defeat of Scotland in 1513 at Flodden and in 1603 the union of crowns  His talent for accurately foretelling the future is associated with his ability to create verse which was seen as the language of prophets. 
 
When ever he took up his harp to play or cleared his throat to sing all present; princes, nobles or peasants, would fall silent and stand in joy and awe at the sweet music he made.   All who heard were touched, for his voice and words stirred the emotions and his fingers that played upon the strings of the harp, stroked, strummed and soothed the people’s hearts.  He could move people to joy and then to sorrow and then back again and held all who heard him in the palm of his hand.  Although he was widely regarded as a gifted seer and comparable to Merlin and a talented singer and harpist he had not been born with these abilities and it was widely believed he been given them by the Queen of Elfland herself.  Presented next is a retelling of how Thomas met the Queen of Elfland and was given his remarkable talents.

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