Mary, Queen of Scots

Kelpie, or water kelpie, is the Scots name given to a shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland. It has usually been described as appearing as a horse, but is able to adopt human form.

Mary Stuart, commonly known as “Mary, Queen of Scots” was beheaded on February 8, 1587 at the order of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England. Mary (a Roman Catholic) had become caught up in complicated plots and counterplots surrounding Elizabeth, a Protestant queen, on the throne of England. Although Mary was kept a prisoner in England for 19 years and was finally beheaded for her role in a plot to have Elizabeth killed, Mary and Elizabeth never met. But the other great queens of the Scots were the goddesses known as the “hag”, the Cailleach, and the Giantess.

The folklore of Scotland is not nearly as well known as the folklore of Ireland or England, except perhaps for the monster said to live in Loch Ness. The first reported sighting of the Loch Ness Monster was in the River Ness in 565 AD. The Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he came across the locals burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man had been swimming the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” that had mauled him and dragged him under. They tried to rescue him in a boat, but were able only to drag up his corpse. Hearing this, Columba stunned the Picts by sending his follower Luigne moccu Min to swim across the river. The beast came after him, but Columba made the sign of the cross and commanded: “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.” The beast immediately halted as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and fled in terror, and both Columba’s men and the pagan Picts praised God for the miracle. Many modern people think the monster is a lone survivor of the otherwise extinct plesiosaurs.

Brownies–not the youngest division of Girl Scouts!–are said to inhabit houses and aid in tasks around houses in Scotland, like getting rid of spiders. However, they do not like to be seen and will only work at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts of food. Among food, they especially enjoy porridge, honey, butter, and cream. They usually abandon the house if their gifts are called payments, or if the owners of the house misuse them. Brownies make their homes in an unused part of the house, often in attics and holes in walls.

You can read more about Scottish mythology here. Or find lots of fairy tales from Scotland here.

St. Andrew’s Day

Fran Francken II (Flanders, Antwerp, 1581-1642) painting of St. Andrew’s crucifixion, circa 1620, on exhibit in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

St. Andrew, the first man to join Christ as an apostle, was crucified on an X-shaped cross. He is now widely venerated as the patron of Scotland, Russia, and many other places. His X-shaped cross appears on the flags of many countries that looked to him for protection. His feast–on November 29 in some places and November 30 in other places–is both especially popular for magic that reveals a young woman’s future husband and was believed to be the start of the most popular time for vampires to come hunt the living, which would last until Saint George’s Eve (22 April).

In Romania, it is customary for young women to put 41 grains of wheat beneath their pillow before they go to sleep, and if they dream that someone is coming to steal their grains that means that they are going to get married next year. Also in some other parts of the country the young women light a candle from the Easter celebration and bring it, at midnight, to a fountain. They ask Saint Andrew to let them glimpse their future husband. Saint Andrew is invoked to ward off wolves, who are thought to be able to eat any animal they want on this night, and to speak to humans. A human hearing a wolf speak to him will die.

In Póvoa de Varzim, an ancient fishing town in Portugal there is Cape Santo André (Portuguese for “Saint Andrew”) and near the cape there are small pits in the rocks that the people believe these are footprints of Saint Andrew. Saint Andrew Chapel there was built in the Middle Ages and is the burial site of drowned fishermen found at the cape. (St. Andrew was also a fisherman in the New Testament.) Fishermen also asked St. Andrew for help while fishing.

It was common to see groups of fishermen, holding candles in their hands, making a pilgrimage to the Cape’s chapel on Saint Andrew’s Eve. Many might still believe that any Portuguese fisherman who does not visit Santo André in life will have to make the pilgrimage after they die.

Witches and Wicked Bodies

WitchesOnlineVersion

I would love to get to see this exhibit! There are also some interesting talks scheduled that I want to hear, and the catalogue I want to buy! Let’s make a group tour of Scotland and all go to the exhibit together, okay?

The gallery website describes the exhibit:

“Discover how witches and witchcraft have been depicted by artists over the past 500 years, including works by Albrecht Dürer, Francisco de Goya and William Blake, plus pieces by 20th century artists such as Paula Rego and Kiki Smith.

Through 16th and 17th century prints and drawings, learn how the advent of the printing press allowed artists and writers to share ideas, myths and fears about witches from country to country.

Including major works on loan from the British Museum, the National Gallery (London), Tate, the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as works from the Galleries’ own collections, Witches and Wicked Bodies will be an investigation of extremes, exploring the highly exaggerated ways in which witches have been represented, from hideous hags to beautiful seductresses.”