Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Guest Blogger Nancy Lee Badger on The Origin of Scottish Mythology

Welcome back guest blogger, Nancy Lee Badger! She is here today to tantalize us with the origins of Scottish mythology.

Take it away Nancy...

Scottish mythology is actually quite entwined with the Irish. One such example expounds on how settlers from Greek Asia Minor sailed across the sea to a place they called “the mountain of Ireland”. These settlers warred with Picts, invaded an area known as Britain, conquered the people, and renamed the land ‘Scotia’. When the Gaelic world assimilated the Picts into their fold, some history was lost and subsequently filled-in with myths and folklore. The people of present day Scotland grew from a diversity of cultures and their individual influences.

Myths are often considered an aspect of folklore, but not all. Mythology might include the belief in the supernatural, where as folklore and folk tales derived when people had the need to explain mysterious events. Pre-Christianity might have had a hand in old world myths and folklore. A people’s yearning to believe in the hereafter, or in some type of entity, lived on through stories passed generation to generation. Once Christianity became widespread, mythological creatures, such as the “Fairies”, faded away.

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 legends and whimsical stories. It is therefore not surprising that Scotland has an extensive heritage of myths and folklore. Many objects, including castles, have accumulated their share of myths and legends, such as circles of stones or cairns. These standing stones, and megalithic remains, highlight these reminders of the ancient inhabitants of Scotland.

Some believe that religion was an adaption from stories and memoires or evolutionary biology. In other words, religion evolved as byproduct of psychological mechanisms that evolved for other reasons. These mechanisms might have told early people how to watch for things that could cause them harm (omens). This morphed into an ability to come up with causal narratives for natural events (folk tales) while other people had minds of their own with their own beliefs, desires and intentions (mythology and the precursors of organized religion).

Unexplained observations (thunder, lightning, movement of planets, and other complicated events of nature) were the basis of stories. These word-of-mouth explanations changed with the frequency of their telling which is why one myth could have many different descriptions or endings.

The distinctive features of Scottish Folklore are filled with the characteristics of Scotland’s varied scenery. The serene lap of the deep mountain loch, the trickling of a tiny creek, the harsh splendor of the mountains, the solitude of the moor, reflect in their folk tales and myths. The fairies, the brownies, and the bogles of Scotland are similar to those the Irish believe live in their own hills. Their Irish nooks and crags, streams and meadows might be different, but many legends are told with similar aspects except, maybe, for how they dress.

An example of the similarity between the land of the Highlands and the land of the four-leaf clover is the legend of the Selkie. In Scotland, this mythical Selkies are shy marine creatures in the shape of a seal, usually found near the islands of Orkney and Shetland. A female can shed her skin and come ashore as a beautiful woman. If found, a man could force her to be his wife. Of course, as the legend goes, if she recovered the skin, off she’d go. Male Selkies are said to be responsible for storms. What better explanation for the sinking of a ship?
Selkies of Irish lore are said to come from Co. Donegal in Ireland, which happens to be where many people made their living from the sea. Living by the sea might cause people to craft stories as a way to explain its mysteries. The Irish considered the Selkies to have the same characteristics as those of Scotland, even though they considered other sea creatures more malevolent. Most scholars believe the seals and sea lions from which these myths evolved had sweet, non-threatening dispositions. This might have allowed them to easily be transformed by myth into non-threatening Selkies. At least, the females!

Religion changed much of the thinking of the people who listened or read the more popular beliefs which were often rammed down their throats by the hierarchy of a given land. Myths and folklore slipped to the back burner, but never disappeared. Many tales are quite popular today and have thousands of followers. Think of the legend surrounding the Blarney Stone in Ireland or the Loch Ness Monster. Even Girl Scout troops around the world call their youngest recruits ‘Brownies’ after helpful creatures that do good deeds.

Myths and folk tales live on because people need to believe in them. There are hundreds of wonderful stories out there about kelpies, fairies, banshees, and the like. I recommend the following websites if you would like a taste. You might even recognize one or two stories!

www.compassrose.org/folklore/scottish/Scottish-Folktales.html
http://www.sacred-texts.com/ where you click on
About Nancy Lee Badger:

A Scottish Highlander, chocolate-chip shortbread, wool plaid, dirks and bagpipes fill my life as I travel to and volunteer at present day Highland Games while dreaming of past pleasures. I live with my kilted husband in Raleigh, NC. I am a member of RWA, Heart of Carolina Romance writers, Sisters In Crime, the Celtic Heart Romance Writers, and FF&P.


10 comments:

Helen Hardt said...

Hi Eliza and Nancy -- wonderful post! I'm attending my very first Highland festival (really want to see hubby in a kilt...so sexy!) in a couple weeks. Thanks for sharing this great information!

Helen
www.helensheroes.blogspot.com

Nicole North said...

Great post, Nancy!! I love Scottish mythology and often incorporate it into my stories. Just finished a selkie story and have sold a kelpie story. What I love about the myths, legends and tales is the imagination. Almost anything could happen.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy - Love this post! Really makes me want to take a trip to Scotland. I would love to hear those gentlemen with their Scottish accents. Chris Beegle

Patricia Barraclough said...

Great post with some interesting information. What mountain is that a picture of? Have you been to the Highland games at Grandfather Mountain, NC. We have been several times. Hit every Celtic festival we can.

Sarah Simas said...

Lovely post and pics, too!

I agree with the previous commenter- this definitely makes me want to go to Scotland more than ever.

How cool, Helen! I'm going to the Highland Games in my area for the first time, too.

Thanks for the wonderful info and good read!

Nancy Badger said...

The mountain pictured is indeed Grandfather Mountain. Hubby and son (in kilts!) visited this July, and I made it over there last year. The girl dressed in the fairy outfit was there this year!

What Scottish games are you guys going to? I am headed to Lincoln, NH for the HUGE NH Highland Games this month.

Anonymous said...

Just read your blog and eagerly await your next one. You gave me some much needed background information on Scotland's myths.

Kathy said...

hi, Nancy!
Read your blog, I would love to go to Scotland and Ireland, and now really want to go, after reading your blog on mythology. I believe faeries and kelpies, etc. actually existed, like unicorns, but are no more.
Good writing, can't wait to read your books after they are published!
-Kathy

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy,I must admitt, very informative and nice to read. Fills up my info about my first impressions of Scotland after learning to enjoy scotish habits and richness of countrysides. Having not the time to travel to the original sites,I read books from time to time (especially when I repair old books from this part of the world). Please carry on. Dieter from Wiesbaden, GE

Nancy Lee badger said...

Thanks Dieter! Glad to hear you enjoy this blog even way over in Germany. Of course, you are a lot closer to Scotland than I, but I live with my very own Highlander! Glad you enjoyed my article,
Nancy Lee Badger