Friday, 6 December 2013

‘Gaelic Erotica’: Unveiled At Last

We knew about the article already. No. 1081 of Mary Ferguson and Ann Matheson’s Scottish Gaelic Union Catalogue (Edinburgh, 1984) is the bare entry:
GAELIC erotica. Paris: H. Weiter. 1907. 73p. 16cm. Reprinted from Κρυπτάδια X.

Apparently only one example had been located in a public library in Scotland: a photocopy in the National Library of Scotland.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, the curious no longer need to fight over that single example in Edinburgh. Kryptádia is online.
Kryptádia: Recueil de documents pour servir à l’étude des traditions populaires: the name sounds innocent enough. In fact, for nearly thirty years, between 1883 and 1911, in 12 volumes, editors and scholars connected with the respectable French folklore journal La Tradition carried on an alternative and rather less reputable concern on the side. Kryptádia gave space to erotic folktale, folklore, and folksong collections in a number of languages.
Information about the history of Kryptádia is hard to come by. What we have derives from the remarkable scholar Gershom Legman (1917–99), who, during his early life in the United States, followed by decades of self-enforced exile in France, managed to compile and preserve an extraordinary folklore collection made up of the kind of material that would never appear, at that time at least, in respectable folklore journals.
Kryptádia was edited at first by the South Slavicists Friedrich S. Krauss (1859–1938) and Isidore Kopernicky, with the help of the French and Italian folklorists Henri Gaidoz (1842–1932), Gaston Paris (1839–1903), Giuseppe Pitrè (1841–1916), and Henri Carnoy (1861–1930).
The history of Kryptádia can be divided into two parts. Between 1883 and 1888 four numbers of the journal were printed in Heilbronn, Württemburg, Germany. After a ten-year gap, publication was resumed in Paris in 1898, where a further eight volumes were published in Paris, the last in 1911.  The initial 1883 volume was limited to 210 copies. Even this low number appears to have been overambitious: later German issues numbered only 135 copies, while 175 were printed during the years the journal was published in Paris.

Possibly in response to prevailing anti-German sentiment in France, in 1904 Krauss launched another journal. Although similar in theme, Anthropophyteia was more scholarly and altogether more speculative in tone, concerned with the social history of morality. Ten volumes, with associated Beiwerke, appeared before the journal was suppressed by the authorities in 1913.

‘Gaelic erotica’ was published as a lengthy article in Kryptádia, vol. 10 (1907), pp. 295–367. The piece is structured as a little encyclopaedia, with 103 entries in Gaelic and English, ranging from ‘Aed, fire’ to ‘Water. Wells.’ The terms are illustrated with various usages culled from songs and anecdotes.

As might be expected, the article is entirely anonymous, both regarding writer and informants. To those versed in Scottish Gaelic folklore, however, certain clues in the foreword, and the nature and scope of the material discussed, point to one candidate only. The writer has been ‘[e]ducated as a medical jurist’ [295]; all his material ‘has been collected by persons of education … all being Scottish Highlanders using Gaelic from their childhood upwards’ [295–6]. These hints suggest that the writer of ‘Gaelic erotica’ was none other than the very respectable scion of an Edinburgh medical dynasty, Robert Craig Maclagan (1839–1919).

The son of Sir Douglas Maclagan (1812–1900), Professor of Medical Jurisprudence and Public Health at Edinburgh, Robert Craig Maclagan was educated at the University of Edinburgh, before finishing off his medical training in Berlin and Vienna. Despite his M.D., it appears that Maclagan practised only briefly – perhaps hindered by his growing deafness – before going into business. He would spend over thirty years as chairman of A. B. Fleming & Co., ink and chemical manufacturers, in Granton in the north-west of the city. His work with Flemings, then the biggest ink producers in the world, perhaps explains the interest in traditional dyeing techniques in his folklore collection.

Maclagan’s early interest in traditional lore and material culture is attested by his becoming a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1877, and his membership of the Folklore Society from 1882. An appeal from the latter institution launched him on his career as a folklorist. In 1893 Maclagan, supervising a network of correspondents, began to gather traditional lore from Argyllshire. Over the next decade, this would broaden out into an ambitious project embracing the Highlands and beyond, furnishing material for his important studies The Games & Diversions of Argyleshire (1901) and Evil Eye in the Western Highlands (1902), as well as a plethora of articles, all published under the auspices of the Folklore Society. Today Maclagan’s magnificent collection, numbering more than 9,200 pages, is deposited in the School of Scottish Studies Archives. Its recent cataloguing by Caroline Milligan means that for the first time the full riches of the Robert Craig Maclagan MSS have been unlocked for Gaelic scholarship, and for the communities in which the many thousand items were originally recorded.

On investigating the collection, it is clear that at the very least many of the items published in the Kryptádia article have their counterparts in the Maclagan Manuscripts. One of the most prolific and enthusiastic collectors of bawdy material for Maclagan was none other than a Church of Scotland minister, the Rev. Niel Campbell (1850–1904) of Kilchrenan and Dalavich at the north end of Loch Awe, but originally from Foss in Perthshire.

It is interesting that occasionally Maclagan’s informants, including the Rev. Niel Campbell, don’t quite understand the references in the anecdotes and songs they forward to him. They know they’re slightly off-colour, but not entirely sure how. Is this evidence, in an era of sweeping socio-cultural change and new moral perspectives, of how some Gaels were losing their expertise in the indigenous ‘code’ delineating what obscene references actually referred to? Maybe they were no longer dancing to the bawdy puirt á beul or mouth-music of their ancestors; perhaps the need for bawdiness was now being supplied by music-hall songs in English? Or was it ever thus, that certain people – say, for example, respectable literate people likely to volunteer as folklore collectors for an Edinburgh businessman – whether by temperament, moral mind-set, lack of experience, or closeted upbringing, were less au fait with the earthier side of life, and less able or willing to engage with it? In the article Maclagan often fills in the gaps left by his collectors. Usually his surmises are credible – it is possible that he discussed them in person afterwards with his informants – but occasionally they are indubitably mistaken: ‘Gaelic erotica’ should be used with care.

Why Maclagan was so interested in collecting, and printing, ‘Gaelic erotica’ is another matter. References in the article suggest that he subscribed to Kryptádia or at least had studied previous issues. An excellent shot, he was no stranger to all-male social gatherings and the mess room, being an enthusiastic member of the Royal Company of Archers and of the 5th Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Scots, in which he eventually served as honorary Colonel (we should also note that he helped to found the Scottish Association for the Medical Education of Women). But there may be scholarly reasons behind the interest as well. His printed works occasionally suggest a rather open-minded approach to his material, such as when he mentions the bell of St Fillan:

having for its handle a two-headed dolphin, or what is sometimes called a sea-goat, on the summit of the two heads of which are, as already pointed out by the late Bishop of Brechin, distinct phalli… [Maclagan, Scottish Myths, 84]

before going on to spend many jumbled pages on the subject, embracing bowls, fonts, upright stones, generative principles, and supposed Mithraic customs. The poor bell of St Fillan ends up being connected to practises far from saintly in nature. The one thing that might be suggested from Maclagan’s deeply confused methodology is that he is convinced that some bawdry, far from being beneath one’s notice, may contain in its raw, obscene references ancient survivals pointing to primitive beliefs and primal cults in a remote British past. Ernest Gaskell’s remark in a profile of Maclagan he wrote for Leaders of the Lothians in 1912, that he was ‘not a collector of articles de vertu’, may be a tacit allusion to his subject’s clandestine anthology.

‘Gaelic erotica’ was also sold separately as an offprint, for 10 francs. We wonder how many copies made it through the post to arrive here in Scotland.

Other Celtic scholars may find much to investigate in Kryptádia. Welsh material appears in volumes 2, 3, and 4, while Breton is dealt with in 1, 2, 3, 6, and 8. There is unfortunately no Irish material at all, and, perhaps surprisingly, nothing in English either, excepting ‘Some erotic folk-lore from [the north-east of] Scotland’ in vol. 2, excerpts from the 1785 edition of Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, and an extended play by the libertine Earl of Rochester. Did the stalwarts of the Folklore Society know about Kryptádia? Or did they prefer to ignore the Paris journal as coarsely continental and beneath their notice?

Alexander N. Afanasyev, Russian Secret Tales: Bawdy Folktales of Old Russia (Baltimore, 1998 [1965]).
Douglas, Oliver, ‘Highland Games and material diversions: the late Victorian ethnography of Robert Craig Maclagan’, Journal of Museum Ethnography, 22 (2009), 39–62.
Doyle, Derek. ‘The Maclagan family: six generations of service’, Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 40 (2010), 178–84.
Scotsman, 6 April 1900, 7 (Maclagan’s father's obituary)
_____, 15 July 1919, 10 (Maclagan’s obituary).

Monday, 23 September 2013

Objects in Focus: The Bearnarey Obelisk

Bearnarey Obelisk
Over the course of phase IV of the Carmichael Watson Project we were able to link objects from the Carmichael collections to his written work. The following was published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1870 and presents information pertaining to how Carmichael obtained the stone and associated local lore.  

The stone of which I send a tracing has been taken from the island of Bernarey, in the Sound of Harris. It formed the upper end of an obelisk which stood in a large semicircle facing the east, near the centre of the island, at a place called Killaisem (Cilleaiseam), St Asaph. Speaking of Bearnarey, Martin, in his "Western Islands," says, - "There are two chappels in this isle, to wit, St Asaph and St Columbus's Chappel. There is a stone erected near the former, which is 8 foot high, and 2 foot thick."

About fifty years ago this obelisk was broken. Boys were in the habit of mounting to the top and swaying it to and fro, till ultimately they broke it at the surface of the ground. When it fell it broke in two pieces near the centre. These were taken away by two crofters, and placed as lintels over the entrance to a cattle-fold (cuthaidh) close at hand. After having been there for some years, they were transferred by the same men to serve a similar purpose in their dwelling-houses. I traced this piece to the house of one of these crofters, a MacKillop (MacPhilip), where it was used as a lintel over his kitchen window. MacKillop was very reluctant to allow the slab to be removed for examination, although I twice offered to replace it at my own expense. Ultimately, however, he consented. But before removing it, I thought proper to inform the proprietor, the Earl of Dunmore, of its existence, and to ask his sanction to its removal from the island. His Lordship immediately wrote his factor to secure the slab, and bring it to Rodail. Upon his Lordship's arrival in Harris he wrote me, expressing his interest in the stone, and giving his permission to make what use of it I pleased. I got the slab removed from Rodail to Lochmaddy, where it now lies. 

It is dark bluish-gray gneiss, and measures 3 feet 8 inches long, 19 inches broad, and 3 inches thick. The upper portion of the carving forming the square is sufficiently distinct to be easily traced, but the lower portion is more defaced, and in some places the surface of the stone is entirely broken. How far the carving extended on the other part of the obelisk there is at present no means of ascertaining. The crofter who had it, feeling some remorse, restored it to the place where he found it. He alleged that a carlin of ugly form and features visited him one night, and entreated and commanded him to return the obelisk of Cillaiseam, St Asaph, otherwise he would suffer here and hereafter. The man went early the following morning, apparently much troubled, and entreated MacKillop to restore his part of the stone. MacKillop replied that his part of the slab was of much use to him; that he had no vision; and that he would defer returning it till the ugly carlin honoured him with a visit. The other man returned his part, and shortly thereafter went to America, where he died. Some other person less scrupulous took away this part of the stone, which I have hitherto failed to trace.

The old people of Bernarey have told me that within their memory the base of the obelisk was surrounded with a heap of small, beautifully white, and variegated pebbles, old coins, bone pins, and bronze needles, the offerings of pilgrims at the shrine of St Asaph.

MacKillop, on whose croft the obelisk stood, told me that in delving the place preparatory to sowing corn, he was in the habit of turning up a number of bones. There is no trace now of the "chappel" mentioned by Martin, nor indeed of any building whatever. The place is in the corner of a field, and has been under cultivation for some years. Close by the side of the obelisk there stood one of those old circular duns so common in the Hebrides. I would have inferred that this was the remains of the "chappel," were it not that MacKillop told me that it contained wall passages and galleries common to these duns. All the stones were carried away for building materials.  

The slab is currently housed in storage with the National Museums of Scotland.

Allen, J. R.and Anderson, J. Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1903) pp.113Carmichael, A. 'Notices of Teampull Michael, Keallun, North Uist, and of Sculptured Stones in Bearnarey, Harris, and in Benbecula; an "Abrach" Quern and Quarry for Querns, Heisgeir, North Uist, &c', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, VIII, (Edinburgh, 1870) p.281.

Copyright National Museums of Scotland  

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Genesis Chapter 1. In Gaelic. On a Bone.

We had an outing at the end of last week, over to the archives of New College, home of the School of Divinity, to look at a Gaelic text kept there – but this one was a little out of the ordinary. At the beginning of the summer CRC intern Emma Smith had told us of an unusual item she had come across while doing research in Special Collections at New College Library: a piece of bone (we hope that it’s animal in origin). Around the bone, its label stated, was Genesis Chapter 1 written out in classical Irish Gaelic.

Although the text is mostly very faint, two friends from Celtic and Scottish Studies, Abigail Burnyeat and Peadar Ó Muircheartaigh, were able to confirm that the text is indeed Genesis 1, probably copied from an edition of William Bedell's Irish-language Old Testament.

So far, however, we don’t have any clues about where the bone came from, other than an intriguing statement on its label that a similar bone was gifted to Queen Victoria as a present on her Coronation. Victoria was crowned in 1838, and we think it likely that our bone was written on or around about this time. The bone is surely Irish in origin, and its neat handwriting is that of a good scribe. But why transcribe Genesis chapter 1 on a bone? Was it a demonstration of piety by the writer? Or was it deliberately created as an ethnological curiosity? Why present one to Queen Victoria? And how and why did our bone end up among hundreds of other religious texts in New College? We’d be very grateful for any ideas or information you might have about the New College Gaelic Genesis bone.

Our thanks to the staff of New College Library for their kindness and forebearance; to Abigail and Peadar for their expertise; and especially to Em who told us about the bone in the first place.

Update: here are some extra photographs, of the bone, of its label, and of Abigail and Peadar examining it.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Objects in Focus: Querns

Quern stones were popularly used throughout Scotland, to grind and mill cereals, into the twentieth century. A complete rotary quern consists of an upper and lower quern stone that were used simultaneously. Within the Carmichael Collection there are two quern stones, not a pair, that were donated to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Carmichael's notes on one of the quern stones in the collection at the National Museums of Scotland are available to read here
X.BB 24 Upper stone from a granite disc quern

An early form of the tool was the saddle quern and comprised of a large stone to place the grain on and a rubbing stone to do the grinding. The consistent grinding created a characteristic depression on the main stone. The Romans introduced the rotary quern to Britain, This variation of the tool was less labour intensive. These rotary querns stones are disc-shape and the upper stones always has a central hole and either a hollow or smaller hole. To grind down the cereal the grain was fed in through the central hole of the upper quern stone. Rotation was done by hand with a handle that was positioned in a hollow on the upper stone while the lower stone remained stationary.  Grain was crushed between the two stones, pushed to the edge of the stone and caught on a cloth or table under the quern. The result was a mixture of flour, grains and husk that was often processed two or three times to achieve the required fineness.

A hard type of stone, for example granite, was necessary for the quern because the constant grinding would erode softer stone types. The upper face of the top stone is often decorated with concentric grooves and chiselled lines. 
X.BB 25 Rotary quern stone, underside
A definition by Dwelly of the Muileann-brà [quern]:
The quern was formerly the only mill for corn-grinding used in the Gàidhealtachd. It is still in use in many parts of northern Europe and in Asia, and the "two women finding at the mill" (quern) may be seen to-day in Nazareth exactly as they were in the days of Christ. The implement consists of two stones, the lower being about two feet in diameter, and commonly hollowed to the depth of about six inches. This hollow is of equal depth and diameter. Within this is placed horizontally, a smooth round flag about four inches thick, and so fitted to the cavity that it can just revolve with ease. Through the centre of this revolving flat there is bored a hole for conveying the grain. In the lower stone, in the centre of its cavity, there is fixed a wooden pin on which the upper stone is placed in such exact equiponderance, that, though there be some friction from their contact, a little force applied will make the upper stone revolve for several times, when there is no grain underneath. On the surface of the upper stone, and near the edge, are two or three holes, just deep enough to hold in its placed the stick by which it is turned round.  The working of the quern is left to the women, two of whom, when the grain is properly dried, sit squatting on the ground, with the quern between them and singing loudly an appropriate song, perform their work, one turning round the stone with the handle placed in one of the holes, and the other dropping the corn in through the large hole. The law of Scotland attempted in vain to discourage the use of the quern. In the year 1248 it was enacted "that no man shall presume to grind quheit, maisloch or rye, with hand mylnes, except he be compelled by storm, and be in lack of mylnes quhilk should grind the samen; and in this case, if a man grinds at hand-mylnes, he shall give the threttein measure as multer; and gif any man contravein this our prohibitions, he sall tyne his hand-mylnes perpetuallie."

X.BB 25 Rotary quern stone, upperside
As noted in the dictionary definition, women performed the task of grinding the grains and sang during the process. In the notebooks there are numerous references to quern-related songs collected by Carmichael: a quern song, a fairy quern song overheard in Berneray and a song collected from Catherine MacFarlane while she was grinding the quern. The fairies are regularly associated with querns and the spindle whorls used in spinning wool were often referred to as fairy querns. 

Dwelly, E. The Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary (Glasgow, 1994)
©National Museums Scotland (

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Objects in Focus: Cas-chrom

Carmichael's collection contains a vast array of objects including a cas-chrom, a foot-plough, that is on display at the Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride. This agrestic implement was commonly used throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to prepare and cultivate the soil. It was particularly useful on stony and boggy surfaces where horses or men could not easily manoeuvre a plough. The tool had a dual function as it served not only as a plough but also as a spade. Interestingly the cas-chrom , that literally means crooked foot, was called a cas-chaba in Applecross only, and the head of the plough was referred to as meirgheal 

L. C. Hopkins writing in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1935, described the plough as recently obsolete, if indeed it is even now absolutely disused in some remote spots in Northern or North-western Scotland. He also had initially proposed that nothing can be termed a plough that is not hauled from in front (whether by oxen, yaks, horses, or even men) until the cas-chrom came to his attention. From various accounts it appears that the Isle of Skye was one of the last places the tool was used in the early twentieth century.  

The following is a proverb and note related to the cas-chrom recorded by Alexander Nicolson, 1882:
Caib air no dheth, cùm do chas air a' sgonnan.
Iron on or off, keep your foot on the peg.

The 'caib' of the old crooked spade, 'cas-chróm', was the iron with which it was pointed; the 'sgonnan' was the peg on which the right foot was pressed. The meaning is, 'Keep working, even with a defective implement'.  

And the following verses were published in Carmina Gadelica vi and the informant was obviously not a fan of the labour intensive tool:

Coma liom a' chas-chrom.                                                                    I dislike the crooked spade,
Nar bheil fonn fearann dhi;                                                                      Nor love for land has she;
Tha i casach 's tha i trom                                                                 She is legged and she is heavy
Air gach com is anail dhiom;                                                     On every chest and breath of me.

Iarann geur air a ceann                                                                         A sharp iron upon its point
Chum a cur gu gearradh leis,                                                                               To set it a-cutting,
Sgonnan fiodha sìos 'na bonn                                                         A wooden peg down at its base
Chum a cur fo thalamh leis.                                                             To drive it beneath the earth.

In the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland from 1857-1589 James Johnston notes that while he was in Skye he noticed a man using this primitive tool and submitted an account of how the tool was used:

The ' cas-chrom,' or crooked foot, is a crooked piece of wood, the lower end somewhat thick, about 2 1/2 feet in length, pretty straight, and armed at the end with iron, made thin and square to cut the earth. The upper end of this instrument is called the shaft, whereas the lower is termed the head; the shaft above the crook is generally straight, being 6 feet long, and tapering upwards to the end, which is slender ; just below the crook or angle, which is an obtuse one, there must be a hole, wherein a strong peg must be fixed for the workman's right foot, in order to push the instrument into the earth, while, in the meantime, standing upon his left foot, and holding the shaft firm with both hands, when he has in this manner driven the head far enough into the earth with one bend of his body, he raises the clod by the iron-headed part of his instrument, making use of the heel or hind part of the head as a fulcrum,—in so doing turns it over always towards the left hand, and then proceeds to push for another clod in the same form.

While it was thought to be time-consuming for large areas of land the advantage of the cas-chrom was indeed that it allowed crofters to work land that was otherwise ignored. Macdonald writes: 'Cottars and very small tenants may use it, however, very profitably, both in providing food for their families, and in bringing into a permanent state of improvement, for their masters, lands which otherwise would remain always unproductive and useless.'

For more information on the 'crooked foot' see the catalogue entry on the Carmichael Watson Project website, anseo. And we would also highly recommend a visit to the Museum of Rural Life, a great day out!

Armstrong, Robert Archibald, A Gaelic Dictionary in Two Parts (London, 1825) p.103. 
Carmichael, Alexander, Carmina Gadelica vi (Edinburgh, 1971) pp.36-37.
Hopkins, L. C. 'The Cas-chrom v. the Lei-ssŭ: A Study of the Primitive Forms of Plough in Scotland and
Ancient China', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 4,(1935) pp. 707 - 716.

Macdonald, James, General View of the Agriculture of the Hebrides (1821) pp.151-156.Nicolson, Alexander A Collection of Gaelic Proverbs and Familiar Phrases based on MacIntosh's Collection (Edinburgh, 1882) p.382.  
Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland iii (1857-1589).

© National Museums of Scotland

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Luibh bheag bheag, luibh bheannaichte / A small small plant, a blessed plant

There are numerous accounts of plant lore noted in Carmina Gadelica and within the notebooks at the Centre for Research Collections, and a previous blog highlighted some of the key plants for popular herbal remedies. This blog notes some uses for am mothan / pearlwort including a method for securing a spouse!

The 'mothan' (bog violet?) is one of the most prized plants in the occult science of the people. It is used in promoting and conserving the happiness of the people, in securing love, in ensuring life, in bringing good, and in warding away evil.

When the 'mothan' is used as a love-philtre, the woman who gives it goes upon her left knee and plucks nine roots of the plant and knots them together, forming them into a 'cuach' - ring. The woman places the ring in the mouth of the girl for whom it is made, in the name of the King of the sun, and of the moon, and of the starts, and in name of the Holy Three. When the girl meets her lover or a man whom she loves and whose love she desires to secure, she puts the ring in her mouth. And should the man kiss the girl while the 'mothan' is in her mouth he becomes henceforth her bondsman, bound to her everlastingly in cords infinitely finer than the gossamer net of the spider, and infinitely stronger than the adamant chain of the giant.

The 'mothan' is placed under parturient women to ensure delivery, and it is carried by wayfarers to safeguard them on journeys. It is sewn by women in their bodice, and by men in their vest under the left arm.
An old woman in Benbecula said: - 'thug mi am mothan beannaichte do Ruaraidh ruadh mac Roaghail Leothasaich as a Cheann-a-deas agus e air a thuras do Loch-nam-madadh, dol ga fhiachain air bialabh an t-siorram agus fhuair e dheth ge do bha e co ciontach 's a chionta ri mac peachaich' - 'I gave the blessed 'mothan' to red Roderick son of Ranald of Lewis from the South-end (of Uist), and he on his journey to Lochmaddy to be tried before the sheriff, and he got off although he was as guilty of the guilt as the son of a sinner.'  'Ach a Chairistine carson a thug sibh am mothan dh'an duine agus fios agaibh gun robh e ciontach? Saoilidh mi fein nach robh e ceart dhuibh a dhol ga dheanamh' - 'But, Christina, why did you give the 'mothan' to the man when you knew that he was guilty? I think myself it was not right of you to go and do it!'  'O bhidh 's aodaich! a ghraidhean mo chridhe agus a ghaoilean mo dhaoine, cha b' urra dhomh fhein dhol ga dhiultadh. Bhoinich e orm, agus bhochain e orm, agus bhoidich e orm, agus chuir e rud am laimh, agus O! a Righ na gile 's na greine, agus nan corracha ceuta, curra, de b' urra dhomh ghein a gh' radh no dheanamh agus an duine dona na dhubh-eigin na dhear-theinn agus na chruaidh-chas' - 'O food and clothing! thou dear one of my heart, and thou loved one of my people, I could not myself go and refuse him. He beseeched to me, and he swelled to me, and he vowed to me, and he placed a thing in my hand, and oh! King of the moon, and of the sun, and of the beautiful, sublime stars, what could I myself say or do, and the bad man in his black trouble, in his red difficulty, and in his hard plight!' I remembered Bacon and was silent.

To drink the milk of an animal that ate the 'mothan; ensures immunity from harm. If a man makes a miraculous escape it is said of him. 'Dh' ol e bainne na bo ba a dh' ith am motha ' - 'He drank the milk of the guileless cow that ate the "mothan"'. 

Buainidh mi am mothan ,                                                             Pluck will I the ‘mothan,’
Luibh nan naodh alt,                                                                      Plant of the nine joints,
Buainidh agus boinichidh,                                                           Pluck will I and vow me,
Do Bhride bhorr 's dh' a Dalt.                                                      To noble Bride and her Fosterling.

Buainidh mi am mothan,                                                              Pluck will I the ‘mothan,’
A dh’ orduich Righ nam feart,                                                     As ordained of the King of power,
Buainidh agus boinichidh,                                                           Pluck will I and vow me,
Do Mhoire mhor ‘s dh’ a Mhac.                                                   To great Mary and her Son.

Buainidh mi am mothan,                                                              Pluck will I the ‘mothan,’
A dh’ orduich Righ nan dul,                                                         As ordained of the King of life,
Bheir buaidh air gach foirneart,                                                 To overcome all oppression,
Is ob air obi shul.                                                                               And the spell of evil eye. 

Laomachan. 'Little mouldy one', was a rind of cheese used for divination. The cheese must be made on one of the four old festivals of the year: Bealltain, Beltane; Lùnasd, Lùnasdal or Lùnasdain, Lammas; Samhain, Hallowtide; and Fèille Brighde, the Feast of Brigit; but on which of these is now uncertain. The milk used was that of a cow which had eaten the mòthan, pearlwort, for since the plant was sained the cheese was sained also. twelve months after the cheese was made it was used. A small hole was made through the rind, and through this the diviner looked down through the fàrlas, smoke-vent of the house. The name of the first person thus seen through these two orifices was the name of the future spouse. When the loamachan was placed under the pillow, the sleeper would in dreams see his future spouse coming towards him with gifts; were the person seen receding, it indicated a parting. the laomachan safeguarded its wearer from the wiles of the fairies of the mound, from the venom of the hosts of the air, and from the misleading light of the teine mòr or teine sionn, will o' the wisp. For naming, for dreaming and for safeguarding, the laomachan was effective only on the anniversary of the fesitval on which it was made, and only to those who had faith and sincerity of heart; only to those who bowed to them were the names true. Many curious rites and ceremonies connected with the laomachan and its use are now but dimly to be descried through the darkness of ages. 

Carmina Gadelica ii, 110-113.
Carmina Gadelica vi, 94-95.
© Carl Farmer   

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]