Tuesday 17 November 2009

Milk Libation to the Gruagach

Gruagach Stone, Colonsay
A great source of traditions concerns fairy belief and Carmichael managed to gather in a great deal of these. One such story tells of a flagstone named Leac na Gruagaich (‘The Flagstone of the Gruagach’) at Liniclate in Benbecula. An offering of milk was poured into the hollow of the flagstone – a practice that was carried out throughout the Highlands and Islands and elsewhere – in order to appease the Gruagach so that she would not interfere with any livestock. Such a custom was carried out on a daily basis until the arrival of a Skyeman, Peter Nicholson, who refused to continue with such a practice as he saw it as mere superstitious hocus-pocus. He came to regret his decision and had to revert to its use in order to protect his crop from any further damage. At one time, traditions such as these were tenaciously adhered to for they seemed to be beneficial for it was seen to be foolhardy indeed to invoke the wrath of the fairy people.

Leac na Gruagaich
on the croft of Angus
MacAulay Liniclate
Benbecula, “Rudha –
chuidh Oib”. Cuidh
Oib or Cuidh an Ob
ain was an old cattle
fold for generations im
memorial. Raoghull
MacRuaraidh a
Cuail descendant of
Clanranald was
tacksman of Torlum
& unless some milk
was poured in a
little hollow on
the leachd when
the dairy maid
was done milking
every night the cattle
were sure to be in
the corn before day
break but when there was
no milking cows in
the fold the gruagach
never interfered.
Ronald his son
who built oldtigh
Morchochd na
Monadh followed his
father['s] practice in pouring
a share of the milk to
the gruagach or slender
woman of the
green garbe, When
Peter Nicholson from
Skye got Torlum
under still-bow [steelbow] ten-
ure from ClanRanald
he would not hear
of such sheer nonsense
but sheer necessity
compelled him to them
to the old custom
in giving an evening
contribution to the
gruagach, and he
became a firm be-
liever of the story,
Even sixteen men
failed to keep in
the cattle on one
occasion, The dam
age done to the corn
was great. This took
place about the beginning
of this century.

Carmichael in a long note concerning the gruagach – a supernatural female who presided over cattle – wrote that ‘there is hardly a district in the Highlands which does not possess a ‘leac gruagaich’…whereon the milk libation was poured.’ He then lists islands and districts all over the Scottish Highlands and Islands where he encountered such traditions. Carmichael then continued: ‘All these oblation stones are erratic ice-blocks. Some of them have a slight cavity into which the milk was poured on the stone. In making the oblation the woman intoned a rune –

‘A ghruagach, a ghruagach,
Cum suas mo spreidhe,
Cum sios an Guaigean,
Cum uap an Geige.'
Brownie, brownie
Uphold my herds,
Keep down the ‘Guaigean,’
Keep from them the ‘Geige.’

CW1/57, ff. 22v–24r.
Carmina Gadelica ii, pp. 306–08.
Image: Gruagach stone at Balnahard, Colonsay.

1 comment:

  1. I hope to continue this custom, especially at Lunasdal when I and my tribe will "wash the stones" with milk in thanks.


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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). [© carstenflieger.com]