Monday 26 December 2011

Morag, the monster of Loch Morar - 2

After the rather straightforward texts about Morag, the monster of Loch Morar, from Alexander Carmichael’s papers which we published in our last blog, here is what seems both from the handwriting and paper to be a later description – and a much more elaborate one at that – about the mysterious creature:


The Morag dwells in Loch Morar. She gives her name to the lake and still appears when any of the old Macdonalds of Morar die. Like the other water deities she is half human half fish. The lower portions of her body is in the form of a grilse and the upper in the form of a small woman of highly developed breasts with long flowing yellow hair falling down her snow white back and breast. She is represented as being fair, beautiful and very timid and never seen save when one of the Morar family dies or when the clan falls in battle. Then she is seen rushing about with great speed and is heard wailing in great distress bemoaning and weeping the loss of the House of Morar laid desolate.
  The Morag has often brought out of their houses at night the people living along the shores of the lake and in the neighbourhood of her haunts causing much anxiety to the men and much sore weeping to the women. When the Morag was heard weeping and wailing the most thoughtless became serious and the most obdurate became subdued.
  Old [       ] Macdougall, crofter, Mallaig Bheag [said] that the horn of the steamer, the shriek of the train and the crank of the rifle were inimical to the Morag giving no peace no rest no repose to bird or beast or fish day or night driving them all from their habitats to their secret hiding places in the recesses of sea and lake and mountain.
  Macdougall described the Morag her form and face her hair and breasts her weeping and waling her rushing to and fro on the water with force and reality that carried conviction! The writer caught himself several times giving furtive glances away from his book to the calm bosom of Loch Morar in the late autumn eve. [CW493 fos.36–7]

Clearly, these aren’t field notes. The text is much more like an article or short speech worked up from earlier reminiscences. And what about Eòghan Dùghallach’s missing first name? Has Carmichael simply forgotten it (so casting doubt on the accuracy of other memories in the piece?), or has he hesitated between choosing Ewan or Hugh for his English translation?

For folklore archivists, Carmichael’s mention of ‘his book’ in passing in the final sentence is interesting. We don’t  have any extant field notebook dating to 1902 in the collection, only later transcriptions. Is the folklorist describing the scene accurately? If he is, then we have tantalising evidence for a missing Carmichael notebook. What then happened to it? If the book contained lore gathered in the Island of Eigg, which the folklorist visited before he reached the mainland at Morar, it might just be possible that the missing book could have ended up in the collection of Carmichael’s assistant, that famous Eigeach the Rev. Kenneth MacLeod.

There is one obvious difference in this third description from the two earlier reports in Carmichael’s hand: the detailed mermaid-like depiction of Mòrag, part of which at least was supposedly supplied by Ewan MacDougall. This is quite a transformation from the not very thrilling description of her as appearing in a cnap dubh or ‘black lump’ in the second text. There may possibly be hints of a more attractive Morag in Carmichael’s notes there that the creature was described as ‘Morag dhubh – black Morag – morally not physically’. And Morag was certainly a ‘she’, who had once spoken to somebody at the far end of the loch – a rather difficult accomplishment for a cnap dubh.

On the other hand, it may be that Alexander Carmichael had met somebody in between writing the second and third texts who supplied him with a rather different picture of The Morag – or at least reinforced what he had already heard. We shall turn to this talented but tragic character in our next blog about Morag, the monster of Loch Morar.

References: CW493 fos. 36–7.

Image: Loch Morar

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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). [©]