Tuesday 19 February 2013

Innovative Learning Week 2013


Innovative Learning Week at the University of Edinburgh is a week-long programme of learning events that provides students with an exciting opportunity to learn in a creative and informal way.  
ILW2013 aims to encourage undergraduate and postgraduate students to:

  • gain a new perspective on your degree subject
  • learn new skills
  • think about a future career
  • exchange ideas and stimulate debate
  • meet staff and students from different Schools and Colleges
  • network and find new opportunities for research or revision

Domhnall Uilleam and Guinevere from the Carmichael Watson Project prepared a workshop about the charms in the Carmichael Collections. Drawing on both the archive here at the Centre for Research Collections and the object collection at the West Highland Museum, the workshop discussed both the verbal charms and the amulets.  

The session began by outlining the various shapes and sizes a charm can take from a stone to a brooch to an incantation. The term charm is so loose that it can be applied to a wide range of objects that were believed to generate protective, curative, attractive or maleficent power.

Carmichael, over the span of his folklore career, recorded around 60 charms and considering the privacy and personal aspect surrounding charms this is quite a substantial and pertinent collection.  These charms can be found in Carmina Gadelica and in his notebooks that are available on the project's online catalogue, and there are charms for all sorts of problems from toothache to broken bones! There are some recorded verbal charms that were collected in the 1960s and 70s accessible via Tobar an Dualchais: Eòlas an Dèididh, Chanadh neach an rann seo trì uairean, Tha am fiosraiche ag aithris seun.

Carmichael also collected charm objects that were used throughout the islands. A number of these objects have been highlighted in previous blogs such as the whorls, flint arrowheads and sea-beans. There was also a mention of the use of domestic and agrestic tools doubling up as divination devices, namely the winnowing riddle that was used to predict a future spouse! 

The workshop finished up with a discussion about the use of charms today, and the decline in their use, and superstitions. One participant shared a belief from Southern Florida with the group: when a cat passes in front of a car, a cross must be marked on the windshield to prevent bad luck! 

It was a really enjoyable session with a good discussion and we'd like to thank those who came along. 

A review of the session is available to read on the Innovative Learning Week 2013 blog: click here.

Copyright Carsten Flieger 

Friday 1 February 2013

Objects in Focus: Bone Pins and Needles

In the Carmichael Collection housed at the West Highland Museum, Fort William, there are 25 bone pins and needles in various sizes and conditions.
Bone pins 
These objects were commonly used by both the Picts and the Vikings as dress pins to fasten clothes, as hairpins and in dressmaking.  They were mostly used by men as dress pins as women would primarily wear circular brooches to secure clothes.  
Bone needles
Martin gives a description of the various fastening methods:
When they travel on foot, the Plad is tied on the Breast with a Bodkin of Bone or Wood (just as the Spina wore by the Germans, according to the Descripction of C. Tacitus:) the Plad is tied round the middle with a Leather Belt; it is pleated from the Belt to the Knee very nicely: this Dress for Footmen is found much easier and lighter than Breeches, or Trowis.

Bone pins
The bones were from sheep, red deer, whale (Orkney) and birds, with antler as another source.

Knives were used to shape the pins and a good pin would have a smooth surface. Most of the pins were polished. 

The pins heads vary from very plain and basic to elaborately designed and finished. The heads could have splayed, globular, cylindrical or nail-heads to prevent the pin running through the cloth. The shanks are both flat and round, straight and tapered, with a number of the tips missing. The points of the well-used pins are rounded while the less-used are still quite sharp. Often the very elaborate pins would be kept as keepsakes.
Bone pins
How Carmichael came to possess the pins in uncertain but there are two references in the notebooks to archaeological finds that included pins:  CW119/46 and CW106/25.

Ritchie, Anna ‘Clothing Among the Picts’, Costume , 39, 2005, pp.28-42.
Martin, Martin A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland (London: A. Bell, 1703), pp. 208.
Images copyright Carsten Flieger

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]