Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’


Scottish folklore and superstitions – When the Song Dies – Aeon Film.

Do take a moment to watch this short documentary by Jamie Chambers about the folk traditions of Scotland.  In particular, it focuses on how old songs and places connect us to our ancestors.  There are some interesting accounts of experiences with the spirit world and the Sight.

It is wonderful to see that these beliefs still exist in the lands that so inspire us, but it is sad, too, that they are dying out.  We need to do our part to respect the cultures we learn from and preserve their traditions and language.  It is a monumental task, and not one any one person can achieve.  It must be a collective effort between all of us who practice the traditional ways – the artisans, bards, and liturgists.

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A grovie recently brought a documentary on Hulu to my attention.  It’s called “The Celts” and you’re able to watch it free online!  With six fifty minute episodes, I decided to give it a go while marathon nursing my little one (growth spurt, I guess?).  Narrated by John Morgan, it spans Celtic history from that civilization’s cradle to modern times.  Because I am, admittedly, new to the Druid scene, I can’t claim this is the most accurate documentary ever made about the Celts.  I will say, however, that nothing struck me as contrary to the historical reading I’ve been doing.  There were even some fascinating tidbits that matched up with what others who have been studying longer have shared with me.  For example, I learned a lot about the salt mines in the Hallstatt region – something Michael Dangler brought to my attention in past musings about the Celts, modern Druids, and natural resources.

The documentary also asks some compelling questions such as who are the Celts?  What does it mean to be Celtic?  This question is explored in the final installment – the episode I thought would be least interesting considering it was about the modern era*.  There is no fluffiness about this series.  It teeters between respecting modern Druidic practices in Celtic nations as revivals of national pride – a way to celebration cultural and linguistic heritage in a modern way – and as anachronistic nonsense that continues to confuse modern folk about the historical facts.  Also questioned are kitschy elements that so many modern folk, especially the diaspora who make pilgrimages back to the old country, think represent the Celtic identity.  The conclusions are that defining “Celticness” is difficult to do outside of the usual reliance on linguistic groups alone.  I think all modern Druids and Gaelic polytheists who live outside of Celtic nations should check that episode out and think on it.

The best part of this production are the visuals.  Not only were there the usual views of seaside cliffs, standing stones, and rolling green hills.  I was able to delve into the aforementioned salt mines, visit a people in China who are believed to be descended from an ancient Celtic people, and examine a wide variety of artifacts in exquisite detail.  Although the music was a bit odd at times, I think they were going for a Celtic sound that wasn’t obviously Irish.  Otherwise, I enjoyed hearing different examples of Celtic languages spoken.  The episodes about modern Celts also feature some very interesting stories about how those languages were suppressed – something we should not forget about when we go to honor our ancestors in ritual!  I also really enjoyed seeing a carnyx for the first time.  I had read about them in history books and saw them illustrated upon photos of artifacts in books.  The Gundestrup Cauldron  features some, for example.  This show included a man who reconstructs and plays them.  I had read of their sound and the belief that they brought fear into enemies.  To hear one was truly wonderful!  I don’t know why I never looked them up for more detail, but here’s a start**.

I definitely recommend this documentary.  I believe it would be very accessible to people who are new to Celtic studies and Druidism, and after ten years of learning, I also got a lot out of it.  I’m sure old hats would enjoy it just as much for all the beautiful footage!


*This is, of course, something I want to study more to have a better understanding and appreciation for my ancestors and the hearth culture I’ve embraced.  It’s just sometimes difficult to get into because there are so many political and imperialistic aspects to wrap my head around.  I’m more intrinsically motivated to learn about the ancient Celts, their religious practices, and their customs.  I’m trying to learn more about Christian and modern Ireland in baby steps.

** Now how cool would it be for a Druid grove to have one during Lughnasadh games?


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Movie Poster – copyright Walt Disney Pictures

The following are my thoughts on the film “Brave” which may contain spoilers.  Please skip to the very end if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want anything ruined!

I recently went to the movie theater to see the latest offering from Disney and Pixar Studios – “Brave.”  I’d heard of the movie for months and months and was excitedly anticipating it.  Every detail made me more and more excited.  A film set in Medieval Scotland?  Already got my attention.  A strong female lead?  Even better!  As concept art became available, and the Celtic motifs grew ever more apparent, I became even more enticed!

I did not go into the film expecting historical accuracy.  This is from Disney and Pixar, for goodness’ sake.  It is incredibly anachronistic in several ways.  Some men may feel it is a bit insulting to their sex.  It stereotypes the Scottish at times, but there are few films that don’t.  As a whole, it’s a bit of a love letter to what modern folks, particularly modern Americans, imagine the Celts to have been: quarrelsome, braggarts, proud, wild haired, perpetually tartan-clad, sensitive to nature, and in tune to the spirit world.  Those are/were only true some of the time, of course, but we have to remember that this is, at heart, a movie aimed at children.  The ridiculousness of the Scottish men is mostly to get the wee ones laughing.  It’s not meant to be a documentary – it’s an entertaining and often moving story.  It’s bardcraft for modern children and the young at heart!  While the story centers on the bond between a mother and daughter, its core is the essence of many familiar Celtic legends.

For me, that’s what really redeems Brave.  There’s been some discussion on film blogs about it being disappointing compared to other Pixar films.  I will say it does depart from the usual theme which seems to have been exploring unseen worlds just out of our sight or somehow parallel to our own.  “Brave” is about an actual group of people, but a people who, unlike most modern folk, already believe in a world parallel to their own.  Some argue “Brave” is more Disney than Pixar, lacking in the comedy and whimsy of previous films.  The magic, it’s been argued, is a crutch of sorts for the storytelling.  But…this is a Scottish-themed fairytale!  “Brave” takes several elements of Celtic storytelling and explores them.  The protagonist, Merida, has the heart and guts of figures such as Scáthach, and Cú Chulainn’s drive to overcome fate.  Her mother, while not portrayed as lusty, is a powerful queen in the tradition of Medb.  In a backstory, four brothers fight over and divide the land to rule.  There are families associated with specific animals and animal transformations.  There is a gathering of the tribes and great feasting!  The threat of war looms large.  Magical creatures inhabit the forests in the form of will-o-the-whisps.  And the witch!

Oh the witch is fun.  She only has a bit of screen time and she doesn’t even get a big song and dance number like other famous animated witches (Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” being a favorite of mine).  The witch of “Brave” is neither good (like Mama Odie, the Voodoo priestess of “The Princess and the Frog”) nor evil (like Maleficent of “Sleeping Beauty”).  Instead she is very much like a Cailleach figure (though smaller); the witch is willing to help but one must be careful what one wishes for.  She is the old, eccentric woman who lives away from society in the forest.  She vanishes (amusingly to attend a wicker man festival), leaving Merida to solve her own problems and learn some important lessons.  In my opinion, the movie doesn’t use magic asa crutch; it portrays its use in many Celtic legends relatively spot on. If the makers of “Brave” got something right, it’s the overall depiction of magic as a neutral force that can be manipulated for good or ill, as well as the overall ambivalence of the spirit world.  Some spirits want to help (in this case, funnily enough, it’s the whisps).  Some actually want help (the prince trapped in the bear).  Others, such as the witch/Cailleach figure…  She’s just having fun and is willing to lend a hand for something in return…but you better be careful how you ask!

If this were an actual Celtic legend, the king, whose leg was eaten by a demonic bear, would have killed the queen (who was turned into a bear thanks to the witch).  He would have then killed the triplets who also became bears.  Merida probably would have killed herself or been carried off by one of her suitors before she had the chance.  Or the queen, in connecting with her primitive, bear mind, would have killed Merida in the forest.  But this is a kids’ film so, despite the threat, it ends lighthearted.  Even though I knew the movie was heading in that direction, I was able to lose myself in the story and feel the emotion.

The mother-daughter theme was also quite engaging to me as I related to it.  I cried when Merida and the queen (as a bear) found themselves playing in the river.  As an adult, I totally got the flashbacks to mama always being there, the frustration related to growing up and still living under mother’s roof, and the realization that growing up shouldn’t mean growing apart.  Living away from my mother now, the film really touched me in that sense.  Part of the power of the film is in celebrating the sacred female – our growing up, our changing roles, our need to be free but also our need to be loved, and our need to pass down and learn wisdom from other women.  Most children won’t grasp that.  Men may even have a difficult time fully appreciating the film for that reason.  Most women, on the other hand, live and experience it.  The film was just as poignant for me as the love story early on in “Up” or the lessons of growing up in the “Toy Story” trilogy.

In conclusion…

I definitly recommend seeing “Brave.”  It’s a fun story that, while not historically accurate, contains several elements of Celtic legends that even novice Celtophiles and Druids will notice and appreciate.  If you can keep the fact that it is a Disney/Pixar film in mind, and let the anachronisms go in favor of a fun story that doesn’t mean any real harm, you should have an excellent time.  The music, while not particularly memorable as other Disney films, works and the scenery is just lovely.  If you have wee ones at home, I think it would be a great film to inspire their curiosity about Celtic cultures and mythology.  

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A few years ago, I attempted to read Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael.  It’s freely available on Sacred Texts if you’re ever interested.  I think I didn’t get far because I find it difficult to read anything lengthy on a computer screen.  I read the introduction.  I remember nearly crying when I read about the destruction Celtic culture faced in the Scottish Highlands.  There’s a story about a fiddler and his violin which had been made by one of Stradivarius’ students.  The poor old man sold it for a paltry sum to save the instrument from the mass burnings.  Harps, fiddles, drums…  The people were scared to tell the old stories or prayers to Carmichael for fear of punishment from local authorities. I recently started to read the collection again – only with a paperback this time.  I reread the introduction and felt the same sadness and anger.  Humans can be so cruel to one another.

I have not finished the text but have read a decent chunk.  As always, I’m amazed by the way Christianity and Paganism have been braided together.  One might find it a labor to read because of how very Biblical it seems with its many Christian references.  I find it fascinating. There is still so much to learn about the culture and their beliefs even when the magic is thinly veiled.

While it is true that this work has been edited by Carmichael and his grandson (I believe), there is much to glean.   For example, I don’t remember reading or hearing descriptions of Brighid before.  Of course the people Carmichael spoke with referred to her as a saint and her myth had evolved since Pagan times…  But her character was intact.  Anyway, I’m so used to Brighid as a red head.  Other Pagans see and illustrate her that way.  I see her with red hair in my mind’s eye.  These Scottish prayers, however, refer to her as having blond hair.  Sometimes it is gold, platinum, or a dirty blond.  It made me recall the many Irish legends where the ideal beauties had blond hair.  It’s funny how everyone associates Celts with red hair…  I’m not sure if these Scottish prayers will alter the way I see Brighid.  I haven’t sought her in trance recently. Not that her appearance matters too much.  Her symbols are cattle, fire, healing wells…  Perhaps it is different for Gods who have symbolic feature such as Balor’s famous eye or the Norse Sif’s golden hair.  The corporeal trappings we give deities (or do they give them to us?) seem more for our comfort and comprehension than anything.  The mythology of Brighid, and her transformation from Goddess, to nun, to saint, speak volumes on the greater value of personality and values over appearance.  And yet, perhaps her hair is another symbol?  The flicker from red, to white, to gold is the dancing flame.  Just as with cloud gazing, each person who gazes into Brighid’s spirit sees a different shape in the flame…  What do you see?

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