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Scottish Myths and Legends


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The Druids at Craigh Na Dun (Outlander, S1.1, “Sassenach”)

In Druidry, the days of Samhuinn (October 31 to November 2) represent a time where the veil between our world and the World of the Ancestors is lifted, allowing those individuals who are prepared to journey safely to the other side. Druid rites facilitate contact with the spirits of the departed, who serve as guides and sources of inspiration.  Some of these rites include the use of fire and circle dancing around stone circles oriented to their points of sunrise and sunset.  (x)

In terms of Outlander, this could explain the presence of Ghost Jamie, to see Claire safely on her journey to the other side and through time.  Claire’s ability to travel through the stones implies a Druid ancestry, and perhaps the same applies to Geillis Duncan.  The abilities seem to be hereditary.

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Legend of the Queen Mary and her phantom guests

Docked just 20 miles south of Hollywood, the hallowed halls of the Clydeside-built passenger liner-turned-hotel & restaurant play host to oft-witnessed acts of ghostly apparition and spooky goings-on, amid the decaying grandeur of the ship’s luxurious confines.

24 November 2005

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JUST as Edinburgh’s catacombs inspired the creation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, so too the haunted corridors of the RMS Queen Mary offer chilling insight into a more modern work of macabre horror, The Shining.

Docked just 20 miles south of Hollywood, the hallowed halls of the Clydeside-built passenger liner-turned-hotel & restaurant play host to oft-witnessed acts of ghostly apparition and spooky goings-on, amid the decaying grandeur of the ship’s luxurious confines. As you walk through the once-shimmering ballroom among the gold-velvet upholstered chairs, you could almost imagine a young Jack Nicholson chatting to sinister barman Lloyd in the horror movie’s haunted Overlook Hotel.

Much of the reported paranormal activity bears a startling resemblance to Stephen King’s novel (albeit set in Colorado), adapted for the silver screen by Stanley Kubrick in the 1980 horror masterpiece that portrays a writer’s descent into murderous madness brought on by evil spirits in an isolated hotel. The Queen Mary even boasts a phantom grand-piano player, whose eerie notes shocked one visitor to the deserted hotel lobby – the piano lid was down at the time. Ballroom revellers replete in gowns and tuxedos are frequently witnessed by staff and visitors to the ship.

As Jenny Moore, of the ship’s Ghosts and Legends tour, says: “These ghosts are reliving the best years of their lives here. They’ve obviously enjoyed good times here and are hanging around for more.” More chillingly, a little girl’s voice is heard crying in many of the ship’s long, constrictive corridors.

Though the ship was launched from Glasgow’s John Brown Shipyard, it was more known for sailing more than 3 million miles as a luxury passenger liner before its final port of call in Long Beach in 1971. Currently a major tourist attraction that boasts an active Scottish society, in its heyday the Queen Mary played a pivotal role in world events. Winston Churchill is believed to have plotted D-Day from his bath in suite number M119.

After its maiden voyage on 27 May 1936, from Southampton to New York, the Queen Mary went on to race 2,552 passengers and $44 million in gold bullion across the Atlantic to the US on the eve of Britain’s declaration of war, on 2 September 1939. The 1,018-foot-long vessel proved invaluable as a troop carrier. Able to transport some 15,000 troops in one journey at speeds up to 30 knots, it became known in the Atlantic as the Grey Ghost.  Appropriately, the ship actually boasts a Grey Ghost and a Woman in White.

A ghostly apparition of Churchill himself is said to have spooked a cleaner in recent years after appearing alongside a painting of the former British leader, who was famously a follower of the esoteric arts. Forty-nine deaths have been reported aboard the ship, with many of the sprits roaming the R-deck, the ship’s most haunted.

But perhaps the most infamous is that of the crushed crewman of engine room No 113, who died in a doorway during a test for water-tightness in July 1966. The ghost’s bearded and overalled apparition apparently left his mark on the face of a male visitor on the ghost tour. The guest emerged with a streak of grease painted across his nose after his chilling encounter. Spooky!

A Queen Mary manager in the early 1990s heard children’s voices while descending in a lift from E-deck to F-deck. She clearly heard a child’s voice crying “mommy, mommy”. There was more laughter and then a dog’s bark, a pet cat could also be heard. The child cried again before the voices subsided. The ship’s mysteries continue today. The attraction is well worth a visit on any trip to Los Angeles, perhaps aptly summed up by the tale of the ship’s launch in Clydebank in 1934.

As Lady Mabel Fortescue-Harrison, a prominent astronomer, announced then: “Most of this generation will be gone, including myself, when this event occurs. However, the Queen Mary will know its greatest fame and popularity when she never sails another mile and never carries another passenger.”


For more information on the RMS Queen Mary, visit http://www.queenmary.com/history/our-story/.

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SCOTLAND is a wonderful and unique place. Its majestic mountains and dramatic seascapes thrill the heart and capture the imagination.

Mystic moments

No wacky theory is complete without mentioning the Templars.

Ditto Rosslyn Chapel.

Even the crucial document of Scottish nationhood, the Declaration of Arbroath draws on myth.However, the imaginations of some have attributed unique wonders to this land that those in the mainstream would shy away from.

For instance, did you know that Jesus Christ was Scottish? And Pontius Pilate? And King Arthur?

And, no, I am not referring to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which has its denouement in Scotland.

We Scots are not a boastful race. Reticence is spoon-fed to Scottish bairns along with their morning porridge. Which makes our propensity to make outrageous claims for our country somewhat bewildering.

So let’s take a look at some of the more fantastic suggestions. You have two choices: Take everything you read with a pinch of salt (on second thought, make it a barrel) or suspend disbelief and go with it.

(All these theories have been graded with a probability factor between one and ten. This is purely an invention of scotsman.com, and we welcome any comments from people who disagree with our rating.)

King Arthur was a Scot

King Arthur (if he existed and wasn’t a composite of every heroic early medieval Lord), traditionally hailed from Cornwall or Wales. Didn’t he? Well, perhaps not. It could be that England’s saviour, who lies sleeping ready to wake in times of need, was actually a Scot.

Decide for yourself, with a look at the evidence:

Placenames: From Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat and Stirling’s Round Table to Falkirk’s Arthur’s Oven, hills, wells, waterfalls and valleys are named after Arthur. This must surely point to his being a Scot?

Battles: Nennius, the 8th century historian, called Arthur the “Duke of Battles”, and specifies 13 fights where he appeared. There is a body of evidence that suggests that these battles took place in the north. The only properly documented battle occurred in Celidon, a Scottish wood.

Supporting cast: Sir Lancelot may have been a Pictish warrior, the son of the King of the Lothians. Equally, Gareth and Gawain, Knights of the Round Table, could have been the sons of the Earl of Orkney. Perthshire has a number of connections to Guinevere, or Guanhamara, a Pictish Queen.

Language: In the early part of the first millennium after the birth of Christ (of which more later), Edinburgh and the borders spoke P-Celtic, like the Welsh, not Q-Celtic like the Celts in the north of Scotland. Some scholars believe that in the 8th and 9th century several P-Celtic tribes from the Scottish Lowlands and Strathclyde migrated to Wales taking their memories of Arthur with them.

Merlin: The Borders are rife with Merlin placenames and mythology. There is a historical reference which places Myrddin (Merlin) in a 6th century battle – Arderydd, or Arthuret near the Solway Firth in 573 AD. It is implied that Merlin “went mad” from losing family and friends so fled to the forest. He lived there for the rest of his life, only emerging to prophesise and advise Arthur.

scotsman.com rating

3/10 – Well, gosh, it seems a bit circumstantial. Where’s the body? We remain unconvinced on Arthur, bowing to the greater amount of stories in Welsh, but we concede there may be a chance that Merlin was a Scot.

The Stone of Destiny, aka Jacob’s Pillow, is Scottish

Genesis, chapter 28, relates that Jacob rested his head on a stone and dreamt of the glory of God. When he woke he said “this stone, which I have set up as a sacred pillar shall be a house of God”. This is the origin of Jacob’s Pillow, or Jacob’s Pillar.

There is a strong oral tradition in Irish that tells of the meeting between Moses and Gathelus, a Greek architect and husband of Scota, one of Pharaoh’s daughters. Nennius (yes, him again…) writes of Gathelus’s 42-year journey from Egypt to Ireland, bringing the stone with him. (A journey described in the Declaration of Arbroath.)

Later, when the Irish king Fergus travelled from Ireland to Argyll to help the Scots fight the Picts he took the stone with him, where it remained until it was snatched by Edward I. It remained in London until it was returned in 1996.

However, there is a persistent “rumour” that maintains the stone taken by Edward was not the right one, that Scots did not really try very hard to get it back and that the real stone of destiny, that rock-hard pillow of Jacob’s, lies hidden somewhere in readiness for a time when it’s needed.

scotsman.com rating

2/10 – We agree that the Stone of Destiny was brought over from Ireland. We also accede to the greater knowledge of the Irish medieval historians and their tracing of the stone to Gathelus. Our sticking point is the part where Moses gives Jacob’s Pillow to Gathelus. We need a bit more convincing on that one.

Scotland is the Lost City of Atlantis

According to Comyns Beaumont’s 19th century book Britain, the Key to World History, the Lost Civilisation of Atlantis is not in the Mediterranean, but right here in Scotland. His theory is complex and detailed, marrying the Bible with oral histories from around the world.

He looked at Homer, Plato and Heroditus as well as analysing “Flood Myths” around the world and came to the conclusion that Noah’s flood and the catastrophic flooding that sunk Atlantis were one and the same.

Furthermore, Beaumont challenged the accepted placing of Atlantis. He maintained that Scotland was “the original domicile of the sons of Adam, who were the Titans or giants of classic fame as well as being the Atlanteans of Plato.”

His theory is incredibly detailed but the main reasons for his conclusions are:

There is no evidence of flooding in the Middle East.

Geologists have found a massive lake under the Sea of Caithness – Shetland – possibly the one-time lagoon Lake Triton.

In 584 BC land broke away from Norway causing a tsunami that submerged some of Scotland’s east coast. This was, he claimed, the submerging of Atlantis.

The Caledonian forest was home to boars, lions, bears and great white oxen called aurochs. A forest and these beasts are mentioned by Heroditus.

Beaumont’s theory depends not so much on land evidence (although he offers plenty), but on a radical re-interpretation of the placing of Biblical tribes. Via a vastly convoluted route he claims that the most ancient race of men, the Phoenicians or Chaldeans or the “bronze” or “red” Aryan men, lived near Mount Atlas (Ben Mhor). They came from Scotland and travelled east only after the “great Catastrophe”. So, for instance, the Faroes (itself an Erse word Faragh meaning chieftain) ended up in Egypt as the Pharaohs.

scotsman.com rating

2/10 – Beaumont gains two credibility points in recognition of the intricate research, inclusion of (possibly) verifiable land masses and overall for his stupendous turning around of known history, for example that far from outsiders populating Scotland after the big ice age, Scots (or Chaldeans, Phoenicians) actually left Scotland in the wake of the ice age/tsunami/disaster and populated the world. Awesome!

Jerusalem is actually Edinburgh

Old Comyns didn’t just stop at suggesting that Atlantis equalled Scotland, but by extension also went on to prove that Jerusalem was Edinburgh. How did he do this? Well he started off by taking as a given that Atlantis was Scotland, and for his supporting evidence claimed that the Palestinian Jerusalem simply did not conform to how the Bible describes it. Unlike Edinburgh, with its Mount of Olives (Arthur’s Seat), City of Zion (Edinburgh Castle) and port at Joppa.

Furthermore, he looked at a number of Roman texts written at the time of the Jewish revolt against the Romans that show commanders from York being dispatched to quell the Jews. Surely, asks Comyns, this is simply untenable if Jerusalem really were in Palestine? It makes sense, however, if Jerusalem was only up the road in Edinburgh.

He supports his theory by proposing that the Catrail Wall was not built by the Picts, but by the Romans to keep the Jews in Edinburgh. He further maintains that when the Jews revolted again, Hadrian gave orders to destroy them and their city completely, leaving no trace. Later, when Constantine needed to resurrect a “new Jerusalem” for his own political reasons, he chose to locate it in Palestine.

scotsman.com rating

1/10 – We don’t know where to go with this. Having failed to accept the Atlantis theory we can’t easily embrace this one. And, yet, who amongst us hasn’t driven through Joppa and wondered about its funny name?

Pontius Mac-Pilate

Another twist to the tale of re-appraising Biblical history comes with a story out of Fortingall in Perthshire. There is a strong oral tradition that Pontius Pilate, the man who sat in judgement on Jesus Christ, was actually born in Scotland. Unlikely? Well, as they say in the adverts: “Here’s the science bit.”

Back in 10 BC Caesar Augustus was busy sending envoys across the Roman Empire trying to promote his latest great idea, the Pax Romana. Having successfully engaged with the British, according to one ancient chronicle, “ane short tyme eftir, the samyn ambassiatouris came to Metallanus, king of the Scottissmen” bringing jewels as the carrot to tempt the Scots towards peace, and soldiers as their stick.

So that’s the “science”, now here’s the legend.

Metallanus, who resided at Fortingall, took his time to decide whether to adopt the Roman Peace. The Roman troops occupied themselves consorting with local women, one of whom became pregnant and later gave birth to a son, Pontius Pilate.

And that’s not all. Archie McKerracher in his book Perthshire in History and Legend makes a case for Pontius Pilate returning to Fortingall to die. He places Metallanus’s son, Mansuteus, in Rome at the same time as Pilate was living there after the Crucifixion. Wouldn’t it follow, posits McKerracher, that when the two met, Pilate was persuaded to come home to Scotland? How else do you explain the ancient burial stone in Fortingall bearing the initials PP?

scotsman.com rating

1/10 – Edzooks, what’s with all this oral history malarky, it strikes us as a bit thin. If we started a rumour today that Obi Wan Kenobi actually lived in Greenock, and told enough people about it, would that necessarily make it true? We don’t think so. We gave it one point in recognition that there are some facts mixed in there.

Jesus’s head, heart, blood, etc, are in Rosslyn Chapel

Unless you’ve slept through the furore surrounding the Da Vinci Code you must surely know the “mystery” surrounding Rosslyn Chapel. You ought to be familiar with that intrepid band of warrior knights, the Templars, and their productive digging underneath the Temple of Solomon. During their nine-year excavations of the temple their spade-work uncovered either:

The Holy Grail (complete with drops of Christ’s blood).

Jesus’s head.

Documents which showed that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and she went on to carry their child/children.

Dirt (but this doesn’t make for a very good novel).

Templar lore says that when they were rounded up by that greedy old King Philip IV of France some escaped with their treasure/knowledge to excommunicated Scotland – and to Rosslyn Chapel to be precise.

It is easy to see why Rosslyn has such enduring appeal for Grail hunters. It is a veritable cornucopia of grail symbolism. The most intense grail symbol is the rose, and boy does Rosslyn have roses.

For a start, it may sit on one of the telluric ley lines that criss-cross Scotland known as the “Rose Line”. There are roses on the Apprentice pillar, there are roses pointing to the underground vault, there are roses round the Princess pillar.

Code-crackers spend hours, days, weeks staring at the carvings inside the chapel trying to work out what it all means. And they have come up with the following conclusions:

The least bananas theory sees the remains of the “One True Cross” hidden in the vaults of Rosslyn.

Dr Keith Laidler in his 1998 book The Head of God claims that Jesus’s head is hidden in the apprentice pillar.

Assorted grail-hunters have the Holy Grail hidden in the Apprentice pillar.

And then there’s the bloodline, a theory favoured by Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, which holds that all the intricate stonework is leading inescapably to the conclusion that the secret of Mary Magdalene and Jesus’s children is hidden within the very structure of the chapel.

scotsman.com rating

4/10 – We know that the evidence is half-baked, and we know that it seems unlikely, but …. scotsman.com is prepared to entertain the Gnostic Scrolls, and their positioning of Mary Magdalene at Jesus’s right hand, and maybe admit the conceivable possibility that she was married to Christ. And so we can squeeze out a tiny bit of sympathy to the idea that there is a bloodline and that the secret is encoded somewhere. We might be more willing to accept that the Templars brought something with them. And if it has to be anywhere, then why not this extraordinary and complex building?

Jesus holidayed in the Hebrides

Bible scholars have often asked: “What happened to Christ during his lost years?” Just where was he and what was he doing, because the Bible seems to have a big gap in its chronology? It has been suggested that he went to India where he is recorded as the Prophet Isa. And then there is the oral evidence that points to him visiting … South Uist and the Isle of Skye. This is the theory put forward by Barry Dunford in his book The Holy Land of Scotland.

Henry Jenner, a keeper of manuscripts at the British Museum in London wrote in 1933 of a journey he took to the Hebrides. Jenner found it very curious that “there are a whole set of legends of the wanderings of the Holy Mother and Son in those Islands.” He also came across an island off Skye known as the Isle of Isa – or the Island of Jesus. And as everyone knows, place names were given in response to real events.

On the surface it looks like a slim possibility, but perhaps if you put it in a much wider and older context it reveals itself as a possibility. There is a body of thought that believes Jesus’s ancestors may have been of Celto-Hebraic origin, the early roots of which belonged in Caledonia. This theory rather intruigingly has Druidic thinking impacting on Christian practice. Central to this theory is the Island of Iona, which had been known as the Island of the Druids and was to find fame as a centre of Christian spiritualism.

If, then, the theory concludes, Jesus’s forebears came from Scotland, isn’t it quite within the bounds of possibility that he returned to see where his great-great-great-great uncle was born?

scotsman.com rating

0/10 – This whole theory seems as thin as extra-thin, thin crust pizza, that has been cooked very thin. It is hard to believe that the ancient Scots were busy sailing around the world sharing religion and genes when back home everything seems so, well, primitive. Wouldn’t Scotland have been a very different place if we were indeed being subject to such a wealth of world culture?

Jesus’s children were born in Iona

So then, Mary Magdalene, “the close companion of Jesus”, escaped Jerusalem after the Crucifixion and ended up with Joseph of Arimathea in Britain. From there Mary is rumoured to have wandered up to Scotland. (Perhaps retracing the steps that Jesus took in his “holiday”?).

To reach the conclusion that she had her child in Scotland, you need a great leap of faith (and not the sort of faith the Church would approve), because all of the evidence is based on the rich imagery in and around Scottish churches, some of which show Mary heavily pregnant. You also have to refer back to Rosslyn and embrace wholeheartedly the idea that it is a gigantic crossword puzzle leading to an explanation of the Davidic bloodline.

And why Iona? William Sharp wrote in his 19th century treatise The Isle of Dreams of an old prophecy that “Christ shall come again under Iona”. This same prophesy suggests that Mary Magdalene would also be visiting the island, but as the “Bride of Christ”.

scotsman.com rating

3/10 – We are not convinced about the whole Sinclair Clan being the line of Christ. But we are strangely perturbed by the church artwork that shows pregnant angels and a pregnant Mary. Pause for thought we think?

Ancient Scots had Weapons of Mass Destruction

When Arthur C Clarke was interviewed by the Guardian in 2004 he was asked what he thought was the biggest mystery that he had encountered. He replied: “The oddest thing is these vitrified forts in Scotland. I just thought, how the hell? After all, lasers were not common in the Stone Age.”

There are around 100 vitrified forts around the world, with over half in Scotland. They were built on strategic locations, and the stones were heated to such high temperatures that they fused together.

When Clarke’s team tried to recreate the vitrification process they concluded that the amount of heat needed to vitrify rocks was equivalent to an atomic bomb.

The ancient Indian epic, The Mahabharata, gives very precise details of “flying machines” that were used by the Indians thousands of years ago. They travelled great distances, and tellingly, these flying machines were said to possess incredibly powerful firearms.

The epic explains a hideous war that took place between the Indians and the Atlanteans, possessors of flying machines. They both used weapons of destruction, The Mahabharata notes: “[the weapon was] a single projectile charged with all the power of the universe. An iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death.”

In other words, they had firearms with the power of an atomic bomb. Enough to vitrify stones. Is it possibly that the vitrified forts of Scotland are the remnants of some cataclysmic war between the Indians and the Atlanteans, a war that wiped out all traces except for the remains of the forts?

scotsman.com rating

9/10 – That’s it, we’re converts! It all makes sense! We believe in the forts – if Arthur C Clarke says it’s amazing, we believe it – so by extension we also buy Atlantis/Scotland. We believe in it all!

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Scottish myths: The fairy flag of Dunvegan Castle

TO the uneducated eye the disintegrating cloth hanging in Dunvegan Castle looks more like something used to mop up a beer spill than the “most precious possession of the Clan MacLeod”. But if you look closely, you begin to pick out a delicate silk thread, the remains of an intricate pattern.


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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

TO the uneducated eye the disintegrating cloth hanging in Dunvegan Castle looks more like something used to mop up a beer spill than the “most precious possession of the Clan MacLeod”.

But if you look closely, you begin to pick out a delicate silk thread, the remains of an intricate pattern. The fabric looks ancient and foreign.

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The Clan MacLeod has had its family seat at Dunvegan Castle since about the 12th century. For as long as the clan has been there, so has their flag. No one knows for certain where it came from but the MacLeods have always maintained that it is no ordinary piece of cloth. For this is no rag but the Fairy Flag of the Clan MacLeod, which came to Dunvegan from “a far away place”.

Legend has it that a long time ago a chieftain of the MacLeods met and fell in love with a beautiful woman, who unfortunately, turned out to be a fairy princess.

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She begged her father to allow her to marry the handsome chief, and he agreed, on condition that she return to her fairy folk at the end of a year and a day. They were a happy couple, and the year passed all too soon. Before returning to her fairy palace beneath the hills the princess made her husband promise that he would never allow their young son to cry. Through his tears the chief agreed. His sadness grew and nobody could console him on his loss.


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A great feast was organised to try to make him forget his fairy-wife. Such was the rumpus and laughter that the baby’s nursemaid crept away from his nursery to see the fun. The small baby awoke and – finding himself alone – began to cry. Nobody was there to hear him, and for ten minutes he wept out loud. When the nursemaid returned she was amazed and not a little startled to see a woman bending over the cradle comforting the infant, wrapping him up in a shawl. The mother, for it was she, then vanished into the black night. When he could talk, the boy remembered the night his mother visited. He told his father that the shawl could be used by the MacLeods three times when they were in danger and help would come, but on the fourth it would disappear. The chief took this seriously and ordered a casket to be prepared to store the fairy flag.


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Hundreds of years later the MacDonalds were harassing the island. One Sunday they locked the doors of the MacLeod church and set fire to the building, killing most of the worshippers. In fear and fury, a small band of MacLeods gathered on the beach. They unfurled the fairy flag and, as if by magic, their number appeared magnified ten times. The MacDonalds were slaughtered and the flag returned to its safety in the casket.

The flag was used a second time when a terrible plague had killed nearly all the MacLeod’s cattle. With starvation on the doorstep they waved the flag once more, and again the fairy host rode down and miraculously restored the herd to health. Even today it is believed by some that the flag will give protection. During the Second World War, men from the MacLeod clan carried pictures of the flag in their pockets to act as a talisman.

Whether this saved them is not known, but the current chief, John MacLeod of MacLeod, freely admits to carrying a picture in his wallet when he fought the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950s. There remains a third time for the unfurling of the fairy flag, but it could be that the threat of the power of the flag is enough. It is thought that during the Second World War the clan chief offered to bring the flag to the white cliffs of Dover and wave it if it ever looked like the Germans were invading.

History does not record whether the War Cabinet slept better knowing of this “secret weapon”.

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Six ancient myths from the Scottish islands

From rock-dwelling giants to mermaids and seals who steal the hearts of local women, Scotland’s islands are still alive today with tales of their supernatural pasts. Here we look at six Scottish islands and the lore that keeps magic alive in these beautiful far-flung places.


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Published 13:13 Thursday 07 July 2016

From rock-dwelling giants to mermaids and seals who steal the hearts of local women, Scotland’s islands are still alive today with tales of their supernatural pasts. Here we look at six Scottish islands and the lore that keeps magic alive in these beautiful far-flung places.

Here we look at six Scottish islands and the lore that keeps magic alive in these beautiful far-flung places.

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LEWIS – Blue Men of Minch

These blue-skinned creatures are said to live in the water between Lewis and mainland Scotland, looking for sailors to drown and boats to sink. Also known as Storm Kelpies, they were described at length in Donald Alexander Mackenzie’s book Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, published in 1917. Mackenzie wrote: “They are of human size, and they have great strength. By day and by night they swim round and between the Shant Isles, and the sea there is never at rest.

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“The Blue Men wear blue caps and grey faces which appear above the waves that they raise with their long restless arms.” Mackenzie said the blue men “skimmed lightly” below the water surface but were sometimes seen “splashing with mad delight” when a storm set in. Some also say the Blue Men live in underwater caves in a clan system. The origin of the Blue Men legend is unclear but possible from Moorish slaves marooned in Ireland in the 9th Century by Viking pirates and slave traders.

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The Selkie The Selkies are half seal, half beautiful human and were regarded as gentle, shape shifting creatures. Selkie lore is particularly potent on Orkney but the legend is also linked to the Shetland Isles – where the selkies may take on a darker role – and some parts of The Hebrides. Once in human form, the selkie folk would “dance on lonely stretches of moonlit shore, or bask in the sun on outlying skerries,” according to heritage site orkney-jar.com.

They would transform from seal to human once a year on Midsummer’s Eve with some accounts claiming the shift would come every ninth night, or seventh stream. Selkie men were known for their powerful sway over females and would come ashore, cast their seal skins and search out ‘unsatisfied women” whether they be unmarried or not.

Some believe that selkies were supernaturally formed from the souls of drowned sailors.


The Old Man of Storr Folklore swirls around the Old Man of Storr, the rocky pinnacle which towers high over the west of the island. Legend has it that Old Man of Storr was a giant who had lived in Trotternish Ridge and when he was buried, his thumb was left jutting out the ground, creating the famous jagged landscape. But other stories have created further mystery and romance around this landmark.

One tells of a brownie – a Scottish hobgoblin-type creature – who are said to have done good deeds for the families they chose to serve. On Skye, it is said a villager called O’Sheen saved the life of a brownie with the two becoming firm friends. O’Sheen died from a broken heart following the death of his wife and the devastated Brownie took it upon himself to chisel two rocks – one in memory of O’Sheen and a smaller one to remember his wife.


The Wulver The Wulver was said to live alone in a cave on Shetland and enjoyed a peaceful life. Such is the strength of this Shetland tale, the last reported sighting of the wulver is said to be in the early twentieth century. He took pity on the needy of the isles and left fish on the windowsills of the hungry. Covered in a layer of thick brown hair the Wulver was never human in the first place – unlike the werewolf. The ancient Celts believed that the Wulver actually evolved from wolves – and represented the in-between stage of man and wolf.


The Mermaid’s Grave Seaweed cutters working the shore at Benbecula are said to have seen a miniature woman splashing in the sea, somersaulting and turning in the water. Some men tried to seize her and stones were thrown her way, some which hit her in the back. A few days afterwards, she was found dead at Cuile, Nunton, nearly two miles away, the legend goes. Her upper body was the size of a “well-fed child” aged three or four but with an abnormally developed breast. Her hair was long and glossy with the lower part of her body described as “like a salmon, but without the scales.” Mr Duncan Shaw, land agent for Clanranald, baron-bailie and sheriff of the district, ordered a coffin and shroud to be made for the mermaid, who was discovered around 1830.

In the early 1900s, one account stated: “There are persons still living who saw and touched this curious creature, and who give graphic descriptions of its appearance.”  It is said the body was buried not far from the shore where the mermaid was found but the location of the grave is not known. A field reconnaissance of the dunes at Culla Bay, undertaken at the request of the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) at the end of the last century, led to the discovery of an isolated stone within a wind-eroded hollow upon the crest of the dunes. However, following investigation, it is not believed the stone marks the spot of the grave.


MacKinnon’s Cave One of the deepest caves in the Hebrides, it is said that Abbot MacKinnon was concealed here in the 15th Century. Deep inside lies a large, flat slab of rock, known as Fingal’s Table. The story goes that it was used as an altar by hermits and early followers of the Christian church. Another story linked to the dramatic coastal inlet is of the piper who tried to outdo the fairies in a piping competition and walked into the cave along with his dog. Only the dog returned, crazed with fear and hairless. Some say the piper went right through the hill and emerged on the other side of the headland at Tiroran on Loch Scridain. There is, however, a tunnel connection to nearby Cormorant Cave. Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell visited the cave during their tour of the area in 1773. Though they had only a candle, they measured the dimensions of the cave using a walking stick.

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