There are a range of articles on different topics reflecting both my writing/lecturing and my own interests.
The Corryvreckan Whirlpool

more –

One of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring sights in nature is a maelstrom or sea whirlpool. These magnificent spinning cauldrons are formed where tides crash or sea water is forced into narrow vortices. There are two particular well-known maelstroms in Europe {Mael = to grind or whirl around; strom=stream. cf. millstream.} – the original Maelstrom off the Lofoten Islands near the coast of Norway and the gulf of Corryvreckan between Jura and Scarba in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. These magnificent examples of nature in the raw have long held a particular place in the human psyche, and have myths and legends associated with them that seem to come from the edge of time. This programme will combine wonderful footage of these magnificent natural wonders filmed from both above and below sea-level and the ancient stories told centuries, possibly even millennia ago by the tribal peoples of Scotland and Scandinavia.
The Gulf of Corryvreckan is over 300 feet deep but when the whirlpool is at full power the depth of the water is less than a hundred feet. The particular cause of this awesome power is a subterranean spike* off the coast of Scarba which causes the great Atlantic waves to form into a giant vortex and create the Corryvreckan whirlpool. It is a dangerous place and local fishermen and sailors have a wealth of stories of its dangers. Even on calm days the swell of the Corryvreckan can be several feet.

The Corryvreckan is said in one tradition to be named after a Norse prince Breacan who tried to withstand the whirlpool in his ship. The ship was moored by three ropes the last of which was made from the hair of female virgins and was the strongest of all. Sadly though one of the maids who had claimed virginity lied, and the rope was not strong enough to withstand the power of the vortex and Breacan’s ship was pulled to the bottom and all aboard drowned. An older story though is that the Cailleach, the Thunder Hag of Gaelic mythology washed her breacan or plaid in the Corryvreckan at the start of the winter when the whirlpool is at its most active. After washing the plaid she laid it over the hills. Being the oldest of creatures the Cailleach’s plaid was white and this is the first snowfall of winter. Breacan means speckled in Gaelic and came to mean a tartan plaid. The Cailleach is symbolic of Winter everywhere in Scotland and is associated with Ben Nevis among other mountains. The name Cailleach means the veiled or perhaps the cowled one, a term later used for old women and nuns, but interestingly is also a fair description of Ben Nevis and other mountains when their summits are shrouded in mist and cloud. Recent research suggests that being born cowled, with a caul, was believed in various parts of Europe to have significance as a mark of shamanism. When the Coryvreckan is at its ost active, at the fall neap tide, its roar can be heard as much as thirty miles (48K) away.
It was while she was making Scotland that the Cailleach dropped an apron full of stones thus creating the Hebrides, the Y Bride or islands of Bride, who is the young or Summer aspect of the Cailleach herself.
Other whirlpools.
A smaller Maelstrom exists between Orkney and the mainland where nine currents clash. Another famous whirlpool is in the Naruto Strait which connects Japan’s inland sea to the Pacific Ocean and the Garafalo whirlpool off the coast of Calabria in southern Italy is believed to be the Charybdis of Greek legend, who was turned into a whirlpool by Zeus for stealing the oxen of Hercules.}
Interviews with locals, fishermen and other sailors; folklorist/historian (ME?) and oceanographers.
If you reckon we can make something of this I’ll get more hard information on the actual whirlpools – not easy to find which makes the idea of the programme (or one Scottish and one world-wide) even more attractive. } { As presenter why not Magnus Magnusson? Unless of course we would rather have a hairy-faced latter-day Pict!}
There is an ancient Scandinavian myth states that Nine Sea-maidens, the daughters of the sea god Ran perpetually grind the body of the giant Ymir in a great mill at the bottom of the sea into sand. This was how the world was formed after the battle between the gods and the giants. At the centre of the World-mill is the world spike* round which the mill causes the stars to revolve. The world-mill creates a fearsome roaring cauldron which is the Maelstrom. The mill is also known as Hamlet’s Mill and in another version the mill grinds out the salt which makes the oceans salty.

Folklore of the Picts

There are two different ways of looking at the word myth – as an entirely fictitious account of something or someone or as in mythology basic and fundamental tales and legendary material that underpin whole religions and cultures. Now I intend looking at some of the fictitious ideas about the Picts and comparing these with what we know, or think we know about the history of this ancient tribal confederation and later I will make a suggestion about the fundamental beliefs that perhaps underlay how the Picts saw the world. The first important fact about the Picts is that we actually know very little about them on the surface. No matter what language or languages they spoke we have no written accounts of them in their own words, we have to rely on annals and commentaries from furth of Scotland for any contemporary accounts of the Picts. This has led to the situation where the mystery surrounding the Picts has allowed the most remarkable speculation about them to flourish. For instance in the 17th and 18th centuries when the modern study of archaeology began to form and there was great interest in everything antiquarian anything that was ancient and unknown was called Pictish. One example should serve to show this process. Near Butterstone between Blairgowrie and Dunkeld is a vast earthen dyke which is still marked n some maps as Pict’s Dyke. What it is in fact is a 12th century deer dyke – built to help ensure good hunting for the nobility of the day. A few hundred years later its use had been forgotten so as it was old and mysterious it was called Pictish. There are other Pict’s dykes, Pict’s ovens and a plethora of Picts’ Houses – these latter are often souterrains which Wainwright established were Pictish in the 1950’s. Brochs those superbly defined defensive structu
res which are unique to Scotland were known as Picts’ towers and I shall return to them later. However this wholesale use of the Picts as a generic term for the ancestors with its fanciful ideas was nothing new. The Picts have been the subject of quite remarkable amount of what can only be described as creative mythologising. Nature abhors a vacuum it is said so the vacuum of actual knowledge about the Picts has led to a great deal of creativity in attempting to fill it.

A particular example of this has been investigated by Rivet and Smith in their excellent book the Place Names of Roman Britain to which i will return n a moment. An account of the origin of the Picts which comes from the Irish Book of Invasions or Conquests states that the Picts were descended from a Scythian named Gelon, son of Hercules and were called Agathyrsi. They supposedly landed in Leinster in Ireland, helped the King of Leinster to win a battle against the Tuatha Fidhbhe (Fife?) then were forced to sail north to settle in Scotland, taking Irish wives on the condition that in any disputed succession the female line would be dominant. Now Rivet and Smith’s explanation of the term Picti clearly explains what has happened here. The great Roman poet Virgil who lived in the first century BC had written about a couple of northern European tribes who he referred to as the
“picti Galeni” and the “pictone Agathyrsi” – “picti “and “pictone” meaning painted or possibly tattooed – and all Roman writers were raised reading Virgil. It is Rivet and Smith’s contention that in fact the Roman writers who referred to the Picti were in fact conditioned by their education and when
they came across a tribal name that was a bit like Picti they naturally treated it as if it were in fact Picti. That name Rivet and Smith reckon was Pexa – a term that turns up in the Ravenna Cosmography, a collection of geographical information put together from military sources around the 8th century. The name Pexa is in a list of forts supposedly from the Antonine Wall and is dated from the close of the 2nd century a hundred years before Ammianus Marcellinus makes what has been accepted as the first reference to the Picts. It is worth noting that Ammianus Marcellinus makes three references to the Picts – two as Picts and one as Pecti. Rivet and Smith are convinced that Pexa is not a place name but a tribal name. When we compare Pexa with the names we know were given to the Picts by others the situation becomes a bit clearer – Old English gives Peohta, Old Norse Pettr and Welsh gives Peithwyr. Add in the fact that the oral tradition in Scotland always calls them Pechts and the idea that Picti was a name given by the invading Romans to a people who painted themselves is suddenly exposed as very weak indeed.
The story of the Scythian Galen and his Agathyrsi can obviously be traced back to the same tradition and given the Latin training of the monks who actually composed the annals we are forced to rely on, it is clear that the Classical bias of so much indigenous scholarship that still exists has a very long history indeed. Today we still suffer from the fact that far too much of our limited resources are spent on excavating Roman remains in Scotland. In historical terms it is fair to say of the Romans in Scotland that they came they saw, they left. It is the fact that they were important to English history that has created this distortion and hopefully it is something that can be addressed in the near future. However one has to have sympathy with the monks who cr
eated the annals, they tended to look to Biblical sources to supply early history – it was a form of legitimisation that could ignore whatever traditional sources said in previously no-Christian societies – and this particular attitude lasted a very long time. The added benefit was of course that it underlined the importance of the Christian view of the world.
In 1879 a book was published called the History of Ancient Caledonia written by John Maclaren from Dunning, near the ancient Pictish capital of Forteviot. In this Maclaren takes one of the wilder explanations for the mysterious origin of the Picts – the idea that they were on of the lost tribes of Israel. According to him Daniel and Lazarus arrived at Montrose in the distant past, bearing with them the Stone of Destiny and founded a new nation. The fact that he has them accompanied by a man called McIntyre gives the game away – clan names of this sort are less than a thousand years old. However this serves as an example of the approach taken to trying to provide a background history of the Picts.

Other versions of the origins of the Picts have them coming from Denmark or the Baltic area generally and several writers have suggested that the Picts spoke a Germanic language – this has been given as the reason people in the North east use of instead of wh i.e fit instead o whit and I have had people tell me this i the last couple of years!

The dominant idea in all of these theories is that the Picts came from somewhere other than Scotland at sometime in the distant past. This is a variant of the diffusionist concept of European history which at its simplest can be described as everything good and civilised originated around the Mediterranean and we poor savages lived in poverty and degradation till we were subjected to various invasions by superior, aristocratic peoples culminating in the noble Romans spreading out from Italy and giving us the benefits of their advanced and sophisticated society. This is tosh. Colin Renfrew’s recent book Language and Archaeology gives the lie to this preposterous idea which has dominated so much scholarship over the past two to three centuries. The truth is that ideas spread very quickly and that much of prehistory is better understood by the spread and development of new ideas, new ways of farming or making pottery for instance, rather than a militaristic analysis which tries to understand human development in terms of conquest alone.

Historians tend to like to deal with the knowledge of the past by putting it in boxes. Even today there are lecturers in Scottish Universities who tell their students they must never, ever refer to anything as Pictish before 297 when Ammianus Marcellinus first mentions them. This is a bit akin to Bishop Usher’s famous calculation of the beginning of the world according to an analysis of the Bible – he came up with I believe 3pm June 4th 3004 BC or something similar. The idea that the Picts sprang into existence in 297 when the Romans noticed them is patently silly but sticking to historic references does not even support this idea. Apart from the work of Rivet and Smith on the name Pict/Pexa there are other historians who see the situation differently. Given that the first reference to the Pict by the bold Ammianus actually talks of the problems Julius Caesar had in fighting Picts and Britons surely we can put the Pictish period back somewhat. In fact this has been suggested by Alfred Smyth in the New History of Scotland in the volume Warlords and Holymen. In this he suggests that the Pictish period be opened at AD80 after the Battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonians a battle won by the Romans according to the Romans There are several 4th century references by Roman writers to Caledonians and other Picts which makes it clear that the Picts are nothing other than the Caledonians by another name. By taking the dawning of the Pictish period from AD 8 allows us to resolve anther wee problem. Until a couple of decades ago the Brochs were accepted as Pictish. Then radio-carbon dating put them into the period of about 100BC to 100 AD and therefore outside the Pictish period as previously defined. If we accept Mons Graupius as a suitable opening date for the Pictish period we can then bring the brochs back into the picture. However the problem of the Picts suddenly springing into existence remains though now we can say that they were either descendants of the Caledonians or the same people with a different name. I agree with Smyth that this is a better date for the start of the Pictish period and if it is accepted it will open up new possibilities in the dating of the Pictish stones. After all there are no comparative dates for the class I stones which are clearly pagan in nature, both the wonderful and unique animal sculptures and the highly stylised geometric designs we all know so well. And in passing I should say that the dating of the ClassII stones by comparison with sculpture in the Northumbrian church rests on problematic grounds given that Northumbria was Christianised from Iona where the Book of Kells was created on forms and models that come straight from the traditions of Pictish Art. It is one of the great mistakes of British historiography that the Insular Celtic tradition of illuminating manuscripts is presented as being predominantly Irish and English when anyone with a pair o een in their hied can see they are derived from Pictish Art. This however is part of the twisted traditions of British historiography which allow the standard text books on insular Celtic history and culture to ignore the longest lived classical Celtic warrior society – a society that lasted in Scotland till the 18th century. And it is worth noting that as late as the 16th century there are references to Highland warriors being known as “Picts or Redshankes”.

I have made reference to the oral traditions concerning the Picts which included from Fife the statement that they were ” wee red-haired fowk, awfy strong that biggit aa the auld castles in the land”. It is within the oral tradition that we can glean another way of looking at the Picts. First however I would like to go back to 3,500 BC and the building of Callanish. This magnificent lunar temple was created before the Egyptians raised the pyramids and could only have been created by people with very sophisticated mathematical and engineering skills. In fact the oral tradition has kept a story of the builders of Callanish and I believe that due to the inherent conservative nature of the oral and storytelling traditions in pre-literate societies there is much we can learn from them. It is also true to say that most history is little more than propaganda written by winners of particular military, social or economic struggles. But whether or not the stories of black men sailing to Lewis to raise the stones of Callanish and the founding of a new religion then are true, the very existence of these stones serves shows that the people who were here long before the Pictish period were highly civilised if pre-literate. And there is no reason for believing other than that these were the ancestors of the Picts. The megalith builders of Scotland and Ireland also had a distinct form of spiral art, probably best seen at New Grange and Knowth in Ireland, where there are many people today who believe the Irish and Scottish Picts are essentially the same people. However the oral tradition gives us other hints to the past and by comparison with the great mythological materials gathered in Ireland and Wales in the late Dark ages and early medieval period we can possibly glean some further knowledge of the Picts. The Class I stones in particular depict a series of symbols that are associated in Welsh, Irish and Highland Gaelic traditions with figures who can only be understood as representation s of the Mother Goddess. These symbols include the Deer, the Boar, the Cauldron and the Adder. The deer are associated in Highland tradition with the Cailleach, who is one aspect of the oldest mythological figure we have, the Boar has associations with both the Welsh goddess Cerridwen and with he corpus of Arthurian tradition as does the cauldron and the adder is strongly associated with the Irish goddess Bride, christianised as St.Bridgit who in all probability is indigenous to Scotland as well. I will be going into this material in depth at the PAS conference in June but at this point I can say that research in this area has led me to what can only be described as pagan priestess or even druidess groups who although an integral part of Pictish life had counterparts throughout the Celtic world, Scandinavia and beyond.

There have been great advances in archaeology over the past couple of decades and one recent piece of evidence is worth noting. Work done on settlements in the Pictish period has led to the discovery that villages of the period in east Scotland are not surrounded by any defensive structures. What this means is that they were not subjected to attacks which somewhat contradicts the picture we are generally give of Dark Age Scotland which is supposed to be a time of constant inter-tribal strife. I would like to finish with a reference to a particular Pictish Symbol Stone, the one at Glamis Manse in Angus. On a recent tv programme hosted by the comedian Craig Ferguson the minister of Glamis claimed that a depiction of two Picts holding another figure upside down in a cauldron was a reference to ritual drowning. Another interpretation comes from Irish tradition. We know that the peoples of Ireland and Scotland have been in regular communication since the Stone Age so it is not unlikely that they developed similar mythologies. Apart from the general importance of the cauldron in Welsh and Irish early literature there is a direct reference to dead warriors being dipped in the cauldron of the Dagda, the Good or Father God, which brought them back to life allowing them to fight again though they were deprived of the power of speech. It is my contention not only that this is a more likely explanation of the panel on the Glamis Manse stone but that through using the comparative methodologies of archaeology and applying them to mythological and folkloric material and utilising our increasing archaeological knowledge we can learn a great deal more about the Picts. Though we end up with theories that we might never be able to prove absolutely I think that the increase in understanding will be worth while and that we can gain a clearer picture of who the Picts were and how they lived and thought.

2009 will see the publication of my A New History of the Picts by Luath Press.


J.G. Mackay published an article on Deer Goddess cults in the Scottish Highlands in Folklore 1934. He drew attention to the two meanings of the Gaelic word Fiadh as deer and God. He cites numerous examples of Highland tales which refer to the Cailleach associating with deer. Mackay presents the Cailleach as the Hag or Witch but she is in fact the Goddess in one of her three main aspects, and she is often presented in these tales as being a giantess. To quote him -” The gigantic stature of these Old Women, their love for their deer, the fact that their dealings are almost exclusively with hunters and the fact that each is referred to as a bean-sidhe, or supernatural woman seems sufficient warrant for calling them Deer Goddesses”. It was common for hunters who were after deer to pray to the Cailleach or Cailleach Bheur before setting out. Mackay thinks that the Cailleach is an import from Ireland but I think it is more likely that this goddess figure went from Scotland to Ireland or at the very least was part of a common shared mythology. After all we do know that people have been passing back and forth between Ireland and Scotland since the Stone Age – the similar megalithic traditions point to peoples who were very closely linked and the probability of trade, intermarriage and exchange of ideas both technological and spiritual is obvious. Beira also known as the Cailleach Bheur is associated with the mythology of the seasons and was believed to have resided on Ben Nevis, the highest mountain not just in Scotland but the entire British Isles. She is the aspect of the Mother Goddess as Winter Hag and as D.A. Mackenzie shows in Scottish Folklore and Folklife she was said to try and keep Bride, Goddess of Spring, imprisoned so that winter would remain on the land. One interesting side note here is that the original of the Corryvreckan is from the Gaelic meaning the Cauldron of the Plaid, where Beira was said to wash her plaid and after the Corryvreckan was at its fiercest in late autumn the hills would be covered in snow, this being Beira’s plaid spread out to dry – a very old motif. We must remember that until just a few centuries ago most people would not travel very far from their birthplaces – possibly a few miles to summer sheilings and into the next glen or so on very special occasions. Because of this the tales they told, the cultural cement of their society would always be given local provenance. This by the way explains why there will ever e a definitive locale for Arthur, Fin MacCoul or any other primarily legendary figure – the tales were told within the compass of the audience’s perceptions – the landscape within which they lived. The tales to which Mackay refers therefore come from all over Highland Scotland and it is interesting to note that the deer turns up in the story of St. Kentigern’s stay in Wales where he yoked a deer and a wolf together to pull a plough.

Another symbol on the Glamis Stone is the head of a deer. The deer plays as a constant theme in Gaelic legend and myth in particular – there are strong associations with fairies, deer being referred to as fairy cattle, the poet of the Fianna is Finn MacCoul’s son Oisin, meaning fawn, whose mother was changed into a hind by a malevolent magician. This I think is reference to shape-shifting an attribute of all the Goddess figures in Celtic mythology and also a common attribute of the priestesses of the Goddess and a group who seem to have succeeded them in some sense – the witches.

Mackay believes that tales of female figures associated with deer are sometimes references to priestesses of the goddess rather than the Goddess herself and says ” The deer priestesses never appear in the tales as priestesses, but as witches. They gave hunters blessings and charms to procure them success in the chase, and afterwards shared the spoils of the chase with them. After all witches are only fossil priestesses, the exponents of dead pagan faiths.” Later he makes the following point. “Some deer priestesses, because probably they had wearied of paganism and the tedious yoke it laid upon its votaries, and perhaps because they loved some hunters, appear in tales as the Alternating Deer-Women, and marry their hunter lovers and live happily with then ever after.” This is a reference to more shape-shifting and Mackay suggested that stories of deer-transformations ” Are to be accounted for by the manner in which the priestesses of a deer-cult attired themselves in the skins of hinds, suddenly discarding them, or reassuming them while on the moors”. There are incidentally instances of similar if not identical shape shifting in Welsh tradition but Mackay was working solely with indigenous Gaelic material. It is in this concept of the shedding of skins I think we can see something else in the Pictish Symbols. The Deer on the Glamis stone is simply a head but I have long thought of it as a mask. Here are two others which I likewise suggest are masks from Ardross and Dunachton and there is of course the strange shape that occurs on Rhynie stone and several in Angus which I am here suggesting can be seen as a representation of the priestess costume which Mackay refers to them donning and doffing on the moors. Many other societies throughout the world use animal costume and in European terms this habit can be traced back as the cave-painting at Lascaux , though there the figure is patently male. The occurrence of the deer motif on early Pictish stones I suggest is directly liked to Mackay’s Deer cult as one aspect of the Goddess and it is interesting to note the continuing significance of the deer as the quarry in the hunt scenes on later, Christianised Symbol Stones. They are possibly a status symbol reflecting some sort of continuity of the importance of the deer. But could they also suggest the harrying of the deer as a motif for the destruction of the old religion? After all symbols have multifarious meanings. This is of course also a Deer figure on Mormond Hill even though it has been overshadowed by the much more recent horse figure. As a further reflection o the importance of the deer a dowser in south-west England known as Donovan the Diviner suggested on TV a couple of years ago that the earliest stone circles were built on the sites of deer-rutting stands. He says that in dowsing such stands and stone circles he discovered almost identical patterns. It makes sense that if the deer was seen as an aspect of the goddess the places where they mated would be full of particular fertility magic. Whether the deer are creating the lines or attracted by them is an interesting point but the significance of the association with fertility is self-explanatory.


1 Mackenzie DA, Scottish Folk Lore and Folk Life ,Blackie and Son, Glasgow 1935

p 204 “On milk of deer /I was reared/In milk of deer was nurtured/On milk of deer beneath the ridge of storms,/On crest of hill and mountain.”

2. Markale,J Women of the Celts, Inner Traditions, Vermont 1986

p107 from Chretien de Troyes The Hunt for the White Deer

At Easter, King Arthur,who was holding court at Cardigan, announced that he wished to hunt the white deer” in order to revive the custom”. Gawain, who was not in complete agreeement, declared “We all know about the custom of the white deer.He who kills it must give a kiss to the most beautiful woman of your court.” Interpret.

3.Markale ibid

p107 ” Geraint and Enid Mabinogion

” At Pentecost King Arthur held court at Caerleon-on-Usk. A knight arrived and told the king he had seen in the forest “a deer such as I have never seen before….it is all white and out of dignity and pride in its kingship, it does not run with any other animal.” Arthur decided to go and hunt the white deer, and Gwalchmai (Gawain) suggested that he “allow whoever saw the deer during the hunt, whether horseman or foot-follower, to cut off its head and give it whomever he wished, whether his own mistress or his companion’s”.

3a. Swire,O Skye: the Island and itsLegends, Blackie, Glasgow 1961

p193.” He (Fionn) searches for her for many years, but he has been sent to run with the deer in lone Glen Affaric and he never finds her. Twelve years later, when the Fiennes are hunting, their hounds pick up a scent and follow it to a small copse; Bran, who is leading, is the first to enter it, whereupon, to the surprise of all, he turns at bay, teeth bared against the Fiennes and his fellow hounds of the pack and will allow no one but Fionn to pass him. Fionn finds him guarding a wild boy,with long hair and wild, beautiful, frightened eyes, who can only make such sounds as deer make. Fionn adopts him and teaches him human speech. Needless he is Grainnhe’s son, but Grainnhe, the beautiful white hind of who her son talks, is never found. After her death the Grey Magician permits her son to take her body, once more that of a woman, for burial, and the Fiennes make her a grave on the summit of
Bein na Caillich, where once she ran as a hind.”

4.Markale ibid

p111 ” Ultimately everything leads back to the story of Sadv(Grainne), the hind in the woods who was pursued so fiecely by the Black Man(Druid), the Druid who represented the social and religious order, but protected by Fionn and the Fianna, the last champions of Our Lady of the Night. For Finn’s real name ( Finn,”handsome”, “white”, or “fair”, being a nickname) was Demne, which suggests an ancient dam-nijo (small Deer); his son was Oisin,”the Fawn”; and Oisin’s son was called Oscar, which means hew who ovs the deer…..Indeed the whole epic cycle of Finn, or of Leinster(?), is placed under the symboloc patronage of the deer……All this is enough to make Sadv(Grainne)and the story of Oisin particularly significant; for the hind goddess, or goddess of hinds is related to the most ancent image of Artemis -Diana, the sun goddess of these people who came to Western Europe before the Indo-Europeans

5. Mackenzie ibid

p204″Deer are spoken of as “the cattle of the fairies”, being milked by them”<cf1

6. Ibid

p243 ” It was firmly believed that ghosts could appear in many different forms, sometimes in human shape, at other times in the the shape of dogs, cattle and deer.” Otherworld

7. Markale op cit from the Vita Merlini

p 107 ” When Merlin had gone mad, he went to liove in the Kelyddon Forest, and even said that his wife Gwendolyn coulkd remarry on certain conditions. He learned of her impending marrige and arrived riding on a deer driving a whole herd of the animals before him. When he called to her, Gwendolyn appeared at her window and was greatly amused at the sight of him. When her future husband also came to look, Merlin tore out the antlers of the deer he was riding and hurled them at him, smashing his skull.Then he went back to the forest, still on his strange mount.”

8. Mackenzie op cit

p166 “A gamekeeper at Corrour Lodge, Inverness-shire, told my friend Mr Ronald Burn, in 1917, that the Cailleach of Ben Breck, Lochaber, had cleaned out a certain well, and had afterwards wahed herself therin, in that same year. And in 1927 the late Dr Miller of Fort William, Lochaber,informed me that the old Cailleach is still well-known there.”cf Cailleach/Bride

9.Mackenzie op cit

p150 ” The gigantic stature of these Old Women, their love for their deer, the fact that their dealings are almost exclusively with hunters, and the fact that each is referred to as a bean-sidhe, or supernatural woman, seems sufficient warrant for calling them Deer-Goddesses….They are all creatures of the wild. This is very significant, and suggests a very great antiquity.”

10. Mackay JG The Deer-Cult and the Deer-Goddess Cult of the Ancient Caledonians, Folklore 1932 p 144f.

p159 ” The Jura Deer-goddess would without remorse, kill a man from the neighbouring island of Islay, as soon as he set foot in Jura. But she greatly regrets defeating a Jura man, a native in her own island Her interest suggests a long-standing interest in the country, and a rooted attachment to the soil, natural to an aboriginal goddess.”


p167 ” B (1)..from among the welter of primeval pagan usage certain customs began, at some undated stage of development, to assume more defiite and importamnt character than others. (2) That these customs developed into a considerable ritual, of a religious character.(3) That the performance of them was allotted to special groups of women, or priestesses, as a result of the tendency towards specialization.”


p168 “E. The deer-priestesses never appear in the tales as priestesses, but as witches. They gave the hunters blessings and charms to procure them success in the chase, and afterwards shared the spoils of the chase with them. Afetr all witches are only fossil priestesses, the exponents of dead pagan faiths .”
Or not.

13 Campbell,JF Popular Tales of the West Highlands vol 2,Birlinn, Edinburgh 1994(repr)

p 62.The Widow’s Son” ..he went out on three successive days. On the first, wen he aimed, he saw over the sight a woman’s face and breast, while the rest remained a deer.” Don’t fire at me, widow’s son,” said the deer; and he did not, and went home and did not tell what had happened. The next day when he aimed, the woman was free to the waist, but the rest was still deer; and on the third she was free; and she told the hunter that she was the king of Lochlann’s daughter, enchanted by the old man, and that she would marry the hunter if he came to such a hill.”

Campbell JF, More West Highland Tales vol 1, Birlinn Edinburgh 1994
p397 The Weaver’s Son ” The first night he went out, he saw the deer, but just when he was about to fire, it turned into a woman.He went out the next night, and saw the deer, but when about to fire it turned into a woman. He went out the third night and saw the deer, but it turned into a woman as usual when he attempted to fire.”

14. Mackay op cit

p 156 ” In these tales of a deer becoming a woman, and reverting again to deer-shape, and doing this the customary three times, I see a folk memeory of a pagan rtual, during the course of which, the deer-priestess would don and doff her official canonicals or vestments, the hide of a deer with antlers and hoofs attached. In remote times , when such deer-ritual was practised, story-tellers would naturally have spoken of the deer priestess as becoming deer or woman alternately, without fear of being misunderstood. In later times, when the deer cult had died out, story-tellers, always conservative, would have used the same metaphors, but would now have been understood as referrring to ordinary(sic!) sghaope-shifting. However the deer-priestess has clearly been photographed in the folktales in the very act of performing her ceremonies, and bears a close resemblanceto the figure of a person prancing about in a deer’s hide in the famous pehistoric drawing in the Grotte des Trois Freres. The figure in that drawing is susually said to be that of a conjuror or magician. But the face as no beard and the eyebrows are semi-circular. It seems to me to the face of a woman.”

15. Ibid

p161″Island of Eigg. Still called “Eilean nam Ban Mora” i.e. the Isle of the Big Women. Alittle loch, with some prehistoric building or crannog constructed in it, is called “Loch nam Ban Mora”….The crannog was inhabitd by women of such unique proportions that hte steping stones by which they gained their home were set so far apaprt as to be useless to any one else. Thius says one tradition. Another tradition says that St. Donann was martyred by the “Amazon Queen” who reigned in the island; the Queen in question can hardly be anything but the condensation of a group.”

16. Ibid

A group called the Seven Big Women of Jura occur in two of Campbell’s tales…….. I have already referred to a tale,probably from Badenoch, where a witch refers to the cruelty of her “sisterhood.” Such a sisterhood or group of witches can only be a group of deer-priestesses, and they imply a corresponding groupd of goddesses (sic), whose official representatives they were. ”

17. Ibid

There are several incidents in Scottish (and Scots) Gaelic folklore, which suggest, but not in any way definitely, that deer -priestesses retired or resorted to distant islands.”

Spence, L The Magic Arts in Celtc Britain, Constable, London 1995(repr)

p152.” Strabo tells us that there was a community of women dwelling in an island at the mouth of the Loire who were devoted to a secret cult. No man was permitted to set foot on their domain. Pomponius Mela, who flourished in the first century, speaks of another such island, that of Sein, or Sena, off the Pont du Raz, on the western coast of Brittany, not far from Brest. Its virgin women. known as Gallicenae or Gallizenae, were nine in number, and could raise winds and transform themselves into animal shapes.”


Campbell JF, More West Highland Tales vol 1, Birlinn Edinburgh 1994

Campbell,JF Popular Tales of the West Highlands vol 2,Birlinn, Edinburgh 1994(repr)

Mackay JG The Deer-Cult and the Deer-Goddess Cult of the Ancient Caledonians, Folklore 1932 p 144f.

Mackenzie DA, Scottish Folk Lore and Folk Life ,Blackie and Son, Glasgow 1935

Markale,J Women of the Celts, Inner Traditions, Vermont 1986

Spence, L The Magic Arts in Celtc Britain, Constable, London 1995(repr)

Swire,O Skye: the Island and itsLegends, Blackie, Glasgow 1961

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