Culture, tradition and bygone times

Recently I’ve been attending the wonderful online event that is Winter’s Last run by The Taibhsear Colleactive and my friend Scott of The Cailleach’s Herbarium.

They have been putting on wonderful events over the past few years; many talks, workshops and storytelling surrounding Scottish folklore and folk ways. It has been wonderful and I’ve had tried to soak up as much as I can.

You may be wondering why a Scots wumman such as myself should need to learn this? Shouldn’t I already know all this? Sadly no. Some of these folk ways discussed are considered historic, archaic even, and belong to bygone eras and people that have been a long time dead. Such is life; traditions change, old ways get forgotten or discarded and replaced. People get displaced or choose to move to a new land and take the vestiges of their culture with them.

Modernising has become a key goal of many local authorities as they try to keep up with the larger cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow to try and attract tourists and jobs. But they’re too busy looking forward that they’re ignoring their own rich history and culture. Old buildings that hold the stories of generations gone get torn down so new build housing can go up. We are destroying our own history.

What some of these people forget is that the appeal of cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow isn’t just because of their pubs and shopping centres; it’s that they’re old cities with a rich culture and history and historic buildings that draw people to them.

I was out walking with my fiance today near a local burn and pond. The ponds were formed by a local linen mill decades ago but the old sluice gates are still there. My fiance was looking forward to showing me the old mill’s water wheel. Sadly we learned it had been torn down, possibly due to it being near a new build housing development.

Old sluice gate

Some may think, so what? Well it was a fascinating piece of our city’s history. You don’t see too many water wheels anymore. I couldn’t help but feel mournful and angry that it was gone, possibly to modernise the region. The thing with modernity is that modern things can quickly look outdated. But old things, the really old, is what draws many people’s interest as they try to relate to a past time and wonder at the lives of the people then. One of the things I love about Edinburgh is it’s ancient buildings and monuments. I love the old ghost stories, and plague stories, the walking tours, the haunted pubs, and even the Scottish tourist shops proudly displaying tartans and The Saltire.

The Winter’s Last event this year presented some short films and documentaries. One of these was called Cailleach showing a brief glimpse into the life of Morag, an elderly woman living alone on her croft on the Isle of Lewis. She tends her sheep and she talks about the connection to her home and being the last of her family living there. We see her looking at photos of people long gone. It is a poignant reminder that when Morag passes, she takes her stories and her culture with her. Another short documentary presented was called When the Song Dies, which brings together the voices of several older Scottish folk discussing their ways, their family history, and the idea that some of this lore is on the brink of extinction. It was emotional to see this and know that we’ve lost so much already of what makes us Scottish.

I try to share stories of my culture through this blog, and every Friday I share a folktale via my shop Hearth and Hame. I call it Folktale Fridays and part of my reason for sharing these tales is to help preserve Scottish culture. I’ve even received some lovely messages from people thanking me for sharing stories relating to places they lived, and reminding them of fond memories with their family from the past. I feel deeply honoured that just sharing these tales has brought joy to people.

So, events like Winter’s Last are a lifeline for Scottish people today. They help preserve our culture and history. They pass on the stories to another generation and it gets to live that wee bit longer. Some of the voices telling these stories today aren’t Scottish voices which in some ways is incredibly sad, perhaps the other problem with the death of part of our culture lies in people not taking enough interest in these tales. The voices may not be Scots but they are doing a wonderful job in sharing our stories, in preserving the lore of bygone times.

We are in their debt.

Cailleach:

Cailleach - Scottish Documentary Institute

https://player.vimeo.com/video/94642820

When the Song Dies:

Hogmanay

Hogmanay victuals for the ancestors

I said farewell to 2020 with every part of my being and I’m pretty sure everyone else did too.

I know for some that 1st January isn’t their definition of the new year, or that a new day on a new calendar doesn’t really mean anything. But for me, I could feel this desperate need to get to 1/01/2021, that the powers of the bells ringing in the new year, and the fireworks somehow helped to send all that bad energy packing.

I know it’s not gone gone, as such, but I do feel this is a brand new cycle and hopefully we all have learned better coping mechanisms to ride out aggression and oversharing of social media and get through this bloody pandemic once and for all. Last year was a challenge set to us and this year is the overcoming part of the tale. We’re in a labyrinth and we need to follow the thread to find our way out again.

In neo-paganism the concept of the witches new year at Samhain doesn’t gel with me. I don’t see the start of winter as a new beginning. The lengthening days after the winter solstice make more sense if we’re identifying the new year with the sun. Further to this, Imbolc is just around the corner and that to me feels more in line with the concept of a rebirth and new beginning to me than Samhain does.

Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year’s Eve on 31st December. The origins of the word are uncertain, thought to either derive from Gaelic, Norse or French origins. Hogmanay was once more widely celebrated than Christmas in Scotland, and this is due to Christmas being banned during the reformation. Even though this was repealed in 1712, anything seen as a Yule festivity was still frowned upon by the kirk, who could not be seen to approve of anything Catholic.

So Hogmanay was the biggest winter celebration in Scotland for a long time, and I would even say today it’s still seen as a big deal.

Traditionally once the bells ring in the new year, people would open doors and windows to allow the old year out and the new year to enter, and this is something I’ve been doing for years. This year, I practically ran to my door to say goodbye to 2020!

Food and drink are traditionally cheese, shortbread, black bun and of course, whisky. I’ve never had black bun before, so I bought some from the bakery to share with my ancestors this year. Black bun is a heavily spiced fruit cake wrapped in pastry and has gone out of fashion in recent years. After tasting it I can see why, it’s potent and not something you can eat much of. Not many folk where I live are all that fond of any kind of fruit cakes. A lot of people have an aversion to the appearance of raisins and sultanas and as there is a much wider variety of desserts these days than perhaps 50 years ago, it’s understandable why black bun is no longer widely used at Hogmanay.

First footing is another custom; this was the first person to cross your threshold in the new year, and first footers would normally bring gifts such as salt, coal, whisky, shortbread or black bun to bring luck to the householder. People would make note of the hair colour of their first footer; dark hair was said to be lucky while red hair was said to be unlucky for the new year. Well, perhaps the food and drink offerings presented crossed out that bad luck!

Customs vary per area, but along the east coast dressed herring was usually given as a gift due to the strong fishing communities along the coast.

New Years Day was traditionally a good time to sain the home, and I used my own saining blend that I created for my shop to cleanse and protect my space. Saining can either be done by burning the herbs, or mixing them in water to wipe down areas or asperge them. Traditionally a juniper and water rite was conducted. The home was sealed shut, and any crevices were stopped up to prevent the smoke from escaping. Water collected from a living and dead stream (a crossing point that funeral processions usually crossed) was shared amongst the guests and the rest sprinkled in the home. Juniper was burned at the hearth and the smoke was allowed to fill the space for as long as people could manage before doors and windows had to be flung open to bring in fresh air. This is a particularly dangerous practice, as we know the perils of smoke inhalation so I would not recommend this practice today. If you are interested in saining then better to burn a small amount of the herbs on a charcoal incense disc or to asperge with water.

My Hogmanay was a quiet one with my fiance, as many people’s were this year, as Scotland went back into a full lockdown from Boxing Day. This wasn’t unexpected due to the covid rates rising, but this year was definitely more sombre. Still I shared a slice of black bun and some cheese and whisky with the ancestors, I performed my Hogmanay rituals and I opened the door to 2021 and I step out into the new year with hope in my heart.

Lang May Yer Lum Reek wi’ ither folks coal!

The Shadow Year

I keep promising to write more in here but… 2020. Ahem.

It has been one hell of a year but I’ve been meaning to update this blog with what I’ve been up to and writing more posts.

So what has happened to me this year?

Well…my wedding got postponed to next year.

Lockdown restrictions heightening anxiety.

I opened up an online witchy shop (woo!)

I developed and protected my boundaries

Ok it’s been a busy year. So my wedding has been postponed and it’s going to fall on a holiday that is close to my heart and has a lot of meaning for me. So maybe it was kind of meant to be?

Anxiety. I’m aware that everyone’s is through the roof just now, and it’s created a lot of chaos and confusion for folk. Been relying on my craft to help me here, and it’s been helping. But if people could maybe stop purposefully misunderstanding others then that would be cool. Also be bloody kind to people, especially when they open up to you with what’s troubling their soul. Be true to yourself, you don’t need anyone’s validation but your own. If you seek it outside yourself, then you’ve got some inner work to do. But Mercury and Pluto conjunctions and retrogrades really haven’t been helping things.

I opened up an online witchy shop!! I’ve been wanting to do this for years and 2020 gave me the kick up the arse I needed. It’s small at the moment and I’m building up my stock just now, but I’m loving being able to sink my teeth into this creative project. I’ve been writing about folklore also: every Friday I do a Folktale Friday on instagram. I’ll share the pages below đŸ™‚

Losing toxic fakeships gives you space for yourself even if it hurts. Any kind of loss is painful even if you know it’s for the best for all involved. But it gives you room to think, to grow and manifest. Room to call back your power and energy. You may not have realised that you’d given it away.

For a long while I felt I was just floating on by with my practice, I didn’t have the energy to continue learning and was stuck in the same place stagnating for a while. But now I feel regenerated, more myself again. I’m reading more, practicing more and I’ve signed up for a palmistry course which I’m really looking forward to.

I have a good feeling that 2021 is going to be a lot better. At least I hope so for everyone.

I’m currently reading Year of the Witch by Temperance Alden, Psychic Witch by Mat Auryn, Potions, Elixirs and Brews by Anais Alexandre, and Wild Magic by Danu Forest. Yeah I like reading a lot of different books at once đŸ™‚

I *swear* I will try to write more… I will!

I call back my power

I call back my energy

Happy holidays

Beannachd leibh

My new shop: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/HearthandHame

Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/hearthandhame/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HearthandHame