Monday, 31 October 2016

#Halloween #Robert Burns poem

Happy Hallowe'en to you!

Since beginning this blog, I've written each Halloween about different aspects of the Hallowe'en festival. Today, I'm harkening back to my teens when I studied some of Robert Burns poetry. I vaguely remember reading back then that Robert Burns' famous poem Tam O ' Shanter  (1790) wasn't his first attempt to portray the Eve of all Hallows. I studied Tam O' Shanter in depth for my O Grade, or maybe it was my Higher English Exam, and loved it but I didn't, at that time, read the earlier poem named Halloween.

In 1785, he wrote Halloween in 28 stanzas which gave an idea of what the folk of the parish just might be doing on the night of Halloween. It a great poem, though not in my opinion anything like as exciting as Tam O Shanter. Halloween is quite tricky to understand but I find reading it aloud helps me, even when the actual meaning is obscure because the poem refers to long lost agricultural practices. It's also one of his longer poems, so you need to have some time to absorb it!

BUT...this is where the internet is fabulous. There are a number of sites which do a great job of explaining Burn's poetry. I've copied the poem below from my own Collins (publisher) copy of the works of Robert Burns- the Souvenir Edition edited by James Barke- and have included his translations. But to give even clearer depth to the poem, and to add a huge amount to the translation of the poem, I suggest you click this link to read the Footnotes created by Burns himself. They're a fascinating read and a glimpse into the farming communities among whom he lived.
My Robert Burns plate

Halloween by Robert Burns

Upon that night, when fairies light
  On Cassilis Downans dance,                         Earl of Cassilis estate
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,                pastures
  On sprightly coursers prance;           
Or for Colean the rout is ta’en,                       road
  Beneath the moon’s pale beams;
There, up the cove, to stray and rove,
  Amang the rocks and streams
To sport that night;
Amang the bonie winding banks,
  Where Doon rins, wimplin, clear;                 winding
Where Bruce ance ruled the martial ranks,
  An’ shook his Carrick spear;
Some merry, friendly, country-folks
  Together did convene,
To burn their nits, an’ pou their stocks,          nuts; pull their plants
  An’ haud their Halloween
Fu’ blythe that night.                         
The lasses feat an’ cleanly neat,                      spruce
  Mair braw than when they’re fine;               fair
Their faces blythe fu’ sweetly kythe               show
  Hearts leal, an’ warm, an’ kin’:                     loyal; kind
The lads sae trig, wi’wooer-babs                    love-knots
  Weel-knotted on their garten;                       garters
Some unco blate, an’ some wi’gabs                shy; talk
  Gar lasses’ hearts gang startin                       make; beating
Whyles fast at night.               Sometimes
Then, first an’ foremost, thro’ the kail,
  Their stocks maun a’ be sought ance;
They steek their een, an’ grape an’ wale         shut their eyes; grope; choose
  For muckle anes, an’straught anes.               big; straight
Poor hav’rel Will fell aff the drift,                  foolish; lost the way
  An’ wandered thro’ the bow-kail,                cabbage
An’ pow’t, for want o’ better shift,                pulled; choice
  A runt, was like a sow-tail,                           stalk
Sae bow’t that night.              bent
Then, straught or crooked, yird or nane,         mouldy
  They roar and’ cry a’ throu’ther;                   pell-mell
The vera wee-things, toddling, rin                  children; run
  Wi’ stocks out-owre their shouther;              upon; shoulder
An’ gif the custock’s sweet or sour,               if; pith
  Wi’ joctelegs they taste them;                       pocket-knives
Syne cosily, aboon the door,                           above
  Wi’ cannie care, they’ve plac’d them,          prudent
To lie that night.
The lasses staw frae ‘mang them a’,               stole
  To pu their stalks o’ corn;
But Rab slips out, an’ jinks about,                  dodges
  Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippet Nelly hard an’ fast;
  Loud skirl’d a’ the lasses;                             squealed
But her tap-pickle maist was lost,
  Whan kiutlin in the fause-house                   cuddling
Wi’ him that night.
The auld guid-wife’s weel-hoordet nits          well-hoarded nuts
  Are round an’ round divided,
An’ monie lads’ an’ lasses’ fates
  Are there that night decided:
Some kindle couthie, side by side,                 cuddle comfortably
  An’ burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa wi’ saucy pride,
  An’ jump out-owre the chimlie                     fire-place
Fu’ high that night.
Jean slips in twa, wi’ tentie e’e;                      watchful
  Wha ‘twas she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, and this is me,
  She says in to herself:
He bleez’d owre her, an’ she owre him,         whispered
As they wad never mair part;
Till Fuff! he started up the lum,                      chimney
  And Jean had e’en a sair heart
To see that night.
Poor Willie, wi’ his bow-kail runt,
  Was burnt wi’ primsie Mallie;                       precise Moll
An’ Mary, nae doubt, took the drunt,                        huff
  To be compar’d to Willie:
Mall’s nit lap out, wi pridefu’ fling,               nut; leapt;
  An’ her ain fit, it burnt it;                             foot
While Willie lap, an’ swoor by jing,
  ‘Twas just they way he wanted
To be that night.
Nell had the fause-house in her min’,
  She pits hersel an’ rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
  Till white in ase they’re sobbin:                    ashes
Nell’s heart was dancing at the view;
  She whisper’d Rob to leuk for’t:
Rob, stownlins, prie’d her bonie mou,            by stealth; tasted; mouth
  Fu’ cozie in the neuk for’t,                           corner
Unseen that night.
But Merran sat behint their backs,                  Marian
  Her thoughts on Andrew Bell;
She lea’es them gashing at their cracks,          gabbing
  An’ slips out by herself:
She thro’ the yard the nearest taks,
  An’ to the kiln she goes then,
An’ darklins grapit for the bauks,                   In the dark; cross beams
  And in the blue-clue throws then,
Right fear’t that night.
An’ ay she win’t, an’ ay she swat—               wound; sweated  
  I wat she made nae joukin;                           bet; trifling
Till something held within the pat,
  Guid Lord! but she was quaking!
But whether ‘twas the Deil himsel,
  Or whether ‘twas a bauk-en’,                       beam-end
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
  She did na wait on talkin                 
To spier that night.                  ask
Wee Jenny to her graunie says,
  ‘Will ye go wi’ me, graunie?
I’ll eat the apple at the glass,
  I gat frae uncle Johnie’:
She fuff’t her pipe wi’ sic a lunt,                    puffed; smoke
  In wrath she was sae vap’rin,
She notic’d na an aizle brunt                          cinder burnt
  Her braw, new, worset apron                        worsted
Out thro’ that night.
‘Ye little skelpie-limmer’s-face!
  I daur ye try sic sportin,
As seek the Foul Thief onie place,                  Devil
  For him to spae your fortune:                       tell
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
  Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For minie a ane has gotten a fright,
  An’ liv’d an’ died deleeret,                          mad, delirious
On sic a night.
‘Ae hairst afore the Sherra- moor,                  harvest; Sherrifmuir
  I mind’t as weel’s yestreen—                       remember
I was a gilpey then, I’m sure                           young girl
  I was na past fyfteen:
The simmer had been cauld an’ wat,
  An’ stuff was unco green;                            grain; very
An’ ay a rantin kirn we gat,                            rollicking; harvest home
An’ just on Halloween
It fell that night.

‘Our stibble-rig was Rab M’Graen,                chief harvester
  A clever, sturdy fallow;
His sin gat Eppie Sim wi’ wean,                     pregnant
  That lived in Achmachalla:
He gat hemp-seed, I mind it weel,
  An’ he made unco light’ o’t;
But monie a day was by himsel,                     out of his wits
  He was sae sairly frighted
That vera night.’
Then up gat fechtin Jamie Fleck,                    fighting
  An’ he swoor by his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;                        sow
  For it was a’ but nonsense:                           all nonesense
The auld guidman raught down the pock,      reached; bag
  An’ out an handfu’ gied him;
Syne bad him slip frae ‘mang the folk,
  Sometime when nae ane see’d him,
An’ try’t that night.
He marches thro’ amang the stacks,
  Tho’ he was somethin sturtin;                       staggering
The graip he for a harrow taks,                       dungfork
And haurls at his curpin;                                 trails; crupper -harness strap
And ev’ry now and then he says,
  ‘Hemp-seed I saw thee,
An’ her that is to be my lass
  Come after me, an’draw thee
As fast this night.
He whistl’d up Lord Lenox’ March,
  To keep his courage cheery;
Altho’ his hair began to arch
  He was sae fley’d an’ eerie;                          scared; awe-stricken
Till presently he hears a squeak,
  An’ then a grane an’ gruntle;                        groan
He by his shouther gae a keek,                       looked over his shoulder
  An’ tumbl’d wi’ a wintle                              summersault
Out- owre that night.
He roar’d a horrid murder-shout,
  In dreadfu’ desperation!
An’ young an’ auld come rinnin out,
  An’ hear the sad narration:
He swoor ‘twas hilchin Jean M’Craw,            halting
  Or crouchie Merran Humphie—                   hunchbacked
Till stop! she trotted thro’ them a’;
  An’ wha was it but grunphie                                    the pig
Asteer that night?                   Astir
Meg fain was to the barn gaen,
  To winn three wechts o’ naeathing;              winnow
But for to meet the Deil her lane,                   alone
   She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits,                        shepherd; a few; nuts
  An’ twa red-cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets,
  In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That vera night.
She turns the key wi’ cannie thraw,                twist
  An’ owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawnie gies a ca’,
  Syne bauldly in she enters;
A ratton rattl’d up the wa’,                             rat
  An’ she cry’d, L-d preserve her!
An’ ran thro’ midden-hole an’ a’,
  An’ pray’d wi’ zeal and fervour
Fu’ fast that night.
They hoy’t out Will, wi’ sair advice;              urged
  They hecht him some fine braw ane;            promised
It chanc’d the stack he faddom’t thrice,                   
  Was timmer –propt for thrawin;                   against; bending
He taks a swirlie, auld moss-oak                     twisted
  For some black gruesome carlin;                   beldam –old wifie
An’ loot a winze, an’ drew a stroke,               cried out a curse; and made a hit
  Till skin in blypes cam haurlin                       shreds
Aff’s nieves that night.           Off his fists
A wanton widow Leezie was,
  As cantie as a kittlin;                                     lively; kitten
But och! That night, amang the shaws,          woods
  She gat a fearful’ settlin!
She thro’ the whins, an’ by the cairns,
  An owre the hill gaed scrievin;                     went careering
Whare three lairds’ lands met at a burn,         stream
  To dip her left sark-sleeve in
Was bent that night.
Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,              Now; the stream falls
  As thro’ the glen it wimpl’t;
Whyles round a rocky scaur it strays,             cliff
  Whyles in a wiel it dimpl’t;                           eddy
Whyles glitter’d to the nightly rays,
  Wi’ bickerin, dancing dazzle;
Whyles cookit underneath the braes,              hid
  Below the spreading hazel
Unseen that night.
Amang the brachens, on the brae,                   ferns
  Between her an’ the moon,
The Deil, or else an outler quey,                     Young cow out in the open
  Gat up an’ gae a croon;
Poor Leezie’s heart maist lap the hood;          leaped; sheath
  Near lav’rock-height she jumpit,
But mist a fit, an’ in the pool
  Out-owre the lugs she plumpit
Wi’ a plunge that night.
In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
  The luggies three are ranged;
And ev’ry time great care is taen
  To see them duly changed:
Auld uncle John, wha wedlock’s joys
  Sin Mar’s-year did desire,                             1715
Because he gat the toom dish thrice,              empty
  He heav’d them on the fire
In wrath that night.
Wi’ merry sangs, an’friendly cracks,
  I wat they did na’ weary;                             think
An unco tales, an’ funnie jokes—                   wondrous
  Their sports were cheap an’ cheery:
Till butter’d sow’ns, wi’ fragrant lunt,           steam
  Set a’ their gabs a- steerin;                            tongues; wagging
Syne, wi’ a social glass o’ strunt,                    liquor
  They parted aff careerin
Fu’ Blythe that night.


Sunday, 30 October 2016

#Samhain on #Bennachie

Happy Sunday to you! 

This blog post is somewhat like my post today (30th October 2016) at my friend Jennifer Wilson’s blog. I’ve done a partial re-blog here because relating the stories of Bennachie and the north east was a little too long for a guest post.

Here you can read the full legends because legends they are. Corroboration is thin… Just like the veil between the world of the living and the dead on the night of  Samhain/ Halloween.

 Grab a drink, take a seat and enjoy a virtual journey with me, from the present to the past.

From the south near Monymusk
The destination is a range of hills in Aberdeenshire, north east Scotland, called Bennachie (pronounced BEN-A-CHEE where the ch sounds like the Scottish ch as in loch). The most important summit of Bennachie is the Mither Tap. Mither Tap (mother top/ hill of the breast) is traditionally named so because the peak resembles a prominent nipple. Though Mither Tap isn’t actually the highest at 1699 ft, it’s the one which catches the eye from many perspectives.

It looks like this from the north east near Daviot Stone Circle.

At Daviot
It doesn’t matter which of the official routes you take to climb Mither Tap, or from which direction you begin, you can reach the summit fairly quickly. My nearly-fit younger self used to do the return trip in a little over an hour on the quickest route.

Got your stout boots on? That’s great! Follow me to the Maiden Causeway, the fairly steep narrow trail up into the forest that clads the foothills and creates lovely dappling shade on a sunny day.

Legend says the Maiden Causeway track was built by the devil. How do we know this? Well... it's written in the stone...
One version of the legend goes like this:
A rejected suitor of the maiden, the daughter of a local chief at Drumdurno, was wandering the nearby Pittodrie Woods when he met the devil. In a fit of pique the lad sold his soul to the devil to get his revenge on the girl for having moved on to pastures new.
On the eve of her wedding, the happy girl was singing away as she baked oatcakes. On looking up out of her window, she saw a handsome stranger. He wagered that he would build a causeway right up to the top of Mither Tap before she finished baking the ‘firlot’ of meal that she had set out to use. Thinking it idle banter, she pledged her heart and her hand to him if he managed to complete the path before her work was done.

At twilight, when her ‘firlot pile’ of meal was almost used she looked out to see a causeway path going right to the top of Mither Tap and the handsome stranger she now recognised as Satan was coming for her. Running off into Pittodrie Woods, she cried out to God to save her. When the devil caught her, the best that the almighty could do was to turn the poor wee quine (Doric for girl) into stone. The Mirror and Comb symbols are said to be her girdle (flat pan) and baking board. The large wedge that’s been torn out of the side of the stone is said to be the mark of Satan’s hand.


Wikimedia Commons
The symbols carved in relief on the Maiden Stone, which is to be found not far from the causeway path, are splendid.  Two figures, a mirror and a comb are at the bottom of the east side. Move your gaze up and you’ll see an ‘elephant like’ creature and a Z-rod image. Other faint creatures adorn the top.

The west side is less easy to decipher due to weathering though the wicker work Celtic knot patterns near the bottom must have beautiful. Above them, the Celtic Cross measures more than 5ft, but what was above is gone for ever.

The deep notch in the stone’s side is said to be the devil’s mark when he tried to catch her. At 3.2 metres (c. 11 ft) high, the Maiden Stone is a superb example of its kind and is dated to around AD 800, the carving almost unsurpassed and that’s saying something since Aberdeenshire has many beautiful Pictish carved stones.

But back to our Sunday Sojurn...

Having headed up the causeway, once we reach the tree line the climb isn’t so steep. As we catch our breath, we’ll pass Hosies’ Well—said to originate from the tears of a local lad named Hosie. In 1411, Hosie and his bride were heading to the church for their wedding when news came that an army of Highlanders was advancing to Harlaw, a short distance away between the foothills of Bennachie and the nearest town of Inverurie. The advancing army was that of Donald, Lord of the Isles, who was attempting to claim supremacy over the north of Scotland. The local army were followers of Alexander, the Earl of Mar, who was supported by the Provost and Baillies of Aberdeen.

Hosie's Well
Well, the brave Hosie abandoned the poor girl and went to join the bloody Battle of Harlaw. Hosie did such a brave job in the battle but he was captured and was dragged off to a dungeon in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. Only after many years of imprisonment was the poor lad able to escape. He made his long way home to claim his woman but his faithless ‘bride’ had gone and married another man. Hosie died of a broken heart and was buried on the slopes of Mither Tap. “the water that rises in Hosie’s Well is nothing but Hosie’s tears”

The climb gets steeper again as we approach the dramatic tor that is the summit of Mither Tap. The grey scree cascading from the summit, that we need to clamber over, is the tumbled down remains of an ancient Iron Age hillfort. No one knows when the fort may have been built, or even when it fell into ruin, but once we’re on the summit we’ll have a nice rest on the old stone foundations. I've put forward an idea about its origins in my Teen Time Travel adventure The Taexali Game but I'm giving no spoilers here! 

The view is amazing! Looking eastwards the panorama reaches all the way to the twinkling blue of the North Sea. The high peaks of the Grampian Mountains lie splendidly to the west. The views north and south are equally stunning.  But we’re going to focus on a point just across the valley, opposite Mither Tap called Durno,

Near Durno are the summits of three low hills with a plateau between. Somewhere around AD 84, that whole area of some 58 hectares (144 acres) was the site of the largest Ancient Roman Marching Camp in northern Scotland. Can you imagine something like 25,000 Roman soldiers forming up-century by century, and cohort by cohort? All in serried rows, with neat blocks of shield colours: Auxiliaries and Legionaries.  Ready to do battle!
Near the Durno Roman Camp

The amassed tribes following the Celtic leader given the name of Calgacus (Swordsman) were ranged on the foothills of Mither Tap, the chariots on the flat plain with the infantry behind and cavalry on the flanks. 

Mither Tap is one of the most suitable contenders for the site of the Battle of Mons Graupius. According to ancient historian, Cornelius Tacitus, on the foothills of a high hill the forces of General Agricola went into pitched battle with the Caledonian allies who were led by a charismatic figure named Calgacus (meaning the Swordsman).

I’m entirely biased and really DO believe that Bennachie was the site of some sort of confrontation between the amassed Celtic warriors (male and female) and the forces of Rome. You can read about my battle at Beinn na Ciche, the Gaelic form of Bennachie, in Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series—After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks.

Book 4, currently underway begins near Bennachie with the aftermath of the battle being the hot topic!

p.s. my time travel novel for teens—The Taexali Game—is also set near Bennachie, but in AD 210 when the Ancient Roman Emperor Severus marched his troops back ‘to teach those naughty Celtic tribes a lesson!’ 

That fact that I live only 9 miles from Bennachie, and that my own house is built just outside the edge of the ramparts of the marching camp at Kintore ( the camp stopping place before the camp at Durno)

Here's some more information about Bennachie...

The Bennachie Centre takes water from what is believed to be the Kewlie well. It's recorded that the Laird’s wife from Tullos used to visit it for water for her tea. Close to the well is a flat stone with a cup size hole in it. Legend has it that ut was the devil who created the dent. When in a rage, about something or other, he threw his tankard from the top of Mither Tap and it left its impression in the stone!

Maiden Castle 
Close to the Rowan Tree Car Park, the start point for the Maiden Causeway, is a Pictish fort standing on a rocky outcrop surrounded by a ditch and a circle of mature trees. Excavations at the site have confirmed settlement in the area from 7,000 BC up to medieval times. During excavations in 2009, a rare Iron Age cobbled road, a stone pendant, and a 1,000-year-old sparkling glass bead were discovered.  It would have provided early inhabitants with a panoramic view of the Garioch valley, the neighbouring ancient hilltop forts on Mither Tap and Dunnydeer, and the Glens of Foudland at the gateway to the Highlands. Maiden Castle was a very high-status residence, probably home to an ancient prince or king. There are only three or four sites like this in Aberdeenshire. The excavations have now been filled in to preserve the site.

I've no space on here for Jock O’Bennachie story but click the link to read that one...

Saturday, 29 October 2016

#Halloween and #Isobel Cockie of #Kintore

Halloween approaches in a couple of days and today (Saturday) is my regular slot at the Writing Wranglers and Warriors Blog

I've written before on that blog about Halloween and its Samhain Celtic connections so today I've posted something of a hybrid. 

The gist of what I wrote on Wranglers is REBLOGGED here but you'll find more information below.

"Halloween stories of witches have been told around the firesides for many generations - and none more so than in the place where I live in Scotland. My village is Kintore, in Aberdeenshire, and one claim to fame is that Kintore was the home of a famous witch named #Isobel Cockie who met a sad demise in 1597.

Wikimedia Commons - pamphlet 1590

There have been many great Witch Hunts in the past in Scotland but one of the greatest was the one of 1597. 

The witch trials took place all over Scotland and it’s believed that some 400 people were brought to court, around 200 of whom ended up being tied to the stake and burned as a witch (some male, though most female). 

The one consolation appears to be that the condemned was probably strangled first, though that can’t always be corroborated.

The bill for the Aberdeen hangings of Jonett Wischart and Isebel Cocker went something like this:

For tuentie leads of peattis to burne thame,                             xI       sh.
For ane Boill of Coillis,                                                           xxiiii  sh
For four Tar barrellis,                                                               xxvi   sh  viii d
For fyr and Irne barrellis                                                          xvi     sh  viii d
For a staik and dressing of it                                                    xvi     sh
For four fadome if Towis                                                         iiii      sh (currently 24 US cents) 
For careing the peittis, coillis, and barrellis to the Hill           xiii     sh  iiii d
To Jon Justice for thair executioun                                          xiii     sh  iiii  d (currently 45 US cents)
Reasons for Isobel Cockie being hanged varied from stopping cows from producing healthy milk and making it poisonous; stopping a woman from being able to churn her milk into cream, butter or cheese; making people that she had ‘bad words’ with fall ill with fevers, some of the victims not surviving; robbing people of the power of speech and having the ability to return it via potions and drugs when pressed to do, and other such instances.

A particularly bad accusation for Isobel was encountering Thomas Makkie ‘Reader of Kintore’ one dark night. It’s said she laid her hand on the shoulder of his five year old horse and it promptly fell down and died. The ‘Reader of Kintore’ was an alternative name of the era for the schoolmaster (Maister of the Inglis Scuill in Kintore) and as such would have been a respected worthy of the village and someone whose testimony would have been well valued.   
Woodcut 1720 Wellcome trust - via Wikimedia commons
Dancing with the devil, and especially on Hallowe'en, was the most damning indictment but it appears that the bold Isobel Cockie from Kintore went one better than that. Said to be part of a witches coven who met regularly in the city of Aberdeen, Isobel (also known as “Tibby”) was dancing along with her fellow witch cronies at the Market and Fish Cross, also of the Meal Market, between 12 and 1 a.m. on the Hallowe'en of 1595 “betuixt tuell and ane houris at nycht, to the mercat and fishe croces of Aberdene, an meil mercet of the sam”. 

It's said of the dancers "some appeared as hares, cats and other likenesses"- I'm thinking they either wore some good costumes or shape shifting was going on. 

The Devil was playing his ‘Trump’ (I kid you not, that’s what they called it! – it was a form of Jew’s Harp) but ‘Tibby’ didn’t think too much of his unmelodious playing and snatched the instrument from his mouth, after which it seems she played it herself. “In the quhilk danse, thow was the ring ledar, next to Thomas Leyis: and becaws the Dewill playit nocht so melodiousle and weill as thow crewit, thou tuik his instrument (Trump) out of his moutht, than tuik him on the chaftis therwith, and plaid thi self theron to thi hail cumpanie” My translation of ‘took him on the chaftis therewith’ stretches to she slapped him on the cheeks, but please don’t quote me on that one since it’s the only translation I can find, and although I’ve lived in Kintore for 28 years I still ‘canna ‘spik a’ Doric’!

Other reasons for being found guilty of witchcraft that year included murder by using magic; poisoning meat; making wax images to create a storm and removing body parts from the dead to use in witchly potions (fingers, toes and genitals being popular).  More information HERE. 

So, why were so many witches burnt at the stake in 1597? Well, the answer is that was a particularly bad year but there were others nearly as dire before that. Witch trials had occurred more sporadically over the centuries but by the 1590s it became a serious cause for complaint.

James VI of Scotland- National Gallery of Scotland via Wikimedia Commons 

The Scottish king of the time was James VI, the son of the famous Mary Queen of Scots and the one known to many around the world as having sponsored the translation of the bible which became known as the ‘Authorised King James (VI)  Version of the Bible’ of 1611. 
(He also became James I of England> Great Britain)

James VI’s interest in witchcraft was probably kindled after his visit to Denmark, the home of his young Queen Anne. In 1589, after a betrothal by proxy, Anne set out to sail to Scotland but the ship was blown off course to Norway. On hearing of the plight of his newly betrothed, James VI set off himself to fetch her. After a formal wedding in Oslo James VI then spent a month in Denmark feasting and learning all sorts of interesting things. Denmark being a country familiar to witch-hunts sparked a curiosity in James VI which became more of an obsession with him for the next decade. Being an avid scholar, he deemed the study of witchcraft and demonology a branch of theology.

There were some who believed that witches’ spells had caused the winds to blow king’s ship off course on his return to Scotland with his bride, or another version is that it was Anne's ship that blew off course and ended in Norway. Whichever -  it caused a furore!

Very soon after his return to Scotland, he personally became involved in the #North Berwick Witch Trials of 1590. These trials implicated 70 people, some of whom were high born (5th Earl of Bothwell), and ran for two years.

The interest in witch hunting continued for James VI and in 1597 he wrote a treatise in 3 books called #‘Daemonology’ in which he laid out the principles of Witchery (as he saw it) and the reasons for the church needing to be thorough in stamping out the practice.
( ) - p.s. there are some inconsistencies in the sites available on the internet with information on JamesVI.

It’s not documented where Isobel Cockie’s remains were interred after her burning at the stake but earlier this year some 900 skeletons were found under St. Nicholas Kirk in the centre of Aberdeen. This was the very place where those accused of witchcraft were chained to the walls while awaiting trial.

I think on the Halloween of 1597, the witches covens in Scotland must have been very quiet affairs!

Whatever, and however, you may be celebrating this Halloween make sure not to play the devil’s ‘Trump’.  J



Friday, 28 October 2016

#Samhain Approaches...Caledons and Taexali at Beinn na Ciche

#Friday Feelings
Yes- It's Friday again. I hope the day is a good one for you. 

It's almost Halloween which means it's almost #Samhain, the ancient Celtic name for this festival time. I'm not writing about #Samhain today, since I've done that before, though I am currently writing about my characters just a little while after Samhain AD 84.

In Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, the battle between the Caledon allies and the Ancient Roman legions of General Agricola takes place late in the campaign season and around the time of Samhain.
Bennachie - Nancy Jardine

Here's a little excerpt from After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks!
            “I see movement.” Lorcan’s eyesight had always been the keenest and he was generally the first to give warning.
            Brennus flickered his eyelids to clear them of the infernal mucus, the strength of sun’s rays directly shining on them not helping one bit. One eye blinded was bad, but he could not allow the vision in his good eye to be impaired.
            “A small band of Romans have come forward, and are now in front of the auxiliary foot soldiers.” Gabrond’s excitement was infectious.
            He could see the group of moving figures. Only a few, riding extremely slowly towards Calgach though remaining well behind the distance for spear throwing. The one in the centre was armoured so heavily he gleamed like the sun itself.
            Though everyone was hushed it was far too far away for him to hear the exchanges between Agricola and Calgach. The talk lasted only moments before Calgach turned his back and bawled at the Celts before him, his urging to battle immediately taken up by the blood lusted warriors who faced him.
            Brennus was aware of the immediate retreat of the small group of Romans but his focus had to be on Calgach.
            A short rousing clamour followed, the battle chants taken up by the frontline troops before Calgach whirled around again to face the enemy. His spear rose to jab high up towards the sky. One…two… three…
            The whistling sounds of Roman ballistae rent the air as the missiles flew high over the space between the opposing armies.
            It was the moment Brennus had been waiting for!
            He blew his ocarina; three practised notes which rent the air in a much higher tone than the lugubrious sound of the Celtic carnyces, one long hoot of the huge horns echoing around the valley. He blew for Tuathal; for his king Venutius of the Brigantes; for every Celt he had known who had been injured, or had died under a Roman gladius. He also blew to avenge Ineda’s incarceration by the Roman tribune. Blew for the woman he would now gladly die for but hoped that he would live to share more incredible love with her. The instrument dropped back to his chest – its clarion call over as he readied his spear.
            A black hail of them flew from the poised fists of the spearmen on the now charging Celtic war chariots, and from the cavalry around him. Brennus watched the toppling of the front rows of Roman auxiliaries, the sheer volume of Celtic weapons successfully hitting many of their marks. A fierce pride raged through his blood. His fellow Celts were repelling the Roman scum who dared to claim Celtic lands. The forces of Calgach were going to stain the ground red. Agricola and his Roman usurpers would be routed.
            He had waited so long for this day!
            The war chariots of the Celts stormed across the plain towards the Roman enemy, the infantry masses surging after, their thicker rain of spears fired high into the air. Brennus kicked his heels into the flanks of the fine beast he was riding; kept pace with his brothers; and with other shield-raised horsemen of the right flank. The field of battle was very wide across the plain, the whole area ringing with warrior cries and snorting and panting horses.
            Return volleys of Roman pila pinged towards him though the javelin count was not so numerous. Celtic broadswords and shields rose up to intercept and deflect the deadly points, many of his fellow warriors successfully evading the first throws as he did.
            The Celtic front line continued to surge forwards. More Celtic spears felled the foot soldiers of Agricola. More and more toppled as stray pila were picked up and fired back at the original owners. Screams and cries were all around, some of the squeals those of terrified animals. Opposing armies came head to head, the sheer mass of Celts flattening the metal clad Roman auxiliaries before they even had time to group with their defensive shield formations.
            Brennus sought out the mounted Roman cavalry to engage with but they were few amongst the foot soldiers of Agricola who rushed towards him. He abhorred the advantage he had atop his horse when he came up against the auxiliaries – but this was war – and each man of the opposition was calling the Roman tune. There would be time to wonder where the mounted Roman cavalry were but, at that moment, all he focused on was ridding the area around him of living and breathing Romans. Mail clad soldiers fell under his broadsword swipes, their vulnerable necks more open to his blade. Soon the ground was littered with then.
            He constantly fought to control his mount which was terrified by everything it came into contact with: rushing blades, bumping stunned bodies, the flanks and rear ends of other horses and careering chariots. Avoiding his own fellow Celts became almost impossible, the melee of both armies so thick and confused. The only thing he was sure of was that the Celts around him had the upper hand according to the amount of bodies strewn beneath the hooves of his horse.
            Utter satisfaction flooded him until he recognised the bawling of his brother, Gabrond, who was nearby but not as close as they had envisaged staying. “More! Agricola sends in more. Look to your left hand.”
            From his vantage point on his horse, he could see Gabrond’s pointing sword.         “Batavians! Agricola brings forward Batavians!” He knew the colour they wore and the standard they carried. Cohorts of them were flocking forward to boost the numbers lost in Agricola’s fallen infantry. “And cavalry!”
            Over battle field noise, he heard Gabrond’s cries. “Agricola has more surging forward on that other flank. Who are they?”
            Lorcan’s shout was just discernible over the thundering hooves. “Tungrians! Two cohorts of Tungrians! But the Roman turd still keeps his legionaries uphill.”
            He could hear the thunder of hooves, on the far edge of the long lines of battle, over the other horrendous battle sounds. Many hooves on Roman horses.
            The warm reek of blood; the stench of horse manure; dripping red entrails… in no time the horror of Whorl returned – but Brennus remained mounted as the fray became even more muddled.
            Celtic war chariots lost their spearmen, many drivers slumped from the vehicles under the onslaught of Batavian and Tungrian spears. With no human direction, the horses drawing empty chariots ran wild amongst the Celtic warriors on foot. More pila flew from Roman fists, riderless Celtic horses causing chaos amongst the fray, dislodging Celts and Romans alike in their absolute panic. The central battle ground became a complete frenzy as Roman and Celt engaged hand to hand. Spears –Roman and Celtic – were retrieved and raised by the Roman auxiliaries, many easily finding a soft chest. Others were swooped up and fired by now circling Celtic tribesmen. Cries of rage, frustration, terror and sheer agony filled the air as Celtic broadsword and Roman gladius flashed and parried. Tungrian and Batavian tunics swelled the Roman numbers even further and began to push back the Celtic infantry.
            The main area to Calgach’s left which had been held by Celtic warriors found itself ringed by the new mounted Romans, the charge of beasts Brennus had recently heard swinging right behind the forces of Calgach.
            In no time at all the supremacy held by Celtic troops was diminished. As Brennus fought off a clutch of Tungrians determined to hack either his legs off, or kill his mount, he was acutely aware of those around him fighting hard to maintain the ground covered, yet they were being steadily pushed back up the hill behind him. So, too, was he being pushed back. Each time he wheeled around and steadied his horse for another attack he ended up facing his enemies from further up the slope.
            As he fought back Roman after Roman auxiliary from high atop his horse, Brennus’ elation turned to dread fear. The combat between Roman and Celtic cavalry should have been a balanced affair but that was not what was happening. The mounted forces were mingled amongst the foot soldiers of both armies; the dust he had known would appear now clouded the air as though a fine haar had descended. Seeing beyond the immediate area was now a thing of the past.
           “Fall back! Fall back and we will regroup!”
            The call came at Brennus through the powdery mist. Horses whirled around constantly, Brennus’ too. He had long since lost direction but knew his brothers remained close.
            “This way!” At Lorcan’s command, he wheeled and followed.
            “Gabrond’s mount is fallen!”
            Brennus was too far off to collect up his brother.
            “By Taranis!” Gabrond bellowed as he swung up to mount behind Lorcan when the horse momentarily halted alongside. “What is our cavalry doing?”
            Brennus had no real idea, as he watched the mounted Celts around him gallop uphill towards the forest edge, after the warrior who was in charge of the right flank, Roman horses galloping hard on their tails. Whirling around, they regrouped before the trees, the enemy galloping uphill, a wedge of mail-clad cavalry coming towards them.
            “Lorcan! The carnage!”
            There was sufficient height to see the battlefield below. Chaos and devastation lay there. Broken chariots were strewn all around. Some lay on their side with one wheel still spinning, though many were merely piles of shattered wood and wattling. Bodies lay everywhere – some Roman though many more were Celts. Roman auxiliaries picked their way forwards over the debris of limbs and writhing bodies, the glint of the gladius finishing off what another blade had started till no twitches were visible. To his right, Celtic infantry were fleeing into the forest like ants surging up the hill, though many more brave warriors were sacrificing themselves for their fellow tribespeople making a last stand and refusing to give up arms, remaining steadfast with their shields and blades. Those courageous warriors were doomed. Too few Celts down there now and too many Tungrians.
            And still Agricola’s legions stood in serried rows up the hill towards the place named Durno.
            Exhaustion had long settled upon him as he fought off Romans in the forest, having been forced right into the trees. Wave after wave of Romans, mounted and on foot, following into the trees. The Celtic carnyces were sounding again – a retreat this time, but he would not be blowing his ocarina.
            Along with his brothers, Brennus made a weary and dispirited escape. All three alive with thankfully only minor wounds bloodying their braccae and arms. Gabrond had snagged a fleeing horse so all three were once again on their own mounts.
            How could a defeat have happened?
            It hardly seemed credible.

No- It wasn't a good Samhain for my characters but...they lived to tell another tale and that will come in Book 4.


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

#Agricola wonders - was #Pytheas right?

#Welcome Wednesday greetings! 
My blog has been quiet of late since I'm trying very hard to devote as much free time as I have energy for to new writing. 

As I’m typing away about General Gnaeus Julius #Agricola making decisions on where to place his next marching camps on his northern campaigns in Britannia, in Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series, I’ve been wondering where he got advance information from. He was determined to conquer every Roman foot of the land, yet he was just as determined to have his navy, the Classis Britannica, circumnavigate the whole island of Britannia. I’ve also read (somewhere) that he wanted to corroborate information written about the Greek explorer #Pytheas (c.380 B.C. - c.300 B.C.)

There isn’t a lot of research material to go on regarding Agricola’s campaign plans, nor is there much documented about the travels of Pytheas, but part of the desire of them both was to venture to pastures new and see what natural deposits they could exploit—either for their country, or probably more in the case of Pytheas for commercial gain for an employer.

Pytheas, it appears, wasn’t rich enough to fund his own voyages and depended on richer ship owners to give him the opportunity to go exploring. Whether he really was the first seafarer to ply the seas around Britain or not, doesn’t really matter to me, his observances give me useful information for my writing. 

Agricola was campaigning in Britannia about 300 years after Pytheas would have made his voyages and probably not all that much had changed in the interim- apart from the Ancient Romans having already invaded and stabilised the southern part of the island of Britannia

But back to Pytheas…
One of Pytheas’ main tasks was probably seeking supplies of tin (Greek: kassiteros), in his time very valued, along with copper, as a constituent of bronze: bronze being the main ‘metal’ used for weapons, tools, ornamentation and coins across Europe. Of course, he wasn’t looking to be the first to ship tin from ‘Britannia’ back to his native Marseilles (Greek colony/Massalia) because that had already been done centuries earlier. The southern shores of Britannia (Cornwall) had long been known to the Phonecians who had written about trading tin with the people of the area. e.g. The Greek historian, Herodotus (484 - 425 B. C.), wrote about the valuable tin that could be acquired in the Kassiterides.

So, by the time Pytheas was sailing past the southern shores of Kassiterides (Cornwall) the deposits in Cornwall may have already been quite exploited which meant travelling on along the Britannic shores to find more deposits. Essentially, though, Pytheas was an intrepid explorer who was thirsty for knowledge of new horizons. (Yes, by then he knew the world really was round and not a rectangle with an edge that silly sailors might fall off!) It may also have been his observations of the people Pytheas encountered on his journey around Britain that sparked Agricola's determination to venture to the extremities of Britannia. Agricola maybe didn't manage that but he certianly got to Aberdeenshire, where I live, and about a hundred more miles further north after that.  

It's also interesting to read that it may be from Pytheas' observations that the first references of Bretannike appears. Etymological changes are made, mistakes in copying the name are made and we eventually get...Britain!

Historically speaking, there certainly does seem to have been information available to Agricola from people writing about Pytheas, even if the writing of Pytheas didn't survive. Pytheas was a mathematician and competent astronomer, his use of the gnomen (~ships's compass) fairly precise an his figures were hotly debated and disputed for centuries.

It may even have been the doubts raised later by Pliny, Strabo or Diodorus of Sicily that sparked Agricola’s enthusiasm and curiosity.

I’m currently imagining how Agricola’s conversation is going with his trusted trierarchi- his ship captains.

Of course, I’m struggling just a wee bit to decide if Agricola’s Classis Britannica mainly consisted of triremes, or was it liburnians, or maybe more of the navis actuaria? I think I might feel a blog post coming on sometime soon about the Roman Navy.

Ah, the joys of a historical author. (*smiley face here ) 


Saturday, 15 October 2016

Fancy a jump? (reblog)

Happy Saturday to you!

I'd love to say it's really been a fine day but since it's been pouring down all day (please feel free to exchange that word pouring for whatever else you feel might fit in) I'll be a grouse and say that the weather's been pants but the rest of my day has been very pleasant.

I've been out all day signing/selling my novels at the Town Hall in Inverurie (Aberdeenshire, Scotland)  one of my regular FOCUS Craft and Design Fairs venues. I had lots of lovely conversations with customers and also with those who just wanted to be in out of the rain for a while and had no intentions of buying anything from me at all.  But I love the conversations and they may be potential customers, so it's nothing ventured, nothing gained. I'm delighted to have signed some/ and sold 10 novels today because they were hardy souls who ventured out.

It's also my slot at my every second Saturday Wranglers blog where I've been writing about it being National Bridge Day- only one among other weird and wild  celebrations on the 15th October 2016.

I'm re-blogging it here, since it's got some lovely references and some great videos.

"Wow! It’s National Bridge Day!

I’m endlessly amused when I check in to Facebook, or Twitter, or Google+ and find that it’s a ‘National SOMETHING Day”. I just happened to pick up a reference to today, 15th October, while I was looking for some inspiration for a topic for this blog post and it led me to do a tiny bit of research. That was in between the larger amounts of historical research I do pretty well every day. 

So what is the 15th October graced with? Should you prefer it you could celebrate it being National Grouch Day, National Cake Decorating Day, Global Handwashing Day, National Mushroom Day, National Chicken Cacciatore Day, I Love Lucy Day… and a whole lot more. (BTW - I love chicken cacciatore) Have a look at the following to see what else is celebrated on the 15th October.

or look at this one for the whole of October 

As we all know, there are 365 days in a year (and 366 in a leap year) but amazingly there are over 1200 ‘National SOMETHING days’!

Before I go on to National Bridge Day, here’s a little bit about having a ‘Grouch’ day. It seems this celebration was started by grouches who wanted to share their exceptionally grumpy lives. 

Why not? Indeed….so if you’re a grouch, celebrating on the 15th October, then you could give seriously backhanded compliments and share then on Social Media. Hmmm…I personally think there’s a lot of that going on every day on Social Media. 

Try this for more info:

Official National Bridge Day? I wondered if it had something to do with getting together with friends and playing lots of card games of Bridge. I know of a few women in my neighbourhood who regularly meet to play Bridge. They love the companionship, the pitting of their wits, possibly even the addictive gambling aspects should they go down that form of play, as well as honing their considerable skills in what some devotees would say is the most skilful card game of all. I, personally, would be a poor Bridge player, methinks, since some days I can barely remember the names of people around a table never mind which were the last five cards they have just played!

 So what is National Bridge Day? It isn’t to do with cards but it is for the daredevils amongst us who prefer much more physical thrills. You’ll love the 15th October if you’re like my son-in-law who loves things like jumping from bridges attached to a bungee cord or a dangling rope.

Fayettville, West Virginia, certainly has been doing the day proud. Since 1980, jumpers have been allowed to jump from the New River Gorge Bridge on this special day when all of the traffic lanes are closed, except to pedestrians…and to the paraphernalia that the jumpers need. The video below from 2012 shows that it can be a great day out with many fun activities to watch, or even experience, BUT personally I’m not into leaping off a bridge today or any other 15th October Day. 

 or there's this one as well...

More about BASE jumping and the

I may not want to leap into the gorge myself but I did write about someone called Nairn Malcolm in my contemporary humorous romantic mystery Take Me Now who is the owner of an Extreme Sports business.

I had quite a lot of ‘armchair’ fun researching what might be the kind of sports he’d be offering to customers via his Adrenalinn Adventures company and he certainly does offer B.A.S.E. jumping type activities, and many others that I probably would try so long as dropping from a great height isn’t involved.

How about you? Are you like me and prefer your daredevil leaping to be a bit more ground based? Or do you crave the BIG experiences?