Wee White Hoose

exploring stories, traditions, and foklore from Scotland

Older Than Time: The Myth of the Cailleach, The Great Mother

Reading Time: 9 minutes

In Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, Donald Alexander McKenzie hails the Cailleach as the mother of all gods and goddesses in Scotland, and Scottish folk tale collector J.G MacKay refers to her as the most tremendous figure in Gaelic myth today. Although her name can be found throughout Scotland in folklore, customs, ancient monuments and the natural landscape, the Cailleach is one of the lesser-known figures of Celtic mythology and is often overlooked. Her true origins have been lost over time. She is vastly ancient and predates even the Celtic mythology of which she has become a part. One Highland folk tale states that she existed ‘from the long eternity of the world’.

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The Unicorn: Scotland’s National Animal

Reading Time: 4 minutes

With over 90,000 species inhabiting Scotland’s land, seas, and skies, there would have been no shortage of choice when it came to choosing the country’s national animal back in the day: highland cattle, the cheeky Scottish terrier, or the red squirrel, not to mention the majestic golden eagle or awe-inspiring red deer stag. The intelligent and fiercely loyal wolf was still roaming Scotland until the 18th century so they might have been likely candidates too, but the powers that be decided to think outside the box and go for something altogether different.

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An Dris-Mhuire Beannaichte: Folklore of the Bramble

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The bramble, as the common blackberry is known in Scotland, is a hedgerow stalwart. I’m sure many Scots of my generation will remember family days out to pick brambles on a late summer’s day, fingertips dyed crimson and wrists and ankles bearing at least one deep scratch, no matter how careful you’d been.  The custom of bramble picking goes back thousands of years, and this humble plant, bane of gardeners everywhere, is steeped in folklore.

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Z-rods, Combs, and Double Discs: Mysteries of the Pictish Stones

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Picts inhabited the east of Scotland, north of the Firth of Forth, from around the 4th to the 9th century. They left no written records so we know very little about their culture. Archaeology continues to gradually uncover more information about how the Picts lived but one thing that we already know for certain is that they were master craftsmen, and they’re perhaps best remembered today as skilled stonemasons. Three hundred and fifty Pictish stones have been found across Scotland, and their function remains a matter of debate.

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Kirkyard Critters: The Dreaded Yird-Swine

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of the more obscure creatures of Scottish folklore is the yird-swine, a subterranean porcine carnivore that lives in graveyards and burrows through the earth, feeding on the corpses it finds there. Some unimaginative souls have suggested that yird-swines are badgers,  ferrets, or even just big rats, but those who have had contact with the creatures would certainly swear otherwise.

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The King Under the Mountain: The Tale of Canonbie Dick

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Arthurian legends have long been associated with England and Wales, but there is some evidence to suggest that King Arthur was in fact a Scot that lived in the seventh century: Artuir, the son of King Áedán Mac Gabráin of Dál Riata, a Gaelic kingdom encompassing the Scottish region now known as Argyll and Bute, and part of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Amongst the many Scottish myths associated with King Arthur is the story of Canonbie Dick, the northernmost version of the king under the mountain folklore motif in Britain.

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The Tale of Whuppity Stoorie

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the toon o’ Kittlerumpit in the debatable lands, a goodman lived in a wee hoose wae his wife and bairn. One mornin’ the goodman telt his wife that he wis goin’ tae the fair. He kissed her goodbye and set aff, and he wis never seen again. His poor wife wis left wae very little, and wae the bairn tae look after she wis fair in a fash. Her neighbours were aw sorry fer her, but naebody helped her. Her only consolation wis her sow, fer it wis soon tae farrow and she hoped fer a good litter.

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