La Féill Bríd – Imbolc – Snakes, Fire and Lustration in midwinter.

by Scott
Imbolc candlemas Candles at St Giles Cathedral edinburgh

Summer is coming, everyone is rushing around, readying for spring activity. Brid is coming. Must be busy. I find it exhausting at this time of year and in this climate to be thinking this is the start of action. I need more time. I’m definitely not in any rush. The emphasis of this festival is slightly different for us.  La Féill Bríd / Brídghe is one of the festivals that sit funny with me. It’s also known as Oimelc by Cormac. Which, Meyer has interpreted it to mean legal washing and purification. Others have associated it with ewes milk as in Imbolc. Féill  referred to in most places the eve of the festival so it has also been associated with Candlemas. Which, aided by the association with purification on the day, has become synonymous. It’s like a big hodge podge quarter day in my mind. The festival itself is so wrapped up with these different associations; with Bridghe, the start of spring, milk, light. It gets a little lost in mine, and perhaps in others folks minds as well.

This festival day is associated in Scotland with Brìde, (or Bridghe) primarily. A close runner-up, for us, is the association of snakes coming out of their holes for the first time.  Followed by the venom of the weather,  milk, lustration, protection, divination (via a frith) and the idea of brightness and light (through its links with candlemas). I find it to be a feminine festival, similar in feeling to Samhuinn.  The earth has always been feminine to me. Both these festivals are related to women mysteries and the winter. There’s a feeling of gestation at La Féill Bríd, compared to stepping into it, or dying at Samhuinn or being born and stepping out at Bealtainn. There has been a lot written about Bridghe all over the internet and many many books. It’s not something that I want to rehash here. If that what you’re looking for apologies. But in case that’s what you came for. I can point you to a good resource for well researched information. The website is great, go there and gorge. What I want to explore here are the lesser known associations. Perhaps put a case across to reposition this as a midwinter festival, rather than a Spring festival. This is a post with a difference.

In summary if the below is too long for you to read:

There are a few night-time visitors from the otherworld now. I express how i feel about this time of year. It’s a festival associated with midwinter and the hope for fecundity of soil and self. This festival represents the returning of our own light of inspiration, and the spirits of plants and soil. This is illustrated well by image of the serpents return. It’s also a festival of lustration and protection for self and home and blessing on the land. It finally concludes with a wee example from my own practice. I’m not religious in the traditional sense of the word and this example might be interesting to some. If that hasn’t put you off, please read on.

Night time visitors on La Féill Bríd

On La Féill Brìde, Brìde is said to visit folk in their houses at night. Marks left in the soot of the smoored fire, her footprints, are considered  good luck. Personally, this links to the idea of someone visiting and bestowing gifts, similar idea to Father Christmas.  Appropriations are left for Bríd/Bridghe.  A bed made of grasses and cloth and perhaps a doll representing her. A link to the harvest of the previous year would be that the last sheaf of wheat cut in the farmer’s field would become the grass for her bed. This links to the idea of the Cailleach, as she was the last sheaf cut in the district (MacDonald, Religion and Myth, 1893). If Bríd didn’t come.   No signs found. Folks would appeal to her via ritual and offerings. The killing of a cock or goose has been associated with this (reference to follow). You can find a lot more information here ( Items for her blessing were also left on display for her. Ideal items would be medicine and cloths used for babies, candles, a journal or diary, tools, seeds you wish to plant and other such stuff. If you’re interested in celebrating in the Gaelic Polytheist style, there is a great article available here (from I wont rewrite for the sake of repeating already good information.

Old lady spinning

Another character who makes an appearance between Candlemas and Fasterneen is the Gyre Carling. Gyre Carline translates to Guady/ Fierce Ogre/Witch in Doric roughly. She would visit houses at night with a young child accompanying her. Here she would do spinning in the house hold at night. Cautious folk would remove the belt from their spinning wheel. Least they be woken by the whirring of the wheel. She always bathed the boy at the end of the night. It’s best to keep fresh spring water in the house for this reason. If these things weren’t left, the Gyre Carling would perform “mischief” on the family  (Calder, Sketches from John o Groats, 1842). This mischief could include cutting the threads of your own destiny of course.

“Midwinter” and snakes

Where I live we have had our first really cold weather near the end of January. Theres usually a lot more of it to come ahead. It’s argued summer ran from Beltainn to Samhuinn. Winter from Samhuinn to Beltainn (making Lughnassdah the mid summer festival) for the celtic and later Gaelic people. They only had four major festivals. Yule (or Jul) and midsummer coming from our norse and saxon ancestors. I think with the juxtaposition of the summer and mid winter solstice at the beginning or middle of winter and summer, we get all a little discombobulated about things. Personally, I view these solstices and equinoxes as representing different ideas. These cycles are separate from what you might find in the 8 fold Calender popular these days. This form doesn’t fit, so we concentrate on four festivals currently, which are earth based and spirit focussed.

Perhaps the solar festival approach is something inherited from our Norse  and Anglo-Saxon ancestors? Folks view the solstices as midwinter and midsummer, this doesn’t sit so well for me. It might be when the sun is at its station, but the earth still has a lot of winter or summer ahead.  Candlemas on this date, for example, was at one time held by many to mark the end of Yule festivities, (Macritchie, Scotland review, 1906). It’s exactly half way between Samhuinn and Bealtainn, suggesting a midwinter function. To view La Féill Brìde as the midwinter festival, spring becoming part of the winter season sits well. I feel it represents hope in the winter months, but this might not be a traditional view for some. Bridghe and the serpent then becomes a symbol of this.   The feminine presence of earth’s regeneration. Like Mothers night and other Scandinavian ideas, just a little later. Just as we look for hope on Yule, the sun returning, this day represents that same hope but for the land.

Snake by Bryan Proteau
Snake by Bryan Proteau

For me then, this time of year is about the earth waking up. This is the focus of my practice for this festival. Not so much to do with the sun, or solar festivals associations.  I feel this day is about the start of new growth, and spirits returning to the land. A day to be glad for, in the bleakest of winter months, wolf ravage month. The symbol of the soil waking up I think is represented by snakes said to come from their holes underground. Serpent, the spirit of the earth, stirring awake underground, underworld coming forth once more. A slow uncoil. The serpent becomes a symbol for the rising of fertility and growth. Bridghe, becomes a representative of the fire or energy of this process. Just as our own personal fires rekindled. Especially if you use the three element system of earth, sky and sea. The cunning fire coming from within, rather than without. This is how I work and again makes a lot of sense to me. Others may find this less than useful.

The snake is an interesting metaphor to appear at this quarter festival. It has been used apropaically for reasons or healing, such as shed snake-skin. In charms also, such as snake stones. Looking to Banks (1939) and Alexander Carmichael we find a strange tradition about filling a stocking with peat to make it look like a snake. This snake stocking is then has its metaphorical head bashed in whilst repeating a Rann (charm/rune) on La Féill Brìde:

This is the day of Bride

The queen will come from the mound

I will not touch the queen

Nor will the queen touch me.

This is only recounted in the Carmina Gadelica #1. I can’t find an example elsewhere that doesn’t draw on this singular one.  In Scottish folk-lore the Serpent is referred to as  “ivar’s daughter” a euphemism given to the snake or serpent. Who Ivar is I don’t know but its might be the similar to how the Scots don’t refer to things by their name. Some folks call snakes wind-ees for instance, in case they insult them or anger the spirit of them. This anger, from insult, in turn draws them near. This is also found in the phrase “la Fhéill-Bridghe thig an righinn as a toll – on saint brides day the nymph (princess) will come out of her hole”. In this case the Nymph or princess might be a snake or refer to Bridghe herself. Today was also known as plow break day. Where no matter the weather some steadfast farmers would plow at least a furrow on old Candlemas day (13th of February). Some might even be unwilling to remove weeds until this day has passed. (Fife and Herald Journal, June 21st, 1905). Again this links to the idea of this festival representing the fecundity of the land.

Garter snake in snow
Garter snake in snow

I have pondered long and hard over these two, seemingly contradictory things. On one hand we have the serpent as winter venom. On another hand we have the serpent as, perhaps, representing the emerging spring or warming of the earth. In the case above who is the queen that comes for her mound? Is it the snake or is it Bridghe? It’s reminiscent of the idea of the Aos Sidhe/Sith/Si coming from the sidhe mounds. Is the bashing of the snake a christian influence? (You only need to look at St Patrick to see how much christian religions hate snakes.) Is the snake a representation of the winter weather?  The winter venom? The Cailleach of this season, killed metaphorically? Is the snake a representation of something much older? That has now been conflated with something else in the minds of the folk from this time? Something since labelled as an evil thing that needs to be bashed in? There are a lot of questions and to be honest few answers that currently point in a clear direction. There does seem to be too many different customs that relate to the health and fertility of the land for this just to be a coincidence.

Cold and Lustral water at Imbolc

Warebeatih Beach Orkney, In winter.
Warebeatih Beach Orkney, In winter.

February was known as Faoilteach. The season of the wolf ravage. Wolves used to come close to settlements now. Food was scarce in the wild. It’s also known as two halves. Winter Faoilteach, the second half the spring Faoilteach, happening in the last two weeks of February.  Folks believe that February should come in with the head of a serpent and out with a serpent’s tail. I.e. fierce weather to start with and milder weather as it leaves. Interesting that we have the serpent motif again. This time associated with the venom of winter. This can be illustrated further in the following folk saying, “if February gives much snow a fine summer it doth foreshadow”.  A Candlemas associated saying is: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter will have another flight. If Candlemas bring cloud and rain, winter is gone and will not come again”. Another saying associated with the change in weather from winter to summer directly related to Brìde is below:

Brìde put her finger in the river

On the feast day of Bride

And away went the hatching mother of the cold,

And she washed her palms in the river

On the feast day of Patrick

And away went the conception mother of the cold.

In the above we have connections with lustration, water and the change in temperature. Another link to lustration follows. On La Féill Brìde, or the day after, folks would go about on their hands and knees in a church in Orkney. Having done this would make their way down to the water, cover their heads and bodies with it, and then head off to the pub (Banks, 1939). It’s interesting we also have the Looney Dook in South Queensferry at New year. Perhaps this points to this practice? The link to Bridghe “Blessing” or “heating” the water and lustration, is pretty clear in my mind. A form of water blessing on this day, or saining, could be an appropriate action.

Light in the darkness on La Féill Bríd

Candles at St Giles Cathedral edinburgh on la Féill Bríd / Imbolc
Candles at St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh

This day is special to a lot of folks. As a metaphor for Spring, or hope  in the mid winter snow, it represents the rekindling of our desire to go out and about.  The lessening of winter. The return of the warmth to the soil. The fire of germination, the spark of inspiration, health and heat returning once more  to the ground. Its care takers slowly returning. Even though it has a battle ahead of it against the cold winter. There is a wee story written about this battle between Bridghe, Angus Mac Og and the Cailleach around this time. The Cailleach battling to keep winter raging, against Angus and Bridghe. Of course Angus and Bridghe win and summer returns till next year. (The whole story is here). I haven’t seen this story mentioned anywhere else other than in the wonder tales. I personally think it’s an elaboration and not paticulary linked to anything more than imagination but it’s a lovely tale. We have La Féill Cailleach on the 25th of March. Others view the Cailleach turning to stone or returning as a young woman, on Beltainn, signalling the start of summer. It’s interesting to note the Cailleach is present at all the festivals in some form or representation. Perhaps in this way the Cailleach represents the land itself. Some might view the milk from her heads as running down the mountains turning them white. A link to Oimelc.

Candlemas is a festival of Lights and occurs the day after. It included what was known as the Candlemas Bleeze. Folks and their children used to walk in procession to the town or Mercat cross, bearing their candles and torches in their hands. Once they had finished they would then light the bleeze or bonfire. Sometimes there was no bonfire and they would just burn any clump of broom or whins in the vicinity. Donations were also once given of candles to the church on this date. This was overtaken by the donation of money, that may shine brighter to some clergy than that of any candle. (Macctaggert, Encyclopaedia, 1824). A king and queen might also be elected and dancing was held in the evening. One old folk custom that continued past Candlemas, was folk carrying around candle stubs from candlemas. Sometimes they sewed them into convenient corners on the inside of their coats or what have you. Hampson (1841) believed that this was due to the blessed nature of the candles and had the power to repel evil. A useful charm either way.

The idea of the light, and its relationship to La Fhéil Bríd, I think, is too much of a coincidence to be ignored. Bríd or Bridghe was considered the bringer of illumination in the form of wisdom, inspiration or insight. Perhaps its no coincidence we have Burns Night very close to this festival date? I like to personally view it, as mentioned above, as the return of our own “light” or heat. Some may view it as the light betwixt the horns as mentioned by folks such as Robert Cochrane et al. Some of your perhaps not.

However you want to view it the land and ourselves are waking up once more. Moving back into the life current but not quite. Its the moment pre birth. The expectant pause. From my own practice approach this is where I stand. I hope that this information might help you to view this festival as something more than just a focus on everyone’s favourite, Bríd. She is a part of it, no doubt. I like to view my approach as perhaps more operationally and spirit/ancestor focused, but with respect to tradition. You might not want to make her the sole focus, if you feel similar. Especially if your practice encompasses more than deity worship or focus on the mystery traditions.

So how might folks practice this night?

Fa'side Castle and Winter sun Féill Bríd
Fa’side Castle and Winter sun

There are lots of examples on the Tairis website if you would like to stick to a Gaelic Polytheist structure. We do things slightly differently and I would like to offer up another approach.

I like to light a candle in the evening and sit with it a while. With offerings for my ancestors, as elaborate as you wish but including milk and honey and bread at least. The candle might have a snake or serpent like patterns carved into it. I prefer to use a beeswax candle but really any will do. If I have any to hand, I like to have snake parts surrounding it, such as vertebrae etc., when I have come by them. (These are great to turn into a charm or necklace later by threading through the vertebra holes for use in the year to come). I sit contemplating this time of year and the return of the busy time coming up. No other light but the candle. I think about being in the coldest time of the year. Soon we need to emerge from our cave and this is the time this starts to happen. We still have a while until the action starts but now’s the time to get ready.  Once I have finished contemplating things, I light more candles in the house and speak to my ancestors about anything that might have come up. Once done, I take the beeswax candle outside with offerings for the land spirits. Perhaps to the woods or  just in the garden (this year by the orchard perhaps). Of course depending on the upcoming weather it can be difficult to achieve our aims. I ask for helpful weather and sit outside with this as long as possible, talking of my plans in the herb garden etc. I then return home. It’s all pretty simple.

At this point we might make a cross Bride and leave this with any seeds and anything else I might need for inspiration this coming year such as wood working tools, pens, journals etc. out over night on our ancestor altar. This is for any blessings that may or may not be about this night from either bridghe or the Gyre Carlin. I’m sure to leave out my drop spindle and a bowl of fresh water for her.

Next day. In the morning. I will go to my front door and perform a Frith, or divination. I then sain the house with the lustrated water. Asking for prosperity, health and protection. I do this whilst reciting the genealogy of Bríd. (The version below I have changed, but I like it better this way. You may also want to change it. Please bear in mind I’m not religious in the traditional sense.  See the ancestors post for more information on my thoughts on this). After this I sprinkle it about outside keeping a little for when the plants are ready to plant for a seed blessing. Again simple, feel free to adopt and change this how you see fit.

Rann of the Genealogy (of Brid).

Brid, daughter of Dugall the dark.

Son of Aodh, Son of Art, Son of Conn

Each day and Each Night

I will call to mind the Genealogy of Brid.

I shall not be killed,

I shall not be Wounded,

I shall not be bewitched,

Nor will my ancestors fail to protect me

Nor will elf shot harm me,

And neither river, nor ocean drown me.

If I am under the protection of my dear Brid.

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Heather Awen 28th April 2016 - 7:49 pm

I might be able to help about the winter solstice etc. and then the quarter days. From what I’ve been reading lately it would appear that the megalithic stone builders all along the Atlantic coastline had things lined up for the solstices or sometimes equinoxes. But when they moved to an agricultural calendar then you have the quarter days. Evidently when they changed culturally they change their calendar to match what they needed to know then.

February is always the “cabin fever” months in the American Northeast. The light has come back so the penial gland is stimulated but it is below freezing outside so you don’t have that feeling of being dragged to the ground that you did at the beginning of December , instead you are kind of revved up with nowhere to go. The light I mostly associate with stimulating the penial gland . It changes how we actually feel and perceive things . But it is confusing that there can be 3 feet of snow . Maybe it’s to give us a chance to replenish the vitamin D that would’ve been stored in our fat cells and overwinter as we lost that fat vitamin D would be released , keeping us from having severe seasonal affect disorder . Maybe it’s also telling us to get up and go outside even if it is freezing because there are things that have to be done .

Ivar the boneless is a Viking ancestor of mine . He may have had a disability where his legs could not support him so he seemed to have no bones , there are different theories about why he was considered to have no bones , one of them being that he was impossible to trap because he could slither out of anything because of having no bones. He was one of the kings of Dublin and we know that they raided Scotland a lot for slaves although they did not take any from the Dal Raida, probably because they had family related to them in Ulster who had married into peace treaties with the Vikings. This may have had an impact on why of the Brythonic Picts lost such a close ongoing competition to control Scotland . I’m guessing that with the Norse influence being so high in Scotland that is where Ivar comes in connected to the snake.

There is the popular theory about proto-Indo-European religion that snakes because they don’t really fit into any easy category are associated with the waters of chaos . The tree is the natural order of things as well as people living by their tribes order . The role of a priest is to moderate how much water goes to the roots of the tree of life . If not enough creative chaos enters the tree will be brittle and break but if too much comes in the tree can rot . The waters appeared to be churned by the thrashing of the snakes who eat the fruit that falls off of the tree , so it’s like a constant cycle of things that have outlived their purpose or do not fit the order falling off of the tree , the snakes of chaos stirring everything up , and the nutrients in the water going back into the tree roots . Why exactly it’s a snake I don’t know, but that appears in the majority of Indo-European religions . There is a snake and usually a watersnake .

I see the saying that I have read in different places ” I will not molest the snake and the snake will not molest me ” for this holiday as being a day that probably had more importance because in a lot of ways it’s preparing for the whole new agricultural cycle and you would want creativity coming in but not too much as to set off the natural order of the seasons . With the light stimulating the pineal gland giving us energy and there is new energy in general coming into us and into at least planning for the sowing of seeds , so having a day where that chaotic potential is brought forth make sense to me. It has to shake things up a little bit. We don’t want it all stale.

This was really great to read because it had more than they average stuff . I know that the Angus and bride stuff was probably a modern winter story invention like the old and Holly King , but it does feel like it’s happening ! There will be days that feel literally stolen from summer and other ones that feel stolen from winter !

I never was able to get into this holiday because it’s at least six weeks before any of the Spring birds return, the spring equinox usually has snow. So connecting this holiday with the beginning of spring made no sense to me but it does make sense as a midwinter holiday. It’s funny because I was reading on someone’s blog in the UK that the American ideas that winter starts on the winter solstice makes no sense because that is the middle of winter , and here I have someone in the UK saying that the winter solstice is not the middle of winter but instead is the beginning like it is here. I think it’s pretty bioregional. Bealtaine and Samhain seem to work in most places, and it matches with the Germanic Walpurga’s night and the month of November being blood month because of having to slaughter the animals that won’t be able to fed over the winter. However summer days and winter nights , which start the seasons , are different in Iceland than they are with the Anglo-Saxons and then compared to in Norway or Denmark. The holiday has to match the bioregion.

That’s what it was really hard doing rituals about the first frost Samhain in Los Angeles when the hills were on fire . It just seemed to me that any pagan ancestor would be far more concerned about that and wonder why we were doing anything involving the frost . It’s easier when you live in a part of the United States that matches the weather of Britain or Scandinavia or other Germanic nations and the Baltic and Slavic region , before doing any of this kind of reconstructionist inspired paganism. In a place like San Francisco the weather is similar to the northern coast of the Mediterranean so honoring Roman or Greek gods with their holidays is a lot easier. But each place has its own bioregional animist gods and goddesses , so I don’t know if the Aphrodite of San Francisco is the same as the Aphrodite of Greece or Northern Africa. All of these kind of questions are fun things to explore as modern neopagans .

Cailleachs son 3rd May 2016 - 4:03 pm

Mòran taing! Many thanks for your comments :) Again a lot to answer but interesting ideas about pineal glands and the change in the weather. It’s perhaps not something I hold by myself but it is interesting to ponder these things. Personally, the snake means lots of different things to us, one that is of interest and I can discuss freely is the returning fecundity to the ground. Even though it might be frozen solid. It’s interesting to note that before the green comes to most thing the snake wakes from this frozen ground. It maybe links it to the ideas we have of Sprowl and “earth energy”, but that is a Cornish word and idea. I do look for correspondences about it where I can though but haven’t found anything currently.

The weather can be different across the UK. In Scotland, we get really bad snow in January, February and March. We even had some just before Bealtainn we call this the lambing snow and it goes as quickly as it arrives but it has a tendency to make everything look white especially with the white blossoms of Blackthorn and Cherry Trees. Really stunning.

I agree the holiday needs to match where you are, otherwise, it kinda feels empty to me, I don’t think there is much point in transplanting beliefs and festivals from one place to fit something entirely different, I can’t imagine following the same ideas in the desert for example. But then you use the approaches we use, we know to discern the tides of that area and way more effective if you approach things this was, especially to build relationships with the land etc. Relationships are very Gaelic and this is the way of animism (I’m not a fan of the word bioregional animism because animism by its very nature is local and attuned to your surroundings so it seems a bit like stating something twice) connecting with the spirits of land and to your ancestors and see where it takes things. It’s why I started this blog and I will (eventually) link up the wildcrafting with the holidays, it’s all one big exercise of communicating with the place where you live and immersing yourself in the tides of the land. Its a very Gaelic way of relating to the place where you live.

We don’t follow the solar holidays (perhaps with an exception made for the winter solstice and the summer solstice) we follow the Celtic holidays though as they are still celebrated in and around Scotland all over the place :). Again we have a lot of misinformation about Scotland and its cultural practises that I think it is important to provide a different point of view.

I love reading your comments and thank you so much for adding to the conversation. I look forward to hearing more from you as time goes on :)


Heather Awen 4th May 2016 - 4:36 pm

Thank you! I will be sure to keep an eye out. I use the bioregional animist term because it was meant to imply that I’m actually doing animism as opposed to reading about it and writing about it , without forming any relationships . I’m actually an Irish citizen , I have family there and in Scotland . I was recently asking my kind of boyfriend who speaks Irish and lives in a very remote place in Ireland if he considered himself Celtic and he said that since that’s just a culture from a different time if he said yes to that then he would have to say he’s also Victorian , it was funny , I like when people throw a curveball !

Cailleachs son 5th May 2016 - 1:53 pm

I love that comment. Scotland is truly a melting pot of Norse, Scandinavian, Sami, Inuit, Angles, Saxons, Romans Spanish god you name it there are signs they have been here! Its still the same today I’ve never really understood why as a nation we focus more on the Celtic heritage and the Picts, perhaps its more romantic for some ?. I use the word Gaels to represent the Gaelic ideas if that makes sense but I like your Irish mans answer :)

Heather Awen 5th May 2016 - 7:19 pm

Oh yeah, I got what you meant with Gaelic, sorry I didn’t make it clear! That’s what’s so cool about studying the islands , there is so much cosmopolitan trade . You can’t ever get bored because there have been so many different kinds of people intermingling , you can always pull a different thread and get another part of the world view . And at the end of the day the majority of the people were dealing with making sure there was food and clothing and clean water and housing . I’m glad that history is trying to acknowledge the every day life stuff for those of us who don’t have a pretend idea about it being some magical era ( it doesn’t matter what time , every time is somebody’s magical era ) including the normal history that is all about war and doesn’t tell us very much about culture and people .

Scotland is situated perfectly for all sorts of visitors . It was really amazing being at the top of northern Ireland near the Giants Causeway and being able to see Scotland ! And the town there , everybody had the same light red hair and the same coloring , I’ve never seen a place with no deviation but especially of light red hair .

There’s just so many cool things to explore . I like reading about just what it looks like from your descriptions because for some reason Scotland lately seems to be really connected to cities in peoples minds . With all of the focus on sheep in the past and fishing , I never even thought about farming ! The history books make the land in Scotland sound really really difficult to farm . They almost make it sound like it’s uninhabitable ! This barren place where all of these wars take place. But then you read about the Caledonia Forest . I guess Scotland always comes across as a lot more “hard ” and Ireland as more “soft ” with the landscapes .

It is annoying for me to have these heathens running around pretending they are Vikings , when everyday people do all the same things and there is just as much poetry and art as anywhere else in that culture , as it is for me that when I often talk to Celtic polytheists who ignore history who just focus on poetry and the love of nature and completely remove the warrior society element . Because the two cultures are so similar , it’s really weird that they were separated by modern people , especially modern pagans , and both of them are based on the writing of Christians with their own agenda , the folklore gives a better idea about how every day normal people live .

I just wonder how it happened that half of my ancestors are considered Warriors and the other half are considered mystical beings , because when I read the actual history of the different Scottish clans and the family of the land of Gwynedd I read a lot of fighting and war . And just as much as if I’m reading about my Germanic – Scandinavian ancestors .

Doing genealogy meant reading a lot of history books because of how connected to Scotland and Ireland my father’s side of the family is as Vikings. I’ve been focusing a lot more on the Scottish part , the part that is not Viking but it just seems like the history is Picts vs Dal Riata for a very long time and even that is influenced by Vikings like my ancestors Olaf the White and Ivar the Boneless being kings of Dublin raided Scotland for slaves, but because of a connection with an Irish Northern clan kingdom , who were intermarrying with the Dal Riada they didn’t take any of them as slaves but they did steal everything .

And then it stopped being such an even fight I guess. I have to say that studying the history can be hard because different books spell everybody’s names differently so I often have no idea who I am reading about ! LOL .

I live in a very very remote place in the United States , Caledonia County , the first place to do environmental rejuvenation because the sheep ate everything , there are families who have been here 250 years and still live in the same house . Although the population is low ( the only big town for a couple hours has a population of 6000 ) there are two different Highland games that are taken really seriously . ( the land here is so similar to the Highlands that it actually used to be called the Highlands )

The more I study the history of all of these different Scottish clans on both sides of my family it seems like a lot of them have Norman related names , with William the Conqueror giving lands to other Normans or tO Frisian Warriors .

I wouldn’t want to say anything at the Highland games about these different clans actually having French related names, although Scotland I guess has a long history of fighting with France because it’s not England , but I was pretty amazed at how many clan names are not Gaelic. But I guess that the people in the clan would be from that part of Scotland , because the warlords didn’t come over with their own clan , but I haven’t read anything about how that worked . I can’t really imagine how that happened .

Scottish history is a lot more complicated than Irish or Welsh or English I’m finding out .

I had always read that Scotia was the original name for the Irish , things like that , but recently I’ve been reading that it means “stranger ” in whatever the language of the Picts was , I assume some sort of Brythonic Celtic language . That’s what Navajo means in the Hopi language , the Navajo themselves call themselves Dine. I was wondering if you had information about what Scotia meant ? All of those decades thinking it meant Irish . But people used to think that the Dal Riada moved to western Scotland from Ireland but no archaeological evidence shows anything like that , and after being in Ireland and seeing Scotland , I completely understand how you could have a kingdom that comes from both places , especially with all of those mountains to the east . The whole seafaring aspect really is so much more important than they used to say .

So with the new historical theory being that these Gaelic speakers in western Scotland were Scottish , they lived in Scotland and did not invade Scotland , and this theory about the word meaning stranger , has everything totally changed? :)

All of the DNA evidence has made everything I studied 10 years ago pretty obsolete . That’s kind of one fun thing about history , it will be proven wrong .

Heather Awen 4th May 2016 - 4:55 pm

Hello, I forgot, isn’t the weather incredibly different across Scotland? And also I’ve been reading about how much the Norse influenced northern Scotland , studying the name of clans and also the names of places, and there are some words that are actually a combination of Gaelic and Norwegian , most of them have to do with sailing , no surprise .

So do the different regions of Scotland have their own folklore, it would only make sense. I’ve been studying the folklore in the Silver branch books along with various Victorian era books , but like Ireland there is the fear that the researchers are looking for something pagan because of their own disenchantment with the Industrial Revolution . Ireland has a lot of “folklore” that was created by English scholars looking for what they wanted to see and it’s not like most Irish peasants were going to tell a rich English person they are wrong . I wonder how much of the stuff from Scotland is that way . But Ireland became much more of a mythological place then Scotland did .

On St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin this American bagpipe group marched in the parade wearing kilts and it kind of stunned everyone because they looked just like the British military Scottish brigade , it had absolutely nothing to do with Ireland , everyone was good-humored about it but it just reinforced the idea that Americans are living far in the past and somehow have mixed every Celtic thing together . Also Scottish bagpipes are really different than Irish bagpipes, I had an Irish bagpipe busker on my corner in Galway and it was so painful . We all kept hoping that a fiddler or harpist would show up ! Anyway it gets really weird when Americans think that Scotland and Ireland are really similar when they have culturally developed so differently historically , Presbyterianism and Calvin are very different than the Catholic Church , forcibly moving Scottish people to Ireland was a different time than the potato famine. I recently heard that Ireland is getting on the Viking bandwagon, rune necklaces are being made , Ireland has always been good with understanding tourism . Acknowledging the Vikings who created Dublin , history is definitely more broad now . Like the 100 year anniversary on Easter , people are speaking out about how many children were killed , the history isn’t being romanticized which is really important. Even 10 years ago that would’ve been hard . But Ireland is so multicultural now , the government is trying to get Irish people to go into hospitality because tourists do not want to be served by people from Poland, it’s a strange situation . But I guess all of the different people now in Ireland makes people more open-minded about the actual history of Ireland . And willing to embrace all of it.

Andy Beck 1st February 2020 - 12:14 am

Great website! Just stumbled on it lately. Just wanted to comment on a few things here. The dal riada certainly did come to Scotland from Ireland, because the place names throughout Scotland reflect Gaelic influence as well as clan genealogy. And of course Gaelic is still spoken in the West of Scotland (at one time it was spoken more extensively). Scottish clan stories still echo this history. The presence of the Gaels is evident anywhere the ‘gal’ prefix or suffix appears (from Portugal & Galicia to Galway & Galloway (where the Irish Gaels first arrived in Scotland), Fortingall in Perthshire, etc).
‘Gal’ usually means ‘foreigner’ in this context, so whether the Gaels were referencing their own migrations or the migrations of others isn’t clear. Perhaps a bit of both?
But the language of the Gaels in both countries are still mutually intelligible & many Scots Gaels were still Catholics even after the 1745 rebellion. The links are there in the language & folk music & remain strong, as they are throughout the Celtic diaspora. Plenty of cross-migrations kept the links going. Some of the links between Ireland, Scotland become more nation-oriented over time & less clan or tribe specific – like the Ulster Scots, who were mostly descended from the ‘sheep reivers’ (rustlers) of the Scottish Borders region, sent over to settle the plantations for England (which was a better option than being hung, so many took it).

The Scottish clans are indeed an admixture though. The ‘Mc’ and ‘Mac’ clan names are all Irish related. The others tend to be a mixture. Bruce is from ‘de Brus’, a French-Norman name. But it wasn’t William the Conqueror who parcelled out lands here, as far as I know – he never made it this far. OTOH the Normans (also probably Viking in origin: ‘Nor’ man – man of the North) did intermarry successfully into Scots and Irish clans by the time of Robert the Bruce, and almost all the Scottish kings and queens since then had part-French ancestry.
Bear in mind that Scotland and France had an alliance for many centuries against England. Mary Queen of Scots was often known as the French Queen, and of course there was Bonnie Prince Charlie (actually Italian born, but French raised).

The Normans were in positions of power in dublin by the C13th or thereabouts, and married into Irish nobility thereafter. despite its Viking origins ‘dubh linn’ is a Gaelic name. ‘deep/black harbour’ might be one translation of the meaning. So my guess is that, just as many Gaelic names were Romanised and Anglicised during those invasions, the reverse was true as well – both people & settlements across the Gaeltacht (Ir.) & Gàidhealtachd (Sc.) were ‘Gaelicised’.

Tthe ‘son’ suffixes in Scots names denote Scandinavian origin. Some appear to be Norse-Gael hybrids, like Farqhuarson. There is an origin story for the Morrisons, whose clan apparently all originated from a shipwrecked Viking sailor. The Campbells (cam beul) may also be Scandic, I’m not sure. But the name is a Gaelic one, meaning something like ‘crooked mouth’.

No-one really knows what language the Picts spoke. The Cymru (Welsh) did make it into parts of Scotland and certainly left traces of their influence as far North as Aberdeen – there are still Brythonic place names throughout Britain, particularly the ‘aber’ and ‘don’ prefixes & suffixes. Recent research has shown the Romans also made it into Pictish territory (which at one time went as far south as Perth) and traded with them. (Possibly prior to Hadrian’s Wall, not sure).

The name Picti as well as Scotti seem to have been used by the Roman settlers & historians, but there is also a theory about the Egyptian Princess Scotia arriving in Scotland and giving her name to the place. Take you pick I suppose! Some Scots do share a distinct haplotype in their dna with the Tuareg people of West Africa, and the bagpipes the Celts played & the various scales used may have similarities to African ones, but that’s about the extent of the known African connection so far. Any specifically Egyptian connection is, so far, elusive.

erivertree 11th February 2020 - 2:42 am

In F. Marian McNeil’s book “The Scots Kitchen”, she references “Ivar’s daughter” as a kenning for nettles, which start to poke through around this time.


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