I’ve been struggling with ideas of Scottish appropriation from our culture for a while now. Some of you may have read Saining Not Smudging. This article explored it in reverse light really. Sadly a lot of hate mail was received because of this article. Though that’s why we write right? To challenge ideas.
Scottish Appropriation. What a phrase. You might think it’s not important but recently I’ve been seeing people using words like Dà-shealladh, second sight in a very wrong context. Not only this they are being paid to talk at expensive conferences about it. They use it to describe a practice completely unrelated to the traditional Scottish experience of second sight. Why use our language if it’s not what our words describe? They have used the Scottish Gaelic phrase to suggest its tradition and then supplanted their own ideas of what the practice is. They have simply used the word as a wrapper. It’s beyond annoying. Scottish folk culture is being exploited into different traditions, with vastly different approaches, making the practices meaningless if not seen through the lens of Scottish culture and the traditions existing underneath it. Without the philosophy of the Scottish diaspora and life experience it’s based on many things are lost in translation. It feels like window dressing a pigs corpse and calling it a ball gown and charging through the nose for it.
Needless to say I’ve been struggling to write an article about it. It’s too emotional for me to tackle full on. Instead of an article I’ve decided to write a story. Inspired by Laurie Anderson please enjoy the
Tale of the Ugly One with All the Jewels.
Out of all the somebodies in the world, there was once two someone’s.
One was old, with roots settled into eternity. Lör was their name, though others called them Relic. Lör was enclosed head to toe in fine jewels and charms of uncountable names, sleeping safe inside forgetfulness. Cozied within a hand-woven blanket of community and culture Lör dreamt the dreams of the disregarded. Lör felt safe. Those who loved Lör were small in number but lived just the right side of forgetting to remember, unlike most. Though love on the right side of forgetting isn’t always enough.
The other was young, new, pretty and handsome. Prettified with skulls, sticks and moonlight. They sounded ancient in voice though this was a practiced affectation. In reality they were only hollow. Made of the world of image. No deeper their thoughts than midnight’s frozen echo. Voguish some called them. They employed a staff, Meedeea, to curate desirable images and songs. Entertaining endlessly to the same broken tune – “Mine, more, accumulate.” Off key. All strings. No bass. Despite how much people loved them. Voguish coveted what others had and had no other cares.
So as these things go, Voguish’s attention turned to Lör.
Whilst Lör lay sleeping counting sideways, entwined in memories of forgotten places, old languages and ancient books, Voguish hatched a plan.
Spinning Meedeea steadily faster, Voguish began to sing The Zeitgeist Song. A song weaving covetous images wilder and faster into the dreams of their Mindless Magpie Followers. The persuasive tune filled the space left by Lörs forgetting. Pushed aside their lassitude. The Magpies began to see. See how interesting and pretty they could be. Vougish knew all to well the lost are easily given a new compass. This melody. This empty tune, had a purpose. “Hear me” Voguish sang, “I need you. I call you! Be empty no longer. Follow. My. Voice. Find for me charms and jewels hiding in ugly places. Find them and we can dazzle the world.” The magic released as the recital reached its crescendo. A squall of Magpies sprang ready to scour the world at Voguish’sbidding.
Berserk by the power of Meedeea the Magpies leapt, flew and circled here and there, stealing, appropriating and coveting all they could find. Voguish wasn’t satiated with small treasures. Voguish wanted more. “Find me the Jewels!” Voguish howled in torrents of image, scent and sex “Find me the charms!” The Magpies cowered. The wrath of Voguish was fierce, but none of them wanted to be on the bad side of the Meedeea. Frantically they searched. Inspired as much by fear as desire by the song of the Zeitgeist.
After countless moons, the Magpies discovered where Lör slept. At first, the Magpies were worried. Those who live on the right side of forgetfulness might stop them.
Emboldened by Vougish’s spell a few tried to get passed. One or two Magpies were no problem for Lör’s family to fend off. Soon came a horde of them as word spread of Lör’s location. One after the other after the other, a fulguration of monochrome seized the moment and overwhelmed the stewards of Lör’s sleeping. Hysterical at the smell of roots, comfort and duty the Magpies began to tear at Lör. Shredding the blanket of community and culture. They pecked at Lör’s eyes pilfering Dà-shealladh, and Fiosachd. They took from Lör’s fingers Naisg, Caim and Frith. “More! More” Voguish sung, urging their frenzied appropriators onwards. They ripped Manadh and Bruadaraiche from Lör’s mouth and tore from Lör’s crown Taibhsear, Taibhsearan and Fiosaiche. From the shelves they stole language. From the garden, plants and their lore. From the nooks and hearth, food, water and sacred fire. Lör shuddered awake, owl eyes blinking. The cavernous room shook as they watched the last Magpie flyting with a wheat-filled beak and surveyed the devastation.
Voguish thundered with pleasure as the Magpies returned. “Finally,” Voguish thought “I can clothe myself in meaning.” The magpie’s dropped each stolen jewel and charm into a pile at Voguish’s feet. Gleefully they looked on from the surrounding branches as Voguish ploughed into the stolen hoard. Admiring the fine jewels with gleeful grimace.
Voguish’s smile soon changed to a look of confusion. They knew the jewel’s names. Who doesn’t know of the great jewels and gifts Lör gives us. But something was awry. Voguish realised to their horror they did not know how the stolen bounty worked. “The Jewels are not enough!” Voguish thought, outraged. “How does this all work? How does it go together? All I have is names!” This is when Voguish realised they had made a terrible mistake.
Furious with idiocy, Voguish struck Dà-shealladh and Fiosachd with Meedeea shattering them to pieces. “Dà-shealladh – Second Sight” they crooned, and then, weaving their own made up myth to the assembled crowd, spoke of how to “see” with herbal smoke and mirrors. Voguish splintered Naisg, Caim and Frith, “Caim- a conjurers circle” Voguish’s voice once again spat. They beguiled the crowd with lies of conjuring from directions energies to protect and ward. Headlong Voguish went, smashing, repurposing and lying until everyone present had a body made of jewels made in their own image. The Magpies, overjoyed with their dazzling brightness, remarked how colourful they thought they were. They failed to notice how dull they shone, blinded by each other’s brilliance.
Lör was remiss. Their most precious jewels stolen by monochrome robbers. Slowly, saddened by their efforts to prevent what had happened, those treasured by Lör entered. They dared not look Lör in the eye, such was the humiliation. They blinked their sparrow eyes, twitched their fox ears and hopped from toad leg to toad leg in discomfort. Lör spoke heavy-heartedly “Dears,” Lör’s voice, ancient and resounding, “Do not fret so. The poetry isn’t in the rain. It’s in the sound it makes. The jewels have no purpose and make no sense without this …” Those who loved Lör blinked, looking on.
Lör placed a small red ochre rock, leac-theallaich, onto the middle of the bed. The crowd pondered “How could something so seemingly dull be so important?” Lör, picking at the holes in their cosy blanket, swathed themselves and leac-theallaich and began to fall into the other side of absentmindedness. “Voguish may take our language,” Lör sighed, holding the stone to their chest as they lay down. “Voguish may steal our knowledge and culture for reasons we can only guess, but without leac-theallaich – our heritage, our community and the knowledge we hold, all is for naught”. Lör yawned. “Guard well leac-theallaich from Magpies. Though make no person unwelcome who seeks your aid. Recognise we are few and they are many. Remember they are lost and searching. When they return you will know them by their alluring hues. Don’t be blinded by the diverting display. Remember Voguish’s Zeitgesit Song and Meedeea have made them that way. Forgive them. But be wary, dear hearts. ‘Sleamhainn an leac a tha an doras an taighe mhóir’– The powerful make fickle friends”.