The Gaelic Otherworld: John Gregorson Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands

The Gaelic Otherworld: John Gregorson Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands

The Gaelic Otherworld: John Gregorson Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands

The Gaelic Otherworld: John Gregorson Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands

Synopsis

"John Gregorson Campbell (1834-91), a Gaelic speaker from Appin who spent his life as minister of Tiree, was one of a number of outstanding folklorists working in Scotland during the second half of the nineteenth century. Based on materials which he had gathered in the 1850s and 1860s, his Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands were published posthumously in 1900 and 1902. Engagingly written in an anecdotal style, they introduce us to a galaxy of fairies, witches, ghosts and supernatural creatures, as well as general superstitions and the beliefs and rituals of the traditional calendar. Having been written as a single work, they are now reunited as one volume. The Gaelic originals of Campbell's shorter quotes are brought out of his footnotes into the main text, and the Gaelic originals of his longer ones have been restored from previously unpublished manuscripts." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This book shows that there was not a single Gaelic otherworld but three, peopled respectively by Fairies, spirits and witches.

Chapters 1–3 speak of the Fairies. This is a secular otherworld, demonstrating little of magic beyond what science has now given us – the ability to fly, for example. Notwithstanding the author's remark about the 'tinge of the ludicrous' (p. 27), stories about the Fairies are to be taken seriously, for they can be shown to represent preFreudian psychiatry, and to provide an appropriately fictionalised setting for discussion of everyday moral dilemmas. In terms of twenty-first-century culture they are soap.

This 'first otherworld' is nothing if not complete. Chapter 4 shows that in addition to the Fairies there is the domesticated glaistig or gruagach, the offspring of unions between humans and Fairies – the indigenous equivalent of the brownie, who also appears in his own right. There is an animal kingdom, too, described in chapters 5 and 6, which the author arranges for us in what appears to be descending order, biologically speaking: the urisk (a sort of Highland monkey), blue men, streamers, mermaid, waterhorse, water-bull, etc.

Chapters 15–17 speak of spirits, ghosts and the second sight. This 'second otherworld' is the simplest of the three. It is the abode of the dead and of omens of death. It is sad, morbid and violent, and clearly in terms of entertainment it has the same function (and the same allure) as horror movies. In a sense it is the most immediate of the three otherworlds because it deals with something faced at one time or another by all of us, and because the phenomenon of second sight forced it repeatedly and involuntarily upon people's attention.

Chapters 11–14 speak of witchcraft and the devil. This is the religious otherworld, influenced by Protestantism but full of magic and the machinery of magic. It is a study in polarities – God and the devil; healing and harming; human beings who voluntarily partake of the supernatural, as opposed to those in Fairy stories who may wander into the sìthein or be captured by the Fairies but nevertheless retain their humanity. In terms of science it represents primitive medicine; with regard to genre, the best present-day analogy is probably television news, documentaries and satire. Stories about it tend to be peopled with real celebrities rather than fictionalised ordinary folk, and their purpose is to inform and entertain rather than to discuss. Of the three otherworlds, it is the funniest; taghairm nan cat (pp. 167–68) is a pantomime with a strong message about cruelty to animals. That this was necessary is demonstrated by the custom of burying a cat alive to get a favourable wind (p. 189); for another memorate about cruelty to animals, not at all funny, see p. 191.

Each of these otherworlds represents a different attempt to probe the mysteries of time and space. The Fairies and their fellow-creatures live mainly in the visible . . .

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