Scottish mythology

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Myths

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Celtic mythology

Celtic polytheism
Celtic deities

Ancient Celtic religion

Druids · Bards · Vates
British Iron Age religion
Celtic religious patterns
Gallo-Roman religion
Romano-British religion

British mythology

Welsh mythology
Breton mythology
Mabinogion · Taliesin
Cad Goddeu
Trioedd Ynys Prydein
Matter of Britain · King Arthur

Gaelic mythology

Irish mythology
Scottish mythology
Tuatha Dé Danann
Mythological Cycle
Ulster Cycle
Fenian Cycle
Immrama · Echtrae

See also

Celt · Gaul
Galatia · Celtiberians
Early history of Ireland
Prehistoric Scotland
Prehistoric Wales
Index of related articles

Scottish mythology may refer to any of the mythologies of Scotland. Myths have emerged for various purposes throughout the history of Scotland, sometimes being elaborated upon by successive generations, and at other times being completely rejected and replaced by other explanatory narratives.

National mythology

  • Origin legends: Several origin legends for the Scots were created during the historical period, serving various purposes. Wishing to maintain a connection with Ireland, a common origin in the kingdom of Dál Riata was asserted for many centuries. The Scottish Crown's claim of independence against the aggressively expansionist English Crown during the Scottish Wars of Independence was the incentive for other more creative origin legends.
  • Picts: Once the Picts were assimilated into the Gaelic world and their actual characteristics faded out of memory, folkloric elements filled the gaps of history. Their "sudden disappearance" was explained as a slaughter happening at a banquet given by Kenneth MacAlpin (an international folklore motif) and they were ascribed with powers like those of the fairies, brewing heather from secret recipes and living in underground chambers. In the eighteenth century, as Lowlanders were eager to be accepted as fellow Anglo-Saxons by the Anglocentric British Empire, the Picts were co-opted as a "Germanic" race despite the fact that linguistic studies have shown the pictish language to have been either a pre-celtic or a brythonic language.

See also Duan Albanach

Gaelic mythology

Because of the close linguistic links between Ulster and the west of Scotland much of Gaelic mythology was imported and infact created in Scotland. The Ulster Cycle, set around the beginning of the Christian era, consists of a group of heroic stories dealing with the lives of Conchobar mac Nessa, king of Ulster, the great hero Cúchulainn, and of their friends, lovers, and enemies. These are the Ulaid, or people of the North-Eastern corner of Ireland and the action of the stories centres round the royal court at Emain Macha, close to the modern city of Armagh. The Ulaid had close links with Gaelic Scotland, where Cúchulainn is said to have learned the arts of war. The cycle consists of stories of the births, early lives and training, wooings, battles, feastings and deaths of the heroes and reflects a warrior society in which warfare consists mainly of single combats and wealth is measured mainly in cattle. These stories are written mainly in prose. The centrepiece of the Ulster Cycle is the Táin Bó Cúailnge. Other important Ulster Cycle tales include The Tragic Death of Aife's only Son, Bricriu's Feast, and The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel. This cycle is, in some respects, close to the mythological cycle of the rest of the Gaelic speaking world. Some of the characters from the latter reappear, and the same sort of shape-shifting magic is much in evidence, side by side with a grim, almost callous realism. While we may suspect a few characters, such as Medb or Cú Roí, of once being deities, and Cúchulainn in particular displays superhuman prowess, the characters are firmly mortal and rooted in a specific time and place.

Finn and the Fianna

The stories of Finn (Irish: Fionn) mac Cumhaill and his band of soldiers the Fianna, appear to be set around the 3rd century in Gaelic Ireland and Scotland. They differ from other Gaelic mythological cycles in the strength of their links with the Gaelic-speaking community in Scotland and there are many extant texts from that country. They also differ from the Ulster Cycle in that the stories are told mainly in verse and that in tone they are nearer to the tradition of romance than the tradition of epic. The single most important source for the Fenian Cycle is the Acallam na Senórach (Colloquy of the Old Men), which is found in two 15th century manuscripts, the Book of Lismore and Laud 610, as well as a 17th century manuscript from Killiney, County Dublin. The text is dated from linguistic evidence to the 12th century. The text records conversations between the last surviving members of the Fianna and Saint Patrick and runs to some 8,000 lines. The late dates of the manuscripts may reflect a longer oral tradition for the Fenian stories, the same oral tradition which was interpreted from Gaelic to English by James MacPherson in the Ossian stories. The Fianna of the story are divided into the Clann Baiscne, led by Fionnghall, and the Clann Morna, led by his enemy, Goll mac Morna. Goll killed Fionnghall's father, Cumhal, in battle and the boy Fionn was brought up in secrecy. As a youth, while being trained in the art of poetry, he accidentally burned his thumb while cooking the Salmon of Knowledge, which allowed him to suck or bite his thumb in order to receive bursts of stupendous wisdom. He took his place as the leader of his band and numerous tales are told of their adventures. Two of the greatest Gaelic tales, Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne) and Oisin in Tir na nOg form part of the cycle. The Diarmuid and Grainne story, which is one of the few Fenian prose tales, is a probable source of Tristan and Iseult. The world of the Fenian Cycle is one in which professional warriors spend their time hunting, fighting, and engaging in adventures in the spirit world. New entrants into the band are expected to be knowledgeable in poetry as well as undergo a number of physical tests or ordeals. Again, there is no religious element in these tales unless it is one of hero-worship.

Religious mythology

Myth is sometimes an aspect of folklore, but not all myth is folklore, nor is all folklore myth or mythological.

People who express an interest in mythology are often most focused on non-human (sometimes referred to as "supernatural") beings. There have been numerous groups of such entities in Scottish culture, some of them specific to particular ethnic groups (Gaelic, Norse, Germanic, etc), others of them probably evolving from the circumstances unique to Scotland.

The Aos-sídhe, Sìdhichean, or "Fairies" were originally the pre-Christian divinities of Gaelic Scotland. They eventually came to "co-habitate" the conceptual spiritual world with Christianity, generally diminishing in power and prominence over the centuries. The medieval Gaelic literati grouped them together as the Tuatha De Danann, who share certain characteristics with other characters in Celtic literature. Folk beliefs about the Banshee also reflect aspects of these beings.

There are other supernatual beings whose characteristics reflect folkloric patterns from around the world. Ancestral spirits, and giants who help to form the landscape and represent the forces of nature, are ubitiquous and may point to non-elite registers of mythology.

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