Sunday 27 January 2008

More on Scottish Myths & Legends

I started Scottish Myths & Legends on Friday and it was such easy reading I've finished it already - and it was surprisingly good. Surprising, because the book is one produced for the tourist trade, so I wouldn't have expected it to be so entertainingly written.

The tales cover a wide range of Scottish history folklore, from monsters of the lochs, through fairy mounds to Celtic heroes and horrible murderers.

A chapter on witches reminded me just how much witches were persecuted in Scotland in the past, and how they were universally regarded as evil minions of the devil. It makes me feel very lucky to be a witch today, when persecution is (almost) a thing of the past in Britain and most people realise that witches are not devil worshippers.

Here is a precis of one story from the book.

A huntsman was chasing a hare, when suddenly his pack of hounds were set upon by all kinds of animals of the forest. He realised the hare was not normal. Remembering that witches were reputed to have the power to shapechange into beasts, he decided that this must be an evil witch.

His dogs were reluctant to continue the chase, but he whipped them on cruelly until they continued. They followed the trail of the hare and eventually the most vicious of the dogs caught it and savaged it. But then the hare suddenly disappeared.

The huntsman also gave up, but seeing a trail of blood leading into the forest, he urged his dogs to track it. The trail lead to an old cottage in the middle of the wood where, through the window, he saw an old woman trying desperately to staunch the blood from a nasty wound.

He realised she must be an evil witch, who had taken the shape of the hare his dogs had chased. The hunter dragged the old woman from the house. She was put on trial for witchcraft and sentenced to death.

Thank goodness is the situation is now reversed, with witchcraft legalised and hunting being against the law.

Scottish Myths & Legends, by Judy Hamilton, is published by Lomond Books.

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