Category Archives: Scottish Culture

Where’s Your Gods Now?

(Poor grammar in title intentional.)

In an effort to do some more background research for the yet-incomplete third novel of my epic urban fantasy trilogy (genre coined by this hopeful and not at all out of conceit), I’ve begun delving into Celtic mythology. Partly because I’ve always wanted to learn more about it, and partly because I have a masochistic attitude toward the amount of projects currently occupying my schedule.

The gods of the Gaels are a dark and mysterious lot. Most of them evolved in the British Isles, and as such are often concerned with water and darkness as much as venerated for bringing sunshine and light. In an area that sees epic amounts of rainfall, it makes perfect sense for the Gaels to have created an even more discrete dichotomy for their diametrically opposing forces of gods.

Yin Yang

Yin Yang (Photo credit: M@R©K)

The Gaelic Dichotomy

Dark and light, night and day, crunchy and smooth.

A dichotomous arrangement of pagan gods was not uncommon in pre-Christian civilisations. Thor and Odin fought the Jötuns; Zeus, Hera, and Co. fought the giants; and the Indian Devas fought the Asuras. The X-Men fought the Brotherhood of Mutants.

For the Gaels, their gods presided on opposite sides of the horizon. The Tuatha Dé Danann were the gods of sun, light, fertility, prosperity, hugs, and puppies. The Fomors reigned over night, darkness, and everything nature does to make your day more obnoxious.

The former are named for the over-goddess Danu, the mother of all other Gaelic gods. More about her later. The Fomors, whose name comes from the Gaelic for “under the sea” (not a reference to a wee red crab singing to a recalcitrant mermaid) have even more levels of interesting within their appellation.

For dwellers of an island nation, especially one prone to as much sogginess as those that occupy the North Atlantic, the sea represented a cold mystery that could (and did) hold death as much as it provided sustenance. Dark and wet and hostile — these were the Fomors. Often ugly and misshapen (with a few notable exceptions), even the deities themselves were analogies of the strange creatures that lurk beneath the waves.

Even beyond that, the line between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomors is all the more distinct for the extremities of night and day that exist in the northern latitudes. Winter is long and dark, buffeted by winds from the seas. Summer is brief, but full of light and stretching days. These natural elements shaped the Gaelic gods like a pudding in a mould.

Note the spiral triskele, a symbol of the triune path of womanhood from maiden to mother to crone and the unity of all its parts.

Danu, Goddess of Lots of Sex and Babies

While Danu is credited as the mother of all Celtic gods, it should be said that she  is the oldest goddess we have record of, and it’s likely that farther back in time, there were tales of her forbears as well.

Danu is the quintessential fertility goddess, bringer of light and the one to chase barrenness out of your bedchamber with a broom. The etymology of her name (because I’m a nerd about things like that) comes from the Indo-European root meaning “flowing water,” and interestingly there is a mother-goddess of the Indian Asuras by the same name. You’ll also find it as a name for rivers like the Danube.

Lompoc Dagda Barrel-aged Irish Style Red Ale

And the Great Good and Many-Gifted has become…beer. Lompoc Dagda Barrel-aged Irish Style Red Ale (Photo credit: The Northwest Beer Guide (aka, The Pickled Liver))

Dagda, the Goodly-Wise

Danu’s benevolent counterpart (though not her husband) was Dagda, whose name means “the good god.” He was an earth god and can sometimes be seen depicted as a green man, though in most stories he’s wearing more brown tunic than leafy-face.

Dagda had a cauldron called “Umbry,” from which people were given food according to their merit (I assume that applies to the quality of the food, because it’s also said that no one would leave unsated — though if you sucked as a human, you’d likely be sated on stale lumpy porridge rather than roast veal and honeycakes). Benevolent as he was, Dagda also toted a massive war club around with him that took eight men to lift — so don’t doubt his smiting abilities by the fact that he named his cauldron.

This is all much too friendly for the warlike Celts, so let’s move on to…

silver hands

Like this, but just the one. silver hands (Photo credit: Neil)

Nuada Silver Hand

Dubbed Argetlán for his shiny metallic appendage, Nuada wasn’t all about the glitz. Or at least, not the sort of glitz one might expect. Nuada delighted in slaughter and surrounded himself with warlike consorts (who were incidentally also known for their skill in the battleground of bed).

Savage and bloodthirsty, Nuada was twice the High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, ousted for seven years by Bress (a half-Fomor and one of the few exceptions to the “all Fomors are really hideous” clause”), and restored when he gained a fully-functional silver hand to replace the one that got sliced off in battle. In Welsh mythology, he is known as Lludd Llaw Eraint (which also means Silver Hand).

The Mother, the Giver, the Warlord. These form the cornerstones of Gaelic mythology and provide a window into the values of my ancestors. They worshiped gods who provided life and acted with generosity, and they worshiped gods who protected their lands from the already-evident pattern of encroaching invaders. Gods who they hoped would keep the night and the sea at bay (no pun intended) and create a bountiful land from the lush but isolated islands of the North Atlantic.

Next time we’ll get ugly and talk about the Fomors — until then I am going to see if I can go find myself the Undry to see what food I’m worthy of consuming.

Dichotomies and symbolism are inherent in all religions. In what ways do you see the similarities between the ancient faiths and contemporary religion?


Would Scotland Vote to Join the Union?

I came across a very interesting blog today, posted by Blair Jenkins of the Yes Scotland campaign for Scottish Independence.

I want to quote a few lines here, but then I will direct you over to the site for the remainder of his thought-provoking post.

Earlier this week, I caught up over a beer with a friend and former colleague from BBC and STV days, Ron Abercrombie. Ron is an enthusiastic Yes supporter who raised the interesting question of what the anti-independence campaign would look like if Scotland had remained independent and the vote in 2014 was on whether we should now join the union.

Please read the rest of this article by Blair Jenkins here. (The remainder of this post is my own commentary. I am unaffiliated with the Yes Scotland campaign or Mr. Jenkins himself. My words and my views are my own. The above quote was written by Blair Jenkins on the Yes Scotland blog.)

So much of the focus of this debate has been directed at Scotland to prove why she should have autonomy. To prove that she could handle independence, and that her people are capable of governing and supporting themselves.

I personally find the subtext of that focus to be more than a little insulting.

It insinuates that Scotland’s people cannot be capable enough to run their own country, and that they ought to leave the governing of vital issues to Mumsy in London. Scotland is not a child, and her people are far from incompetent.

Jenkins brings up a very good point — what independent, sovereign nation would vote to:

  • have their government hundreds of miles away
  • have their people represented only as a tiny minority
  • allow a massive nuclear arsenal to be located a stone’s throw from their largest metropolis (when the majority of voters oppose nuclear weapons)
  • relinquish all control over immigration
  • hand over their citizens to fight in illegal wars the voters oppose
  • provide huge amounts of energy, oil, and natural gas from which they will see little profit or gain and render said profit and gain to another country
  • remand control of healthcare and education to a nation seeking privatisation
  • live under a government 85% of voters are diametrically opposed to

It sounds absurd.

It sounds like America in 2000 getting stuck with George W. Bush when the bumbling Electoral College plunked him in the Oval Office — if he’d lost by a margin of 85%-15% instead of the slimmer margin of popular votes he received.

It sounds like a joke.

It’s not a joke.

Most Scots oppose nuclear warfare and weaponry. Most Scots are much farther left on the political spectrum than their English counterparts. Scotland’s people deserve a government that reflects their values, their hopes for the future, and the dignity of their unique history. They deserve to be an equal partner on the world’s stage instead of having their interests brushed off as a fringe minority.

If there is a clearer example of why any nation on earth should be independent, point me toward it. The Kurds and the Palestinians are stuck in a much more violent version of this tale.

Scotland deserves the right to chart her own course.

As a voter, would you choose to live under a government so drastically differing from your own views and so oblivious and dismissive of your needs? Would you vote to have projects you find abhorrent sheltered on your doorstep? Would you vote your countrypeople into a war you find immoral and illegal? Would you sacrifice the social values you hold for someone else’s prerogative? Would you allow politicians to cut off programs that entice bright, educated people to migrate to your land when your cities are undergoing a brain drain?

If you answered yes to any of those questions at all, I would sincerely like to know why.

From immigration to nuclear development, energy to education, Scotland differs from its southern neighbour in many distinct ways. If Scotland were still an independent nation today and the question raised was whether she ought to join England, Wales, and Northern Ireland — would her people find that the best route? Or would they give a respectful shake of the head and raise the saltire to fly with pride?



…The Brave

Heather at the Battlefield of Culloden. July 2004, taken during my first sojourn in Scotland.

…The Brave

I received an interesting comment earlier today from a Scot living in Portugal. He expressed that he had never considered Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom until recently, but that now he was increasingly in favour of it. As evidenced by the Scottish flag in the topmost position on my sidebar to your right, my stance on Scotland’s independence is neither private nor ambiguous.


This gentleman brought up an interesting facet of the debate when he mentioned Scotland’s massive oil reserves (estimated to be approximately 20-25% of the EU’s total). But what makes a clearer case for Scotland’s success is not necessarily North Sea oil — it’s her renewables.

Scotland leads the UK in the progress toward renewable energy sources. She outstripped her target of 31% in 2011 by four percentage points, and each year Scotland cultivates more of her vast natural resources to provide renewable and sustainable energy sources for her people that will extend into the future.

Wind, hydro, wave, biofuels — those are just a small sampling of Scotland’s arsenal. And Scotland last year provided over 40% of the UK’s total renewable energy.

While Scotland still uses oil and gas to power the country, the disparity between the figures is a swiftly closing gap — one that will provide opportunity, job growth, and a cleaner, more beautiful nation when she achieves her independence.

Scotland’s devotion to clean energy is not only remarkable in Europe — it’s world class.


With the referendum growing closer and strong feelings on each side, I want to hear more opinions. From Scots. From the English. From the Welsh and the Northern Irish and the Irish. From Europeans in general and anyone who cares enough to learn about this decision.

I’ve said it before, but I think when that ballot arrives and Scots have the opportunity to cast their votes for Scotland’s future, it won’t necessarily be about the facts and figures. It probably won’t be about North Sea oil or offshore wind and wave farms. It won’t be about what currency they’ll use or if they’ll join the Schengen territory of the EU. It won’t be about William Wallace, and it won’t be about Edward Longshanks.

It will be about Scotland. It will be about Scots. It will be about the future of their nation, their land. And I believe it will be about a feeling.

When I lived in Scotland, I can’t count the number of times I heard a Scottish person refute someone’s claim that they were “British.” While it’s merely anecdotal, in my experience both Scots and Welsh are far less likely to say they’re from the UK  or self-identify as British.

That self-held portion of identity will play a large role in the upcoming referendum, something I think has come into play during this Olympic games as proud Scot Andy Murray was forbidden to wear his trademark saltire wristbands as he earned the gold medal — and while unionists have crowed over his draping the Union Jack over his shoulders, it’s important to remember that he would not have been allowed to do so with the Scottish saltire.

Though the Guardian has gleefully taken the stance that the Olympic Games have birthed a new British patriotism — a stance that to me seems contingent on the lack of Scottish flags, which are banned — I see the opposite. I’d love to hear more voices on this.

What I’ve seen is many phenomenal Scottish athletes like Andy Murray and Chris Hoy subsumed into “England.” Not to mention the slew of jokes that occurred at Wimbledon at Murray’s expense, “He’s British if he wins, Scottish if he loses.” I’ve even heard commentators refer to Team GB as the English team on multiple occasions, and I believe that in the Opening Ceremonies, the pro-unionist movement missed a vital opportunity to showcase the diversity of the union in favour of anglocentrism.

This choice is a reflection of a wider belief, I think. There is a wealth of discrete history and culture in the “fringe states” of the United Kingdom, but none of it seems to matter. Will it have an effect on the referendum? No idea. More telling might be the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in which Scotland is competing separately — incidentally the summer before the scheduled vote.

My Question For You

I would love to hear more opinions from English people on the subject of Scottish independence. What do you feel Scotland brings to the table? Do you believe Scotland should be an independent nation? Why or why not? Have the Olympics and Team GB affected your thoughts on the subject?

And from Scots, what benefit do you see in staying within the UK? Do you feel that inclusion in the United Kingdom continues to look out for the best interests of Scotland? Do you feel that the wider UK government accurately and consistently addresses your needs and beliefs?

And if the answer to the above questions are no, the most important question is: do you believe you have the power to improve the state of Scottish affairs within the United Kingdom, specifically in regards to immigration, public services, education, and foreign policy? For those powers that are not devolved to Scotland already (all foreign affairs, immigration, etc.), do you feel that your best interests and the best interests of Scotland are represented by the Conservative government in Westminster?

I know what my answers to those questions are. But I want to hear from people who will have the power to make this decision — and those upon whom it will have a direct effect. (While I might be included in that down the line, for now I have no say but this blog.)


Scotland Beats 2011 Green Energy Target,

Andy Murray Beats Federer,

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