Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Dream Catcher and Blue Bonnets and Highlands Folkore


I really enjoyed reading tales and legends from Scotland whilst researching for my historical romantic trilogy DANCING FOR THE DEVIL, which is mostly set in the far north of the Highlands.

 Photo courtesy of Pixabay


In Book 1 of the Trilogy - THE DREAM CATCHER - my heroine's first experience of Scotland is a terrible storm as her ship sails through the Minch - the body of water stretching between the north-west Highlands, the northern Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Folklore tells of a tribe of supernatural sea creatures who inhabited these waters - the Blue Men of the Minch. Partly human and partly mermen, they had blue skin and used to swim alongside ships and try to lure sailors into the water. They also had the ability to conjure storms and wreck ships, but interestingly they spared sailors who had a talent for poetry...

 They were said to live in caves at the bottom of the sea but their sentinel were always on the look out and alerted the others when a ship was sailing through the Minch. The chief of the Blue Men then gathered his men, ready for the attack. Before attacking the ship he would rise high in the water and shout to the skipper two lines of poetry. If the skipper was unable to respond immediately by adding two lines to complete the verse, the Blue Men would take the ship and drag it down to the bottom of the sea. If the skipper could complete the verse, his ship would be allowed to carry on safely.

Here is a boatman's song about the Blue Men:

When the tide is at the turning and the wind is fast asleep,
And not a wave is curling on the wide, blue deep,
Oh, the waters will be churning in the stream that never smiles,
Where the Blue Men are splashing round the charm├Ęd isles.


As the summer wind goes droning o'er the sun-bright seas,
And the Minch is all a-dazzle to the Hebrides,
They will skim along like salmon--you can see their shoulders gleam,
And the flashing of their fingers in the Blue Men's Stream.


But when the blast is raving and the wild tide races,
The Blue Men are breast-high with foam-grey faces;
They'll plunge along with fury while they sweep the spray behind,
Oh, they'll bellow o'er the billows and wail upon the wind.


And if my boat be storm-toss'd and beating for the bay,
They'll be howling and be growling as they drench it with the spray--
For they'd like to heel it over to their laughter when it lists,
Or crack the keel between them, or stave it with their fists.


Oh, weary on the Blue Men, their anger and their wiles!
The whole day long, the whole night long, they're splashing round the isles;
They'll follow every fisher--ah! they'll haunt the fisher's dream--
When billows toss, Oh, who would cross the Blue Men's Stream!


(taken from http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/tsm/tsm08.htm)

 So where does the legend of the Blue Men of the Minch come from?

The obvious explanation is of course that the Blue Men are in fact not magical creatures at all, but porpoises which are often seen in the seas around Scotland.

 Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Historians also suggest two other possibilities. Firstly, the tales of Blue Men may refer to the ancient Picts who used to paint their body and may have used kayak-like boats to cross the waters of the Minch, therefore giving the impression that they were only half human.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Another explanation links the Blue Men to the time of the Vikings who around the 9th century took Moors captured in North Africa to Ireland to be slaves. The Vikings spent winter months near the Shiant Isles in the Minch, and some historians believe the blue men are in fact "marooned foreign slaves" (Mackenzie (2013), loc. 1391). More specifically, these Moors may be Tuaregs, who were always called the 'Blue Men of the Desert' owing to their indigo clothing and headscarves.

Then again, they might just be magical merfolk...


THE DREAM CATCHER and BLUE BONNETS are available from
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dream-Catcher-Dancing-Devil-Book-ebook-y/dp/B017D73N0Q/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blue-Bonnets-Dancing-Devil-Book-ebook/dp/B019E15RTE/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
And watch out for SWORD DANCE, Book 3 in the Trilogy, to be released on March 31st!

No comments: