Tag Archives: Scotland

Siren Legend

Genre: Folk Narrative – Legend

Text:

“When I was younger, I heard this legend about a warrior who lived in Scotland during the height of the medieval wars. Despite his skill in battle, the warrior was lonely and wanted a woman to love.

“One day, in the midst of a battle, this beautiful woman appeared at the crest of a hill and began walking across the field, somehow making it through unscathed. The warrior was immediately entranced by her and felt like he was hallucinating. Even though it was foggy and cold, the woman wore no clothing, and the warrior longed to discover what was hidden beneath her long, dark hair.

“When the woman finally made it to him, the warrior no longer cared about the battle happening around him: he only had eyes for this beautiful, mysterious woman. Her eyes were as blue as the sea, and when she opened her lips to speak, inviting him to follow her down to the beach, he found himself powerless and unable to resist. She led the way out of the battlefield and down to the ocean, where each step into the water seemed to make her even more beautiful.

“But by the time the warrior realized that there was something dangerous to her beauty, it was too late: the water transformed the irresistible woman into a creature of the sea. She dragged the warrior into the ocean, and despite his strength, he was unable to fight back. The woman, who in her true form was a siren, drowned the warrior and feasted on his remains before disappearing back into the sea to wait for the next man she would make her meal.”

Context:

“My great-uncle was a big storyteller, and he was really into mythology about all sorts of creatures and stuff from different cultures. He spent a year living in Scotland after college, and while he was there, he heard this story from a local tour guide. I’m sure the story I ended up hearing was different from the one he originally heard because he likes to embellish things and give stories his own flair. But I think this was kind of his way of warning me not to be stupid and leave everything behind for a girl just because I think she’s beautiful.”

Analysis:

I agree with the informant’s interpretation of the legend – that it is a warning to not become entranced by a woman just because of her attractiveness. There is also an undertone of a warning to not leave behind your life when something suddenly appears to be better – similar to the idea that “the grass is greener on the other side.”

I also think that it is interesting to consider the dilution of this legend from an original Scottish form to what seems to likely be Americanized. In Scottish mythology, the “equivalent” of what here is called a siren is really a selkie. The main difference between the two is sirens are sometimes considered synonymous with mermaids and are known to entrance men through magical song, while selkies are shapeshifters with a human and seal form. Both are typically depicted as seductive in their human forms, though selkies are considered to have more of a dual nature, while sirens primarily lean toward violence.

Loch Ness monster

Content:

Y: So, when I was a kid- like elementary school- I was super afraid of the Loch Ness monster. I don’t remember where I learned about it. I think maybe my dad had watched some show about it. But I was terrified. Like, if I was in a pool, like not in the shallow end, I thought the monster was swimming beneath me. I think a kid had told me that monsters lived in pools and would, like, grab your legs and drag you down, right? So I thought the Loch Ness monster would grab me in the pool. 

Me: What did you know about the Loch Ness monster at that time?

Y: Just that it was big and green and had a long neck and hid in the water all the time. 

Background: Y is a 20 year old who was born and raised in New Jersey. She now resides in Los Angeles, California. 

Context: This story was told to me at a hangout among friends.

Analysis: I was drawn to Y’s story because I had never considered the lore surrounding the Loch Ness monster to be scary. Instead, it seemed in the same vein as Bigfoot or Mothman, who people just wanted to search for in an attempt to prove their existence. Instead, Y’s exposure to the lore at a young age affected her perception of the myth, and the myth combined with other childhood lore to shape her fear. 

The Nine Maidens of Dundee

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Scottish

Age: 67

Occupation: Electrician

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s):

(Notes-The informant will be referred to DM as and the interviewer as K)

Background info: DM is the father of 4 from Scotland who moved to the United States when he was a young child. Both his parents are Scottish, which is how he knows of Scottish folklore like the one being spoken about. He told me this story at the grove over lunch.

K: So, what’s the name o the story, how do you know of it, and what’s the uh content for the performance? I mean like…under what circumstances is it like told?

DM: Ah it’s called the none maidens of Dundee. Everyone who grew up in my little-little town knows of it, as we be right outside Dundee. It’s just sort of told around, it’s not at any parades or nothing of the sort, it’s more sad or an explanation…no more of history about the town, somethin for tourists.

K: Ok cool so…whenever you’re ready to tell the story go ahead, however you wanna tell it works.

DM: Aye. A farmer had 9 beautiful, maiden daughters. He would send the oldest one out for water at a well every day but one day she did not return. So he sent the next eldest and so on and so forth. After all nine failed to return, he went to go see for himself and saw all nine of his daughters lay dead against the well, and wrapped around them was a giant dragon that looked like an uh…a snake. The farmer then fled to his neighbors and then all of them attempted to kill the dragon. He tried to escape but then young man named Martin *raises a fist and begins to stand up* HIT the dragon while everyone yelled: “strike martin, strike!”

K: Wow, did he manage to kill the dragon?

DM: Aye. The area was named “strike-martin” which would eventually change into “Strathmartine”.

Interpretation: This was super interesting and enlightening to what Scottland and Scottish people hold dear when it comes to morals and such. The farmer’s 9 daughters were killed, the farmer ran to get help and people helped him to the point where they killed the beast that killed his daughters. You could argue that anyone would run for help after seeing their daughters killed by the dragon, but the fact that people were so willing to help fight something that had the strength to kill 9 people is striking. It shows that Scotland teaches young children that helping people is essential, and is normally rewarded, as a part of the town was named after the man who killed the dragon.

Folk Belief: It’s Good Luck to Kill a Scotsman

Main Piece: 

Informant: “There’s a law in England that in York on Sunday, you’re allowed to kill a Scotsman with a bow and arrow. So- I mean, this was put in place in the 1700s when England was at war with Scotland and it was never repealed, so it still exists. So, apparently, some people think that if you do this— Of course, there are like law kinda hierarchies, so the murder law I think also applies. I mean, it’s apparently supposed to give you luck if you do kill a Scotsman. I mean, I’ve never tried it but…”

Collector: “Is there any like traditions or things that people do on a Sunday to celebrate this law? Besides killing Scotsmen.”

Informant: “Well, you know, I don’t know. I heard, you know, a thing once. This might be one guy. I heard people like treat the Scotsperson as an animal and they left, you know, a bowl of haggis outside as bait. And they would wait in the bushes. I mean, this is England, so…”

Collector: “Do the Scotsmen like this?”

Informant: “I don’t think so. I don’t think they go to York on a Sunday.”

Background:

My informant had not personally partaken in any of the rituals surrounding this law. From the way he presented it, it was up to individual interpretation how to personally engage with this law, hence the singular person hiding in the bushes. No set rituals necessarily exist in any official or widely known capacity. My informant said he understands it as the good luck associated with the killing is what is well known. He also made it clear that these efforts were obviously facetious and the repetition of “it’s good luck to kill a Scotsman in York on Sunday with a bow and arrow” is something of a running joke.

Thoughts:

There are direct ties between this piece of folklore and intercultural tensions. At the time of the laws establishment, there was an active war between England and Scotland. However, in the modern United Kingdoms, there is a different sort of tension. The Scottish Independence Movement is largely championed by Scots and largely blocked by British government. As such, while the two cultures are within the same nation, there is a tension between the Scots’ desire to leave and the relative power that the British have. I think it’s possible that this folklore is a piece of malevolent humor shared between the Brits. It serves primarily to denigrate the Scots as a group but is obviously facetious enough not to be too egregious for public.

Main Piece: The Bonnie Banks o’Loch Lomand

The Bonnie Banks o’Loch Lomand

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes

Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond

Where me and my true love will ne-er meet again 

On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

Chorus:

O you’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road

And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye

For me and my true love will ne-er meet again

On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

Background: The informant sang this Scottish folk melody in her high school choir. Every year at graduation, the chorus would perform this song in honor of the graduating seniors, it was a tradition. When she graduated, the most emotional part of the ceremony was hearing the students she had to leave sing to her just after receiving her diploma. 

Context: I asked the informant to tell me her favorite song. Instead of giving me her favorite, she gave me the most meaningful and explained to me why The Bonnie Banks o’Loch Lomand holds so much significance. 

Thoughts: The Bonnie Banks o’Loch Lomand is a Scottish folk song about two soldiers who were held in captivity when by the Brits in 1945. One soldier escapes imprisonment and travels back to Scotland, and the other is executed, but his spirit returns to Scotland on a different path. The traditional understanding of this song is important to the culture and history of Scotland. However, the way that my friend interprets the song has less to do with the narrative in the lyrics, and more to do with the feelings and associations that surface when she hears the chorus. The literal meaning is irrelevant to her life but speaks to how one folk artifact can hold spark many different sentiments depending on the context in which it is learned. 

*see  Douglas, Ronald Macdonald. Scottish Lore and Folklore. Crown Publishers: New York: 1982 for more information on the origin of this text.