Tag Archives: Scottish folklore

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.


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.  

Knocking on Wood

Main Content:

M= Me, I= Informant

M: So you said you grew up with a lot of fairy folklore?

I:  Yeah, um, you know like the knock on wood, that’s the most common one.

M: so what’s… what’s the background behind that? What happens if you don’t knock on wood? You know, why is it knock on wood?

I: Well knock on wood, uh you do it when you say something like that might not happen. Like uh  let’s so you want to get a good grade on a test and you are like “I.. I’m pretty confident, like, I’m gonna ace this test,” then you knock on wood. *knocks on wood* Sorry I shouldn’t have done it. *both laugh* You knock on wood because fairies live in the wood

M: Uh-huh (In agreement)

I: And if they hear you saying something that you want to happen, they’re gonna make it not happen.

M: Ohhhhhh, okay. That’s cool.

I: ‘Cause like fairies used to live in trees and stuff, so you would like, so it would… it would be like outside kinda stuff. 

M: Yeah

I: But since we don’t see trees *laughs* a lot anymore. It’s just become any wood. 

Context: Her parents passed this folk practice to her by simply doing it around her and when she asked why, they told her it so that the fairies don’t stop good things from happening. She was very little when she first learned this so she did believe in this initially. But even though she continued the practice as she grew up, she did not continue truly believing that the fairies were responsible.

Analysis: Given how prevalent fairies are in Scottish and Irish, it makes sense how her parents would pass down this practice to her. This is quite a common practice in the US and even if people don’t fully believe in it, they may do it in order to ‘not risk it’ or even to comfort others fears who do believe in it. This is common with many superstitions as while there may not be scientific evidence to support a superstitions, people still ‘believe’ in them or ‘don’t want to risk it’ because we learn beliefs from those around us. This practice is also consistent with other/earlier portrayals of fairies as they are often portrayed as mischievous creatures in lore and not the sweet and fragile creatures that has been popularized by the media, particularly by Disney.

Fairy Circles

Main Content:

M= Me. I= informant

I: And then fairy circles. As a kid I was never allowed to walk in fairy circles.

M: I don’t know what a fairy circle is. What is that? 

I: Yeah, so you know, um when you see like those rings of mushrooms

M: Uh-huh (in agreement)

I: Or just like a patch of grass that’s dead in a circle

M: Yeah

I: Like those are called fairy circles. And um, I don’t know a lot about the background, but my parents always said like if you stepped in one then fairies would come and like replace you with a fairy

M: Ohhhhhhh, okay. Like a changling?

I: Kind of, yeah.

M: Okay

I: Or, or they just kidnap you. In general. Not even…

M: Okay, not even changed, just take you away *laughing*

I: Yeah

M:Do you think it came from you mom’s side? The fairy stuff? Or from a mix of the two

I: Um, I think *sighs* I think it was a mix of the two. The Germanic stuff was always scarier stuff

Context: She said that it was a mix of both her parents who passed this down to her, which makes sense given that her mother’s Scottish side has a strong history of fairies, while her father’s side has a history of scarier child tales or teachings(German) thus fairy circles would be a good mix of the two. While she no longer believes in them today, she still avoids what are deemed ‘fairy circles’ out of habit, for entertainment, and as a reminder of her parents.

Analysis: This depiction of fairies is consistent with the other lore I’ve read about fairies wherein they are mischievous creatures that will take power if given the opportunity. In this instance, by stepping into the fairy’s territory, you are giving over dominion by being on their ‘turf’ and thus they can snatch you. Additionally, with many other pedagogical teachings in folklore this has the consistent theme of kidnapping, which we have seen used throughout various cultures to steer children away from doing certain things or going to particular places.

Haud Yer Wheesht!


I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.



Interviewer: “Growing up, did you have any sayings that were thrown around your home in Scotland?”

Subject: “Well my mom used to yell ‘Haud yer wheesht!’ at us all the time, she still does. [Laughs] She even does it to you guys, it’s just become part of everyday language for her. It basically means ‘shut up’ but it’s in Scottish. I try not to say it, but when I do people give me a weird look and then I have to explain, and it basically ruins the point of the phrase since we’re talking so much now.”



I’ve found that this is an extremely common phrase in Scotland. According to the Scotsman, “First used in the 14th century, ‘wheesht’ has the handy bonus of being very adaptable. It can be used as a verb, a noun, and an interjection as in asking someone to ‘haud their wheesht’.”

The word ‘wheesht’ comes from adding more sounds to the command ‘Shh’. Many have found that the saying is more dramatic and demanding than the usual “Shut up” and is therefore more effective, especially when said with the seething tone of the wonderful Scottish accent.