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 The GalGael Peoples of Scotland

The Gal-Gael Peoples of Scotland: On Tradition Re-bearing, Recovery of Place and Making Identity Anew


by Alastair McIntosh


[Also availagle in PDF  of original Cencrastus published version with photographs (7.4 MB) - click here]


This material was first published by Cencrastus: Scottish and International Literature, Arts and Affairs, Edinburgh, 56, 6-15, 1997. The version here carries a short introduction and updated notes. It appeared in Nature Religion Today, ed. Joanne Pearson, Richard Roberts & Geoffrey Samuel, Edinburgh University Press, 180-202,1998. In this version as produced here, it comprises an introduction, the GalGael poem, and extensive notes to the poem which represent an essay in their own right about place, belonging and identity within the Celtic tradition. Click here for further research material on Scots constitutional theology.


Click here to jump to: [The GalGael poem (on this page)] [The GalGael poem notes] [The GalGael Trust website] [The late Colin Macleod - Eulogies] [PDF of original Cencrastus published version (7.4 MB)]



Introduction (this bit's mainly for the academics)


How do we overcome that anomie of which Durkheim wrote a century ago - that sense of placelessness, emptiness, rootlessness and meaninglessness which colonisation and the neo-colonialism of advanced industrial society has bequested?


     This question is daily forced in the face of Europe’s poor. And it has emerged in Scotland at the cutting edge of action for social and ecological justice. At its heart is the nature of identity and belonging in communities that are no longer tribal and pre-industrial, but multi-ethnic and postmodern.


     The poetic work and integral endnotes that follows developed out of Glasgow’s M77 motorway protest at Pollok and the confluence that this formed with other events. These included moves towards re-establishing a Scottish parliament, Scottish land reform (especially on the Isle of Eigg) and the campaign to prevent Mt. Roineabhal on the Isle of Harris - a National Scenic Area - from being turned into a superquarry by Redland Aggregates plc to pave Europe with more motorways.


     The statement was requested of me by Colin MacLeod, who lead the Pollok protest and started a family there. It had been asked of him by Mi’Kmaq warrior chief (now, emeritus) and sacred peace pipe carrier, Sulian Stone Eagle Herney, in his capacity as director of the First Nations Environmental Network in Canada. Stone Eagle had visited Pollok in 1994 on his way to the Isle of Harris at my invitation. Together with the Rev. Prof. Donald MacLeod of the Free Church College, the three of us presented the government public inquiry with unprecedented theological testimony concerning reverence for the integrity of creation.[1]


     On his home territory of Cape Breton Island, Stone Eagle had been mandated by the late Grand Chief Donald Marshall to prevent the superquarrying of Mt. Kluscap by Kelly Rock, a local subsidiary of Readymix Concrete. International publicity over the defending of our Scottish mountain helped in the defence of his.


     In defence of the Earth, in striving for native land rights and in search of cultural soul, our respective native peoples are presently coming together after five centuries of tragic colonial history. This calls for new and inclusive understandings of what it means to be “indigenous”. It means recovering our near-lost traditions so that we can again bear them as a compass. And if the elders are broken, the young, like so many of those at Pollok, must rise to early responsibility. Thus the Mi’Kmaq have made Colin MacLeod into the first ever non-Mi’Kmaq district war chief in recognition of his assumption of responsibility in non-violent defence of mother Earth. And as Barney MacCormack, bard of Craigencalt in Fife, wrote on the wall of my son Adam’s tree house:


Child go break off from the herd

go beyond the lowlands

leave the valley of shed antlers

the elders are sick

it is your time now



The Gal-Gael Peoples of Scotland


Written at the request of and dedicated to Tawny, Colin and Gehan

Macleod and other powerful gentle warriors at the Pollok Free State M77 Motorway Protest in Glasgow, whose endeavours for renewal are both ecological and cultural.



We, the Gal-Gael, being a loose association of some native peoples of Scotland, extend our hand to all other indigenous peoples in the world. By invitation of First Nation friends in North America we ask to address you with these words.


(I) The Shoaling


Dear fellow creatures, sisters, brothers, children:

for some years now we have been listening

Awakening to hear you speak

in ocean swell across the great Atlantic

in musical rhythms danced from brightest Africa’s savannah

in wind’s feathered mantras fluttering out from prayer flags

of the high Himalaya

in ancient Aboriginal songlines

waulking even through Precambrian bedrock folds[2]

of overworld high roads

underworld low roads[3]

North South East

West of our own recovering discovering shamanic tradition

By all such ways and more

dear long-lost much-abus’ed friends

we have heard the speaking of your drums

been touch’ed

late if not last

by open waiting of your hearts

And ask you to accept us now

a native peoples

the ‘Gal-Gael’[4]

of Scotland, Alba,

these Northern tracts of Albion

by apple fragrant Avalon


When sun’s white light streams in through raindrop lens

and rainbows arch the covenant of hope[5]

all colours make all peoples from one source

And so it is we here

and more besides

have wrestled long and hard with what it means

to be a Scottish native peoples

of diversity

What does it mean

to be the black among us like the white

the Pole, Italian, Russian and Pakistani

the Tamil, Sinhalese the Japanese and Chinese

English just as Scot or Welsh, Flemish German Moslem Jew pagan

Irish - Protestant and Catholic?

What does it mean for us a rainbow spectrum

to be a Peoples of this place?

Fully indigenous. Fully belonging.


By salmon’s course

we have arrived

long shoaling at the estuary, waiting, waiting, waiting

but Spate now running So we leap ...

Protesting motorways in Glasgow

Refuting superquarry mountain destruction Bride’s isle the He-brides[6]

Fighting to heat the dampened love-warm crisis-torn homes

of those of us in urban native reservation housing schemes

(where TV up a tower block offers nature’s only window[7]

one fifth of Scotland’s people live in poverty)

And “resetting seeds of Eden”[8]

one foot venturing into Eden[9]

with Muir and Burns, MacDiarmid, White and mostly unnamed women’s song[10]

pressing down “wet desert” sod to replant native trees[11]

in Border dale and Highland strath

and on the blighted bing

Struggling to regain

a music, dance and language

once usurped from forebears’ cradling embrace

usurped to break the spirit

take our land

and even God and gods and saints of old

and scar the very strata deep

with alcohol soaked nicotine smoked Prozac choked


Lateral violence of unresolv’ed angst[12]

unable to engage

with power from above

so sideways striking to and from within and all around

... hurting ... hurting ... hurting ...

with intergenerational poverty knocking on from then to now

people disempowered in rent-racked famine days

Half a million Highland folk ...[13]

(Lowlanders before like English further back in time)

... Cleared ... from kindly providential clachan

... Cleared ... to fact’ory or to emigrant ship

... dumped ... Aotearoa ... North America[14]

... recruited ... skirling hireling regiments of “Queen’s Owned Highlanders”[15]

Empire stitched from butcher’s wounds

opp’ressed turned oppressor sprung from opp’ressed’ pain

both sides the Atlantic surging with emotion

Intergenerational Transatlantic Cultural Trauma

a three-way brokenness

native peoples our side, the Ossianic Western edge

native peoples their side, the Eastern oceanic seaboard

and Everywhere that breaking dominant disembedded culture

that is in part

us too


Can you forgive us?

Red woman, man, child, creature

red earth

Can we together mend these bygone ongoing murders

of murdered souls murdering bodies filled with soul

cultural genocide Roman Norman Modern Empire

corporate limited liability limited responsibility

IMF, GATT-World Trade Organisation, World Bank

triumvirate idols Mammon Moloch Money[16]

loansharks surfing water gardens of the poor

thrashing around in usurious name of pax prosperity

... Trashing all ... All ... but that Invincible prophetic Remnant of humanity[17]

that hazel nut-like flotsam coasting oceans of the heart in Exodus

those holograms of wisdom

dropped by tree of life in sacred trout filled limpid pool[18]

swept down of old on mighty streams of righteousness[19]

but cast up fragile yet relentlessly on shore of modern times[20]

there to wait reminding us, reminding us, re-minding us ...

... re-member ... re-vision ... re-claim ...

and with a raindrop soft pre-emptive start

reminding too that “only forgiveness ... breaks the law of karma”[21]


(II) Invocation


Ohhh ... friends we call across the seas to you from echo chamber of the soul

we call now stirred by rhythm that you drum

We call upon the triple billion year old songlines of world’s oldest rock

“I lift a stone; it is the meaning of life I clasp” - says the bard MacDiarmid[22]

So let us honour stone. Let us call afresh the foundational litany:

The Lewisian Gneiss ...

... Druim Alban’s kelson of the Baltic to Canadian Shield[23]

The superquarry threatened South Harris igneous complex

(surveyed by supine Roineabhal

beholding all Scarista’s ancient parish of Kilbride[24]

annunciating Brigh, Bride, Brigit, womanhood of God[25]

from Barra and the South to Clisham and beyond ... the Holy He-brides

these scattered jewels from God’s eighth day

of legen’dary last Creation act) [26]

Ohhh ... the lithogenic litany ... “turn but a stone an angel stirs”[27]

The Cairngorm pegmatites and sparkling Aberdeenshire granite

The Old Red Sandstone

The Durness limestone sequences and Bathgate’s forest Carboniferous

The Tertiary radiating basalt dykes from great volcanoes Mull and Raasay

The Sgurr of Eigg and Ailsa Craig

(where seventh century Irish shaman Sweeney roosted)[28]

The Seat of Arthur

(watching over Calton faerie hill[29]

where pending Parliament awaits return of Stone of Destiny)

The Calanais standing stones and Ring of Brora

The high crosses of Iona pulsing Ireland Ireland Southern Hebridean Ireland

The twin menhirs of Muirkirk

(resanctifying desecrated opencast fields ploughed of coal)[30]

The cairns to poets and to the brave land raiders

The idle pebbles tossed

with cosmogenic tanka’s spiral winkle shell[31]

tossed to and fro, round and round, inwards outwards

dark moon full moon vortexing on today’s high tide at noon

Ohhh ... the rocks the rocks the rocks

we call on you ...

Rise up from sleep sunk strata beds!

Giant women, wizened men, totemic creatures once laid down to be our hills[32]

Wake up! Wake up! Wake up and waulk this Earth in us![33]

... bring back the land within the people’s care

... bring back the care to touch from hand to land


(III) Re-membering


Aye ...

and so we have united as strong women

resisting landlord’s factor

non-lethal direct action Crofters’ War, Timex strike

We have united, men of gentleness

straining back temptation just to be like them

and bomb and bribe and blight

Turning instead the heartwood of their minds

by climbing threatened tree

or gently blocking course of Trident submarine

(seven-hundred two-score-ten Hiroshimas each one)

Aye ... Aye and three times Aye

three times “yes” of Holy Trinity ... Father, Child,

Sophia WomanSpirit Holy Spirit Rising[34]

Three times Aye the Triune Goddess

Maiden Mother Crone

Life Death Rebirth

Her mantle oh so green laid out each spring

to fill the world with milk and flowers

... Bri’gh! ...  Bri’gh! ... Bri’gh! ...

of the oak Cill-Dara, of Iona and of Bethlehem[35]

And three-times-three - Aye

ring out nine blossom bells afresh from silver bardic bough[36]

Restore once more a Politics of Poetry!

... for only such poetics can again renew the face of Earth

inform our ancient people’s highest aspiration

and like a rowan arch exclude

a waiting nation’s re-awaiting parcelled rogues[37]

We must restore the schools and ways of ancient learning

to stand them proud beside the richness of the new

restore what Lord and Bishop wrecked - cruel Statutes of Iona 1609[38]

... twelve most powerful Highland chiefs

... kidnapped ... imprisoned over winter ...

forced to forfeit friendship, tongue, and bard’s vocation

forced to put out culture’s flames

(but done with sacred blessing’s triple peat[39]

the embers only smoored so not to chill)

Aye Statues of an Iona cudgelled into modern time by Whitby’s Roman synod

Aye post-Culloden Proscription even of our ancient spirit’ual dress

Aye ... we now bypass you 664, 1609, 1747[40]

We rise now up on eagle wings

above that colonisation of our lands and minds

... as fire in head reheats the sacred salmon’s sap[41]

we watch it run ... a babbling silver stream

anointing wisdom’s ninth Proverbial dwelling place the heart

We hear with inner ear ancestral chorus, look, and See,

And Are Again Of Shining Countenance!

We are the Tuatha de Danann[42]

emerged by standing stone from Sithean, faerie hill

emerged to Be again Free again the mother Goddess Danann’s people

.... Holy ... Holy ... Holy ...

No exiled “metaphor for the imagination” any more[43]

the tree ringed mushroom fringed hollow knowe of light[44]

No fortress mound to house true nature’s child

unfree in wider desecrated world to be true nature wild ... but Reality!

... And see! See yon distant mythic Fiann ...

that once sunk down amangst the stanes became a stane[45]

Awakening now! In us with strength to hurl from shores or catch from air

not mountain boulder there left cleft upon the beach

from some old tribal war of legendary adolescent pique

but phantom intercontinental jet ballistic missile star war supergun exports

to catch them Halt! them take them from the sky

and beat them into railway tracks

and homesteads for the poor[46]


(IV) Re-visioning


We are become again a people

known or unknown touched

by rose of Scotland little white rose

that smells so sharp and sweet it breaks the heart[47]

by eagle, deer, wild cat and long-gone bear

here in spirit where extinct in flesh

Strong totems for recovery - we need strong totems at this time

Remember ... that three years before

Culloden massacred gasp from clansfolk’s tribal voice

the last wolf was shot extinct in Scotland[48]

Nature’s death precursing culture’s “thickest night”[49]

Culloden - last battle mainland British soil 1746

internal colonial conquest

blood mingling inseparably soaked through moss Drumossie moor

friend and foe and which is “us” and which is “them” now?

Where the “Gaeltachd” wither “Galltachd”

Unavoidably mingled

for a’ that and a’ that

sacrificing, sanctifying, down to an ice-age cleans’ed strata

that is both cultural and in depth, archaeological[50]

long stinking but now compost-rendered for new growth

Something poised

... both psychic and somatic

... genetic and prophetic

Remnant sprig from taproot of antiquity

awaiting spring to bud re-formed

and Blossom as is needed in our agitated times

... a cultural cultivation ...

Indeed! Let us observe that

the capacity of nature and of human nature

to be hurt

is exceeded

in the fullness of time


by the capacity to heal ...

And that must be joy’s greatest cause for hope


So you ... our friends to whom this statement is addressed

You, we know, will understand.

Take you, First Nation Peoples, North America

uneasy unasked hosts to our Diaspora[51]

You, Chippewa protest leader challenging Exon’s mines, Walter Bresette

says ... “We are all native people now. The door is shut. We are all inside.”[52]

You, Mi’Kmaq superquarry warrior chief Sulian Stone Eagle Herney

says ... “Your mountain, your shorelines your rivers and your air

are just as much mine and my grandchildren’s

as ours is yours.”[53]

You, great teacher huntress Winona La Duke[54]

walking troubled by the Minnesota lakes

who rejects “genocide by arithmetic”

that allows “indigenous” belonging

to be governmentally defined by statutes staturing racial purity

Rejecting thresholds like one-sixteenth blood relationship

to be a Sioux or Cree or Cherokee

for human love will always

mingle, meld, and make of prismed light

a golden melanged mockery of all pretensions

to any presumption

of racial purity

that violates sunlight’s loving magic dance

a dance insisting

as it pleases, teases

Equally to be white light, coloured light

or warm absorbing dark that holds all light


(V) Re-claiming


Aye ... aye ... aye

Scotland understands a thing or two about belonging

We have a Gaelic proverb:

“The Bonds of Milk are Stronger than the Bonds of Blood”[55]

Nurture, kinship, counts for more than mere blood lineage

And so let us propose

an ancient new criterion for belonging here;

All Are Indigenous, Native To This Place. All

Who Are Willing To Cherish

And Be Cherished

By This Place

And Its Peoples


All are indigenous, native to this place. All

who are willing to cherish

and be cherished

by this place

and its peoples


Those whose souls so resonate

All we, known and unknown to us

are troubled claiming for ourselves

the obvious tribal names of indigeniety.

Few if any are “pure”

Pict, Norse, Flemish, Saxon, Angle,

Indian, Greek, Hispanic, Arab

Scotia’s royal lineage to daughter of Pharaoh.

Even Gaelic tongue of Irish forebears

dappled once a Pictish land

with blood as well as milk

So What Choice Have We

But To Embrace Full Spectrum?

What choice want we

save the pleasures so to do?

And to SHINE ON. Oh yes friend. SHINE ON![56]


Once Vikings raped and pillaged here

and then too melded

gentle with the healing power of place and time

Became us!

became “Gall-Gaidheil,” the Gal-Gael

“emerged as a mixed ethnic group by the middle of the ninth century”[57]

in the Hebrides and south-west Scotland

giving Gall-oway its name

and Isle of Lewis, Harris  - “Innse Gall” - the Isle of Strangers[58]

terrible then, a violated and a violating people

(like us today perhaps?)

but us they were

We’re all Gal-Gael now

and only by facing the shadows of history

can sunlight warm our backs

and melt the frozen crust

of ice congeal’ed blood around the heart.


Today eight-tenths of Scotland’s private land

is owned by less

than one tenth

of one percent

of Scotland’s people[59]

Let’s call a spade a spade:

... too many of us languish lost

in concrete jungles’



dumped there by those who see no treasure in each soul

(for that is what distinguishes

their force for life-extinguishing

in sectioning nature off

these men of property)

We’ve had enough!

We now insist on being heard and standing up and standing out

and coming into Being

speaking as it is our truth to power for what it is

“... fur the wains’ sake ... our ane sake ...”[60]

So we declare ... identity

a claim of right

a name that mingles, honours

many nations in this place

A bioregional identity defending place

nae force of arms

but power o’ reverence

transcending narrow nationalism

so not to bleach out ethnic richness rainbow hues

and not to fight in ways that scar and cannot be undone

but yet to find a focal understanding ...

some constellation of belonging ...

of folk and place and wonted work[61]


(VI) Affirmation


Well ... here we are

Round protest hearth in Glasgow’s Pollok wood

and we again evoke the name


Impure. Bitter-sweet. Riddled with contradiction.

But belonging here, now

here and now

to and fro

rocking ... rocking ... rocking

Rolling into life and promised life abundant[62]

Cherishing and being cherished

A native peoples

We are indigenous!

We stir our voice in singing back this place!


The song breaks out from deep within

Strathallen’s torrent roars anew

The oak to triumph o’er war’s din

the world is with a friend now[63]


Aye Rabbie Burns - your passion’s won

two hundred years your Vision’s come

The bards like emerald earls returned[64]

no more the people’s soul be spurned


(VII) Homecoming


Dear fellow creatures

native brothers sisters children

in other heartlands of the real, the reel

We ask from you acceptance

of our peoplehood

We ask you weave our native threads

to fabric of one scintillating cloth

that is the mantle of the world

We pledge to you support

for all work sourced in love

recovering right relation’ship your territories

And ask from you forgiveness

for past injustice, ignorance and spoils of fear or greed

We need your help with Spirit’s grace

to find clear paths through tangled modern Waste Land tares

to seed as oaks as Gods each one proclaiming Jubilee[65]

To fly in fair formation as wild geese ...[66]

To hear afresh that deep poetic story

of magic set in time when place began ...

To make a life worth living ...

To save this Earth ...

... And play from down the hollow hill[67]

A hallowed music

Sacred dance

That is our soul ...

... our soil

Yours, for auld lang sine[68]

Beltane Full Moon Wolf Festival

Pollok Free State, Scotland,  3 May 1996

(narrated by Alastair McIntosh)[69]




 Click here to jump to: [The GalGael poem] [The GalGael poem notes] [The GalGael Trust website]

 Notes to the Text

[1] These notes are provided to aid interpretation, provide acknowledgements and give background information that might interest the reader. However, there is also a political reason. The text has been written before the Isle of Harris proposed superquarry public inquiry decision has been made by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Pro-quarry forces are currently (late 1996) lobbying hard in an effort to reverse local opinion. Some are maintaining efforts to damage the character of prominent quarry opponents. Sir John Lister Kaye, former chair of Scottish Natural Heritage North West, lost his job, it is thought, partly because of his robust anti-quarry stance. Rev. Professor Donald MacLeod who gave evidence with Chief Stone Eagle and me at the public inquiry has undergone, but survived, a character assassination attempt through the courts and an attempted heresy trial, linked to his wider efforts to bring radical liberal reform to the Free Church. His quarry testimony and the platform he shared has been cited as part of “the problem” with him (The Scotsman, 24 May 1995 and 26 June 1996). And an eminent but conservative Scottish university has now forced out of its walls the Centre for Human Ecology where, for nearly seven years, I was teaching director (see New Scientist editorial, 4 May 1996, defending our “tradition of fearless inquiry”). I have been told privately by senior university management that as a result of involvement with the superquarry and land reform on Eigg, the University feared losing funding powerful interests sitting on research funding committees became too upset. In such a general climate I need to protect against this text being misunderstood and misused back home in the Western Isles, at least until after the quarry decision has been made. Accordingly, and at the regrettable risk of alienating some readers, I have therefore included endnotes to demonstrate compatibility with and to acknowledge imagery drawn from biblical sources, as well as to indicate sources which enable linkage with a pre-Christian continuum. This totality is the richness and hidden strength of our culture. It is a potent key in joining together deep cultural taproots of both social and ecological justice.

     The Secretary of State for Scotland should decide the outcome in 1998. For testimonies see my Public Inquiry on the Proposed Harris Superquarry: Witness on the Theological Considerations Concerning Superquarrying and the Integrity of Creation, Journal of Law and Religion, Hamline University Law School, XI:2, 1995, pp. 757-91 and Alesia Malt’s Commentary on this with special attention to U.S. constitutional reflections, pp.792-833. A summary, Theology Rocks Superquarry Scheme, is in ECOS 16(1) 1995.

[2] Woven cloth (tweed) was traditionally softened by “waulking,” i.e. thick folds along the length being communally and rhythmically pounded to the accompaniment of  waulking songs. Margaret Fay Shaw (Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist, Aberdeen Uni. Press, 3rd Edn., 1986, p. 7) remarks: “Those were the days when a wearer could regard his homespun from the Hebrides with the thought of the songs and gaiety that went into the making of it.”

[3] In the “Loch Lomond” song, the lover to be executed expects to reach Scotland first because, after death, the soul was believed rapidly to travel home under the surface of the Earth - the “low road.”

[4] Normally spelt “Gall” in English, but “Gal” is how it has been carved in wood and stone at Pollok which, being a “free state,” is permitted a measure of distinctive anarchy.

[5] Here a social connotation, but cf. Genesis 9:9-17 where the rainbow signifies ecological covenant.

[6] The name, “Hebrides,” may result from scribal errors. The earliest written reference was to “Ebudae.” However, as note 24 about Kilbride implies, it is eminently appropriate and the Hebridean scholar, John MacAulay (Birlinn: Longships of the Hebrides, White Horse, Harris, 1996, p. 6), points out that an ancient name for the Outer Isles was Innis Bhrighde, meaning the isles of Brigh/Brigit/Bride/Bridey etc..

[7] On the relation between ecology and Scotland’s urban poor, see MSc human ecology dissertation work of Tara O’Leary, Nae fur the Likes O’ Us: Poverty, Agenda 21 and Scotland’s Non-Governmental Organisations,  Scottish Affairs, 16, 1996, pp. 62-80.

[8] Mike Collard, Future Forests, Bantry, Ireland.

[9] Edwin Muir, One Foot in Eden.

[10] I.e. Kenneth White, Scots born professor of 20th Century Poetics at the Sorbonne. His work has greatly influenced this piece. Inspired partly by Walt Whitman, he proposes “poetics, geography - and a higher unity - geopoetics ...” (Elements of Geopoetics, Edinburgh Review, 88, 1992, pp. 163-78). Through Tony McMahon, Kenneth alerted me to the shamanic nature of Burns’s work; see A Shaman Dancing on a Glacier: Burns, Beuys and Beyond, Supplement to ArtWork, 50, 1991, pp. 2-3, and ‘Tam O’Shanter’: An Interpretation, Scottish Literary Journal, 17:2, 1990, pp. 5-14.

[11] Frank Fraser-Darling, author of the famous study in human ecology, West Highland Survey.

[12] Jane Middleton-Moz, American therapist, whose talk at the International Transpersonal Association conference in Killarney, 1994, inspired my thinking about the need for cultural psychotherapies - a notion I now see that Paulo Freire was also effectively aware of.

[13] No accurate estimate exists that I know of. This figure has been cited, but would appear to be a guesstimate. Half a million would certainly not be an exaggerated ballpark for the sum of mid-eighteenth to late nineteenth century clearances if indirect clearance through imposed economic pressure is included, as it ought to be.

[14] Aotearoa - indigenous people’s name for New Zealand.

[15] Lewis poet Mary Montgomery - poem by this name.

[16] Moloch was an Old Testament god into whose fire filled stone arms the children were sacrificed to secure present prosperity. American theologian Walter Wink advocates new ways of “naming, unmasking and engaging the powers” in order to transform and redeem power. In this sense Moloch can be seen to have many contemporary incarnations, not least nuclear weapons.

[17] In the Old Testament the “Remnant” are the few remaining people of God (e.g. Isaiah 10:21-22; 1 Kings 19). A role of the prophets - visionaries who “speak truth to power” especially on issues of social and ecological justice - was to “gather” the Remnant to restore society.

                Moses in Numbers 11, like Jesus later,  recognised prophesy as a universal vocation of the faithful. When he leads his people away from the treasure houses of Egypt towards an ecologically sound (though politically usurped) land of milk and honey, he declares, “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets” (11:29). In the spirit of contextual theology I have rewritten Numbers 11 as a metaphor for the work of anti-motorway protestors, likening them to a prophetic Remnant living off manna, speaking to the ills of our times, and holding out an alternative wholesome ecological vision (“MacMoses Motorway” in  Lady Godiva, 97, Orkney, 1996, pp. 18-20). In ecology, the concept of the remnant is similarly used for those remaining few areas of native flora - remnant pinewoods, etc. - which if saved will provide seedstock of local provenance to restore ecosystems.

                Shamanic understanding opens a whole new realm of biblical hermeneutical exegesis. The shamanic nature of the prophetic role is clear if cross-cultural shamanic understanding is applied to scripture. Prophets and shamans alike are women and men who step outside normal constructs of society to see better its ills, in order, when they return, to facilitate Spirit in healing these. In so doing they often had special relationship to the natural world. Moses, for instance speaks to God (identified as “I AM”) in a bush (Exodus 3); each of the four apostles is totemically represented, John’s being the eagle (Revelation 4:7); Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:4-6) and used his mantle for changing the state of reality (1 Kings 19:13; 2 Kings 2:7-15); Daniel had command over lions in the den (Daniel 6); Joseph had a coat of many colours and dreamed prophetic visions (Genesis 37), and Elisha was aided by two she-bears when the double dose of power he inherited at his own request through Elijah’s mantle went to his head.

                Indeed, Elisha’s arrogance on being teased about having a bald head by children on his way to Mt. Carmel tragically resulted in forty-two of them being torn apart by the bears (2 Kings 2:23-24). Jungian theologians might consider that these represented his feminine side, out of control because of not being integrated into his psyche on account of a power-crazed male ego (baldness signified mourning and thus loss in Old Testament culture - cf. Isaiah 15:2). Transpersonal psychology recognises such ego inflation as a common dysfunction of new-found spiritual power (cf. Grof, S. & C. (eds), Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis, Tarcher/Putnam, NY, 1989).

[18] In Celtic folklore, hazel nuts contained the knowledge of poetry and art. Eaten by the salmon (or “trout”) on falling into sacred wells or streams they caused the red spots on the fish’s belly, and conveyed wisdom to whoever first tasted juice from its cooked flesh - hence the “salmon of wisdom” and my reference to “by salmon’s course.” (see F. Marian McNeill, The Silver Bough, Canongate, Edinburgh, 1989, pp. 74-75; N.b. W. B. Yeats’ Celtic shamanic lyric, The Song of Wandering Aengus.)

[19] Amos 5:21-27.

[20] While writing this, inspiration was fuelled by finding a perfectly preserved, small, hazel nut half shell. It lay in mud, packed hard inside with peat, amongst ancient forest detritus washed out of a sea-eroded peat bank at a remote location on Great Bernera, Isle of Lewis, where I had gone with antiquarian, Jim Crawford, to see an historic lobster pend wall he had rebuilt and to read him a draft of this work. Such ancient forest detritus in Scotland usually radio-carbon dates at 4,000 to 6,000 years old.

[21] Raimon Panikkar, Nine Sutras on Peace, Interculture, XXIV:1, Montreal, 1991, pp. 49-56. This paper by a remarkable Hindu-Catholic cross-cultural scholar also points to rhythm as being central to Being, and therefore to peace-making.

[22] On a Raised Beach - Scotland’s finest work of mystical geology.

[23] Gaelic name going back to ancient times for “the spine of Britain” Highland massif.

[24] Jim Crawford (note 20) has recently discovered foliated grave slabs at Scarista including one of the Iona School. He believes part of the original St Bride’s Church foundation is still apparent, most of it having disappeared when the pre-Reformation church was pulled down to build what is now the Church of Scotland. He informs me that Kilbride (Cill(e) Bride - the cell (church or parish) of  St Bride) was an old name for Harris, marked on a map as late as the eighteenth century. The pre-Reformation parish of Kilbride extended from Harris down to Barra. Christianised as St Bride or Bridgit, Brigh was originally a pan-European Celtic Goddess. Ancient Irish tracts associate her veneration not just with the cow and milk (thus with shieling transhumance), but also with the long-extinct bear, thereby suggesting links going back to early human settlement. The Irish name MacMahon and the Scots Matheson both have the bear as their meaning and totem. Use was made of this by us to draw on strength of gentleness at Pollok Free State at times when violence threatened.

[25] Cf. Song of Songs, the femininity of Sophia (Woman Wisdom), identified with the Holy Spirit in Proverbs 8-9, and reference to Creation pouring out of the womb of God in Job 38:8,29. Note the trenchant warning in Proverbs 8:36, that all who neglect this feminine face of God “wrongeth his own soul” and “love death”.

[26] Rev. Alistair MacLean, Hebridean Altars, Moray Press, Edinburgh, 1937, pp. 12-13: ‘The world was finished and the Good One was mighty tired and took a rest and, while He was resting, He thought “Well, I have let my earth-children see the power of my mind, in rock and mountain and tree and wind and flower. And I have shown them the likeness of my mind, for I have made theirs like my own. And I have shown them the love of my mind, for I have made them happy. But halt,” says the Good One to Himself, “I have not shown them the beauty of my mind.” So the next day, and that was the eighth day, He takes up a handful of jewels and opens a window in the sky and throws them down into the sea. And those jewels are the Hebrides. I had the story of it from my father’s father,’ he went on. ‘An extra fine man, and terrible strong for the truth.’ - “John of the Cattle” of the Isle of Mull.

[27] George MacLeod, Iona Community.

[28] Seamus Heaney (trans.), Sweeney Astray, faber and faber, London, 1984. This remarkable Celtic shamanic text presents a deep ecology rooted in the first millennium.

[29] The Royal High School, symbolic if not the actual site for a future Scottish Parliament, lies on the side of Calton Hill known for the “Fairy Boy of Leith” legend - F. Marion McNeill, op. cit. note 18.

[30] As a result of local resident Ian Michael Ramsay’s negotiations with the Coal Board. Hopefully a wood is to be planted around them to make a special site. Each boulder stands some 12 feet high and would otherwise have been blasted and bulldozed as part of site landscaping.

[31] The winkle is associated with Brigh (O’ Cathain, p. xi, see note 44). In Tibetan Buddhist tankas (religious art) and in Hindu depictions of Krishna, the conch shell symbolises the call to spiritual awakening. Spirals symbolise life.

[32] A Lewis legend has it that the mountains were once giant women who lay down to sleep.

[33] For more information on waulking cloth and waulking songs, see Carmichael op. cit. (note 35), pp. 443-70 and notes. Carmichael’s material is from the second half of the 19th Century is also relevant to many other parts of this text, such as faerie lore.

[34] See note 25.

[35] The Irish St Bride is said to have established her convent at Kildare (Cill-Dara/Doire - the church of the oak). The Scots Gaelic equivalent was St. Bride of the Isles or Brigdhe-nam-Brat, Bride of the Mantles, or Plaid. Traditionally this was woven by Bride herself on Iona. There she lived (Fiona Macleod’s perhaps inspired fiction suggesting that she learned from druids), until she was taken up in a dark blue mantle (the colour of her own eyes) by two angels and transported to Bethlehem to be foster-mother to the newborn Jesus - F. Marian McNeill (ed.), An Iona Anthology, Iona Community, 1990, pp. 63-72; Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica: Hymns & Incantations, Floris, Edinburgh, 1992, pp. 237-40. A splendid painting resplendent with Celtic symbols, St Bride, by John Duncan (1913), depicts her transportation. It rests in the National Gallery of Scotland at the Mound, Edinburgh.

                The mantle plays a crucial role in shamanic practice (cf. both Joseph and Elijah). It can be seen to represent shape-shifting, consciousness change, transformation of the world and other aspects of liminality. In Celtic lore Bride rolls out her green mantle on Bride’s day, 1st February, each spring to restore life to the world. An Irish tune, Her Mantle so Green captures the beauty of this spirit. Burns uses the mantle as an image for consciousness change in The Vision (see note 64 below). Adamnan, Columba’s biographer, recounts that between the conception and birth of St Columba of Iona an angel appeared to his mother in sleep with “a certain mantle of marvellous beauty, in which lovely colours of all flowers were depicted.” As the vision drew to a close, “the woman saw the afore-mentioned mantle gradually receding from her in its flight, and increasing in size so as to exceed the width of the plains, and to overtop the mountains and forests” (extract in McNeill (ed.), p.19, op. cit. note 18, translating Adamnan section 3:1).

                In the gender construction of these Christian accounts, woman is no longer Goddess, but nursemaid to God incarnate or to the carrier of a male-gendered God’s message. For those of us to whom this is a problem when taken out of the context of the totality of womanhood, such construction requires attention if we still want to draw on the best from ancient traditions in shaping spiritual understandings for today. Such work is being undertaken by some feminist Celtic theologians and hagiographers (for instance, Condren, M., The Serpent and the Goddess: Women, Religion and Power in Celtic Ireland, HarperSanFransisco, 1989). Professor Murdo MacDonald, formerly editor of the Edinburgh Review, suggests that the transformation of Brigh from Celtic goddess to fostermother of Christ might imply an astonishingly “harmonious negotiation” between old and new faiths (pers. com.).

[36] The Silver Bough (Celtic equivalent of the Golden Bough) is the bough of apple blossom gifted by the faeries as passport into the musical/poetic realms. The bard’s silver bough with nine bells symbolises the “apples” of the heavenly realm of Avalon that this gives fruit to - F. Marian McNeill op. cit. note 18, pp.105-6; W. Evans Wentz, The Fairy Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, 1977 (1911), pp. 336-44.

[37] Burns dubbed the mercantile MPs who sold out Scotland’s parliament in 1707, “Sic (such) a parcel o’ rogues in a nation!”

[38] For a summary of Scottish and some Irish history on this crucial period and its bardic tradition, see the Introduction to O’Baoill, C., Gair nan Clarsach, The Harp’s Cry, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 1994, pp. 1-39. For discussion of bardic schools see Corkery, D., The Hidden Ireland, Gill and MacMillan, Dublin, 1967.

[39] Alistair MacLean (op. cit. note 26, 142-3) describes how at night in the Isles the fire would be smoored with three peats in the name of the Holy Trinity, to the rune, “The Sacred Three, My fortress be, Encircling me. Come and be round, My hearth, my home ... Through mid of night, To light’s release.”

[40] It has been suggested that too much has been made of the 664 Synod of Whitby’s merging of the Celtic Church of Columba with that of Rome. However, the psychological impact of a change of calendar (concerning the date of Easter) is perhaps underestimated by the modern mind.

     Fr. Dara Molloy of the Aran Isles, Co. Clare, is attempting to re-establish the Celtic Church. See, Refounding the Celtic Church, The Aisling, Aran Isles, 18, 1996, 5-13, where he writes: “The Roman model of Church is hierarchical, patriarchal and clerical. At all levels of Church life the priest, bishop or Pope is in charge. The Celtic model of Church is communitarian, inclusive, and locally controlled. In this model, the people are the Church, and look after it themselves while drawing on the services of the priest, bishop and Pope.”

[41] Yeats’ Song of Wandering Aengus (in most Yeats anthologies; see too his splendid but sadly maligned book, The Celtic Twilight, Prism Press, Bridport, 1990 (1893)): “I went out to the hazel wood, because a fire was in my head ... I dropped the berry in a stream, and caught a little silver trout.” Wandering Aengus has got to be our finest contemporary Celtic shamanic lyric. Fire in the head is a shamanic experience widespread in the world, the word, Shaman, meaning “to heat.” The dwelling place of wisdom, according to some interpretations of Proverbs 9:1 (Raimon Panikkar), is the human heart.

[42] According to the Irish Book of Invasions, the de Danann were driven underground by the invading Milesians some 4,000 years ago. Many legends say they became the sidth, the people of peace, the faeries, living in the Sithean or faerie mounds. When I asked Mike Collard of Bantry “who are the faeries?” he replied that we are they. The old nature consciousness is coming alive in us now. Our “Milesian” iron-based ways have damaged the Earth to such an extent that we are learning to listen again to the sounds from inside the hill.

     One of my 1994-95 MSc students, Patrick Laviolette, has undertaken research with me and done his human ecology dissertation into Scottish faerie hills as reservoirs of biodiversity. The folklore and taboos surrounding wooded ones helps maintain habitat remnants not unlike sacred groves elsewhere in the world. A joint paper, Fairy Hills: Merging Heritage and Conserevation is at press (18:2, autumn 1997) with ECOS - journal of the British Association for Nature Conservationists.

[43] John MacInnes, School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh University, St Bride’s Day lecture, 1-2-96. John described how a Uist man would say to him, “my mind was away in the Hill,” the realm of faerie being an imaginal (not imaginary) realm. Another expression is to be “away with the faeries” (cf. Synge, J.M., The Aran Islands, p. 284 of 1992 Dent edition of his Plays, Poems & Prose). To the modern “Gall,” metaphor is often little understood and the imaginal realm of symbols, myth and poetic/musical upwelling often dismissed as unreal. The converse is commonly true of the “Gael.” Imaginal metaphoric reality is the foundation of reality in mythopoetic societies. Future dignified human survival, “sustainable development,” will depend upon choosing understandings of reality that best accord with deep truth. Increasingly I believe this to be musical, poetic, and that we must rethink Plato’s elevation of the rational and denigration of rhetoric and poetics. The word, poetic, derives from the Greek poesis and means “the making.” Mythopoesis is the insight that poetics form the ultimate basis of reality, usually expressed in story; legend. The “West” needs a new mythopoesis to live sustainably - new stories that more closely accord with the deep reality of nature and the human soul. In the past the bards structured this and held political power, exerted, not least, through panegyric (praise poetry/song). It is pleasing that when the Scottish Constitutional Convention launched their parliamentary proposals in November 1995, the bards were present - political speeches being interspersed with harp music, folk song and Sheboom - a troupe of women drummers. The spiritual significance of this had not escaped some of the Convention’s senior organisers.

[44] After completing early drafts of this text I was thrilled, following his lecture on Brigh and shieling transhumance at Edinburgh University’s Celtic Department, to discover The Festival of Brigit: Celtic Goddess & Holy Woman, (DBA Publishing, Co. Dublin, 1995) by Professor Seamas O’ Cathain, dean of Celtic Studies at University College, Dublin. O’ Cathain uses Nordic and Celtic (including ancient Germanic) folkloric material to propose links between Brigh and prehistoric bear cults (nb. my section IV). In a remarkable conclusion he also presents evidence to suggest that the colour-coding of Brigh’s feast day (1st February) into “speckled” and “white” pertains to ancient shamanic use of the fly agaric mushroom (Amanita Muscaria). This grows in association with birch or pine. “Punk” from the birch bracket fungus makes tinder, thus creating fire of both wood and, by metaphor, the spirit. O’ Cathain refers to the “fitting and wonderful harmony” of this with aspects of the festival of Brigh, noting that, “Wasson describes this combination of birch, punk and fly-agaric as ‘nature’s triangle’, fly-agaric holding ‘the place of honour in this Trinity’ (p. 158). He cites the noted ethnobotanist, Wasson, as saying, “I suggest that the ‘toadstool’ was the fly-agaric of the Celtic world: that the toadstool in its shamanic role had aroused such awe and fear and adoration that it came under a powerful tabu” (p. 159). O’ Cathain’s scholarly exegesis is partly linked to Wasson’s view that the fly-agaric’s cap suggested an udder to the Rigveda poets, to whom it was probably the sacred soma. Soma has links with the Hindu fire god Agni and, possibly in his Celtic counterpart, Aed meic Brecc - the “flying master-physician” of Sliabh Liag in Co. Donegal. Aed means ‘fire,” and he is linked to Brigh’s feastday. Brigh’s connection with the udder or breast is that she was also goddess of pastures and milk, the white cow being especially sacred to her (cf. Hinduism’s sacred cow; also, some species of the mushroom psilocobe grow in cow dung).

                O’ Cathain even speculates on a link with St Columba of Iona. Noting that milk is a powerful detoxicant to counteract the impact of fly agaric, he says, “We may well wonder whether some such consideration lies behind Aed meic Brecc’s chaffing of Colm Cille (Columba) about ... the adulteration of his daily sustenance with watered down milk (p. 161).” The milk was secretly added by the saint’s cook to improve his physical condition. The implication of O’ Cathain’s speculation might be considered unthinkable had it derived from a lesser authority in the field.

                Murdo MacDonald, professor of Scottish Art History at Dundee University, has pointed out to me that John Duncan, mentioned in note 35 for having painted St Bride, produced a remarkable 1960’s-like picture for the Summer 1896 edition of The Evergreen, edited by Patrick Geddes. Called Surface Water, it depicts a youth leaning into a pond, surrounded by mushrooms. These are hard to identify, but certainly have an appearance as magical as that of the youth’s countenance is “spaced.”

                Surprisingly, O ’Cathain does not discuss the “liberty cap” or “magic mushroom,” psilocybe semilanceata. These grow in profusion in the British Isles from September to November, favouring unimproved pasture. I have noticed particular association with eyebright - in visual terms a fire-herb if ever there was one. Some 30 - 60 such mushrooms, fresh or dried, are said to induce powerful experiences, often of nature and sometimes mystical. This can include literally “seeing the light,” the fire of God, and devloping totemic relationships with spirit animals etc.. The beautiful little mushroom, usually about 1 cm. across the cap, assumes a perfect breast shape complete with an often pronounced nipple. I have interviewed occasional eco-activists who consider that the divine or consciousness in nature speaks through the mushroom. This is one factor present in the resurgence of neo-shamanism, but not one to be taken out of proportion and used to caricature the whole movement.

                Presumably it would be going too far, on purely morphological observation, to speculate that faerie knowes or raths were druidic groves, earth piled up or natural locations chosen to be shaped as breast-cum-mushroom temples. However, it is intriguing, to say the least, that O’ Cathain’s building on Wasson’s work gives ground for speculation that Brigh’s feastday, perhaps especially its eve, 31st January, may originally have been the magic mushroom festival of our ancient peoples, celebrated on the first day of Celtic spring when life bursts out anew across the face of the Earth.

                May I suggest, as was pointed out to me by Murdo MacDonald when discussing the various spellings of  “fairy,” that diverse spellings of Brigit might be seen as part of a shape-changing veil to be delighted in. I mostly choose “Brigh” in this text because it most approximates an Irish pronunciation that I find pleasing in a mantric way - “Breeee-jah.”

[45] The 19 foot tall standing stone, Clach an Truiseil, which is said to be the tallest monolith in Britain and believed to be a Fiann left behind by the Irish warriors, the Fianna, after they had come to Lewis to free the people from oppression by giants (Donald Macdonald, Lewis: a History of the Island, Gordon Wright, Edinburgh, 1990, pp. 14-16). It was Macdonald’s paragraph on the Gal-Gael that prompted Colin Macleod who started the Pollok protest to re-invoke the concept. Colin’s father is a Gaelic speaker with roots in Gravir, Lewis. Colin grew up in Govan and Australia. He attended the secondary school immediately beside the Free State protest site. The name, Pollok, may derive from a Celtic word, Pollach, meaning “muddy place.”

[46] Isaiah 2:4.

[47] MacDiarmid - The Little White Rose. The Burnett rose (Rosa spinosissima) has been a totem for our original work with the Isle of Eigg Trust. As Neil Gunn noted, it grows on (what is almost certainly from his description) Eigg “in greater abundance than anywhere else I know. It is the genius of this place.... For me it has a fragrance more exquisite than that of any other rose” (Highland Pack, Faber, 1949). Mention here is included at the request of, and in honour of the Trust’s founder, Tom Forsyth. The Isle of Eigg’s 7,400 acres was restored to community ownership after seven generations of landlordism on 12 June 1997. It previously represented fully 1% of privately owned land in the Scottish Highlands (see They’re All Lairds Now!, New York Times, 6 June 1997).

[48] Martin Mathers of Worldwide Fund for Nature (Scotland) pointed this out to me.

[49] Burns, Strathallan’s Lament (see note 63).

[50] Acknowledgement to Seamus Heaney for the concept of the bog as the unconscious.

[51] My friend and mentor in some of the issues discussed in these notes, Michael Newton of the Celtic Department, Edinburgh University, strenuously points out that the Gael did not in the first instance choose to be a coloniser, but became perforce a party to others’ colonising aspirations. A rightly proud claim of modern Irish people is, “We were colonised, but never colonised anybody else.” Residual Pictish voices might think otherwise ... but with no hard feelings any longer, especially as incursions between like tribes make poor comparison with the principles of Romanesque colonia.

[52] During a joint ceremony that we conducted at a University of Wisconsin conference on spirituality and ecological resistance, 1995 (see discussion of this and other issues relevant to this work in Bron Taylor’s paper, Earthen Spirituality or Cultural Genocide?: Radical Environmentalism’s Appropriation of Native American Spirituality, Religion, 27, 1997, pp. 183-215). The similarities between Native American and Celtic shamanic practice become more striking the closer they are researched. For example, in northern parts of Ireland such as Inishmurray there were tigh ‘n alluis, or sweat lodges, which prepared the participant for dercad meditation, in which several mystics together would seek a state of sitchain or transcendent peace (Professor Hennessy in the Kilkenny Archaeological Journal, 1885-6, cited in Peter Berresford Ellis’s Celtic Women, Constable, London, 1995, pp. 174-5).

[53] Sulian Stone Eagle Herney, superquarry public inquiry precognition statement.

[54] At International Transpersonal Association conference, Killarney, 1994.

[55] Cited in Nicolson’s Gaelic Proverbs.

[56] This line is prompted not just by Pink Floyd’s famous “shine on you crazy diamond,” but also by the way in which “Glasgow Two” hunger striker Tommy Campbell ends his letters from Shotts prison. Tommy’s and Joseph Steele’s campaign for judicial review is not just personal, but concerns the quality of Scottish justice generally. Shine on! Tommy. Your captors may or may not be dead, but you’re certainly not. (Since first writing this, Campbell and Steele have been released).

[57] Smythe, A. D., Warlords and Holy Men, Edinburgh University Press, 1984, pp. 156-7.

[58] It is a paradox that the Long Island, Lewis and Harris together, became known by the Gael of the past by this name because mainly Viking settlement meant that so many strangers (Gall) lived there; but now it has become the Remnant heartland of the Gael. This resonates richly into the philosophy of cultural renewal behind Pollok’s “Gal-Gael” concept.

[59] From the Scottish Landowners’ Federation’s own, perhaps exaggerated claim, that their 4,000 members control 80% of Scotland’s private (non-government) land. A 1976 study showed that just 35 families or companies possessed one third of the Highlands’ 7.39 million acres of private land. See McIntosh, A., Wightman, A. and Morgan, D., Reclaiming the Scottish Highlands: Clearance, Conflict and Crofting, The Ecologist, 24:2, 1994, pp, 64-70. A more recent study by Wightman (Who Owns Scotland; figures extrapolated as cited in ECOS 17:3/4) indicates that about 2/3 of Scottish private land is owned by just 1,000 people, representative (were they all resident) of one fiftieth of one percent of the Scottish population.

[60] Braendam women interviewed by O’Leary, op. cit. note 7 (wains = children).

[61]I.e. the Patrick Geddes human ecology trilogy of folk, work, place. The pun on “wonted” is deliberate. Something is “wonted” if it is habitual, belonging to a place or custom. cf. “as is her wont.” Michael Newton points to the similarity of the Gaelic word duth.

[62] John 10:10.

[63] Robert Burns. In Strathallan’s Lament, Burns portrays the psychic collapse of Strathallan who can no longer enjoy nature (the river’s torrent, etc.) and sees the wide word before him reduced to, “but a world without a friend.” In The Tree O’ Liberty, Burns sounding like a Rastafarian hippie uses the oak as a symbol national strength and freedom: “Wi’ plenty o’ sic trees I trow / the world would live in peace, Man / the sword would help to mak a plough / the din o’ war would cease, Man.”

[64] Colin Macleod started the Pollok Free State M77 motorway protest site by planting an eagle totem pole, after having experienced an eagle vision quest and protesting alone up a tree for two weeks with a copy of Burns’ poetry. This then intermingled with the culture of his surrounding native Pollok and Govan, also drawing in Gehan Ibrahim’s peace protest insights from the Faslane nuclear submarine base, and ideas from English road protestors such as the Dongas Tribe. Colin drew my attention to Burns’s remarkable call to restore the bardic basis of culture in The Vision. In this, Burns is given a vision quest by the Celtic muse who appears as a woman. Her mantle transforms to reveal the whole cosmos and sends Burns off into shamanic rapture. Her mission is: “To give my counsels all in one / Thy tuneful flame still careful fan / Preserve the dignity of Man / With soul erect / and trust the Universal Plan / will all protect.” This which might be taken as a manifesto for Scottish education. It might entail a tripple confluence between the bardic schools, the monastic schools, and modern schools, especially those embodying feminist epistemology. Our Peoples’ Free University of Pollok, which taught “degrees in living” to striking school children and other M77 protestors, was one such experiment (see Children’s Crusade, The Scotsman, 4 March 1995).

                My reference to reversing the flight of the Irish earls should be taken as metaphoric. I mean that we need to replenish the psychic vacuum left when the traditional leadership took flight in Ireland’s “saddest day;” not a wish to see restoration per se of the traditional patriarchal military leadership forms of the clans of the Scots-Irish Gaelic continuum. Incidentally, it should be noted that that continuum was split as a result of deliberate colonial policy by King James VI and I who instituted the Plantation of Ulster, as well as the Statutes of Iona and the colonisation of the Eastern American seaboard. As Malcolm MacLean of the Gaelic Arts Project on Lewis says, the Irish peace process is also helping now to remake links between Irish and Scottish identity (see also MacInnes, J., The Gaelic Continuum in Scotland, in O’Driscoll, R. (ed), The Celtic Consciousness, Canongate, Edinburgh, 1981). 

     Many of us who grew up in Presbyterian homes on Lewis now deeply resent the conditioning then often imposed on us to the effect that the Irish (and Southern Hebrideans) are “Papist” and therefore “Antichrist worshippers”. It was a conditioning not just of ignorance, but of long-standing manipulation by internal British colonial policy that divided us against our own people and contributed to a subtle Anglophobia which we must also wrestle to overcome - especially as many English, themselves, wake up to what it means to honour soul instead of pretending that it has no place in the brilliant rational techno-sunlight of modernity. I do not want such comments to be interpreted as a total refutation of the 20th Century. As Papua New Guineans recognise with their concept of the “Melanesian Way,” the future lies in us choosing what we want to meld from tradition and modernity. This means economy and technology serving community, and not vice versa as is the case with the triumvirate institutions derived from Bretton Woods (IMF, World Bank and the GATT/WTO) to which I earlier alluded (see my Journey to the Hebrides, Scottish Affairs, 6, 1994, pp. 52-67; also my, The Emperor has no Clothes ... Let us Paint our Loincloths Rainbow: A Classical and Feminist Critique of Contemporary Science Policy, Environmental Values, 5:1, 1996, pp. 3-30).

                Canon Angus MacQueen of Barra is one of my inspirers in thinking about the bardic schools. Douglas Fraser interviewing him for The Scotsman (Weekend, 1-10-94, pp. 2-3) quotes him as saying, “All we want is the privilege of remaining poor and being crofters. Crofting is about poverty with dignity. If you stand on your own four or eight acres, you are monarch of all you survey, and it gives you a natural dignity which you are without the moment you walk on to the mainland.” Fraser goes on to say, “But MacQueen has faced criticism for extending his views to education, for many Hebrideans, the only way out of poverty. Schools, he says, should be teaching them the bardic traditions of an oral culture, not encouraging them to leave the island for college. “Education now in the Hebrides is rubbish,” says the Canon. “These schools should be in the middle of England. The 80% of them who want to be fishermen should be encouraged to do what they want. But the younger people now want to get on. Education has ruined them, and made parents ambitious for their children to get on, when they should be enjoying life. I don’t blame them for wanting to get on, but I feel more at home with the lad or the girl who leaves school at 16 to become a fisherman or whatever. For those who have to go through the rough world of colleges and university, it’s very unbalancing. So many of them are packing in half way through their courses. A Hebridean will find a quality of life, or else become an alcoholic or drug addict. He will cave in completely.”

                Having myself left Lewis to go to University and “get on and get out,” I could not have appreciated the significance of Canon MacQueen’s words until reflecting on my own background after serving as deputy-head of a school for “drop-out” children in Papua New Guinea, where the same issues apply.

[65] Partly allusion to Burns’s Tree of Liberty; also Isaiah 61:3. Note that when Jesus launched his ministry in Luke 4 by reading from Isaiah 61 he stops and closes the book half way through the second verse: that is, he is selective in his use of Scripture. He associates himself with being in solidarity with the poor and freeing the oppressed, he continues up to the point of proclaiming the “acceptable year of the Lord”. This is probably reference to the remarkable “Jubilee” land ethic of Leviticus 25, whereby the land is rested every seventh year, and every fiftieth year (i.e. after seven times seven), all debts are cancelled and land that had been traded is returned to its original owners. Social and ecological justice would thereby have been regularly re-established (though there is no actual historical record of this being carried out). The excellent HarperCollins Study Bible (NRSV) commentary on the “acceptable year” or “time of favour” (61:2; 49:8) suggests that a better translation would be, “establishing the land, apportioning the desolate heritages.” As such, Jesus’s words are deeply relevant to land reform. What he significantly avoids is to continue reading from the Isaiah text after the first part of 61:2. If he had done so, he would have got straight into “the day of vengeance of our God” and “the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen...” etc.. Might this suggest that he would have sympathised with the Palestinian political cause?

                Jesus’s avoidance or reformation of parts of Old Testament theology is always striking. Carl Jung, in his brilliant Answer to Job (Ark, London, 1984), suggests that Old Testament and some New Testament scripture can be read as a process of God’s growing up into being humanised as God, through interaction with humankind within the constraints of time. Thus it is not only humankind that is evolving spiritually. How else, Jung asks, do we account for a supposedly omniscient God’s infantile behaviour in making pacts with the Devil to torment poor Job? Was incarnation not as much a necessity for God as for humankind? And one might add, in a culture where mythopoetic narrative runs that we are made in God’s image, is not the reciprocal that, in a sense, God is also in our image? Nowhere is the sometime moral superiority of humankind better drawn out than in the hilarious pleading that Abraham makes with God in Genesis 18:16-33. Here God is about to destroy Sodom. Abraham admonishes him, saying, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you!” He asks if God would spare the city if just fifty righteous men can be found there. God agrees. Abraham then progressively beats him down until God says he will spare the city if there are just ten such men.

     Genesis 18:22 has it that Abraham remained standing before the Lord during this dialogue. However, the ancient Hebrew rendition was that “the Lord remained standing before Abraham” (HarperCollins Study Bible, NRSV, note e, p.28). I am advised by an Old Testament scholar friend that the conventional scripture translators could not bring themselves to use a rendition that showed God in the subordinate position, so they changed it. The radically orthodox St Athanasius (On the Incarnation, Mowbray, 1953, Chap. 54, p. 93) says of God that, through Christ, “He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God.” However, the profound implications of the heresy I am here supporting is that through such figures as Abraham and Job, and doubtless many unsung women, the converse was also true. Humankind assumed God-like status in order that God might become more deeply humanised. This is better understood from the insight of Hindu Atman-Brahman metaphysics. Here individual soul is universal soul, thus dissolving any sharp God-human dichotomy. Such theology is in fact also buried in Christian scripture. For instance, in Jesus’s parable of the vine (John 15), and most profoundly, in a text that conventional biblical commentaries and clergy generally overlook because it fails to fit with the dogma of Jesus being the unique son of God: namely, John 10:34-36. Here Jesus draws upon Psalms 82:6 for authority in claiming that, effectively, all who heed God are sons and daughters of God; indeed, all such are Gods, albethey mortal. This might cast some light on the enigmatic plurality of the Godhead in the early chapters of Genesis.

[66] Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit, though when George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community was asked by his biographer, Ron Fergusson, what was his source, he replied, “I have no idea. I probably made it up” (pers. com.).

                As for standing stones, any Christian critique of new found veneration for such “sacred sites” must start by taking account of what might be learned of their purpose from Scripture. As always, Scripture is deeply ambivalent on such matters (cf. smashing of standing stones in Exodus 34:10-15; note that the “sacred poles” denounced by the jealous patriarchal representation of God in this text were emblems of Asherah (Astarte, Ashteroth), Goddess of love and fecundity - Jerusalem Bible footnote and HarperCollins commentary). Nevertheless, we might reflect that the Book of Joshua (24:26-27) closes by Joshua setting up a standing stone to mark the new-found monotheism of his people: “... and (Joshua) took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us: for it hath heard all the words of the Lord which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.” Jacob, after his dream nearly four millennia ago of a ladder reaching into heaven, declared (Genesis 29:11-22): “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.” He then erected the stone that had been his pillow saying, “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house.” In Scottish legend (which is psychologically true if factually open to question) this stone was a meteorite that had fallen to Earth. In the 6th century BCE, Phoenicians brought it to Ireland’s Hill of Tara. Around 500 CE the Dal Riata tribe brought it to Scotland where it became St Columba’s pillow. After this text was completed, it was returned from exile in England to which it had been taken in 1296 by Edward I. This “Pillow of the Community” yet awaits a more appropriate resting place than that military stronghold of the imperial British Army, Edinburgh Castle.

[67] Again,  there is possible contradiction but no necessary contradiction between such “pagan” imagery and Scotland’s Christian tradition. In tradition, the faeries are all parts of the realms of God. Gaelic Bible translator, the Rev. Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle, who in 1691 wrote a remarkable text, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, (in Stewart, R. J., Robert Kirk: Walker Between Worlds, Element, Longmead, 1990) gives extensive scriptural analysis and justification of traditional faerie beliefs. North America’s most prophetic white male protestant theologian, Walter Wink, effectively updates this in volume two of his powerful trilogy on naming, unmasking and engaging the powers in a world of domination (Unmasking the Powers, Fortress Press, USA, 1992; but for general reading see especially his remarkable, multiple award winning Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, Fortress, 1984). Fr Dara Molloy of the Aran Islands, Ireland, sees pre-Christian beliefs as simply being “our Old Testament.”

                The centrality of forgiveness to Christianity at its best is of key concern to this piece on the Gal-Gael (cf. William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel (j)­). That is why, quite apart from defending myself from being discredited by superquarry supporters, I have made such a point of weaving together Christian and pre-Christian traditions in this text. I believe we must hold as our touchstone an understanding of forgiveness if we are to avoid falling into nationalistic fascism; if we are to be with MacDiarmid whilst not succumbing to his excesses; if we are to refute the use of vestigal Scottish warriorship material in underpinning certain American (and Scottish) racist cults such as the KKK and what I dub the CCC - Celtic Culture Cops (cf. Scott, K, Marching as to War, The Herald, 19-4-96, p. 15). Forgiveness is simply acceptance - of others and, most importantly, of self. Only with such acceptance can the grip of the past release us into new growth; can the bonds of karma be broken to allow liberation from the potentially brutal cycle of cause and effect. It has been suggested that this is why our druidic tradition needed Christianity. But too often “Churchianity” has emphasised a transcendent otherworldly “pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die” type of Christianity. This has contributed towards the death of nature. Such travesty is violation of Luke 17:21, that the realm of God is here and now, and a violation of the very concept of incarnation, be it metaphorical or otherwise. Many of the churches increasingly recognise this as they come to terms with “creation-centred” (as distinct from “creationist”) theology, that emphasises original blessing in counterpoint to original sin. Reconnection with our own “Old Testament” in a Celtic spirituality of God and nature offers restoration of the face of the Earth as well as good news to the poor.

[68] “Old long ago” - for old time’s sake.

[69] This text grew out of many sessions round the fire at Pollok. Multiple events and people contributed ideas, which is why I would see myself as more narrator than sole author. The protest camp at Pollok ceremonially closed on 14 November 1996, the motorway driven through but a new consciousness opened up of spiritual, cultural, ecological and social renewal. The insight of “Nature Religion Today” developed there is being taken forward under a newly constituted Gal-Gael Trust, aimed at self-help empowerment, cultural, ecological and employment projects and training.

                My thanks go out to all who have commented on this text, especially Tessa Ransford, Scottish Poetry Library. The commentary to this text is dedicated to my great great grandfather, Murdo MacLennan (d. 1899), inspirational Free Church precentor (of spiritual song) and tradition bearer of Jamestown, Contin, Highlands.(Gal-Gael notes updated 18-8-97).

(Alastair McIntosh is a fellow of the now-independent green academic network, the Centre for Human Ecology. He developed its MSc and PhD teaching programme between 1990 and 1996 whilst the CHE was still within Edinburgh University. He is a founding trustee of the Isle of Eigg Trust which, in 1997, saw the Hebridean island restored to community ownership. In 1994 he lead unprecedented theological opposition at the public inquiry into the proposed Isle of Harris superquarry. He is also a founding trustee of the GalGael Trust which promotes ecological and cultural regeneration in areas of urban deprivation.)

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