Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fairy Flags and Bridges...legends of Dunvegan

"Land of the Mountain and the Flood" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood
Well, dear and faithful Reader, while Through the Hourglass is searching for its literary champion,  I have begun work on my next novel which includes a fair dose of Magical Realism and I will be sharing my research into all things magical and legendary. Magical Realism, as a fiction genre, presents what one may think of as supernatural as perfectly natural in the protagonist's world and what one normally sees as ordinary is appreciated as extraordinary. For example, my main character may take the receipt of a leather-bound journal whose text periodically changes (and I'm not talking Kindle or Nook, here) in stride, but is awestruck by the changing colors of a sunset. Having traveled to that most magical of places, the Isle of Skye in Scotland, I am excited about sharing some of its legends and lore and will begin by sharing the stories behind the Fairy Bridge and the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle. I am happy to include some of my own photographs taken during my mystical journey of the misty isle.
"The Fairy Bridge" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood

About three miles away from Dunvegan Castle is a picturesque stone arch of a bridge known as the Fairy Bridge. As with many ancient legends, there is more than one story behind it so I will use my novelist's prerogative and choose the one that most tickles my fancy. Long, looooong ago, the Chief of Clan MacLeod fell in love with a beautiful fairy lady who agreed to marry him. Only problem was that after twenty years of nuptial bliss she must return to her own people (fairy folk, that is.) When the time came, the Chief and his fairy wife bid farewell atop the bridge and she left him a token of her love in the form of a golden, silk scarf. This leads us directly to the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle.

"Dunvegan Castle" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood
The Fairy Flag, (the remnants, of which, can still be viewed at Dunvegan Castle) was said to be a gift of favor from the fairies to the Clan MacLeod. The most prevailing legend is that the silken banner could be unfurled three times to provide aid to the clan during time of battle or other crisis and the golden flag with its red, woven "elf spots," was indeed used for that purpose. Some say the flag was the parting gift of the Chief's fairy wife and others say it was brought by fairies to enfold a Chief's fretful infant along with a lullaby blessing that was then sung to all MacLeod babies who would, one day, wear the mantle of clan Chief. (The photograph I have included, here, of Dunvegan Castle was one I shot from pasture land complete with sheep and Highland cattle. The good folk of Scotland are generally quite amenable to travelers entering their fields as along as they are careful to securely close the gates upon entering and leaving.) 
"Highland Cow" Photograph Copyright by Kathryn Louise Wood

The Isle of Skye is fairly bursting with such tales and, exploring its green hills, rippling brooks, deep lochs, and rocky cliffs, it's easy to fall beneath its spell where belief in fairies and their magical flags seems altogether reasonable.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Isle of Skye, Scotland--Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown
 copyright and database right [CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Great Balls of Fire! with fireballs in the South

By Haloeffect via Wikimedia commons
When I told my ninety-one-year-old mother about a newspaper article from 1893 New Bern, North Carolina about a night's entertainment by a lantern swinger, it reminded her of a childhood memory. Kerosene balls. Kerosene what? Balls. Flaming. Flying through the air. At that point I sat down and asked for details.

By Sebastian Ritter via Wikimedia Commons
Back in the 1920s and early 30s when Mama was a child growing up on a farm near Swansboro, North Carolina, entertainment was as homegrown as the food on their tables. On special nights like New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July, when more affluent communities paid for fireworks displays, the farmers and fishermen of coastal Carolina gathered on open expanses of farmland or sandy beaches to toss around balls of kerosene-soaked cloth or yarn. Many an old, holey sock was unraveled and wound into a tight sphere, soaked in vats of kerosene for a couple weeks, then dried and ready for fiery fun.

On the appointed night, folks would gather and watch as young men lit the kerosene balls and tossed
them into the inky darkness, usually with bare hands although they might coat their palms with dirt first. As a little girl, standing back out of harm's way watching the fireballs streak through the night sky, she found the display beautiful and exciting. I did an Internet search and found the practice is called fireballing or kerosene balling and often saw it noted as a form of entertainment in rural
By Elmer Guevara  via Wikimedia Commons
Alabama. There's a YouTube video showing a modern-day gathering of Alabama fireball tossers keeping up their family's annual tradition. In addition to tossing the balls into the air and playing flaming games of catch, there was a version called "Hail-E-Over" in which people would stand on either side of a tin-roofed house and toss a fireball over its top. The idea was to keep the ball in the air, lobbing from one side to the other until the losing side allowed the ball to thud to the ground.
Stonehaven Parade By MrPurple , via Wikimedia Commons

The roots of such flaming entertainment may reach back to Scotland. One notable example is the annual fireball parade in Stonehaven on the night of Hogmanay (New Year's Eve.) Balls of fire encased in wire cages are swung overhead from chains as the participants process through the town. The traditional thought is that the fire burns away bad spirits of the old year, clearing the way for the new year. There's even a Stonehaven Fireballs Association!
Quite a bit further south in El Salvador there is an annual Bolas de Fuego or "Balls of Fire" festival in which teams hurl kerosene-soaked flaming balls at each other. Apparently throwing fire around knows no borders!
Bolas de Fuego By Elmer Guevara via Wikimedia Commons

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! (And...Remember, Only YOU, can Prevent Forest Fires!)

Smokey and Me By William Francis Ahearn (Author's Husband)