Robert Burns, Tam o’ Shanter, and Other Things…

Since today is the birthday of our famous bard, here’s a post I wrote originally for Mari Wells‘s blog. It was part of a series on Scottish Witches (read the others here), so of course Tam o’ Shanter had to feature…

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I can’t believe we’ve come to the end of this series of guest posts already. I couldn’t go without mentioning that famous son of Scotland, Robert Burns, and his epic poem, ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, written in 1791.

‘Tam o’ Shanter’ is set in Ayrshire, the area of Scotland where Burns was born and brought up. Tam is a hapless (okay, drunk) young man who comes across a coven of witches in Auld Kirk Alloway (an old kirk – surely not?), while riding home from Ayr one night. These witches are having a ceilidh, which basically means a party with music, dancing, and usually, fighting. One of them in particular catches Tam’s eye, being young and pretty – and because she’s dancing in her ‘cutty sark’, ie: short petticoat. Tam shouts words of encouragement at her from his spying place at the kirk’s window. He then gets his just desserts for this foolishness, and is chased by the witches to the bridge over the river Doon (Brig o’ Doon). As witches cannot cross running water, he escapes, but ‘Cutty Sark’ manages to pull the tail off his horse Maggie, just as she leaps across the bridge!

Moral of this tale: don’t get drunk and get distracted by ladies in short skirts. You may get more than you bargained for.

Auld Kirk Alloway

Auld Kirk Alloway

The poem is written in Scots, so can be a little hard to read for those not familiar with that language. It’s well worth a go, though. In it, Burns describes some extra-grisly trappings of a Black Mass: coffins standing open showing the dead within, and gruesome artefacts on the altar: murder weapons, and bodies of unchristened children. The Devil is also described as being present in the shape of a large black dog (he must like appearing in this form). Although at this gathering, ‘Auld Nick’ is providing the music by playing the bagpipes – a very talented dog indeed!

If you want to have a go at reading the poem, it can be found here: http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poems/tam-o-shanter-tale It might be handy to have a Scots dictionary open as well!

The places described in the poem are real. I’ve visited all of them. Auld Kirk Alloway is a little bit spooky. My husband has seen me cross Brig o’ Doon, so he thinks I’m not a witch (ha!) But unlike the stories in my previous posts, I can’t find any evidence that a coven did meet at this kirk, or chase any drunken young men to the bridge. It seems Burns did that writerly thing of taking facts from other places, and weaving them into a fantastic story set in his home. I’m glad he did, as it’s one of my favourite poems.

Brig o' Doon

Brig o’ Doon

In my last post, I mentioned the fact that most of the ‘witches’ executed in Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries were probably not performing black masses and summoning the devil at all. Many of them would be what are now generally referred to as ‘Pagans’ – worshippers of the old, pre-Christian gods. I’m not going to go into Paganism and its many branches here – that would be a whole other series of posts! Suffice it to say that many of these women and men would know how to heal wounds and treat the sick using natural remedies, and possibly a chant or two – all things the authorities were very suspicious of. Others may have been gifted with ‘second sight’ – a talent particularly prevalent in the Highlands of Scotland.

Seers had to be careful in the 15 and 1600s, as their gift could be denounced by the church as being from the devil, although Highlanders generally believed second sight to be unconnected with witchcraft. This belief, however, did not help the most famous of all, the Brahan Seer. He naively told the Countess of Seaforth what her husband was really doing on a trip to Paris, ie: entertaining other ladies. If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger. Although not tried and executed as a warlock, this did not stop the poor man being thrown into a barrel of burning tar. As his fiery end approached he accurately prophesied the fall of the house of Seaforth, and told the Countess that he would go to heaven, but she never would. So the Brahan Seer had the last word, although I don’t imagine this was much comfort as he went up in flames. Don’t tell people the truth; tell them what they want to hear – a trick most seaside clairvoyants have cottoned onto today!

I’ve really enjoyed doing this series of posts for the Witching Hour. Most of the stories have been from Central and Lowland Scotland. Talking about the Brahan Seer has made me realise how many tales of the supernatural there are from the North. So I may be back one day, with more spooky stuff from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland…

Hmmf, Didn’t Get A Dragon For Christmas

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

I did get lots of lovely presents for Christmas this year, but sadly still no dragon, unicorn, or even winged horse. Oh well. I’ll just have to continue writing about the ones in my head. 😉

This story featured on the BBBGals blog a few months ago, so now it gets to appear on mine. The tale follows on from my flash fiction Don’t Cheek Witches (Even If You’re A Dragon). Arith and Ellie have already acquired a few fans, who will be pleased to know that I’ve written another story about them (well, about Arith), and I have yet another partly done. So they’ll be back in the future sometime, too.

I had the song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ as a prompt to write this story. It’s a beautiful song and Judy Garland’s voice is amazing, but funnily enough The Wizard Of Oz was never a favourite of mine – too cutesy. (I prefer the darker tone of Wicked.) It got me thinking: what if going over the rainbow wasn’t so nice? I wanted to portray the rainbow as something sinister. I’ve channelled a bit of Oz, Harry Potter, and Terry Pratchett in this fantasy piece. Its tone is quite light, but I’ve hinted that what’s on the other side of the rainbow isn’t…

Through The Rainbow

‘So,’ Arith grumbled as his tail swished out the last embers of the fire, ‘Can we go up the castle, or not?’

Ellie hid a smile behind her sleeve. ‘Yes. I promised, didn’t I? A witch doesn’t break her promises.’

Arith snorted, promptly starting another small blaze. ‘Oops!’ he said, and stamped on that to put it out.

‘I’m not sure a majestic dragon should be saying “Oops”‘, remarked Ellie. ‘Have you been playing with my little sister again?’

‘No,’ muttered Arith. He flexed his claws, to show what a majestic dragon he really was.

‘Come on, idiot,’ Ellie said affectionately. ‘We’re done with spell casting for today. Let’s go and make some mischief.’

The young witch climbed onto Arith’s back, her bare toes gripping the rough armour plating, fingers clasped round the spines on his neck. With another snort, this time of joy, the dragon took off. Their camp at the water’s edge shrunk to the size of a match head as Arith caught an updraft. Ellie looked down, her eyes squinting against the red-gold sparkle of the dragon’s scales.

The river became a silver snake winding below them, leading the way to the castle. The rainy morning had given way to a bright afternoon, and Ellie unclipped her ponytail, letting her fair hair dry in the breeze.

‘Did you cast your invisibility spell?’ Arith shouted above the whoosh of his wing beats.

‘Of course,’ Ellie replied primly. Dragons were invisible to those who didn’t have magic, but witches lived in the everyday world as well. They could be seen unless they spelled it otherwise. It wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air on the back of – nothing. In fact, it wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air full stop.

The dragons who guarded the castle – unseen by the general public, of course – were a stuck-up lot, proud of their duty and forever letting everyone know how important they were. Arith (and secretly, Ellie as well) liked to take them down a peg; challenging them to duels, reminding them that they weren’t free to roam where they wished, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

Today, however, as they approached, all was not as it should be. At first, it appeared to be an ordinary rainbow, arching above the turrets and keep. Then, Ellie noticed that it was dropping in height, enveloping the highest towers – which shimmered, then vanished.

‘What the heck…’ began Arith, as he too saw this strange occurrence, just as Ellie shouted ‘Faster, Arith! The castle’ll be gone in a minute!’

Arith often described his witch as bossy, but this time he heard the genuine urgency in her tone, and beat his wings as fast as he could. ‘What do you mean, gone?’ he yelled.

‘That’s a doorway to another world!’ Ellie was muttering incantations between her explanations. ‘A parasite world, come to steal from ours. We have to stop it!’

‘Oh great.’ muttered Arith. ‘What about the castle warlocks? Can’t they do anything?’

‘If they haven’t already, they’re probably trapped.’ Ellie was now rolling a ball of magical energy between her palms. ‘Besides, you were the one who called them a bunch of doddering old fools.’

Arith grinned, but then frowned. Much as the castle spellcasters and their snobbish dragons annoyed him, he didn’t like the thought of anything bad happening to them.

‘Get as close as you can, but don’t touch it!’ Ellie jumped to a crouch on Arith’s back.

The dragon realised she was about to throw her spell. ‘Don’t you fall off, either,’ he warned, banking smoothly.

The rainbow had now engulfed most of the castle. It had dropped so low, Arith realised, that he could get higher than it. He glided up until he was safely above the last arc of colour, then looked down.

There was no sign of the castle. A black-edged hole in the swirling colours revealed a confused impression of fields of wild flowers and – cabbages? There was a forest, and a strange red and yellow road.

Ellie yelled ‘Keep still!’ and hurled her spell.

The ball exploded with a bewildering roar of noise. Ellie dropped flat on Arith’s back, and he didn’t need to be told twice. He rolled away from the disintegrating colours and shot off as fast as possible. Looking back, he was just in time to see the rainbow twinkle out of existence and the castle take its place, seeming none the worse for wear for its ordeal.

‘Did we do it?’ he asked, as Ellie struggled to a sitting position. He circled so they were facing the right direction.

‘Yes, thank the Goddess.’ Ellie patted his neck. ‘Great flying, gorgeous.’

Arith snorted a small flame, but Ellie knew he was pleased.

‘I suppose we better go and see if everyone’s all right,’ he said, ‘Now that we’ve saved the day.’

They landed on the roof of the Great Hall, out of the way of the tourists milling below. The general public seemed unaware that anything momentous had happened, although a few were muttering about how dark it had got for a while.

‘I wonder what they’d have done if they stepped out of the castle into a different world?’ Arith mused. ‘It looked – weird…’

Ellie shuddered. ‘Don’t even ask. I know the non-magicals are annoying, but no-one deserves to live there.’

Arith resolved to ask Ellie more about parasite worlds. It sounded like she knew the one he had seen. His little witch was a mystery to him much of the time.

An elderly warlock was hurrying toward them, followed by others, streaming like ants from the door to the roof. Robes flapped around the skinnier ones, while the fatter gentlemen puffed and panted at the rear, not accustomed to so many stairs.

‘Ellie!’ The old man exclaimed. ‘Was that you? By the time we realised what was happening, we were stuck in the dungeons!’ No longer needed to house prisoners, the dungeons were the warlocks’ usual abode.

Arith growled. ‘Where were the dragons? They’re supposed to guard the castle. Where are they now?’

‘Look!’ Ellie pointed to the nearest tower. A stone dragon sat atop it, snarling, a front paw raised with claws unsheathed.

Everyone gasped.

‘Over there!’ another warlock exclaimed. ‘And there!’ All four of the castle dragons sat atop a tower, ready to defend their abode, and each one had been turned to stone.

‘We can undo it!’ The warlocks huddled together, discussing the best way to change the dragons back. Ellie looked on, amused.

Arith head-butted her. To her surprise, he looked as though he was about to cry.

‘Is that what would have happened to me if I touched the rainbow?’ he asked.

‘Maybe. Or maybe it was some magic sent ahead to neutralise the castle’s first line of defence.’ Ellie scowled. ‘I hate parasite worlds.’

‘They’ll be able to change them back, right?’

‘Oh yes. They may be a bunch of crazy old men, but they can unpetrify someone like that.’ Ellie snapped her fingers. ‘Why, Arith,’ she teased, ‘Don’t tell me you’d miss those stuck up, snobbish…’

‘All right, all right!’ Arith glared at her, after sneakily wiping a paw over his eyes. ‘I’d have no-one to – annoy, that’s all.’

‘Come on,’ said Ellie. ‘I think we’d better come back another day.’ Sparks were beginning to fly from the warlocks’ fingertips. A few of them landed dangerously close to Arith’s tail.

‘When they set the castle on fire, we’ll come back and rescue them again,’ Arith agreed. ‘I always thought it would be one of those idiot reptiles who would do that.’ He crouched a little to make it easier for Ellie to climb onto his back once more.

‘Ellie!’ The warlock who had been first on the scene was hurrying towards them. His face, indeed his whole bald head, was rather pink. Arith paused.

‘Um…I just realised we didn’t say thank you. For dealing with the parasite world. So, thank you.’ The old man gave a beaming smile which Arith recognised at once.

Ellie beamed back.

‘You’re welcome, Grandpa.’

Don’t Cheek Witches (Even If You’re A Dragon)

Recently I guested on the Beer and Bacon Babes blog with Through The Rainbow, a tale of a witch, a dragon and some magical mayhem. I explained that the two main characters were in my head already, and that was all because of the story that follows.

I have an awesome friend (who may or may not be a dragon) on Twitter, where he goes by the name Of The Wilds. He writes amazing dragon fiction himself. The ladies in his stories are NOT wilting violets enslaved by their dragons – quite the opposite. He was feeling a bit fed up one day and wondered if anyone would tell him a tale of a maiden kicking a dragon in the unmentionables, to cheer him up. How could I not oblige?

Have you ever tried writing a story on Twitter? it’s a great exercise, getting it to break at 140 character intervals. Anyway, here it is, edited slightly but very much the same as I tweeted it. Introducing Ellie and Arith… 🙂

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‘Arith!’

Ellie’s voice echoed round the cave entrance. But he didn’t appear.

‘Damn,’ she muttered. ‘Where is that dragon?’

A beating of wings and a roar sounded from above. With a flourish, Arith landed on the soft riverbank. His regal walk up to the cave was rather spoiled by the squelching of his talons in the mud.

‘What do you want, witch?’

Ellie glared at him. ‘Have you been talking to the castle firedrakes again?’

Arith swished his tail, red scales shimmering in the weak sunlight.

‘I am a noble creature. I should not be indentured to a mere spell caster.’

The young sorceress crossed her arms. ‘Firstly, you wouldn’t be indentured if you hadn’t done what you did. Secondly, that bunch of reptiles up at the castle has ideas above their station.’

The dragon flared his nostrils. ‘Do you mean the humans, or the firedrakes?’

‘Both. And thirdly…’

‘Yes?’ Arith was affecting a bored tone, one hind leg in the air, idly scratching an itchy shoulder.

He didn’t notice Ellie stepping closer. Until a fiery pain shot through his loins, causing him to howl and fall over in the sludge.

‘Thirdly, don’t ever call me a mere spell caster! I am Elenore, the River Witch!’

‘Oww!’ A few startled cormorants flew off their nearby perch on the rocks. ‘You kicked me in the balls!’

‘I’ll shrivel them off if you speak to me like that again!’

Arith curled up, licking his tender testicles and grumbling to himself.

Ellie suppressed a giggle. Arith was indeed a beautiful, noble creature, but right now he was just like any male after a kick in the stones. She knew it galled him to be in servitude to a witch, especially one as young as her. It wasn’t forever, though. She would demand his respect, but she also valued his friendship.

‘Oh, stop complaining.’ She gestured to the cauldron, already set up in the cave mouth. ‘Do me a favour and light this thing. Once the morning’s work is done, we’ll fly up to the castle and have some fun.’

Arith’s ears perked up at this. ‘Do you have some mischief planned?’

‘How about we go and annoy the firedrakes, and I damp down their fire when they try to flame us?’

A grinning dragon is a sight to behold. With a toss of his head, Arith flamed the branches under the cauldron.

‘At your service, Mistress Elenore.’

Through The Rainbow

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

I’ve been invited to guest again on the wonderful BBBGals blog. You’d think they’d have learned their lesson the last time. 😉 My story was inspired by a musical prompt this time. No, not rock music. What?!

It’s a bit of fantasy fun, with a witch, a dragon, and some magical shenanigans.

Follow this link to look Through The Rainbow

Something Wicked…

This story originally featured on Mari Wells’s blog, for Witch Month. In case you missed it, here’s the latest instalment featuring my Lochie Witches…

 

Something Wicked This Way Comes

The Halloween decorations made the houses almost as festive as Christmas, Fenella thought as she walked home. It wasn’t even the day itself, yet porches were already decked out with strings of lights in the form of spiders or ghosts, giant plastic pumpkins lounged in gardens, and windows were draped with fake cobwebs. Fenella liked it. Who cared if Halloween had become fun and ‘Americanised’? It made a welcome change from her own Samhain, which was getting more intense every year.

The cloaked and hooded figure lounging in her doorway added to the spooky nature of the street. Except that Fenella hadn’t placed it there.

‘Well met by moonlight, Sister,’ the figure intoned, and then rather spoiled it by giggling.

Fenella burst out laughing. ‘Well met indeed.’ She pulled her visitor into a hug, and the hood fell back to reveal the mane of auburn hair and freckled features she knew and missed. ‘Hi, Kate.’

 

‘So what brings you here?’ Fenella sank into an armchair and took a swig of her tea. ‘And why can’t you just phone, like a normal person? Or does that Goddessforsaken town you live in not have phones?’

Kate jiggled her mug from hand to hand, perched on the edge of the comfy Ikea sofa. The room could not be more different from her own living space. Fenella favoured bright, modern fabrics and light wood. Kate’s ancient cottage was welcoming, but in a muted, faded sort of way.

‘We have the internet too, you know,’ Kate said primly. ‘Also, flushing toilets.’ She grimaced at her scalding hot coffee, but drank it anyway. ‘Oh – and vampires, of course.’

‘Yes, they do rather lower the tone of the place.’ They spoke lightly, but Fenella knew her friend was worried. ‘I take it they’re being more of a problem than usual?’

Kate had left the coven many years ago, and taken on the unofficial and unenviable job of keeping an eye on the town over the river. As well as the human population, there was a thriving colony of vampires. Thanks to Kate’s vigilance, they mostly behaved themselves. The ones that got out of line were dealt with, either by Kate herself, or one of the warrior families allied with her.

‘One of them is.’ Kate pulled a face at Fenella. ‘I’m sorry to ask you so close to Samhain – I know you’re all busy – but would the Coven let me see the books? I need a spell stronger than any I’ve got. It’s a long shot, but there might be something in there that would help.’

‘It’s not the Coven, as such, we’ll need to see.’

Kate raised an eyebrow. ‘No?’

‘No. It’s young Evie.’

‘What!’ Kate nearly spilled her coffee. ‘What the hells – she’s about twelve, isn’t she?’

‘She’s sixteen.’ Fenella was already dialling a number on her mobile.

Kate finished her drink and took her mug into the kitchen. She gazed around the modern, tidy little space, thinking of her temperamental Aga and chipped Belfast sink. But then, Fenella didn’t do much magic here. Kate needed a large, practical kitchen. When she returned to the living room, Fenella was already pulling her coat back on.

‘We’re going? Right now?’

‘Yup. Come on, if we hurry, we’ll be in and out before her mum gets in. You know she doesn’t approve of the Coven…’

Kate snorted, grabbing her cloak. ‘Which is a bit ridiculous, since she comes from a family of witches.’

‘Yes, but she never had the talent, remember? It skipped a generation and came out in Evie – in a big way.’

The two women hurried along the street. Fenella paid no attention to the Halloween decorations this time. Instead, she worried about the wisdom of introducing Evie to Kate. They were the two most powerful witches she knew, and both inclined to be solitary, in spite of Evie’s belonging to the Coven. A lot of witches found Kate a bit weird. She mentally shook herself. Kate was a law unto herself, but that was all. Maybe she would even be a good example to Evie, who in Fenella’s opinion was a bit too cocky for a sixteen year old.

They arrived at a house which as far as Kate could tell, was a carbon copy of Fenella’s, except bigger. Fenella had scarcely knocked when the door flew open, revealing a teenager in skinny jeans and a band t-shirt, fair hair piled in a messy bun on top of her head.

‘Auntie Fen!’ Evie hugged Fenella, then looked past her. ‘And you must be Kate. I’ve heard all about you.’

‘Ha.’ Kate gave a little bow. ‘I hope I live up to expectations.’

They entered the smart hallway, a polished wooden floor leading to a flight of stairs carpeted in cream. Kate couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t a practical colour at all.

Evie seemed to read her mind. ‘Mum has the house looking as unwitchy as possible.’ She scowled. ‘Because she can’t do it, it doesn’t exist. Isn’t it awful? At least Auntie Fen’s is colourful, even though it’s modern. This is the blandest house in existence.’

‘That’s enough.’ Fenella poked her niece in the arm. ‘I take it we’re heading up to your room?’

‘Come on!’ Evie bounded up the stairs two at a time.

Fenella and Kate exchanged glances. ‘She is good,’ Fenella murmured.

‘I have no doubt of it.’ Kate had sensed the power in the girl. She was already a force to be reckoned with. Kate had been too, at that age.

They mounted the stairs and followed Evie into her bedroom. In many ways it was a typical teenage cave; clothes strewn about, posters of bands on the wall. The scent of roses filled the small space. Under the window a desk held a pile of assorted books and magazines, and an iPod dock. A miniature cauldron stood next to the desk, simmering away with a mixture the colour of pea soup. Also on the wall was a fire extinguisher. Evie was practical as well as talented.

‘You said vampires, Auntie Fen,’ Evie was sitting at the desk, leafing through an ancient tome, pages crackling. ‘That’s all in this volume, but I didn’t know exactly what sort of spell you wanted..?’

Fenella realised she didn’t know either. She sat on Evie’s bed, moving a plush toy owl out of the way. ‘You said ‘problem’, Kate? What sort of problem?’

Kate sat cross-legged on the floor, as though she were Evie’s age. ‘No, you said ‘problem’. It’s a bit more than that – and it’s two problems. Number one: I need a stronger Sensing Spell. A vampire passed my boundaries – and I didn’t know it.’

Fenella whistled. She knew how strong Kate’s magic was. ‘That must have been a powerful vamp.’

‘She is.’ Kate’s voice indicated she didn’t want to go into that. ‘The other problem…this vamp sucked a friend of mine dry. I healed him with a Blood Spell – with my blood. I don’t know what that makes him, but that can wait. For now, I need to strengthen my ability to see what comes into the town.’

‘Wow.’ Evie was staring at Kate in admiration. ‘There’s a few Sensing and Boundary Spells in here. Do you want to take the book? I don’t need it for – er – anything, just now.’

Kate looked at Fenella. ‘Would that be okay? I don’t want to upset the Coven.’

Fenella shook her head. ‘Evie’s had the books since she turned sixteen. Let’s face it; none of the rest of us are any good with them. If she’s happy for you to take it, that’s fine.’

‘Thank you, Evie.’ Kate nodded at the young witch. Glancing at the cauldron, she asked, ‘What are you working on, anyway? Smells like there’s a Love Potion in there somewhere.’

Evie wriggled. ‘Ah, well, it’s something my apothecary suggested. To improve the – uh – Samhain spell.’

‘Good Goddess, you guys aren’t still trying to conjure him?’ Kate said incredulously. ‘Whatever for? I know you want to relive the Lochie Witches’ glorious past, but honestly..!’

Fenella was wriggling too. ‘Well, we got the Great Black Dog last year,’ she retorted. ‘So we thought we’d try for – you know.’

‘I do know.’ Kate saw the woman in Evie, vying with the girl. The woman and the witch – a dangerous combination. ‘I know what you want him for, young miss. And I’ll tell you this – as your first, he’s a dangerous choice. If he’ll do it.’

‘How dare you!’ Evie sprang to her feet, knocking over her chair. ‘I know what I’m doing – I’m not some kid!’

‘Of course you’re not.’ Fenella glared at Kate, willing her to shut up. ‘It’s just that Kate’s got some…experience…’

‘With him? How can she?’ Evie asked. ‘No-one’s conjured him for centuries!’

‘Your coven hasn’t conjured him, you mean.’ Kate rose from her position on the floor. ‘That doesn’t mean that no-one else has.’

‘Oohh!’ Evie all but stamped her foot. ‘I don’t believe you!’

The argument was interrupted by a sharp ‘Pop!’ from behind them. The three women froze, and turned to the cauldron.

Evie’s concoction, which had been simmering moments ago, was seething and bubbling now like hot lava – if lava was a sickly shade of green. As they watched, the larger bubbles grew into tendrils, reaching up from the cauldron like rotting fingers. The rose petal scent was gone, replaced by a decayed, cloying smell.

‘It’s never done this before,’ Evie said uncertainly. Her anger at Kate was forgotten. She looked at the older witch.

‘Too much power in here…’ Kate mused, approaching the cauldron. ‘Is he part of this spell already?’

‘Yes,’ Evie whispered.

‘Evie!’ Fenella was horrified. ‘You know he’s not to be invoked until Samhain itself!’

‘I just wanted to try something.’ Evie’s voice held a tinge of fear. The fingers were elongating now, reaching out to the three of them, trailing down the sides of the cauldron towards the floor. Evie squeaked and jumped back. The potion was changing from green to black. An air of menace came with the change, as though some conscious entity was behind it.

‘Oh no!’ Evie moaned as the tendrils reached the carpet, causing it to sizzle and burn. ‘Mum’s going to kill me!’

Fenella would have laughed, if the situation hadn’t been so serious. What had Evie done?

Kate, however, appeared unperturbed. She reached out – and poked one of the blackened fingers. To Fenella and Evie’s surprise, it retreated.

‘Get back in that pot, you.’ Kate said conversationally. ‘Stop trying to scare people.’

The fingers stretched and warped and shivered, then shortened until they were sliding back into the cauldron.

‘I know you feed off emotion,’ Kate was lecturing the dark green gunge, which had settled a bit, although it was still bubbling. ‘But feeding off a witch’s anger is dangerous, even for you. Especially three witches – the magic number. Bugger off – and if you’re about at Samhain, watch your step.’

The pea soup mixture blew a raspberry at her, then went back to simmering. Evie and Fenella stared, open-mouthed. Evie recovered first.

‘Who were you talking to?’ she squeaked. ‘Not…not..?’

Kate patted the cauldron. ‘Sorry I lost my temper. That was stupid of me. You’ll be fine, Evie. Just be careful. And remember, he’s a man, once he’s in that skin. Just a man.’

‘That’s like,’ Evie replied slowly, ‘How he’s just a dog, when he’s a dog?’

‘People give him the power.’ Kate gathered up the spellbook from the desk. ‘Because they know what he is. But on Earth, not Below, he’s just whatever form he takes. Oh, he has words, and we all know how powerful words are. But that’s all. No magic, no superpowers, nothing.’

‘What’s he like?’ whispered Evie. ‘Really?’

‘What he was like for me won’t be the same as for you. Or for your Auntie Fen. Or Nana Anne. Or any of the others. Understand?’ She and Evie locked eyes for a moment.

Fenella had had enough. ‘Evie,’ she said firmly, ‘I don’t know if what we’re planning to do at Samhain is a good idea, after all.’

Kate patted her fellow witch’s shoulder. ‘I do. It is. I wish you every success, ladies.’ She tucked the spellbook under her arm. ‘I better get back. I have someone really evil to deal with.’ She met Evie’s eyes again. ‘Evil is all here on Earth. Remember that. Thanks again for the book – I’ll get it back as soon as I can.’

Evie and Fenella looked at each other as Kate turned for the door.

‘Kate!’ Evie called. ‘Thank you – for rescuing my bedroom carpet.’

Kate grinned. ‘Have fun with him – Sisters.’ She used the Coven’s term of address for each other.

‘Tell him Katarina says hi.’

 

Thanks to William Shakespeare for the title – even if he did take terrible liberties with the story of Macbeth…

Pic courtesy of eastsidepatch.com

Pic courtesy of eastsidepatch.com

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Hi all! As promised, I’m over at Mari Wells‘s blog today, with my story for Witch Month. If you’ve read my previous witchy stuff, you’ll see some familiar faces. Less than a week to Halloween – and the magic is hotting up… 😉

Follow this link – if you dare!

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Pic courtesy of eastsidepatch.com

Pic courtesy of eastsidepatch.com

The Logie Witches

Last year I started writing short stories based around this local legend. There’s another tale coming soon, for Halloween. Meanwhile, I’ll let you be creeped out by the ‘factual’ version… 😉

 

A few miles from my home stand the ruins of Logie Old Kirk (Kirk being the old Scots word for church). Situated just outside Stirling, a church was first dedicated in this ancient parish around 1173. The ruins date back to around 1592.

In 1720, the Old Kirk was said to be used by ‘The Witches of Logie’ for their rituals. It was probably already falling into disrepair at this time. The use of churches by those practising the ‘Black Mass’ is well documented. Old, often abandoned kirks frequently appear as the meeting place for covens in Scottish folklore.

Logie Old Kirk

Logie Old Kirk

Behind the Old Kirk is the hill known as ‘Carly Crag’ or ‘Witches Craig’. Carly, or carlin, is the old Scots word for witch, or old woman (from the Gaelic cailleach). It was on Carly Crag that the Logie Witches were supposed to meet with the devil himself, who took the form of a black dog with burning eyes. He would cavort among the witches with a blue torch attached to his hind quarters. Quite why he needed a blue torch there remains unclear! Also, the Evil One was running the risk of a singed bottom, as torches and lamps burned oil at that time. Maybe, being the devil, he was impervious to flame!

Carly Crag

Carly Crag

There are several documents pertaining to this local legend:

In David Morris’s (1935) essay on the local township, he told the common story that “an elder in (the new) Logie Kirk was of the opinion that the Carla’ Craig…was haunted.” At the end of the 19th century, Morris remembered a local lady known as ‘Ailie’, who was said by many old folk to be the traditional ‘witch of Logie’:

“Sickly children were brought to her for her blessing. Occasionally people came from as far as Stirling on this errand. Her method of giving the blessing was to blow her breath on the child, and this was supposed to ward off evil. It was also said that anyone buried in Logie Kirkyard on the first day of May, Halloween, or other days of that kind, without her blessing, would not rest in his grave…”

Another legend told to Morris stated that:

“Around 1720 witches were believed to rendezvous with the Evil One who would appear in the form of a large black dog.” This is clearly the most well-known tale relating to Logie Old Kirk and Carly Crag. Again, the devil appearing in the form of a dog crops up more than once in the folklore of Scotland.

Another account of the belief in witchcraft and animistic pre-Christian rites on the crag came from Charles Rogers (1853):

“About the second decade of last century, there lived in the parish of Logie several ill-favoured old women, to whom the reputation of witchcraft was confidently attached. They were believed to hold nocturnal dialogues and midnight revels with the Evil One, and Carlie Crag was regarded as one of their places of rendezvous. Satan, though he was believed to appear to them in various forms, was understood, in his interviews with the dreaded sisterhood, to appear most frequently in the aspect of a large shaggy dog, in which form it was alleged he had repeatedly been seen by the minister.”

I first heard the story of The Logie Witches when visiting the Witches Craig Caravan Park, where I was testing a new tent, believe it or not! I wondered how the park had got its name, and this led me to the local legend, and my explorations of Logie Old Kirk and the Carly Crag. Do the kirk, and the crag, feel spooky? A bit. Do they feel evil? No. The Old Kirk is now overlooked by several modern dwellings, though they do not detract much from its isolated location. There are several interesting gravestones in the Kirkyard, featuring masonic symbols and the macabre skull carvings which are common on grave markers of this era. There is now a new Logie Kirk, built in the early 1800s and still in use, closer to the nearby caravan park and visible from the modern road. The Old Kirk is further up into the hills, shrouded by trees, so it can’t be seen from the roadside.

Macabre gravestone

Macabre gravestone

I used the tale of The Logie Witches as inspiration for a short story, The Summoning, featuring a modern day version of the coven. I played around with the locations of the various landmarks a bit (artistic licence!), as I thought it would be funny if my witches had to contend with the road and the caravan park. I then wrote The Potion Mistress as another little spin-off.

The crag is a fine site for ritual magic, and its associated devil-lore may simply derive from Pictish shamanistic practices, remains of which have been found across the Scottish hills. These rites survived longer in the remote areas of Scotland than in other parts of Britain. On the other hand, maybe witches did indeed meet with the devil there. Maybe they still do..?

(References: Morris, David, B., “Causewayhead a Hundred Years Ago”, in Transactions of the Stirling Natural History and Archaeological Society, 1935. Roger, Charles,” A Week at Bridge of Allan”, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.)