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Scottish Myths

Scottish Myths and Ossian Fever.

The Gaels of Scotland are descended from the Ulster migrants who originally settled in the  Argyll region in the latter decades  of the Roman Empire. The Irish newcomers took with them their Gaelic mythology, and also their name, the Scots - a term that was regularly used to mean "the Irish" until well into the Middle Ages. The Scots founded a powerful Gaelic kingdom which by A.D.900 had conquered the neighboring kingdom of the Picts to occupy most of Britain north of Hadrian's Wall.

Scottish myth and folklore is linked to that or Ireland in many ways - quite literally in the case of Fingal's Cave on Staff in the Hebrides, a basalt outcrop which was said to mark the end of a road built by Finn from the Giant's Cause way 1n Ulster. As in Ireland, knolls were seen as entrances to an enchanted Otherworld. The fairy music that was said to emanate from these mounds formed a category of traditional Scottish song. Trees, particularly yew trees, were an important feature of the mythological topography.  Animals too, held significance - a deer on arable land, for example, was seen as an omen of war, swans were enchanted princesses.

Shape-shifting features prominently in Scottish folklore, often in association with Witches or hags, the greatest of whom lived in a corrie of perpetual snow on Ben Nevis. And like other Celtic communities,  the Gaels of Scotland preserved a belief that one day a hero would return to restore them to their rightful position.

When Prince Charles Edward Stuart, "Bonnie Prince Charlie", led the abortive uprising that ended at Culloden, he was widely seen as that deliverer. Just as Geoffrey of Monmouth set Europe ablaze with stories of King Arthur, it was a single author who aroused the world's interest in the myths of the Gaels. James MacPherson (1736-1796),a Gaelic speaker, became convinced that the Gaels must have had a great legendary bard whose long lost works were waiting to be discovered in the remote Gaelic speaking areas of Scotland. With the support of influential backers, MacPherson set off on a research tour. He found many poems and songs, some clearly based on old Celtic myth, but no bard. He was determined not to disappoint his backers however, or to lose the fee they had promised. With some literary skill, he put together what he claimed were translations of epic poems by Ossian, son of Fingal, a third century warrior and bard. Ossian and Fingal were the names he gave to the Irish Oisin and Finn. The so-called translations that appeared from 1760 to 1765 were based partly on genuine

Gaelic myth and legend, but sprang in the main from Macpherson's own imagination. Ossian was an instant hit, but suspicions were aroused when Macpherson proved unable to produce his originals. Many people denounced it as a hoax.

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