Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Mystic Landscape

 Back from Menorca to high winds and driving rain. Easy to grasp the change of seasons when you do that. Summers gone, winter's here. The kids are less depressed because they always enjoy Halloween though they are beaten soundly if they mention Trick or Treat, that linguistic atrocity which has effectively replaced guising. First its our squirrels now its our Halloween.

Parties and bonfires though, are reflections from our past. Halloween's got antecedents in Samhain the Celtic festival to celebrate the end of summer and prepare for the onset of the dark months and maybe too Pomona the Roman Festival celebrating fruits and seeds, or Parentalia, the Roman Festival of the Dead. Samhain was a time to feast on the meat you couldn't keep through the winter and sacrifice to ensure your crops and livestock thrived next year. It was a time when the barriers between the real world and the spiritual world were down. Bonfires were burned in imitation of the sun. People dressed as the dead, daubed their faces with ashes from the fires. So my weans will go to the party dressed as little ghosts and dook for apples. Apples were symbols of the soul. Every roman meal mimicked the journey from life to death: ab ovo usque mala, from the egg to the apple.

Just a look about the countryside should give you evidence of the Region's historical interaction with the spirit world. From the Scottish mainland's biggest stone circle, near Holywood, two references for the price of one, to Cairn Holy, we are constantly in the presence of monuments constructed to interpret the spirit world or ease the passage of the dead to an afterlife.

There's more than archaeology to the spirit world though. Just as Dumfries and Galloway is the home of the fairy story it is also the home of the ghost story. I remember talking to a 6th year pupil who'd turned chalk white because in an airless school library she swore her book had just opened and the pages had fanned through from beginning to end as if someone had flicked them with a finger.

My favourite historical ghost story concerns one of the region's great villains, Grierson of Lag, persecutor of the Covenanters. Sailors in the Solway one stormy night in the winter of 1733 saw a light astern of them which seemed to be gaining at an unnatural pace. As it passed it revealed itself to be a great state coach drawn by six black horses, with driver, footmen, coachman, torchbearers and so on. The skipper had hailed it. "Where bound, where from?" The answer had come "To tryst wi Lagg! Dumfries! Frae Hell!"

Frae Hell
Dumfries has its own ghost hunters now, who've had the great idea of running a bus tour down the most haunted road in Britain, the A75. Its famous, particularly in a stretch near Kinmount close to Annan, for a whole range of well documented close encounters with the spirit world which date from the 1950s to the present day. Here's one: In 1962 Derek and Norman Ferguson were driving along that stretch of road around midnight, when a large hen flew towards their windscreen then vanished. The hen was followed by an old lady who ran towards the car waving her outstretched arms then a man with long hair and further animals, including 'great cats, wild dogs, goats, more hens and other fowl, and stranger creatures', which all disappeared. When the brothers stopped the car, it began to sway violently back and forth. Derek got out of the car and the movement stopped. He climbed back in and then, finally, a vision of a furniture van came towards them before disappearing.

I'm hoping to get some more supernatural encounters. If you know any contact

Word of the day Coup, to fall over or spill, as in "Oh no , Lumsden's couped again" The despairing cry of the quiz team in the Globe in Market Square in Dumfries, when their star player collapsed drunk upon the floor.

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