clootie

The Mermaid of Loch Assynt at Ardvreck Castle

Legend says that the MacLeods procured the help of Clootie (the Scottish name for the Devil) to build Ardvreck Castle. In return Eimhir, the daughter of the MacLeod chieftain, was betrothed to Clootie as payment. In despair, the girl threw herself from one of the castle towers.

After that, locals whispered tales of MacLeod’s lost daughter Eimhir and her continued presence at Loch Assynt. Instead of jumping to her death, they say Eimhir plunged into the caverns of the Loch, hiding from the Devil to whom she was betrothed. There she made a new home beneath the water’s surface, becoming the elusive Mermaid of Assynt.

Historically, the locals also used this legend to account for natural changes in the landscape. When the loch’s water rose above normal levels, legend saus that these are Eimhir’s tears mourning her life lost at Ardvreck. Some even claim to have seen her weeping on the rocks, her body now transformed into half woman, half sea creature. Some contest her form, instead calling her Selkie,  a mythological figure of the sea, who must first shed tears into the water in order to become visible again to the human eye.

Back in the day, the legend was a great way to account for the geology of Inchnadamph. Clootie, infuriated by the broken promise of marriage, summoned meteoric rocks from Chaos to obliterate Inchnadamph and MacLeod’s kingdom. It is thought that this legend bears some relationship with the scientific findings that indicate northwest Scotland was struck by an object from space around 1.2 billion years ago. Geologists from Aberdeen University described the event;

“a massive impact would have melted rocks and thrown up an enormous cloud of vapour that scattered material over a large part of the region around Ullapool. The crater was rapidly buried by sandstone which helped to preserve the evidence.”

These legends are invoked to offer some mythical explanation for the unique geological and topographical character of Inchnadamph. Another version of the tale of the mermaid of Assynt relates to the creation of the Moine Thrust belt. Some believe Clootie’s rage produced a tectonic rumbling from the earths core, resulting in the thrust westwards of the European plate, which is understood by geologists to account for the Moine Thrust belt.

(Ardvreck Castle was constructed around 1590 by the Clan MacLeod family who owned Assynt and the surrounding area from the 13th century onwards.)

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Clootie Wells: The Celtic Wishing Trees

The tradition of making offerings at wishing trees and wells dates back hundreds of years, and can be found all over the world in different forms. In Scotland, Ireland and England, where old Celtic tradition persists, they are known as Clootie wells. A clootie well is a well or spring, almost always with a tree growing beside it, where strips of cloth or rags are tied to the branches, usually in the hope of having an illness cured. (Source)

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I saw this really cool installation in my town in one of the shops on the main stretch.
It’s called the Clootie Wall. The first photo explains it. It was so cool seeing everyone’s wishes. Some whimsical, some heart felt. I loved it. My wish was to end police brutality.

This is a traveling installation so if you hear of it coming near you, I recommend checking it out and making a wish!

Photo: St Brigid’s Well, Kildare, Ireland

In the Liturgical calendar, today is the Feast day of St Brigid.

Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland (c. 451-525) is one of Ireland’s patron saints along with Saints Patrick and Colmcille. Her feast day is 1 February or Candlemas (Imbolc), the traditional first day of spring in Ireland. She is believed to have been an Irish Christian nun, abbess, and founder of several convents.

In Irish mythology Brigid was the Celtic goddess of fire, poetry, unity, childbirth and h…ealing. She was the daughter of Dagda a High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Sacred wells were always places of pilgrimage to the Celts. They would dip a clootie (piece of rag) in the well, wash their wound and then tie the clootie to a tree. Generally a Whitethorn or Ash tree, as an offering to the spirit of the well. It seems only natural that these traditions would be carried forward into modern times in the form of Saint Brigid. Today’s pilgrimages to holy wells usually take place on the Saints feast day or Pattern or Patron days.

Although now a small well maintained park, the site still has an aura of ancientness, a very spiritual place. The well is fed by a spring that then flows underground before appearing again under a stone archway. The stones below the archway are known as St Brigid’s slippers. The stream then flows past a modern bronze statue of Saint Brigid. The rag tree near the well displays many clooties. Usually the rags are placed there by people who believe that if a piece of clothing from someone who is ill, or has a problem of any kind, is hung from the tree, the problem or illness will disappear as the rag rots away. The votive offerings are left in gratitude to the Saint for curing a loved one.

According to tradition Saint Brigid was born in Faughart, Co Louth, where there is a shrine and another holy well dedicated to her. The Saint found a convent in Kildare in 470 that has now grown into a cathedral city. There are the remains of a small oratory known as Saint Brigid’s fire temple, where a small eternal flame was kept alight for centuries in remembrance of her. She is one of Irelands patron Saints and known as Mother of the Gael. She is said to be buried along with Saint Colmcille and Saint Patrick in Downpatrick. Throughout Ireland there are many wells dedicated to Saint Brigid. A visit is strongly recommended, a very peaceful and sacred place long before Christianity came to Ireland.

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My Imbolc altar. Living upstairs in a condo doesn’t allow me to have many options when it comes to hanging clootie strips so I placed some loosely around the orchid that has been blossoming each time this year for the last three years. The blossoms are a deep red and white so I felt it quite appropriate.

Offerings of homemade cake (oatmeal rum cake!), milk and incense have been set upon the altar, the house cleaned and purify with juniper and water, a bed prepared, clooties hung and poetry I wrote said; this is first year I’ve felt like my Imbolc celebration was complete. I hope She feels the same.

Blessed Imbolc all!