Thursday 27 October 2016

Black Cat Thursday

Today is Black Cat awareness day and we enjoy a Folklore Thursday sooooo....

We've written before about a wizard who supposedly shapeshifted into a cat and this idea appears again in the Ernest Walker Marwick papers:

Two young men on the isle of Sanday were taken ill with a very infectious fever. The locals were too afraid of falling ill to tend to them and it was said that Recchel Tulloch brought them food in the guise of a cat.

Unfortunately for Recchel, she broke her leg soon after this and was confined to bed. At this time, a cat had been caught in a rabbit trap on the Backaskaill links!!! It also broke its leg!!! The only conclusion to be reached is that they were one and the same!

The Marwick papers also tell how cats were the Macbeth of the seas... you never mentioned or even alluded to a cat whilst on the ocean as it was a terrible omen. This is why some Shetland boys decided to smuggle a cat on board their father's fishing boat; secreting the poor thing within the sail.

Ernest Walker Marwick's notes, Orkney Archive reference D31/6/8
When the material unfurled to reveal the unlucky moggy, their father turned straight back to dry land, ordered a new boat and did not fish  until it was ready.

One of the lovelier Orcadian tales is that of 'Finfolkaheem' - home of the Fin men as told by Walter Traill Dennison:

'The sand of that country was gold dust, its palaces, built of coral and crystal and adorned with pearls and precious stones, shone like stars in the weird light of that magic land; all furniture and utensils were silver and gold; the halls were hung with gorgeous curtains, the colours of which were like the aurora borealis in most brilliant coruscations.'

Sanday man Arthur Deerness was apparently dragged down to this magical submarine land and enchanted by a mermaid named Auga. He forgot all about his family, home and fiancé Clara Peace.

Clara was distraught at his appearance and the local speywife, Marion of Grindalay determined to help her. Locking herself away for the night, Marion emerged in the morning looking spent yet cheerful.

Meanwhile, Arthur's first night in Finfolkaheem had been full of rich foods, fine wines and the bed of Auga. The only irritation had been a black cat which stole some food, spilt his wine and came between him and his mermaid bride in their matrimonial bed. The cat later appeared whilst the couple sat together and, grabbing Arthur's finger, traced a cross on Auga's brow.

The enchantment was instantly broken and Arthur found himself on the rocks at Hamaness, the exact spot he'd disappeared from, free to return to Clara's waiting arms.

So black cats can save the day too...

Information taken from Orkney Archive references D31/6/8, D31/2/4 and
Walter Traill Dennison's Orkney Folklore and Traditions.

Friday 21 October 2016

By The Power of my Elf Belt, Begone Small Foes!!

We love the old church minutes, you know we do. There is always much chat about 'fornication' and 'syne' and people being 'compeared' before the church elders to be 'rebuked and chastised.' There is some of that in today's archive, a book of presbytery minutes dating 1639 to 1646.

William Leith the younger and Janet Smith were said to have 'relapsed into adultery' which suggests they had been told off at least once already.

'The brethren think in respect of their obstinance in syne, that there was no way to prevent their falls, except they were put in sundrie yles (isles.)'

'...the forsaid Wm Leyth adulterer should not come in companie heirafter in any place with Janet Smith nor reside in any one yle where she resideth, or shall reside heirafter, under the paine of ANE HUNDRETH POUND.'

To put this into perspective, one hundred pounds was worth about the same in cash today as Fifteen thousand, five hundred and twenty pounds. FIFTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS!!

So far, so usual, but we had never read about an 'Elfbelt' which in April 1644 was ordered by the church to be melted down and for the silver to be returned to it's owner. "In respect it had been a monument of superstition"

According to Smith's The Church In Orkney, the belts were silver and 'worn for a protection against the supposed attacks of their imaginary foes, the elfs or fairies.' AMAZING.

We also spent a long time thinking that people were being called 'flanderers' and wondered (and indeed hoped) if this had anything to do with flans. We then realised that it was 'slander' written with a funny, long medieval 's'.



Orkney Archive reference OCR/4/1 - Presbytery Minutes of Orkney, 1639-1646
The Church in Orkney by John Smith, pub. 1907
An Orkney Anthology by Ernest Walker Marwick, pub. 1991. p269

Thursday 6 October 2016

French Knittin' In the USA, French Knittin' in the USA-hey!

Last week the archive staff had one of our legendary nights out. We chugged cups of tea, slammed  some veggie burgers and nailed a bunch of  homebakes before staggering home way, way, way, past nine o'clock. Say, tennish?

We talked shop, we talked Bake Off, we set the world of carrot cakes to rights (walnuts or no? Discuss...) until, as it invariably does when one is 'partying hard', the conversation ended up at the topic of French knitting.

It turned out every one of us had spent vast swathes of our youth bent over a wooden doll with a tube through her middle and four pins in her head, tongues firmly between our teeth as we 'knitted' great big worms of wool which protruded from the dolly's nether regions and coiled down to the floor. For what and for why we asked ourselves? What was the purpose of this bizarre pursuit? Who needs boxes of woollen worms and what could anyone ever do with such things?

The Orcadian (as usual) came to the rescue:

Taken from a 1926 copy of the Orcadian. Ten years of looking through these things and the casual use of a word like 'cripple' is still really jarring.

The next week's issue offered readers the opportunity to make a fabric version of a cat who's just remembered that he's not done something really, really important: