Previous Dunvegan Castle post: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/dunvegan-castle-progress-medicinal-room-and-gardens/
Work on the Castle continues and Brennie brings it back to it’s former life with her memories of it. After living here for so many centuries, everywhere Brennie looks holds a vivid thought or memory of the past! Walking into the Great Hall/Dining room, she can see it as it once was and she can still hear Minn encouraging her to come back to life… to really live again and do what she was meant to. For such a long time, Brennie hid herself away in the Castle, avoided the Clan and it’s people as much as possible. The Castle stood empty and silent most of the time save for when Eric and his men would return from their battles and their journies. One day, Minn dragged her into the empty Great Hall and as usual, sternly lectured her. She swept her hands out around the room and demanded that Brennie look around at the emptiness. Then she pointed her finger at Brennie, gave one her disgusted looks and sounds… “This, this is your fault. This emptiness and quiet is because of you. You need to fill this room, fill this place and fill our people’s hearts. That is what your duty is!”
Brennie was puzzled by her remarks. “My fault? My duty? What ever are you going on about now. I have no real duty here. This place, these people and their hearts are Eric’s and his Clan’s. I have no true place here, or anywhere else for that matter. My place and my people are long gone… as I should have been as well.” Brennie shrugged her shoulders and lowered her head. These people do not care about me, they care about Eric and the men who fight for them. They do not know what do with me any more than I know what to do with them.”
Minn shook her finger and her head with frustration, “Achhhh Yea, your people are long away, but they be not gone… it’s because you choose them to be gone that they are. The Ladies of the Lake are always out there waiting for you to return to them but you willna go because you’re skairt. You’re skairt of life! The people here, they dinna care because you willna let them. You willna let them know you or be a part of your life any more than you will let yourself be a part of their life. You hide away here because you dinna want to feel the pains of life and death around you. And, as to the fighting, every day is a fight for every one of us whether we be mortal or Fairie, Witch or Vampyre. They care not if you be Vampyre… My Stars Girl, have ye not eyes to see that half the people around here are descended from Vampyres, Witches and Fairies? They all know the secrets of this Clan and they stand proud to defend those secrets during these times. They care about Eric because they know he goes out there and fights for them and their freedom to be what they are.”
With that speech, Minn walked over to a case lying on the floor near the fire. She pointed down to it and motioned to Brennie to open it. Inside was a beautiful, intricately carved violin. Brennie picked it up carefully, holding her breath as she felt the warmth and the satin smoothness of the wood. She felt something else as well, she felt the vibrations of the music within it reaching out to her, wrapping around her soul. It had been long since she had allowed herself to feel the music. Tears came to her eyes as she remembered the music that had filled her mind and her soul.
Minn smiled softly and motioned her to play, “This is your calling, your destiny, your way to fight for yourself and for all of us.”
Brennie gave her a bewildered look. “What do you mean? I am not sure I understand what you want me to do.”
Minn answered her calmly, “What do I want you do? I want you to use your gifts to fill this place, and these people with your music, your stories and your spirit. I want you to remind them of the old ways, of the legends and the prophecies. I want you to give them hope, give them courage and give them their pride in their heritage. Every Clan, every Castle has it’s Bard and you are Dunvegan’s now and forever more. You are a Bard, and that is what you shall do to inspire these people. Now, Play and fill this hall with music once again!”
In medieval Gaelic and British culture, a bard was a professional poet, employed by a patron, such as a monarch or nobleman, to commemorate the patron’s ancestors and to praise the patron’s own activities.
Originally a specific class of poet, contrasting with another class known as fili in Ireland and Highland Scotland, the term “bard”, with the decline of living bardic tradition in the modern period, acquired generic meanings of an epic author/singer/narrator, comparable with the terms in other cultures (minstrel, skald, scop, rhapsode, udgatar, griot, ashik) or any poets, especially famous ones. For example, William Shakespeare is known as the Bard or the Bard of Avon.
Bards (who are not the same as the Irish ‘filidh’ or ‘fili’) were those who sang the songs recalling the tribal warriors’ deeds of bravery as well as the genealogies and family histories of the ruling strata among Celtic societies. The pre-Christian Celtic peoples recorded no written histories; however, Celtic peoples did maintain an intricate oral history committed to memory and transmitted by bards and filid. Bards facilitated the memorisation of such materials by the use of metre, rhyme and other formulaic poetic devices.
A description of life at a training school for bards survives in the Memoirs of the Marquis of Clanricarde, written in 1641-1643, but published in 1722. Clanricarde was a territory in Ireland, located in what is now County Galway. This description, found in the introduction to the memoirs, appears to be by the lawyer Thomas O’Sullivane.
Concerning the poetical Seminary or School, from which I was carried away to clear other things that fell in my way, it was open only to such as were descended of Poets and reputed within their Tribes. And so was it with all the Schools of that kind in the Nation, being equal to the Number of Families that followed the said calling. But some more or less frequented for the difference of Professors, Conveniency, with other Reasons, and seldom any come but from remote parts, to be at a distance from Relations and other Acquaintances that might interrupt his Study. The Qualifications first requir’d were reading well, writing the Mother-tongue, and a strong Memory. It was likewise necessary the Place should be in the solitary Recess of a Garden or within a Sept or Enclosure far out of the reach of any Noise, which an Intercourse of People might otherwise occasion. The Structure was a snug, low Hut, and beds in it at convenient Distances, each within a small Apartment without much Furniture of any kind, save only a Table, some Seats, and a Conveniency for Cloaths to hang upon. No Windows to let in the Day, nor any Light at all us’d but that of Candles, and these brought in at a proper Season only. The Students upon thorough Examination being first divided into Classes, wherein a regard was had to every one’s Age, Genius, and teh Schooling ha before, if any at all, or otherwise. The Professors (one or more as there was occasion) gave a Subject suitable to the Capacity of each Class, determining the number of Rhimes, and clearing what was to be chiefly observed therein as to Syllables, Quartans, Concord, Correspondence, Termination and Union, each of which were restrain’d by peculiar Rules. The said Subject (either one or more as aforesaid) having been given over Night, they work’d it apart each by himself upon his own Bed, the whole next Day in the Dark, till at a certain Hour in the Night, Lights being brought in, they committed it to writing. Being afterwards dress’d and come together into a large Room, where the Masters waited, each Scholar gave in his Performance, which being corrected or approv’d of (according as it requir’d) either the same or fresh subjects were given for the next Day. This Part being over, the Students went to their Meal, which was then serv’d up; and so, after some time spent in Conversation and other Diversions, each retir’d to his Rest, to be ready for the Business of the next Morning. Every Saturday and on the Eves of Festival Days they broke up and dispers’d themselves among the Gentlemen and rich Farmers of the Country, by whom they were very well entertain’d and much made of, till they thought fit to take their leaves, in order to re-assume their Study. Nor was the People satisfied with affording this Hospitality alone; they sent in by turns every Week from far and near Liquors and all manner of Provision towards the Subsistence of the Academy, so that the chief Poet was at little or no Charges, but, on the contrary, got very well by it, besides the Presents made him by the Students upon their first coming, which was always at Michaelmas [29 September], and from thence till the 25th of March, during the cold season of the Year only, did that close Study last. At that time the Scholars broke up, and repair’d each to his own Country, with an Attestation of his Behaviour and Capacity from the chief Professor to those that had sent him.
The reason of laying the Study aforesaid in the Dark was doubtless to avoid the Distraction which Light and the variety of Objects represented thereby commonly occasions. This being prevented, the Faculties of the Soul occupied themselves solely upon the Subject in hand, and the Theme given; so that it was soon brought to some Perfection according to the Notions or Capacities of the Students. Yet the course was long and tedious, as we find, and it was six or seven Years before a Mastery or the last Degree was conferred, which you’ll the less admire upon considering the great Difficulty of the Art, the many kinds of their Poems, the Exactness and Nicety to be observ’d in each, which was necessary to render their Numbers soft, and the Harmony agreeable and pleasing to the Ear.
As every Professor, or chief Poet, depended on some Prince or great Lord, that had endowed his Tribe, he was under strict ties to him and Family, as to record in good Metre his Marriages, Births, Deaths, Acquisitions made in war and Peace, Exploits, and other remarkable things relating to the Same. He was likewise bound to offer an Elegy on the Decease of the said Lord, his consort, or any of their children, and a Marriage Song when there should be Occasion. But as to any Epick, or Heroick Verse to be made for any other Lord or Stranger, it was requir’d that at least a Paroemion, or Metre therein, should be upon the Patron, or the Name in general.
The last Part to be done, which was the Action and Pronunciation of the Poem in Presence of the Maecenas, or the principal Person it related to, was perform’d with agreat deal of Ceremony in a Consort of Vocal and Instrumental Musick. The Poet himself said nothing, but directed and took are that everybody else did his Part right. The Bards having first had the Composition from him, got it well by Heart, and now pronounc’d it orderly, keeping even Pace with a Harp, touch’d upon that Occasion; no other musical Instrument being allowed for the said Purpose than this alone, as being Masculin, much sweeter and fuller than any other.
Martin Martin, in his Description of the Western Islands of Scotland (London, 1703), paints a picture of the bardic culture as he encountered it a few decades later, providing in the process a description of bardic training rites. This is one of the last eyewitness accounts of the bardic culture.
The Orators, in their Language called Is-Dane, were in high esteem in these Islands and the Continent, until within these forty years they sat always among the Nobles and Chiefs of Families in the Streah or Circle. Their Houses and little Villages were Sanctuaries, as well as Churches, and they took place before Doctors of Physic. The Orators, after the Druids were extinct, were brought in to preserve the Genealogy of Families and to repeat the same at every Succession of a Chief; and upon the occasion of marriages and Births they made Epithalamiums and Panegyricks, which the Poet or Bard pronounc’d. The Orators by the force of their Eloquence had a powerful ascendant over the greatest men in their time; for if any Orator did but ask the Habit, Arms, Horse, or any other thing belonging to the greatest Man in these Islands, it was readily granted them, sometimes out of respect, and sometimes for fear of being exclaimed against by a Satire, which in those days was roeckon’d a great dishonour; but these Gentlemen becoming insolent, lost ever since both the Profit and Esteem which was formerly due to their Character; for neither their Panegyricks nor Satires are regarded to what they have been ,and they are now allowed but a small salary. I must not omit to relate their way of Study, which is very singular. They shut their Doors and Windows for a Days time, and lie on their backs with a STone upon their Belly, and Plads [sic, plaid?] about their Heads, and their Eyes being cover’d they pump their Brains for Rhetorical Encomium or Panegyrick; and indeed they furnish such a Stile from this Dark Cell as is understood by very few; and if they purchase a couple of Horses as the reward of their Meditation, they think they have done a great Matter. The Poet or Bard had a Title to the Bridegroom’s upper Garb – that is the Plad and Bonnet – but now he is satisfy’d with what the Bridegroom pleases to give him on such occasions.
Brennie’s childhood with the hidden Ladies of the Lake had been spent training for life as a well respected Bard/legend keeper. Her life had changed however with Eric’s turning her and the world had begun to change as well during those times. She did not know how to change with the world, but realistically she admitted to herself, she had not tried very hard either. Minn was right, she was skairt as Minn so bluntly put it! But, with Minn’s help… she began to find herself again and understand that she could find a way to make a difference in their world.
Minn made her realize that it was not Eric’s place to teach her everything, it was up to herself to learn how to adapt and fit in to an ever changing world. Eric could not teach her how to be herself and be happy with it and it was not Eric’s fault that she was so unhappy with this gift of life he had given her. She learned from Minn how to be strong again, how to be mistress of this Castle and leader of these people. They worked together to make the Castle liveable, comfortable and filled with life again.
Minn explained to her how important it was for the Clan members to feel they were a part of this Castle, and for them to know that they were just as vital and important to the well being and survival of the Clan as the highest members. It was a give and take between all of them, a matter of team work on every level. After all, what good did it do to be a Clan Chieftan if one had no Clan members left? A clan could lose it’s Chieftan and replace him with someone else but a Chieftan would have a harder time replacing his clan if they all died, or deserted him because he was not a good leader… So, it was important to take care of each other. One part of that, Minn insisted, was to be able to provide the best care possible to all of their members. She and Brennie worked to ensure that their Castle had a well equipped and well stocked medicinal room and along with that, Minn added to the room with another well stocked storage room for some of the most valuable and in some cases highly dangerous detoctions. This area was a locked portion of the Medicinal or Still room.
The still room is a distillery room found in most great houses, castles or large establishments throughout Europe dating back at least to medieval times. Medicines were prepared, cosmetics and many home cleaning products created, and home-brewed beer or wine was often made. Herbs and flowers from the kitchen garden and surrounding countryside were preserved for flavoring food and processed into what today we call essential oils, and infused or distilled, or brewed as required to make rose water, lavender water, tinctures, peppermint-based ointments, soaps, furniture polishes and a wide variety of medicines. The still room was a working room: part science lab, part infirmary and part kitchen.
Originally, the still room was a very important part of the household. The lady of the house was in charge of the room, and she taught her daughters and wards some of the skills needed to run their own homes in order to make them more marriageable. As practical skills fell out fashion for high-born women, the still room became the province of poor dependent relations.
In the case of the remote Highland Clans and their Clan seat Castles, such as Dunvegan was, it would have been crucial to their survival and that of the Clan to have such a well equipped Still room and a highly trained, skilled healer in their residence. Minn would have made sure that the Clan members were welcome to use the services of the Castle’s healer and she would have ensured that everyone shared in the growing, harvesting and stocking of the much needed herbs and plants.
Over view of Medicinal Still room with locked storage area.
Minn spent a great length of time teaching Brennie her responsibilities as Mistress of the Castle, even though they both knew that as long as Minn was there, she would really be the one in charge. But, as she matter of factly pointed out to Brennie one day, “Well, Lass, someday I won’t be around to keep things running so smoothly and when that time comes you must know what to do.” They stood in the now finished Still room addition one day discussing this rather depressing subject while Minn took it in stride and continued taking inventory all the while.
Minn stressed to Brennie how important it was to keep accurate accounting of the items in this locked room. Some of it, such as the wine and some of the food stuffs were highly costly and worth as much or more than their other finer items around the Castle! “It’s not that I be callin the workers or guests here thieves or such but, one never can tell, Can they? Why leave it out and about for them to be tempted with.” She continued on, “Now some of the potions and detoctions be locked away in here for safe keeping, as they could be quite poisonous or even deadly if used in the wrong way. Tis just better and wiser to keep such locked up and make sure you know how much of it we have and how much gets used.” Minn told her that there were only a very few with keys to this room and she must always be sure she knew of who had those keys, and who was let into the room. The only ones with keys were Minn, Brennie, and Eric. Even the resident healer would have to ask permission to enter this room.
As they worked in the storage room, they chatted about other things going on around the area. Minn was always full of local gossip and stories, and loved to share them. Brennie usually wasn’t one for gossip but often she found the stories amusing so she listened patiently to Minn. She did find the stories more interesting now that she was coming to know the area, the Clan members and the history of this place better. Minn was going on about the Fairie pools and the ancient circle stones near by and how some folks were swearing that the mists were heavier lately. She added that a few of the women insisted that they saw strange people and things near the pools… Minn just laughed and added her own observation on that, “Achhh well, I know that one, Lila… I suspect that she had a few too many nips of that rot gut Whisky she keeps in her pocket!”
Minn did grow serious though and warned Brennie, “Those places and stone circles be verra powerful dangerous. They’re ancient and most folks have no knowledge of them or their use any more. A few of the Ladies of the Lake are left who might know but they hide in deep secrecy now and have not been seen in many ages. You best be careful if you go there.”
Brennie eyed Minn warily. “Why would I go there? I have no need or reason to venture near the Fairie pools or the Ladies that are left.” Minn nodded her head, gave Brennie a somewhat knowing and suspicious look that said she knew well what Brennie was thinking. And, Brennie was thinking then in a small hidden space of her heart, of the Ladies who had raised her, trained her… and of whom she felt like she had let down by leaving them so long ago. Even though it had been necessary, her and their lives had depended on her not returning to them then. But, now… Now, perhaps some of them would be left? She was quite sure that these Ladies of the Lake here would know of the ones who had raised her, would know if they survived yet?
As quickly as the thought entered her mind, she stamped it down, set it aside and tried to follow the rest of Minn’s chatter. Minn was going on now about the Fairies, and the legends of the stones… how people could travel through them to other places, worlds, or times? She gave her usual laugh of disbelief and disgust. “Such stuff and nonsense, who would believe such things. Why I heard tell of traveling to such a different world as where there be no Vampyres, no Witches, no Fairies… where they chain their babies to their cradles and don’t let them out till they be a child? They canna move their furnishings around just as they wish, they canna build a cellar, they canna design pretty fabrics as they wish… Now, would ye not be hating to live in that world? Someone even said as one of their tiny villages had a name… something such as a place called Willow Creek?” Minn pointed her finger at Brennie and laughed as she added, “Now do ye not think that even with all of our problems in this world, it’s still not such a bad place to living… You could get too close to those Stones, Lass, and who knows where or when ye might end up.”
Brennie tried to laugh with Minn about all of it but her mind was thinking back to those past events that had caused her to end up here in the first place. She hadn’t thought of it in a long time, since shortly after arriving here to live in this remote isolation and safety from some of those early events. Now, as she left the room and Minn, she shook a little with doubt and real fear. Minn thought it all nonsense, but she knew otherwise. She knew that there were ways to travel through time, even though she had tried very hard to forget… and maybe if there were ways to travel through time, there were also ways to travel to other worlds? That scared her even more and she thought perhaps she should stay far away from those pools and those circles!