Monday, 2 January 2012

Scottish Rain Dance

Over here you don'r expect to see a rain dance. In Scotland there are only three certainties: death, high rail fares and constant rain. Last year, while England had record-breaking droughts, Scotland had record-breaking rain. The met-office pundits wagged their heads and claimed that they’d expected it all along. A consequence of global warming. However prolonged dry spells do happen. For several weeks we haven’t had a decent downpour. Plenty of gale force winds to tear slate tiles from the roofs; a few snow flurries, but no rain. Last April we had a month-long dry spell that made me start watering --- something I almost never have to do.

Perhaps because of those dry spells the locals, for hundreds of years, conducted weather spells to open up the heavens and dump some extra rain on the land. According to “Description of the Parish”, 1726, every May 3, there was a fair held in Botriphne (today’s Drummuir). Among the festivities, a woman ritually washed a wooden statue of Saint Fumac in a nearby natural spring. We don’t know who she was, other than her function, as the keeper of the statue. Presumably that statue was passed down to a designated family member upon her death. The purpose appears to have been to secure plentiful rains for the fields. If the ritual smacked of witchcraft, that didn’t seem to bother the locals much as there’s no record of any censure by the Kirk.

As far as we know, Saint Fumac, an associate of Saint Columba, established a mission at Botriphne in 570, close to the natural spring. Because springs were venerated as healing centres, and sacred places, Christian churches tended to be built nearby, to give a Christian meaning to the old practices. Pilgrimages to the wells were banned following the Reformation but despite the bans, such pilgrimages were common until recent times. People still sought out the help of the Well Guardian for healing, rain, wealth or protection from damaging winds and rain.

Botriphne Kirk, built 1820 on the ruins of an older Kirk

According to MacKinley's, "Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs", the statue-washing at Botriphne ended in the late-nineteenth century on a memorable May 3 when the skies opened with a vengeance, and the nearby river Isla broke its banks. The statue was caught up in the flood and washed downstream. It came to rest at Banff where the local minister, a bit less tolerant than the folk of Botriphne, declared the statue as idolatrous and ceremoniously burned it.

Today the spring still flows strong. Recently, the Rev. J. S. Stephen conducted several baptisms there. A curious irony. Despite all our attempts to construct our human temples over the spring and officially suppress it, the spring’s ancient power still makes itself felt.

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