Seanchai & Bean Feasa
I am Rowan Morrison, daughter of Evelyn and Alick Morrison.
Granddaughter of Evelyn and William Irvine, and Violet and John Morrison.
Great granddaughter of Kate and Issac Lockyer. Grace and James Irvine. Jemima and John Morrison, and Mary and John Ballentyne.
I hear the calling on a deep soul level to the land of my birth and the worlds of myth and magic. I am Daughter of the Cailleach, the first ancestor of my blood and bone people. The greatest old hag of them all. The old woman of the otherworld, well that is what I like to call her. I know her in many forms, as a primordial being of land, sea, and sky. As creator and ancestor, as the wise woman spirit who has watched over me all my life that has taught me many things. This calling is the fire in my blood and breath in my bones.
My love affair with folktales began at an early age, when I would sit by the fire and listen to my granny tell stories. It was then I knew that words were magical, for when they were spoken they somehow transformed into living breathing images in my mind. Fed by my imagination, they grew into all sorts of fantastical creatures and places. Their enchanted threads led me into the depths of the dark forest. Enabled me to see the hidden folk. To run with the wild deer and took me swimming with selkies. What could be more magical than that?
A seed was planted in my heart and was nourished by my hunger for reading. I could eat stories for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was an alchemical reaction, that grew arms and legs and ultimately led to me becoming a storyteller. A traditional oral art in Scotland, that is very much alive in a country woven with stories. The world is full of wonderful stories but the tales from my own land speak to my soul. I talk in the 'mither tounge' as Scots vernacular is an incredibly beautiful language and recant these timeless tales that are full of our indigenous traditions.
So many to choose from, but I am drawn to stories that are connected to the landscape, such as the Cailleach myths for these are as old as mankind. To supernatural stories of witchcraft and dark magic. To tales that take place in the liminal place where land meets sea and to stories of Scotland's shapeshifting creatures. Did you know that we even have our own vampires?
After years of writing my own original short stories and rewriting traditional tales for oral telling. I decided it was time to publish some of my work. I am currently working on an Anthology of Scottish Witch Folktales and the first part is the lore and tales of weather witches. If the Carlin Wife approves will be published sometime in 2022. I am currently working on a collaborative performance with Karen Strang Artist for this years Scottish International Storytelling Festival, called the Seer and Spirit - a commemoration of witch persecution. I will post more about this soon.
Incase you want to know. I am listed on the Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland directory https://tracscotland.org/storytellers/rowan-morrison. And, as an oral author on the Scottish Book Trust. https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/authors/rowan-morrison. Hopefully this will be as a published author soon!
BEAN FEASA (WISE WOMAN)
To tell you a bit about my journey to becoming a wise woman, I have to go all the way back to the beginning. Not of time, I am not that old. The beginning of my life, for I was born with a strong connection to spirits of the otherworld, flora and fauna. As a child, there was no one to teach me the old ways. No unbroken lineage of traditional clan healers. I learnt my craft from the spirits that spoke to me in the darkness. The ancient land of my birth and the traditions and customs of my ancestors.
As you might imagine, this has made life, shall we say - interesting? To deepen my understanding of my own experiences of the unseen and dream worlds. I trained in cross-cultural shamanism to teacher level with Sandra Ingerman MA, an award-winning author of twelve books and world-renowned teacher of shamanism. But for me, without roots these teachings lacked power.
I knew about our indigenous magical traditions through folklore but went on to research the forgotten practices of keening and lamenting. The strange beliefs connected to the fairy faith. Witchcraft and counter-witchcraft, one cannot exist without the other. The folk magic practices of cunning folk, charmers, seers, spae-wifes, healers and wise women. We have no need to look to other cultures for spiritual practices, for our heritage is rich with traditions. Hence, I follow humbly in the footsteps of the Bean Feasa (Wise Woman) and offer workshops, for those interested in an authentic Scottish magical practice with roots in the heart of the past.
GIVING VOICE TO THE ACCUSED WITCHES
I am often asked why I care so much about what happened during the period of the witch trials in Scotland? My answer is simple, why don’t you care? Does social justice have a time limit?
It was political then and is political now. To many today, it typifies extreme institutionalised misogyny. Many are choosing to call themselves ‘witch’ as a term of empowerment. But it is a river of blood that runs much deeper than that. One that has left a legacy of fear in its wake along with a cultural entanglement of misunderstanding.
An awakening is happening. A flowing of the past into the present, that is bringing the shame of a nation into the collective consciousness. A remembering of the torture and killing of an estimated 4,000 people (84% women). Perhaps the accused were magical after all, as their voices seem to be rising from the dead and demanding to be heard in the here and now.
I was born in the capital city. Even though there are records for 327 accused witches in a then County of Edinburgh, their stories were lost in a city whose streets are overflowing with history. Most of which wrongly ignores the contribution of women to Scotland’s rich culture. What happened during the witch trials has become nought but ash, visible in a small memorial beside the castle that is easily overlooked.
I first became aware of the accused witches when I moved to Dunbar in East Lothian over thirty-five years ago. There were 18 accused witches killed close to the location of my new house. I was told tales by local people of wicked women who fornicated with the devil and were deserving of the biblical punishment they received in this seaside town. A distorted weaving of history and folklore into the fabric of place. Like the witch, I was a female outsider. Who was I to dare challenge local beliefs?
Then I moved to a small village near Spott location of an old Witches Stone and 25 accused witches in the tiny villages nearby. It was yet another place that seemed to relish the torture of women and the burning of their flesh. I was told that parents would say “watch oot the ringwoody witch will get ye” to make their children behave. Looking back, what strikes me was the unwavering belief that the people who were killed in these beautiful places were somehow deserving of their terrible fate.
The very first story I told all those years ago one Samhuinn night was inspired by the tale of the two accused witches from Innerwick who once lived in the street next to mine. I still remember that people were more horrified that they burnt the women’s cats. It seemed that the death of an accused witch was acceptable in comparison to that of an animal. I never understood that thirty years ago. I now understand the psychology of fear and superstition that led to the dehumanising and killing of people accused of witchcraft.
Fast forward to ten years ago and another move, this time to Inverkeithing. A small town in the kingdom of Fife, with no less than 50 accused witches. It was then that I made a promise to these daughters and sons of Scotland that I would tell their stories. To me the greatest act of remembrance. I have been doing this for the last decade.
I now live in Kinross close to the Crook of Devon, a place where 30 accused witches and their stories are woven into the green landscape of Perthshire. There have been 450 accused witches in places I have lived. Ordinary people who were killed for a crime they did not commit. I will continue to remember them by telling their stories and through my spiritual work by singing their souls home.
When I am not doing all of the above, I can be found walking around Loch Leven with my two little dogs, Angus and Florrie and singing to the spirits of my beloved home land.
“When Rowan tells a story she transforms and pulls you into another realm. It is magical!” (Barbara Neznek)