Saturday, 6 July 2019

Intererested in Ghosts?

Here is Callum's final blog - and it's a spooky one!

Interested in ghosts, you need not look further than the walls of Innerpeffray library. But, tread carefully, you may discover more than expected before a book is ever opened. Founded in 1680, many lives have passed through the memory of Innerpeffray however, rather spookily, some remain insistent that not all of these lives have yet passed on. For them, the library- with its ancient stones- seems to house more than books when darkness falls at night.

I personally found Innerpeffray to be an outstandingly comfortable place to be; and it would be unsurprising to me that the roaming ghosts would agree. To read the entirety of the library’s collection would take more than a human lifetime- perhaps a few lives stayed behind to finish the job? Yes, the experiences of the supernatural, the inexplicable, the Other, need not be an experience of fright or fear; despite the modern horror genre creating connotations otherwise. Is it not plausible that the departed can return to us in the form that they left? Untroubled by demons or devilry? I would hope so, but the issue lies in this; our stories would not be half as interesting. For most, it is a simple truth that fear is an incredibly immersive emotion to manipulate. Rarely are we so invested as in the grip of a well-told horror. To use an example, the sudden steaming of a kettle might have eerie connotations- but to think that the dead had returned to refill our empty cups doesn’t quite have the same dramatic impact as fear would encourage.

Scotland’s own national bard, Robert Burns, has experimented in lyrical fear; his epic poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’ is a great example. But, much like the three witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the inspiration came from an already existent legend. As well as writing his own songs and stories, Burns was known to grapple with, and adapt, other sources; sources of history and of legend.

The old Scottish fable follows a farmer that has foolishly drank himself until the ‘witching hour,’ the hour between day and night. After leaving the safety of the market, riding his mare home, his journey takes him past the haunted Alloyway Kirk. Through the windows he sees the dancing of witches and the devil himself playing the bagpipes.

So impressed by one of the beautiful witches, Tam yells loudly; "Weel luppen, Maggy wei' the short sark!" And never has there been such a grave mistake. As the words leave his mouth the lights inside suddenly vanish and the terrors it houses give chase. They cohorts of evil hunt the poor farmer through miles of Scottish moors. That is until he reaches the river of Doon; for he knows that evil cannot cross a running stream. He escapes alive and intact, but the tail of his mare was ripped clean from its body.

Burn’s accepted this tale and turned into his own epic narrative poem. His version expresses issues of humour, pity, social commentary and fear, all while encased within the beauty of Burn’s penmanship.

‘But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white--then melts for ever’

Innerpeffray Library holds a copy of this narrative. I have to suggest that you come and read it. Support the house of history, the place which documents the journey of culture, of individualism, of art and of honesty.

This is the last blog post of mine. I hope readers have enjoyed my explorations of Innerpeffray’s mysticism. Once again, I have to insist that visitors to this page make an appearance in the library as well. It really is worth it. Finally, to send myself off; I’ve written a wee poem of my own. Enjoy.

The brazen wind; the witches cackle

Comes breaking forth with wrathful screams.

Tormenting souls of guiltless people,

with famine in the farmland green.

But who’s to say the sound was not

The cawing of a raven’s bill?

But who’s to say the sound was not

The mocking of a witch’s thrill?

So ladies ancient turn in flee

or blame became their destiny.

And flame will follow; wait and see.

These are the truths of history.

And in our mind the stories stay;

Echoed at night, around the fire.

Where, in memory, they remain

To return upon the witch’s pyre.

So if these stories lift your ear.

Support the past; let us not fear

What will we find this lucky day

In the pages of Innerpeffray.   

Thank you Callum!  If this has whetted your appetite for the ghostly, see our performance: A Pleasing Terror on Friday 29th November in the Library. 

Future Imperfect?

Callum Watson's second Blog for Innerpeffray looks to the future - or does it?

Over my 20 years of rotation on this planet, never have I once been older or younger than myself. Never have I existed in a time other than the precise moment that has followed the last. I am confined to the linear passing of seconds; there is no pause, fast-forward or rewind. 

Although our sentience is surely gifted, within the limitations of our consciousness flows the inescapable present moment; our destinies are trapped inside. The past is no more than a memory and the ever-alluding future, there it is, here it comes, never to arrive.

The present is the only measure in which we exist and the future will remain a mystery. But, depending on your beliefs, this does not have to be the case. Visionaries, prophets and soothsayers walk amongst us and all claim the power of sight over what is yet to come. But not everyone has the lenses of which to see; for these lenses require both faith and a form of literacy unlearned by the typical individual. In recent years, not-coincidentally related with the rise of sectarianism, few methods have remained in popular acceptance. Nevertheless, if you do accept then the pages of the future can be found in surprisingly recognisable places; the tea leaves at the bottom of your cup for example, the cards chosen in a deck or the lines upon your palm are, to a believer, indicators of the life you are yet to live. Reading the palm, also known as chiromancy or palmistry, was an ancient practice on the continent of Eurasia. but in Medieval England was suppressed by the Catholic Church who thought it to be a pagan ritual.

Richard Saunders’ ‘Chiromancy,’ 1653, articulates the practice in detail. Although beginning with a slightly rambling discourse against gypsies and ignorants, the main section of the book is filled with illustrative diagrams of the palm with correspondingly mysterious markings, it seems as if the text were designed as a form of ‘Palm-reading for dummies,’ offering a quick reference guide to those who practice this field of mysticism. Interested in what your palm reads according to Saunders? I’d have to insist you tread carefully. Included inside are the markings for violent deaths, poverty, loss, misfortune and imprisonment. The result means that Saunders text, be it truthful or not, acts as an often-harrowing reminder that the future is not always a happy place. But before you pass a judgement on whether any of these methods can foretell the future, I’d also have to insist that you come to Innerpeffray and see for yourself.