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.


Saturday, 18 May 2019

We are delighted to welcome Callum Watson as our guest blogger for May.  Callum has been exploring the esoteric and mystical at Innerpeffray: here's the first of his three blogs.

Have you ever wondered whether the lines upon your brow read those of a murderer? Do the stars in your sky predict fortune, or rain?

These concerns of the mystic, of sorcery, magic and prophecy, seem to be a reflection of something intrinsic in our human curiosity, bonding us as we journey onwards in our exploration of that mysterious Other. In this vein the documenting of supernatural occurrences might be judged, by today’s standards, as the practice of fiction or faith. But, as we must not forget, the tales of witches and demonology, which stand tall in the shelves of Innerpeffray, are in fact depictions of an often-accepted reality.

Many would recognise the scene from William Shakespeare’s adoption of the moment in which Macbeth, soon to be king Macbeth, ‘happens’ upon the three witches, also called the ‘Weird Sisters’ or the ‘Wayword Sisters.’ These three incarnations of destiny foretell Macbeths monarchy and eventually will lead him to his doom and yet, their origins lie not in the summoning powers of Shakespeare but in Holinshed’s Chronicles, 1577, under his section on ‘’The Historie of Scotlande.’’ In this account, Macbeth and his companion Banquo encounter "three women in strange and wild apparell, resembling creatures of elder world." Although Shakespeare’s picture is similar, a difference of interpretation is distinct in the strange but compelling illustrations that accompany Holinshed’s writing. If you look beside his tale then there stand three women of elegance and beauty, probably members of the upper-class; rather unlike Shakespeare’s representation of three withered and frightful hags.

Perhaps it was these representations of witch-lore that encouraged the accusations of sorcery to filter into a common practice of society. Whether the killing of witches, these henchmen of the devil, was a ritual performed out of fear or otherwise is unclear in specifics, but one thing becomes certain as we delve into the shelves of Innerpeffray; the devil seems to have been as much a public figure as God was.

Wander through the Scots Discovery of Witchcraft, 1584, for an insight into Ronald Scott’s exposĂ© into the practice of witch-mongers; how the public were being tricked by charlatans into persecuting poor and aged ‘witches’ for crimes in accordance of magic and devilry. The methods of which, a bad pun, are discussed and illustrated in great detail. Or, perhaps you should read Dr Dee’s transaction with spirits, 16th century. This collection offers an insight into the celebrated astronomer’s drift into mysticism as he attempts to learn the universal language of creation and unify humanity under the threat of apocalypse. Dr Dee’s is an interesting and telling account of the common attitude of the time but whatever your eyes do fall upon, the rabbit holes lie deep and uncovered, please feel free to fall inside.

Thank you for reading this short post of mine. This blog is expected to be the first in a series of three, in which I will explore the unconventional curiosities, the mystic and mythological, of Innerpeffray’s shelves. It’s been a great opportunity to explore the library in accordance with this task of mine; and I hope I’ve convinced you of Innerpeffray’s own magic in doing so.

Visit the page next month for the next instalment, or visit the library to read the history for yourself.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Cooking the Books

This month we are delighted to welcome Rachel Chan to the Innerpeffray blog.  Rachel is a Masters Student at the University of Stirling and guest curated an exhibition with us as part of the university's Making the Most of Masters programme.

Cookery as heritage
            Food is a big part of my life. Growing up in Hong Kong, a culinary capital, I can find different kinds of food easily. From Hong Kong street-food, traditional Chinese cuisines, Asian delights, to high-end French dinner, the only thing you have to do is go out and taste them all. So, moving to Scotland is a big change for me. Eating out is expensive so I mostly cook dinner myself, and I like to explore different recipes online. And when I first came across the opportunity to work with the Library of Innerpeffray, I was given the freedom to choose a topic I am interested in, and I decided I want to do something related to cookery.

            Cooking is so integrated into our daily life we seldom realise it is our heritage. Perhaps we all have that Grandma’s recipe which has been a tradition to cook during family gathering. My grandmother taught me how to make a perfect cup of milk-tea, which she learnt from her father when she was young. When my grandmother worked in the family’s cafĂ©, she used evaporated milk to make milk-tea; but now I use soy milk because it is a healthier choice. Recipes pass down to us from generation to generation with personal alteration in respond to the changes in society; and it is through these old recipes we can learn about the societies in the past.
Preparing the exhibition
I had a lot of fun preparing the exhibition in the Library. The first thing I did was to browse through the Library catalogue to search for cookbooks. Apart from cookery books, I also read through books that I did not think I could find recipes in. Recipes appeared in all kinds of books, gardening book, magazines and even dictionary. It is a perfect example of how different the book contents were in the past compare to the information we consume in present days. 
Crab from Poisson, by P Belon 1554

I enjoyed reading books at the Library. Nowadays technology is so advanced, we have so many ways to read. You can read it on a tablet, access ebooks, or even listen to a book. But the feeling of holding an actual book and flipping through pages remain the best way, in my opinion, to interact and connect with the literature. Reading books at Innerpeffray Library allow me to not only study the literature, but also to study the printing and typewriting in the past. The information is as important as the literature itself in understanding past societies.

Cookery for Every Household, by F Jack, 1914
After sometimes spent on reading and taking notes, I started deciding the content for the exhibition. I got a lot of help from the volunteers at the Library as they know more about the books than I do, and they know what will be interesting and appealing to visitors. The basic was to pick out the books for display, the more difficult part was to decide which pages to show. Books are very special objects, we can only show two pages at once, so we needed to choose somethings eye-catching and easy to read. With cookbooks and tool-books in the past this is difficult, as they were practical and did not have much illustrations. Eventually we decided to use illustrations from other books and rearrange some recipes from the cookbooks to visualise the exhibition.

The Red Deer, by HA McPherson 1896
The final step was to put up the exhibition. With all the materials prepared, I tried to draw up plan on the layout for the exhibition. Yet the final product looks quite different from my plan. As one of the volunteers said to me, ‘You will never know what works until you put them in the case.’ And we did prepare and plan for extra materials, and the exhibition turned out to be satisfactory, at least to me. I hope it is a fun and interesting exhibition to the visitors. This reminded me when I was holding an event during undergraduate; even after months of preparation, there were still unexpected issues and changes. The only thing we can do is to prepare beyond required. As Winston Churchill said, ‘Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.’

Working at Innerpeffray Library
            One of the reasons I chose to take the opportunity to work at Innerpeffray Library is that I love books. My family love reading, and I like to be surrounded by books. Being a student for the last five years, I have spent a fair amount of time in universities’ libraries researching. Innerpeffray Library is different. When in the Library, you can feel a personal connection with the book you are reading. Imagine in a quiet afternoon, you are sitting in the library, reading a book of your choice. The sun slowly enters through the window and the warmth making the room cosy. This is an experience you can rarely get in any other library.
            I enjoyed working at the Library a lot. It was a unique experience to work with books and manuscripts. But what makes the Library special is the people: the Keeper, the volunteers and the visitors at the Library. Lara is an amazing keeper of books; she knows everything about the books in the Library. She is very nice, and she taught me many things about handling books and manuscripts. The volunteers are lovely and friendly. Like Lara, they have extensive knowledge of the books in the Library and I sometimes got distracted from my book while listening to them introducing books to visitors. Apart from doing my research, I simply enjoyed talking with them on different subjects. From the drinking of tea, to discussion on history, to sharing life stories, meaningful conversations always make me happy. Visitors of the Library varies, but they all love books and are passionate about them. Sometimes the conversations between the visitors and the volunteers were so intriguing I would stop reading my book and listen to them.
            It has been a wonderful time working at Innerpeffray Library with Lara and the volunteers, and I hope to return to the Library sometime, perhaps as a visitor and explore the rest of the collections in the Library.