When I first washed up on Scottish shores, the only folk stories I heard had to do with Haggis; no one around had any interest, or knowledge, of the Old Ways. But it’s not hard to find, and so here’s an account of what I have since stumbled on.
But in the meantime, here’s a proper Haggis recipe, at least according to the BBC:
- 1 sheep’s stomach or ox secum, cleaned and thoroughly, scalded, turned inside out and soaked overnight in cold salted water
- heart and lungs of one lamb
- 450g/1lb beef or lamb trimmings, fat and lean
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 225g/8oz oatmeal
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground dried coriander
- 1 tsp mace
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- water, enough to cook the haggis
- stock from lungs and trimmings
- Wash the lungs, heart and liver (if using). Place in large pan of cold water with the meat trimmings and bring to the boil. Cook for about 2 hours.
- When cooked, strain off the stock and set the stock aside.
- Mince the lungs, heart and trimmings.
- Put the minced mixture in a bowl and add the finely chopped onions, oatmeal and seasoning. Mix well and add enough stock to moisten the mixture. It should have a soft crumbly consistency.
- Spoon the mixture into the sheep’s stomach, so it’s just over half full. Sew up the stomach with strong thread and prick a couple of times so it doesn’t explode while cooking.
- Put the haggis in a pan of boiling water (enough to cover it) and cook for 3 hours without a lid. Keep adding more water to keep it covered.
- To serve, cut open the haggis and spoon out the filling. Serve with neeps (mashed swede or turnip) and tatties (mashed potatoes).
I searched long and hard through Glasgow to find Haggis; I don’t think what I found was as carefully prepared as the recipe above would suggest.
Bar Haggis? Yeah, bar Haggis.
Enough of Haggis. What of Beira, the Queen of the Winter?
If you’ve visited Scotland, you know that it’s cold. And therefore a Goddess of the Winter makes perfect sense: Beira served this role well.
Cold, Cold, Cold; enough to make mountains rise, lochs descend, and winter snows flourish.
Now, let’s start with her proper name: Cailleach Bheur. Beira is the name she was given by 20th century folklorist Donald Alexander Mackenzie in his book Scottish Wonder Tales from Myth and Legends, who described her in the following manner:
Beira was a one-eyed giantess with white hair, dark blue skin, and rust-colored teeth. She built the mountains of Scotland using a magic hammer, and Loch Ness (yes, the one with that cryptozoological beast we all know and love as Nessie) was created when Beira transformed her negligent maid Nessa into a river. Nessa broke loose, resulting in Loch Ness.
As winter begins, Beira goes to bathe herself.
Corryvreckan, off the coast of western Scotland, is a narrow gulf that produces powerful tidal waves and whirlpools. This place, which in the original Gaelic is Coire Bhreacain, means “cauldron of the speckled seas” or “cauldron of the plaid”. This is where Beira would go to bathe, and wash her tartan, her kilt, until it was snow white.
Snow white enough to bring the Winter.
However, once her bathing was over, she peacefully handed her reign over to the dual gods (God and Goddess) of the spring and summer.
The Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, marked the end of her reign as Queen of Winter, at which time she visited the Well of Youth and drank of its waters.
The Fountain of Youth.
After drinking from it, she grew younger day by day.
Which means she’s still a-coming.
So, even as the summer heat rolls on, and the heat berates us all,
Remember Beira, Mother of the Scottish gods;
She will bathe in Corryvreckan again, and the Winters…
The Winters will surely return.