Chapter 3: Sex and violence?

A curious feature of Dwelly's dictionary of modern Gaelic (c.1900) is the inordinate number of derogatory terms for sluttish, immoral or in other ways dreadful women. Men are not exempt: there are just as many names for lazy or violent men. These names occur in more profusion than the number of whores or thieves in Gaelic society can ever have justified. The Gaelic epithets in many cases have roots which relate to fire or to some aspect of hunting and which are therefore of some age. They are peculiar to Scotland, in the main. A few were used in Ireland, but no more than might be thought necessary to define observable human failings.

There is reason to believe that such terms did not always have a negative connotation. In several cases where the same word is found in Irish, it has a mild and non-pejorative meaning and Dwelly occasionally supplies a complimentary sense which has escaped the censor. The best example is the glaistig who can be ‘a she-devil or hag in the shape of a goat’ but she is also ‘a beautiful female fairy’. G. slaid ‘booty, theft, robbery’ (the proceeds of the hunt) can also mean ‘munificent gift’. G. siùrsach ‘prostitute, whore’ contrasts with Ir. siúr ‘sister, female relative, kinswoman, darling’. G. straill ‘harlot’ is much harsher than Ir. straille ‘an untidy female’. The etymology in many cases points to a ‘fire’ word. What we apparently have is a collection of very old and once highly complimentary epithets of the Goddess whose original fiery nature is sufficiently explored elsewhere.

This quite marked reversal of meaning is an entirely Scottish Gaelic phenomenon and reflects familiarity with and strong disapproval of the older system of worship, which had very explicit sexual themes. It witnesses to a change from universal worship to condemnation and even abhorrence by part of the Gaelic-speaking population. There are several possible ways in which this could have happened. We might be seeing the influence of Christian Irish clergy in the early Middle Ages. However the Irish were deeply attached to their native beliefs and converted many into a semblance of Christianity. Several of their stories about the older female figures lack respect and might be seen as blasphemous but are not fuelled by disgust. Moreover the absence of most of the terms given below from modern Irish tends to confirm that this gross interference with the old object of worship is a purely Scottish phenomenon.

We appear to be looking at Scotland after the Reformation, in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, when many Gaels had adopted civilised habits, including the Reformed religion, but remained for the moment Gaelic-speaking. John Major in 1521 noted the division of Gaelic-speakers in his day into those who owned a wealth of cattle, sheep and horses and who were in consequence law-abiding, and others ‘who delight in the chase and a life of indolence’.1 The implied conflict parallels exactly the conflict in the language. The Cailleach was always ugly in her aspect as the Death Goddess or Hag, but her portrayal as shameless and evil belongs in spirit to a period when many Scottish Gaels had adopted extreme Presbyterian attitudes and stood on their dignity as civilised people, but were still Gaelic speakers. We can probably refine this further and point to bilingual ministers, preaching in Gaelic against the old religion in border parishes where the people were still of the old faith. The interference period corresponds to the reinterpretation period, for the Cailleach in some Scottish tales is given an fabulous but evil character. She is dana ‘forward, impudent’ and ladarna ‘bold, shameless’ in her talk,2 and uses droch cainnt ‘bad language, swearing’.3 She harms or kills people whenever possible and is also described as an trusdar caillich ‘a debauched woman’,4 and as aigeannach ‘a self-willed boisterous female’ (but cf. aigh ‘deer’).5 There was no doubt much worse said about her but, if the following list is any guide, it was not fit for the ears of the parish minister or, if it reached his ears, not fit to be published.

Sluttish Women.
abarrach ‘indelicate female’.
ap ‘shameless woman, any little creature, ape’.
bodag ‘heifer, bawd’; bod ‘penis’; bodagac ‘a heifer looking for the bull’, bodach ‘old man’ but not a neutral term, bodachail ‘churlish, boorish, clownish, inhospitable; slovenly’. Bodamair was a love of Fionn; Bodhmhall was the nurse of young Fianna, who were probably in this context fawns. As a name of the Cailleach it means ‘penis-ward’ or ‘penis-bag’, a metaphorical reference to a deer trap. G. maille ‘delay, hinderance’ also suggests a deer trap. G. mal ‘bag’ may be the same word; in any case it is likely to be a word for the vagina. Pell-mell describes the hurley-burley or shambles of the round-up or chase, as do pudder and bothar which brings us back to the bodag. Pall-mall was a game involving a mallet, a ball and iron rings and resembles other games played by hunters to hone their skills while they waited for the hunt to start. See also botramaid.
botramaid ‘slut, slattern, drab, trull, slovenly woman’: see also bodag.
bréineag or breunag ‘slut, dirty female, slattern, drab; turbulent female; lying woman’ (some hunter was disappointed). G. breun ‘stinking, foetid, putrid, filthy, loathsome, nasty, corrupt’ may describe the conditions at a neglected kill site where remains were not properly burned or buried.
brinneach ‘hag, old woman, mother.’ As above.
cabag ‘strumpet, toothless female’. As cab ‘mouth ill-set with teeth’, also ‘to hack’, referring to a deer ambush. A form of gob ‘mouth’.
caile ‘vulgar girl, hussy, strumpet’. Ir. caile ‘country woman, maiden, girl’ is neutral. cf ceal ‘muliebre pudendum’, ceallach ‘war (hunting)’ and the Cailleach herself.
draimheas ‘foul mouth’ most probably refers to a narrow ravine used as an ambush site.
dreachail ‘comely, good-looking, handsome’; dràic or dràicheal ‘slattern, drabbish unthrifty person’; draig ‘spendthrift’; draighilc ‘trollop, draggle-tail’. A striking example of inversion, noted elsewhere in the witch name Wallydraggle, now ‘slut’, once honorific. Draig ‘dragon’ and draigh-bhiorasg ‘fuel’ take us to beacon-land, and drùidh ‘penetrate, pierce’ takes us to hunting and to druids, who were hunt officials. A dragon, rare among the Gaels, was symbolic of a beacon. Welsh has draig ‘dragon’, dragio ‘to tear, mangle’, dragon ‘leader in war (hunt master)’, and dreigio ‘to lighten or flash at a distance’. Gr. drakontion may be related to derkesthai ‘to look’ but the Greek word is not older than W. draig. Gaelic also has dreach ‘to polish’, dreag ‘fight, wrangle (hunt) and ‘give notice (send a signal)’ and dreug ‘falling star, fireball, corpse-candle’.
drùthanag, drùth ‘harlot, bawd’. G. droch ‘death’, drùidh ‘penetrate, drain (blood?)’, druidh ‘hunt official’. G. droch-shùil is not the imaginary ‘evil eye’ but ‘death-bonfire’, a signal beacon or a cremation fire or both, as at Hallowe’en, still the feast of the dead. Irish has drúth ‘foolish girl, harlot.’
fuachaid ‘jilting strumpet’
gaorsach ‘wanton girl; slut, bawd, drivelling prostitute’, as gaorr ‘gore, filth; thrust, pierce, gore, fight; glut’, so associated with hunting.
giabhair ‘prostitute’. The gobhar was proposed as a deer (above). Irish has giabharacht ‘harlotry’.
glaisrig or glaistig ‘she-devil or hag in the shape of a goat; beautiful female fairy, usually attired in a green robe, seldom seen except at the bank of a stream, and engaged in washing, also known as maighdean uaine’, the ‘green maiden’. In older language the glaistig may have been a beacon signal (AG glas ‘brightness, light’) and even fire itself for G. aodhan or aìn ‘fire’ is regularly punned on uaine ‘green’, notably in fairy lore. Fire maidens are a recurring theme in early fiction. Ir. glaise ‘green’ is the colour of hunters or of fairies.
greiseag ‘wanton woman’; cf. greas ‘to set a dog on an animal’.
leirist ‘slovenly woman, slut, foolish, senseless person’. This is an (F)LR ‘fire’ word related to léir ‘power of seeing; wound, steal, pierce (hunt)’. Ir. léiriste ‘beetle, hammer, mallet’.
liobasdair ‘sloven’. Related to lìobh ‘love, attachment’, liobair ‘person with thick lips’, liobard ‘leopard (hunter)’, E. love and E. leper. St Fillan was a leper, in other words, a white man or beacon symbol. In AG terms, the lips were the labia of the Cailleach which enclosed the entrance to the deer ambush, an image enhanced, if also diffused, by the teeth within the mouth which figure so prominently in some medieval carvings.
liùsh ‘sluttish, untidy woman’, also ‘a woman’s tattered skirt; anything that hangs in a loose and slovenly manner’. A liùsh may have been a leather garment. It is also an LS ‘fire’ word, like G. loise ‘flame’, lùchar ‘light’ and many more.
màrach ‘big ungainly woman’. *mar 'to hunt'.
meirdreach ‘concubine, courtesan, harlot’. The MR ‘hunting’ root found also in mèirleach ‘robber’.
muine ‘whore’. This is also the name of the letter M in the ogam alphabet.
pùiceach ‘female that accepts bribes’, perhaps the goddess? cf G. pùc ‘ram, cram, push (fuck)’.
rapach ‘nasty, dirty, slovenly, foul-mouthed’; ròib ‘filth, slovenliness, filth about the mouth, overgrown or squalid beard, circle of hair, pubes.’ This again suggests an unkempt and unsavoury deer ambush surrounded by dirty or bloody undergrowth. Ir. ropach ‘violent attack or assault’ appears to derive directly from hunting.
rasaiche ‘lewd woman’.
ribhinn ‘beautiful female, queen’, c.w. rib ‘to snare, entangle’. The origins of ribhinn and rapach are identical.
salach ‘foul, dirty, filthy, nasty, unclean’. There is a link between salt and dirt shown by G. sàl ‘sea’, Fr. sale ‘dirty’ and sel ‘salt’.
sgiùnach ‘bold, forward, impudent or shameless woman’. A sgiùnach is also a fishing charm (borrowed like most fishing terminology and practice from hunting). This echoes Scáthach, the magical Scottish woman who trained Cú Chulainn in the arts of war (i.e., hunting).
sgleòid ‘silly man or woman, one easily imposed upon, slovenly man or woman, drab, slut, one who indulges in idle talk, heavy clumsy lifeless female; filth’. As G. sgleò ‘vapour, mist, romance, spectre, struggle, misery, dimness of the eyes, romancing of one who sees imperfectly and consequently misrepresents facts’. Related to sgeil ‘loud and rapid utterance, gabble’ – an outside view of oral learning – and to G. sgeul ‘narrative; tale, fable, story; false or malicious report, falsehood; news, information, tidings.’ The original sgeulachd or traditional lore was hunting lore. Ir. scleo ‘pompous words’, scleoid ‘silly person, sloven, slattern’, E. slut.
sgliùrach ‘slut, slattern, gossip, female tattler, whore, clumsy person’.
siùrsach ‘prostitute, whore (a cognate of E. whore)’. But Ir. siúr is only ‘sister, female relative, kinswoman, darling’. Tom na Hurich, Inverness, is in one source Tom na Shirich, for sibhreach. D. McRitchie 1890, 147. However these words are linked, the Great Whore was the Cailleach.
slaodag, slaodaire ‘slut, slovenly woman’, associated with slaid ‘booty, theft, robbery, munificent gift’ and with slat ‘penis’. Ir. slaodadh ‘dragging or trailing after one, slipping, sliding’. The Irish word refers to a sledge, as used to carry venison.
strabaid ‘whore, harlot’. As Lat. stuprum.
straill ‘harlot’, straille draic ‘sloven’. Ir. straille, strailleog, straillín ‘an untidy female’ and E. trull are both milder expressions. G. straill can also mean ‘to tear in pieces’. But the archaic sense of straille draic is ‘radiating light’.
strìopach ‘strumpet, whore’. G. strì ‘strife, contention, battle (hunt)’.
strìopach ‘strumpet’. As Lat. stuprum, Fr. strup.
struidhleach ‘wicked woman who acts from evil motives’, cf straill (above) and struidhe ‘extravagance, profusion’.
tàsan ‘sloven’, also ‘slow, tedious, plaintive, monotonous discourse’ in which may well be a contemporary view of a druidic incantation. Also ‘wrangling (hunting)’.
teallach ‘concubine’.raipleach ‘filthy or slovenly woman’. The RB ‘hunting’ root found in E. robber, rape. Ir. raipleachán ‘a term of abuse’. The Raploch or ‘dirty place’ below Stirling Castle may have been the shambles where deer caught in the neighbouring parks were butchered.
truth ‘vile beast; beastly thing; shrew, sloven’, truthdar ‘slattern’; cf trustar.

Lazy, dirty and violent men.
The good-bad dichotomy in Gaelic extends to the other sex but for a different reason. The number of words for thieves and robbers in that language is by any standards remarkable, the more so since robbery was virtually unknown in the Highlands. Cattle and horses were common property and to round them up was the normal way of acquiring a stock. The explanation for this proliferation of terms is that hunters regarded themselves as robbers, since the deer were the Cailleach’s ‘cattle’ and they robbed or raped her whenever they killed a deer. The following list is by no means exhaustive, and only a few of the related words are listed.

However there is no doubt that hunters acquired a bad name as their prestige declined and civilisation marched on. The meanings for G. ceatharnach range from the admirable to the undesirable: ‘soldier, guardsman, hero, stout trusty peasant, strong robust man, freebooter, outlaw, boor’.

buaileadair ‘assailant’, from buail ‘strike, beat, smite, thrash; beetle, as lint’. A beetle or mallet was used to stun deer before cutting their throats.
ceatharnach ‘soldier, guardsman, hero, stout trusty peasant, strong robust man, freebooter, outlaw, boor’; from cath ‘battle, struggle, hunt; company of soldiers’. There are an inordinate number of references to cats in Gaelic folklore. McLagan has nine references to cats, against three to dogs and one to a horse. The cat is always a telltale sign of hunting lore.
coigreach ‘stranger’, ie, a hunter who came from a far distance. G. coigchreach ‘plundering, sacking, pilfering’ is a by-word for ‘hunting’. Both words derive from G. coig-crich or comh-chrioch ‘confines, border, edge, march’, which incidentally identifies coig ‘to gather, hunt’. All the many Gaelic words for a border, margin, edge, etc. define a hunting-forest. It appears that the coig-crich was normally exploited by a combined force of ‘strangers’ coming from a distance in response to a pre-arranged beacon signal.
creachadair ‘plunderer, freebooter, spoiler, robber’; as creach ‘plunder, booty; host, army; to plunder, spoil, pillage, rob, ruin’ – the word used for cattle-lifting and for its proceeds.
cùiltear ‘smuggler, skulker’. G. cùil ‘corner, angle, recess, niche’ is a word for a deer trap among rocks or in a ravine. Place-names in cùil have been converted into early church sites by Christians intent on enhancing their importance. Other related words include cùilbhean ‘cup-shaped whirl in a stream; cuilbhear ‘musket’; cùilbheartaich ‘craftiness, wiliness, trickiness, deceitfulness, cunning’, referring to the skills of the hunter and E. culvert ‘stone drain’, probably from an original *cùilbheart ‘deer trap’.
dibheargach ‘robber, fugitive’. In Ireland the dibheargach were organised bands of young men who took vows and lived in the wild places between settlements, presumably by hunting. On the same lines we have diabhol an entity with horns, hooves and a tail; damh ‘stag’; diobhail ‘loss, destruction, ruin, robbery’; diobhall ‘old, ancient, antique’; diobhanach ‘outlaw’; diobhraice ‘warlike, destructive’, and much more.
falachair ‘one who hides, conceals, skulks’. G. falach-fuinn as Ir. fulach fiadh As used by the Irish contributors to VB 1990 and in the Irish Sites and Monuments Record (SMR). or fulachta fiann1 ‘burnt mound’, Daithi O hOgain, BA 1987, 215. the remains of a field-kitchen used by deer-hunters, with G. fiadh ‘deer’; fàl ‘circle; wall, hedge, dike; guarding’; falaisg ‘moor-burning’; falchaidh ‘lurking, concealing, dissembling; secret, concealed’; falchaig ‘raid, foraging expedition’; faoil ‘hospitality, generosity’; faoileach ‘holidays, feastdays, carnival’.
gadaiche ‘thief, robber’; gad ‘withe, twisted stick’, probably a noose or snare; gadag ‘rope of twigs; gadanach ‘causing a continued noise’; gadhar ‘lurcher-dog, mastiff – also as gaoir ‘noise’, gaoir-chatha ‘battle-cry, war-cry, shout set up when engaging in battle (the shout made by beaters at the start of the deer-drive, both to startle the deer and to coordinate their movements); gaoth ‘theft’.
geòcair ‘glutton, spendthrift, parasite, vagabond, rebel, debauchee.’
grisean ‘one of a rabble’.
ionradhach ‘plunderer, depopulator’, from ionradh ‘plundering, laying waste, devastation’. The first element corresponds to aodhan ‘fire’.
làdar, ladran ‘robber, thief’.
luidealach ‘lazy fellow, slovenly lounger, bumpkin’.
mèirleach ‘thief, robber, rogue, rebel’; as meirghe ‘banner, standard, flag’ troop, company, band’; méirneal ‘merlin, a type of falcon’; the same word applied inappropriately to a blackbird, Sc. merl, Fr. merle, provides a well-known hunting pun or joke while meirdreach ‘concubine, harlot’ is a late and unfriendly view of the forest guardian; cf the Fairy Sweetheart of folklore. They all come from the archaic MR ‘hunting’ or ‘gathering’ word used also for the sea as muir, gen. mara, seen as a great gathering of the waters; cf also E. more, moor ‘a hunting place’, morass ‘a bog where deer were caught’.
milleadair, milltear ‘destroyer, waster, spendthrift’; mill ‘spoil, hurt, mar’; milidh ‘warrior, champion (hunter)’. As E. military.
ràbair ‘litigous, troublesome person; roarer; wrangler’; rabal ‘noise, bustle’; rabh ‘warn, guard’; rabhachan ‘warning, advertisement, beacon’; rabhadh ‘alarm, hue and cry’; raobhachd ‘gluttony, excess’; reub ‘tear, rend, pull asunder; wound, mangle’; E. rabble, robber, Lat. raptor ‘robber, plunderer’.
reubair ‘robber, violent person, tearer, bruiser’: see rabair.
sladaiche or slaidear ‘robber, plunderer, thief’; from slad ‘steal, rob, deprive of strength; havoc, carnage’; cf also slagan cùl a’chinn ‘hollow at the back of the neck’ (resembling a deer trap); slaid ‘munificent gift or present; booty’; probably as E. slash, slaughter; cf slaightear ‘rogue, rascal, knave, blackguard’. Slaod-theine ‘a great fire in which many people were consumed’ - was this a bonfire?
spionadair ‘one who tears or snatches away’, from spion ‘to snatch, take away by force or violence’. Also spiontag ‘currant, gooseberry’.
spùilleadair ‘brigand, robber’, in Dwelly also as spùinneadair, but the l form is supported by spall ‘beat, strike’; speal ‘sword; to mow, cut down; short spell of vigorous exertion’; speil ‘drove, herd of cattle or swine’; speilean ‘ball game like Cat and Bat played in Uist’; spòld ‘piece of a joint of meat’; spòltadh ‘hacking, hewing, slaying, slashing, massacring’; E. spoil, Sc. spulzie ‘depredation, plundering’ and Lat. spolium ‘skin stripped from an animal’.
stig ‘sneaking fellow’; stìgear ‘mean abject skulking fellow’.
trustar ‘debauchee’, cf. trusgan ‘man’s private parts; clothes’. Drostan is found in Perthshire as a place-name.

The hunter as robber is so reliable a clue to archaic content that the existence in any story of a ‘robber’ identifies it as derived from hunting lore. In ‘The Shifty Lad, the Widow’s Son’ – Gille charaich mac na Bantrach – the widow gives her son a good schooling and hopes he will choose a respectable trade, but he is set on being a thief and tricks her into sending him to the Black Rogue – an Gadaiche-Dubh – to be trained. G. carach ‘cunning’ is also ‘circling, winding, turning’, like a chain of hunters winding up a hill, so the gille-charaich is a skilful hunter, not a shifty lad. An gadaiche-dubh is one who steals deer (AG. dubh or dubhan). A further sign of hunting lore is the use of an apple (éibheall ‘flame’) to select the man who will marry the princess. The Gille is the supplicant and the Bantrach is of course the Cailleach.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, the hunter as robber also appears in the Life of Columba (I, 33). Erc Mocudruidi – a druid or hunt official – lived on Colonsay but came to Mull to hunt seals. Columba prevented him from doing so but sent him some wedders in compensation. A short time later the saint ‘saw in spirit’ that Erc had died – in other words he interpreted the beacon signal sent from Colonsay to announce the event. This time he sent a fat sheep and six pecks of meal from Tiree for his funeral. We may suppose that the story of the seals was invented to explain the first payment, which may well have been entered in the accounts of the monastery, but the second is inexplicable unless the Irish monastery on Iona paid rent in the form of farm produce to a native aristocracy, who hunted seals among other animals, who lived on Colonsay, and who controlled the beacon system linking Colonsay, Mull and Tiree. Prophetic ability in any AG context means the ability to read beacon signals, since they heralded future events, generally communal hunts.

This allows us to make better sense of the ‘robbers’ reported by George Buchanan to lurk on various small Hebridean islands in his day (c.1550). Pabbay, near Skye, was ‘famous for robberies, where the thieves from their lurking places in the woods, with which it is covered, intercept the unwary travellers’. Rona, a little to the north of Pabbay, was also covered with woods and heather and infested with pirates: ‘In a deep bay it has a harbour, dangerous for voyagers, as it affords a covert for pirates, whence to surprise passengers.’ The isle of Uist contained ‘numerous caves covered with heath, the lurking-places of robbers.’ The island of Ewe, in Loch Broom, was ‘almost wholly covered with wood, and of service only to the robbers, who lurk there to surprise travellers’ while Gruinort was ‘darkened with wood and infested with robbers’. But he also notes that the woods on Scalpay contained ‘large herds of stags’ and Raasay had ‘woods of beech trees and many deer in them.’ G. Buchanan in Aikman’s translation, Book I, 49-53.

Even in a very unsettled society, it would be extremely unlikely that so many tribes of bandits could make a living by robbing those travelling through these very small islands, particularly as local people were evidently well aware of their existence and had no evident need to run the risk of being attacked. The truth of the matter is almost certainly that Buchanan, who was from Perthshire, misunderstood a Hebridean Gaelic word for a hunter as ‘robber’, ‘thief’, ‘skulker’, or ‘pirate’. The only people who could survive on the resources of a small wooded island, who lurk in woods or in caves, and who are known in popular parlance as ‘robbers’ or ‘thieves’ are hunters.

To pursue the point, one might wonder why men lived in such places. Buchanan suggests that certain islands were permanently occupied by ‘robbers’, while others apparently were not, and it also appears that the robbers in question were at odds with society. This suggests that they had been banished to such places for some crime. There is plenty of evidence for banishment as a punishment for severe offences, and small islands have often been seen as suitable places for a penal colony. The best-known of these exiles was Columba, who was expelled beyond sight of Ireland for causing unnecessary bloodshed, and who returned only twice in forty-two years for specific purposes. His biographer Adamnan mentions several very dubious characters who joined him later on Iona. Did the monastery on Iona serve as a penal colony for upper-class Irish offenders, as Ireland, in later centuries, served as a penal colony for Highland delinquents? There is in general a remarkable link between monasteries, with their slave-like conditions, punitive regimes, scanty rations, and the tonsure which made escape impossible, and prisons. There is also a striking and so far unexplained connection between monastic colonies and the exposed and sometimes dangerous sites on which such settlements were built. No normal person would choose to live or, for that matter, would be able to live, for more than a few days on the Isle of May, the Bass Rock, Skellig Michel, the Mont St Michel or Lundy. But people did. St C founded priory on Oransay. ?punitive exercise at beacon station.

We might also consider all these islands, like Iona, are important beacon sites. Whether such beacons were inaugurated in the Mesolithic or the Middle Ages, resident keepers were needed to look after the light and receive donations of fuel for the fire and food for themselves from pilgrims who, by the nature of such sites, no doubt stayed for a day or two. But it is not evident how such men were selected, or what induced them to remain in such perilous and isolated places. The island of Sanda or Awyn, to the south of the Mull of Kintyre, is another small island with a vital beacon. It had a chapel dedicated to St Adamnan or Eunan (G. aodhan ‘fire’) where there was an asylum for prisoners.2 An asylum or a prison? For anyone forced to live on Sanda the difference is immaterial. Another refuge for criminals was the royal park at Edinburgh, where, again, there was an important beacon to be manned. The refuges or sanctuaries of Highland Scotland all bear examination with the idea of penal sanctions in mind.

Such a suggestion is, of course, at odds with pious belief, and pious belief on such matters still has a great deal of inherited weight.

Appendix A: Epithets of the Goddess
Copied from RB wordlist, in Wordlists.

I Very Coarse Hunting Language
raip (G.) ‘filth, debauchery, foul mouth’.
raipleach (G.) ‘filthy or slovenly woman’.
rapach (G.) ‘nasty, filthy, dirty-mouthed’.
rapais (G.) ‘filth, noise, nastiness’.
rapas (G.) ‘filth, slime’; Fr. roupie ‘snot’.
rauf (Ice.) ‘hind part, anus’.
reaban (G.) ‘a fringe of whiskers’.
ribe (G.) ‘a hair, rag, blade, snare, ambush’.
rig (E.) ‘loose woman’.
rig (E.) ‘sex organs (of either sex)’
rigga (Shetland) ‘woman’.
riob (G.) ‘to ensnare’.
riobagach (G.) ‘hairy, shaggy’.
ròb (G.) ‘coarse hair, hairiness, shagginess, slovenliness, filthiness’.
robar-fola for robar-fuil (G.) ‘menstrual blood’.
ròib (G.) ‘filth, slovenliness, filth about the mouth, overgrown or squalid beard, circle of hair, pubes’.
ròm (G.) ‘pubes’.
ròmag (G.) ‘a female with a beard; the female pudenda’.
ròpach (G.) ‘viscous, glutinous, slovenly, squalid’.
ròpag (G.) ‘a sluttish woman’.
rovek (Shetland) ‘cleft between the buttocks’ (a metaphor for a deer ambush; cf Lat. rupina ‘cleft in a rock’).
ruba (G.) ‘a bristle’.
rygr (Ice.) ‘a woman’.

II The comparable Irish lexicon.
raibléire (Ir.) ‘an obstinate or wayward person; a hussy’.
raipleachán (Ir.) ‘stout person; worthless person, reprobate’.
rapladh (Ir.) ‘slovenliness, bustle’.
rálach (Ir.) ‘loose woman, harlot, vulgar woman’ (for *ráphlach?).
ruibheanta (Ir.) ‘venomous, sharp-tongued’.
ruibhseach, ruibhleach (Ir.) ‘sharp-tongued abusive woman; jilt, jade’.
rúpach (Ir.) ‘big strong woman’.
rúipéardach (Ir.) ‘rough woman’.
rúipín (Ir.) ‘a little wench or harlot’.

III Beauty and plenty: the original lexicon?
ràbach (G.) ‘plntiful, fruitful’.
rapail (G.) ‘sumptuous’.
riamh (G.) ‘beauty, excellence’.
ribhinn (G.) ‘nymph, maid, beautiful female, young lady, queen’.
rip (Shetland) ‘ear of corn’, Nor. ripe ‘a cluster of seed’. Ears of corn are often shown with the Goddess.
robag and roban (G.), pet names for children; cf. Ir. rob ‘mischievous or pet animal, pet’.
ròic (G.) ‘banquet, sumptuous but unrefined feast, superabundance of the good things of life without any of the refined manners of good society’.
ròmag (G.) ‘Athole brose, a drink made of oatmeal, whisky and honey’ (but also ‘a female with a beard; the female pudenda’.

IV Additional words for sexual organs, etc.
crobhal ‘genitalia’.
cungaidh ‘privy parts’.
cunnarach ‘membrum virile’.

These categories require further comment. A very old metaphor, evident in the earliest figurative art, saw an ambush site as the vulva or womb of the earth, a metaphor which foreshadows the personification of the earth as a female. The notion must have arisen among hunters living in a mountainous area since such areas provide the best ambush sites but Eskimos retain a belief in a very big woman who lives at the bottom of the sea and sends them their prey. Our word-list shows us a narrow cleft or gully – Shetland rivek ‘cleft or fissure in a rock’, Lat. rupina ‘cleft in a rock’ – between steep banks or cliffs, repeatedly bloody or bleeding, often squalid and dirty, but at the same time the source of all goodness, wealth and happiness. The puns between ‘hair’ ‘bristle’ and ‘spear’ make sense in this context. A bristle or ruba features prominently in the Death of Diarmid, the Great Boar.

Places where animals are regularly killed and butchered will rapidly become very nasty indeed but dogs and other scavengers will leave very little and it is unlikely that our ancestors, who identified butchery with plenty, saw any part of the process as objectionable. Nevertheless there is evidence from Atholl of an obligation on hunters to burn all the leftovers, even their temporary huts, on leaving the forest at the termination of a hunt.

Native hunters are unlikely to have seen female pudenda as disgusting or filthy, whether this is taken literally or metaphorically. The pervading sense of squalor and debauchery is at odds with the beautiful and generous Maiden and it is also absent from the parallel vocabulary of Ireland. Has it perhaps been introduced by prudish Reformers, alerted to pagan ritual by the disclosures of the witch trials? Though these trials were largely confined to Lowland Scotland, it is not often realised that most Lowland Scots were still Gaelic speaking in the 16th century.

In the seventeenth century two young women, Elspeth Reoch of Orkney and Isobell Gowdie of Auldearn, who were accused of witchcraft, claimed to have spent time with the ‘fairies’ or hunters in the deer forest. Since women were normally excluded from the deer forest this suggests that they represented the goddess in the hunting magic which preceded the great seasonal hunts or sabbaths: G. sabaid ‘brawl quarrel, fight, fray, row’ can be recognised as a hunt. Such rituals no doubt re-enacted the rape of the Goddess by the hunters. The Gael never made these rituals explicit, which is not surprising when we consider the history of Gaelic culture, but his beliefs are there to be read in his language. Further evidence can be deduced from the repressive attitude of the reformed Church in Scotland towards all sexual deviance, especially on the part of unmarried women, an attitude that may explain the disgust evident in certain of the interpretations.

This view of the old images of devotion would be in line with the anti-feminism and anti-coital attitudes of the Christian church. The negative view of the hunting goddess almost certainly comes from clerical reinterpretation of this hunting metaphor. The only question is to identify the agents.

The earliest interaction between the secular druidic beliefs and literate Christianity was in Ireland in the fifth century but there are several reasons for seeing the Scottish language as the result of interference in Scotland. In Ireland at an early period many elements of Mother worship were safely converted to Christianity and there are no signs of a hysterical rejection of the earlier knowledge; quite the contrary. From what one knows of the Gaels one feels that the poetic comparison between a deer ambush and the female vulva is more likely to have been admired for its veracity and fundamental truth, that to have stirred violent opposition. I can find no RB saint or mythical figure in Ireland or in Scotland except Maelrubha, who has a hunting beacon in his ancestry. There are no martyred virgins in the early Church with an appropriate name, though plenty of comparable stories. But in Touraine they danced La Robardie in the fields while singing.

Ireland may, I think, be ruled out. There appears to be no way by which anti-druidic terminology invented by medieval Christian Irish could have circulated in Scotland. Christians, when they did finally arrive in Scotland in substantial numbers, were not Gaels but French. The only possible episode, which did so much to damage and extirpate Gaelic culture in Scotland, is the Reformed Church, particularly in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, when Gaelic-speaking preachers and missionaries ranged all over the Highlands preaching hell-fire and sowing misery and confusion among an already disheartened people. Their authentic voice may be recognised in this desecration of the hunting goddess. But the Black Goddess has always been a powerful adversary.

The reaction against hunting lore did not begin in eighteenth century Scotland or in fifth century Ireland when Patrick confronted the druids – these were among its last manifestations. A patriarchal, despotic view was already in place in the first century, when John had his vision of the Great Whore in her red robes riding on the Beast. An earlier hatchet job was done by Jewish writers on the beautiful Lilith, wife of Lucifer the light-bringer, and on Eve in her Garden, the oldest Maiden of them all. The change is predictable: man no longer depends on hunting (hunters are declared to be wild men wearing skins and living in the desert: John of Canaan was one of the last). With new farming comes new literacy. It is the Neolithic revolution. It is the end of much that is beautiful and reasonable and which has sustained mankind for hundreds of thousands of years. When a literate priesthood declares itself sacred and removes itself from daily life to speculate on such myseries out of their original context, almost anything is possible, including some very curious religious movements.

The beautiful hunting goddess, the Maiden or Lady, became the Christian Virgin without losing any of her symbolism or her power. There is a seventeenth-century horned virgin in a chapel not a mile from here. The chapel of Montplacé, Maine-et-Loire, open to the public on the feast of the Assumption (15 August) and on Sundays over the summer. For students of fertility cults it is worth a visit. The Lady is the most resilient of any religious concepts. Virtually alone among the saints of the Church she retains both her integrity and her following. Perhaps it is simply that the Black Goddess, whether Badb, Kali, or the Cailleach, has always been apart.

But a sense of horror and untouchability is not the monopoly of world religions nor in any sense their creation. It has secular origins in the general link between what was ‘unclean’ (prohibited, out of bounds) and what was ‘holy’ (prohibited, out of bounds). The deer forest and, particularly, the killing place at its heart, the dark bloody cleft, were both unclean and holy and out of bounds to every woman except the Mother. The holy/unclean status of menstrual blood and women after child-birth are also part of the picture.

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