Scottish Myths and Ossian Fever.
The Gaels of Scotland are descended from the Ulster migrants who originally settled
in the Argyll region in the latter decades of the Roman Empire. The Irish newcomers
took with them their Gaelic mythology, and also their name, the Scots - a term that
was regularly used to mean "the Irish" until well into the Middle Ages. The Scots
founded a powerful Gaelic kingdom which by A.D.900 had conquered the neighboring
kingdom of the Picts to occupy most of Britain north of Hadrian's Wall.
Scottish myth and folklore is linked to that or Ireland in many ways - quite literally in
the case of Fingal's Cave on Staff in the Hebrides, a basalt outcrop which was said
to mark the end of a road built by Finn from the Giant's Cause way 1n Ulster. As in
Ireland, knolls were seen as entrances to an enchanted Otherworld. The fairy music
that was said to emanate from these mounds formed a category of traditional
Scottish song. Trees, particularly yew trees, were an important feature of the
mythological topography. Animals too, held significance - a deer on arable land,
for example, was seen as an omen of war, swans were enchanted princesses.
Shape-shifting features prominently in Scottish folklore, often in association with
Witches or hags, the greatest of whom lived in a corrie of perpetual snow on
Ben Nevis. And like other Celtic communities, the Gaels of Scotland preserved
a belief that one day a hero would return to restore them to their rightful position.
When Prince Charles Edward Stuart, "Bonnie Prince Charlie", led the abortive
uprising that ended at Culloden, he was widely seen as that deliverer. Just as
Geoffrey of Monmouth set Europe ablaze with stories of King Arthur, it was a
single author who aroused the world's interest in the myths of the Gaels. James
MacPherson (1736-1796),a Gaelic speaker, became convinced that the Gaels must
have had a great legendary bard whose long lost works were waiting to be
discovered in the remote Gaelic speaking areas of Scotland. With the support of
influential backers, MacPherson set off on a research tour. He found many poems
and songs, some clearly based on old Celtic myth, but no bard. He was
determined not to disappoint his backers however, or to lose the fee they had
promised. With some literary skill, he put together what he claimed were translations
of epic poems by Ossian, son of Fingal, a third century warrior and bard. Ossian
and Fingal were the names he gave to the Irish Oisin and Finn. The so-called
translations that appeared from 1760 to 1765 were based partly on genuine
Gaelic myth and legend, but sprang in the main from Macpherson's own imagination.
Ossian was an instant hit, but suspicions were aroused when Macpherson proved
unable to produce his originals. Many people
denounced it as a hoax.