Saturday, 29 September 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (Year B)



Second reading
James 5: 1-6

Do now, ye richemen, wepe ye, yelland in your wrechitnessis that sal cum to you. Your richessis ar rottin, and your claathis ar etin of mowris. Your gold and siluir has roustit, and the roust of thame salbe to you into witnessing, and sal ete your fleschis, as fier. Ye haue tresourit to you jre in the last dais. Lo! the hyre of your werkmen, that schaire your feeldis, quhilk is fraudit of you, crijs; and the crie of thame has entrit into the eris of the Lord of oostis. Ye haue etin on the erde, and in your licheries ye haue nurysit your hartis. In the day of slaing ye broucht and slew the iustman, and he againstude nocht you.

[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1905) vol 3 here]



Gospel reading
Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48

Johnne ansuerd to him, and said, "Maistere, we saw aan castand out feendis in thi name, quha folowis nocht vs, and we haue forbiddin him. And Jesus said. "Will ye nocht forbid him; for thar is na man that dois virtue in my name, and may sone spek euile of me. He that is nocht aganes vs is for vs.

"And quha euir gevis you a cuppe of cald watir to drink in my name, for ye ar of Crist, trewlie I say to you, he sal nocht tyne his meed.

"And quha euir sal sclandire aan of thir litil that beleues in me, it ware bettire to him that a mylnestane of assis war done about his neck, and he war castin into the see. And gif thin hand sclanndir thee, cutt it away: it is bettire to thee to entire lamyt into life, than hauyng twa handis ga into hell, into fyre that neuir salbe sloknyt. And gif thi fute sclanndir thee, cut it of: it is bettire to thee to entire crukit into euirlasting lif, than haue twa feet and be send into hell of fire. That gif thin ee sclannder thee, cast it out: it is bettir to thee to entire aan eet into the reaulme of God, than haue ii een and be send into hell of fire, quhare the worm of tham deis nocht, and the fire is nocht sloknyt."

[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1901) vol 1 here]


Tuesday, 25 September 2018

More on the matter of Britain


                                             More Scottish elements in Arthurian legends...

An extended comment on my previous post from Aelianus deserves more than a combox reply:

I don't understand the statement "in Arthurian legend, Scotland is rather marginal". A great swathe of the major characters in the legend are from the part of Britain that would later become Scotland: Sir Gawain of Orkney and Lothian, his father King Lot (after whom Lothian is supposed to be named), his brothers Sir Agravain, Sir Gaheris, Sir Gareth and Sir Mordredhis their sister St Teneu and her son St Mungo founder of Glasgow. King Urien of Rheged and his son Sir Ywain. These are hardly marginal figures in the story. The earliest reference to Arthur is in Y Gododdin the oldest literary work deriving from the area of modern Scotland. What the Arthurian tales point to is that this territory is more fundamentally and originally British than it is Scottish just as they draw attention to the antecedent Britishness of Lloegyr. The evidence in that film that there was no Anglo-Saxon invasion proves no such thing. It simply points to the fact that Saxons had been raiding the province of Britannia for many centuries, that much of the territory was unprepared to resist and that they never (even after the conquest) made up more than a minority of the population (like any military aristocracy).

First, thanks for the response. One of the ways in which myths and deep stories about nations and landscapes work is by provoking discussion and disagreement: what we are doing here is in part a tribute to that depth and abding importance.

Turning to the specific points raised, I'll begin by repeating my (incomplete) reply in the combox:

You'll note that, in context, the 'statement' is not left unchallenged.

In addition to the points in the blog post, I'd add: 1) whatever the potential for developing the 'Scottish' elements within the Matter, my impression (and I accept that discerning the cultural force of narratives is a tricky business) is that generally this has not been done. The Arthurian cycle is predominantly felt as a Southern English narrative, probably centred in Winchester or Glastonbury. (The only quick evidence I can provide for this is that I've put into the blog: that reworkings that emphasise Scottish elements are presented as self consciously revisionist.)

In short, I don't think the Arthurian legends are as central to the Scottish mythos as they are to the English one. (I put aside the Welsh case simply because it has complexities which I'm simply not able to do justice to.) My main basis for that is simply a factual claim: when one thinks of the legends and stories that have been told and retold over the years, Scottish writers have tended not to concentrate on Arthur in the same way that English ones have. (As a factual claim, it is of course open to challenge and I'd be particularly interested if anyone could point me in the direction of scholarly literature on the use of the Matter of Britain in pre-modern Scotland.) Certainly, taking Professor Roberts' film as itself a reperformance of the Matter of Britain, that  didn't have much to say about Scotland. (And of the others I mentioned in the original blogpost, all have Scotland literally on the margins, as the stories are located in the Borders.)

Now if that empirical observation is true, then the next question is why that might be true? What might cause that lack of attention? That's quite a big discussion, but some elements spring to mind immediately. First, the struggle between Saxon and Briton is not even plausibly as central to Scottish narrative identity as it is to English. Moreover, that sense of two peoples' clashing is repeated again and again in English history in a way that it isn't in Scottish. (One thinks here especially of the clash between Norman and Saxon for which, I'd speculate, the Arthurian clash between Briton and Saxon often functions as a (safer) imaginative replacement.) For Scotland, the clash is between (at least) Irish, British, Pictish and Saxon identities, with nothing like the complete replacement of Brittonic by English until the relatively modern domination of English over Gaelic (and note then it is Goidelic Gaelic, not the Brittonic of Arthur). Secondly, the political centrality of the various tensions between the identities of British/French, Welsh/British and Romanitas/barbarian which are central to much of the Arthurian cycle are arguably less central to Scotland. For example, there is the absence of the Edward I's and the Tudor need to find a location for Welshness within the English vision of royal power. Finally, there is the availability of alternative, more powerful mythoi: that of the struggle of Scotland against England (The Brus/Braveheart); that of the struggle of Gael against Lowlander (Scott).

Now I don't know how much of that (speculation) would ultimately be defensible. But perhaps the biggest absence in the Arthurian cycle is of the tension between Gael and Saxon: as Aelianus points out, the 'Scottish' element in the cycle is confined mostly to Southern Scotland and the Kingdom of Strathclyde: as noted above, Scotland literally is marginal to the imaginary of the cycle as being predominantly confined to the Southern Borders. Moreover, as medieval Scotland viewed itself as Scottish (ie Goidelic), a narrative that marginalised that identity would be unlikely to have much purchase:

Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown.
They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous.
Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today.
The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since.
 
(From the Declaration of Arbroath 1320 here. Emphases mine.)
 
The key point of the original blogpost was this: Scotland (like all nations) needs an imaginative (mythic) engagement with its past. Certainly as performed in Roberts' programme, there was nothing that seemed able to contribute to that imaginative engagement except by way of absence. To point that our, as Angus MacNeil did, is simply fair comment.
 
So my main plea is that both Unionists and Nationalists think more deeply about the stories they want to tell and the myths they would use. Perhaps the Matter of Britain can provide such basis: if so, please get on with it. (The general importance of good myth like the Matter of Britain is that it allows the interpenetration of many competing values and experiences: Arthur, for example, deals with personal tragedy (adultery), political tragedy (civil war) and the supernatural end of man (the Quest for the Grail). Braveheart on the whole just deals with thumping invaders over the head.) My suspicions remain that, for the various reasons adumbrated, the Matter of Britain is not up to that task of deepening the imaginative construction of Scotland.
 
But that leaves open the question of what is up to that task. And really, we have to do better than  'the UK is lovely and Nicola Sturgeon is a tosser' or 'The Tories eat babies and everything was awful in the past and will be great in the future'...

[On the issue of whether the Saxons invaded or came bringing trinkets and culture -I have no view.]

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year (Year B)


Gospel reading
Mark 9: 30-37

And [,quhen Jesus and his disciplis com doune fra the hill,] thai yede fra thine, and past furth into Galilee; and wald nocht that ony man wist. And he taucht his disciplis, and said to thame, "For mannis sonn salbe betrait into the handis of men, and thai sal sla him; and he slayn sal ryse agane on the thrid day. And thai knew nocht the word, and dred to ask him.

And thai com to Capharnaum: and, quhen thai war in the hous, he askit thame, "Quhat tretit ye in the way?" And thai held thame still; for thai disputit in the way quha of thame suld be gretest. And he sat, and callit the xij, and he said to thame, "Gif ony man wilbe the first amang you, he salbe the last of all, and the mynister of all." And he tuke a child, and set him in the myddis of thame; and quhen he had embraset him, he said to tham, "Quha euir resaues aan of sic litil childir in my name, he resaues me; and quha euir resaues me, he resaues nocht me allane, bot him that send me."

[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1901) vol 1 here]


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Scotland: Group feeling and the Matter of Britain


                                                                 A blogger stirs...

The howffs and wynds of Scotland are full of talk about Ibn-Khaldun's concept of asabiyyah or group feeling...

My particular thoughts on this were prompted by Alice Roberts' documentary on King Arthur and a consequent discussion on Twitter, as well as an earlier tweet by (Britain's leading theologian) John Milbank suggesting that 'The Matter of Britain' was central to British identity. (Having just wasted an hour or so trying to find that tweet, I may have to consign it to an existence just as mythical as King Arthur's own. However, if Milbank did not tweet it, he really ought to have. I offer this article as evidence that the existence of the tweet is true, even if not real. (Or perhaps vice versa.))

Anyway, let's take this claim that the Matter of Britain is central to 'our' identity. (We'll come back to that 'our'.) It had me mulling over the thought that, in Arthurian legend, Scotland is rather marginal. Now my second thought is to question whether or not that first thought is true. Certainly, there are Scottish elements: at random, I can think of Alistair Moffat's identification of Roxburgh as Camelot, Nikolai Tolstoy's search for Merlin in the Lowlands, and Clive Owen's knocking around north of Hadrian's Wall in the 2004 King Arthur. But much of this (and I note that the first three things that spring to my mind are modern contributions to the Matter) are self-consciously revisionist -which suggests that the more traditional working of the Matter plays them down.

So I'm not sure, but my impression is that Scotland generally is marginal to the Matter, with the possible exception of the Lowlands (which by definition can only be part of any Scottish national narrative). If we take the (perhaps mythical) Milbank tweet as true, then that is a problem for British identity. And even if it is not true, it is at least the starting point for considering how narratives contribute to asabiyyah and how the central stories of the British Isles (among which the Arthurian legends are an important strand) contribute to our senses of British or Scottish identity.

And into this mulling plunged Professor Roberts. Now there is a clearly existent tweet here which is relevant:


Holland is of course correct, but it is perhaps a rather uncharitable take on what Angus MacNeil was trying to say. In Roberts' programme, much was made of how the 'conflict' between Anglo-Saxons and native Britons was important to understanding the history of the 'nation' (the singular was clearly used at the beginning of the programme). More generally, the programme was focused on arguing that an important part of our history was being misrepresented if it were believed that the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain rather than drifted in peacefully and exerted a cultural influence over the existing population. But although the programme was ostensibly about an important piece of our national history, very little was said about Scotland and (very oddly for a piece about Arthur) Welsh history. Indeed, the only mention of Scotland that I caught was right at the end when (rather quickly I thought) an understanding of early mediaeval Britain as divided into a south-eastern bit oriented culturally to the continent and a north-western bit oriented towards the Atlantic seaboard was presented. (As an aside, this was rather a pregnant view given the traditional North-South divide and Brexit. It was perhaps odd that one narrative aspect of British history -the nature of the Anglo-Saxon influence- was subject to a sort of revisionist interpretation, while perhaps a much more currently potent narrative -on the split between two sorts of Britain- was not only reinforced but actually extended into deeper cultural time but without much comment.)

So I take it that MacNeil's point was that, in what was ostensibly a programme about an important part of our national story, very little attention was paid to the (what we now call) Celtic parts of the British Isles (with the exception of Cornwall). And although allowing for the inherent subjectivity of a reaction to a medium like television, where there is an inability (or at least general lack in practice) of going back to test one's impressions, I think that take on the programme is fair. Now of course, there are perhaps good answers to this. Not every programme has to be about Scotland. Not even every 'Matter of Britain' programme has to be about Scotland. But IF the programme is claimed to be about 'our' history, and if there is rather a tendency to slide within the programme between the use of Britons/British/Britain as applying to the pre-Saxon peoples/land and applying to the modern peoples/land (I think there was, although again, I am open to different views on this), it's not unreasonable, certainly from a Nationalist MP, to expect some querying.

My own view is that it's perfectly reasonable for Roberts to make a programme which elides Scotland and Scottish identity. (Why on earth would one expect everyone to worry about this as a subject?) But equally, it's perfectly reasonable for others who are more concerned about this area to point out some of the problems in the treatment. And specifically, in a programme that seemed to be claiming to make points relevant to a modern British identity, to note that almost nothing was said about Scotland. At one level, this is just a well-worn point about the modern UK: by default, a lot of what is claimed to be British is in fact just about England. (And this will raise again familiar questions about those generators of modern narrative, the modern media.)

But there is a deeper level at which narratives about British national identity which just leave out Scotland no longer work. Were I convinced Unionist, I would simply note that, if I want to hold the various nations of the UK together, the asabiyyah of those nations, particularly Scotland, has moved on and that, consequently, the narratives that construct that imagined community of the UK also have to move on if you want them to work as a unifying force. Crudely, a Scottish viewer watching Roberts' programme is not going to see it as his or her Our Island Story. That wouldn't matter if the programme were simply framed as an investigation into the fairly niche question of whether the Saxons came armed or in peace. But it wasn't. And the failure to notice that (let alone acknowledge it as a problem) is what bedevils a lot of modern Unionism. The old narratives based on a common quest for Empire and a common heritage of Protestantism no longer work. If a new set of Unionist narratives is going to be constructed, I'd suggest, they need to take account of the changes in Scottish asabiyyah and work with them.

Putting aside those immediate questions of Unionism/Nationalism, more importantly, asabiyyah in Scotland generally has to wrestle with the narrative element of that identity. And the difficulty in applying one important British Isles narrative, 'The Matter of Britain', simply emphasises the difficulty of applying any narrative to Scotland which has some historical and mythical depth: this is compounded by a modern Nationalism that prides itself on being progressive and thus anti-past and anti-myth; and the thinness of any historical narratives that are knocking around. (Think Braveheart.) For a Catholic conservative, imaginative engagement with space and time is essential: oikophilia is essentially an imaginative act and without it, we inhabit a wasteland. Neither Unionism nor Nationalism is really developing those sorts of imaginative depths at the moment. I'm not sure whether this is just a temporary accident, or whether it says something deeper about Scottish culture: a disassociation from enchantment caused by the Reformation or perhaps the abandonment of acquired essentially English narratives such as Roberts' that worked for a time but no longer. In any case, the modern disenchantment of the world seems particularly acute up here in North Britain.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Twenty-fourth Sunday of the Year (Year B)


First reading
Isaiah 50: 5-9

Aye, the Lord that's Jehovah, my lug he couth dreel,
an' mysel I was-na sweer;
nor back frae the bit what I had my fit,
awa I did-na steer:
my shouthirs I gied till wha dang fu' sair,
an' my chowks I turn'd till wha ruggit the hair;
my face I ne'er happit
frae skaudes an' mair.
Bot the Lord that's Jeohovah was stoop till me ay;
syne sae I was-na dauntit:
syne sae I couth stint my face like a flint;
for I kenn'd I suld ne'er be affrontit.
Wha sal see me rightit, he's no far awa;
wha is't that sal plea me?
lat's forrit, the twa:
wha's again me at right?
lat him daur me an' a'.
Aye, the Lord that's Jehovah sal stan' for mysel:
wha is't, sal put me i' the wrang?

[From Isaiah frae Hebrew intil Scottis, by P. Hately Waddell 1879 (Amazon US here; Amazon UK here)]

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 114: 1-6, 8-9.

[Hallelujah!]
THE Lord I loe weel, for he hearkens,
till the sugh o' my biddens an' a':
For he louts his lug to mysel;
I maun skreigh, sae lang as 'am livin ava'.

The dules o' dead wan about me;
an' the stouns o' the lang-hame sought me sair:
hamper an' cumber, I kenn'd them baith:
Syne I skreigh'd, i' the name o' the Lord;
Ah now, O Lord ! redd my life frae skaith.

The Lord, he's fu' gude an' fu' rightous;
our God, he's fu' kindly an' a':
The Lord, he leuks weel to the weakly;
forfochten was I, and he heal'd me a'.

For my life, ye wrought but frae the dead;
my een frae a tear,
my feet frae the birse o' a stane.
E'en sae sal I fuhre, wi' the Lord to the fore,
in the lan' o' livin men.

[From Psalm 116, The Psalms: frae Hebrew intil Scottis P. Hately Waddell (1891) here]

Second reading
James 2: 14-18

My brethir, quhat sal it proffite, gif ony man say that he has faith, bot he has nocht werkis? quhethir faith sal may saaf him? And gif a bruthir or sistir be nakit, and haue nede of ilk dais liflade, and gif ony of you say to thame, "Ga ye in pece, be ye made warm, and be ye fillit" ? bot gif ye geue nocht to thame tha thingis that ar necessarie to body, quhat sal it proffite? Sa alsa faith, gif it has nocht werkis, is dede in it self.

Bot sum man sal say, "Thow has faith, and I haue werkis; schaw thou to me thi faith without werkis, and I sal schaw to thee my faith of werkis."

[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1905) vol 3 here]


Gospel reading
Mark 8: 27-35

And Jesus entrit, and his discipilis, into the castellis of Cesarie of Philipp : and in the way he askit his discipilis, and sais to thame, "Quham sais men that I am?" Quhilk ansuerde to him and said, "Sum sais Johnne Baptist: vthir sais, Helye; and vthir sais, as aan of the prophetis." Than he sais to thame, "Bot quham say ye that I am?" Petir ansuerde and said to him, "Thou art Crist." And he charget thame that thai suld nocht say of him to ony man.

And he began to teche thame, that it behuvis mannis sonn to suffire mony thingis, and to be reprevit of the eldermen, and of the hieast preestis, and the scribis, and to be slayn, and eftire thre dais to ryise agane. And he spak playnlie the worde. And Petir tuke him, and began to blame him, and said, "Lord, be thou mercifull to thee, for this sal nocht be." And he turnit, and saw his discipilis, and manassit Petir, and said, "Ga behind me, Sathanas; for thou sauouris nocht tha thingis that ar of God, bot tha thingis that ar of men."

Ande quhen the pepile was callit togiddir, with his discipilis, he said to thame, "Gif ony man wil cum eftire me, deny he himself, and talk his croce, and follow he me. For he that wil male saif his life sal tyne it ; and he that tynes his lif for me and for the Gospell, sal mak it saif.

[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1901) vol 1 here]

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (Year B)


Gospel reading
Mark 7: 31-37

And again, gaun forth oot o’ the pairts o’ Tyre, he cam throwe Sidon to the Loch o’ Galilee, up throwe the pairts o’ the Ten Cities. And they bring to him ane that can hear nane, and speak but a wee; and they beg that he wad lay his haun on him. And he led him aside frae the throng, and pat his fingers intil his lugs, and touched his tongue wi’ spittle; and lookin up to heeven, he
gied a sigh, and said, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be thou unbarred!” And his lugs war unsteekit,
and the string o’ his tongue was lowsed, and he spak plain. And he instruckit them that they soud tell nane: but accordin as he instruckit them, sae muckle the mair did they tell o’t: and they were astonish’t ayont a’ bounds, sayin, “He has done a’ things weel! He gars e’en the deif to hear, and the dumb to speak!”
[From The New Testament in Braid Scots William Wye Smith (1904) here]

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Twenty-second Sunday of the Year (Year B)


Gospel reading
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

And thar are gather’t aboot him the Pharisees, and the Scribes that had come doon frae Jerusalem. And, takin tent that some o’ his disciples war eatin breid wi’ unpurify’t  -that is, unweshen- hauns, they challenged them. For the Pharisees, and a the Jews, gin they wesh-na their hauns religiously, eat-na; haudin fast the traditions o’ the Elders. And comin frae the merkit -gin they wesh-na their sels, they eat-na. And mony mair things are thar that they hae acceptit to haud; -purify in o’ cups and stowps, coppers and table-couches. And the Pharisees and the Scribes speir at him, “ Hoo is’t thy disciples gang-na conform to the tradition o’ the Elders, but eat their breid wi’ unpurify’t hauns?” But he said, “ Weel did Esaiah prophesie o’ you, dissemblers! as it is putten doon:

This nation honor me wi’ their lips,
but their heart they haud faur-awa frae me!
But they offer devotion to me in vain,
teachin as precepts the commandments o’ men.

"For haein put-awa God’s commaun, ye haud fast the tradition o’ men -purifyin o’ cups and stowps; and mony sic like things ye do."

 And ca’in to him the throng o’ folk again, he says to them, “Hear me, every ane o' ye, and under-
staun. Thar is naething frae withoot a man, enterin intil him, can fyle him; but the things that gae forth oot o’ the man, they fyle him. For frae within, frae ben i’ the hearts o’ men, ill designs come
forth: lecherie, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetins, knaveries, deceit, wantonness, envy, evil-speakin, loftiness, foolishness; a’ thir ill things proceed frae within, and they fyle the man!”

[From The New Testament in Braid Scots William Wye Smith (1904) here]