‘Under the earth I go,
On the oak leaf I stand,
I ride on the filly that was never foaled,
And I carry the dead in my hand.’
These words are an old invocation native to the Scottish highlands, once chanted by storytellers when they wished to set forth upon an evening of tales. They are a spell to call up words, when words were required to flow. They were written down in the 1950s by the great Scottish folklorist Hamish Henderson; so taken was he with their shape and their sound that he made them a part of his own epitaph. A start became an end, the words of the past reborn into the present; a circle made complete.
Henderson called the words a druid’s riddle; connecting them to the old religion that preceded that of Christ on these islands. There is something inarguably pagan in their character, an…
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