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So Maybe I’m Going to Scotland for a Degree in Celtic Literature… But Also For Dragons!

Last week, I explained that I’m going to Scotland for very important reasons.  You know, things like acquiring a castle, finding dragons, locating Narnia, procuring the services of a brownie, and watching sheep frolick in the heather.  I will definitely be making the most of my time there.  What better reasons do I need?

Okay, fine, so I might work on a degree while I’m at it…  If you must know, I did apply to the University of Edinburgh to earn a degree in Celtic studies (clearly, brownies, castles, Narnia, and dragons are closely related, so I feel justified in those extracurricular pursuits).  If you want, I can even tell you what this degree of mine is going to focus on.  Actually, since this is my post, I can do what I want, right? My post, my rules.  You have no choice in the matter!  Hahaha!

Is anyone still reading?

….. Hello?

Well, never mind that.  I have things to say.  My degree is officially called an MSc by Research in Celtic Languages and Literature.  Basically, I get to spend my days reading stories about Celtic heroes and writing a paper about my own particular interests in the Celtic field.

I chose the Celtic Otherworld.  With my general obsession regarding portals to Narnia and finding magical creatures, it’s probably not that surprising that I want to study the underlying inspiration for magical worlds in English literature.

Fortunately, this one did not sing showtunes. Unfortunately, it also did not bear Erik or myself off to a magical kingdom.

Most of you have probably read a novel or two that have characters who are transported to other worlds.  It might be a doorway, an incantation in an old book, a mysterious cave, or a ride on a big pink pegasus who sings showtunes (don’t ask – I haven’t read that one either, but I might have to write the story now…).

The fact is, in western literature, the idea of entering a magical land owes its existence and inspiring details to the Celts.  If you look at other major mythologies, such as the Norse or Greek myths, magical otherworlds don’t exist.  There is only one plane of existence.  For the Norse culture, that plane of existence includes divided realms, but those realms are all connected by the great tree Yggdrasil.  You can go from one to the next with the right knowledge and power.  There’s nothing “out of this world” about it, merely “out of this circle.”

For the Greeks, our world exists along with the divine realm of Olympus and the dark realm of Hades, the underworld.  Again, they are connected and can be reached through physical journeys on the right roads.

No such divisions exist for the Celts.  Trying to uncover the magic of the Celtic religion is tricky because they didn’t write anything down.  However, bits of pieces of old religion can be pieced together through archaeology and later texts penned by Christian monks in the medieval period.  What seems to exist are parallel worlds.  Like a Celtic knot, the worlds of magic and mundane are intertwined, distinct and connected at the same time.

Monks like Brother Aedan or young Brendan from the fanciful and beautiful movie The Secret of Kells were faithful in writing down stories as they heard them.

For the Celts, it is possible to pass into a forest and simulatoneously pass into Faerie.  The forest can be just a forest or it can be a portal.  At the right time for the right person, it is a portal.  Tomorrow for someone else, it is just a forest.  Time and space fluctuate and the Otherworld connects and disconnects with this world, every so often allowing someone to pass through and experience Faerie.

So, when we read those books about magical worlds, our immediate acceptance of the general storyline is rooted in Celtic myth and a mindset that allows for other worlds that can somehow be reached from our own.  Any other literary heritage in western civilization might include magic, but not those portals to supernatural places not physically distant, but in another dimension entirely.

How could this not be a passage to somewhere magical? At the time between times, of course.

So why am I going to Scotland (besides the brownies and dragons and castles and Narnia wardrobe and the sheep/heather/frolicking)?  I’m going to write a paper about the Otherworld, where it came from, what we know about the core Celtic beliefs, and how it made its way into English literature and the books that we know and read and love today.

But mostly for the dragons.


Brownie, Castle, Sheep, Dragons, Narnia: Why I’m Really Going to Scotland

In less than two weeks, I will be moving to Edinburgh.  No, not the Edinburg in Texas.  I mean the one in in Scotland.

As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited.  I fly from D.C. to Heathrow and from Heathrow to Edinburgh.  From thence, I shall begin my adventure.

This is where I will be living.

My bedroom is in the top right tower...

Okay, so maybe I won’t exactly be living in Eilean Donan Castle, but I will be living on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh City just down the road from this castle:

I can wave hello to a castle every morning!

Don’t ask me about my plans of conquest.  Just keep an eye on the news over the next ten months…

Now, I am ostensibly heading to the University of Edinburgh to obtain a Master of Science by Research degree in Celtic Literature and Language.  But who really goes to Scotland just to study for a degree?  I mean, there are schools in the US too, right?  So, what are the real reasons that I will be going, you might ask?  Well, I have a check list of sorts.  There are five things that I plan on doing before I leave:

  • Obtain a brownie

No, I don’t mean those chocolatey snacks that come in little squares.  Brownies are actually a type of small fae creature native to Scotland.  They live in houses and are kept happy with saucers of porridge or honey left out for their consumption.  A happy brownie will help with chores and keep out of sight.  An unhappy one will wreak havoc and leave your rooms a mess (one guess as to how happy your average college student’s brownie is).  Folklore has it that Scotland is just overflowing with brownies, so I intend to have my own.  You know, to help with the dishes from time to time.

  • Acquire a castle.

I don’t really think that it is too much to ask for.  I mean, there are so many castles in Scotland and few of them are being properly lived in and looked after.  The fact that I am going to be located so conveniently near one (on the very same road!) is, I feel, the workings of Fate.

  • Photograph sheep frolicking across fields of heather.

Everyone knows that Scotland is full of sheep and full of heather.  They are bound to coincide and be picturesque for my enjoyment.  That’s why I bought my awesome camera, after all.  The sheep will frolic for me.  Or else.

  • Find the dragons.

Everyone goes to Scotland to look for the Loch Ness Monster.  He’s really the easy one to find in comparison.  It’s the dragons that are much more discreet and far more fond of their privacy.  That’s why you see pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, but no photos of the dragons.  They just don’t want to be seen.  But I feel that dedication and some long, patient hours looking through any likely caves will reveal a dragon or two.  And then my life will be nearly complete.

  • Enter a portal to another world (possibly Narnia) and have brilliant adventures.

Crossroads, twilight, cairns, and sunwise circles.  Where else can you bring all of these together in one place?  Not only that, but I have it on good authority that my bedroom is going to be furnished with a wardrobe.  Yes, a wardrobe.  And you know what that means.  No, really, that’s what it means.

Oh ye of little faith.

With less than two weeks to go, I have a lot of things to do to prepare for my adventure.  I have my camera for sheep-frolicking photographs, my rain boots for tramping the hills on dragon hunts, and plenty of motivation to keep me going as I find my brownie, get my castle, and locate that portal.  Really, I don’t think my expectations for my trip are unreasonable.  After all, there are only five things on my list.

So what do you think?  Am I missing anything?