An Apology, and Farewell

I have taken time to come to my senses, and I now realise that my outburst yesterday was completely inappropriate, and wrong. There is nothing untoward about Merksay. This is a good town, with good people. We love all our children. And sad as it is, sometimes children run away. There is no conspiracy, no monster behind the curtain pulling the strings. I apologise most sincerely if I scared any of you with my insane rambling. I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately, but that was no excuse to spout such flagrant untruths.

I feel much better now. And I can appreciate anew all the wonderful things Merksay has to offer. I fear I’ve said too much, and may have actually worked against my original aims of enticing you all to come visit, so I shall no longer write this journal. The information I have already shared will remain here, and should hopefully prove educational and interesting. As for me, it is time that I was gone.

You’ll find me on the hills, or roaming the fields. Merksay is my home. It’s who I am. Goodbye.

Merksay2

Orkney Folklore: The Restless Children

“Restless children” is a term that was coined for those children who were denied a Christian burial, their bodies instead placed in unconsecrated land. The reported hauntings that came as a result of this were in a way more chilling in that there weren’t really any accounts of seeing ghosts, aside from strange lights that some spoke of seeing in the area. Instead, an encounter with the restless children was said to be an emotional one, where someone passing the unhallowed ground at night would be struck with a palpable sense of extreme dread. It’s a disquieting idea, the notion that a place could not just be haunted by a ghost, but it could become so saturated with dark energy that the place itself could become malign.

Image credit to OrkneyJar. More info here: http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/ghosts/childspirit.htm

Image credit to OrkneyJar. More info here: http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/ghosts/childspirit.htm

One notorious case of an encounter with the restless children comes from North Ronaldsay…

I can’t do this.

What of Merksay’s own restless children? What of Emily Munro? How many children do you think have been reported as “missing” in the past 20 years? I’ll give you the answer: none. There are no active missing persons cases in Merksay. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that 11 children “ran away from home,” and for some reason this resulted in no further police investigation. Why is no one talking about this? The screams I heard on that terrible night were not the screams of a runaway. They were the screams of a boy who was faced with something inhuman. I know what is happening to these children.

Bonnie Shaw took them away.

They won’t like me telling you this. I know they’re watching me, I can see them following me. They think I don’t know! They’ll try to silence me, but before they do, if I can reach any of you out there, it’ll be worth it. Let the world know about what’s happening in Merksay, get more eyes on this place and whatever horrors are unfolding here. And please, in the name of all that is holy, do not bring your children here.

The Circus of Night

When visiting Merksay, you may see scattered around various spots advertisements for something known as The Circus of Night. Disregard them. If you know what’s good for you, you will not seek them out. Not unless you wish to go mad. Do you believe in evil… true evil? I do. The Circus of Night is not for you.

 

Orkney Folklore: Bonnie Shaw

There is not much written about Bonnie Shaw. OrkneyJar and all these other wonderful resources go into detail about the trows and the phantom animals and the restless children and all the other ghosts and ghouls that populate the islands, but you won’t find any academic resources talking about Bonnie Shaw. But ask someone in Orkney or Shetland, and they’ll tell you. He is perhaps the most terrifying of all the creatures of Orkney folklore.

An Orkney schoolchild's interpretation of Bonnie Shaw.

An Orkney schoolchild’s interpretation of Bonnie Shaw.

Like many of the old traditions, elements of the Bonnie Shaw story could have been imported from Nordic myth. The story of Dr. Schaeffenhaus that lingers in Scandinavian legend is very similar. But he seems to have become particularly ingrained in the islands that hover on Scotland’s periphery, a horrific, unspoken part of the landscape. The story of Bonnie Shaw is that he would visit parents who were going through hard times – perhaps their crops had failed, or there was illness in the family – and offer to use his vast magical powers to fix the problem. By all accounts there was no miracle that was beyond Bonnie Shaw’s capabilities to make reality. But the goodwill gesture always came at a price. In exchange for this service, the parents would have to abandon any claim of ownership of their child, passing custody over to Bonnie Shaw. This was not merely a straight exchange. By all accounts, Bonnie Shaw was a cruel figure, and would claim the debt at his own leisure, waiting long enough that the parents had only just begun to entertain hope that the debt had been forgotten before swiping the child away without warning. Where the child went after this is unknown: some believe that Bonnie Shaw feeds on children, while others think he merely collects them like trinkets, taking them back to his home to act as his servants for all eternity.

But Bonnie Shaw’s influence was considered to be more insidious than simply offering Faustian bargains. It is said that he would use dark magicks to break down the resolve of communities, make them more pliable to accept his wicked deals, and more willing to disconnect with their children. This meant that some parents feared they had fallen under Bonnie Shaw’s spell whenever they had angry or hateful thoughts about their sons or daughters, and there was even an annual celebration – since lost to time – where parents would dance and sing songs in a display of appreciation for their children, who were sat on makeshift thrones and given handmade crowns, in an attempt to dissuade Bonnie Shaw’s attentions!

Like the Black Dog, the Bonnie Shaw myth is so old and nebulous that its origins are unclear. But while he may be a known entity all around Orkney and Shetland, there is one place that above all others is considered his home. You won’t find it in any official writing, but that’s the other thing Merksay is famous for. More than any other island, this is the place that Bonnie Shaw has been said to return to the most often over the centuries. And even today, while the rest of our folklore has faded into quaint superstition for most, the mention of Bonnie Shaw will drain the colour from the faces of most Merksay Islanders. Here, Bonnie Shaw still has power. Bad things have happened here, and of course there’s a perfectly rational explanation for it all, but right there, on the tip of everyone’s tongues, are the words no one will say. Bonnie Shaw. It’s all stuff and nonsense, of course. Bonnie Shaw’s just a legend. There’s no such thing as Bonnie Shaw.

Islander Profile: Gordon and Claire Munro

Here on Merksay, we all feel very sad for Gordon Munro and his wife, Claire. They’ve only recently lost their daughter, you see. Emily Munro. A beautiful, sweet girl, 17 years old and full of life, recently she ran away from home. Yes, she ran away. She must have jumped on a ship and headed to Scotland, and from there who knows where she’s got to? Why would anybody ever want to leave Merksay?

WORDS OF WISDOM: "Try to understand, it had its teeth in my mind, gnawing away."

WORDS OF WISDOM: “Try to understand, it had its teeth in my mind, gnawing away.”

WORDS OF WISDOM: "WHAT'S IN THE BOX!?!??"

WORDS OF WISDOM: “WHAT’S IN THE BOX!?!??”

Regardless, poor Gordon and Claire are heartbroken. Gordon has only recently got over a long illness which required him to leave his job at McBain, and now this hits him. His family have had a very difficult time. So, if anyone reading out there happens to have seen Emily, or knows where she might be saying, please do get in touch with this blog. We just want to know that she’s safe and well. Any reassuring news we can pass onto Gordon and Claire would be greatly appreciated.

There is no reassuring news. Emily will never be seen again.

And then Emily was gone.

And then Emily was gone.

Orkney Folklore: The Black Dog

The Black Dog is a long-enduring, widely circulated legend, one that extends throughout the entirety of the United Kingdom. It has been said that just about every county in the UK has their own Black Dog myth, and Orkney is no exception. Orkney’s most famous black dog story is the Black Dog O’ Quholmsley, a massive hound who was said to reside under the bridge of the road to Sandwick and Birsay. Numerous witnesses returned from journeys reporting a chilling vision of this animal appearing from this spot at the dead of night, and following them on their travel for some distance before suddenly disappearing. This is but one of numerous encounters with the Black Dog and other phantom animals peppered across the islands.

Portrait of The Black Dog. Source unknown.

Portrait of The Black Dog. Source unknown.

The Black Dog myth is very old. So old, in fact, that the details of where it first emerged remain a secret. There were many who believed that the Black Dog was a ghost of a slain hound, but accounts of its presence actually predate the ghost story in the “returned spirit of the dead” form we know it today, suggesting the Black Dog could be something older and more primal. Widening our scope beyond Orkney and factoring in the legend of the notorious Black Shuck in England and all the other myths across the country, it can be seen that the accounts of the creature’s nature are in fact wildly differing. Some refer to the Black Dog as a demonic beast, a hellhound who breathes fire and will violently attack any poor soul unfortunate enough to lay eyes on him. But others refer to the Black Dog as a protective spirit that wards off evil entities, with several accounts of Black Dogs guarding cemeteries and churches to be found in folklore, and the odd tale of lost or endangered travellers being guided to safety by a spectral hound.

There is, however, one trait that seems to recur in all accounts of the Black Dog: his presence is an omen of impending death. It seems that anybody who sees the Black Dog is destined to die, or someone close to them will die. The length of time between the sighting and the death varies widely, with some stories suggesting it’s within the year, while others suggesting it will happen within days, hours, or even immediately. But the outcome is always the same. If the Black Dog appears, death will soon follow.

Image credit goes to DeviantArt user SpookHound: http://spookhound.deviantart.com/art/Graveyard-Guardian-161486195

Image credit goes to DeviantArt user SpookHound: http://spookhound.deviantart.com/art/Graveyard-Guardian-161486195

For more information on the Black Dog, visit OrkneyJar, or also check out some interesting articles here and here, or an archival newspaper article here.

Orkney Folklore: Trows

As I mentioned last week, the Orkney Islands are rich with history, and with that history comes a wellspring of old legends and local folklore. Every culture has them, but with the Nordic influence on Orkney we have developed a folklore quite distinct from that which exists in Scotland, with its Gaelic traditions. Over the next few instalments of this blog, I’m going to shine a light on some famed creatures of Orkney myth.

Image credit to Akherontis of Gaia Online: http://www.gaiaonline.com/profiles/akherontis/6734366/

Image credit to Akherontis of Gaia Online: http://www.gaiaonline.com/profiles/akherontis/6734366/

Surely the most famous mythical creatures most widely associated with the Orkney Islands are trows. Trows are described as small, ugly creatures, like shrunken trolls – the word “trow” is often referred to as an Orcadian corruption of the word “troll.” They were said to live in the many hills and mounds that can be found on the Orkney landscape, only emerging from their underground caves at night. Once darkness fell, they would enter human households once the occupants had retired to bed for the night, and warm themselves by the fire or steal various trinkets. There are old accounts of terrified people lying in their beds wide awake, listening to the pattering of tiny footsteps at the far end of their house!

While trows were generally considered to be mischievous pranksters, there was a darker side to the myth. It was commonly believed that trows loved to steal babies and swap them with changelings. These changelings were said to be the natural offspring of the trows – frail, misshapen creatures – who the trows were eager to get rid of in exchange for healthy human babies. This was evidently the way old cultures explained birth defects and disabilities, and so any poor infant afflicted with such conditions was often considered to be a changeling, and thus neglected by their parents.  Just one of the ways that the trow myth has haunted the Orkney consciousness.

"Trow and Bairn" illustration by Sigurd Towrie

“Trow and Bairn” illustration by Sigurd Towrie

But it’s not just babies that the trows stole. They were also reported to steal adults from time to time, with young women proving particularly vulnerable, replacing them with identical doppelgangers known as stocks. According to legend, the only way to tell a stock apart from a real human was to set fire to them. In their last burning screams, their true monstrous nature would be revealed.

Of course, while once the trows were widely feared in Orkney and Shetland, the arrival of modern, enlightened times has diminished their power. Few Orcadians believe in trows these days, though you might find the occasional Merksay Islander who will swear on their life that they saw a small, dishevelled figure scurrying about on the hills at night!

For more information on trows, visit OrkneyJar, a wonderful resource on Orcadian life and legend.

Islander Profile: Neil Tulloch

Like most on the island, Neil Tulloch is a proud employee of the McBain abattoir. A keen bird watcher and beekeeper, Neil also shares my keen fascination with Merksay and his history. He has been a source of great encouragement in guidance in the founding of this blog, and this little spotlight is my way of showing my appreciation.

WORDS OF WISDOM: "She ran away. There's nothing we can do."

WORDS OF WISDOM: “She ran away. There’s nothing we can do.”

Mr. Tulloch is very fortunate to have a beautiful young daughter, Fiona.

Islander Profile: Tam Gutcher

Another day brings us another patron of a highly-regarded local business. Tam Gutcher can be found on most nights tending the bar at the Jaunty Tart, Merksay’s local pub. After a hard day’s work at the abattoir, it has long been a tradition for the island’s men to gather at this quaint watering hole for some alcoholic refreshment and camaraderie. I myself do not imbibe, for I’ve found that booze makes me see horrible things. Of course, Tam Gutcher is only the most recent of a long line of custodians who have managed the pub, which some claim to be among the oldest such establishments in Britain. Though having said that, it seems I can’t find anyone on the island who remembers a time before Tam was the one pulling pints!

WORDS OF WISDOM: "

WORDS OF WISDOM: “We love visitors in Merksay. The fourth biggest population in the Orkneys… and the first friendliest.  That’s what I say!”