Friday, April 4, 2014

D Is for the De'il & His Mother!

#4 on the April 2014 A-to-Z Blog Challenge.

White Oak
D: Dair, Oak in the Scottish Gaelic alphabet. 

Lowlanders tended to have the usual Protestant view of the Devil; the Highlanders saw him as sometimes fearsome but capable of being fooled now and again. My granny told me that it’s thanks to the Devil’s mother, tidying up the kitchen in Hell that we have salty seas, because he had an old salt-mill on a high shelf. He kept it because it’s magic and he might need it. She felt it was in the way—after all, in Hell it’s so hot and dry, salt is always granular and never needs to be ground. In the guise of a harmless old woman, she takes it to an Aberdeen shop, and sells it, explaining that if you ask it nicely it will grind out whatever you want, but to stop it you must thank it, both in Gaelic. The merchant secretly grinds out riches. But one day, while he’s away, his gormless assistant sells it to a sea captain who likes salt—and on the humid seas, spices and salt tend to clump together. Horrified when he finds out, the merchant begs the captain to see it back. No luck. So he reluctantly tells the captain the magical command to start it, which the man doesn’t believe.  
Spice Mill
One day during the voyage, his meal is completely flat and tasteless; cook tells him water got into and dissolved the bags of salt. Not a grain is left! Frustrated, he finally commands: “Please grind me salt!” It does, filling the table, the cabin, and the ship until it sinks, and to this day it’s still grinding away down below. 

Her tales of the devil tended to be humorous, like the one about the Highland piper who has a contest with him, and wins. There’s a sequel, in which Auld Hornie, wanting revenge, sics a young imp on him, shortly after his wife and bairns leave him (he’s had a wee fondness for whisky). Already in chaos without her, his home and life get far worse very quickly! After several attempts to get rid of the imp so he can reform and clean up, the Highlander comes up with a solution…email me if you want to know what it is!

I’ve found several in various collections of Scottish folktales and legends from the Hebrides to Galloway (not the same thing as Galway in Ireland!); one of the best is Duncan Williamson’s May the Devil Walk Behind Ye!

May you always be able to spot Auld Clootie’s cleft hooves in time to defeat him, even if he’s disguised as a charming, handsome stranger with a really good offer! 


  1. I have a soft spot for the folktale version of the devil. The Baltics have a lot of those, too and they are always ridiculous.:)

  2. They're fun, Lola! A nice change from the scariness of the devil in modern popular culture....


If you would like to comment on a particular post or my blog, please click below it in the window; you can then preview, click on a profile such as Anonymous, and add by clicking on "Publish." Thank you!