Blessed Burns Night

Today is the 253rd birthday of Scottish poet-farmer Robert Burns. Celebrated in Scotland (and all the spots of the Scottish diaspora) with songs, poetry, and haggis, Burns Night is near and dear to my Pagan, partly Pictish heart. (There’s something about this time of year that makes us long for poetry. Imbolc, when we honor Brigid, Goddess of poetry, is coming and, once again, there will be an online poetry slam in Her honor.)

I left lunch at a little restaurant on Dupont Circle today and dropped the folder of cases I’d been reading. A young man in a kilt and mad leg tattoos picked them up for me. I smiled and said, “Thank you; happy Burns Night,” and he broke into the song. (Do I love Washington, D.C.? Yes, yes I do.)

Here are the lyrics to Burns’ best-known poem. It’s become an anthem for Scottish independence.

Is there, for honest poverty,
That hangs his head, and a’ that?
The coward-slave, we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Our toils obscure, and a’ that;
The rank is but the guinea-stamp,
The man’s the gold for a’ that!

What tho’ on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, and a’ that;
Gi’e fools their silks, and knaves their wine
A man’s a man for a’ that!
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, and a’ that;
The honest man, though e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that!

Ye see yon birkie, called a lord,
Wha struts, and stares, and a’ that;
Though hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that;
For a’ that, and a’ that,
His ribbon, star, and a’ that,
The man of independent mind
He looks and laughs at a’ that!

A prince can mak’ a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, and a’ that,
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Good faith he mauna fa’ that!
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their dignities, and a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, and pride o’ worth,
Are higher ranks than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may—
As come it will for a’ that—
That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth,
May bear the gree, and a’ that;
For a’ that, and a’ that,
It’s comin’ yet for a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that!

And it’s no mistake that Scottish patriots picked today to launch their latest bid for Scottish independence.

I’ve been thinking lately about how much we Pagans love our symbolic THINGS. You know, the Ring of Mordor, the Emerald Tablets of Hermes Trismegistus, the Grail, the Sorcerers’ Stone, the Book of Shadows that you made yourself in the early days of your love affair with The Craft, the cauldron that you found at an odd little shop somewhere. In Scotland, they love The Stone of Scone (is that poetically perfect, or what?), also known as the Stone of Destiny. And, in case you’re ever inclined to doubt the importance of symbols that speak to Younger Self, there’s a great movie about an historical event from 1950. It tells the story of Scottish nationalists who stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey in England (whence it had been taken by, as Wikipedia recounts:

[i]n 1296 . . . Edward I [of England] as spoils of war . . . to Westminster Abbey, where it was fitted into a wooden chair, known as King Edward’s Chair, on which most subsequent English sovereigns have been crowned. Doubtless by this [King Edward] intended to symbolize his claim to be “Lord Paramount” of Scotland with right to oversee its King)

You can watch it on Netflix and it’s a lovely movie.

Wikipedia says that:

On Christmas Day 1950, a group of four Scottish students (Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson, and Alan Stuart) took the Stone from Westminster Abbey for return to Scotland. In the process of removing it from the Abbey the stone broke into two pieces. After hiding the greater part of the stone with travellers in Kent for a few days, they risked the road blocks on the border and returned to Scotland with this piece, which they had hidden in the back of a borrowed car, along with a new accomplice John Josselyn. The smaller piece was similarly brought north a little while later. This journey involved a break in Leeds, where a group of sympathetic students and graduates took the fragment to Ilkley Moor for an overnight stay, accompanied by renditions of “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at”. The Stone was then passed to a senior Glasgow politician who arranged for it to be professionally repaired by Glasgow stonemason Robert Gray.

A major search for the stone had been ordered by the British Government, but this proved unsuccessful. Perhaps assuming that the Church would not return it to England, the stone’s custodians left it on the altar of Arbroath Abbey, on 11 April 1951, in the safekeeping of the Church of Scotland. Once the London police were informed of its whereabouts, the Stone was returned to Westminster. Afterwards, rumours circulated that copies had been made of the Stone, and that the returned Stone was not in fact the original.

Today, the Stone of Scone resides once again in Scotland, at least until Prince Charles (presumably) requires it for his coronation.

Again from Wiki:

In 1996, in a symbolic response to growing dissatisfaction among Scots at the prevailing constitutional settlement, the British Conservative Government decided that the Stone should be kept in Scotland when not in use at coronations. On 3 July 1996 it was announced in the House of Commons that the Stone would be returned to Scotland, and on 15 November 1996, after a handover ceremony at the border between representatives of the Home Office and of the Scottish Office, it was transported to Edinburgh Castle, arriving on 30 November 1996, where it remains along with the crown jewels of Scotland in the Crown Room. The handover was done on St. Andrew’s Day (patron Saint of Scotland); the Queen sent as her representative Prince Andrew. Provision has been made to transport the stone to Westminster Abbey when it is required there for future coronation ceremonies.

Scots being Scots, there’s a song about the return of the Stone of Scone to Scotland:

Here are the lyrics:

The Stone that my grandmother
And grandfather used to talk about
Has returned as it left
My brave Stone
And I don’t care whether it’s in Kerrera,
Callendar, or Calvay
As long as it’s in
Steep, rugged Scotland

Chorus (after each verse):
‘S i u ro bha ho ro hilli um bo ha ‘S i u ro bha ho ro hilli um bo ha
Hilli um bo ruaig thu i hilli um bo ha Hilli um bo ruaig thu i hilli um bo ha
‘S i u ro bha ho ro hilli um bo ha ‘S i u ro bha ho ro hilli um bo ha

To be put in a place of refuge
Which will conceal it safely
So that they can’t, they won’t manage to
Remove a single fragment of it
The Stone that was lost to us
Prised from their grasp
And certainly, if it has returned
That’s a very good thing

Let us swear by our hand
Each and every one of us
That we will allow nothing to endanger
The man who unloosed it
And dared to rescue it
From an unpleasant place
If they lay hands on him
We’ll need to be strong
And strike a blow for him
Using steel

The Minister was so sorrowful
When he woke that morning
His eyes bleary
As he turned out
Walking the floor
Sighing and praying
And looking at the nook
Where he’d found the Stone missing

There was much pacing
And running ’round the floor
And all he could say was
“Where did the Stone go?”
And, “By the Holy Mother
What will I do tomorrow
I know the Queen
Will be beside herself”

Said he, looking deathly pale
“I’d never have believed
It could have been raised from the floor
By someone no bigger than a wasp
Something is to happen to me
And Heaven help me
The man who unloosed it
Must be as strong as a horse

(Sèist 2x) (Chorus 2x)

I’ve often thought that the first Pagan President of the United States (soon may she govern) should take the Oath of Office with her hands over Earth gathered from every state in the Union, feathers from the bald eagle, lava from Hawaii, and water gathered from the Atlantic and the Pacific. I’d believe that oath long after one sworn on an old book of Middle Eastern lore. We have no Stone of Scone, here, but we have symbols that speak to Younger Self. For me, one of the most important is the statue of Columbia atop the U.S. Capitol.

What’s your Grail? Your Emerald Tablet? Your Stone of Scone? What symbols speak directly to your limbic system? What makes your Younger Self stand up and salute? What gives you goosebumps? What symbol (the flag? the Constitution? your grandmother’s old soup pot?) would you steal back from the colonizers? What’s stopping you?


4 responses to “Blessed Burns Night

  1. Peter of Lone Tree

    “Your Stone of Scone?”
    Petey of Lone Tree (as a fellow blogger refers to me)
    “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” An interpretation from an old book of Middle Eastern lore; although I have NO desire to start a church–The whole world is my Church; I’m never not IN church.

  2. Last night’s premiere of the new series, Touch, created by Tim Kring (of Heroes acclaim) featured a discussion of the Fibonacci series as found in the natural design of a nautilus, sunflower, and pineapple. The whole show (minus some perfunctory storyline-advancing dialogue re: even the social workers and the parents have something to learn) well, the whole adventure was just goosebumps.

    That today, the pop culture world is abuzz with discussion of Sutherland’s new role in Touch vis his former life in 24 is a sort of Philosopher’s Stone/ Stone of Scone circle-of-completion-trek worthy of song and ode. Tim Kring’s writing continues the at the level of sublime, world interconnectedness as was seen in Heroes only now pivoting on a character who uses no words.

    I read one review by an apparent adrenaline junkie let-down by “I love Chris Rock” as an emotive connector punch-line. After mulling it over, I remain hopeful that maybe, just maybe, eventually, after a 6-wk delay and a few more episodes, he’ll get it. The simplicity will just alight on his crown chakra and we can all get along just that much better. Fractal shift happens, too.

  3. My Mum and generations of her family hail from Burns country and the surrounding towns and villages. Aye — we toast the Bard indeed — with a few wee drams of the Best (thats the Scotch that was kept at the back of my Grandma’s linen cupboard and only brought out for special occasions … LOL!) Symbols? More like the sound of bagpipes; a swirl of dancers to the tune; the smell of sea air; the wet crunch of the sand; a kettle on the boil and a fine Scots meal (broth made with lamb, pearl barley and vegetables; good true bread and butter and a chunk of two of cheese, a pot of good strong tea)

  4. Oh, gosh, bagpipes and kilts get me every time. It was so much fun to see a man in a kilt in downtown DC on Burns day.

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