Scottish Folk Beliefs
The Isle of Skye: Macleod's Maidens
Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides, Scotland.
Mythical significance may have worked with a creative imagination to see in three Scottish sea stacks the three Norns of Scandinavian myth.
The island of Skye, one of the Hebridean islands off the coast of north-west Scotland, has perhaps more than its fair share of stone circles, standing stones, sacred wells and haunted woods. In the district of Strath, the ruins of five old churches each lie in the vicinity of a stone circle. And off a headland beside the mouth of Loch Bracadale there are three lone sea stacks that have acquired the name: Macleod's Maidens.
Loch Bracadale is in Macleod country – the Macleods, who trace their ancestry to Norse settlers. The sea stacks represent a mother and her two daughters. The mother is said to be weaving and one of the daughters preparing the yarn. Creative imagination may have drawn upon the idea of the three Norns of Scandinavian myth who, like the three Fates of the Ancient Greeks – and indeed the three witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth – were involved in determining the span of a man’s life. Fibres twisted together and spun into a thread, a thread being thrown back and forth on a shuttle as a cloth is formed. The Ancient Greek hero Odysseus found the goddess Calypso weaving in an island Paradise on which she offered him immortality. The goddess Circe was at her loom when Oddyseus found her alone, on another island, before she turned his men into pigs.
A fibre determining the length of a man's life? A thread thrown backwards and forwards?
It is in this part of the world, it is said, in Scotland, that the Valkyries, those helpers of the god Odin, were last seen by man. As the battle of Clontarff was raging across the Irish Sea near Dublin in 1014 AD, they were observed in Caithness, in the far north-west of Scotland, weaving at a loom with threads of men’s entrails, weighted by human heads—according to the author of Njal’s Saga:
The warp is made · of human entrails; · human heads · are used as weights · the heddle-rods · are blood-red spears.