Lordship of the Isles
Festivals and Ceremonies
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Festivals and Ceremonies

There are many regional and cultural festivals that may be seen by a visitor, and spectacular ceremonies which are both alien and astounding to the foreign guest. There is a large amount of tradition and heritage in each festival and ceremony, and some are thousands of years old and are known to have been performed since before the Gael arrived in the Western Isles, and possibly before the Romans arrived in Britannia.

I have included the most famous here, with a detailed description of the event, its purpose, and its history.

Inauguration of a Lord of the Isles

The Lords of the Isles are rulers, with their own armies, their own titles, and their own land, and like all rulers they must be accepted as such. The Lords of the Isles are inaugurated in spectacular style, accompanied by their retinue and family, and everyone present is expected to wear the richest colours they can.

The men wear either the Gaelic robes, which come down to the ankle and are decorated at the hem and sleeves with interwoven floral patterns and bizarre geometry, or the Pictish robes, which are tied with a belt and often come down to just above the knees, and are decorated with plaid designs and mystical symbols.

The women wear the same, and often the most beautiful headdresses with the same decoration as the men's robes.

You may think it odd that the Lord of the Isles himself does not wear such attire, since he is the ruler. But in this ancient rite, there is an important message, not just to the spectators but to the Lord of the Isles himself, that the new leader must rule not by force but by compassion.

The ceremony begins with everyone gathered on Cnoc Seannda, usually at sunrise, where the Lord of the Isles will step onto a stone, and into the footsteps of his ancestors (which are actually carved out of the stone), upon which he will be given a white cane to symbolise that must not rule by force, and must respect his people and must not betray them (which means that it was not allowed for a Lord of the Isles to change the laws, traditions, or hierarchical system without first consulting the Council of the Isles, and, as a result of communication between the judges at the Council of the Isles and the people of their islands, the people), or his power is forfeit. Then a bishop will bless the new ruler and his government, then the people of the Lordship of the Isles, and the Lord of the Isles, dressed in a white robe, is approached by his retinue, who bring him the items which they are responsible for (the cup-bearer would bring his cup, the sword-bearer would bring his sword, the gille-each-ceann would bring his horse, etc.) before the ceremony is taken over by the sound of clursachs, bagpipes, and drums.

All are welcome to watch the event, of course, but I would advise the visitor not to step on the stone which the Lords of the Isles stand upon when they are inaugurated, as the purity of the dynasty who use the stone as a way to access their ancestors' power would be broken.

A Lord of the Isles
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at his inauguration

Seonaidh

Seonaidh is either a pagan god, or a Christian saint (the name 'Seonaidh,' means' Johnny,' and the fact that Seonaidh is a water spirit seems to indicate that he is, in fact, Saint John) whose worship has been influenced by druidic rites, who is given offerings by the inhabitants of the Isle of Lewis.

The inhabitants go to a church on the island, in the village of E˛ropaidh, with each family taking with them malt, which was brewed into ale. The ale was then thrown into the sea, an offering which is supposed to ensure a bountiful harvest of whale and basking shark the next year. Then the inhabitants go inside the church, until Seonaidh is sighted and all lights are ordered to be put out, and the people go out to celebrate in the light glow of night (a few people have told me family stories about this ceremony where their ancestors could see each other clearly enough to dance, although whether this is because of the ceremony being held at dawn instead of midnight or the fact that the Hebrides are so far north is unknown).

All may watch and join in with the ceremony, and the celebrations afterwards.

Force-fire

Force-fire is folk magic, which is most common in the Western Isles but may also be seen elsewhere in the Lordship of the Isles (and also across many areas of the Highlands). It is seen as a defence against bewitching.

All fires between two running streams are extinguished, and eighty-one married men rub two planks of wood together to produce fire. Every family that requests is provided with a fire from this one, and then a pot of water is poured onto someone who believes they are bewitched, and the results are always successful (well, no accounts I have of people's family stories, and even what official records I can find, make any reference to failure).

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