Clootie wells and water-kelpies : an ethnological approach to the fresh water traditions of sacred wells and supernatural horses in Scotland
Le Borgne, Aude Marie
This thesis examines different aspects of tradition relating to fresh water in Scotland. They include: the use of water from wells and springs for healing and divination purposes; the beliefs around the lin1inal quality of water, often considered as boundary, and around its magical association with the horse; and finally folktales featuring the water-horse, or kelpie, a supernatural creature which was said to inhabit lochs and rivers. In dealing with topics so different one from the other, within the larger field of Scottish customs and beliefs, it proved necessary to use a variety of sources and methods. Comparative study was often particularly illuminating. After presenting the history of visits to sacred wells, I deal with two main categories of customs associated with these pilgrimages, namely healing rituals and divination practices. While the former leads to the analysis of the different stages and implications of the ritual, the latter looks into the issues that were left to supernatural powers to decide upon, and examines how the questions asked of the oracle evolved with time. Consideration of these powers then leads on to further inquiry into the liminal function of fresh water in general, and its links with boundaries both spatial and temporal. That the horse, another element that is ascribed definite liminal qualities, was associated with water is therefore not fortuitous. If water provides an entry to an Other World, the horse can then take one through into this other land. Indeed, this is what is found in the corpus of tales centred on the figure of the waterhorse. As some of the tale-types are met in other geographical areas - Ireland and Scandinavia mainly - a discussion of these will provide a general background to the tales, which will result in a proposal for a revised tale-index. Two shared types -the work-horse and the abductor of children - will then be examined in the Scottish context. One type, however, - the seducer - seems to be unique to Scotland, and it will be dealt with last. The aim of this work is twofold: first, to provide an ethnological piece of research from a diachronic perspective on a subject outwith the usual themes generally chosen for studies of this nature; second, to present together, in their Scottish context, folktales that have been hitherto broken up and read in the light of their relationships to their foreign counterparts. Although recent academic studies on healing wells exist for Ireland and France, the Scottish material has never previously been treated in such a study. A number of sources available were secondary accounts, dating back mainly to the turn of the twentieth century, and part of my research involved finding the original documents used - sometimes misused - in order to present them in their original context. Similarly, part of the work on the kelpie stories involved gathering together tales kept in the Sound Archive of the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh that had never been collected into a single corpus. I hope in this thesis to provide a sound basis for further researches on these types of Scottish customs and beliefs.