Community worker Ross Ahlfeld looks back at one of Scotland’s lesser known Halloween traditions as he considers the future of the independence movement
OVER the last month I’ve been conducting an indyref 2 survey among friends and pretty much everyone I know who voted yes or intends to vote yes the next time. I’ve been annoying folks by asking them if they would change the terms of indyref 2 by giving a vote to Scots born in Scotland now living outside Scotland while refusing a vote to people now living in Scotland who were born in another country – if it would guarantee a yes vote.
The conclusion of my somewhat unscientific assessment is that I haven’t met a single independence supporter who would even consider pursuing ethnic nationalism over civic nationalism, even if it resulted in a decisive victory. Not one! This general attitude of openness and fraternity is to the credit of the Indy movement and it’s also to the credit of the SNP who’ve always resisted the temptation to go down the road of ethnic nationalism and historicisms.
So much so, that the SNP have even banned references to things like Braveheart and Bonnie Prince Charlie on numerous occasions. This move is entirely understandable and quite sensible for a progressive and forward looking political party, but I have to say that I sometimes feel that this nervousness around some aspects of heritage and tradition has perhaps gone a little too far.
I haven’t met a single independence supporter who would even consider pursuing ethnic nationalism over civic nationalism, even if it resulted in a decisive victory.
Fortunately things are changing: Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Government minister for culture and external affairs, is working hard to create and develop different initiatives where our tangible and intangible culture and heritage can thrive. Anyone who has heard the minister speak on this subject cannot fail to be impressed. Fiona Hyslop is very knowledgeable on such matters and speaks passionately on the promotion of traditional Scottish arts, crafts and heritage.
Yet, I still feel that the so-called “Tartan Cringe” has gone too far, in reality the worst excess of nationalism have nothing to do with heritage and tradition. Such things can be a source of social cohesion and common good, rather than an embarrassing mix of parochial sentimentality and romanticism or even xenophobia as is sometimes claimed. Indeed, there is a need to be pursuing our cultural independence alongside our political independence, not only that, but our history and heritage can also serve a practical purpose.
For example, the recent killer clown craze hasn't simply just appeared out of thin air. Rather, it's rooted in a rotten popular culture of blood stained hockey masks for kids and plastic meat cleavers for sale in supermarkets every Halloween. It's rooted in the Americanisation of our once venerable Halloween rituals which replaced carved neeps with pumpkins. An Americanisation which has replaced the customs of Scottish country folk described in Robert Burns’s brilliant “Halloween” poem with the sickness of the Saw and Hostel movie franchises.
There is a need to be pursuing our cultural independence alongside our political independence, not only that, but our history and heritage can also serve a practical purpose.
Therefore, it’s time we reclaimed our own cultural independence, especially the distinctly Scottish tradition of Halloween Galoshans. If you’ve never heard of Galoshans then it’s best described as a piece of folk theatre which was once performed in many parts of Scotland, where the men of the town would dress up as various folk characters and chap on the doors of the houses to perform their story of death and resurrection, and they would be rewarded with sweets and fruit or perhaps money and a wee dram.
The good news is that the celebration of Galoshans is being restored through the annual Galoshans Festival in Inverclyde. The Inverclyde Galoshans Festival celebrates the roots of the term "going galoshans" by sharing new versions of this traditional play which used to be performed door to door at Halloween and also at Hogmanay in Scotland.
As part of the festival, the brilliant Sokonbauno Theatre have been out sharing their puppet theatre version of the Galoshans play with local primary school children and they’ve been helping schools create and perform their own versions of the play. Sokobauno and the Magic Torch Arts and Heritage group are also working with Inverclyde Trust Volunteering to recruit and train a new troop to create, rehearse and perform a new adaptation of the play throughout the Galoshans Festival, and to carry the torch of this reinvigorated tradition into the future. It’s exactly these kind of initiatives we must continue to actively pursue and restore!
The Inverclyde Galoshans Festival celebrates the roots of the term "going galoshans" by sharing new versions of this traditional play which used to be performed door to door at Halloween.
Finally, here’s a short traditional Scottish Halloween tale – King James V used to roam around Scotland incognito, calling himself the Gudeman of Ballengeich (i.e. the tenant farmer of Ballengeich, a farm near Stirling). James was interested in the life and fate of the common man and so disguised, James would find out about life from the perspective of his subjects, rather than just hearing what his nobles or clergy told him.
Some say that King James once visited Port Glasgow on the River Clyde disguised as the Gudeman of Ballengeich in search of the famous Wallace Tree, an old tree in Port Glasgow which William Wallace was once chained to upon his capture. It’s said locals once believed that anyone who rested in the branches of the great Wallace tree for three days would gain the blessings of St. Blaine, the wisdom of Solomon and the prowess in battle of William Wallace.
If you’ve never heard of Galoshans then it’s best described as a piece of folk theatre which was once performed in many parts of Scotland, where the men of the town would dress up as various folk characters and chap on the doors of the houses to perform their story of death and resurrection,
One story suggests that on arriving in Port Glasgow, James was set upon by a band of robbers (no Port jokes please). King James was left for dead and would indeed have met his end had it not been for the timely intervention of a poor farm boy called Alexander Lindsay. It’s claimed that Alexander chased the robbers off and then nursed the King back from the dead by “supernatural methods”, placing him in the Wallace tree for three days.
Three days later, young Alexander accompanied the resurrected stranger back to Ballengeich lest he be attacked again. As the two men travelled across the country, Alexander Lindsay disclosed to the King his dream of one day become the Laird of the land upon which he toiled as a farmhand; being Crown land, James saw an easy means of paying a debt of gratitude to the boy who had saved his life and so, on arrival in Stirling, the King revealed his true identity and awarded noble titles and nearby land to Alexander Lindsay.
Have a very happy and not too scary Halloween!
Picture courtesy of Broo_am (Andy B)
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