Am bu chòir seann eòlas a dhìochuimhneachadh?

Should old knowledge be forgotten as my Gàidhlig title asks or as we are asking when we sing “Auld Lang Syne”?

I take comfort in this old song, perhaps from my Scots heritage, perhaps from the sweet sentiments set down by Rabbie Burns in 1788. When I think of him, I am saddened by the fact he was only with us for 37 years. But what a great influence he was.

I was very much aware of him as a child, and when we were asked in a high school class to memorize a poem and recite it to the class, I chose his “Scots Wha Hae” (Scots Who Have) about William Wallace, doing my fair best with the dialect:

Scots, wha hae wi Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome tae yer gory bed,
Or tae victorie.

I’ll no fash you by copying in the entire poem!

My father knew Scots history and the particulars of our family tree, so I grew up filled with stories about everyone who opposed the English threat to the sovereign kingdom, especially the Highlands. I feel like I’ve been waiting for Scotland to break away from Britain ever since the sorry Acts of Union in 1707. 

But so much for politics. In “Auld Lang Syne,” Burns, I think captured our feelings for old times and the continuity of the past–and our feelings for each other over time.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

Chorus:

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

Chorus

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

Chorus

Ah, now I’m ready to face 2021.

Malcolm

A wee bit o’ cantraip

This is one of my favourite words for magic. I like it because it’s old and it’s a Scots word. The English say “cantrip” and use the word to refer to ‘scam.”

The English need to get their minds right about this.

My ancestry is Scots, with a strong dash of Irish from my mother’s side of the family. That means I was born with an affinity for cantraip whether it was the spell of a witch or the mischief out of the faerie world.

In The Life of Robert Burns, which you can find in Project Guttenberg, he says:  “I owed much to an old woman (Jenny Wilson) who resided in the family, remarkable for her credulity and superstition. She had, I suppose, the largest collection in the country of tales and songs, concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, enchanted towers, dragons, and other trumpery. This cultivated the latent seeds of poesie; but had so strong an effect upon my imagination that to this hour, in my nocturnal rambles, I sometimes keep a look-out on suspicious places.”

I grew up reading Bobby Burns’s lowland Scots poems and perhaps that influenced me as much as my DNA to always be seeking a fair bit o’ cantraip in every dark wood and every dark woman.

Truth be told, I expect that the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and panpsychism will ultimately explain many things that are best-considered cantraip at present.  Quantum physics is science and panpsychism is superstition (or so some say), but they have a lot more in common than the followers of either viewpoint are willing to acknowledge yet. I’m enchanted by both–call it a Scots Irish thing.

Cantraip is never sleight of hand, the kind of “magic” you see during most magic shows on TV or conventions. I did like Erin Morgenstern’s novel The Night Circus wherein the magicians were using real magic while pretending it was sleight of hand. Whenever I see purported sleights of hand, I wonder, “hmm, is that real magic or practices misdirection?”

Sleight of hand, it seems, is much easier for audiences to believe in. Audiences want to be fooled, and they are. The great sucess of Penn and Teller is evidence of that. If you saw Tony Randal in the 1964 movie 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, you may remember that the audience was far more excited over the splashy sleight of hand than Merlin’s real magic.

You fools, I thought.

The world might be better if we could buy faerie dust at Walmart. We need a wee bit o’ cantraip to give us hope, make us smile, and prove that Washington’s politicians don’t know everything.

Malcolm