Hush, For Lord Monboddo is Dreaming

Stuck this up as a spur to get on with it and it will morph and get fuller as I find the time. I discussed my interest in Monboddo with a Scottish philosopher and enlightenment fan (who taught this feral adult how to write and construct an academic essay some years ago) his response was interesting out of all the enlightenment philosophers Monboddo is the one I know least about. He is indeed an obscure and mostly forgotten subject.

Lord Monboddo or James Burnett was a Scottish judge and philosopher, he would claim that his ideas came to him in a fevered dream in which he consulted with a mysterious French female philosopher, who taught and showed him the hidden depth of metaphysics. Celebrated for his intellect, classical knowledge and legal expertise his personal life was tragic, he lost his son and his wife far to early and his daughter a celebrated beauty died in the flower of youth.

Monboddo dealt with these circumstances by retiring to his library, closing its doors and losing himself in thought.

His treatment by the British intellectual establishment was savage, he was what I think could be described as a deist but had strong views about God and had a very difficult and at times awkward relationship with Hume.

He was ridiculed mostly for his belief that the chimpanzee (or in the taxonomy of his day the orang-outang) was a creature along with man that had the potential to acquire reason. He also went further than most linguistic experts of his day suggesting that language was not god given.

He took some interest in what are termed feral children and while engaged on legal work in France he undertook fieldwork on this subject examining and interviewing a celebrated French wild child. He also provided the forward to a French Chapbook a biography of the Wild Child, penned under the name of a mysterious and otherwise unknown French female author. In the introduction he encouraged people to judge the case for themselves.  Whilst French in origin the publishing history and subsequent editions are very much a Scottish affair.  The chapbook has a long history in a number of guises titles and editions.

The Soul of Ireland

Kazi Dawa Samdup and Walter Evan- Wentz In Native Dress  Source

“All these creatures owe their first origin to other animals. There is one bird, however, that by itself renews and even reproduces itself.”


Of the Phoenix and Fairy Dust

Walter Even-Wentz was an early 20th century folklorists and anthropologist. He is best known for editing the first English translation of The Tibetan book of the dead.

He was  initially inspired to study after reading  Madame Blavatsky and trained first at Stanford University where he would come under the influence of William James who was a visiting professor at Stanford in 1906, teaching an introduction to philosophy course. It was here that his interest in panpsychic reality begins. Wentz went on to study Celtic folklore first at the University of Rennes using a literary and historical approach first developed at Stanford then developing a more anthropological perspective while studying at Oxford.

Whilst at Oxford he wrote The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. The text is based on Wentz’s Oxford thesis and contains contributions from some distinguished Celtic scholars (1) , Wentz notes in the introduction that the book contains material that was not presented to the examiners on the board of the faculty of Natural Science at Oxford. Amongst his more speculative theories was his perspective on the fairy.

“In studying this belief, we are concerned directly with living Celtic folk-traditions, and with past Celtic folk-traditions as recorded in literature. And if fairies actually exist as invisible beings or intelligences, and our investigations lead us to the tentative hypothesis that they do, they are natural and not supernatural, for nothing which exists can be supernatural; and, therefore, it is our duty to examine the Celtic Fairy Races just as we examine any fact in the visible realm wherein we now live, whether it be a fact of chemistry, of physics, or of biology.”

F.F.I.C.C,. pp. 5

Walter Evans Wentz had a particular interest in the concept of re-birth in Celtic literature and Folklore.

“Weird Legends”

“In his flight from County Armagh, Finn Mac Coul took his mother on his shoulder, holding her by the legs, but so rapidly did he travel that on reaching the shores of the lake nothing remained of his mother save the two legs, and these he threw down there. Some time later, the Fenians, while searching for Finn, passed the same spot on the lake-shore, and Cinen Moul (?), who was of their number, upon seeing the shin-bones of Finn’s mother and a worm in one, said: “If that worm could get water enough it would come to something great.” “I’ll give it water enough,” said another of the followers, and at that he flung it into the lake (later called Finn Mac Coul’s lake). Immediately the worm turned into an enormous water-monster. This water-monster it was that St. Patrick had to fight and kill; and, as the struggle went on, the lake ran red with the blood of the water-monster, and so the lake came to be called Loch Derg (Red Lake).”

James Ryan recorded by Walter Evan-Wentz, Autumn, 1919

F.F.I.C.C. pp 350

The Red lake is of course the traditional home of purgatory and an old site of pilgrimage in Ireland that was known and famed throughout Western Europe, given a late 17th century ideological description of the landscape here, a variant of the legend here  and touched upon the not entirely unrelated narratives surrounding snakes and frogs here. The nativist belief that the frog is not a native species to Ireland and its importance in the internal consumption of Irish identity has been played with in a number of past post , here and in a number of other places. This one and the previous example I rather like, but I have deployed a number of examples. One can suspect that Wentz’s deployment  of what he curiously terms a ‘weird legend’ (I think it is safe to suspect he may have been well aware of the medieval components at play in the text)  at a famous site of Christian pilgrimage may be an example of natvisim red in tooth and claw. Natvisim has long been a part of Celtic studies it views that oral narrative and medieval Irish material is far older than it’s composition and represents a clear view on a non-Christian past. Wentz’s deployment of the tale me be read as attempting to give the site a non-Christian history and past.

This landscape has long been a site ripe for dreaming and conjecture.


(1) Andrew Lang was one of Wentz’s, Oxford examinersLang was responsible for producing the first major edition of Robert Kirks‘The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies‘. Alexander Carmichael was one of the contributors to F.F.I.C.C. 

Further Reading

The Hermit Who Owned His Mountian: A Profile of W.Y. Evans Wentz

Biographical History  Walter Evens Wentz

Biographical Information Alexander Carmichael

The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: William James

Michael Hunter (eds.)The Occult Laboratory: Magic, Science and Second Sight in Late 17th Century ScotlandThe Secret Commonwealth and other texts, Woodbridge, 2001

Peggy O’Brian, Writing Loch Derg

A Cradle Song for the Ensnarer of Enemies

Dinogad’s smock, pied, pied

It was from marten’s skins that I made it.

Wheed, wheed, a whistling.

I would sing, eight slaves sang.

A spear on his shoulder, a club in his hand,

He would call his nimble hounds.

Giff, Gaff, catch, catch, fetch, fetch.

He would kill a fish in his coracle

As a lion kills its prey

When thy father went to the mountian

He would bring back a roe buck, a wild boar, a stag,

A speckled grouse from the mountain,

A fish from Rhaeadr Derwennydd

Of all those that thy father reached with his lance

Wild boar and lynx and fox

None escaped which was not winged.

Y Gododdin


A.O.H Jarman (ed.) Aneirin: Y Gododdin, Britain’s Oldest Heroic Poem, 1988

The Warrior in His Station: The Wolf of the Company


I saw an array that came from Kintyre

who brought themselves as a sacrifice to a holocaust.

I saw a second (array) who had come down from the setllement,

who had been roused by the grandson of Neithon.

I saw mighty men who came with dawn.

And it was Domnall Brecc’s head that the Ravens gnawed

Y Gododdin


John T. Koch (ed’s) The Gododdin of Aneirin, Text and Context from Dark-Age North Britian

Monsters and Magic Bullets

Vacancy Exists

I woke up this morning both arms aching like hell. Went out to pick up my son from school, slug kissed and drenched in the rain. Limping up the road like an old man, leg cramped and fiery in the cold as circulation to it cuts off fast leaving my legs starved and screaming,  ears ringing (the side effect of a daily dose of aspirin) thinking of the noise chatter and differences of intellectual discourse its repetitions, linear single answers and posturing. Today I don’t want to be nice, but with young kids to look after I have to be something else, other than the sum total of my emotion at the moment.

And the rain it poured on down indifferent to my thoughts.

Back on the cigarettes and I will not make old bones if I continue. Held up in Scot-mid as the store was robbed last night, the entire stock of cigarettes was stolen last night after closing. An indication perhaps of the poverty rates round these parts, which are increasingly unheard of since Victorian times.

Anyway when I met my son I gave a big wave and smiled.

I would like to have attended a conference today which is happening just round the corner, was £100 for the two days, that’s more than I spend on books in a year. Priced out of that one. The cure for this sickness, Loud music and loud poetry at full volume.


A Silly Symphony, The Skeleton Dance, Disney

The Crusher

The renowned Isag from the southern part,

Like the flowing of the sea was his demeanor

For modesty and liberality

And the gracious drinking of mead

Where his weapons struck there was no requital

He never wavered, never faltered.

His sword resounded in the heads of mothers,

Wall of battle, he was praised, the son of Gwyddnau……

“Three Hundred gold torqued warriors attacked

Defending the land, there was slaughter.

Although they were slain, they slew,

And until the end of the world they shall be praised

And all of us, kinsmen who went,

Alas, save one man, none escaped.

Three hundred gold torqued warriors,

Warlike, splendid in action,

Three hundred haughty ones,

Of one mind, fully armed;

Three hundred impetuous horses

Charged with them,

Three hounds and three hundred

Alas, they did not return….

Anerien, The Goddodin, 6th cen. British

A List of Names

Sputnik Monroe, The Crusher, Yankee#1 and Yankee#2, Willie and Alford the Scufflin Hillbillies, Mysterious Mr.X, The Wrecker, New Zebra Kid, Louie Tillet, Ox Anderson, Tony Borne, Kangaroo Costello, The Ox, Bill Miller, Krusher Karlssen,  The Mongol, The Blue Avenger, Indian Joe, Virginia Franklin Powerfull Negro Girl Wrestler, Bill and Mildred Burke The World Champion Lady Wrestler, Dice Dunn, The Medics, Chief Little Eagle, The Midget Men, Matsuda………

Isag, Caradog the Wild Boar, Ceredig Gold Chaser, Cynon the Anchor, Senyllt, Clydno of Enduring Fame, Mynydogg Prince of Hosts, Gwyddien Eagle, Cynwal the Genial, Morien the Fiery, Cerdig Lovable Fame, Gwyddnau Wall of Battle…………

Brooklyn Blackie Baldwin, Sun Bass, Dynamite Dick Clifton, Long John Halford, Butch Cassidy, The Dalton Brothers, The Younger Brothers, Bitter Sweet George Newton, Kid Slaughter, The Sundance Kid, Flat Nosed George Curry, Buckie O’Neil, Little Dick West, Tall Sir Jack Drake, Texas Jack Reid, Pennsylvania Dick Clarke, Long John Halford…..

The Wild Bunch


A.O.H Jarman (ed.) Aneirin: Y Gododdin, Britain’s Oldest Heroic Poem, 1988

images and the Novas, The Crusher, uploaded by markowee, youtube, 2008

List of the Wild Bunches names is read by Great Train Robber, Bruce Richard Reynolds on the Alabama 3 Ballad “Have You Seen Bruce Richard Renyolds