Re-Connecting with my Celtic Tribal Roots

I've joined a native women's drumming and chanting circle in Ottawa. Last meeting when everyone introduced herself, saying her spirit name and what clan and tribe she was from, I felt kind of naked saying simply, my name is Heather. I went on to say that I have celtic tribal roots, but have been cut off from them. However, I feel that I'm on a quest to re-discover those roots and re-connect my life to that deep-past. I will be going back to Scotland, to the Orkney Islands, where the tribal way of life remained intact much longer than on the mainland. Meanwhile, here's some stuff on the more recent past. Menzies Castle was built in the 1300s. When I visited it first, when it was abandoned and beginning to fall apart, there was a ghost in residence. Perhaps the ghost of MacBeth, or one of the witches that warned of his doom, when Birnam Woods stood up and marched toward him. There were Menzies clansmen holding some of the (Rowan) tree branches that day.


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Menzies Heritage

Among those families which were not originally highland, but have won both power and position in the highlands, is that of menzies.

The clansfolk are of Celtic stock, but the head of the family is generally believed to have come over from Normandy with William the Conqueror, and to have the same root as the English family of Manners, of the Rutland Dukedom. The name was then " de Menyers" and so it was written in early Scottish records, when the family seat was at Durisdeer in Nithsdale. Since that time it has been spelt in many different ways.

The reason for introducing Z into its present form has always been a puzzle, but a possible clue is given in the red and white book of Menzies.

In ancient times, when scarcely anybody but the Monks could read and write, all letters and documents were written by profesional scribes. The letter Z in Latin writing was so remarkably like the Cletic G that it is probable that the writer of some important document used it in error. There would be no one to correct the mistake, and the spelling would be repeated in secceeding documents as Menzies.

That of course, would not affect the pronunciation which has always been "Mingis". Whenther correct or not, that is the theory of the Menzies Chronicler. The Menzieses of the Thirteenth century were a very able family. In 1249 Lord Robert de Menyers was Lord High Chancellor of Scotland. He was often sent on Embassies to the English court, and his conduct of affairs was of great advantage to both nations, in his time Scotland made great progress in Commerce, Literature and the Arts. His son got a grant of the lands of Ween, Aberfeldy, and Glendochart from Robert the Bruce; and his Gandson was given Land in Fortingall by Robert II. His family must always have been in favour with Royalty, for grants as far apart as peebles, Lothian and Aberdeen,-where they took a prominent part in civic government.

In the sixteenth century the Menzieses came into serious conflict with their Highland neighbours. After three generations there was no male heir to Fortingall and the estate went to the Stewarts, by marriage with the Menzies heiress. Then Menzies of Ween laid claim to the lands of Rannoch and was granted a charter of them by JamesIV. The very day the charter was signed, the wildmen of Rohnoch descended upon Ween. They were led by Neil Stewart, a kinsman of the Menzies by marriage; and besides doing a great deal of damage they burned down castle Ween. Such an affront had, of course, to be avenged, so the Menzieses in full force promptly burned down Stewart's Castle of Garth! Apart from the destruction of the two fine old castles, the loss to the Menzies family was very great, because with castle Ween were burnt all the early records of their origin, besides several important Royal charters. To judge from the stories that have been passed on by word of mouth in Perthshire it would seem that the Menzies chiefs were settled at Ween much earlier than is shown by existing history. There is an ancient Gaelic Ballad about an ogre who in very early ages lived in a cave or picts's house at Ween. He went about in the guise of a monk with a scarlet cowl, and his fierce and repulsive appearance terrified the whole neighbourhood. One day he met the daughter of the Menzies Chief. She was a girl of great beauty and "his Ogreship" determined to have her for his bride. She fled from him in horror, but he accomplished his full purpose and carried her off to his cave. She was never seen again!

A belief exists among the clan that Crinin, Abbot of Dunkeld, was a Menzies Chief. He married the daughter of King Malcolm II, and their son Duncan became King of Scotland. Duncan was assassinated by Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor, who usrped the crown and occupied the throne of Scotland for seventeen years.

Everybody knows the story of Macbeth consulting three witches as to his prospects, and how they told him that until Birnam Wood should come to Dunsinane he would never be conquered or lose his crown. In time Duncan's son, Malcolm came to manhood, and he raised and army to attack Macbeth and avenge his father. This army (which included Menzies in full strength) spent the night before the attack in Birnam woods. Early in the morning Malcolm ordered that every man should hew down a branch and bear it before him on the march to Dunsinane, where Macbeth's stronghold was. So hidden, the stength of his army could not possibly be estimated by the enemy in the fort. When told by a sentinel of the strange appearance of the advancing wood, Macbeth wrathfully refused to believe him. But "seeing is believing" and Macbeth's incredulity was changed to terror when he realised that his doom was about to overtake him- as indeed turned out to be the case!

Malcolm's success in this battle restored to Old Royal Line of Scotland, which lasted without a break for hundreds of years. In the advance of Burnham wood the Menzieses carried branches of the Rowan(or mountain ash) which, ever since, has been the clan badge. Their hunting tartan also repeats the colours of the Rowan -tree. another tree which has always been associated with the Menzies is the Larch; for, from the Austrian Tyrol, Menzies of Culdares brought in his portmanteau the first Larches ever planted in Scotland. This was in 1737. The Duke of Atholl of that time was a skilful and enthusiastic gardener - he was called "the planting Duke". Menzies presented the Duke with some young Larches and they were planted at Dunkeld. Two of them can be seen-now grown to monstrous size-beside Dunkeld Cathedral. They proved to be ideally suitable for the Scottish climate and soil, and seedlings were begged or even stolen by gardeners from all over the kingdom. At Castle Menzies there are some of the finest trees in all Scotland. When Prince Charle's father came to Britain in 1715 to make a bid for the Throne of Scotland, the Menzieses were among the Clans which rallied to his call -as the following verse of a poem by Campbell tells:

"Wha' will ride wi' gallant murray?

Wha' will ride wi' Georgie's sel'?

He's the flow'r o' a' Glenisla

An' the darling o' Dunkell!

Menzies, He's our friend and brother,

Gask and Strowan are nae slack;

Noble Perth has ta'en the field,

and a' the Drummonds at his back!"

But, as you know, this rising ended in failure. When, thirty years later, the attractive -but just as unfortunate- Stewart Prince Charles Edward came over on the same errand as his father, Menzies of Culdares did not himself turn out; but his clansmen did, under Menzies of Shian, Prince Charlie spent two happy days at castle Menzies, not long before his mission failed on the field of Culloden. He had some good hunting and, for the time, cast all his cares to the winds of Perthsire; although Menzies did not join the rising, he showed his empathy by sending a very handsome charger to the Prince for his own use. The horse was taken by one of the clansmen and was to be handed over to Prince Charlie who was then in England. But on the way south both man and horse were captured by Government troops. The man was pressed to reveal the name of the sender of the horse, and was told that, if he did, he should go free. But the loyal highlander would not betray the chief; he preferred-and suffered- death,which was th only alternative offered him.

Ben Lawers, one of the highest Perthshire mountains, is partly on Ween territory. It is a very beautiful hill and on it are found many rare plants. A story is told of a St. Andrews professor who wanted to climb the mountain. He asked the Menzies chief to give him an escort for that prupose, and a Gillie was told off to show the way. As they ascended the mountain the professor exclaimed -loud and often- at the rare plants, the glorious views, the fine air, and what not -until the Gillie was thoroughly tired of his companion's enthusiasm. At last they reached the summit and, as the professor's eyes travelled from one range of mountains to another, he exclaimed in delight, "Isn't this marvellous! tell me, have any living beings ever been here before?" and the Gillie sourly said, "Oh, well indeed sir, there's plenty goats come up Ben Lawers." That day, it is said, a quiet and thoughtful professor went down Ben Lawers!