Friday, 25 November 2016

Legendary Borrowed Days




Today was what in Cumbria we call a ‘borrowed’ day.  The sun was shining in a clear blue sky and I could feel the warmth of it on my skin.  Around me, the horizon gleamed with white-capped peaks, but the air felt soft, like spring.

The expression ‘borrowed day’ puzzles a lot of people.  As a Cumbrian child, I grew up with it, knowing what it meant but not where it came from.  The source is an old Gaelic myth, long forgotten here in the north of England.  It is the story of Beira, the Winter Queen, her son Angus and Bride - a girl imprisoned by the Winter Queen to prevent Angus from marrying her. The perpetual winter that Beira imposes on the land also keeps Angus and Bride apart.  In order to defeat his mother and free the kingdom from Winter’s grip (and marry Bride!), Angus borrows two days from summer to create a thaw to weaken her power.  Those warm, borrowed days made it possible for Angus to find Bride and make her his wife.  

And from that moment the earth seemed warmer under their feet, and the birds sang for joy from the branches of the trees. And as the two young lovers looked on in wonder, the Queen of the Fairies came to them with her hand-maidens and she cast her wand over Bride and she was transformed into her summer glory. She radiated beauty, like the sun through a break in the clouds, and her long golden hair that hung down to her waist was decorated with snowdrops, violets, daisies and primroses; her ragged dress was now a snow-white gown that shimmered with inlays of silver and on her breast there shone a clear crystal. They went with the Queen of the Fairies to her hall where they were married and a great feast was held. Wherever Beira’s hags had frozen the water, Bride’s touch turned it once more into flowing streams and lakes.”

© Tom Muir, Education Scotland

But, like all things borrowed, the days must be given back - and so, when the sun wanes and the days shorten, Beira increases in power again and we have winter.
Beira, the Winter Queen (Source: Deviant Art)
The story has been forgotten by most people here, but it has left its traces in our language. Cumbrian dialect is very rich - we were once part of Scotland, but we were also settled by Vikings and so there are traces of the Norse language and their stories in our vocabulary.  A language which is location specific carries much more than just ordinary everyday exchanges - it carries a freight of history and mythology with it too.  Fewer people today speak Cumbrian dialect, particularly the young, and when it goes so much will be lost to us.

I've been looking at the weather forecast. Tomorrow, just like the story, the borrowed days will have departed and we will be in the grip of winter again here!  Better get the winter woollies out.


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