The Border Scots were some of the last to hold out against the creeping plague of Judeo-Christianity and so, on this night, we honor the battle-ready spirit and independence of the ancient clansmen and hope to emulate it in the coming year.
Sword dancing is an ancient European art, not just Scottish, but one that has related traditions all over Europe. It is an age old tradition, steeped in glory. The first surviving reference to Scottish sword dancing was on October 14 , 1285, at the occasion of Scots King Alexander III’s marriage to his second wife, a French lady.
At the head of this procession were the skilled musicians with many sorts of pipe music including the wailing music of bagpipes and behind them others splendidly performing a war-dance with intricate weaving in and out. Bringing up the rear was a figure regarding whom it was difficult to decide whether it was a man or an apparition. It seemed to glide like a ghost rather than walk on feet. When it looked as if he would disappear from everyone’s sight, the whole frenzied procession halted, the song died away, the music faded, and the dancing contingent froze suddenly and unexpectedly.
Another notable historical incidence of Scottish dancing was in 1573, when Scottish mercenaries were hired to dance at Stockholm Castle as part of a plot to assassinate the Swedish King, John III. The idea was that at the heart of the frenzy of the dance, the mercenary dancers could kill the King, rather like the slave girl in the “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves” tale from the Arabian Nights killed a murderous but unsuspecting brigand while she was engaged in a sword dance. The advantage of this method is that the presence of weapons in either case would arouse no suspicion. In the Stockholm conspiracy, the kill signal was not given, so the king survived.
Sword dancing, also called “Hieland Dances”, were common in lavish royal entertainments and sometimes were accompanied with acrobatics, much as they are today. This quote, referring to a sword dance given before King Charles I in 1633, gives some idea of its elements.
His Majesty’s chair being set upon the wall next to the Water of Tay whereupon was a floating stage of timber clad about with birks, upon the which for His Majesty’s welcome and entry thirteen of our brethren of this calling of Glovers with green caps, silver strings, red ribbons, white shoes and bells upon their legs, shearing rapiers in their hands and all other abulzements, danced our sword dance with many difficult knots and allapallajesse, five being under and five above upon their shoulders, three of them dancing through their feet and about them, drinking wine and breaking glasses. Which (God be praised) was acted and done without hurt or skaith to any.
Here is a video of modern dancers proudly preserving our traditions… the “Highland Fling” and “Sword Dance” performed by the 1st Battalion Scots Guards of Buckingham Palace, London.
And so, dear reader, may we arm ourselves with the fighting spirit of the old Scots, and become independent again, keeping our traditions, and carving a swathe wide enough to do so. In honor of those brave ones of our past and future, and in contemplation of good fortune to come.
To close, just below, is an inspiring and beautiful bagpipe rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. .
May the our Gods be with you in the coming year, and grant you great success in your endeavors, abundant blessings, and joy…