Alexander Carmichael and the Hebridean Supernatural Landscape

Guinevere Barlow

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


A major Celtic folklore archive, the papers of Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) at Edinburgh University Library are the result of fifty years’ fieldwork throughout the Highlands. The collection is presently the subject of a major research initiative under the Carmichael Watson Project. With crucial field notebooks now transcribed, digitised, catalogued, and available online, funding from the Leverhulme Trust has allowed us to investigate Carmichael’s material collections, housed in the West Highland Museum, Fort William, and the National Museum of Scotland, and to examine his engagement, and that of his reciters, with the material world and the environment, particularly in the Outer Hebrides.

Alexander Carmichael’s practice of detailing recording context – date; place; name; age; and occupation of informant – allows us to trace his developing engagement with the cultural landscape around him. In practical terms, as an exciseman charged with preventing illicit whisky distilling, Carmichael needed to know the islands’ remotest corners. This, combined with growing interest in local historical and supernatural lore, generally linked with specific physical landmarks, and his rising profile as an ‘indigenous informant’ for Edinburgh antiquarians, led to his acquiring an unrivalled knowledge of the landscape and its various meanings for communities and individuals.

In this paper I shall examine how individuals engaged with specific physical sites endowed with supernatural power, as recorded in Carmichael’s notebooks, with particular attention paid to places connected with witchcraft and Evil Eye, fairies, water-horses, and hauntings. I shall focus upon the practices, beliefs, and objects associated with these sites, using additional folklore evidence recorded up to the present day. Finally, using biographical records, I shall speculate as to why Carmichael received these narratives from certain specific individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Event6th Nordic-Celtic-Baltic folklore symposium - Tartu, Estonia
Duration: 4 Jun 20127 Jun 2012


Conference6th Nordic-Celtic-Baltic folklore symposium

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Alexander Carmichael and the Hebridean Supernatural Landscape'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this