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Burns Night, in Honor of 'Rabbie' Burns, 1759-1796

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Article ID: 3244

VoxAcct: 3

Section: music

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 6,939

Times Read: 24,086

Burns Night, in Honor of 'Rabbie' Burns, 1759-1796

Author: Peg Aloi [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: January 21st. 2001
Times Viewed: 24,086

On January 25th, the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, those of Scottish descent often celebrate Burns Night, an evening of celebration which features traditional Scottish foods, and the singing of songs and reciting of poems written by the man many consider to be one of the best-loved poets of the English language.

My younger brother was also born on January 25th (coincidentally he is also named Robert) and he shares this Aquarian birthday with a man who lived a life of traveling and writing songs and verse expressive of his love for the natural world. Aquarius is a sign known to be unique; the sign of one who marches to a different drummer. Burns' unusual lifestyle, his long walks in the countryside which inspired his romantic writing, was surely the model of the perfect Aquarian.

Burns, a prolific poet, worked at a vocation many today might envy: he was an inspector of whisky distilleries. Sadly, this job may have helped hasten his death at the untimely age of 37. Riding many miles on horseback in harsh Scottish weather, Burns contracted pneumonia and was advised to take what was then a popular treatment: "the ocean cure." It was believed swimming in the ocean would heal those sick with lung complaints. But sadly, Burns' condition worsened and he died, leaving behind a legacy of wonderful songs and poems which surely would have been richer and fuller had he lived longer.

Modern pagans may be most familiar with Burns because one of his songs is featured on the soundtrack of the cult classic favorite "The Wicker Man." The song "Corn Rigs and Barley Rigs", about two lovers at Lammas, is well-loved by many pagans. Set to music by Paul Giovanni and his band Lodestone, this song creates a sensual, pastoral mood for this film set in a remote village in Northern Scotland, where an unusual modern pagan society operates according to the tenets of the old religion. Burns, with his love of the beauty and erotic appeal of nature, was a perfect choice to accent this great film.
Singers of traditional music also appreciate many of the lovely melodies and lyrics of Burns' songs: my own favorite as a singer is "Song Composed in August," also known as "Westlin' Winds." Its poetry blends the melancholy imagery of hunting season in autumn with the language of a young man's adoration for his lover:
    "Now westlin' winds and slaughtering guns bring autumn's pleasant weather; The moorcock springs on whirring wings among the bloomin' heather; Now waving grain wild o'er the oplain delights the weary farmer; And the moon shines bright when I rove at night, To muse upon my charmer."
Probably Burns' most well-known song (yet one rarely sung in its entirety, except perhaps at Burns Night) is "Auld Lang Syne," which means "long ago." We sing it to usher in the new year; it is a song both sad and merry, which reminds us our relationships friends and loved ones are among the most sacred things in our lives. It is sung at the conclusion of the traditional Burns Supper or other celebrations of Burns Night (begun by "Burns Clubs" in Scotland not long after Burns' death and continued ever since).

The foods usually eaten on this night are the most basic of Scottish fare: including the famous haggis: a mixture of oatmeal, mutton, offal and spices cooked and served in a sheep's stomach. I have never been to Scotland, but hope to go one day, and as unappetizing as this dish sounds, I think it would be foolish to travel all the way to Scotland and not try it at least once. For the Burns Night Supper, teh haggis is often carried out by the cooks in a solemn ceremony, then carved in a ritualized fashion, with a piper playing, while one guest speaks a short poem to bless the meal. Other dishes prepared for the Burns Supper include "powsowdie" (sheep's head broth), "cabbie-claw" (wind-dried cod with horseradish and egg sauce), and "Finnan toasties" (smoked haddock). And of course, plenty of good single-malt Scottish whisky!

Drinking and toasting of the health and good fortune of friends rounds out the evening, and often traditional Scottish music and dancing can be heard until late into the wee hours...many modern cities hold Burns Night events, mostly in the UK and northeast United States. What an excuse to organize a celebration! A perfect way to lift the spirits after the frenzied holiday season and as winter settles in for its long stay until spring thaw.

I can think of no poet who has offered more to modern pagans than Burns: his passionate worship of nature and lyrical way of describing his love for it, and for his fellow men and women, not to mention the many beautiful songs he left behind, are stil awe-inspiring to those of us who are still walkers of the moors, fields and forests, who, in Burns' words, travel at home and abroad "to view the charms of nature; the rustling corn, the fruited thorn, and every happy creature."

Peg Aloi
January 21st, 2001
Media Coordinator Witchvox
Email: [Staff Page Link])


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