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The supernatural story of the Blue Men of the Scottish sea @MarieLaval1

It’s a great please to welcome romance author, friend and fellow Romantic Novelists’ Association member Marie Laval today. I got to know Marie through my first novel, The Silk Romance, which is set in Lyon, which is where Marie comes from. I first interviewed Marie here on my blog almost five years ago, and since then we have become good friends. 

Marie’s wonderful historical romance, Dancing for the Devil, has jut been re-released and she’s here today to tell us some of the supernatural history behind the Scottish setting.

Bienvenue, Marie!

The Blue Men of the Minch: Traditional Folk Tales from Scotland

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I really enjoyed reading tales and legends from Scotland whilst researching for my historical romance DANCING FOR THE DEVIL, which is mostly set in the far north of the Highlands, and which has just been re-released by Áccent Press.

My heroine’s first experience of Scotland is a terrible storm as her ship sails through the Minch – the body of water stretching between the north-west Highlands, the northern Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides.

Folklore tells of a tribe of supernatural sea creatures who inhabited these waters – the Blue Men of the Minch. Partly human and partly mermen, they had blue skin and used to swim alongside ships and try to lure sailors into the water. They also had the ability to conjure storms and wreck ships, but interestingly they spared sailors who had a talent for poetry…

They were said to live in caves at the bottom of the sea but their sentinel were always on the look out and alerted the others when a ship was sailing through the Minch. The chief of the Blue Men then gathered his men, ready for the attack. Before attacking the ship he would rise high in the water and shout to the skipper two lines of poetry. If the skipper was unable to respond immediately by adding two lines to complete the verse, the Blue Men would take the ship and drag it down to the bottom of the sea. If the skipper could complete the verse, his ship would be allowed to carry on safely.

Here is a traditional boatman’s song about the Blue Men.

When the tide is at the turning and the wind is fast asleep,
And not a wave is curling on the wide, blue deep,
Oh, the waters will be churning in the stream that never smiles,
Where the Blue Men are splashing round the charmèd isles.

As the summer wind goes droning o’er the sun-bright seas,
And the Minch is all a-dazzle to the Hebrides,
They will skim along like salmon–you can see their shoulders gleam,
And the flashing of their fingers in the Blue Men’s Stream.

But when the blast is raving and the wild tide races,
The Blue Men are breast-high with foam-grey faces;
They’ll plunge along with fury while they sweep the spray behind,
Oh, they’ll bellow o’er the billows and wail upon the wind.

And if my boat be storm-toss’d and beating for the bay,
They’ll be howling and be growling as they drench it with the spray–
For they’d like to heel it over to their laughter when it lists,
Or crack the keel between them, or stave it with their fists.

Oh, weary on the Blue Men, their anger and their wiles!
The whole day long, the whole night long, they’re splashing round the isles;
They’ll follow every fisher–ah! they’ll haunt the fisher’s dream–
When billows toss, Oh, who would cross the Blue Men’s Stream!

So where does the legend of the Blue Men of the Minch come from?

Porpoise photo courtesy of Pixabay

The obvious explanation is of course that the Blue Men are in fact not magical creatures at all, but porpoises which are often seen in the seas around Scotland.

Historians also suggest two other possibilities. Firstly, the tales of Blue Men may refer to the ancient Picts who used to paint their body and may have used kayak-like boats to cross the waters of the Minch, therefore giving the impression that they were only half human.

Another explanation links the Blue Men to the time of the Vikings who around the 9th century took Moors captured in North Africa to Ireland to be slaves. The Vikings spent winter months near the Shiant Isles in the Minch, and some historians believe the blue men are in fact “marooned foreign slaves” (Mackenzie (2013), loc. 1391). More specifically, these Moors may be Tuaregs, who were always called the ‘Blue Men of the Desert’ owing to their indigo clothing and headscarves.

Then again, they might just be magical merfolk…

Here is the blurb

 marie laval, dancing for the devilCan her love heal his haunted heart? – Cape Wrath, Scotland, November 1847.

Bruce McGunn is a man as brutal and unforgiving as his land. Discharged from the army, he is haunted by the spectres of his fallen comrades and convinced he is going mad. And he is running out of time to save his estate from the machinations of Cameron McRae, heir to the McGunn’s ancestral enemies. When the clipper carrying McRae’s new bride is caught in a violent storm and docks at Wrath harbour, Bruce decides to revert to the old ways and hold the clipper and the woman to ransom. However, far from the spoilt heiress he expected, Rose is genuine, funny and vulnerable – a ray of sunshine in the long, harsh winter that has become his life.
Rose is determined to escape Wrath and its proud master – the man she calls McGlum. Will she be reunited with Cameron McRae, the dazzlingly handsome aristocrat she married after a whirlwind romance in Algiers, or will she risk her heart and her honour to help Bruce discover the truth about his past and solve the brutal murders committed on his land?

DANCING FOR THE DEVIL is available both as ebook (£2.99) and paperback (£7.99) from Amazon.

Thank you very much for welcoming me on your blog today, Helena!

* * *

Thanks so much for dropping in again, Marie! What a fascinating story! I’d never heard of the Blue Men of the Minch before. If I ever plan a trip to the Hebrides I’ll take a poetry book with me, just in case…!

If you’ve enjoyed Marie’s Scottish folklore – or have any supernatural tales of your own – please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!

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12 thoughts on “The supernatural story of the Blue Men of the Scottish sea @MarieLaval1

  1. Thank you very much for having me on your blog today, Helena. I loved setting this novel in the far North of Scotland and I do hope I can travel there next year to see for myself all those breath taking landscapes. Thanks again!

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  2. Loved this post, Marie – thanks for posting it Helena. Even though I’ve always lived in Scotland, I hadn’t known this tale, although I immediately thought of the Picts with the mention of ‘blue men’. Prefer this idea, especially about liking poetry!

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    1. Thank you very much for your comment, Rosemary. Isn’t it wonderful all the things we learn when researching for a novel? I am glad you enjoyed the post!

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  3. Thank you so much for your kind words, Rose! I love discovering folktales. When researching for the novel, I found wonderful books from Luath Press about Highland folk and supernatural stories. One was called The Supernatural Highlands, the other The Northern Highlands (the Empty Lands) which was more about walking and the landscape. I really recommend them.

    Liked by 1 person

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