By John Ployer
One Island author is trying to keep the story of Highland Scottish settlers to PEI alive through retelling their superstitions in her new book.
Marian Bruce, author of the recently published Listening for the Dead Bells, says she picked up many of the stories in the book throughout her life.
“I’ve collected many stories about the supernatural over the years, and in fact grew up listening to tales by our neighbours of forerunners, dreams, ghosts and other phenomena,” she said.
In Listening for the Dead Bells, Bruce dissects the stories and traditions from both the Scottish Highlands and the Highland community on PEI, adding many personal accounts from Islanders who witnessed the supernatural.
“Stories about supernatural phenomena are all over the internet; what I hoped to do was to provide some context for some of the beliefs with long roots in PEI.”
In the book, Bruce also brings life to the history of the Scottish Highlanders and their descendants on PEI through first-hand accounts.
Bruce says that the book’s title comes from the Highland belief that a ringing in one’s ear (called the dead bells) was a sign of impending death in the community.
She says that the Highland Scottish folklore brought to PEI had a preoccupation with death and misfortune. Highland Scots believed in many signs that could be used to predict death.
“As I observed in one chapter, many of us learned at an early age that death – or some form of danger – is just around the corner, and that it wouldn’t hurt to listen for the approaching footfalls.”
Bruce believes that it is important to remember and preserve traditional beliefs as such ideas increasingly come under attack in the modern world.
“In this bland, homogeneous world, languages are dying daily, and cultures are being lost. Thanks to government and economic powers, we lost the Gaelic language – such a vital part of Highland culture – a long time ago,” she said.
“My hope is that these stories, which are a very small sample of Highland lore, might wave a tiny flag of resistance to these losses, and remind us of the diversity that once existed here.”