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Carmina Gadelica, Volume 2, by Alexander Carmicheal, [1900], at

p. 188


THERE are many curious legends and beliefs current in the Isles about the 'cearr-dubhan,' or sacred beetle. When his enemies were in search of Christ to put Him to death, they met the sacred beetle and the gravedigger beetle out on a foraging expedition in search of food for their families. The Jews asked the beetles if they had seen Christ passing that way. Proud to be asked, and anxious to conciliate the great people, the gravedigger promptly and volubly replied: 'Yes, yes! He passed here yesterday evening, when I and the people of the townland were digging a grave and burying the body of a field-mouse that had come to an untimely end.' 'You lie! you lie!' said the sacred beetle; 'it was a year ago yesterday that Christ the Son passed here, when my children and I were searching for food, after the king's horse had passed.'

Because of his ready officiousness against Christ, the gravedigger is always killed when seen; while for his desire to shield Christ, the sacred beetle is spared, but because he told a lie he is always turned on his back. The sacred beetle is covered with a strong integument like a knight encased in armour. Consequently he is unable to resume his position, and he struggles continually, waving his feet in the effort to touch something which will assist him to rise. It is unlawful to pass by the sacred beetle without putting him on his back, but should he succeed in righting himself, it is unlawful to molest him further.

In some places the gravedigger is killed because otherwise he will profane the grave of the grandmother of the person who passes him by.

The following somewhat similar legend is also current in Uist:--

The anti-Christians were pursuing Christ, wishing to kill Him. Christ came to a townland where a crofter was winnowing corn on the hillock. The good crofter placed Christ under the heap of grain to conceal Him from his enemies. The crofter went into the barn to bring out more grain to place over Christ to hide Him more effectually. In his absence the fowls attacked the heap of corn under which Christ was hidden. They were round the heap and over the heap--hens and ducks feeding as rapidly as they could. The ducks contented themselves with eating and tramping the corn. Not so the hens: they scattered the corn about with their feet as they ate, so that the hidden Christ was exposed to view when the crofter returned. In consequence of this disservice to Christ in His distress, it was left as a heritage to the hen and to her seed for ever that she should be sever-toed; that she should be confined to land; that

p. 189

she should dislike hail, rain, sleet, and snow; that she should dread thunder and lightning; that dust, not water, should be her bath; that she should have no oil with which to annoint herself and preen her feathers; and finally, that she should have only one life and only one joy in life--the joy of land.

And because the duck contented herself with eating the corn without exposing the person of Christ, it was left to her and her descendants ever more that she should be web-footed, and not be confined to land; that she should rejoice in hail and rain and sleet and snow; that she should rejoice in thunder and lightning; that water not dust should be her bath; that she should have oil with which to anoint herself and preen her feathers; that she should have three lives and three joys--the joy of earth, the joy of air, and the joy of water; nay, a fourth life and a fourth joy--the joy of under the water; that she should be most dressed when the hen was most draggled; that she should be most joyous when the hen was most miserable; that she should be most hopeful when the hen was in most despair; that she should be most happy when the hen was in most dread; that she should dance with joy when the hen quaked with fear. When the hen hears thunder she trembles as the aspen and hurries home in terror, screaming and screeching the while. Hence the saying--

'Tha do chridh air chrith
Mar chirc ri torruinn.'


Thine heart is quivering
Like a hen in thunder.

The converse is true of the duck. When she hears thunder she rejoices and dances to her own 'port-a-bial'--mouth music. This gave rise to the saying--

'Is coltach thu ri tunnaig
’S a fiughair ri torruinn.'


Thou art like a duck
Expectant of thunder.

[pp. 190-191


Next: 208. Poem of the Beetles. Duan Nan Daol