Monday, March 31, 2008

The Ghost of Gight

It’s truly an exercise in the thrift, trying to explain a song in eighty words or less as I often  do when creating liner notes for recordings. For within a song there are many songs and a multitude of different stories. Say a the main focus of the piece is Highway 101 and your enjoying the ride as you speed down the road. However, if you wish there are always many side roads one can take. All of which exists in a song, especially the older ballads. 
A very timely quote about songs and ballads is from folklorist Frank Harte:

All songs are living ghosts
And longing for a living voice

For example track #13 on Celtic harper Kim Robertson's recording Highland Heart which is actually about a ghost titled: The Ghosts of Gight. 
Here’s the whole story in 83 words:
Gight Castle (near Fyvie above the river Ythan) was home to the Gordon’s for many hundreds of years. It was built by William Gordon around 1479 and eventually sold in 1787 to clear the gambling debts of one Mad Jack Byron whose son was the famous poet Lord Byron. The ghosts’ legend concerns a piper who was sent to investigate an underground passage and never returned. Though it is said that the sound of his pipes can still be heard at the castle.
That’s it, four hundred years of a Scottish family and their castle is now compressed into less then 90 words.
 As I would hate to short change the Gordon’s and their estate here is (as that obnoxious man on the radio says) the rest of the story:              

In or around 1787 Catherine Gordon (the daughter of the 12th Laird of the Gordon’s of Gight sold her families estate to pay off a gambling debt accrued by her husband “Mad Jack” Byron. “Mad Jack” was anything but a loving husband as he pilfered money from his wife so that he may run around Paris, drank, gamble and visit numerous houses of sin. He died before his son was three. Mad Jacks father “Foulweather Jack” was an officer in the royal navy with a reputation for attracting storms and his brother known as “the “Wicked Lord Byron” was a suspect for not one but two murders. As well as being members of the Gordon Clan they were also direct descendants of King Edward III of England (1312-1377).              

William Gordon constructed Gight Castle around 1479 as a home for many of the Gordon clan. The castle sits along the Ythan River just east of the town of Fivie. For the two centuries that the Gordon’s owned their castle they were plagued by mysterious circumstances some of which lead to the demise of a number of the occupants of the said estate. All of the various tragedies were prophesized by one Thomas of Ercildore who lived near the Eildon Hills sometime around the 13th century. His story goes something like this: 

One day a wizard named Michael Scott instructed three imps (who were known to the Scots as little mischievous devils or sprites) to split one hill into three. Out of the split hills came a Fairy Queen who abducted Thomas for seven years. There have been many verses written about this abduction, here be a few:

 And see not ye that bonny road, that winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,where thou and I this night maun gae.
"But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue, whatever ye may hear or see,
For, if you speak word in Elflyn land, ye'll neer get back to your ain countrie.                

After his seven years in fairyland Thomas returns with the gift of both poetry and prophecy. He used these gifts to his advantage as he would create poems to illustrate his predictions and soon he became known as Thomas the Rhymer. In a very real sense he was the first Scottish rapper and the only one known to have the gift of prophesy.              

He is credited with predicting the death of King Alexander III in 1286, the defeat of King James IV at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603. Thomas soon gained the reputation as sort of a Nostradamus of Scotland. He became so popular that the Jacobites consulted his predictions before their uprisings of 1715 and 1745. For the Gordon clan he wrote theses prophecies: 

‘When the heron leaves the tree, 
The Laird o’ Gight shall landless be.’ 

When the Gordon’s first owned Gight Castle there were Herons living in a large tree by the castle. Around 1735 the herons flew away and in three years the estate was sold to the Earl of Aberdeen.                              

His next poem for the Gordon’s:

‘‘At Gight three men by sudden death shall dee,
And after that the land shall lie in lea.’

 In 1791  Lord Haddo fell from his horse on the Green of Gight. A few years latter a servant on the estate met a similar death while working on the farm. In this century a worker was crushed to death while working on a wall. The castle is now in ruins with only a small guesthouse standing on the estate and of course the ghost of a piper who disappeared while working underneath the castle. 

Catherine Gordon emerged from the ruins of Gight and moved to London. Shortly after relocating, her son Lord Byron is born (1888). Byron is born with a clubfoot an issue that some say was one of the causes of his erratic and sometime violent behavior.               
At the age of ten Byron inherited the titles and the estates of his great-uncle “The Wicked Lord Byron”. Byron then attends many prestigious schools (including Harrow and Trinity College) where he begins his career as a writer of prose and poetry. At the same time he is indulging himself in what some have called “an abyss of sensuality."
One of his lovers Lady Caroline Lamb described him as “mad, bad and dangerous to know."              

In 1814 Byron became obsessed Anne Isabella and pursues her for a year. She is gifted in math and science Byron refers to her as the “princess of parallelograms”. In 1815 she agrees to marry him and in December of that year she gives birth to Byron’s only legitimate child a daughter whom they name Ada who would latter be credited as the first person to write a computer program.              

Byron’s moods soon sink and his behavior turns violent. Fearing for her and her daughter’s safety Anne Isabella off to her parent’s estate. A year latter they were divorced and Lord Byron soon leaves the country. He then travels though central Europe with his personal physician Dr. John Plidori and in 1816 they decide to rent Villa Diadati an elaborate estate constructed on the shores of Lake Geneva Switzerland.              

Meanwhile Clara Mary Jane Clairmont one of Bryon’s many lovers is relentlessly pursuing him. Claire was an aspiring writer and had an affair with Byron (as many women and men did) shortly before he left England. She constantly wrote to Byron for career advice in publishing but her desire was to always be Bryon’s lover as she had been at seventeen when they first met in London.
Clara is so obsessed with him that she persuades her eighteen-year-old half sister Mary Wollenstonecraft Goodwin and her lover, poet Percy Bliss Shelley follow him to his estate in Switzerland. Realizing that Claire is pregnant with his child Byron allows them to stay and soon forms a close friendship with Shelley and his young lover Mary. They swim in the Lake Geneva, inspire each other to write and indulge themselves with Laudanum, the additive opium beverage that became the drug of choice during the Romantic and Victorian era.               

It then rains for a week straight and Bryon suggests they read a book of German ghosts stories published in Leipzig in 1811 titled “Fantasmagoriana” compiled by German author Fredrich August Schultz originally titled Gespensterbuch. After reading a number of the stories Byron then challenges his guests to create their own personal tale of horror.               

Dr. Poldori based his character on Byron and called his work “Lord Ruthven” which was about an aristocratic vampire who bites into the necks of members of the establishment for sustenance. The novel is released in 1819 as “The Vampyre and for many years it is attributed to Byron. It is the first work in print to take the folklore of the vampire and place it in a contemporary setting. Shortly after being adopted for the stage in the 1820’s many authors including Poe, Dumas and Tolstoy wrote similar works, which of course culminated at the end of the century with Irish author Bram Stoker’s Dracula.               

Mary Wollenstonecraft who in a year would become Mary Shelley wrote a novel about the dangers of the industrial revolution titled “The Modern Promethus” after the character in Ovid’s Metamorphoses who created a man “in godlike” image from clay. She worked on this idea for the next two years and released it under the name of Frankenstein.

The mysteries that followed the Gordon’s for two centuries, the untimely deaths, the rhyming prophet Thomas of Ercildore, and the missing piper who became the Ghost of Gight have now manifested themselves in the birth of the gothic novel.

Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

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