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Some Reminiscences and the Bagpipe
Chapter XX — Ancient Myth and the Bagpipe


“Imagination is one of God’s chiefest gifts to man; to the Celt first, to the world afterwards, through the Celt.”— Anon.

GENTLE reader, it has been said, with what truth I know not, that there are more false facts than false theories in this world.

If you are one of the many who profess to love fact for its own sake, and look askance at fable?

If you are one of those who care not for the house beautiful, but only for a night’s shelter from the dews of heaven?

If you are one of those who consider flowers as an extravagance, and the monies spent upon them as worse than wasted, because the five per cent, comes not back to you in hard cash? Then may you skip the two following chapters without loss, and with a possible profit to yourself.

At the same time it is perhaps worth while remembering that there are false facts many in this world, and true imaginings not a few. I am about to make an excursion into Mythland, where imagination, which has hitherto been kept under with a tight curb, is given free play, and where theory flourishes, while known facts for the time being will be at a discount.

Although we do not hold this as proven, yet we believe that underneath many of these old-world fables many rare—because little suspected—truths lie hidden.

Mythland, indeed, reminds us very much of the Halls of Laughter, on entering which the stranger finds his advances met half way by the most extraordinary looking beings, unlike anything he has seen before, who excite his mirth by their comicalities. Right in front he sees a man with head flattened out in pancake fashion, supported upon the smallest of bodies, with the most diminutive pair of legs attached. On the right hand is surely Don Quixote come to life again ! with his solemn mien and thin lanthorn-shaped jaws and pursed-up mouth; “a bout of linked sweetness long-drawn out.” While on the left is a third creature, with the ceann cearc, or hen’s-head, perched upon a “corporation” of sufficient dimensions to satisfy the most greedy of London aldermen. These hideous-looking caricatures of the “ human frame divine,” peering out from every niche and cranny in the Hall, beck and bow and nod, and turn now to right and now to left, with every movement of the astonished onlooker, whose gravity and sense of decorum, long undermined, at length give way in peels of laughter, which, strangely enough, find no echo in all that grinning crowd.

This awakens him to the truth that has hitherto eluded his observation. He himself is the Dens ex mcichinci the sole author of the show: the sole cause of the mirth. Behind every queer figure stands himself; every feature, every movement, is his own; his gentlest smile has been reflected back in broadest grin; the laughter cannot be but silent in that shadow-land, of which he is the father.

By means of numerous mirrors, of different concavities and convexities, cunningly inserted into the draped walls, the man’s own face has been shewn to him in fifty different ways; the truth has been so cleverly disguised as to be unrecognisable even to himself.

In the mirror of tradition or myth, then, we often find reflected for us in the same way much of the prehistoric lore, previously learned from anthropology and other learned ologies: the truth, distorted it is true, sometimes beyond recognition : and in this way our knowledge of old-world affairs is further confirmed and strengthened.

Now there are two myths, both found in early Greek literature, which may perchance shed some light on the origin and development of the Bagpipe ; and it is with some such hope that we introduce them here.

The story of Pan and the story of Athene’s chanter are—apart from any important knowledge to be gleaned in their perusal—entitled to a chapter of their own in any work upon the Bagpipe, and will not, we are sure, be thought out of place.

In juxtaposition these two old-world deities— Athene and Pan—might well stand for Beauty and the Beast in the children’s fairy tale. The uncouth hairy body of the old sylvan god, making a rare foil to the enchanting beauty of Athene: both passionately fond of dancing and music, and both noted for their performance upon the Pipe.


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