Monday, 7 October 2019

BeastieScotInktoberFest: #7 - Sianach

(With profuse apologies to Edwin Landseer)
In Gaelic Scotland, where deer were and continue to be prevalent, there are indications of deer worship in the Lochaber region. The sianach is a deer-monster in Scottish Gaelic oral tradition.
 - James MacKillop, Myths and Legends of the Celts

Much more mysterious than the established creatures so far, the Sianach ("monster") is a huge, carnivorous deer alluded to in Highland Gaelic oral tradition. It is difficult to pin down the earliest documentation of this being: most of the sources I can find specifically mentioning sianach as a deer-monster are fairly recent. Other descriptions include has sharp, jagged teeth, and glowing hooves and eyes. Given the presence of supernatural horses, cattle, cats, and dogs, it seems at least plausible that dangerous supernatural deer be a feature of Scottish folklore.

Yet the concept of toothy, flesh-eating deer is far from outlandish. There are cases of modern deer consuming eggs, cattle, and even human remains. The Musk Deer of Southern Asia are distinctive for their enormous fangs more suited to a vampire than Bambi. Scotland itself was once home to the great Megaloceros, with fossils found in Ayrshire, Galloway, and other corners of the land:

Perhaps this legend can be traced back to the Ice Age: the earliest humans in Scotland, already embattled by the climate, had to deal with all sorts of creatures. But they came to expect big cats and canines to try and eat them: what would they make of a gigantic deer, driven to desperation by starvation, chewing on one of their fallen clansmen? Deer are dangerous prey as it is.

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