Charlotte Huck,
The Black Bull of Norroway: A Scottish Tale
(Greenwillow, 2001)

The Scottish tale The Black Bull of Norroway is a wonderful story in the Cinderella fashion. A mother has three beautiful daughters and each wishes to find her fortune. The first two ask a fortuneteller about their future, begging for rich husbands, and she tells them to look out their back door. The first one does and sees a fine coach, so the crone tells her to run out and climb in. The second daughter does the same and a coach comes for her, too.

The third daughter, however, is more modest. She just wants a husband to love her, so she does not ask for riches or a castle. So the crone tells her to go look out the door. For the first two days -- nothing. On the third day, she sees a huge, black bull. The crone tells her to go jump on its back. The bull leads her to a castle and says his youngest brother owns it. They stay the night and the brother gifts her with an apple and says to keep the apple safe until she needs it most. Back upon the bull, she goes to a second castle. Once more, the bull tells her this is the castle of his second youngest brother. The brother gifts the maid with a pear and tells her to keep it safe until she needs it most. They then travel to the castle of the third brother, who gifts the maid with a plum and says to save it to the last.

By now the maid has come to realize the black bull is really a prince under an evil spell, so she seeks help to release him. A crone takes them in and frees him from the spell -- but under the condition that he marry her daughter instead of the maid who rode on his back.

The story continues as both young women conspire to confound the crone's plans and match the prince with his proper maid. The apple, pear and plum, of course, have roles to play in uncovering her scheme, and the prince finally begins to realize something is rotten in Denmark ... um, Norroway (Norway).

The tale is demonstrative of the Crone-Maid cycle of all Celt-Pict female deities. Look at the Cailleach and Elphame cycle, in which the crone keeps the maid from her true love until spring.

Likely, the black bull mythology in this tale and other Celt-Pict lore stems from the substitution of the Black Bull for the Willing King Sacrifice put to death at Yule. Instead of sacrificing the King, the black bull was put to death on Yule, thus ensuring fertility and the people's very survival. This fits with this tale because the prince -- destined to be a king -- was under the enchantment as a black bull, a creature known to represent the king in their pagan rituals. There are many variations on the tale, but I have not seen any work done tying the lore behind the tale to the Killing King Sacrifice/Black Bull ritual, but it is clear there for all to see.

Though a Scottish tale, it was set in Norway; my presumption, if you should want to look even deeper, is that the tale stems from Viking invaders who came to conquer Scotland.

This book captures the Old Scots' tale with wonderful drawings by Anita Lobel. It is a wonderful gift for those who love Scottish lore.

- Rambles
written by DeborahAnne MacGillivray
published 28 February 2004

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