Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cannabalism in Scotland: the legend of Sawney Bean

The soccer team that once crashed on the mountaintop in South America. The American Donner Party. Dickens' Sweeny Todd.

The fine art of chowing down on one's fellows.

Well, it seems in 15th century Scotland, one Alexander Bean (or "Beane") was executed for "mass murder" when he and his 48-member clan took a fancy to human pancreas and the like, precursing Hannibal Lecter, and put the bite on over 1000 people. (Other clans, of course.)

His father, an educated INTP, I think, was a ditch digger and part-time hedge trimmer who tried to pass the family trade, shovel and all, down to his son, but Alexander (Called "Sawney" for some inexplicable reason fathomable only to Scots) would have no truck with honest labor; not with so many delectable upright rump roasts walking around, free for the frying. As it were.

Now, your normal everyday ne'er-do-well who has just turned down a steady hedge trimming gig would probably just look for some other line of work. But Sawney? Goes to his state of mind, your honor.

To this day, the hedges of Scotland are only sporadically and crookedly trimmed. I'm sure you've noticed, though probably you haven't made the connection between this and chewing one's fellow-traveler's fingernails and more. If you get my drift.

Incest? Those Scots had a a patent on it. Jesus. Well, there were only 48 people in the whole clan, so that DOES make one's eye wander to one's sister. Sawney, though, hooked up with an outsider - a vicious woman, they say - who shared his inclinations. And I'm not talking about ditch-digging inclinations.

Most young couples would be looking to build a modest home and start a family, but these two beauties found them a cave on the coast. The cave was fine enough as caves go, some 200 yards deep. Fine enough if you overlook the fact the entrance disappeared at high tide. They had to make allowances for that in their Daily Planners. The cave is still there today. Well, duh.

As you probably know, quirky Relax Max is the kind of little doggie who always reads between the lines, so I was wondering how the interior of that cave smelled (smelt to you) when one was trapped inside on a hot summer's day at high tide with a pile of human feet and viscera. Did I mention she was a vicious woman?

History tells us, if you are one of the 8 or 10 people in the world who believes Scots oral history, that the lovely couple's many children and grandchildren were "the products of incest and lawlessness." Even Relax Max can't quite conjure up how one has children by "lawlessness" (or doesn't want to even try to conjure it up) but the incest part is another duh.

"Lacking the gumption for honest labor, the clan thrived by laying careful ambushes at night to rob and murder individuals and small groups. The bodies were brought back to the cave where they were dismembered and cannibalized. "Leftovers" were pickled. Discarded body parts would wash up on nearby beaches." — Wikipedia

So we can deduce from this they didn't have regular trash pickup in those days.

Pardon me while I retch on my keyboard.

Ok, I'm back now.

You will note in the picture at the top of this post that the woman in the background is carrying legs into the cave. In case you missed the details.

You may be wondering why the neighbors didn't notice the parts on the beach or the stench in the air - at least Max wondered - but the Scots tend to mind their own business unless situations become intolerable.

The situation did become intolerable.

Not ones to bother with serious criminal investigations, the local townspeople first lynched several innocents. (History doesn't tell us whether these unfortunates were simply left hung out for the birds to peck, or whether the clan munched them. Max, of course, thinks of things like that.)

To make a long story short... well, I suppose it is already too late for that, but nevertheless... King James VI of Scotland finally got wind of the carnage and sent down 400 searchers and a bunch of bloodhounds. It didn't take the bloodhounds long to find the stinking cave the neighbors had missed, which, the narrative says, was "rife" with human remains. Rife. Holy Macaroni, how does one SLEEP in such a cave?

Relax Max is always reluctant to mention King James VI of Scotland, because there is an unwritten law (or maybe it IS written) that one must always obligatorily add "Later King James I of England" to the mix. I don't know why. It just has to be done, and I've done it.

The clan was captured and taken (in chains - Wikipedia states the obvious) to Jail in Edinburgh, then later transferred to Leith or Glasgow where they were executed without trial. Never one to complain, Relax Max nevertheless cannot help but wonder if you are going to execute people without trial (Even Florida and Texas give trials) then why not just off the crud right next to the cave and be done with it? Let the bloodhounds have a go at them? I suppose there would be more of an audience in Glasgow, though.

But a nice show it was, well worthy of any admission that may have been charged. May I describe it to you? Yes? Then I shall.

The men had their genitalia cut off, hands and feet cut off, and left to bleed to death. The women and children were given the pleasure of watching this, then they were burned to death. (James was Catholic, remember.)

Ayrshire is noted for its dark folklore, so none of this may be true. Let's hope.

Have you ever tasted "Vienna Sausages" - those little mushy weiner-like things in little cans at your grocer's, next to the deviled ham? Those are reportedly what pickled pancreas tastes like.

Just saying. Max likes to finish the job properly.

To Americans, smelt is just a little fish.


  1. Ahhhh. This happened in Ayrshire! No wonder nobody noticed! It would not be noticed much today down there.

    King James is always referred to as King James the VI & 1st.
    The Imperialist, arrogant, bombastic (Couldn't beat the USA) refer to him as King James I. This reflects their treatment of Scotland, they just ignore it, and is a matter I am always willing to mention to those concerned, but subtly of course.

    Interesting piece, and I am sure Mike Smith may be related to this lot, or at least Mrs Smith according to what he says about her.....

  2. I have read this from a soccer team all the way to a little fish, via an assortment of King James. I am a sensitive soul (yes, I am) and had to skip the in betweens. But it was a good post, even a great post! Keep blogging!

    PS I did dip back in again for pancreas. I worked for a pancreatic surgeon once and they hold no fears for me.

  3. Alexander

    If you've heard the dulcet tones of Ayrshire folk, the mutation of the name would not have troubled you at all.

    I once spent a memorable while in a pub there, trying to order a meal. The barmaid obviously understood my language, or I think she did, because she smiled and replied with a question, which might have been upon the lines of "Do you want roast potatoes, or mash with that?", but given that I could not understand a single word of her reply might just as well have been "Enjoy your meal, you poor sassenach, and I'll be pickling your pancreas before nightfall."
    I just nodded and smiled, like an idiot, and eventually a meal composed of sludge-coloured, unidentifiable items arrived. I think there might have been a few fingers in it. There was a ring still on one of them. My fellow diners seemed fewer and fewer as the evening went on. I noticed they never returned from what you americans call the bathroom, (but we call 'the pisser'), and every now and then, the barmaid would collect up abandoned coats and bags and throw them into a large trunk by the door.
    To allay suspicion, I ordered a dessert, and said I was just going to get my map-book from the car.
    But as soon as I got there, I leapt in, locked the doors, and spun my wheels in a rapid escape.
    I still have my pancreas.

  4. There is a flaw in the Wikipedia account of this story, which I passed along without thinking.

    It said there that this supposedly happened in the "15th or 16th century" or maybe even earlier.

    Then they speak of James VI of Scotland.

    I apologize for inadvertently continuing the historical incontinuity. Still, it was a good story.

  5. Could have been 16th century but not 15th "or even earlier".

  6. And, of course, the statement that James was Catholic was a pretty glaring error.

    Other than THOSE little things, it was a good story.

  7. Will definitely keep pickled pancreas in mind the next time I eat those canned vienna sausage.



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