Resolve to Engage With Your Highland Roots in 2020

The turning of the year – on the Gregorian calendar for many people, but on other calendars for others – gives us a chance to reflect on our journey, knowing that it is limited, and the changes we would like to integrate into our lives. An increasingly number of people are aware that the myth of progress encourages us not just to dismiss the knowledge of elders in bygone times but to overlook the many forms of trauma, injustice, dislocation, and disempowerment that have happened, in the mistaken assumption that it was an inevitable step along a linear path of cultural evolution. However, as Wade Davis said so eloquently in his 2009 Massey Lectures The Wayfinders, “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”

Despite the popular misconception of Scottish Highlanders being a European variation of the noble savage, valuable as loyal soldiers but not having a legitimate culture of their own, or any form of literature or civilization to speak of, there is an enormous legacy to explore, one well worth understanding and reclaiming. Hidden Glen Folk School of Scottish Highland Heritage was created to guide you through this vast and intricate web of history and culture, one largely ignored by academic institutions. And a better understanding of this past provides us with powerful tools for making a better future.

The first course offerings, which ran from November to December of 2019, went extremely well, with participants from Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, each bringing their own perspectives, questions and enthusiasm. And it was striking and significant to me that most of them were engaged not just exclusively with understanding Highland culture in isolation, but that they wanted to put it in dialog with other indigenous communities seeking decolonization and reconciliation. This made our discussions all the more poignant and pertinent in today’s world.

While you contemplate whether you’d like to join the Reclaiming the Roots course or the Radicalizing the Roots course starting in mid-January, here are some comments from participants:

It is fairly easy to access a reductive or stereotypical portrayal of Highland culture and history – much more difficult to source authentic, detailed and academically-grounded information such as this. More than just a reflection on the past, Reclaiming the Roots invited us to reflect on and make connections with issues of identity, spirituality, colonialism and modern political and ecological crises. Relevant, fascinating and hard to find elsewhere – I highly recommend Dr Michael Newton’s work and this course in particular.

M. Maclachlan, New Zealand

There are many courses about Scottish history, but if you want to examine the traditional relationship between the Gaels and their natural environment without the stifling overlay of imperial agenda, then this class is for you.

Geoffrey Sammons, Kirkland, Washington, USA

Michael Newton has done tremendous research concerning the Gaels, their language and culture. Offering information concerning history, identity worldview, values and traditions, Reclaiming the Roots course was packed full of richness. I’m deeply grateful for the extensive work Michael has undertaken examining Gaelic texts, poetry, song & proverbs and synthesizing all to be gleaned into a beautiful text. Class discussions and online forum were engaging. I greatly appreciated contemplating the reflection questions sparking sharing among participants the ways Gàidhlig culture is relevant in modern times. This course would be well enjoyed by Gàidhlig speakers and learners, anyone wanting to connect more deeply to their own Gaelic heritage, to those involved in language revitalization and community building, and to those wanting to learn more about Gaels and possible counter-cultural responses to coloniality. Highly recommend. 5 stars!

Seigheag ni’n Aonghais | Shay MacMullin, Community Educator (Gàidhlig aig Baile) & Cultural Animator (Baile nan Gàidheal)

Michael’s courses are crucial in illuminating the richness of the Scottish Gaelic world, and are crucial for our time. Highly recommended for anyone who feels the call.

John Anderson, Stirling, Scotland.

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