Blash o God


The Buchanites - A Heretic's Tale

A band of religious fanatics are roaming the countryside of South West Scotland, led by a woman who gave people the spirit of the Holy Ghost by breathing on them. These were the Buchanites led by their leader, Elspeth 'Luckie' Buchan, who had abandoned her husband and children to become a religious voluptuary and who imagined herself to be "the Woman Clothed with the Sun" in the prophecies of Revelations. As the end of the world was nigh, there was no point in celibacy or marriage and children. Infanticide and unusual degrees of sexual liberty were rumoured to be the norm.  After more than three years of prophecy and rough sleeping, the Buchanites threw away what valuables they possessed and followed Buchan's instruction to climb a nearby hill to ascend to Heaven at sunrise. This group of bald-headed women and men clambered their way up the hill and onto a rickity platform. With faces turned skyward they stood singing and wailing and waited to be plucked up by their remaining single lock of hair for their transfer from earth. However a storm blew up, the platform collapsed and the people with it.  "Luckie" Buchan never recovered from the ignominy of this failure  and died five years later.

The image in the book above is Andrew Innes "The Last of the Buchanites"  He was probably one of the most loyal supporters of the cult leader Elspeth Luckie Buchan. Remember this was a woman, who if we believe everything written about her, dabbled with prostitution, considered her self immortal, persuaded her followers to forgo all worldly possessions, have incestuous relationships, possibly commit murderous acts and to persuade her followers to shave off all their hair except one lock in order to be plucked to heaven, which of course failed! Even after Buchan died in 1791 Innes still remained true to the so-called prophetess. On her death she was not buried but placed on a bed of feathers where she had prophesied that she would go to Paradise and then be quickly resurrected.  Needless to say it didn't happen. The Buchanites were eventually driven out of Closeburn, and when they left Innes took her remains and kept them for the next fifty years in his attic bedroom. Just before his death he revealed their whereabouts and asked that they be buried together so that if she rose to heaven he would know about it. Obsession and belief to the end it would seem!

This true story from 1786 has fascinated me for well over 50 years. It all happened about 2 miles from Thornhill where I was born and grew up. Towards the end of 2018, in collaboration with poet Hugh Mcmillan, we began to make a series of drypoint, mezzotint and lithographic etchings combined with original poetry based on the story. Not a historic document however, as although this self proclaimed priestess roamed around Scotland back in 1786 we have imagined her to be more of a punk goddess influenced by psychedelia but never forgetting her Scottish heritage. The work doesn't follow any chronological order, we saw it as a kind of puzzle, added to on an ongoing basis, building the narrative as we dip in and out and uncover the crazy tales of "Elspeth Buchan an the Blash o God." 

Hugh Mcmillan is a poet and writer who happens to live in Penpont, a few miles from Closeburn and like me has always had a fascination with the story of Elspeth Buchan and her cult following the "Buchanites." He has been shortlisted for, and awarded, many prizes and has been widely published and anthologised. He was chosen as one of the half dozen poets whose work featured in a National Poetry Day postcard, was selected as one of the poets in the Best Scottish poems of 2016 Anthology and awarded the post of Michael Marks poet in residence at the Harvard Summer School in July 2017. You can read more about Hugh and his work here :

Take me to the poems and individual video clips of Hugh reading the work.

If you have 12 minutes 26 seconds to spare you can see the full film version of the work here. Take me to the film