The following fairy tale was told to me by a man wearing Carhartt flannel-lined jeans, a tweed jacket, and brown Gorsuch shoes. And there was a twinkle in his eye as he spoke. It might have been more fitting – more stylish – if he’d been dressed in Ralph Lauren designer duds, but he wasn’t. Maybe RL needs to review and retool their marketing, as a Scottish fairy tale would seem to mesh well with their brand.
No one is really sure where this fairy tale originated. Some scholars say that the story of the Blue Men came from Morocco, through the Berber traders as they sailed north to do business with the Scottish islanders. The faces of the Berbers were glossy blue from the pigment they used to dye their leather merchandise. When business went bad, the Berbers became pirates, sailing the strait looking for ships to plunder. These pirate attacks were called “mad pleasure.”
According to legend, not only do the Blue Men have blue skin, but long gray faces with beards, and green hair. Their eyes are small, their noses are flat like the back of an axe, and their mouths are wide. They have long arms and fish-tails instead of legs, which means they are mermen. They are as large as a normal land-bound man, and their strength is prodigious.
An astute captain may, however, fend off an attack by the Blue Men. This is done by engaging the chieftain of the Blue Men in a rhyming contest. For the Blue Men have a fondness for extemporaneous rhyme. This is because the Blue Men are descended from Glaukos, who was an educated man (in a literary sense) and the helmsman of the Argos, upon which Jason sailed in his quest for the golden fleece. Glaukos ate magic herbs and turned into a sea god, or so the story goes.
The Blue Men – most of them anyway – live in caves under the waters of the Minch, which is a strait separating the mainland of Scotland from the Isle of Lewis and the Shiant Isles. Some call this strait the Stream of the Blue Men (Na h-Eileinean). Others call it the Current of Destruction, because they say the constant swimming of the Blue Men stirs up the waves, making it dangerous for boats and ships.
The Blue Men, like the “sons of God” (angels) in the biblical book of Genesis, are sexually aggressive, seeking out pleasure with mortal women. Many times these intimacies produce children. Some of the male offspring resemble the Blue Men and live in the sea. As do some of the female offspring. They are called Blue Women (Na Te Ghorm, hai Glaukoi). For unknown reasons, the Blue Women are not as famous as the Blue Men, but they are just as sexually aggressive as their male counterparts.