Who is Thomas the Rhymer?

The story of Thomas has been preserved in various medieval literature and ballads, and sources generally agree that he was born into a noble family from the Scottish Borders, in a place called Erceldoune (or Earlston as it is now) circa 1220. The remains of his fortified house can still be seen in the town, next door to a cafe that capitalises on the legends that still adhere to the name.

The story is told that he was resting under a favourite tree on the nearby Erceldoune hills, when the Queen of Faerie so entranced him that he went with her to her world. She is reputed to have given him the gift of prophesy, and bestowed upon him the inability to ever tell a lie.

His popularity as a Scottish mythological figure eclipsed even that of Merlin the Magician, and prophesies attributed to Thomas include the foretelling of the union of the crowns – when England and Scotland became one nation, and the death of King Alexander III of Scotland in 1286.

In one version of the ballad, Thomas is shown three roads as they travel to the Queen’s land; the road to Heaven, the road to Hell and the road to Faerie. He is also shown a tree with fruit that he is eager to eat, but the Queen tells him that this is the forbidden tree and he would be cursed if he as much as touches the fruit. The allegories here between the tree of knowledge in the telling of Adam and Eve in the old testament, and the Norse saga about Yggdrasil, the one tree that connects the nine worlds in Norse mythology are too coincidental to not be linked.

As to his death, that remains part of the mystery. Some reports state that he was told of a white hart and hind seen in the village of Erceldoune, at which news he left his house never to be seen again – the implication that he willingly went back to Faerie in the company of these unwordly creatures. In a similar vein to that of Merlin and King Arthur, Thomas is reputed to one day return when Scotland is in dire need.

Out of all the characters that haunt ancient history, Thomas holds a patina of truth. There are records existent of his life, a Thomas Rimor de Ercildoun witnessed a charter of land to the abbey at Melrose in documents originating from Berwickshire in 1260s. He is a character that has held the imagination of people for the last 800 years, and if indeed he is still in Faerie then just a few years have passed for him whilst centuries pass for the rest of us. And if he did come back, perhaps at the Queen’s bidding, how would he interpret our modern world?

Underlying these old fables will invariably be a kernel of truth. Why is the land of Faerie so prevalent in the Northern Europe folk mythology, with the belief that these creatures actually exist tending to increase the further north you travel? Why do stories of individuals taken to Faerie, invariably by strange music and dancing, have a similar experience of time dilation whereby one day in Faerie is one, three or one hundred years in our world? What if the latest theories in particle physics concerning parallel universes within touching distance of our own are also real. Could we travel between worlds, perhaps take one of three paths and choose between heaven, hell and Faerie? What would creatures from such an alternative universe want with us?

#ThomastheRhymer #ScottishMythology #ScottishFairyStory

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