Aife is the sister of Scathach (see my previous post). Aife is a very interesting character to me as the "underdog" in this Scottish myth. I see her as both vulnerable and misguided- her perceived wickedness and competitiveness are very human traits and I hoped to bring a little sympathy and understanding into the artwork. Aife founded the school for warriors along with her sister and although she was a skilled warrior she was the weakest of the sisters, living in the shadow of Scathach. The deities gave Aife the power of Healing and Divination but never bestowed on her the strength and leadership qualities of Scathach, the chosen one. The two sisters were reported to have fought many duals in their tussle for power and Aife was often the challenger- always to be beaten down.
Despite the conflict between the sisters they resided together on the Isle of Skye and led the Scots into many great battles, putting aside their differences mostly when required. Aife gave birth to a son as the result of an affair (or possible rape) by a trained warrior. Whatever the circumstance Aife was consumed with hate for the father of her child for many years and when her son was old enough she had trained him carefully to kill his father in a dual. This hugely backfired on Aife as her son was slain by the older man- she had underestimated again her sisters teachings.
As punishment for this and her many misguided follies the deities turned Aife into a Heron- She is said to haunt the Scottish countryside in this guise for evermore.
My inspirations for the piece were Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. The sisters had strong links to Skye and were reported to live there as their main stronghold. Aife's story reminded me of the first time I saw a Heron in the wild which just happened to be at Dunvegan Castle many moons ago.
We were on a rowing boat in the inlet at the back of the castle headed out to view the seal colonies there when I spotted a huge Heron, still as a watercolour painting amongst the reeds on the bank. It was so beautiful and indeed a haunting sight- I was transfixed for a minute or so until I heard our guide announce its presence.
Many years later another Heron would give me the fright of my life. I was working late at my office in the Bridge of Don, Aberdeen and decided to go out for a break. It was pitch black and as I stood at the front of the building something rose off the ground a foot away from me- A huge dark shape rising into the sky, almost silently. I felt the breeze of two huge "flaps" and realised it had wings. Looking up I noticed the "scary thing" had landed on the roof (it only seemed to flap twice to get there) and there was the unmistakable outline of the Heron. I thought of both these encounters when drawing my Aife.
Dunvegan Castle is also host to the legendary Fairy Flag- I gave a little nod to this with her working on her tapestry and I like to think her spirit has found a little peace there on the Isle of Skye. Other little details include the Amethyst Quartz pendulum that the Heron is holding as a sign of her healing & divination skills. Her jewellery includes a Witches stone and a little Ankh as a nod to her sisters Egyptian linage. The Ankh is the most ancient of cross symbols and is said to form the basis of the Celtic and Christian Crosses- I thought it would be a powerful symbol of protection and feminine strength for her to wear to help her in the afterlife.
"Aife"- Ink on Illustration Board (Framed) by Anita Inverarity
Available at Gallery Q Dundee until the 15th March