Fragments of Faith and Ian Murray (Religion in #Outlander, Part III)

Balance. It’s all about balance.  At least that’s what I tell myself when Life goes all Black Jack Randall on me. When there are too many bills and responsibilities and too little money and laughter and sleep.  And it’s my birthday later this week, and I despise birthdays.  Long story.  Anyway….

Balance. Yep. And faith. Lots of faith. And perseverance. So. Much. Perserverance.

image(And since my husband assures me that I can relate ANYTHING to Outlander…)


The past week has required quite a bit of faith and perseverance. It’s been enough to make a woman feel a bit like Job…or maybe some other man I’ve read quite a lot about lately who, likewise, seems to have more than his fair share of troubles, namely: Young Ian James Fitzgibbons Fraser Murray (a/k/a Okwaho’kenha, or “Wolf’s Brother”).

Let me start by saying that I adore Young Ian. Adore him. He may be young, but he has an old soul, and Lord knows he has lived more in his young life that many an older man, and his spiritual journey reflects this.

Young Ian first finds blood on his hands in Voyager, not long after Claire and Jamie’s reunion (excuse me while I grab a wee dram…and some Kleenex…plenty of Kleenex). He seeks solace in the pleasures of the flesh as well as the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation. (Not at the same time, of course.) This seems an early hint at the back and forth, the push and pull, that seems to color the wee lad’s life.

In Drums of Autumn, Young Ian is ordered to leave behind his old ways…to leave himself behind.*

“They say that after that I will be Indian, and I must not speak any tongue but the Kahnyen’kehaka; I canna speak again in English, or the Gaelic.”

He is, in effect, being told to shed his identity.**  Also, of course, he would have been expected to leave behind the religion that had defined him since birth. How could he possibly make such a sacrifice, to turn his back everything that made him who he was? It’s unthinkable. But the wise and selfless soul finds the words for us….

“Ye said to me once, that my life wasna meant to be wasted,” he said. “It won’t be.” He held out his arms. “I willna forget you, either, Uncle Jamie.”

(Please ignore that noise…it is just the sound of my heart breaking.)

Of course, Young Ian doesn’t forget Jamie. Nor does he forget his religion. It does, however, change over time.

Young Ian struggles with reconciling his Catholic religion and Highland heritage with the things he learned and experienced while living with the Mohawk tribe. We get a glimpse at this struggle when he confides in Brianna at the Mammoth site.

At one point, he mutters under his breath.

“What did you say?” She paused, a half- hulled nut in her fingers.

“Oh, it’s no but a— ” He’d struck once more and caught a spark, glowing like a tiny star on the square of char. Hastily, he touched a wisp of dry grass to it, then another, and as a tendril of smoke rose up, added a bark chip, more grass, a handful of chips, and finally a careful crisscross of pine twigs.

“No but a fire charm,” he finished, grinning at her over the infant blaze that had sprung up before him.

Ian confides in Brianna that he has been thinking about God. She seems taken aback.

“What I am thinking,” he said after a moment, his voice much too controlled, “is this. Was it me?”

“Ian! You mean your fault that the baby died? How could it be?”

“I left,” he said simply, straightening up. “Turned away. Stopped being a Christian, being Scots. They took me to the stream, scrubbed me wi’ sand to take away the white blood. They gave me my name— Okwaho’kenha— and said I was Mohawk. But I wasna, not really.”

* * *
“But I wasna what I had been, either,” he went on, sounding almost matter- of- fact. “I tried to be what they wanted, ken? So I left off praying to God or the Virgin Mother, or Saint Bride. I listened to what Emily said, when she’d tell me about her gods, the spirits that dwell in the trees and all. And when I went to the sweat lodge wi’ the men, or sat by the hearth and heard the stories … they seemed as real to me as Christ and His saints ever had.” He turned his head and looked up at her suddenly, half- bewildered, half- defiant.

“I am the Lord thy God,” he said. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. But I did, no? That’s mortal sin, is it not?”

Over time, bits of beliefs and fragments of faith war for dominance, become intertwined, and finally weave themselves in a tapestry of faith. Like his Uncle Jamie, Ian is faith is complicated and hard-won.

His faith is shaped by this sense of duty and obligation. And, at times, by guilt and forgiveness. Sometimes he is the one to forgive and, other times, well, he is mere flesh and blood (okay, okay, he is fictional, I know)…and, as such, sometimes he is the one desperate for forgiveness. Like when he unknowingly takes the life of Mrs. Bug in An Echo in the Bone:

“It wasn’t your fault,” I said gently.

“I know,” he said, and swallowed. “But I dinna see how I can live.”

He wasn’t dramatic about it at all; his voice was simply bewildered. Rollo licked his hand, and his fingers sank into the dog’s ruff, as though for support.

“What can I do, Auntie?” He looked at me, helpless. “There’s nothing, is there? I canna take it back, or undo it. And yet I keep looking for some way that I can. Something I can do to make things right. But there’s … nothing.”

I sat down in the hay next to him and put an arm round his shoulder, pressing his head toward me. He came, reluctantly, though I felt small constant shudders of exhaustion and grief running through him like a chill.

“I loved her,” he said, so low I could barely hear him. “She was like my grandmother. And I— ”

“She loved you,” I whispered. “She wouldn’t blame you.” I had been holding on to my own emotions like grim death, in order to do what had to be done. But now … Ian was right. There was nothing, and in sheer helplessness, tears began to roll down my face. I wasn’t crying. Grief and shock simply overflowed; I could not contain them. Whether he felt the tears on his skin or only the vibrations of my grief, I couldn’t tell, but quite suddenly Ian gave way as well, and he wept in my arms, shaking.

The thing about actually believing in something, really believing, is that it marks you. Ian’s soul has long been marked by his faith, his heritage, his values…and when he unknowingly violates the code by which he lives, it weighs mightily on him.

At the funeral, he faces Arch Bug with to offer compensation, just as his did before when he offered himself to the Mohawks in place of Roger.

“It was by my hand that this”— Ian swallowed— “that this woman of great worth has died. I didna take her life by malice, or of purpose, and it is sorrow to me. But she died by my hand.”

Rollo whined softly by Ian’s side, feeling his master’s distress, but Ian laid a hand on his head, and he stilled. Ian drew the knife from his belt and laid it on the coffin in front of Arch Bug, then straightened and looked him in the eye.

“Ye swore once to my uncle, in a time of great wrong, and offered life for life, for this woman. I swear by my iron, and I offer the same.” His lips pressed together for an instant, and his throat moved, his eyes dark and sober. “I think ye maybe didna mean it, sir— but I do.”

I found that I was holding my breath, and forced myself to breathe. Was this Jamie’s plan? I wondered. Ian plainly meant what he said. Still, the chances of Arch accepting that offer on the spot and cutting Ian’s throat in front of a dozen witnesses were slim, no matter how exigent his feelings. But if he publicly declined the offer— then the possibility of a more formal and less bloody recompense was opened, yet young Ian would be relieved of at least a measure of his guilt. Bloody Highlander, I thought, glancing up at Jamie— not without a certain admiration.

Wrong made right. Making things square, as best as one can. Reconciliation.  Balance. Yes, perhaps that’s it. Balance. Equal parts Catholic and superstitious Highlander and Mohawk…all in perfect balance.

So, yes, it has been a rough week…but I haven’t had to take another’s life, or offer my own as compensation for a wrong, nor have I accidentally killed someone (*knock on wood* the week’s not over yet, and there’s no need to tempt Fate) so, all things considered, I suppose my week could have been worse.

Yes, balance.

Lesson learned, Young Ian.  Lesson learned.

* “He will never come to his house again / his place will know him no more.”  Job 7:10.

** Yep. Shed his identity.  Never fear, though, he manages to forge a new kick-ass self out of all that suffering.  May we all fare so well.


6 thoughts on “Fragments of Faith and Ian Murray (Religion in #Outlander, Part III)

  1. First of all Terri, Happy Birthday when it comes around 😉 And second I just want to know if I can come and hang out with you and share that wee dram and tissue and the heart breaking moments of this story?!? And thoughts of faith and hope and courage and Outlander. Bless your heart for putting these words on paper (well, screen)! Young Ian for me comes right after Jamie and Claire, just ahead of Roger and well before Brianna. Love Young Ian.

    Several years ago, when I was going through my own personal “Job time”…I realized something that I’d never noticed previous to that and it is that the Psalms come right after Job in the Bible. It was like a stab of sunlight in my sad heart and made me smile. Surely God did that for us on purpose? 😉

    Thank you, thank you for this series of posts – they’re especially meaningful at this time to me (and probably many others) I hope your week going forward is better and remember what the ending of Job says “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first…” 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have no idea how much your kind words meant to me this morning. Somedays we need a reminder that there is more to OUR story than just our trials. We never talk about Outlander and fixate only on the pain…we see the power of love and loyalty and friendship. We see faith and honor and devotion. Funny, it is so easy to see the larger story when we read, but when it comes to our own narrative we lose sight of that. I suppose we are too close to things. Thank you for reminnding me. 💕

      I have talked about it before, but the reason I hate birthdays is not for fear of age or decline or the the fact that certain bits sag a bit more…. They make me feel guilty. Like, Ian after killing Mrs. Bug kind of guilty.

      In July of 2005, just a few months after my youngest was born, my birthday rolled around. I was at work. The receptionist called to tell me my mom was on the phone. I assumed she was going to wish me a happy birthday. Instead, she informed me that my beloved uncle had walked into a diner that morning and killed someone.

      Some scientists have said that the human soul has weight. That a body after death is measurably lighter than one before death. I think perhaps that weight, although perhaps slight in number, is added to the shoulders of those who are left behind. Over time, the weight feels heavier.

      It was not my action. It is not my fault. But the weight is still there. And I feel horribly guilty celebrating a birthday on the same day that someone else’s life was ripped from them.

      My uncle was sent to prison and has since died of natural causes.

      This weekend is the 10th anniversary. If you have a moment, perhaps you can spare a prayer for all those effected.


  2. Oh Terri…please know, I certainly will say that prayer. Thank you for sharing your story, and yes, please – God touch your heart this birthday xx oo


  3. Your blog & the replies touched me in a wonderful way today. I “could” (but won’t) write an epistle on each of your stories, insights, paragraphs etc, as I feel your sincerity and share your belief system.
    I DO WANT to say that what resonated with me was your comment about recently converting to Catholicim. For more than 15 years I’ve been involved with RCIA (adult process or program for non-Catholics being received into Catholic Church) This is the most rewarding ministry in which I serve and it is NEW Catholics like you also one of your other respondents-part II I think) who breathe new life into the majority of “Cradle Catholic” who think our spiritual knowledge is DONE at age 16!
    Our wonderful & faith-filled author, DG shares her faith & sows the seeds in a truly lived and fruitful way!
    Much like Jamie, Claire, Jennie & Ian (1+2)…..
    Probably a connection there, huh?
    Love & prayers,
    Mary Ellen
    PS-looking for one of your books to download ASAP!!


    • It means so much to me that you took the time to comment and to share more about RCIA. My husband and I took part in RCIA not long after we were married, because we had both been drawn to the Catholic Faith. When I started reading the Outlander books, I loved the fact that religion was such a central part of so many of the characters’ lives. I enjoyed the different religions, all so well represented, and the way they shaped and defined the characters. The religion was not represented in a sacchrine or overly sentimental way, it was not holier than thou or perfect…but it was flawed and “real.” The struggles were familiar and identifiable. I have read the Outlander books on my Kindle, and I have highlighted huge chunks of text that speak to my soul. I have been thinking and making notes for a post about some of the prayers in the text. I hope to do it justice, so it is taking a while to write.


  4. Catching up with my emails after being away for a while. It is interesting to see people converting to Catholicism. My husband was raised as an atheist and became Catholic as an adult too (just before he married me). I tend to suspect he did it to please my mother and because he found it proper to marry me in the Catholic Church. What is interesting is that he did not have the need to convert to marry me but he chose to do it.

    In regards to Young Ian, his Catholic beliefs are conflicting not only with those of the Mohawk but also with the beliefs that the Scottish Highlanders have of fairies. Young Ian mentions that he wanted to have his stillborn daughter baptized, something that he could have done himself. He did not do it in order to avoid any problems with the Mohawk.

    ‘. . .”Where is she then? he whispered, and she could see tears trembling on his lashes. “The others – they were never born; God will have them in His hand. But wee Iseabail – she’ll not be in heaven, will she? I canna bear the thought she – that she might be … lost, somewhere. Wandering.”‘ (A Breath of Snow and Ashes, ch. 70)

    The first thing that comes to the reader’s mind is that Young Ian suspects that his child might be in the Limbo (there is a reference to it in the argument between Malva and Lizzie). Of course, this is something that he does not want, and his preoccupation about it is intensified by the Amerindian belief that every object, animate or inanimate, has a spirit. Furthermore, this belief seems to be shared by the Scottish Highlanders.

    ‘“I heard stories, now and then. Among the Mohawk, I mean. They’d speak of strange things that someone found, hunting. Spirits trapped in the rock, and how they came to be there. Evil things, for the most part. And I thought to myself, if that should be what this is . . .”’ (A Breath of Snow and Ashes, ch. 70)

    I guess Ian does not want his daughter to encounter one of these entities or to become one of those ones. Who are exactly these entities? Young Ian talks a little bit about them during the first night he spent with Brianna outdoors.

    ‘. . . “Sometimes I think of the auld tales – from Scotland, aye? And ones I’ve heard now and then, living wi’ the Kahnyen’kehaka. About . . . things that may come upon a man while he sleeps. To lure away his soul.”‘ (A Breath of Snow and Ashes, ch. 69).

    ‘”Ye call them sidhe in the Gaelic. The Cherokee call them the Nunnahee, And the Mohawk have names for them, too – more than one. But when I heard Eats Turtles tell of them, I kent at once what they were. It’s the same – the Old Folk.”‘ (A Breath of Snow and Ashes, ch. 69).

    The description of the surroundings after Brianna requested Frank to take care of Ian’s daughter is revealing, and it shows how Diana incorporates different belief systems into the narrative.

    ‘She could still hear the voices murmuring in trees and water, but paid no attention to them. Whoever, they were, they were no threat to her or hers – and not at odds with the presence that she felt so strongly nearby.’ (A Breath of Snow and Ashes, ch. 70).

    I guess this last passage might be indicative of Young Ian’s return to his Catholic roots.


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