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Fauns and Fairies
An article from the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness


Since the day on which the Rev. Robert Kirk, minister at Aberfoil, “went to his own herd,” in 1692, our knowledge of fairies has made no appreciable advance. When men ceased to prosecute witches and burn them, the traditions of the past were by mutual consent forgotten, and the prevalent type of Christianity put curious prying into the unknown under a ban. So it happened that during the latter half of the seventeenth, and the whole of the eighteenth century Scotland, forgot its folk-lore. Old stories with a spice of Paganism were deemed unsuited for grave and sober Presbyterian households. Even the cherished traditions of the Roman Catholic church were regarded as something more than harmless superstition, and treated accordingly. In odd corners the older folk-lore stories remained. Men could tell tales of battle where other heroes than the Great Twin Brothers led the van, and record, with minute amplification of circumstance, scenes of midnight carouse and revel, at which immortals appeared and claimed the service and homage of those whose spirits were congenial to the forgotten cult. Gradually the beliefs or superstitions of Christianity displaced the ancestral spirits from their sylvan homes, and substituted a kind of personal devil, clad in bull hide and smelling evilly of brimstone, thus transforming beautiful legends and stories of folk-lore of untold value into grotesque representations of a Christianity little understood and rarely practised.

When science begun to sift medieval and modern accretions from the ancient, little which was of direct value was left; and only by infinite pains, and comparing beliefs, customs, ceremonial acts and usages in widely separated countries could a measure of certainty be arrived at, and this is particularly the case in regard to the subject of this paper. Of theories and writing we have enough and more than enough. Scattered through the records of trials in court, enquiries before ecclesiastics, theological dissertations on demonology, diaries and curious essays, there is no lack of counsel; but any one who is acquainted with Kirk’s essay on “Fairies, Elves, and Fauns,” and Martin’s “Description of the Western Islands,” must feel that both ancient and modern theorists have not much more to relate. That a great deal of good work has been done since then every one knows, but this has been by way of wider research in other fields, illustration and comparison of facts already recorded, and a closer application of scientific methods to the elucidation of the facts folk-lore has to teach. But this has not greatly added to our direct knowledge of how our ancestors viewed the fairy world; that we learn rather by inference than by fresh discovery within our own borders.

In discussing the subject of fairies we much approach it as antiquarians, folk-lorists, and anthropologists; for beyond all doubt fairy cult is a complex thing, and is based on material supplied by tradition going back thousands of years: on the facts of nature and unexplained phenomena, as rappings, loud noises, mysterious movement of bodies, lights and phantoms, and all the complex powers of the unknown as these presented themselves to primitive man as he looked out upon the world, and as they reshaped themselves through ages upon ages of an evolution imperceptible in its upward movement—here leaving an ancient belief behind forever, there seizing on a new thought and clinging to it with the same tenacity with which man clings to life itself.

In this paper I propose to glance first at a few of the more common fairy beliefs and legends, and then endeavour to trace their origin and how they are allied to other phases of folk-lore and myth. And to revert to Robert Kirk. Before he “went to his own herd,” he had no manner of doubt regarding the actual physical existence of fairies, and with rare glimpses of the scientific method, sets himself to explain the undoubted facts. His evidence in this respect is of more value than Martin’s, who simply records many Celtic beliefs and customs as a curious survival. Kirk’s pamphlet does not appear to have been published till comparatively recently, but Lord Reay saw it about the close of the seventeenth century, and Scott had access to it at the time when he wrote the letters to Lockhart. These, and a number of his poems and ballads, are largely indebted to the minister of Aberfoil. When Kirk wrote, probably about 1680, unseen beings abounded, castles were haunted, lakes and rivers had their denizens, witches practised their evil arts, and kirk sessions exercised their diligence in rooting out these public pests; and to doubt the existence of fairies would have been to have exposed his own orthodoxy to a severe strain. So his science must yield to acknowledged facts.

His fairy bodies are congealed air or essence. They have, or assume, the human form, but are diminutive and most frequently invisible. They eat, but not our gross material food, for only the finest spirituous essences serve to sustain them. These they extract or suck out of ordinary substances, and neither corn nor milk comes amiss to them. They have been known to impoverish whole fields so that the meal made from the corn had no sustaining power, nor would barley so affected make whisky. The little people can work, and they have been heard striking with hammers as a smith at a forge; but their only visible work is the elf arrow. They change their place of residence quarterly, and where there is at one period of the year high revel, with music and the dance, there is at another nothing but the silence of the everlasting hills. As they migrate from place to place they swim on air low down above the ground, and men, seers that is, have often seen them travelling through space, and felt a rush as of wings, with low musical notes which filled earth and air as they went.

Among fairies there are orders, kings, more often queens, and commoners. The latter are divided into various grades, chiefs, masters, servants, slaves. They attend at all banquets, marriages, and funerals, and take part of the provision made for those who attend, not in its gross material form—they simply extract its essence and regale themselves on this ethereal fare. They help to carry the body to the place of sepulture at funerals, and take part in all the ceremonies connected therewith, except those of a religious or Christian character. They go fishing on stream and tarn in the guise of monks in cowl and hood. Men have fairies as their co-walker or double, and these are never separate from their human second self. A voracious eater does not require more food for his support than another man, but an elf is his co-walker and must be daily fed. Our reverend author prescribes no remedy for this form of possession, but there are other fairy evils he knows how to cure. For example; when a cow calves, if some of her dung is smeared on the calf’s mouth before it sucks, no harm can come to the milk during the season. When a mother just begins nursing her new born infant, a bible, iron, or a piece of bread placed in her bed will prevent her being stolen by the fairies to nurse elf children, a common occurrence in those old days at Aberfoil. Of all substances the little people feared iron most; and that because hell lies between the chill tempest and hot scalding metals, and no sooner does a fairy smell iron than it fears and flies. Fairy clothing resembles that of the country where they dwell. Its colour is always green. At Aberfoil they wore kilts; in Ayrshire trews! They become old and die, but not as we do ; for nothing ever perishes in fairyland. Everything goes on in circles lesser or greater, but continuing for ever and renewing all that revolves, every change being but a kind of transmigration into new forms. Nor is the mystic land devoid of literature ; but the books are so learned, involved, and abstruse, that mortal man has never been able to unravel their contents.

The wraith, or death messenger from elf-land may be insulted, and his vengeful rage knows no bounds, only his wrath may be appeased by the death of an animal, whether offered directly in sacrifice or not the record does not relate. The coming of this elf land wraith seers can foretell. They have seen him and have entered into combat with him. But he is impalpable and invulnerable, for he may be cut through with a sword blade with no resistance and no result; the blade simply passes as through the liquid air. On the other hand he has wrestled with seers, and many a sore combat has been waged on the heathery hill-side between those who could see farther than their fellows, and the mysterious figures, half light, half darkness, which met with them and maimed not a few of them for the remainder of their days— which same may be a kind of Pagan paraphrase of the well-known story Of Jacob by the Jabbock. The spirit-world messenger inflicted his wounds with elf-arrows, and these left no visible mark though the wound was mortal. The only hope of cure was to find the spot where the arrow entered the body, and place one’s finger upon it. As men were wounded to death by these fairyland weapons, so, too, were cows and other domestic animals. After such wounds they pined and died with no visible sign of injury.

Departed human souls frequently dwell in fairy hills, and are identified with the fairy folk. Numerous instances are related of their being seen and even recovered. When our reverend historian “went to his own herd,” it was revealed to a seer, after his supposed burial, that he was not dead, and that the coffin contained nothing but leaves. On a certain night he was to reappear, and f a relative, named to the seer, threw his dirk over him he would remain; if not, vanish for ever to the land of mirth and song. He did appear, but the man who alone could detain him among mortals got so excited that he only threw the dirk as the minister vanished into thin air. It was too late. He had gone to his own land, and was seen no more. He still, doubtless, visits the scenes of his mortal life on winter nights when the moon is full.

The vanished world of those days could not get along without its seers. Men became soothsayers by training. An essential part of the rites of initiation was, that the novice should make himself a girdle from a horse hair tether which had been used in binding a dead body to a bier. With this girdle about his loins he must stoop downward and look backwards between his legs till he saw a funeral approach and cross two marches between lands or farms. Another method of watching an approaching funeral was through a hole in a board where a wood knot had fallen out. Having attained to second sight, the seer could tell the future by looking through the shoulder-blade of a sheep, and this was a sure method of detecting any misdemeanours in the owner’s household. A man who doubted his wife’s fidelity, had but to present a shoulder of mutton to the seer, and the facts were revealed.

But the erratic movements of wives were not always the result of fancy for a handsome man. Fairies stole them, and only a seer could restore the abducted spouse to her sorrowing lord ; and our author puts one well-authenticated case on record of a wife being stolen, and a fairy woman substituted in her place. The elf-wife died and was buried. After a suitable period the widower consoled himself with a “fair and comely maiden” as his second wife. At the end of two years the original wife was restored, but whether she proved a kind of Enoch Arden the history does not relate. The author, however, adds that “there is an art, not superstition, for recovering the stolen.” It is a pity he did not deem it worth while to put the art on record, only being well known and authenticated, this was unnecessary in his day, and it is to be feared it has been lost. He does tell us a number of marvellous facts, of which the following is one:—Lord Tarbat met a seer in the west of Ross-shire. He was working in a field, and Tarbat having observed him looking intently towards a hill above the place where he was working, asked him if he saw anything. He replied that he saw a troop of soldiers leading their horses down the hill, and turning them loose to graze in a field of barley. This was on the 4th of May. In August of that same year, a party of soldiers under Colonel Middleton led their horses down the hill in question, and turned them loose to graze in the very field where the seer was sowing his barley in the previous May when-he saw them.

This brief summary of the contents of Mr Kirk’s pamphlet gives pretty well the substance of what was known of fairies two centuries ago, and all the stories gathered since then, may be regarded as a mere amplification and fuller illustration of what was well-known and universally believed .about the time of the Reformation.

In “Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition” we have a number of familiar stories of work done by fairies—their tireless energy, the spells they laid upon people, how inanimate objects did their bidding, and how men outwitted them. The same is found in the pages of Kennedy’s book regarding Irish fairies. As we advance we see a kind of Christianised Paganism opposing itself to the forces of demonology, and in accordance with the trend of the prevalent theology prevailing. For example :—A diligent housewife is busily engaged preparing yam for cloth. She is both careful and worldly. Sleep has departed from her eyes, and as «he spins after the witching hour has struck, she keeps wishing she had some one to help her in her labours. Obedient to her wish a fairy enters and begins to spin, another comes and takes to carding the wool, then another and another, till they convert the house into a workshop, and the whirr of labour is heard afar. The husband sleeps and snores, nor is his rest disturbed by the busy scene. The wife provides refreshment for her guests, and they devour all she can give them—they are more materialistic than Kirk’s. She now wished to be rid of them but could not, so she hurried to a wise man. The seer told her that her husband was under a spell, and that she must return to the house, and before she enters shout three times—“Burghill is on fire;” and when the fairies rushed out to see if their house was destroyed she must enter and disarrange everything in the house. This she did, and when the fairies returned one called out “ Spinning wheel open the door.” “I cannot, my band is off.” And so all the other articles, wool cards, water pails, chairs, and tables.

Fairy visits did not always end thus. The miller of Alva had his wife spirited away, and had infinite labour before recovering her; while the smith of Tullibody saw his never no more. Working a bar of iron he heard the abductors sing as they flew up the chimney—

“Deedle Linkum Doddie,
We’ve gotten drunken Davie’s wife,
The smith of Tullibody.”

The theft of children was more frequent than the abduction of wives, and when a child was taken an elfin was substituted ; but they do not appear to have succeeded in grafting our heavier mortality on to their own aerial bodies. Even thefts were not always on one side, for a man rushing in upon a fairy festival and carrying off their drinking goblet could keep it as an heirloom and cornucopia for all time, if he only succeeded in crossing a running stream before being overtaken by the revellers whom he despoiled, a fact immortalised by the famous riding exploit of Tam o’ Shanter and his grey mare. One such fairy goblet is preserved at Edenhall, in Cumberland. This was secured by one of the ancient family of Musgrove, and while it is preserved prosperity attends their house; but

“If this glass do break or fall,
Farewell the luck of Edenhall.”

A more useful motto than the rhyme of the Clydesdale ploughboys of a past generation, who believed if they but sang as they turned at the end of the rig,

“Fairy, fairy, bake me a baunock and roast me a collop,
And I'll gie ye a sportle aff my gad end,”

that at the fourth round these desirable delicacies should be there waiting for them.

The fairies were on the whole a good-natured sportive folk, but touchy on matters of names, and revengeful of insults and injuries. They differed from brownies or domestic spirit drudges. The latter were given to eavesdropping and tale-bearing, and frequently accused others when they were themselves the culprits. One who did drudgery for a very close-fisted Galloway matron,, who gave her servants but poor fare and little of it, is a typical example. Two servant girls stole a bowl of milk and a bannock.

In order to make a fair division of the spoil, they sat on a bench and took alternate mouthfuls of the bread and milk. Presently the one accused the other of taking more than her fair share, aud was answered by a similar charge. Suddenly they were startled by a “Ha, ha! Brownie has’t; Brownie tells.” These domestic spirits and fairies blend together in many of our folk-lore stories. For example:—A steward during the winter months steals small quantities of his master’s grain. In spring he has enough to sow a field for himself, which he does ; but when the corn is fully ripe, the fairies from a neighbouring Shi pull up every stalk, thrash it clean, and deposit the grain in the bam of the man from whom the seed was stolen. This is doubtless Brownie’s work though attributed to fairies. It has besides a modem flavour, and leaves an uncomfortable impression of copy-book head-lines and adaptations, by some shrewd ecclesiastic in the days when fairies were still real beings, and scientists had not learned to call “brimstone” by its more modem name.

But our fairy cult as a whole represents them as a free, rollicking, social pagan society—music and the dance, midnight rides and wanderings, elvish pranks and light laughter covers the canvas, and any departure from this cau only be regarded as the growing spirit of austerity in the religious opinions of the people, and that this gave a gloomy bias to certain traditions and a moral or rather theological trend to others. This is borne out by the well-known fact that modem English fairies are more sportive than their Scotch cousins. Naturally the fairy legends tend all over Europe to merge into the common doctrines of demonology, and this is the more natural as the same process goes on among savage men, with every advance of thought, as we shall see. The green patches called “the guidman’s croft,” which our ancestors never disturbed with spade or ploughshare, were, though not expressly avowed within historic times, sacred to spirits, fairies, or pagan gods, and so passed over as by right of inheritance to the more modern devil. This is all the more certain, as beneficent gods were favourable to agriculture the world over, and the fairy knowe and guid man’s croft were left untilled, first from reverence ; then through fear of malign influences. Again, the Ourisk or domestic spirit resembles Pan, and is something between a goat and a man; hence a goat’s head being mode representative of the devil. One of these Ourisks becomes troublesome to a miller down Lochlomond way. On being caught red-handed and challenged, it gives its name as “Myself.” Here we have the “Outis” of the Odyssey, transferred from the shores of the Mediterranean to the banks of Lochlomond by a process of oral tradition which has gone on, the world over, since first men dispersed themselves and carried with them to their new abodes the little stock in trade with which the race emerged from its cradle.

The working machinery of tradition the world over is a dwarf race and their doings. A people untamed and untamable, impalpable and invulnerable, and these we find in England as in Scotland; dwelling in green glades in Dorset, in caves in Shetland ; frequenting ancient ruins in the Highlands; *hid in the depths of the forest in Germany; wandering on the mountain tops in East Central Africa ; and making their home with the Bengal tiger on the plains of India. They keep the Breton peasant in a state of perpetual fear, and their favour must be bought in New Caledonia. Clearly we must look for some explanation which will account for world-wide facts like these elsewhere than among the Scottish “Pechts,” worthy burrowers as they must have been.

The Celtic peoples of Europe being essentially an imaginative race, ascribe to their sylvan pigmies social and convivial qualities of which we hear nothing among peoples of different origin But this is nothing more than a detail resulting from special characteristics, both national and individual, and these social qualities freely ascribed by tradition to its heroes easily pass into an organised fairy society, corresponding to what existed during the oldest memories of the race preserving the traditions. Kings, queens, courts, courtiers, splendid halls, feasts, brilliant surroundings, loyalty, love, revenge—these are the necessary trappings in which the Celtic imagination clothes its puppets. These are the things most loved and sought after by any typical Celt. It is only when a seer—a seer of Christian times, be it observed—has a vision of elfland, that its glory turns to dust and ashes, and its banquets to tasteless and saltless insipidity. Then fairy bodies shrink into the shrivelled decrepitude of old age, and intercourse with them is converted into a social crime and deadly sin.

Nor could the Celtic imagination be otherwise, for the Celt himself is a curious bundle of contradictions. The man who in the early morning would commit the most cold-blooded murder to save his chief the trouble or danger of slaying an enemy later in the day, would spend the evening composing love ditties with no sense of incongruity. The chief himself, impoverished beyond the hope of solvency, assumes the airs of a man able to dispense princely hospitality without the slightest inconvenience or financial difficulty, and every clansman speaks of his chief as regal in dignity and princely in fortune, even should he have suffered the deepest indignities at his hands but a day before. Passion and poetry, love and revenge, cruelty and pathos, individual independence and absolute loyalty to the chief or the cause, blend together in the Celtic character with no sense of incongruity left, and the Celt is the same to day, or the breed and blood is the same, as when Somerled roved the Western seas, giving short shrift and a long halter, to any unfortunate wight who raised unnecessary scruples about adopting the clan name and wearing the heather badge.

Sleeping on a dun-Shi exposed one to the danger of being transported to fairyland, leaving no trace of the unhappy wight’s whereabouts except his bonnet placed on the top of some church steeple as he sped his aerial flight. But the journey was not always through the limped blue, for Jane Thomas travelled to elfland mounted on the “lady’s own milk white steed,” and left the north wind behind. It was not so long after the Rhymer made his famous pilgrimage to the farthest confines of elfland that a new bias was given to the graphic stories of a long-forgotten past. We find the Earl of Orrery sending his valet or butler to buy playing cards, which were now veritable “devil’s books.” While on his errand he was invited to join a fairy revel. This he refused to do, and hurried home; but he was almost carried away bodily, though Lord Orrery and two bishops held him down—rather a poor certificate to the power of book, bell, and candle.

It was possible to hold converse with fairy-land without journeying thither and taking up one’s abode there. Bessie Dunlop met Thomas Reid, who was killed at Pinkie, and had long conferences with him. He stood by her and showed her fairy horsemen when others saw nothing. Through him she became familiar with all the mysteries of the unseen world, and at her trial gloried in her knowledge and power. Poor Bessie, whether lunatic or driven mad by torture we do not know, for all the record we have of her is a note scrawled on the margin of the trial record—“Convict and burnt.” Alison Pearson was another who had her familiars from fairy-land. One William Simpson, a cousin, who was “taken away by a man of Egypt,* came to her clad in green, and told her what men may not know nor maidens dreari. He always left abruptly when adjured in God’s name, which is another copy book headline if you please. Alison affected to cure diseases by elfine arts, and Patrick Adamson, Bishop of St Andrews, who suffered from some intractable malady, submitted to her cures. The old pagan was promptly “libelled” by his peers. Besides effecting cures she delivered oracles. She met Lethington and Buccleuch in fairyland, and we can only hope that these turbulent spirits had a less stormy existence among the green knowes and the elves who dwell there, than they had as courtiers and rebels by turns. Alison’s fairy friends stole infants because they had to pay a yearly tribute to Tartarus, and mortal infants stolen helped to make up the tale. For her tamperi-ig with green men and dead politicians Alison Pearson followed Bessie Dunlop, and went to her own herd in lurid flames ; and men looked, and as they saw the smoke ascending, blessed God who had given power to holy men to root out evil-doers.

Setting the legend of “True Thomas” aside, which is simply a Scotch version of Numa and Egeria, we have, in the statements of those who professed to hold converse with the unseen world, the imagination run riot after a confession had been wrung from them by torture. Once that was made, all subsequent statements were simply the grouping together and localising of all the folk-lore stories they knew. One can understand a woman with a distinct individuality tortured into a confession, and knowing she had neither love nor pity to expect, simply glorying in scandalising her legal and clerical examiners by each enormity she confessed. At this distance of time we cannot reduce to their original form the stories they adapted; but certain it is that, after examination by torture, they personified the heroes of ancient story, and even this throws us back a step, and brings us nearer to the real fairyland we are in search of.

The Welsh Nicneven is but a hag, a bad reproduction of the Greek Hecate, and has little in common with the jolly and convivial Mab. The Morayshire trials do not add much to what we learn from the two already referred to. But they all point back to a time when woodland deities abounded, and when these passed into elves, fauns, and fairies. They are sportive or malevolent, according as the ideas of the Reformation or the pagan Renaissance were pushed and almost forced upon the people. The old beliefs, deities, superstitions, and traditions must be adapted or disposed of as the case may be. A death by summary violence they refused to accept ; but being violently driven out, and the tolerant indulgence of the older religion and science being no longer possible, the gods retired to fairyland. They continued to revisit mortals as guardian spirits, and in this form the Church found some use for them. A Banshi gave Macleod of Dun-vegan a fairy banner. It has already been in two battles, and each time was borne to victory. When it is next carried to the field of combat, Macleod will be carried away to fairyland, nevermore to revisit Dunvegan with its scenes of song and story.

The guardian fairy appears most frequently in Irish legend, and the minuteness of detail regarding time, place, and circumstance, leaves no doubt as to the Irish Celts being animal worshippers. Myth is never so graphic as when it weaves actual facts into its narrative; and the creditable way in which Irish domestic animals acquit themselves, reminds one of the Hottentot wolf which appeared at places a hundred miles apart in a single night. For example, a talented Irish bard satirised mice that troubled him, and at the same time lampooned domestic cats for allowing such vermin to put their noses into an egg he was eating. He was at Cruachan, in Connaught, at the time. The King of the Cats was at Knowth on the Boyne. No sooner did the senachan finish his rhymes than his feline majesty took the road under a vow to eat nothing till he had chastised the poet. Arrived at Cruachan, he seized the offender, carried him off, and swept across the Shannon with him, and would doubtless have borne him to Knowth, to be solemnly tried by a jury of cats, but St Kiaran, who was working a bar of hot iron, seeing a baptised person being carried away, shot the bolt at the abductor. It pierced the cat’s body just one inch behind the man. He was saved, and the saint’s labour rewarded. In this narrative the resolve to eat nothing, the timely appearance of the saint, and the fell design of the cat being frustrated because the poet was baptised, reminds us too forcibly of that band of Jewish enthusiasts who vowed neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. The ancient belief in the supernatural powers of animals is used as a foil to the saint’s intuitive knowledge regarding baptised persons, and his power against all malign influences, the virtue of iron as a talisman being brought in us an incidental circumstance.

Nor is this the only manner in which the priest appears in those fairy legends. The minister of Aberfoil did not record the method of recovering the stolen, but his Irish confrere gives us a means of knowing whether we have changelings in our cradles. One of these elfin imps was found to be always fretful and wailing. It ate what was given it, but never seemed to be satisfied or thrive. Doubts having arisen as to its being a fairy, it was arranged to have it baptised, and for that purpose it was, on the way to the priest’s residence, carried across a stream. When crossing, the imp wriggled out of its wrappings, freed itself from the nurse’s arms, and plunged into the water with a “ Ha! ha! ha ! ” of derisive laughter.

Reference has been made to the more sportive tendencies of English fairies as compared to the Scotch. The Irish have their own peculiar characteristics, and of these one is a strong tendency to faction fights. The man who at Ballinasloe fair asked the time of day, and then said, “Eleven O’clock, be jabers, and the divil a foight yet! ” was no keener for a riot than are some of these sylvan pigmies. Their hostile meetings were near streams, and a rushing noise as of wing-flapping was heard by seers on either side. This rushing noise moved and swayed from side to side, as do men when settling a disputed matter at a fair. As the noise went to this side or that, faint silvery bugling was heard as if to rally the combatants. The notes were strange and weird, differing from all human music, and impossible to reproduce on any known instrument. Their light bodies were heard falling into the water with a noise resembling that made by an angler’s fly when fishing. After such falling noises shouts of victory could be heard filling the air, not as our harsh notes make the hills reverberate, but as a kind of low, wafting sound, as if the air itself moved and became audible, and so fell upon the senses like an enclosing medium.

A prominent feature of Irish fairy lore is the Ban-Shi, or Guardian Spirit. She appeared to persons of pure Milesian origin, in whose veins there was not a trace of Norman blood, and announced to them certain future events. When an approaching death was to be made known, she appeared in mourning, and evinced all the outward signs of bereavement and sorrow. Closely allied to this guardian spirit is the fairy love. Respectable Presbyterians have had their fairy loves, to the no small scandal of their wives. The case of Fion’s daughter is well known. She, according to high courtly etiquette, was, on being betrothed, given in charge to a trusted guardian—this is a common custom among Africans at this day, and to the guardian the bridegroom is responsible. The guardian consigns her to the care of another for added security, and he to the bridegroom. The bridegroom had a fairy love. She bullied and upbraided him ; told him false stories about the bride, but all to no purpose, for he loved the King’s daughter. The fairy then turned her into a hound, and a hound she remained. The husband stormed and raged ; the wife whined piteously, but all to no purpose. The fairy was obdurate till the husband came under a dreadful vow to renounce his wife for ever. Then she was restored to womanhood, while the husband vanished into elf-land, and still holds courtly revel when the moon is at the full.

These general statements and examples, which might be indefinitely multiplied, illustrate with tolerable accuracy the fairy belief as it has come down to us in our own land. The whole field of fairy cult is too wide to be touched upon in a brief paper, and that just because we find similar traditions among peoples differing from each other in race, language, religion, institutions, customs, habits, and usages. And the question forces itself upon us, Whence these legends so universal and persistent? Have they a common origin, and if so, can we trace it back to a once universal cult? or is it simply the result of a peculiar tendency of the human mind? Do legends, as we possess them, represent the faded memory of a lost race, or are they the dying flickers of a world religion? And do the variations in details simply point to modifications and adaptations, or do they mark radical differences ? Are the traditions and accretions of Brahminism, Buddhism, Mohametanism, and Christianity, as these are modified by race,, locality, and social institutions, part of this once common cult?

These questions have been variously answered, and men have not even now arrived at a universally accepted solution. Only as. the sciences of antiquarian research, ethnology, and anthropology eliminate the modem from the ancient and pre-historic, can we hope to attain to definite results. If we look only at the fairies of our own land and their German cousins, we find Mr Macritchie and others arguing them into a race of dwarf inhabitants, whose memory has been obliterated by time, as they themselves were exterminated by the conquerors, and that they made their last retreat in underground dwellings, which still exist to prove beyond dispute the soundness of this conclusion. In order to identify the semi-mythical Fions with the fairies, he is driven to the necessity of converting the former into a race of dwarfs, and that on the sole ground that the exploits of certain dwarfs of that famous race are preserved by tradition. He reminds ns too that the knight-errants of old had each a dwarf attendant, a statement fatal to the theory of a war of extermination on the part of the conquerors. Sons of fairywomen take service with the Fions, a somewhat unnecessary illustration if the Fions were themselves the fairies!

A bishop of Orkney appears to support the extermination theory, and gives names and places. One Haarfayr, a ninth century worthy, obliterates all trace of a whole people, and we are invited to believe that since then all memory of them has perished, and that we find neither waif nor stray to give evidence of their existence except the people clad in green. To the worthy churchman the Peti were an exceedingly small people. They worked with incredible energy at city building during the morning and evening, but were in daylight devoid of all strength and energy, and reared to their underground dwellings during the day. One asks with amazement why these dwarfs should work with incredible energy at city building if their homes were underground burrows? and whether the zeal for building was inspired by the church? The bishop, it is clear, does not advance our knowledge. Indeed, all ancient history lies under the suspicion of adaptation, and the sins of ecclesiastical history are more aggravated than those of secular narrative.

But any facts are useful to support a theory, and the realists, or euhemerists, as they like to be styled, find, in the loss of strength during the day and alleged defective vision in sunlight by the good bishop’s dwarfs, a sound reason for the identification of Fions and fairies. There is another line of argument—that based on root words and vocables. The name for an underground dwelling, in a language which could not be that of the original inhabitants, but that of the conquerors, affords strong presumption that they lived underground ; that they were dirty in their habits; that their dens reeked of filth; and that they themselves were but a modified kind of skunk as they emerged into the light of day, so evilly did they smell.

It does not fall within the scope of this paper to take account of underground human dwellings. War and conquest, possibly partial extermination, may have given colour to many fairy legends. It may be pointed out that certain south-east African tribes live habitually underground in earth excavations. These are not their only dwellings, and are used for security or concealment, or both. The slight basket hut, with its straw roof, is a poor citadel to defend. It is easily fired by an enemy, and then the inmates can be speared at leisure as they emerge from the burning dwelling. The underground burrow cannot be so easily destroyed, even if it is discovered, no easy matter as a rule, and this is especially the case at night. So the native in time of profound peace occupies the more airy and healthy hut. In times of war or danger he lives in his hut by day, but retires to his underground chamber at night. And any one seeing and entering a sentry cell in Angoui land ceases to wonder at the small size of many similar chambers found in underground dwellings in Scotland. A man crouching with, his chin between his knees does not need a high vaulted roof. Our own earth houses, doubtless, served a similar purpose in the wild and lawless days of old, when clan feuds were rife and fire the most effectual weapon in rooting out a troublesome sept. The ordinary houses were wattle; the strongholds burrows. That fire was a ready means of warfare within historic times we know, and the name of at least one Highland parish is evidence of the fact.

The fairy cult is world-wide, and to account for it we must travel farther afield than Highland Brochs, Fion Kings, and Gaelic particles, and go back to a time when man looked upon nature as the true divinity, and worshipped her in the person of his chief, and then in sylvan deities who for him were the personification of the powers of nature. To gain a clear understanding of such worship our appeal must not be to Highland fairies, their English cousins and German kinsfolk, where primitive beliefs have been compelled into the service of the varying phases of the historical religions professed from century to century, and made and re-made to suit the predominant bias. Our appeal must be, in the first instance, to people who have remained practically 'unchanged through millenniums, and who to-day perform the same acts of worship, and revere the same deities which inspired the world with awe in days when the remote ancestors of the Chaldean astrologers gazed upon the stars and read the fate of nations and individuals indifferently, as written in the heavens, or in the spots found on the entrails of a decapitated cock.

Among such peoples we do not expect to find a fairy tradition, for the fairies themselves are there. Our popular tales are being daily enacted. Spirits live and move and regulate the course of nature. They are beneficent or revengeful; sportive or cruel, as they are treated. They know pride, anger, jealousy, and revenge. They demand victims and abduct persons. They take an active interest in the affairs of men, and insinuate themselves into the most profound secrets. They feast on the essence of food, especially that offered in sacrifice. Their bodies are aerial and impalpable, and they have been known to raise the dead. These they carry away to spirit land with their ghost bodies; and some of them have been seen after the manner of the minister of Aberfoil, who appeared once, after he went to his own herd.

Let us now illustrate these general statements. The priest of primitive man was lord of the world at will, and regulated the powers of nature for the benefit of his people. He was spoken of as king, and his sphere of action as a kingdom, and, so far as we know, all early kings performed priestly functions. With the growth of thought, the offices were separated, and the priesthood remained the sacred order who had 'to do with all supernatural phenomena.

”The divine right of kings appeared at a later period of the world’s history, and after men had ceased to fear the supernatural power of the priest. The savage man of to-day, like his savage forefather, does not distinguish accurately between the natural and supernatural. To him the whole world is regulated by supernatural agents, that is, by persons who act on impulses like his own ; and these agents can be influenced by appeals made to them. This speedily leads to the idea of a man god, and passes in process of time into ancestor worship. These stages of progress we can trace among existing races. Sacred men worshipped here, retire unto the unknown by natural death or violence—more frequently the latter—when the spirit of the departed king is supposed to enter his successor, and still continue to take an interest in human affairs. A weak king professes to have seen his predecessor and received oracles from him, and the spot becomes a shrine. At these sacred places spirits reveal the future to seers, and popular imagination makes the shrine the home of the ancestors ; a kind of dwelling place for deity. The deities of primitive man, in other words the priests, could control nature at will, and this power every savage man has less or more. A Fiji Islander, who fears to be belated, ties the tops of a handful of reeds together, and this delays the going down of the sun. An Indian of Yucatan pulls out a few of his eyelashes, and throw’s them sunward for a like purpose. By placing a handful of grass on the path and a stone over it, the African both retards the sunset and causes his friends at home to keep the evening meal waiting his arrival. Conversely the setting of the sun can be hastened when that is desired, as in a doubtful engagement. By similar processes wind and rain, heat and cold, can be controlled, all of which goes to show that savage man fails to recognise those limitations to his own powers which are so obvious to us. But with the advance of thought, and the evolution of a sacred caste, we find methods of attaining to inspiration and power which bring us nearer our friends the fairies. In the temple of Apollo at Argos, a lamb was slain once a month. The prophetess tasted the blood, and then divined, being god-inspired. In Achaia the earth priestess drank from the blood of a bull, just slain, before descending into the cave of prophecy. In Southern India the devil dancer drinks the blood of a slain goat, putting his month to its throat, and is then inspired. He snorts, he stares, he dances and gyrates. The demon takes complete possession of him, and he is then worshipped as a present deity. All this brings us nearer to Kirk’s account of fairy food as being the essence or life- m giving properties of our common fare.

Nor is this till. In the religious history of the Aryan races tree worship was one of the most potent factors of national and domestic life, and supposes the forest glades were the first sanctuaries of the human race. This we can easily understand ; for even at the dawn of our own era the larger portion of Europe consisted of dense forests, and what clearings were made must have appeared as islets intau ocean of green. Need we wonder that fairy folk ever dress in the universal nature colour. The Lithuanians, who were not converted to Christianity till the fourteenth century, were at that date tree worshippers, and begged St Jerome not to cut down their sacred groves. A form of worship so common and so widespread must have had some basis in which it rested—a philosophy such as satisfied the instincts of millions, and that philosophy came down from savage man. To him all nature is animate. The spirit of reproduction dwells in trees, in com, and grass. Spirits of men do not difter essentially from these, for here, too, reproduction is the great factor of existence, and as the spirit of the decayed vegetation lives through the winter and re-animates the world in spring, so human spirits retire to the unknown depths of the forest, but not to perish. They live and re-appear. Siamese monks believe trees have souls, and that to lop off a branch is equivalent to severing a man’s hand from his body. These monks are, of course, Buddhists; but the Animism of Buddhism is not a philosophic theory evolved by itself. It is simply a common savage dogma incorporated into the system of an historical religion. Buddhism simply borrowed it from pagan savagery. And pagan savagery treats a clove tree in blossom as it does a pregnant woman. No noise must be made near it, and no light carried past it; whoever approaches it must uncover his head. In the Philippine Islands the souls of the ancestors inhabit well-known trees. In Kabongo the reigning monarch has a safe keeping place for his soul in a grove. In Assam, when a child is lost, it has been stolen by the spirits of the wood. In Sumatra, when a native fells a tree he plants a young one in its place, and hangs some betal root upon it. This is the new home offered to the spirit that dwelt in the tree that has been cut down, and who otherwise might be homeless.

In these beliefs and customs the tree itself is animate under the earlier forms of religious thought. Then an important advance is made, and the tree becomes the abode of a spirit, which can leave it and take up its home elsewhere. These spirits dwelling in trees gradually resolve themselves into departed souls, giving us the material on which the whole system of ancestor worship is founded. It explains why the old Prussians believed gods inhabited high oak trees, and why the Lithuanians begged St Jerome not to cut down their sacred groves, as from the spirits dwelling there they had obtained sunshine and rain, summer heat and winter snows. It throws light on the well known dogma that tree spirits make horses multiply and bless women with offspring.

At Gilgit there is an annual custom at wheat-sowing, of which % the following are the essential facts :—Branches of the sacred cedar are brought from the mountain forest. After various ceremonies each villager goes home with a few sprigs of the cedar, but to find the door of his house shut in his face. The wife asks from within, “What do you bring,” to which he replies, “Children if you wish them; food if you require it; cattle; whatever you want;” she then opens the door and says, “Son of the fairies, you have come from far,” and sprinkles him all over with flour. Among civilized peoples tree festivals are continued in May-day and midsummer customs. Men’s opinions change; their philosophy develops; religious revolutions come suddenly or slowly; but customs and ceremonial acts remain, and the old order weaves itself into myth and legend, and myth is always most graphic when it describes what actually took place and colours it in the imaginations of many centuries.

Our brief survey of tree spirits leads us to this:—The tree spirit passes into a person. This person is king of the wood ; under his influence vegetation revives, rain falls, domestic animals increase, and people multiply. Festivals are held in honour of this sylvan deity, who presently emerges into the doctrine of souls and ancestral worship. Man at this stage has travelled a long way on that upward ladder of progress which the race has followed from its cradle.

The soul of primitive man was exposed to various forms of danger, and against these precautions were taken. A safe keeping-place for his soul was an essential to a ruler. The soul was an exact reproduction of the body in miniature. It was invisible except to seers. During sleep or a swoon it was absent from the body, and its return might be prevented by an enemy who was a magician, or through the person being removed from the place where the soul left him. Then if a man saw his own reflection in a dark pool or reflecting surface his soul might be snatched away and lost; so men, kings more particularly, were surrounded with taboos to secure their safety. Nor did this always suffice, for many rulers selected secure keeping-places for their souls at a distance from their residence, as a sacred grove, a spring, or an inaccessible pinnacle of rock. These places the imagination peoples with spirits, the souls of the living and the dead, for what more natural when a man died than that his soul should continue to reside where he had placed it. It knew the locality, and took an interest in it while its owner lived. And if it remained there it's interest would continue unabated, and would influence the course of events as when the king lived. It entered his successor it is true, but duality of existence presents no difficulties to savage philosophy. But there were frequently rival chieftains, and so a rivalry among souls would naturally follow, and this suggests two things—First, the frequent trials of strength among the gods of mythology, and the doctrine of beneficent and evil spirits. To follow this further is foreign to our present purpose.

While the country was largely forest-clad, woodland deities ruled supreme, and could hardly be said to divide their power with water spirits, which figure in all mythologies. As clearings increase I and forest fires laid bare large tracts of country, or as men wandered northwards to regions of ice and snow, the altered conditions necessitated a re-adjustment of sacred places and the homes of divinity. Where a sylvan shrine existed before a great fire the spot would remain sacred, or the gods would betake themselves to the shelter of an over-hanging cliff. Tradition peoples such spots with the self-same divinities who dwelt in the forest glades when youths and maidens worshipped dancing in the glinting moonlight.

Nor is this mere conjecture, for we only need a haunted room in some baronial hall to make it in after ages the scene of midnight revel and the home of ghosts, whose pale outlines are seen by the fearful as a fitful light shows athwart the open casements when winter winds are high. The mountain slopes and low-lying fens, once covered with forests and resonant with the songs of birds, now bare and lifeless, presented to the cowering savage a picture of awful desolation, and he peopled them with those spirits which his imagination pictured as solitary and evil, while the good clung to any remaining clusters of trees or raised green mounds.

Next comes the rude hand and new religion of the conqueror to shatter all that remained of the ancient faith. It perishes, vanishing as if it had never been, and the new takes its place and retains it. But the memory of the old remains, and men look back in a kindly way to the past, and children hear with awestruck wonder stories of the ancient days when spirits walked at noonday. They learn to reverence the spots where they dwelt, and in their play rehearse the doings of the gods. And then some one hears in the green mound where the ancestors hide, the strains of a forgotten music, and before his fevered vision ghostly figures glint in the moonlight, and he dreams dreams of a vanished glory. As he recounts his vision, his enthusiasm kindles, his narrative becomes real, and the youth who hear know he has been to fairyland. He saw the mighty dead; he heard music sung by immortals; he is inspired: a seer for evermore.

By such processes does tradition weave together the imaginary and the real, blending them into a golden web of the past and a mysterious present, till with rude hand the fabric is thrown down, and men make a new advance in thought. They do not forget the past; they adapt it, and the adaptation is determined by the new cult. Buddhism seizes on it, and claims it as its own. Christianity bans it as of the devil, indulgently at first, then with stern visage and legal sanctions. The dreams of the past are banished into hidden comers, and men, women especially, fear the thumbscrew and the faggot, if it should be suspected that they hold converse with this forbidden world and eat its baneful fruit. If men do recount the deeds of the past, and the frolics of spirits in the green woods, they are careful to weave a kind of latter-day moral into the tale.

As the memory of sylvan deities and guardian ancestors wanes and waxes dim while tradition persists, men imagine that the tradition is but the distorted history of a race of men who lived, and felt, and suffered, and vanished. Races of men are created and then exterminated, leaving a few solitary wanderers, the sole witnesses of a vanished world. A burrow is made and a human dwelling found. It was the home of a chief of the vanished race. A name of doubtful derivation is met with. It is a word preserved from a lost language. The man who dwelt in that house was a fairy—the lost language his speech; and so our sylvan denizens become mere eaters of flesh and abductors of children to avenge political wrongs.

It has already been said that our familiar fairy cult is a complex thing. It is composed of materials supplied by tradition, and has no doubt drawn from stories of battle, murder, and revenge ; and here prehistoric materials are to be met with. But on the other hand it contains a vast mass of legend regarding the older religious beliefs and unexplained phenomena. Man as he advanced left behind him at each stage a whole world of unexplained facts. He progressed along certain lines, and left collateral i>ranches of knowledge to be the sport of tradition. This entered into popular folk-lore, and became in a measure the common heritage of all nations. We have also to take account of sudden noises, rappings, musical sounds, movement of objects without apparent cause, and that curious group of experiences we may class under second sight, as well as prolonged trance or suspended animation. All these and many other factors enter into our familar legends, and give to the fairies a local colour and historic setting. That many unexplained facts exist, we, most of us, have had experience, and though science may be moving in the direction of a more rational explanation than hitherto, nothing very satisfactory has yet appeared. The noises heard in Wesley’s house at Epworth are as well authenticated as any fact can be, and yet no better than many similar phenomena elsewhere. Our modem telepathy may do something to explain the facts, or it may find itself worsted as the Wesleys did in their attempts to set the spirits to do some useful work.

We now return to the fairies and their habits as these are described by Kirk and Martin. The former Went to his own herd in 1692 ; the latter wrote about 1695, so that their evidence is contemporary. Both men were close observers, and each in his own way had rare glimpses of science. To them fairy bodies are congealed air, impalpable and invisible except to seers. They know nothing of their having any built dwellings. Their habitations are fairy hills, nothing more. They are diminutive and have the human form reproduced in their miniature bodies. To the savage in Africa, India, the South Seas, America, and Tartary the soul is a reproduction of the body. It is in miniature, but is fat or lean, long or short as the man is. It is aerial and impalpable ; it is invisible except to the magician ; it is capable of living apart from the body and going long journeys in an incredible short space of time; it may breakfast in Senegal and dine in America; it feeds on the essence of our grosser fare and impoverishes what it eats of.

In fairy stories men are often placed under spells and lose sense and reason till restored with infinite labour by a seer. So are men whose souls are stolen and detained in savage lands. When a funeral passes through a village the Karens of Burmah tie their children to an article of furniture with a special kind of string lest their souls should be drawn away with the dead. And at the grave those who bring the body provide themselves with a bamboo slit lengthwise, and a small stick. When the earth is filled iu each man thrusts his bamboo down into the grave and draws his stick along the groove to show his soul the way out should it by any chance be down with the dead.

The good people of Aberfoil heard a noise as if men were working on anvils, but the Polynesian ancestral spirits can remodel a whole village in a single night, while a Wazerema sylvan deity can box an offender’s ears till he sees new constellations; and a Bougo spirit can make the forest resound again to the beat of drum. Fairies change their abode quarterly; but the Gaboon spirits are made to change, being driven out by the long-suffering inhabitants. They, too, can float on air, and make a low, musical noise, or a crepitating sound, should they leave in anger. Fairies have their orders. African spirits have theirs, and settle faction-fights like any Irish pigmies of them all. But these are the usual trappings of ancestral deities the world over. Even men’s souls, temporarily absent from their bodies, may meet and fight, with much damage to their owners; and stories are on record of Burmese souls doing each other grievous harm. Nor are such wandering souls absent at banquets and funerals. They hover round the corpse to snatch away the soul to join their own company. When seen, they may appear in any guise, and seers have difficulty in distinguishing between the soul of a living person and a disembodied spirit. The minister of Aberfoil does not record the method of restoring the stolen, but the Karens know .all about the recapture of an abducted soul; and a Samoan seer can fit a man with another soul should his own be Jost or stolen beyond hope of recovery. In Hawaii souls were caught and shut up in calabashes; and the seers of Danger Island set soul traps fitted to catch those of different sizes. Against these dangers charms must be used, from bits of reed to iron ; and when these fail, the lost may be restored by means well known to every savage man.

The death messenger from Elf-land, so Mr Kirk tells us, might be appeased by the death of an animal. A Pondo condemned to die may, with the consent of his chief, redeem his life by the sacrifice of an ox and a fine; among other tribes, by the substitution of a slave. Wounds inflicted by elf arrows were mortal, and woe betide the savage who is touched by a weapon from the spirit world. And the spirits of savage man have then-local habitations, places where they have lived time out of mind, like our own little hill folk.

In our fairy cult we meet with facts not easily explained from the analogy of savage custom. Men whose souls are stolen, and wander in forests in a kind of waking sleep, give a clue to fairy spells ; but the abduction of wives and children must belong to a later era, and may be a faint re-echo of old classic stories, or the record of an experience not at all uncommon in lawless lands. The changeling would follow as a kind of corollary to the abduction; or it is a faint and fading memory of the savage dictum that animals, as wolves, may, under the influence of evil spirits or wicked magicians, substitute their own cubs for children they devour.

These parallel illustrations, or some of them, are capable of being pushed too far; but in regard to a world-wide cult, they appear to afford a more rational explanation than the extermination of the inhabitants of whole continents. For, if the theory holds good in regard to, the “Pechts,” it must be true regarding aboriginal races the world over, whose very names and memory have perished utterly. Yes, and their bones too, for of fossil dwarfs we have none.

That the earliest objects of worship were the chiefs who ruled and regulated nature for the benefit of the tribe there seems no reasonable doubt. That this merged into nature-worship, and that into adoration of ancestral spirits we have ample evidence to support in the condition of savage lands of to-day. To this rule the nations of Europe were no exception. From well-known facts the world over, we are not permitted to doubt the residence of ancestral spirits in particular localities, and by all the rules of reasoning, in our own country also. These ancestral spirits were diminutive, corresponding to the souls of living men. They migrated from place to place, and their influence was felt in all directions.

A savage is nothing if he is not religious, and when, with the development of thought, higher religions claimed his homage, the past remained as a fading memory. Imagination clothed it with a halo of glory, and the midnight revels of elves and fauns and fairies preserve to us the more human and social aspects of what was to primitive man a stem reality. Christianity, first tolerant, for whatever be the merits or demerits of the Roman form of it, it was in the early days wisely human and tolerant of the vanishing paganism which it displaced, then less tolerant, and, finally4 reformed and austere with its rigid code of morals and conduct, it obliterated the last traces of pagan pageantry in its own worship and in social life. It almost compelled fireside stories to take a kind of Hanoverian hue to the glory of the Prince of Orange. So Scotland bade farewell, a sorrowful farewell, it may be, to its satyrs and its elves; its fauns and its fairies; its sunset wanderers and midnight revellers, and left it to this and kindred societies to rescue from oblivion the last remnants of a world to which we can hardly look back without a sigh, and wish we could feel

“As free as nature first made man,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.”


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