There are, roughly
speaking, two distinct types of Scottish Fairy Tales.
There are what may be called “Celtic Stories,” which were handed
down for centuries by word of mouth by professional story-tellers,
who went about from clachan to clachan in the “Highlands and
Islands,” earning a night’s shelter by giving a night’s
entertainment, and which have now been collected and classified for
us by Campbell of Isla and others.
These stories, which are also common to the North of Ireland, are
wild and fantastic, and very often somewhat monotonous, and their
themes are strangely alike. They almost always tell of some hero or
heroine who sets out on some dangerous quest, and who is met by
giants, generally three in number, who appear one after the other;
with whom they hold quaint dialogues, and whom eventually they slay.
Most of them are fairly long, and although they have a peculiar
fascination of their own, they are quite distinct from the ordinary
These latter, in Scotland, have also a character of their own, for
there is no country where the existence of Spirits and Goblins has
been so implicitly believed in up to a comparatively recent date.
As a proof of this we can go to Hogg’s tale of “The Wool-gatherer,”
and see how the countryman, Barnaby, voices the belief of his day.
“Ye had need to tak care how ye dispute the existence of fairies
brownies, and apparitions! Ye may as weel dispute the Gospel of
Perhaps it was the bleak and stern character of their climate, and
the austerity of their religious beliefs which made our Scottish
forefathers think of the spirits in whom they so firmly believed, as
being, for the most part, mischievous and malevolent.
Their Bogies, their Witches, their Kelpies, even their Fairy Queen
herself, were supposed to be in league with the Evil One, and to be
compelled, as Thomas of Ercildoune was near finding out to his cost,
to pay a “Tiend to Hell” every seven years; so it was not to be
wondered at, that these uncanny beings were dreaded and feared.
But along with this dark and gloomy view, we find touches of
delicate playfulness and brightness. The Fairy Queen might be in
league with Satan, but her subjects were not all bound by the same
law, and many charming tales are told of the “sith” or silent folk,
who were always spoken of with respect, in case they might be within
earshot, who made their dwellings under some rocky knowe, and who
came out and danced on the dewy sward at midnight.
Akin to them are the tales which are told about a mysterious region
under the sea, “far below the abode of fishes,” where a strange race
of beings lived, who, in their own land closely resembled human
beings, and were of such surpassing beauty that they charmed the
hearts of all who looked on them. They were spoken ef as Mermaids
and Mermen, and as their lungs were not adapted for breathing under
water, they had the extraordinary power of entering into the skin of
some fish or sea animal, and in this way passing from their own
abode to our upper world, where they held converse with mortal men,
and, as often as not, tried to lure them to destruction.
The popular idea always represents Merfolk as wearing the tails of
fishes; in Scottish Folklore they are quite as often found in the
form of seals.
Then we frequently come across the Brownie, that strange, kindly,
lovable creature, with its shaggy, unkempt appearance, half man,
half beast, who was said to be the ordained helper of man in the
drudgery entailed by sin, and was therefore forbidden to receive
wages; who always worked when no one was looking, and who
disappeared if any notice were taken of him.
There are also, as in all other countries, animal tales, where the
animals are endowed with the power of speech; and weird tales of
enchantment; and last, but not least, there are the legendary
stories, many of them half real, half mythical, which are to be
found in the pages of Hogg, and Leyden, and above all, in Sir Walter
Scott’s “Border Minstrelsy.”
In preparing this book I have tried to make a representative
collection from these different classes of Scottish Folklore,
taking, when possible, the stories which are least well known, in
the hope that some of them, at least, may be new to the children of
It may interest some of these children to know that when James IV
was a little boy, nearly four hundred years ago, he used to sit on
his tutor, Sir David Lindsay’s, knee, and listen to some of the same
stories that are written here :—to the story of Thomas the Rhymer,
of the Red-Etin, and of The Black Bull of Norroway.
Although in every case I have told the tale in my own words, I am
indebted for the originals to Campbell’s “Popular Tales of the
Western Highlands,” Leyden’s Poems, Hogg’s Poems, Scott’s “Border
Minstrelsy,” Chambers’ “Popular Rhymes of Scotland,” “The Folklore
Elizabeth W. Grierson.
Whitchesters, Hawick, N.B.,
12th April, 1910.
Thomas the Rhymer
Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree
The Seal Catcher and the Merman
The Page-boy and the Silver Goblet
The Black Bull of Norroway
The Wee Bannock
The Elfin Knight
What to say to the New Mune
Habetrot the Spinstress
Nippit Fit and Clippit Fit
The Fairies of Merlin’s Crag
The Wedding of Robin Redbreast and Jenny Wren
The Dwarfie Stone
Canonbie Dick and Thomas of Ercildoune
The Laird o’ Co’
The Milk-white Doo
The Draiglin’ Hogney
The Brownie o’ Ferne-Den
The Witch of Fife
Assipattle and the Mester Stoorworm
The Fox and the Wolf
Times to Sneeze
The Well o’ the World’s End
Some other books by the same author...
Peeps at Many Lands -
By Elizabeth Grierson (1910) (pdf)
Early Light-Bearers of Scotland (pdf)
Scottish Ballads (Text file)