THE Fairies of Scotland are represented as a diminutive
race of beings, of a mixed, or rather dubious nature, capricious in their
dispositions, and mischievous in their resentment. They inhabit the
interior of green hills, chiefly those of a conical form, in Gaelic termed
Sighan, on which they lead their dances by moonlight; impressing upon the
surface the marks of circles, which sometimes appear yellow and blasted,
sometimes of a deep green hue; and within which it is dangerous to sleep,
or to be found after sunset. The removal of those large portions of turf,
which thunderbolts sometimes scoop out of the ground with singular
regularity, is also ascribed to their agency. Cattle, which are suddenly
seized with the cramp, or some similar disorder, are said to be elf-shot;
and the approved cure is, to chafe the parts affected with a blue bonnet,
which, it may be readily believed, often restores the circulation. The
triangular flints, frequently found in Scotland, with which the ancient
inhabitants probably barbed their shafts, are supposed to be the weapons
of Fairy resentment, and are termed elf arrow-heads. The rude brazen
battle-axes of the ancients, commonly called celts, are also ascribed to
their manufacture. But, like the Gothic duergar, their skill is not
confined to the fabrication of arms; for they are heard sedulously
hammering in linns, precipices, and rocky or cavernous situations, where,
like the dwarfs of the mines, mentioned by Georg. Agricola, they busy
themselves in imitating the actions and the various employments of men.
The Brook of Beaumont, for example, which passes, in its course, by
numerous linns and caverns, is notorious for being haunted by the Fairies;
and the perforated and rounded stones which are formed by trituration in
its channel, are termed, by the vulgar, fairy cups and dishes.
It is sometimes accounted unlucky to pass such places,
without performing some ceremony to avert the displeasure of the elves.
There is, upon the top of Minchmuir, a mountain in Peeblesshire, a spring
called the Cheese Well, because, anciently, those who passed that way were
wont to throw into it a piece of cheese, as an offering to the Fairies, to
whom it was consecrated.
The usual dress of the Fairies is green; though on the
moors they have been sometimes observed in heath-brown, or in weeds dyed
with the stoneraw, or lichen. They often ride in invisible procession,
when their presence is discovered by the shrill ringing of their bridles.
On these occasions they sometimes borrow mortal steeds; and when such are
found at morning, panting and fatigued in their stalls, with their manes
and tails dishevelled and entangled, the grooms, I presume, often find
this a convenient excuse for their situation as the common belief of the
elves quaffing the choicest liquors in the cellars of the rich might
occasionally cloak the delinquencies of an unfaithful butler.