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Popular Superstitions of the Highlands
Similitude of the Fairy

OF all the different species of supernatural tribes which inhabit those countries, none of them could ever vie with the fairy community for personal elegance. Indeed, this seems to be the only remaining vestige they possess of their primitive character. Though generally low in stature, they are exceedingly well proportioned, and prepossessing in their persons. The females, in particular, are said to be the most enchanting beings in the world, and far beyond what the liveliest fancy can paint. Eyes sparkling as the brightest of the stars, or the polished gems of Cairngorm,-cheeks in which the whiteness of the snow and red of the reddan are blended with the softness of the Cannoch down, - lips like the coral, and teeth like the ivory, —a redundant luxuriance of auburn hair, hanging down the shoulders in lovely ringlet and a gainly simplicity of dress, always of the colour of green, are prominent features in the description of a Highland fairy nymph.

But, while we agree in some measure with our fellow historians who have described the fairy race as they exist in other quarters of the country, in so far as regards their personal beauty, we widely differ from those historians as to the splendour of their dress as exhibited in the character of the Highland fairies. Instead of the gorgeous habiliments of "white and gold dropped with diamonds, and coats of the threads of gold," which we are told are worn by those more luxurious and refined fairies, living within the sphere of splendour and fashion in the Lowlands of Scotland; the Highland fairies, more thrifty and less voluptuous, clothe themselves in plain worsted green, not woven by the "shuttle of Iris," but by the greasy shuttle of some Highland weaver. This description, let it be understood, however, applies only to the portion of them inhabiting terra firma; for the dress of those whose lot it was to fall in the deep is of a very different nature, consisting entirely of seal-skins, and such other marine apparel as is most suitable and appropriate to their element.

The following story will throw some light upon the manners and habits of this portion of the fairy tribes.

There was once upon a time, a man who lived on the northern coasts, not far from "Taigh  Jan Crot Callow," [John-o'-Groat's House] and he gained his livelihood by catching and killing fish, of all sizes and denominations. He had a particular liking to the killing of those wonderful beasts, half dog half fish, called "Roane," or Seals, no doubt because he got a long price for their skins, which are not less curious than they are valuable. The truth is, that the most of these animals are neither dogs nor cods, but down-right fairies, as this narration will show; and, indeed, it is easy for any man to convince himself of the fact by a simple examination of his tobacco-spluichdan,—for the dead skins of those beings are never the same for four and twenty hours together. Sometimes the "spluichdan" will erect its bristles almost perpendicularly, while, at other times, it reclines them even down; one time it resembles a bristly sow, at another time a sleekit cat; and what dead skin, except itself, could perform such cantrips? Now, it happened one day, as this notable fisher had turned from the prosecution of his calling, that he was called upon by a man who seemed a great stranger, and who said, he had been dispatched for him by a person who wished to contract for a quantity of seal-skins, and that it was necessary for the fisher to accompany him (the stranger) immediately to see the person who wished to contract for the skins, as it was necessary that he should be served that evening. Happy in the prospect of making a good bargain, and never suspecting any duplicity in the stranger, he instantly complied. They both mounted a steed belonging to the stranger, and took the road with such velocity that, although the direction of the wind was towards their backs, yet the fleetness of their movement made it appear if it had been in their faces. On reaching a stupendous precipice which overhung the sea, his guide told him, they had now reached the point of their destination. "Where is the person you spoke of?" inquired the astonished seal-killer. "You shall see that presently,’ replied the guide. With that they immediately alightted, and, without allowing the seal-killer much time to indulge the frightful suspicions that began to pervade his mind, the stranger seized him with irresistible force, and plunged headlong with the seal-killer into the sea. After sinking down—down—nobody knows how far, they at length reached a door, which, being open, led them into a range of apartments, filled with inhabitants—not people, but seals, who could nevertheless speak and feel like human folk; and how much was the seal-killer surprised to find that he himself had been unconsciously transformed into the like image. If it were not so, he would probably have died, from the want of breath. The nature of the poor fisher’s thoughts may be more easily conceived than described. Looking on the nature of the quarters into which he was landed, all hopes of escape from them appeared wholly chimerical, whilst the degree of comfort, and length of life which the barren scene promised him, were far from being flattering. The "Roane," who all seemed in very low spirits, appeared to feel for him, and endeavoured to soothe the distress which he evinced, by the amplest assurances of personal safety. Involved in sad meditation on his evil fate, he was quickly roused from his stupor, by his guide’s producing a huge gully or joctaleg, the object of which he supposed was to put an end to all his earthly cares. Forlorn as was his situation, however, he did not wish to be killed; and, apprehending. instant destruction, he fell down, and earnestly implored for mercy. The poor generous animals did not mean him any harm, however much his former conduct deserved it; and he was accordingly desired to pacify himself, and cease his cries. "Did you ever see that knife before?" says the stranger to the fisher. The latter instantly recognising his own knife, which he had that day stuck into a seal, and with which it made its escape, acknowledged it was formerly his own, for what would be the use of denying it? "Well!" rejoins the guide, "the apparent seal, which made away with it, is my father, who lies dangerously ill ever since, and no means could stay his fleeting breath, without your aid. I have been obliged to resort to the artifice I have practised to bring you hither, and I trust that my filial duty to my father will readily operate my excuse." Having said this, he led into another apartment the trembling seal-killer, who expected every minute a return of his own favour to the father; and here he found the identical seal, with which he had the encounter in the morning, suffering most grievously from a tremendous cut in its hind-quarter. The seal-killer was then desired, with his hand, to cicatrize the wound, upon doing which, it immediately healed, and the seal arose from its bed in perfect health. Upon this, the scene changed from mourning to rejoicing,—all was mirth and glee. Very different, however, were the feelings of the unfortunate seal-catcher, expecting, no doubt, to be a seal for the remainder of his life, until his late guide accosted him as follows: "Now, Sir, you are at liberty to return to your wife and family, to whom I am about to conduct you; but it is on this express condition, to which you must bind yourself by a solemn oath, viz, that you shall never maim or kill a seal in all your lifetime hereafter." To this condition, hard as it was, he joyfully acceded; and the oath being administered in all due form, he bade his new acquaintance most heartily and sincerely a long farewell. Taking hold of his guide, they issued from the place, and swam up-up—till they regained the surface of the sea; and, landing at the said stupendous pinnacle, they found their former riding steed ready for a second canter. The guide breathed upon the fisher, and they became like men. They mounted their horse; and fleet as was their course towards the precipice or pinnacle; their return from it was doubly swift; and the honest seal-killer was laid down at his own door-cheek, where his guide made him such a present, as would have almost reconciled him to another similar expedition, and such as rendered hiss loss of profession, in so far as regarded the seals, a far less intolerable hardship than he had at first contemplated it.

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