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Popular Superstitions of the Highlands
Of their Domestic Economy and Festive Habits

Of their Domestic Economy and Festive Habite.

IT is well known that the fairies are a sociable people, passionately given to festive amusements and jocund hilarity. Hence, it seldom happens that they cohabit in pairs, like most other species, but rove about in bands, each band having a stated habitation or residence, to which they resort as occasion suggests.

Their habitations are generally found in rough irregular precipices and broken caverns, remarkable for wildness of scenery, from whence we may infer that they are particularly fond of what we term the Romantic. These habitations are composed of stones, in the form of irregular turrets, of such size and shapes as the nature of the materials, and the taste of the architect, happened to suggest, and so solid in their structure, as frequently to resemble" masses of rocks or earthen hillocks."

Their doors, windows, smoke-vents, and other conveniences, are so artfully constructed, as to be invisible to the naked eye in day-light, though in dark nights splendid lights are frequently reflected through their invisible casements.

Within those "Tomhans," or, as others term them "Shian," sociality and mirth are ever the inmates,—and they are so much addicted to dancing, that it forms their chief and favourite amusement. The length of their reels will be judged of from the following narrative:

"Once upon a time, a tenant in the neighbourhood of Cairngorm in Strathspey, emigrated with his family and cattle to the forest of Glenavon, which is well known to be inhabited by many fairies as well as ghosts. Two of his sons having been one night late out in search of some of their sheep which had strayed, they had occasion to pass a fairy turret, or dwelling, of very large dimensions; and what was their astonishment on observing streams of the most refulgent light shining forth through innumerable crevices in the rock—crevices which the sharpest eye in the country had never seen before. Curiosity led them towards the turret, when they were charmed by the most exquisite sounds ever emitted by a fiddle-string, which, joined to the sportive mirth and glee accompanying it, reconciled them in a great measure to the scene, although they knew well enough the inhabitants were fairies. Nay, overpowered by the enchanting jigs played by the fiddler, one of the brothers had even the hardihood to propose that they should pay the occupants of the turret a short visit. To this motion the other brother, fond as he was of dancing, and animated as he was by the music, would by no means consent, and very earnestly inculcated upon his brother many pithy arguments well calculated to restrain his curiosity. But every new jig that was played, and every new reel that was danced, inspired the adventurous brother with additional ardour; and at length, completely fascinated by the enchanting revelry, leaving all prudence behind, at one leap he entered the "Shian." The poor forlorn brother was now left in a most; uncomfortable situation. His grief for the loss of a brother whom he dearly loved, suggested to him more than once the desperate idea of sharing his fate; by following his example. But, on the other hand, when he coolly considered the possibility of sharing very different entertainment from that which rung upon his ears, and remembering, too, the comforts and conveniences of his father’s fireside, the idea immediately appeared to him any thing but prudent. After a long and disagreeable altercation between his affection for his brother and his regard for himself, he came to the resolution of trying a middle course;—that is, to send in at the window a few remonstrances to his brother, which, if he did not attend to, let the consequences be upon his own head. Accordingly, taking his station at one of the crevices, and, calling upon his brother, three several times, by name, as use is, he sent into him, as aforesaid, the most moving pieces of elocution he could think upon,—imploring him, as he valued his poor parent’s life and blessing, to come forth and go home with him, Donald Macgillivray, his thrice affectionate and unhappy brother. But, whether it was he could not hear this eloquent harangue, or, what is more probable, that he did not choose to attend to it,—certain it is, that it proved totally ineffectual to accomplish its object,—.and the consequence was, that Donald Macgillivray found it equally much his duty and his interest to return home to his family with the melancholy tale of poor Rory’s fate. All the prescribed ceremonies calculated to rescue him from the fairy dominion were resorted to by his mourning relatives without effect, and Rory was supposed as lost for ever, when a wise man of the day having learned the circumstance, set them upon a plan of having him delivered at the end of twelve months from his entry. "Return," says the Duin Glichd to Donald, "to the place where you lost your brother, a year and a day from the time. You will insert in your garment a Rowan Cross, which will protect you from the fairies’ interposition. Enter the turret boldly and resolutely, in the name of the Highest claim your brother, and, if he does not accompany you voluntarily, seize him and carry him off by force,—none dare interfere with you."

The experiment appeared to the cautious contemplative brother as one that was fraught with no ordinary danger, and he would have most willingly declined the prominent character allotted to him in the performance of it, but for the importunate entreaty of his friends, who implored him, as he valued their blessing, not to slight such excellent advice. Their entreaties, together with his confidence in the virtues of the Rowan Cross, overcame his scruples, and he, at length, agreed to put the experiment in practice, whatever the result might be.

Well then, the important day arrived, when the father of those two sons was destined either to recover his lost son, or to lose the only son he had, and, anxious as the father felt, Donald Macgillivray, the intended adventurer, felt no less on the occasion. The hour of midnight approached, when the drama was to be acted, and Donald Macgillivray, loaded with all the charms and benedictions in his country, took mournful leave of his friends, and proceeded to the scene of his intended enterprise. On approaching the well-known turret, a repetition of that mirth and those ravishing sounds, that had been the source of so much sorrow to himself and family, once more attracted his attention, without at all creating in his mind any extraordinary feelings of satisfaction. On the contrary, he abhorred the sounds most heartily, and felt much greater inclination to recede than to advance. But what was to be done? courage, character, and every thing dear to him, were at stake—so that to advance was his only alternative. In short, he reached the "Shian," and after twenty fruitless attempts, he at length entered the place with trembling footsteps, and amidst the brilliant and jovial scene—the not least gratifying spectacle, which presented itself to Donald, was his brother Rory earnestly engaged at the Highland Fling on the floor, at which, as might have been expected, he had greatly improved. Without losing much time in satisfying his curiosity, by examining the quality of the company, he ran to his brother, repeating, most vehemently, the wards prescribed to him by the "Wise man"—seized him by the collar, and insisted be should immediately accompany him home to his poor afflicted parents. Rory assented, provided he would allow him to finish his single reel, assuring Donald, very earnestly, that he had not been half an hour in the house. In vain did the latter assure the former, that, instead of half an hour, he had actually remained twelve months. Nor would he have believed his overjoyed friends on reaching home, "did not the calves, now grown into stots, and the new-born babes, now travelling the house, at length convince him, that in his single reel he had danced for a twelvemonth and a day."

This reel, however, in which Rory Macgillivary had been engaged, although it may be considered of pretty moderate length, will form but a short space in a night’s entertainment, of which the following is a brief account:

"Nearly three hundred years ago, there lived in Strathspey two men, greatly celebrated for their performances on the fiddle. It happened upon a certain Christmas time, that they had formed the resolution of going to Inverness, to be employed in their musical capacities, during that festive season. Accordingly, having arrived in that great town, and secured lodgings, they sent round the newsman and his bell, to announce to the inhabitants their arrival in town, and the object of it, their great celebrity in their own country, the number of tunes they played, and their rate of charge per day, per night, or hour. Very soon after, they were called upon by a venerable looking old man, grey haired and somewhat wrinkled, of genteel deportment and liberal disposition; for, instead of grudging their charges, as they expected, he only said that he would double the demand They cheerfully agreed to accompany him, and soon they found themselves at the door of a very curius dwelling, the appearance of which they did not at all relish. It was night, but still they could easily distinguish the house to be neither like the great Castle Grant, Castle Lethindry, Castle Roy, or Castle-na-muchkeruch at home, nor like any other house they had seen on their travels. It resembled a huge fairy ‘Tomhan,’ such as are seen in Glenmore. But the mild persuasive eloquence of the guide, reinforced by the irresistible arguments of a purse of gold, soon removed any scruples they felt at the idea of enterring so novel a mansion. They entered the place, and all sensations of fear were soon absorbed in those of admiration of the august assembly which surrounded them; strings tuned to sweet harmony, soon gave birth to glee in the dwelling. The floor bounded beneath the agile ‘fantastic toe,’ and gaiety in its height pervaded every soul present. The night passed on harmoniously, while the diversity of the reels, and the loveliness of the dancers, presented to the fiddlers the most gratifying scene they ever witnessed; and in the morning, when the ball was terminated, they took their leave, sorry that the time of their engagement was so short, and highly gratified at the liberal treatment which they experienced. But what was their astonishment, on issuing forth from this strange dwelling, when they beheld the novel scene which surrounded them. Instead of coming out of a castle, they found they had come out of a little hill, they knew not what way, and on entering the town they found those objects which yesterday shone in all the splendour of novelty, today exhibit only the ruins and ravages of time, while the strange innovations of dress and manners displayed by their numerous spectators, filled them with wonder and consternation. At last a mutual understanding took place between themselves, and the crowd assembled to look upon them, and a short account of their adventures led the more sagacious part of the spectators to suspect at once, that they, had been paying a visit to the inhabitants of Tomnafurich, which, not long ago, was the grand rendezvous of many of the fairy bands inhabiting the surrounding districts; and the arrival of a very old man on the spot set the matter fairly at rest. On being attracted by the crowd, he walked up to the two poor old oddities, who were the subject of amazement, and having learned their history, thus addressed them: ‘You are the two men my great-grandfather lodged, and who, it was supposed, were decoyed by Thomas Rymer to Tomnafurich. Sore did your friends lament your loss—but the lapse of a hundred years has now rendered your name extinct.’

"Finding every circumstance conspire to verify the old man’s story, the poor fiddlers were naturally inspired with feelings of reverential awe at the secret wonders of the Deity—and it being the Sabbath-day, they naturally wished to indulge those feelings in a place of worship. They, accordingly, proceeded to church, and took their places, to hear public worship, and sat for a while listening to the pealing bells which, while they summoned the remainder of the congregation to church, summoned them to their long homes. When the ambassador of peace ascended the sacred place, to announce to his flock the glad tidings of the gospel—strange to tell, at the first word uttered by his lips, his ancient hearers, the poor deluded fiddlers, both crumbled into dust."

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