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The Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay
Shadow Folk of Heather Haunts

"Awake ye light fairies that trip o'er the Heather—Hogg.

River Spirit. Sleep'st
thou, brother?

Mountain Spirit.

Brother, nay—
On my hills the moonbeams play.
From Craig-cross to Skelfhill-pen,
By every rill, in every glen,

Merry elves their morrice pacing,
To aerial minstrelsy,

Emerald rings on brown heath tracing,
Trip it deft and merrily.
Up, and mark their nimble feet;
Up, and list their music sweet.

—Lay of the Last Minstrel.

FAIRIES are generally believed to inhabit all campanulate flowers, and many references occur both in the prose and poetry of Scotland to the presence of these elfin folk in Heather bells.

Like the feld elfin of the Saxons, the usual dress of the fairies was said to be green, though on the moors they have sometimes been observed in heath-brown, or in weeds dyed with the stone-row or lichen. Their dwellings were the fairy hillocks or tomhans, which Mrs. Grant of Laggan says were conical shaped, rising in dry gravelly ground and thickly covered with Heath.

Geikie thus describes their haunts: "The mounds rose so conspicuously from the ground, and whether in summer heat or winter frost, wore ever an aspect so smooth and green, where all around was rough with dark moss-bags and sombre moor, that they seemed to have been raised by no natural power, but to be in very truth the work of elfin hands, designed at once to mark and guard the entrance to the fairy world below. The hapless wight who, lured by their soft verdure, stretched himself to sleep on their slopes, sank gently into their depths, and after a seven years' servitude in fairyland awoke again on the self-same spot."

Mrs. Grant furnishes the following legend concerning one of these fairy hillocks, from which the Highlanders were accustomed in their solitude to hear issuing "the music of small sweet pipes";

"A little girl had been innocently loved by a fairy who dwelt in a tomhan near her mother's habitation. She had three brothers who were the favorites of her mother. She herself was treated harshly and taxed beyond her strength; her employment was to go every morning and cut a certain quantity of turf from dry, heathy ground for immediate fuel; and this with some uncouth and primitive implement. As she passed the hillock which contained her lover, he regularly put out his hand with a very sharp knife of such power that it quickly and readily cut through all impediments. She returned cheerfully and early with her load of turf, and as she passed by the hillock she struck on it twice and the fairy stretched out his hand and received the knife.

"The mother, however, told the brothers that her daughter must certainly have had some aid to perform the allotted task. They watched her, saw her remove the enchanted knife and forced it from her. They returned, struck the hillock as she was wont to do, and when the fairy put out his hand, they cut it off with his own knife. He drew in the bleeding arm in despair; and supposing this cruelty was the result of treachery on the part of his beloved, never saw her more."

Professor John Wilson, in his "Lay of Fairy Land," accounts for the disappearance of the widow's daughter in this wise:

Some thought that Fhaurn, the savage shape that on the mountain dwells,
Had somewhere left her lying dead among the heather bells
And when at last she returned, though
The heather balm is fragrant—the heather bloom is fair,
But 'tis neither heather balm nor bloom that wreathes round Mhairi's hair;

but the flowers that grew in the garden of Fairyland, where, evidently, Heather finds no place.

The Ettrick Shepherd, in his tale of the recapture of Anne of Raeburn from the fairies, says that when

The evening fell so sweetly still,
So mild on lonely moor and hill,
The little genii of the fell
Forsook the purple heather bell.

And the elves never returned; for, continues the poet:

E'er since, in Ettrick's glens so green,
Spirits, though there, are seldom seen;
And fears of elf and fairy raid,

Have like a morning dream decayed.
The barefoot maid of rosy hue,

Dares from the heath flower brush the dew,
To meet her lover in moonlight still,

By flowery den, or tinkling rill;
And well dares she till midnight stay
Among the coils of fragrant hay.

The favorite food of the fairies was said to be Scotch scones and Heather honey and a bowl of cream —a dainty morsel, forsooth!

Ossian tells us that "It was the opinion of the times that the souls of heroes went immediately after death to the hills of their country, and the scenes they frequented the most happy time of their life. It was thought, too, that dogs and horses saw the ghosts of the deceased."

"My ghost o'Connall is on my native hills, but my corse is on the sands of Ulhin. Thou shalt never talk with Crugal, or find his lone steps in the heath."

This reference to tracing footsteps on the Heath may be explained by the following statement by Burt. He says: "By the way the Heath, or Heather, if pressed by the foot, retains the impression, or, at least, some of it, for a long while before the Heather rises again effectually. A single Highlander has been found by the track of his foot when he took to hills out of the common way for his greater safety in his flight."

An old superstition was prevalent in the North of Scotland that the fairies became incensed whenever Heather was taken from their hillocks, and in the dwellings where such Heather was stored the inmates had but little happiness.

From "Hardmore"

Traditional meeting place of Macbeth and Banquo with the Weird Sisters.

* * * * *

Thin and black along
The shivering grass the heather holds its breath
For fear, and cannot burn and blossom when
Night after night such awful sights it sees.

—Cora Kennedy Aitken.

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