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Stories from Brittany

In Brittany

Introduction by ANATOLE LE BRAZ, Professor of French Literature, University of Rennes, Brittany; author of La Légende de la Mort, Au Pays des Pardons, etc.

My dear Mr. Wentz,

I recollect that, at the time of your examination on your thesis before the Faculty of Letters of the University of Rennes, one of my colleagues, my friend Professor Dottin, put to you this question:

"You believe, you assert, in the existence of fairies? Have you seen any?"

You answered, with equal coolness and candour:

"No. I have made every effort to do so, and I have never seen any. But there are many things which you, sir, have not seen, and of which, nevertheless, you would not think of denying the existence. That is my attitude toward fairies."

"I am like you, my dear Mr. Wentz: I have never seen fairies. it is true that I have a very dear lady friend whom we have christened by that name [fairy], but, in spite of all her fair supernatural gifts, she is only a humble mortal. On the other hand,

Introducing the Fairy of Lanascol

I lived, when a mere child, among people who had almost daily intercourse with real fairies. That was in a little township in Lower Brittany, inhabited by peasants who were half sailors, and by sailors who were half peasants.

There was, not far from the village, an ancient manor-house long abandoned by its owners, for what reason was not known exactly. It continued to be called the "Chateau" of Lanascol, though it was hardly more than a ruin. It is true that the avenues by which one approached it had retained their feudal aspect, with their fourfold rows of ancient beeches whose huge masses of foliage were reflected in splendid pools. The people of the neighbourhood seldom ventured into these avenues in the evening. They were supposed to be, from sunset onwards, the favourite walking-ground of a "lady" who went by the name of Groac'h Lanascol, the "Fairy of Lanascol".

Many claimed to have met her, and described her in colours which were, however, the most varied. Some represented her as an old woman who walked all bent, her two hands leaning on a stump of a crutch with which, in autumn, from time to time she stirred the dead leaves. The dead leaves which she thus stirred became suddenly shining like gold, and clinked against one another with the clear sound of metal. According to others, it was a young princess, marvellously adorned, after whom there hurried curious little black silent men. She advanced with a majestic and queenly bearing. Sometimes she stopped in front of a tree, and the tree at once bent down as if to receive her commands. Or again, she would cast a look on the water of a pool, and the pool trembled to its very depths, as though stirred by an access of fear beneath the potency of her look. The following strange story was told about her:

The very gentle female voice spoke

The owners of Lanascol having desired to get rid of an estate which they no longer occupied, the manor and lands attached to it were put up to auction by a notary of Plouaret. On the day fixed for the bidding a number of purchasers presented themselves. The price had already reached a large sum, and the estate was on the point of being knocked down, when, on a last appeal from the auctioneer, a female voice, very gentle and at the same time very imperious, was raised and said:

"A thousand francs more!"

A great commotion arose in the hall. Every one's eyes sought for the person who had made this advance, and who could only be a woman. But there was not a single woman among those present. The notary asked:

"Who spoke?"

Again the same voice made itself heard.

"The Fairy of Lanascol!" it replied.

A general break-up followed. From that time forward no purchaser has ever appeared, and, as the current report ran, that was the reason why Lanascol continued to be for sale.


I have designedly quoted to you the story of the Fairy of Lanascol, my dear Mr. Wentz, because she was the first to make an impression on me in my childhood. How many others have I come to know later on in the course of narratives from those who lived with me on the sandy beaches, in the fields or the woods! Brittany has always been a kingdom of Faerie. One cannot there travel even a league without brushing past the dwelling of some male or female fairy. Quite lately, in the course of an autumn pilgrimage to the hallucinatory forest of Paimpont (or Brocéliande), still haunted throughout by the great memories of Celtic legend, I encountered beneath the thick foliage of the Pas-du-Houx, a woman gathering faggots, with whom I did not fail, as you may well imagine, to enter into conversation.

A very thick mist

One of the first names I uttered was naturally that of Vivian.

"Vivian!" cried out the poor old woman. "Ah! a blessing on her, the good Lady! for she is as good as she is beautiful . . . . Without her protection my good man, who works at woodcutting, would have fallen, like a wolf, beneath the keepers' guns. . . ."

And she began to narrate to me "as how" her husband, something of a poacher like all the woodcutters of these districts, had one night gone to watch for a roebuck in the neighbourhood of the Butte-aux-Plaintes, and had been caught red-handed by a party of keepers. He sought to fly: the keepers fired. A bullet hit him in the thigh: he fell, and was making ready to let himself be killed on the spot, rather than surrender, when there suddenly interposed between him and his assailants a kind of very thick mist which covered everything — the ground, the trees, the keepers, and the wounded man himself. And he heard a voice coming out of the mist, a voice gentle like the rustling of leaves, and murmuring in his ear:

"Save youself, my son: the spirit of Vivian will watch over you till you have crawled out of the forest."

"Such were the actual words of the fairy," concluded the faggot-gatherer. And she crossed herself devoutly, for pious Brittany, as you know, reveres fairies as much as saints.

. . . .

Lutins

I do not know if lutins (mischievous spirits) should be included in the fairy world, but what is certain is that this charming and roguish tribe has always abounded in our country. I, have been told that formerly every house had its own. It (the lutin) was something like the little Roman household god. Now visible, now invisible, it presided over all the acts of domestic life. Nay more; it shared in them, and in the most effective manner. Inside the house it helped the servants, blew up the fire on the hearth, supervised the cooking of the food for men or beasts, quieted the crying of the babe lying in the bottom of the cupboard, and prevented worms from settling in the pieces of bacon hanging from the beams. Similarly there fell within its sphere the management of the byres and stables: thanks to it the cows gave milk abounding in butter, and the horses had round croups and shining coats. It was, in a word, the good genius of the house, but conditionally on every one paying to it the respect to which it had the right. If neglected, ever so little, its kindness changed into spite, and there was no unkind trick of which it was not capable towards people who had offended it, such as upsetting the contents of the pots on the hearth, entangling wool round distaffs, making tobacco unsmokeable, mixing a horse's mane in inextricable confusion, drying up the adders of cows, or stripping the backs of sheep. Therefore care was taken not to annoy it. Careful attention was paid to all its habits and humours. Thus, in my parents' house, our old maid Filie never lifted the trivet from the fire without taking the precaution of sprinkling it with water to cool it, before putting it away at the corner of the hearth. If you asked her the reason for this ceremony, she would reply to you:

"To prevent the lutin burning himself there, if, presently, he sat on it."

. . . .

Protectors

Further, I suppose there should be included in the class of male fairies that Bugul-Noz, that mysterious Night Shepherd, whose tall and alarming outline the rural Bretons see rising in the twilight, if, by chance, they happen to return late from field-work. I have never been able to obtain exact information about the kind of herd which he fed, nor about what was foreboded by the meeting with him. Most often such a meeting is dreaded. Yet, as one of my female informants, Lise Bellec, reasonably pointed out, if it is preferable to avoid the Bugut-Noz it does not from that follow that he is a harmful spirit. According to her, he would rather fulfil a beneficial office, in warning human beings, by his coming, that night is not made for lingering in the fields or on the roads, but for shutting oneself in behind closed doors and going to sleep. This shepherd of the shades would then be, take it altogether, a kind of good shepherd. It is to ensure our rest and safety, to withdraw us from excesses of toil and the snares of night, that he compels us, thoughtless sheep, to return quickly to the fold.

No doubt it is an almost similar protecting office which, in popular belief, has fallen to another male fairy, more particularly attached to the seashore, as his name, Yann-An-Od, indicates. There is not, along all the coast of Brittany or, as it is called, in all the Armor, a single district where the existence of this "John of the Dunes" is not looked on as a real fact, fully proved and undeniable. Changing forms and different aspects are attributed to him. Sometimes he is a giant, sometimes a dwarf. Sometimes he wears a seaman's hat of oiled cloth, sometimes a broad black felt hat. At times he leans on an oar and recalls the enigmatic personage, possessed of the same attribute, whom Ulysses has to follow, in the Odyssey. But he is always a marine hero whose office it is to traverse the shores, uttering at intervals long piercing cries, calculated to frighten away fishermen who may have allowed themselves to be surprised outside by the darkness of night. He only hurts those who resist; and even then would only strike them in their own interest, to force them to seek shelter. He is, before all, one who warns. His cries not only call back home people out late on the sands; they also inform sailors at sea of the dangerous proximity of the shore, and, thereby, make up for the insufficiency of the hooting of sirens or of the light of lighthouses.

We may remark, in this connexion, that a parallel feature is observed in the legend of the old Armorican saints, who were mostly emigrants from Ireland. One of their usual exercises consisted in parading throughout the night the coasts where they had set up their oratories, shaking little bells of wrought iron, the ringing of which, like the cries of Yann-An-Od, was intended to warn voyagers that land was near.

I am persuaded that the worship of saints, which is the first and most fervent of Breton religious observances, preserves many of the features of a more ancient religion in which a belief in fairies held the chief place. The same, I feel sure, applies to those death-myths which I have collected under the name of the Legend of the Dead among the Armorican Bretons. In truth, in the Breton mind, the dead are not dead; they live a mysterious life on the edge of real life, but their world remains fully mingled with ours, and as soon as night falls, as soon as the living, properly so called, give themselves up to the temporary sleep of death, the so-called dead again become the inhabitants of the earth which they have never left. They resume their place at their former hearth, devote themselves to their old work, take an interest in the home, the fields, the boat; they behave, in a word, like the race of male and female fairies which once formed a more refined and delicate species of humanity in the middle of ordinary humanity.

. . . .

I might, my dear Mr. Wentz, evoke many other types from this intermediate world of Breton Faerie, which, in my countrymen's mind, is not identical with this world nor with the other, but shares at once in both, through a curious mixture of the natural and supernatural. I have only intended in these hasty lines to show the wealth of material to which you have with so much conscientiousness and ardour devoted your efforts. And now may the fairies be propitious to you, my dear friend I They will do nothing but justice in favouring with all their goodwill the young and brilliant writer who has but now revived their cult by renewing their glory.

RENNES, Ce 1et novembre 1910. [The French original is left out by me. TK]

Breton Fairies or Fees

In Lower Brittany, which is the genuinely Celtic part of Armorica, instead of finding a widespread folk-belief in fairies of the kind existing in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, we find a widespread folk-belief in the existence of the dead, and to a less extent in that of the corrigan tribes. For our Psychological Theory this is very significant. It seems to indicate that among the Bretons — who are one of the most conservative Celtic peoples — the Fairy-Faith finds its chief expression in a belief that men live after death in an invisible world, just as in Ireland the dead and fairies live in Fairyland. This opinion was first suggested to me by Professor Anatole Le Braz, author of La Légende de la Mort, and by Professor Georges Dottin, both of the University of Rennes. But before evidence to sustain and to illustrate this opinion is offered, it will be well to consider the less important Breton fées or beings like them, and then corrigans and nains (dwarfs).

The little old woman

F. M. Luzel, who collected so many of the popular stories in Brittany, found that what few fées or fairies there are almost always appear in folklore as little old women, or as the Breton story-teller usually calls them, Grac'hed coz. I have selected and abridged the following legendary tale from his works to illustrate the nature of these Breton fairy-folk:

In ancient times, as we read in La Princesse Blondine, a rich nobleman had three sons; the oldest was called Cado, the second, Méliau, and the youngest, Yvon. One day, as they were together in a forest with their bows and arrows, they met a little old woman whom they had never seen before, and she was carrying on her head a jar of water. "Are you able, lads," Cado asked his two brothers, "to break with an arrow the jar of the little old woman without touching her?"

"We do not wish to try it," they said, fearing to injure the good woman.

"All right, I'll do it then, watch me." And Cado took his bow and let fly an arrow.

The arrow went straight to its mark and split the jar without touching the little old woman; but the water wet her to the skin, and, in anger, she said to the skilful archer: "You have failed, Cado, and I will be revenged on you for this. From now until you have found the Princess Blondine all the members of your body will tremble as leaves on a tree tremble when the north wind blows."

And instantly Cado was seized by a trembling malady in all his body.

The three brothers returned home and told their father what had happened; and the father, turning to Cado, said: "Alas, my unfortunate son, you have failed. It is now necessary for you to travel until you find the Princess Blondine, as the fée said, for that little old woman was a fée, and no doctor in the world can cure the malady she has put on you." (1)

(1) Cf. F. M. Luzel, Contes populaires de Basse-Bretagne (Paris, 1887), i. 177-97; following the account of ann Dranns, a servant at Coat-Fual, Plouguernevel (Côtes-du-Nord), November 1855.

Fées [fairies] of Lower Brittany

Throughout the Morbihan and Finistère, I found that stories about fees are much less common than about corrigans, and in some localities extremely rare; but the ones I have been fortunate enough to collect are much the same in character as those gathered in the Côtes-du-Nord by Luzel, and elsewhere by other collectors, Those I here record were told to me at Carnac during the summer of 1909; the first one by M. Yvonne Daniel, a native of the Ile de Croix (off the coast north-west of Carnac); and the others by M. Goulven Le Scour. (1)

(1) My Breton friend, M. Goulven Le Scour, was born November 20, 1851, at Kerouledic in Plouneventer, Finistère. He is an antiquarian, a poet, and, as we shall see, a folklorist of no mean ability. In 1902, at the Congrès d"Auroy of Breton poets and singers, he won two prizes for poetry, and, in 1901, a prize at the Congrès de Quimperlé or Concours Recueils poétiques.

"The little Ile de Croix was especially famous for its old fées; and the following legend is still believed by its oldest inhabitants:

A legend

"An aged man who had suffered long from leprosy was certain to die within a short time, when a woman bent double with age entered his house. She asked from what malady he suffered, and on being informed began to say prayers. Then she breathed on the sores of the leper, and they almost suddenly disappeared: the fée had cured him.""


"It is certain that about fifty years ago the people in Finistère still believed in fées. It was thought that the fées were spirits who came to predict some unexpected event in the family. They came especially to console orphans who had very unkind step-mothers. In their youth, Tanguy du Chatel and his sister Eudes were protected by a fée against the misfortune which pursued them; the history of Brittany says so. In Léon it is said that the fées served to guide unfortunate people, consoling them with the promise of a happy and victorious future. In the Cornouailles, on the contrary, it is said that the fées were very evilly disposed, that they were demons.

A prediction

"My grandmother, Marie Le Bras, had related to me that one evening an old fée arrived in my village, Kerouledic (Finistère), and asked for hospitality. It was about the year 1830. The fée was received; and before going to bed she predicted that the little daughter whom the mother was dressing in night-clothes would be found dead in the cradle the next day.

This prediction was only laughed at; but in the morning the little one was dead in her cradle, her eyes raised toward Heaven, The fée, who had slept in the stable, was gone."


In these last three accounts, by M. Le Scour, we observe three quite different ideas concerning the Breton fairies or fées:

  • In Finistère and in Leon the fées are regarded as good protecting spirits, almost like ancestral spirits, which originally they may have been;
  • In the Cornouailles they are evil spirits;
  • While in the third account, about the old fée — and in the legend of the leper cured by a fée — the fées are rationalized, as in Luzel's tale quoted above, into sorceresses or Grac'hed Coz.

Children Changed by "Fées"

M. Goulven Le Scour, at my request, wrote down in French the following account of actual changelings in Finistère:

"I remember very well that there was a woman of the village of Kergoff, in Plouneventer, who was called -, (1) the mother of a family. When she had her first child, a very strong and very pretty boy, she noticed one morning that he had been changed during the night; there was no longer the fine baby she had put to bed in the evening; there was, instead, an infant hideous to look at, greatly deformed, hunchbacked, and crooked, and of a black colour. The poor woman knew that a fée had entered the house during the night and had changed her child.

(1) This story concerns persons still living, and, at M. Le Scour's suggestion, I have omitted their names.

"This changed infant still lives, and today he is about seventy years old. He has all the possible vices; and he has tried many times to kill his mother. He is a veritable demon; he often predicts the future, and has a habit of running abroad during the night. They call him the "Little Corrigan", and everybody flees from him. Being poor and infirm now, he has been obliged to beg, and people give him alms because they have great fear of him. His nick-name is Olier.

"This woman had a second, then a third child, both of whom were seen by everybody to have been born with no infirmity; and, in turn, each of these two was stolen by a fée and replaced by a little hunchback. The second child was a most beautiful daughter. She was taken during the night and replaced by a little girl babe, so deformed that it resembled a ball. If her brother Olier was bad, she was even worse; she was the terror of the village, and they called her Anniac. The third child met the same luck, but was not so bad as the first and second.

"The poor mother, greatly worried at seeing what had happened, related her troubles to another woman. This woman said to her,

"If you have another child, place with it in the cradle a little sprig of box-wood which has been blessed (by a priest), and the fée will no longer have the power of stealing your children."

And when a fourth child was born to the unfortunate woman it was not stolen, for she placed in the cradle a sprig of box-wood which had been blessed on Palm Sunday (Dimanche des Rameaux). (1)

"The first three children I knew very well, and they were certainly hunchbacked: it is pretended in the country that the fées who come at night to make changelings always leave in exchange hunchbacked infants. It is equally pretended that a mother who has had her child so changed need do nothing more than leave the little hunchback out of doors crying during entire hours, and that the fée hearing it will come and put the true child in its place. Unfortunately, Yvonna — did not know what she should have done in order to have her own children again."

(1) By a Carnac family I was afterwards given a sprig of such blessed box-wood, and was assured that its exorcizing power is still recognized by all old Breton families, most of whom seem to possess branches of it.

Transformation Power of Fées

At Kerallan, near Carnac, this is what Madame Louise Le Rouzic said about the transformation power of fées: "It is said that the fées of the region when insulted sometimes changed men into beasts or into stones." (1)

(1) This idea seems related to the one in the popular Morbihan legend of how St. Cornely, the patron saint of the country and the saint who presides over the Alignements and domestic horned animals, changed into upright stones the pagan forces opposing him when he arrived near Carnac; and these stones are now the famous Alignements of Carnac.

Other Breton Fairies

Besides the various types of fées already described, we find in Luzel's collected stories a few other types of fairy-like beings: in Les Compagnons (The Companions), (1) the fée is a magpie in a forest near Rennes — just as in other Celtic lands, fairies likewise often appear as birds (see our study, pp. 302 ff.); in La Princesse de l'Etoile Brillante (The Princess of the Brilliant Star), (1) a princess under the form of a duck plays the part of a fairy (cf. how fairy women took the form of water-fowls in the tale entitled the Sick Bed of Cuchulainn (see our study, p. 345); in Pipi Menou et les Femmes Volantes (Pipi Menou and the Flying Women) (1), there are fairy women as swan-maidens; and then there are yet to be mentioned Les Morgans de l'ile d'Ouessant (The Morgans of the Isle of Ushant), who live under the sea in rare palaces where mortals whom they love and marry are able to exist with them. In some legends of the Morgans, like one recorded by Luzel, the men and women of this water-fairy race, or the Morgans and Morganezed, seem like anthropomorphosed survivals of ancient sea-divinities, such, for example, as the sea-god called Shony, to whom the people of Lewis, Western Hebrides, still pour libations that he may send in sea-weed, and the sea-god to whom anciently the people of Iona poured libations. (2)

(1) Luzel, op. cit., iii. 226—311; i. 128—218; ii. 349—54.

(2) lb., ii. 269; cf. our study, p. 93.

The "Morgan"

To M. J. Cuillandre (Glanmor), President of the Fédération des Etudiants Bretons, I am indebted for the following weird legend of the Morgan, as it is told among the Breton fisher-folk on the lie Molène, Finistère:

A Weird Legend

"Following a legend which I have collected on the Ile Molène, the Morgan is a fairy eternally young, a virgin seductress whose passion, never satisfied, drives her to despair. Her place of abode is beneath the sea; there she possesses marvellous palaces where gold and diamonds glimmer. Accompanied by other fairies, of whom she is in some respects the queen, she rises to the surface of the waters in the splendour of her unveiled beauty.

By day she slumbers amid the coolness of grottoes, and woe to him who troubles her sleep. By night she lets herself be lulled by the waves in the neighbourhood of the rocks. The sea-foam crystallizes at her touch into precious stones, of whiteness as dazzling as that of her body. By moonlight she moans as she combs her fair hair with a comb of fine gold, and she sings in a harmonious voice a plaintive melody whose charm is irresistible.

The sailor who listens to it feels himself drawn toward her, without power to break the charm which drags him onward to his destruction; the bark is broken on the reefs: the man is in the sea, and the Morgan utters a cry of joy. But the arms of the fairy clasp only a corpse; for at her touch men die, and it is this which causes the despair of the amorous and inviolate Morgan.

She being pagan, it suffices to have been touched by her in order to suffer the saddest fate which can be reserved to a Christian. The unfortunate one whom she had clasped is condemned to wander for ever in the trough of the waters, his eyes wide open, the mark of baptism effaced from his forehead. Never will his poor remains know the sweetness of reposing in holy ground, never will he have a tomb where his kindred might come to pray and to weep."

Origin of the "Morgan"

The following legendary origin is attributed to the Morgan by M. Goulven Le Scour, our Carnac witness:

"Following the old people and the Breton legends, the Morgan (Mari Morgan in Breton) was Dahut, the daughter of King Gradlon, who was ruler of the city of Is. Legend records that when Dahut had entered at night the bedchamber of her father and had cut from around his neck the cord which held the key of the sea-dike flood-gates, and had given this key to the Black Prince, under whose evil love she had fallen, and who, according to belief, was no other than the Devil.

St. Guenolé soon afterwards began to cry aloud, "Great King, arise! The flood-gates are open, and the sea is no longer restrained!" (1)

Suddenly the old King Gradlon arose, and, leaping on his horse, was fleeing from the city with St. Guenolé, when he encountered his own daughter amid the waves. She piteously begged aid of her father, and he took her up behind him on the horse; but St. Guenolé, seeing that the waters were gaining on them, said to the king, "Throw into the sea the demon you have behind you, and we shall be saved!"

Thereupon Gradlon flung his daughter into the abyss, and he and St. Guenolé were saved.

Since that time, the fishermen declare that they have seen, in times of rough sea and clear moonlight, Dahut, daughter of King Gradlon, sitting on the rocks combing her fair hair and singing, in the place where her father flung her. And today there is recognized under the Breton name Marie Morgan, the daughter who sings amid the sea."

(1) "According to the annotations to a legend recorded by Villemarqué, in his Barzaz Breiz, pp. 39-44, and entitled the Submersion de la Vile d"Is; St. Guenolé was traditionally the founder of the first monastery raised in Armorica; and Dahut the princess stole the key from her sleeping father in order fittingly to crown a banquet and midnight debaucheries which were being held in honour of her lover, the Black Prince.

Breton Fairyland Legends

In a legend concerning Mona and the king of the Morgans, much like the Christabel story of English poets, we have a picture of a fairyland not under ground, but under sea; and this legend of Mona and her Morgan lover is one of the most beautiful of all the fairy-tales of Brittany.

Another one of Luzel's legends, concerning a maiden who married a dead man, shows us Fairyland as a world of the dead. It is a very strange legend, and one directly bearing on the Psychological Theory; for this dead man, who is a dead priest, has a palace in a realm of enchantment, and to enter his country one must have a white fairy-wand with which to strike "in the form of a cross" two blows on the rock concealing the entrance.(1) M. Paul Sébillot records from Upper Brittany a tradition that beneath the sea-waves there one can see a subterranean world containing fields and villages and beautiful castles; and it is so pleasant a world that mortals going there find years no longer than days. (2)

(1) Luzel, op. cit., ii. 257—68; i. 3—13.

(2) "P. Sébillot, Traditions et superstitions de la Haute-Bretagne (Paris, 1882), i. 100

Fairies of Upper Brittany. (1)

Principally in Upper Brittany, M. Sébillot found rich folklore concerning fées, though some of his material is drawn from peasants and fishermen who are not so purely Celtic as those in Lower Brittany; and he very concisely summarizes the various names there given to the fairy-folk as follows:

"They are generally called Fées (Fairies), sometimes Fêtes (Fates), a name nearer than fées to the Latin Fata; Fête (fem.) and Fête (mas.) are both used, and from Fête is probably derived Faito or Faitaud, which is the name borne by the fathers, the husbands, or the children of the fées (Saint-Cast). Near Saint-Briac (Ille-et-Vilaine) they are sometimes called Fions; this term, which is applied to both sexes, seems also to designate the mischievous lutins (sprites). Round the Mené, in the cantons of Collinée and of Moncontour, they are called Margot la Fée, or ma Commère (my Godmother) Margot , or even the Bonne Femme (Good Woman) Margot. On the coast they are often enough called by the name of Bonnes Dames (Good Ladies), or of nos Bonnes Mères les Fées (our Good Mothers the Fairies); usually they are spoken of with a certain respect." (2)

As the same authority suggests, probably the most characteristic Fées in Upper Brittany are the Fées des Houles (Fairies of the Billows); and traditions say that they lived in natural caverns or grottoes in the sea-cliffs. They form a distinct class of sea-fairies unknown elsewhere in France or Europe. (3)

M. Sébillot regards them as sea-divinities greatly rationalized. Associated with them are the fions, a race of dwarfs having swords no bigger than pins. (4)

(1) General references: Séblilot, ib.; and his folklore de France (Paris, 1905).

(2) Sébillot, Traditions et superstitions de la Haute-Bretagne, i. 73-4.

(3) Ib., i. 102, 103-4

Buckwheat Cakes

A pretty legend about magic buckwheat cakes, which in different forms is widespread throughout all Brittany, is told of these little cave-dwelling fairies:

Like the larger fées the fions kept cattle; and one day a black cow belonging to the fions of Pont-aux-Hommes-Nées ate the buckwheat in the field of a woman of that neighbourhood. The woman went to the fions to complain, and in reply to her a voice said: "Hold your tongue; you will be paid for your buckwheat!"

Thereupon the fions gave the woman a cupful of buckwheat, and promised her that it would never diminish so long as none should be given away. That year buckwheat was very scarce, but no matter how many buckwheat cakes the woman and her family ate there was never diminution in the amount of the fairy buckwheat.

At last, however, the unfortunate hour came. A rag-gatherer arrived and asked for food. Thoughtlessly the woman gave him one of her buckwheat cakes, and suddenly, as though by magic, all the rest of the buckwheat disappeared for ever.


Along the Rance the inhabitants tell about fées who appear during storms. These storm-fairies are dressed in the colours of the rainbow, and pass along following a most beautiful fée who is mounted in a boat made from a nautilus of the southern seas. And the boat is drawn by two sea-crabs. In no other place in Brittany are similar fées said to exist." In Upper Brittany, as in Lower Brittany, the fées generally had their abodes in tumuli, in dolmens, in forests, in waste lands where there are great rocks, or about menhirs; and many other kinds of spirits lived in the sea and troubled sailors and fisher-folk. Like all fairy-folk of Celtic countries, those of Upper Brittany were given to stealing children. Thus at Dinard not long ago there was a woman more than thirty years old who was no bigger than a girl of ten, and it was said she was a fairy changeling. (2) In Lower Brittany the taking of children was often attributed to dwarfs rather than to fees, though the method of making the changeling speak is the same as in Upper Brittany, namely, to place in such a manner before an open fire a number of eggshells filled with water that they appear to the changeling — who is placed where he can well observe all the proceedings — like so many small pots of cooking food; whereupon, being greatly astonished at the unusual sight, he forgets himself and speaks for the first time, thus betraying his demon nature.

(1) Sébillot, Traditions of superstitions de in Haute-Bretagne, i. 83.

(2) Ib., i. 90-1.

Midwife

The following midwife story, as told by J. M. Comault, of Gouray, in 1881 is quite a parallel to the one we have recorded (on p. 54) as coming from Grange, Ireland:

A midwife who delivered a Margot la fée carelessly allowed some of the fairy ointment to get on one of her own eyes. The eye at once became clairvoyant, so that she beheld the fées in their true nature. And, quite like a midwife in a similar story about the fées des houles, this midwife happened to see a fée in the act of stealing, and spoke to her. Thereupon the fée asked the midwife with which eye she beheld her, and when the midwife indicated which one it was, the fée pulled it out. (1)

Generally, like their relatives in insular Celtdom, the fairies of Upper Brittany could assume various forms, and could even transform the human body; and they were given to playing tricks on mortals, and always to taking revenge on them if ill-treated. In most ways they were like other races of fairies, Celtic and non-Celtic, though very much anthropomorphosed in their nature by the peasant and mariner.

As a rule, the fées of Upper Brittany are described in legend as young and very beautiful. Some, however, appear to be centuries old, with teeth as long as a human hand, and with backs covered with seaweeds, and mussels, or other marine growths, as an indication of their great age. (1) At Saint-Cast they are said to be dressed (like the corrigans at Carnac, see p. 208) in toile, a kind of heavy linen cloth. (2)

(1) Cf. ib., i. 109.

(2) Cf. ib., 74-5, etc.

On the sea-coast of Upper Brittany the popular opinion is that the fées are a fallen race condemned to an earthly exile for a certain period. In the region of the Mené, canton of Collinée, the old folk say that, after the angels revolted, those left in paradise were divided into two parts: those who fought on the side of God and those who remained neutral. These last, already half-fallen, were sent to the earth for a time, and became the fées. (1)

The general belief in the interior of Brittany is that the fees once existed, but that they disappeared as their country was changed by modern conditions. In the region of the Mené and of Ercé (Ille-et-Vilaine) it is said that for more than a century there have been no fées; and on the sea-coast, where it is still firmly believed that the fées used to live in the billows or amid certain grottoes in the cliffs against which the billows broke, the opinion is that they disappeared at the beginning of the last century. The oldest Bretons say that their parents or grandparents often spoke about having seen fées, but very rarely do they say that they themselves have seen fées. M. Sébillot found only two who had. One was an old needle-woman of Saint-Cast, who had such fear of fées that if she was on her way to do some sewing in the country, and it was night, she always took a long circuitous route to avoid passing near a field known as the Couvent des Fées. The other was Marie Chéhu, a woman eighty-eight years old.

(1) Cf. Sébillot, Traditions et superstitions de La Haute-Bretagne, i,74-5, etc.

The Corrigan Race (1)

It is the corrigan race, however, which, more than fées or fairies, forms a large part of the invisible inhabitants of Brittany; and this race of corrigans and nains (dwarfs) may be made to include many kinds of lutins, or as they are often called by the peasant, follets or esprits follets (playful elves). Though the peasants both in Upper and in Lower Brittany may have no strong faith in fées, most of them say that corrigans, or nains, and mischievous house-haunting spirits still exist. But in a few localities, as M. Sébillot discovered, there is an opinion that the lutins departed with the fées, and with them will return in this century, because during each century with an odd number like 1900, the fairy tribes of all kinds are said to be visible or to reappear among men, and to become invisible or to disappear during each century with an even number like 1800. So this is the visible century.

Corrigans and follets only show themselves at night, or in the twilight. No one knows where they pass the day-time.

Some lutins or follets, after the manner of Scotch kelpies, live solitary lives in lakes or ponds (whereas corrigans are socially united in groups or families), and amuse themselves by playing tricks on travellers passing by after dark. Souvestre records a story showing how the lutins can assume any animal form, but that their natural form is that of a little man dressed in green; and that the corrigans have declared war on them for being too friendly to men. (2)

(1) In Lower Brittany the corrigan tribes collectively are commonly called Corrikét,, masculine plural of Corrik, diminutive of Corr, meaning "Dwarf"; or Corriganed, feminine plural of Corrigan, meaning "Little Dwarf". Many other forms are in use. (Cf. R. F. Le Men, Trad. et supers. de la Basse-Bretagne, in Rev. Celt., i. 226—7.)

(2) Cf. Foyer Breton, i. 199.

From what follows about lutins, by M. Goulven Le Scour, they show affinity with Pucks and such shape-shifting hobgoblins as are found in Wales:

"The lutins were little dwarfs who generally appeared at cross-roads to attack belated travellers. And it is related in Breton legends that these lutins sometimes transformed themselves into black horses or into goats; and whoever then had the misfortune to encounter them sometimes found his life in danger, and was always seized with great terror."

But generally, what the Breton peasant tells about corrigans he is apt to tell at another time about lutins. And both tribes of beings, so far as they can be distinguished, are the same as the elfish peoples — pixies in Cornwall, Robin Good-fellows in England, goblins in Wales, or brownies in Scotland. Both corrigans and lulins are supposed to guard hidden treasure; some trouble horses at night; some, like their English cousins, may help in the house-work after all the family are asleep; some cause nightmare; some carry a torch like a Welsh death-candle; some trouble men and women like obsessing spirits; and nearly all of them are mischievous.

In an article in the Revue des Traditions Populaires (v. 101), M. Sébillot has classified more than fifty names given to lutins and corrigans in Lower Brittany, according to the form under which these spirits appear, their peculiar traits, dwelling-places, and the country they inhabit.

Like the fairies in Britain and Ireland, the corrigans and the Cornish pixies find their favourite amusement in the circular dance. When the moon is clear and bright they gather for their frolic near menhirs, and dolmens, and tumuli, and at cross-roads, or even in the open country; and they never miss an opportunity of enticing a mortal passing by to join them. If he happens to be a good-natured man and enters their sport heartily, they treat him quite as a companion, and may even do him some good turn; but if he is not agreeable they will make him dance until he falls down exhausted, and should he commit some act thoroughly displeasing to them he will meet their certain revenge. According to a story reported from Lorient (Morbihan) (1) it is taboo for the corrigans to make a complete enumeration of the days of the week:

(1) By "E. R.", in Mélusine (Paris), i. 114 [209]

The "Corrigan" Taboo

"At night, the corrigans dance, singing, "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday"; they are prohibited from completing the enumeration of the days of the week. A corrigan having had the misfortune to permit himself to be tempted to add "Saturday ", at once became hunchbacked. His comrades, stupefied and distressed, attempted in vain to knock in his hump with blows of their fists."

"Corrigans" at Carnac

How the tradition of the dancing corrigans and their weekday song still lives, appears from the following accounts which I found at and near Carnac, the first account having been given during January 1909 by Madame Marie Ezanno, of Carnac, then sixty-six years old:

"The corrigans are little dwarfs who formerly, by moonlight, used to dance in a circle on the prairies. They sang a song the couplet of which was not understood, but only the refrain, translated in Breton:

"Di Lun (Monday), Di Merh (Tuesday), Di Merhier (Wednesday)."

"They whistled in order to assemble. Where they danced mushrooms grew; and it was necessary to maintain silence so as not to interrupt them in their dance. They were often very brutal towards a man who fell under their power, and if they had a grudge against him they would make him submit to the greatest tortures. The peasants believed strongly in the corrigans, because they thus saw them and heard them. The corrigans dressed in very coarse white linen cloth. They were mischievous spirits (espirits follets), who lived under dolmens."

One morning, M. Lemort and myself called on Madame Louise Le Rouzic in her neat home at Kerallan, a little group of thatched cottages about a mile from Carnac. As we entered, Madame Le Rouzic herself was sitting on a long wooden bench by the window knitting, and her daughter was watching the savoury-smelling dinner as it boiled in great iron pots hanging from chains over a brilliant fire on the hearth. Large gleaming brass basins were ranged on a shelf above the broad open chimney-place wherein the fire burned, and massive bedsteads carved after the Breton style stood on the stone floor. When many things had been talked about, our conversation turned to corrigans, and then the good woman of the house told us these tales:

"Corrigans" at Church

In former times a young girl having taken the keys of the church (presumably at Carnac) and having entered it, found the corrigans about to dance; and the corrigans were singing, "Lundi, Mardi" (Monday, Tuesday).

On seeing the young girl, they stopped, surrounded her, and invited her to dance with them. She accepted, and, in singing, added to their song 'mercredi" (Wednesday).

In amazement, the corrigans cried joyfully, "She has added something to our song; what shall we give her as recompense?" And they gave her a bracelet.

A friend of hers meeting her, asked where the fine bracelet came from; and the young girl told what had happened. The second girl hurried to the church, and found the corrigans still dancing the rond. She joined their dance, and, in singing, added "Jeudi" (Thursday) to their song; but that broke the cadence; and the corrigans in fury, instead of recompensing her wished to punish her.

"What shall we do to her?" one of them cried.

" Let the day be as night to her! " the others replied.

And by day, wherever she went, she saw only the night."

The "Cornigans"" Sabbath

"Where my grandfather lived," continued Madame Le Rouzic, "there was a young girl who went to the sabbath of the corrigans; and when she returned and was asked where she had been, said, "I have travelled over water, wood, and hedges."

And she related all she had seen and heard. Then one night, afterwards, the corrigans came into the house, beat her, and dragged her from bed. On hearing the uproar, my grandfather arose and found the girl lying flat on the stone floor.

"Never question me again," she said to him, "or they will kill me."" (1)

(1) This account about corrigans, more rational than any preceding it, may possibly refer to a dream or trance-like state of mind on the part of the young girl; and if it does, we can then compare the presence of a mortal at this corrigan sabbath, or even at the ordinary witches' sabbath, to the presence of a mortal in Fairyland. And according to popular Breton belief, as reliable peasants assure me, during dreams, trance, or ecstasy, the soul is supposed to depart from the body and actually see spirits of all kinds in another world, and to be then under their influence. While many details in the more conventional corrigan stories appear to reflect a folk-memory of religious dances and songs, and racial, social, and traditional usages of the ancient Bretons, the animistic background of them could conceivably have originated from psychical experiences such as this girl is supposed to have bad.

"Corrigans" as Fairies

Some Breton legends give corrigans the chief characteristics of fairies in Celtic Britain and Ireland; and Villemarqué in his Barzaz Breiz (pp. 25—30) makes the Breton word corrigan synonymous with fee or fairy, thus: "Le Seigneur Nann et la Fée (Aotrou Nann hag ar Cornigan)."

In this legend the corrigan seems clearly enough to be a water-fairy:

"The Korrigan was seated at the edge of her fountain, and she was combing her long fair hair."

But unlike most water-fairies, the Fée lives in a grotto, which, according to Villemarqué, is one of those ancient monuments called in Breton dolmen, or ti ar corrigan; in French, Table de pierres, or Grotte aux Fées — like the famous one near Rennes. The fountain where the Fee was seated seems to be one of those sacred fountains, which, as Villemarqué says, are often found near a Grotte aux Fées, and called Fontaine de la Fée, or in Breton, Feunteun ar corrigan.

"In another of Villemarqué's legends, l'Enfant Supposé, after the egg-shell test has been used and the little corrigan changeling is replaced by the real child, the latter, as though all the while it had been in an unconscious trance-state — which has a curious bearing on our Psychological Theory — stretches forth its arms and awakening exclaims, "Ah! mother, what a long time I have been asleep." (1)

And in Les Nains we see the little Duz or dwarfs inhabiting a cave and guarding treasures. (1)

In his introduction to the Banzaz Breiz, Villemarqué describes les kornigan, whom he equates with les fées, as very similar to ordinary fairies. They can foretell the future, they know the art of war — quite like the Irish "gentry" or Tuatha De Danann — they can assume any animal form, and are able to travel from one end of the world to another in the twinkling of an eye. They love feasting and music — like all Celtic fairy-folk; and dance in a circle holding hands, but at the least noise disappear. Their favourite haunts are near fountains and dolmens. They are little beings not more than two feet high, and beautifully proportioned, with bodies as aerial and transparent as those of wasps.

And like all fairy, or elvish races, and like the Breton Morgans or water-spirits, they are given to stealing the children of mortals.

Professor J. Loth has called my attention to an unpublished Breton legend of his collection, in which there are fairy-like beings comparable to these described by Villemarqué; and he tells me, too, that throughout Brittany one finds today the counterpart of the Welsh Tylwyth Teg or "Fair Family", and that both in Wales and Brittany the Tylwyth Teg are popularly described as little women, or maidens, like fairies no larger than children.

(1) Villemarqué, Barzas Breiz (Paris, 1867), pp. 33, 35.

Fairies and Dwarfs

Where Villemarqué draws a clear distinction is between these korrigan and fées on the one hand, and the nains or dwarfs on the other. These last are what we have found associated or identified with corrigans in the Morbihan. Villemarqué describes the nains as a hideous race of beings with dark or even black hairy bodies, with voices like old men, and with little sparkling black eyes. They are fond of playing tricks on mortals who fall into their power; and are given to singing in a circular dance the weekday song. Very often corrigans regarded as nains, equally with all kinds of lutins, are believed to be evil spirits or demons condemned to live here on earth in a penitential state for an indefinite time; and sometimes they seem not much different from what Irish Celts, when talking of fairies, call fallen angels.

Le Nain de Kerhuiton, translated from Breton by Professor J. Loth, in part illustrates this:

The Egg-shell Test

On seeing water boiling in a number of egg-shells ranged before an open fire, a polpegan-changeling is so greatly astonished that he unwittingly speaks for the first time, and says,

"Here I am almost one hundred years old, and never such a thing have I yet seen! "

"Ah! son of Satan!" then cries out the mother, as she comes from her place of hiding and beats the polpegan — who thus by means of the egg-shell test has been tricked into revealing his demon nature. (1)

(1) J. Loth, in Annales de Bretagne (Rennes), x. 78-81.

Changeling Tale

In a parallel story, reported by Villemarqué in his Barzaz Breiz (p. 33 n.), a nain-changeling is equally astonished to see a similar row of egg-shells boiling before an open fire like so many pots of food, and gives himself away through the following remark:

"I have seen the acorn before the oak; I have seen the egg before the white chicken: I have never seen the equal to this."

Nature of the " Corrigans "

As to the general ideas about the corrigans, M. Le Scour says:

"Formerly the corrigans were the terror of the country-folk, especially in Finistère, in the Morbihan, and throughout the Côtes-du-Nord. They were believed to be souls in pain, condemned to wander at night in waste lands and marshes. Sometimes they were seen as dwarfs; and often they were not seen at all, but were heard in houses making an infernal noise. Unlike the lavandiéres de nuits (phantom washerwomen of the night), they were heard only in summer, never in winter."

The Breton Legend of the Dead

We come now to the Breton Legend of the Dead, common generally to all parts of armorica, though probably even more widespread in Lower Brittany than in Upper Brittany; and this we call the Armorican Fairy-Faith. Even where the peasants have no faith in fées or fairies, and where their faith in corrigans is weak or almost gone, there is a strong conviction among them that the souls of the dead can show themselves to the living, a vigorous belief in apparitions, phantom-funerals, and various death-warnings.

As Professor Anatole Le Braz has so well said in his introduction to La Légende de la Mont, "the whole conscience of these people is fundamentally directed toward that which concerns death. And the ideas which they form of it, in spite of the strong Christian imprint which they have received, do not seem much different from those which we have pointed out among their pagan ancestors. For them, as for the primitive Celts, death is less a change of condition than a journey, a departure for another world."

And thus it seems that this most popular of the Breton folk-beliefs is genuinely Celtic and extremely ancient. As Renan has said, the Celtic people are "a race mysterious, having knowledge of the future and the secret of death " (1)

And whereas in Ireland unusual happenings or strange accidents and death are attributed to fairy interference, in Brittany they are attributed to the influence of the dead.

The Breton Celt makes no distinction between the living and the dead. All alike inhabit this world, the one being visible, the other invisible. Though seers can at all times behold the dead, on November Eve (La Toussaint) and on Christmas Eve they are most numerous and most easily seen; and no peasant would think of questioning their existence. In Ireland and Scotland the country-folk fear to speak of fairies save through an euphemism, and the Bretons speak of the dead indirectly, and even then with fear and trembling.

(1) E. Renan, Essais de morale et de critique (Paris, 1859), p. 451.

Foretelling Deaths

The following legend, which I found at Carnac, will serve to illustrate both the profundity of the belief in the power of the dead over the living in Lower Brittany, and how deeply the people can be stirred by the predictions of one who can see the dead; and the legend is quite typical of those so common in Armorica:

"Formerly there was a woman whom spirits impelled to rise from her bed, it made no difference at what hour of the night, in order to behold funerals in the future. She predicted who should die, who should carry the corpse, who the cross, and who should follow the cortège. Her predictions frightened every one, and made her such a terror to the country that the mayor had threatened to take legal proceedings against her if she continued her practice; but she was compelled to tell the things which the spirits showed her. It is about ten years since this woman died in the hospital at Auray."

Testimony of a Breton Seeress

There lives in the little hamlet of Kerlois, less than a mile from Carnac, a Breton seeress, a woman who since eight years of age has been privileged to behold the world invisible and its inhabitants, quite like the woman who died at Auray. She is Madame Eugénie Le Port, now forty-two years old, and what she tells of things seen in this invisible world which surrounds her, might easily be taken for Irish legends about fairies.

Knowing very little French, because she is thoroughly Breton, Madame Le Port described her visions in her own native tongue, and her eldest daughter acted as interpreter. I had known the good woman since the previous winter, and so we were able to converse familiarly; and as I sat in her own little cottage, in company with her husband and daughters, and with M. Lemort, who acted as recording secretary, this is what she said in her clear earnest manner in answer to my questions:

"We believe that the spirits of our ancestors surround us and live with us. One day on a road from Carnac I encountered a woman of Kergoellec who had been dead eight days. I asked her to move to one side so that I could pass, and she vanished. This was eleven o'clock in the morning. I saw her at another time in the Marsh of Breno; I spoke, but she did not reply.

On the route from Plouharnel (near Carnac) I saw in the day-time the funeral of a woman who did not die until fifteen days afterwards. I recognized perfectly all the people who took part in it; but the person with me saw nothing.

Another time, near three o'clock in the afternoon, and eight days before her death, I saw on the same route the funeral of a woman who was drowned.

And I have seen a phantom horse going to the sabbath, and as if forced along against its will, for it reared and pawed the earth.

When Pierre Rouzic of Kerlois died, I saw a light of all colours between heaven and earth, the very night of his death.

I have seen a woman asleep whose spirit must have been free, for I saw it hovering outside her body. She was not awakened [at the time] for fear that the spirit would not find its body again."

In answer to my question as to how long these various visions usually lasted, Madame Le Port said: "They lasted about a quarter of an hour, or less, and all of them disappeared instantaneously."

As Madame Le Port now seemed unable to recall more of her visions, I finally asked her what she thought about corrigans, and she replied:

"I believe they exist as some special kind of spirits, though I have never seen any."

Proof that the Dead Exist

This is what M. Jean Couton, an old Breton, told me at Carnac:

"I am only an old peasant, without instruction, without any education, but let me tell you what I think concerning the dead. Following my own idea, I believe that after death the soul always exists and travels among us. I repeat to you that I have belief that the dead are seen; I am now going to prove [?] this to you in the following story:

"One winter evening I was returning home from a funeral. I had as companion a kinswoman of the man just buried. We took the train and soon alighted in the station of Plouharnel. We still had three kilometres to go before reaching home, and as it was winter, and at that epoch there was no stage-coach, we were obliged to travel afoot. As we were going along, suddenly there appeared to my companion her dead relative whom we had buried that day.

She asked me if I saw anything, and since I replied to her negatively she said to me, "Touch me, and you will see without doubt."

I touched her, and I saw the same as she did, the person just dead, whom I clearly recognized." (1)

(1) In Ireland it is commonly held that a seer beholding a fairy can make a non-seer see it also by coming into bodily rapport with the non-seer (cf.p. 152).

Phantom Washerwomen

Concerning a very popular Breton belief in phantom washerwomen (les lavandiéres de nuits; or in Breton, cannered noz), M. Goulven Le Scour offers the following summary:

"The lavandièries de nuits were heard less often than the cornigans, but were much more feared. It was usually towards midnight that they were heard beating their linen in front of different washing-places, always some way from the villages. According to the old folk of the past generation, when the phantom washerwomen would ask a certain passer-by to help them to wring sheets, he could not refuse, under pain of being stopped and wrung like a sheet himself. And it was necessary for those who aided in wringing the sheets to turn in the same direction as the washerwomen; for if by misfortune the assistant turned in an opposite direction, he had his arms wrung in an instant. It is believed that these phantom washerwomen are women condemned to wash their mortuary sheets during whole centuries; but that when they find some mortal to wring in an opposite direction, they are delivered." (1)

(1) It is sometimes believed that phantom washerwomen are undergoing penance for having wilfully brought on an abortion by their work, or else for having strangled their babe.

Breton Animistic Beliefs

M. Z. Le Rouzic, a Breton Celt who has spent most of his life studying the archaeology and folklore of the Morbihan, and who is at present Keeper of the Miln Museum at Carnac, summarizes for us the state of popular beliefs as he finds them existing in the Carnac country now:

"There are few traditions concerning the fées in the region of Carnac; but the belief in spirits, good and bad — which seems to me to be the same as the belief in fées — is general and profound, as well as the belief in the incarnation of spirits. And I am convinced that these beliefs are the reminiscences of ancient Celtic beliefs held by the Druids and conserved by Christianity."

In Finistère, as purely Breton as the Morbihan, I found the Legend of the Dead just as widespread, and the belief in spirits and the apparitional return of the dead quite as profound; but nothing worth recording concerning fairies.

The stories which follow were told to me by M. Pierre Vichon, a pure Breton Celt, born at Lescoff, near the Pointe du Raz, Finistère, in 1842. Peter is a genuine old " sea-dog", having made the tour of the globe, and yet he has not lost the innate faith of his ancient ancestors in a world invisible; for though he says he cannot believe all that the people in his part of Finistère tell about spirits and ghosts, he must have a belief that the dead as spirits exist and influence the living, because of his own personal experience — one of the most remarkable of its kind. Peter speaks Breton, French, and English fluently, and since he had an opportunity for the first time in seventeen months of using English, he told me the stories in my own native language:

Pierre Vichon's Strange Experience

"Some forty years ago a strange thing happened in my life. A relative of mine had taken service in the Austrian army, for by profession he was a soldier, though at first he had begun to study for the priesthood. During the progress of the war I had no news from him; and, then one day while I was on the deck of a Norwegian ship just off Dover (England), my fellow sailors heard a noise as though of a gun being discharged, and the whirr of a shot. At the same moment I fell down on the deck as though mortally wounded, and lay in an unconscious state for two hours.

When the news came, it was ascertained that at the very moment I fell and the gun-report was heard, my relative in Austria had been shot in the head and fell down dead. And he had been seen to throw his hands up to his head to grasp it just as I did."

An Apparition of the Dead

"I had another relative who died in a hospital near Christiania, Norway; and on the day he died a sister of mine, then a little girl, saw his spirit appear here in Lescoff, and she easily recognized it; but none of her girl companions with her at the time saw the spirit.

After a few days we had the news of the death, and the time of it and the time of my sister's seeing the spirit coincided exactly."

In all the peninsula of which the famous and dangerous Pointe du Raz is the terminus, similar stories are current. And among the fisher-folk with whom I lived on the strange and historic Ile de Sein, the Legend of the Dead is even more common.

The Dead and Fairies Compared

Without setting down here in detail numerous other death-legends which we have collected, we may now note how much the same are the powers and nature of the dead and spirits in Brittany, and the power and nature of the fairy races in Celtic Britain and Ireland. Thus the Breton dead strike down the living just as fairies are said to do; the Ankou (1) who is a king of the dead, and his subjects, like a fairy king and fairies, have their own particular paths or roads over which they travel in great sacred processions; (2) and exactly as fairies, the hosts of the dead are in possession of the earth on November Eve, and the living are expected to prepare a feast and entertainment for them of curded-milk, hot pancakes, and cider, served on the family table covered with a fresh white table-cloth, and to supply music. The Breton dead come to enjoy this hospitality of their friends; and as they take their places at the table the stools are heard to move, and sometimes the plates; and the musicians who help to entertain them think that at times they feel the cold breath of the invisible visitors. Concerning this same feast of the dead (La Toussaint) Villemarqué in his Barzaz Breiz (p. 507) records that in many parts of Brittany libations of milk are poured over or near ancestral tombs — just as in Ireland and Scotland libations of milk are poured to fairies. And the people of Armorica at other times than November Eve remember the dead very appropriately, as in Ireland the Irish remember fairies.

(1) Every parish in the uncorrupted parts of Brittany has its own Ankou, who is the last man to die in the parish during the year. Each King of the Dead, therefore, never holds office for more than twelve months, since during that period he is certain to have a successor. Sometimes the Ankou is Death itself personified. In the Morbihan, the Ankou occasionally may be seen as an apparition entering a house where a death is about to occur; though more commonly he is never seen, his knocking only is heard, which is the rule in Finistère. In Welsh mythology, Gwynn ab Nudd, king of the world of the dead, is represented as playing a role parallel to that of the Breton Ankou, when he goes forth with his fierce hades-hounds hunting the souls of the dying. (Cf. Rhy's, Arth. Leg., p. 155.)

(2) Cf. A. Le Bras, La Légende de is Mort; Introduction by L. Marillier (Paris, 1893), pp. 31, 40.

The Breton peasant thinks of the dead as frequently as the Irishman thinks of fairies. One day while I was walking toward Carnac there was told to me in the most ordinary manner a story about a dead man who used to be seen going along the very road I was on. He quite often went to the church in Carnac seeking prayers for his soul. And almost every man or woman one meets in rural Lower Brittany can tell many similar stories.

If a mortal should happen to meet one of the dead in Brittany and be induced to eat food which the dead sometimes offer, he will never be able to return among the living, (1) for the effect would be the same as eating fairy-food.

Like ghosts and fairies in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, in Brittany the dead guard hidden treasure. It is after sunset that the dead have most power to strike down the living, (1) and to take them just as fairies do. A natural phenomenon, a malady, a death, or a tempest may be the work of a spirit in Brittany, (1) and in Ireland the work of a fairy. The Breton dead, like the Scotch fairies described in Kirk's Secret Commonwealth, are capable of making themselves visible or invisible to mortals, at will. (1) Their bodies — for they have bodies — are material, (1) being composed of matter in a state unknown to us; and the bodies of daemons as described by the Ancients are made of congealed air. The dead in Brittany have forms more slender and smaller in stature than those of the living;" and herein we find one of the factors which supporters of the Pygmy Theory would emphasize, but it is thoroughly psychical. Old Breton farmers after death return to their farms, as though come from Fairyland; and sometimes they even take a turn at the ploughing. (1) As in Ireland, so in Brittany, the day belongs to the living, and the night, when a mortal is safer indoors than out, to spirits and the dead." The Bretons take great care not to counterfeit the dead nor to speak slightingly of them,(1) for, like fairies, they know all that is done by mortals, and can hear all that is said about them, and can take revenge. Just as in the case of all fairies and goblins, the dead disappear at first cock-crow. (2) The world of the dead, like the land of Faerie or the Otherworld, may be underground, in the air, in a hill or mountain like a fairy palace, under a river or sea, and even on an island out amid the ocean. (2) As other Celts do against evil spirits and fairies, the Breton peasants use magic against evil souls of the dead, (3) and the priests use exorcisms. The Breton realm of the dead equally with the Irish Fairyland is an invisible world peopled by other kinds of spirits besides disembodied mortals and fairies. (4) The dead haunt houses just as Robin Good-fellows and brownies, or pixies and goblins, generally do. The dead are fond of frequenting cross-roads, and so are all sorts of fairies. In Brittany one must always guard against the evil dead, in Cornwall against pixies, in other Celtic lands against different kinds of fairies. In Ireland and Scotland there is the banshee, in Wales the death-candle, in Brittany the Ankou or king of the dead, to foretell a death. And as the banshee wails before the ancestral mansion, so the Ankou sounds its doleful cry before the door of the one it calls. (4) There seems not to be a family in the Carnac region of the Morbihan without some tradition of a warning coming before the death of one of its members. In Ireland only certain families have a banshee, but in Brittany all families. Professor Le Braz has devoted a large part of his work on La Légende de la Mort to these Breton death-warnings or intersignes. They may be shades of the dead under many aspects — ghostly hands, or ghosts of inanimate objects. They may come by the fall of objects without known cause; by a magpie resting on a roof — just as in Ireland; by the crowing of cocks, and the howling of dogs at night. They may be death-candles or torches, dreams, peculiar bodily sensations, images in water, phantom funerals, and death-chariots or death-coaches as in Wales.

(1) Cf. Le Braz, La Légende de la Mort; Introduction by Marillier, pp. 47, 46, 7-8, 40, 45, 46.

(1) Cf. Le Bras, La Légende de la Mort; Introduction by Marillier, p. 43.

(2) lb.; Notes by G. Dottin (Paris, 1902), p. 44.

(3) Ib.; Introduction by Marillier,pp. 19, 23, 68.

(4) Cf, Ib.; Introduction by Marillier.

The Bretons may be said to have a Death-Faith, whereas the other Celts have a Fairy-Faith, and both are a real folk-religion innate in the Celtic nature, and thus quite as influential as Christianity. Should Christianity in some way suddenly be swept away from the Celt he would still be religious, for it is his nature to be so. And as Professor Le Braz has suggested to me, Carnac with its strange monuments of an unknown people and time, and wrapped in its air of mystery and silence, is a veritable Land of the Dead. I, too, have felt that there are strange, vague, indefinable influences at work at Carnac at all times of the day and night, very similar to those which I have felt in the most fairy-haunted regions of Ireland. We might say that all of Brittany is a Land of the Dead, and ancient Carnac its Centre, just as Ireland is Fairyland, with its Centre at ancient Tara.

Conclusion

We can very appropriately conclude our inquiry about Brittany with a very beautiful description of a Veillée in Lower Brittany, written down in French, for our special use by the Breton poet, M. Le Scour, of Carnac, and here translated. M. Le Scour draws the whole picture from life, and from his own intimate experience. It will serve to give us some insight into the natural literary ability of the Breton Celts, to illustrate their love of tales dealing with the marvellous and the supernormal, and is especially valuable for showing the social environment amidst which the Fairy-Faith of Lower Brittany lives and flourishes, Isolated from foreign interference:

A 'veillée "(1) in Lower Brittany

(1) A Breton night's entertainment held in a peasant's cottage, stable, or other warm outhouse. In parts of the Morbihan and of Finistère where the old Celtic life has escaped modern influences. almost every winter the Breton Celts like their cousins in very secluded parts of Wales, Ireland and in the Western Hebrides, find their chief enjoyment in story-telling festivals, some of which I have been privileged to attend.

The wind was blowing from the east, and in the intermittent moonlight the roof of the thatched cottage already gleamed with a thin covering of snow which had fallen since sunset. Each corner reached on the run the comfortable bakehouse, wherein Alain Corre was at work kneading his batch of barley bread; and the father Le Scour was never the last to arrive, because he liked to get the best seat in front of the bake-oven.

"Victor had promised us for that night a pretty story which no person had ever heard before. I was not more than fourteen years old then, but like all the neighbours I hurried to get a place in order to hear Victor. My mother was already there, making her distaff whirr between her two fingers as she sat in the light of a rosin candle, and my brother Yvon was finishing a wooden butter-spoon. Every few minutes I and my little cousin went out to see if it was still snowing, and if Victor had arrived.

"At last Victor entered, and everybody applauded, the young girls lengthening out their distaffs to do him reverence. Then when silence was restored, after some of the older men had several times shouted out, "Let us commence; hold your tongues," Victor began his story as follows:

" "Formerly, in the village of Kastel-Laer, Plouneventer (Finistère), there were two neighbours; the one was Paol al Ludu and the other Yon Rustik. Paol al Ludu was a good-for-nothing sort of fellow; he gained his living easily, by cheating everybody and by robbing his neighbours; and being always well dressed he was much envied by his poorer acquaintances. Yon Rustik, on the contrary, was a poor, infirm, and honest man, always seeking to do good, but not being able to work, had to beg.

""One evening our two men were disputing. Paol al Ludu treated Yon shamefully, telling him that it would be absurd to think an old lame man such as he was could ever get to Paris; "But I," added Paol, "am going to see the capital and amuse myself like a rich bourgeois."

At this, Yon offered to bet with Paol that in spite of infirmities he would also go to Paris; and being an honest man he placed his trust in God. The wager was mutually agreed to, and our two men set out for Paris by different routes.

""Paol al Ludu, who had no infirmities, arrived at Paris within three weeks. He followed the career of a thief, and deceived everybody; and as he was well dressed, people had confidence in him. The poor Yon Rustik, on the contrary, did not travel rapidly. He was obliged to beg his way, and being meanly dressed was compelled to sleep outdoors when he could not find a stable.

At the end of a month he arrived in a big forest in the region of Versailles, and having no other shelter for the night chose a great oak tree which was hollowed by the centuries and lined with fungi within. In front of this ancient oak there was a fountain which must have been miraculous, for it flowed from east to west, and Yon had closely observed it.

""Towards midnight Yon was awakened by a terrible uproar; there were a hundred corrigans dancing round the fountain. He overheard one of them say to the others: "I have news to report to you; I have cast an evil spell on the daughter of the king, and no mortal will ever be able to cure her, and yet in order to cure her nothing more would be needed than a drop of water from this fountain."

The corrigan who thus spoke was on two sticks (1) (crippled), and commanded all the others. The beggar having understood the conversation, awaited impatiently the departure of the corrigans. When they were gone, he took a little water from the fountain in a bottle, and hurried on to Paris, where he arrived one fine morning.

(1) The word in the manuscript is boiteux, and in relation to a devil or demon this seems to be a proper rendering.

In the house where Yon stopped to eat his crust of dry bread he heard it reported that the daughter of the king was very ill, and that the wisest doctors in France had been sent for.

Three days later, Yon Rustik presented himself at the palace, and asked audience with the King, but as he was so shabbily dressed the attendants did not wish to let him enter. When he strongly insisted, they finally prevailed on the king to receive him; and then Yon told the king that he had come to cure the princess.

Thereupon the King caused Yon to be fittingly dressed and presented before the sick-bed; and Yon drew forth his bottle of water, and, at his request, the princess drank it to the last drop. Suddenly she began to laugh with joy, and throwing her arms about the neck of the beggar thanked him: she was radically cured. At once the King gave orders that his golden coach of state be made ready; and placing the princess and the beggar on one seat, made a tour throughout all the most beautiful streets of Paris. Never before were such crowds seen in Paris, for the proclamation had gone forth that the one who had made the miraculous cure was a beggar.

""Paol al Ludu, who was still in Paris, pressed forward to see the royal coach pass, and when he saw who sat next to the princess he was beside himself with rage. But before the day was over he discovered Yon in the great hotel of the city, and asked him how it was that he had been able to effect the cure; and Yon replied to his old rival that it was with the water of a miraculous fountain, and relating everything which had passed, explained to him in what place the hollow oak and the fountain were to be found.

""Paol did not wait even that night, but set off at once to find the miraculous fountain. When he finally found it the hour was almost midnight, and so he hid himself in the hollow of the oak, hoping to overhear some mysterious revelation. Midnight had hardly come when a frightful uproar commenced: this time the crippled corrigan chief was swearing like a demon, and he cried to the others, "The daughter of the king has been cured by a beggar! He must have overheard us by hiding in the hollow of that d—d old oak. Quick! let fire be put in it, for it has brought us misfortune."

""In less than a minute, the trunk of the oak was in flames; and there were heard the cries of anguish of Paol al Ludu and the gnashing of his teeth, as he fought against death. Thus the evil and dishonest man ended his life while Yon Rustik received a pension of twenty thousand francs, and was able to live happy for many years, and to give alms to the poor.""


Here M. Le Scour ends his narrative, leaving the reader to imagine the enthusiastic applause and fond embraces bestowed on Victor for this most marvellous story, by the happy gathering of country-folk in that cosy warm bakehouse in Lower Brittany, while without the cold east wind of winter was whirling into every nook and corner the falling flakes of snow.

The evidence from Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany, which the living Celtic Fairy-Faith offers, has now been heard; and, as was stated at the beginning of the inquiry, apparently most of it can only be interpreted as belonging to a world-wide doctrine of souls. But before this decision can be arrived at safely, all the evidence should be carefully estimated according to anthropological and psychological methods; and this we shall proceed to do in the following chapter, before passing to Section 2 of our study.

Contents


Celtic fairy stories, Literature  

Glta: Norberg-Schulz, Christian. Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture. London: Academy, 1980.

Mme: Kearney, Richard. Modern Movements in European Philosophy. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986.

Tff: Evans-Wentz, Walter Yeeling. The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. London: H. Froude, 1911. Online at Sacred-Texts: [www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/ffcc/index.htm]

Tfg: Findhorn Community. The Findhorn Garden: Pioneering a New Vision of Humanity and Nature in Cooperation. Forres: The Findhorn Press, 1979.

Th: Maclean, Dorothy. To Hear the Angels Sing: An Odyssey of Co-Creation with the Devic Kingdom. Herndon, VA: Lindisfarne Books, 1980.

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