3. In Scotland
Introduction by ALEXANDER CARMICHAEL, Hon. LL.D. of the University of Edinburgh; author of Carmina Gadelica:
The belief in fairies was once common throughout Scotland – Highland and Lowland. It is now much less prevalent even in the Highlands and Islands, where such beliefs linger longer than they do in the Lowlands. But it still lives among the old people, and is privately entertained here and there even among younger people; and some who hold the belief declare that they themselves have seen fairies.
Various theories have been advanced as to the origin of fairies and as to the belief in them. The most concrete form in which the belief has been urged has been by the Rev. Robert Kirk, minister of Aberfoyle, in Perthshire. (1)
(1) It was the belief of the Rev. Robert Kirk, as expressed by him in his Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies, that the fairy tribes are a distinct order of created beings possessing human-like intelligence and supernormal powers, who live and move about in this world invisible to all save men and women of the second-sight (see this study, pp. 89, 91 n).
Another theory of the origin of fairies I took down in the island of Miunghlaidh (Minglay); and, though I have given it in Carmina Gadelica, it is sufficiently interesting to be quoted here. During October 1871, Roderick Macneill, known as "Ruaraidh mac Dhomhuil, then ninety-two years of age, told it in Gaelic to the late J. F. Campbell of Islay and the writer, when they were storm-stayed in the precipitous island of Miunghlaidh, Barra:
"The Proud Angel fomented a rebellion among the angels of heaven, where he had been a leading light. He declared that he would go and found a kingdom for himself. When going out at the door of heaven the Proud Angel brought prickly lightning and biting lightning out of the doorstep with his heels. Many angels followed him – so many that at last the Son called out, "Father! Father! the city is being emptied!" whereupon the Father ordered that the gates of heaven and the gates of hell should be closed. This was done at once. And those who were in were in, and those who were out were out; while the hosts who had left heaven and had not reached hell flew into the holes of the earth, like the stormy petrels. These are the Fairy Folk – ever since doomed to live under the ground, and only allowed to emerge where and when the King permits. They are never allowed abroad on Thursday, that being Columba's Day; nor on Friday, that being the Son's Day; nor on Saturday, that being Mary's Day; nor on Sunday, that being the Lord's Day.
God be between me and every fairy,
On certain nights when their bruthain (bowers) are open and their lamps are lit, and the song and the dance are moving merrily, the fairies may be heard singing light-heartedly:
Not of the seed of Adam are we,
The fairies entered largely into the lives and into the folk-lore of the Highland people, and the following examples of things named after the fairies indicate the manner in which the fairies dominated the minds of the people of Gaeldom:teine sith, "fairy fire" (ignis fatuus); breaca sith, "fairy marks," livid spots appearing on the faces of the dead or dying; marcachd shith, "fairy riding," paralysis of the spine in animals, alleged to be brought on by the fairy mouse riding across the backs of animals while they are lying down; piob shith, "fairy pipe" or "elfin pipe", generally found in ancient underground houses; miaran na mna sithe, "the thimble of the fairy woman," the fox-glove; lion na mna sithe, "lint of the fairy woman," fairy flax, said to be beneficial in certain illnesses; and curachan na mna sithe, "coracle of the fairy woman," the shell of the blue valilla. In place-names sith, "fairy," is common. Glenshee, in Pertbsbire, is said to have been full of fairies, but the screech of the steam-whistle frightened them underground. There is scarcely a district of the Highlands without its fairy knoll, generally the greenest hillock in the place. "The black chanter of Clan Chattan" is said to have been given to a famous Macpherson piper by a fairy woman who loved him; and the Mackays have a flag said to have been given to a Mackay by a fairy sweetheart. The well-known fairy flag of Dunvegan is said to have been given to a Macleod of Macleod by a fairy woman; and the Macrimmons of Bororaig, pipers to the Macleods of Macleod, had a chanter called 'sionnsair airgid na mna sithe", "the silver chanter of the fairy woman." A family in North Uist is known as Dubh-sith, "Black fairy," from a tradition that the family had been familiar with the fairies in their secret flights and nightly migrations.
A Ragworth Story
Donald Macalastair, seventy-nine years of age, crofter, Druim-a-ghinnir, Arran, told me, in the year 1895, the following story in Gaelic:
"The fairies were dwelling in the knoll, and they had a near neighbour who used to visit them in their home. The man used to observe the ways of the fairies and to do as they did. The fairies took a journey upon them to go to Ireland, and the man took upon him to go with them. Every single fairy of them caught a ragwort and went astride it, and they were pell-mell, every knee of them across the Irish Ocean in an instant, and across the Irish Ocean was the man after them, astride a ragwort like one of themselves. A little wee tiny fairy shouted and asked were they all ready, and all the others replied that they were, and the little fairy called out:
My king at my head,
"Follow me," said the king of the fairies, and away they went across the Irish Ocean, every mother's son of them astride his ragwort. Macuga (Cook) did not know on earth how he would return to his native land, but he leapt upon the ragwort as he saw the fairies do, and he called as he heard them call, and in an instant he was back in Arran. But he had got enough of the fairies on this trip itself, and he never went with them again."
The fairies were wont to take away infants and their mothers, and many precautions were taken to safeguard them till purification and baptism took place, when the fairy power became ineffective. Placing iron about the bed, burning leather in the room, giving mother and child the milk of a cow which had eaten of the mothan, pearl-wort (Pinguicula vulgaris), a plant of virtue, and similar means were taken to ensure their safety. If the watching-women neglected these precautions, the mother or child or both were spirited away to the fairy bower. Many stories are current on this subject.
Helpful on Occasion
Sometimes the fairies helped human beings with their work, coming in at night to finish the spinning or the housework, or to thresh the farmer's corn or fan his grain. On such occasions they must not be molested nor interfered with, even in gratitude. If presented with a garment they will go away and work no more. This method of getting rid of them is often resorted to, as it is not easy always to find work for them to do.
The Wise Woman
Bean chaol a chot uaine 's na gruaige buidhe, "the slender woman of the green kirtle and of the yellow hair," is wise of head and deft of hand. She can convert the white water of the nil into rich red wine and the threads of the spiders into a tartan plaid. From the stalk of the fairy reed she can bring the music of the lull of the peace and of the repose, however active the brain and lithe the limb; and she can rouse to mirth and merriment, and to the dance, men and women, however dolorous their condition. From the bower could be heard the pipe and the song and the voice of laughter as the fairies" sett" and reeled in the mazes of the dance. Sometimes a man hearing the merry music and seeing the wonderful light within would be tempted to go in and join them, but woe to him if he omitted to leave a piece of iron at the door of the bower on entering, for the cunning fairies would close the door and the man would find no egress. There he would dance for years – but to him the years were as one day – while his wife and family mourned him as dead.
The Flint Arrow through the Air
The flint arrow-heads so much prized by antiquarians are called in the Highlands Saighead sith, fairy arrows. They are said to have been thrown by the fairies at the sons and daughters of men. The writer possesses one which was thrown at his own maid-servant one night when she went to the peatstack for peat's. She was aware of something whizzing through the silent air, passing through her hair, grazing her ear and falling at her feet. Stooping in the bright moonlight the girl picked up a fairy arrow!
"But faith is dead – such things do not happen now," said a courteous informant. If not quite dead it is almost dead, hastened by the shifting of population, the establishment of means of communication, the influx of tourists, and the scorn of the more materialistic of the incomers and of the people themselves.
EDINBURGH, October 1910.
Aberfoyle, the Country of Robert Kirk
My first hunt for fairies in Scotland began at Aberfoyle, where the Highlands and the Lowlands meet, and in the very place where Robert Kirk, the minister of Aberfoyle, was taken by them, in the year 1692. The minister spent a large part of his time studying the ways of the "good people", and he must have been able to see them, for he was a seventh son.
Kirk at Church
Mrs. J. MacGregor, who keeps the key to the old churchyard where there is a tomb to Kirk, though many say there is nothing in it but a coffin filled with stones, told me that Kirk was taken into the Fairy Knoll, which she pointed to just across a little valley in front of us, and is there yet, for the hill is full of caverns, and in them the "good people" have their homes. And she added that Kirk appeared to a relative of his after he was taken, and said that he was in the power of the "good people", and couldn't get away.
"But," says he, "I can be set free if you will have my cousin do what I tell him when I appear again at the christening of my child in the parsonage."
According to Mr. Andrew Lang, who reports the same tradition in more detail in his admirable Introduction to The Secret Commonwealth, the cousin was Grahame of Duchray, and the thing he was to do was to throw a dagger over Kirk's head. Grahame was at hand at the christening of the posthumous child, but was so astonished to see Kirk appear as Kirk said he would, that he did not throw the dagger, and so Kirk became a perpetual prisoner of the "good people".
After having visited Kirk's tomb, I called on the Rev. William M. Taylor, the present successor of Kirk, and, as we sat together in the very room where Kirk must have written his Secret Commonwealth, he told me that tradition reports Kirk as having been taken by the fairies while he was walking on their hill, which is but a short way from the parsonage.
"At the time of his disappearance, people said he was taken because the fairies were displeased with him for prying into their secrets. At all events, it seems likely that Kirk was taken ill very suddenly with something like apoplexy while on the Fairy Knoll, and died there. I have searched the presbytery books, and find no record of how Kirk's death really took place; but of course there is not the least doubt of his body being in the grave."
So thus, according to Mr. Taylor, we are to conclude that if the fairies carried off anything, it must have been the spirit or soul of Kirk. I talked with others round Aberfoyle about Kirk, and some would have it that his body and soul were both taken, and that what was buried was no corpse at all. Mrs. Margaret MacGregor, one of the few Gaelic speakers of the old school left in Aberfoyle, holds another opinion, for she said to me,
"Nothing could be surer than that the good people took Kirk's spirit only."
In the Aberfoyle country, the Fairy-Faith, save for the stories about Kirk, which will probably persist for a long time yet, is rapidly passing. In fact it is almost forgotten now. Up to thirty years ago, as Mr. Taylor explained, before the railway reached Aberfoyle, belief in fairies was much more common. Nowadays, he says, there is no real fairy-lore among the peasants; fifty to sixty years ago there was. And in his opinion, "the fairy people of three hundred years ago in Scotland were a distinct race by themselves. They had never been human beings. The belief in them was a survival of paganism, and not at all an outgrowth of Christian belief in angelic hosts."
A Scotch Minister's Testimony
A Protestant minister of Scotland will be our next witness. He is a native of Ross-shire, though he draws many of his stories from the Western Hebrides, where his calling has placed him. Because he speaks from personal knowledge of the living Fairy-Faith as it was in his boyhood and is now, and chiefly because he has had the rare privilege of conscious contact with the fairy world, his testimony is of the highest value.
Reality of Fairies
"When I was a boy I was a firm believer in fairies; and now as a Christian minister I believe in the possibility and also the reality of these spiritual orders, but I wish only to know those orders which belong to the realm of grace. It is very certain that they exist. I have been in a state of ecstasy, and have seen spiritual beings which form these orders. (1)
"I believe in the actuality of evil spirits; but people in the Highlands having put aside paganism, evil spirits are not seen now."
This explanation was offered of how fairies may exist and yet be invisible:
"Our Saviour became invisible though in the body; and, as the Scriptures suggest, I suppose we are obliged to concede a similar power of invisibility to spirits as well, good and evil ones alike."
(1) The Rev. Robert Kirk, in his Secret Commonwealth, defines the second sight, which enabled him to see the "good people", as "a rapture, transport, and sort of death". He and our present witness came into the world with this abnormal faculty; but there is the remarkable case to record of the late Father Allen Macdonald, who during a residence of twenty years on the tiny and isolated Isle of Erisgey, Western Hebrides, acquired the second-sight, and was able some years before he died there (in 1905) to exercise it as freely as though he had been a natural-born seer.
Precautions against Fairies
I remember how an old woman pulled me out of a fairy ring to save me from being taken.
"If a mother takes some bindweed and places it burnt at the ends over her babe's cradle, the fairies have no power over the child. The bindweed is a common roadside convolvulus.
"As a boy, I saw two old women passing a babe over red-hot coals, and then drop some of the cinders in a cup of water and give the water to the babe to drink, in order to cure it of a fairy stroke."
Fairy Fights on Halloween
It is a common belief now that on Halloween the fairies, or the fairy hosts, have fights. Lichens on rocks after there has been a frost get yellowish-red, and then when they thaw and the moisture spreads out from them the rocks are a bright red; and this bright red is said to be the blood of the fairies after one of their battles."
Fairies and the Hump-back
The following story by the present witness is curious, for it is the same story of a humpback which is so widespread. The fact that in Scotland the bump is removed or added by fairies as it is in Ireland, in Cornwall by pixies, and in Brittany by corrigans, goes far to prove the essential identity of these three orders of beings. The story comes from one of the remote Western Hebrides, Benbecula:
"A man who was a hump-back once met the fairies dancing, and danced with their queen; and he sang with them, "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday," so well that they took off his hump, and he returned home a straight-bodied man. Then a tailor went past the same place, and was also admitted by the fairies to their dance. He caught the fairy queen by the waist, and she resented his familiarity. And in singing he added "Thursday" to their song and spoilt it. To pay the tailor for his rudeness and ill manners, the dancers took up the hump they had just removed from the first man and clapped it on his back, and the conceited fellow went home a hump-back."
Libations to Fairies
"An elder in my church knew a woman who was accustomed, in milking her cows, to offer libations to the fairies. The woman was later converted to Christ and gave up the practice, and as a result one of her cows was taken by the fairies. Then she revived the practice. (1)
"The fairy queen who watches over cows is called Gruagach (2) in the Islands, and she is often seen. In pouring libations to her and her fairies various kinds of stones, usually with hollows in them, are used.
"In Lewis libations are poured to the goddess [or god] of the sea, called Shoney (3), in order to bring in seaweed. Until modern times in Iona similar libations were poured to a god Corresponding to Neptune."
(1) In his note to Le Chant des Trépassés (Barzaz Breiz, p. 507), Villemarqué reports that in some localities in Lower Brittany on All Saints Night libations of milk are poured over the tombs of the dead. This is proof that the nature of fairies in Scotland and of the dead in Brittany is thought to be the same.
In the Highlands
I had the pleasure as well as the great privilege of setting out from Inverness on a bright crisp September morning in company with Dr. Alexander Carmichael, the well-known folklorist of Scotland, to study the Fairy-Faith as it exists now in the Highlands round Tomatin, a small Country village about twenty miles distant. We departed by an early train; and soon reaching the Tomatin country began our search – Dr. Carmichael for evidence regarding rare and Curious Scotch beliefs connected with folk-magic, such as blood-stopping at a distance and removing motes in the eye at a distance, and I for Highland ghosts and fairies.
Our first experience was with an old man whom we met on the road between the railway station and the post office, who could speak only Gaelic. Dr. Carmichael talked with him awhile, and then asked him about fairies, and he said there were some living in a cave some way off, but as the distance was rather too far we decided not to call on them. Then we went on to see the postmaster, Mr. John MacDougall, and he told us that in his boyhood the country-folk round Tomatin believed thoroughly in fairies. He said they thought of them as a race of spirits capable of making themselves visible to mortals, as living in underground places, as taking fine healthy babes and leaving changelings in their place. These changelings would waste away and die in a short time after being left. So firmly did the old people believe in fairies then that they would ridicule a person for not believing. And now quite the reverse state has come about." (1)
(1) This, as Dr. Carmichael told me, I believe very justly represents the present state of folklore in many parts of the Highlands. There are, it is true, old men and women here and there who know much about fairies, but they, fearing the ridicule of a younger and "educated" generation, are generally unwilling to admit any belief in fairies.
The Testimony of John Dunbar of Invereen
We talked with other Highlanders in the country round Tomatin, and heard only echoes, mostly fragmentary, of what their forefathers used to believe about fairies. But at Invereen we discovered John Dunbar, a Highlander, who really knows the Fairy-Faith and is not ashamed to explain it. Speaking partly from experience and partly from what he has heard his parents relate concerning the "good people", he said:
The Sheep and the Fairy-Hunting
"I believe people saw fairies, but I think one reason no one sees them now is because every place in this parish where they used to appear has been put into sheep, and deer, and grouse, and shooting. According to tradition, Coig na Fearn is the place where the last fairy was seen in this country. Before the big sheep came, the fairies are supposed to have had a premonition that their domains were to be violated by them. A story is told of a fight between the sheep and fairies, or else of the fairies hunting the sheep:
James MacQueen, who could traffic with the fairies, whom he regarded as ghosts or spirits, one night on his old place, which now is in sheep, was lying down all alone and heard a small and big barking of dogs, and a small and big bleating of sheep, though no sheep were there then. It was the fairy-hunting he heard. "I put an axe under my head and I had no fear therefore," he always repeated when telling the story. I believe the man saw and heard something. And MacQueen used to aid the fairies, and on that account, as he was in the habit of saying, he always found more meal in his chest than he thought he had."
My grandmother believed firmly in fairies, and I have heard her tell a good many stories about them. They were a small people dressed in green, and had dwellings underground in dry spots. Fairies were often heard in the hills over there (pointing), and I believe something was there. They were awful for music, and "used to be heard very often playing the bagpipes. A woman wouldn't go out in the dark after giving birth to a child before the child was christened, so as not to give the fairies power over her or the child. And I have heard people say that if fairies were refused milk and meat they would take a horse or a cow; and that if well treated they would repay all gifts."
Time in Fairyland
"People would be twenty years in Fairyland and it wouldn't seem more than a night. A bridegroom who was taken on his wedding-day was in Fairyland for many generations, and, coming back, thought it was next morning. He asked where all the wedding-guests were, and found only one old woman who remembered the wedding."
Highland Legend of the Dead
As I have found to be the case in all Celtic countries equally, fairy stories nearly always, in accordance with the law of psychology known as "the association of ideas", give place to or are blended with legends of the dead. This is an important factor for the Psychological Theory. And what follows proves the same ideas to be present to the mind of Mr. Dunbar:
"Some people after death are seen in their old haunts; no mistake about it. A bailiff had false corn and meal measures, and so after he died he came back to his daughter and told her he could have no peace until the measures were burned. She complied with her father's wish, and his spirit was never seen again. I have known also of phantom funerals of people who died soon afterwards being seen on the road at night."
To the Western Hebrides
From Inverness I began my journey to the Western Hebrides. While I waited for the steamer to take me from Kyle to the Isle of Skye, an old man with whom I talked on the docks said this about Neill Mackintosh, of Black Island:
"You can't argue with the old man that he hasn't seen fairies. He can tell you all about them."
Recordings from the Isle of Skye
Miss Frances Tolmie, who was born at Uignisb, Isle of Skye, and has lived many years in the isle in close touch with some of its oldest folk, contributes, from Edinburgh, the evidence which follows. The first two tales were told in the parish of Minginish a number of years ago by Mary Macdonald, a goat-herd, and have their setting in the region of the Koolian (1) range of mountains on the west side of Skye. (1)
(1) The following note by Miss Tolmie is of great interest and value, especially when one bears in mind Cuchulainn's traditional relation with Skye (see p. 4): The Koolian range should never be written Cu-chullin. The name is written here with a K, to ensure its being correctly uttered and written. It is probably a Norse word; but, as yet, a satisfactory explanation of its origin and meaning has not been published. In Gaelic the range is always alluded to (in the masculine singular) as the Koolian.
The Fatal Peat Ember
"An aged nurse who had fallen fast asleep as she sat by the fire, was holding on her knees a newly-born babe. The mother, who lay in bed gazing dreamily, was astonished to see three strange little women enter the dwelling. They approached the unconscious child, and she who seemed to be their leader was on the point of lifting it off the nurse's lap, when the third exclaimed: "Oh! let us leave this one with her as we have already taken so many!"
"So be it," replied the senior of the party in a tone of displeasure, "but when that peat now burning on the hearth shall be consumed, her life will surely come to an end." Then the three little figures passed out.
The good wife, recognizing them to be fairies, sprang from her bed and poured over the fire all the water she could find, and extinguished the half-burnt ember. This she wrapped carefully in a piece of cloth and deposited at the very bottom of a large chest, which afterwards she always kept locked.
"Years passed, and the babe grew into a beautiful young woman. In the course of time she was betrothed; and, according to custom, not appearing in public at church on the Sunday preceding the day appointed for her marriage, remained at home alone. To amuse herself, she began to search the contents of all the keeping-places in the house, and came at last to the chest containing the peat ember. In her haste, the good mother had that day forgotten the key of the chest, which was now, in the lock. At the bottom of the chest the girl found a curious packet containing nothing but a morsel of peat, and this apparently useless thing she tossed away into the fire.
When the peat was well kindled the young girl began to feel very ill, and when her mother returned was dying. The open chest and the blazing peat explained the cause of the calamity. The fairy's prediction was fulfilled."
Results of Refusing Fairy Hospitality
Two women were walking toward the Point when one of them, hearing churning going on under a hillock, expressed aloud a wish for some buttermilk.
No sooner had she spoken than a very small figure of a woman came out with a bowlful and offered it to her, but the thirsty woman, ignorant of fairy customs and the penalty attending their infringement, declined the kind offer of refreshment, and immediately found herself a prisoner in the hillock. She was led to an apartment containing a chest full of meal and a great bag of wool, and was told by the fairy that when she had eaten all the meal and spun all the wool she would be free to return to her home.
The prisoner at once set herself to eating and spinning assiduously, but without apparent result, and despairing of completing the task consulted an old man of very sad countenance who had long been a captive in the hillock. He willingly gave her his advice, which was to wet her left eye with saliva each morning before she settled down to her task. She followed this advice, and gradually the wool and the meal were exhausted. Then the fairy granted her freedom, but in doing so cursed the old man, and said that she had it in her power to keep him in the hillock for ever."
The Fairies" "Waulking" (Fulling)
"At Ebost, in Bracadale, an old woman was living in a little hut, with no companion save a wise cat. As we talked, she expressed her wonder that no fairies are ever seen or heard nowadays. She could remember hearing her father tell how he, when a herd-boy, had heard the fairies singing a "waulking" song in Dun-Osdale, an ancient and ruined round tower in the parish of Duirinish, and not far from Heléval mhor (great) and Heléval bheag (less) – two hills occasionally alluded to as "Macleod's Tables". The youth was lying on the grass-grown summit of the ruin, and heard them distinctly. As if with exultation, one voice took the verse and then the whole company joined in the following chorus:
"Ho! fir-e! fair-e, foirm!
This tale was related by Mr. Neil Macleod, the bard of Skye:
"Cohn was a gentleman of Clan Campbell in Perthshire, who was married to a beautiful maiden whom the fairies carried off on her marriage-day, and on whom they cast a spell which rendered her invisible for a day and a year. She came regularly every day to milk the cows of her sorrowing husband, and sang sweetly to them while she milked, but he never once had the pleasure of beholding her, though he could hear perfectly what she sang. At the expiry of the year she was, to his great joy, restored to him." (1)
(1) Dr. Alexander Carmichael found that the scene of this widespread tale is variously laid, in Argyll, in Perth, in Inverness, and in other counties of the Highlands. From his own collection of folk-songs he contributes the following verses to illustrate the song (existing in numerous versions), which the maiden while invisible used to sing to the cows of Colin:Crodh Chailean! crodh Chailean!
In one of Dr. Carmichael's versions, "Colin's wife and her infant child had been lifted away by the fairies to a fairy bower in the glen between the hills." There she was kept nursing the babes which the fairies had stolen, until "upon Hallow Eve, when all the bowers were open", Colin by placing a steel tinder above the lintel of the door to the fairy bower was enabled to enter the bower and in safety lead forth his wife and child.
Fairy Legend of the Macleod Family
There is a legend told of the Macleod family:
Soon after the heir of the Macleods was born, a beautiful woman in wonderful raiment, who was a fairy woman or banshee (there were joyous as well as mourning banshees) appeared at the castle, and went directly to the babe's cradle. She took up the babe and chanted over it a series of verses, and each verse had its own melody. The verses foretold the future manhood of the young child, and acted as a protective charm over its life. Then she put the babe back into its cradle, and, going out, disappeared across the moorlands.
"For many generations it was a custom in the Macleod family that whoever was the nurse of the heir must sing those verses as the fairy woman had sung them. After a time the song was forgotten, but at a later period it was partially recovered, and today it is one of the proud folklore heritages of the Macleod family." (1)
(1) In this beautiful fairy legend we recognize the fairy woman as one of the Tuatha De Danann-like fairies – one of the women of the Sidhe, as Irish seers call them.
Origins and Nature of the Fairy-Faith
Finally, with respect to the origin and nature of the Scotch Fairy-Faith, Miss Tolmie states:
"As a child I was not permitted to hear about fairies. At twenty I was seeking and trying to understand the beliefs of my fathers in the light of modern ideas. I was very determined not to lose the past.
"The fairy-lore originated in a cultured class in very ancient times. The peasants inherited it; they did not invent it. With the loss of Gaelic in our times came the loss of folk-ideals. The classical and English influences combined had a killing effect; so that the instinctive religious feeling which used to be among our people when they kept alive the fairy-traditions is dead. We have intellectually-constructed creeds and doctrines which take its place.
"We always thought of fairies as mysterious little beings living in hills. They were capricious and irritable, but not wicked. They could do a good turn as well as a bad one. They were not aerial, but had bodies which they could make invisible; and they could make human bodies invisible in the same way. Besides their hollow knolls and mounds there seemed to be a subterranean world in which they also lived, where things are like what they are in this world."
The Isle of Barra, Western Hebrides
We pass from Cuchulainn's beautiful island to what is now the most Celtic part of Scotland – the Western Hebrides, where the ancient life is lived yet, and where the people have more than a faith in spirits and fairies. And no one of the Western Hebrides, perhaps excepting the tiny island of Erisgey, has changed less during the last five hundred years than Barra.
Our Barra guide and interpreter, Michael Buchanan, a native and a life-long resident of Barra, is seventy years old, yet as strong and active as a city man at fifty. He knows intimately every old man on the island, and as he was able to draw them out on the subject of the "good people" as no stranger could do, I was quite willing, as well as obliged on account of the Scotch Gaelic, to let him act on my behalf in all my collecting on Barra. Mr. Buchanan is the author of a little book called The MacNeils of Barra Genealogy, published in the year 1902. He was the official interpreter before the Commission of Inquiry which was appointed by the British Parliament in 1883 to search into the oppression of landlordism in the Highlands and Islands, and he acted in the same capacity before the Crofters' Commission and the Deer-Forest Commission. We therefore feel perfectly safe in allowing him to present, before our jury trying the Fairy-Faith the evidence of the Gaelic-speaking witnesses from Barra. (1)
It is interesting to know that the present inhabitants of Barra, or at least most of them, are the descendants of Irish colonists who belonged to the clan Eoichidh of County Cork, and who emigrated from there to Barra in AD 917. They brought with them their old customs and beliefs, and in their isolation their children have kept these things alive in almost their primitive Celtic purity. For example, besides their belief in fairies, May Day, Baaltine, and November Eve are still rigorously observed in the pagan way, and so is Easter – for it, too, before being claimed by Christianity, was a sun festival. And how beautiful it is in this age to see the youths and maidens and some of the elders of these simple-hearted Christian fisher-folk climb to the rocky heights of their little island-home on Easter morn to salute the sun as it rises out of the mountains to the east, and to hear them say that the sun dances with joy that morning because the Christ is risen. In a similar way they salute the new moon, making as they do so the sign of the cross. Finn Barr is said to have been a County Cork man of great sanctity; and he probably came to Barra with the colony, for he is the patron saint of the island, and hence its name. (To my friend, Mr. Michael Buchanan, of Barra, I am indebted for this history and these traditions of his native isle.)
John MacNeil's Testimony
We met the first of the Barra witnesses on the top of a rocky hill, where the road from Castlebay passes. He was carrying on his back a sack of sand heavy enough for a college athlete, and he an old man between seventy and eighty years of age. Michael Buchanan has known John MacNeil all his life, for they were boys together on the island; and there is not much difference between them in age, our interpreter being the younger. Then the three of us sat down on a grassy knoll, all the world like a fairy knoll, though it was not; and when pipes were lit and the weather had been discussed, there was introduced the subject of the "good people " – all in Gaelic, for our witness now about to testify knows no English - and what John MacNeil said is thus interpreted by Michael Buchanan:
A Fairy's Visit
"Yes, I have" (in answer to a question if he had heard of people being taken by the "good people" or fairies).
"A fairy Woman visited the house of a young wife here in Barra, and the young wife had her baby on her breast at the time. The first words uttered by the fairy woman were, "Heavy is your child; "and the wife answered, "Light is everybody who lives the longest."
"Were it not that you have answered my question," said the fairy woman, "and understood my meaning, you should have been less your child." And then the fairy woman departed."
"My mother, and two other women well known here in Barra, went to a hill one day to look after their sheep, and, a thick fog coming on, they had to rest awhile. They then sat down upon a knoll and began to sing a walking (cloth-working) song, as follows: "It is early today that I have risen;" and, as they sang, a fairy woman in the rocks responded to their song with one of her own."
Nature of Fairies
Then the question was asked if fairies were men or spirits, and this is the reply:
"I never saw any myself, and so cannot tell, but they must be spirits from all that the old people tell about them, or else how could they appear and disappear so suddenly? The old people said they didn't know if fairies were flesh and blood, or spirits. They saw them as men of more diminutive stature than our race. I heard my father say that fairies used to come and speak to natural people, and then vanish while one was looking at them. Fairy women used to go into houses and talk and then vanish. The general belief was that the fairies were spirits who could make themselves seen or not seen at will. And when they took people they took body and soul together."
The Testimony of John Campbell, Ninety-four Years Old
Our next witness from Barra is John Campbell, who is ninety-four years old, yet clear-headed. He was born on Barra at Sgalary, and lives near there now at Breuvaig. We were on our way to call at his home, when we met him coming on the road, with a cane in each hand and a small sack hanging from one of them. Michael saluted him as an old acquaintance, and then we all sat down on a big boulder in the warm sunshine beside the road to talk. The first thing John wanted was tobacco, and when this was supplied we gradually led from one subject to another until he was talking about fairies. And this is what he said about them:
The Fairy and the Fountain
"I had a companion by the name of James Galbraith, who was drowned about forty years ago, and one time he was crossing from the west side of the island to the east side, to the township called Sgalary, and feeling thirsty took a drink out of a Spring well on the mountain-side. After he had taken a drink, he looked about him and saw a woman clad in green, and imagined that no woman would be clad in such a colour except a fairy woman. He went on his way, and when he hadn't gone far, looked back, and, as he looked, saw the woman vanish out of his sight. He afterwards reported the incident at his father's house in Sgalary, and his father said he also had seen a woman clad in clothes of green at the same place some nights before."
A Step-son Pitied by the Fairies
"I heard my father say that a neighbour of his father, that is of my grandfather, was married twice, and had three children from the first marriage, and when married for the second time, a son and daughter. His second wife did not seem to be kind enough to the children of the first wife, neglecting their food and clothing and keeping them constantly at hard work in the fields and at herding.
"One morning when the man and his second wife were returning from mass they passed the pasture where their cows were grazing and heard the enjoyable skirrels of the bagpipes.
The father said, "What may this be?" and going off the road found the eldest son of the first wife playing the bagpipes to his heart's pleasure; and asked him earnestly, "How did you come to play the bagpipes so suddenly, or where did you get this splendid pair of bagpipes?"
The boy replied, "An old man came to me while I was in the action of roasting pots in a pit-fire and said, "Your step-mother is bad to you and in ill-will towards you."
I told the old man I was sensible that that was the case, and then he said to me, "If I give you a trade will you be inclined to follow it?"
I said yes, and the old man then continued, "How would you like to be a piper by trade?"
"I would gladly become a piper," says I, "but what am I to do without the bagpipes and the tunes to play?"
"I"ll supply the bagpipes," he said, "and as long as you have them you"ll never want for the most delightful tunes."
"The male descendants of the boy in question were all famous pipers thereafter, and the last of them was a piper to the late Cluny MacPherson of Cluny."
Nature of Fairies
At this point, Michael turned the trend of John's thoughts to the nature of fairies, with the following result:
"The general belief of the people here during my father's lifetime was that the fairies were more of the nature of spirits than of men made of flesh and blood, but that they so appeared to the naked eye that no difference could be marked in their forms from that of any human being, except that they were more diminutive. I have heard my father say it was the case that fairy women used to take away children from their cradles and leave different children in their places, and that these children who were left would turn out to be old men.
"At Barra Head, a fairy woman used to come to a man's window almost every night as though looking to see if the family was home. The man grew suspicious, and decided the fairy woman was watching her chance to steal his wife, so he proposed a plan. It was then and still is the custom after thatching a house to rope it across with heather-spun ropes, and, at the time, the man was busy spinning some of them; and he told his wife to take his place that night to spin the heather-rope, and said he would take her spinning-wheel. They were thus placed when the fairy woman made the usual look in at the window, and she seeing that her intention was understood, said to the man,
"You are yourself at the spinning-wheel and your wife is spinning the heather-rope."
"I have heard it said that the fairies live in knolls on a higher level than that of the ground in general, and that fairy songs are heard from the faces of high rocks. The fairies of the air (the fairy or spirit hosts) are different from those in the rocks. A man whom I've seen, Roderick MacNeil, was lifted by the hosts and left three miles from where he was taken up. The hosts went at about midnight. A man awake at midnight is in danger. Cows and horses are sometimes shot in place of men "(and why, will be explained by later Witnesses).
Father MacDonald's Opinions
We then asked about the late Rev. Donald MacDonald, who had the reputation of knowing all about fairies and Spirits when he lived here in these islands, and John said:
"I have heard my wife say that she questioned Father MacDonald who was then a parish priest here in Barra, and for whom she was a housekeeper, if it was possible that such beings or Spirits as fairies were in existence. He said "Yes ", and that they were those who left Heaven after the fallen angels; and that those going out after the fallen angels had gone out were so numerous and kept going so long that St. Michael notified Christ that the throne was fast emptying, and when Christ saw the state of affairs he ordered the doors of Heaven to be closed at once, saying as he gave the order, "Who is out is out and who is in is in." And the fairies are as numerous flow as ever they were before the beginning of the world." (Cf. pp. 47, 53, 67, 76, 85, 109, 113, rx6, 129, 154, 205, 212.)
Here we left John, and he, continuing on his way up the mountain road in an Opposite direction from us and round a turn, disappeared almost as a fairy might.
An Aged Piper's Testimony
We introduce now as a Witness Donald McKinnon, ninety-six years old, a piper by profession; and not only is he the oldest man on Barra, but also the oldest man among all our witnesses He was born on the Island of South Uist, one of the Western Hebrides north of Barra, and came to Barra in 1836, where he has lived ever since. In spite of being four years less than a hundred in age, he greeted us very heartily, and as he did not wish us to sit inside, for his chimney happened not to be drawing very well, and was filling the straw thatched Cottage with peat smoke, we sat down outside on the grass and began talking; and as we Came to fairies this is what he said:
Nature of Fairies
I believe that fairies exist as a tribe of spirits, and appear to us in the form of men and women. People who saw fairies can yet describe them as they appeared dressed in green. No doubt there are fairies in other countries as well as here.
"In my experience there was always a good deal of difference between the fairies and the hosts. The fairies were supposed to be living without material food, whereas the hosts were supposed to be living on their own booty. Generally, the hosts were evil and the fairies good, though I have heard that the fairies used to take cattle and leave their old men rolled up in the hides.
One night an old witch was heard to say to the fairies outside the fold, "We cannot get anything tonight." The old men who were left behind in the hides of the animals taken, usually disappeared very suddenly. I saw two men who used to be lifted by the hosts. They would be carried from South Uist as far south as Barra Head, and as far north as Harris. Sometimes when these men were ordered by the hosts to kill men on the road they would kill instead either a horse or a cow; for in that way, so long as an animal was killed, the injunction of the hosts was fulfilled."
To illustrate at this point the idea of fairies, Donald repeated the same legend told by our former witness, John Campbell, about the emptying of Heaven and the doors being closed to keep the remainder of its population in. Then he told the following story about fairies:
"I heard of an apprentice to carpentry who was working with his master at the building of a boat, a little distance from his house, and near the sea. He went to work one morning and forgot a certain tool which he needed in the boat-building. He returned to his carpenter-shed to get it, and found the shed filled with fairy men and women. On seeing him they ran away so greatly confused that one of the women forgot her gird (belt), and he picked it up. In a little while she came back for the gird, and asked him to give it her, but he refused to do so. Thereupon she promised him that he should he made master of his trade wherever his lot should fall without serving further apprenticeship.
On that condition he gave her the gird; and rising early next morning he went to the yard where the boat was a-building and put in two planks so perfectly that when the master arrived and saw them, he said to him,
"Are you aware of anybody being in the building-yard last night, for I see by the work done that I am more likely to be an apprentice than the person who put in those two planks, whoever he is. Was it you that did it?"
The reply was in the affirmative, and the apprentice told his master the circumstances under which he gained the rapid mastership of his trade."
Across the Mountains
It was nearing sunset now, and a long mountain climb was ahead of us, and one more visit that evening, before we should begin our return to Castlebay, and so after this story we said a hearty good-bye to Donald, with regret at leaving him. When we reached the mountainside, one of the rarest of Barra's sights greeted us. To the north and south in the golden glow of a September twilight we saw the long line of the Outer Hebrides like the rocky backbone of some submerged continent, The scene and colours on the land and ocean and in the sky seemed more like some magic vision, reflected from Faerie by the "good people" for our delight, than a thing of our Own world. Never was air clearer or sea calmer, nor could there be air sweeter than that in the mystic mountain stillness holding the perfume of millions of tiny blossoms of purple and white heather; and as the last honey-bees were leaving the beautiful blossoms their humming came to our ears like low, strange music from Fairyland.
Marian MacLean of Barra, and Her Testimony
Our next witness to testify is a direct descendant of the ancient MacNeils of Barra. Her name now is Marian MacLean; and she lives in the mountainous centre of Barra at Upper Borve. She is many years younger than the men who have testified, and one of the most industrious women on the island. It was already dark and past dinner-time when we entered her cottage, and so, as we sat down before a blazing peat-fire, she at once offered us some hot milk and biscuits, which we were only too glad to accept. And, as we ate, we talked first about our hard climb in the darkness across the mountains, and through the thick heather-bushes, and then about the big rock which has a key-hole in it, for it contains a secret entrance to a fairy palace. We had examined it in the twilight as we came through the mountain pass which it guards, and my guide Michael had assured me that more than one islander, crossing at the hour we were, had seen some of the fairies near it. We waited in front of the big rock in hopes one might appear for our benefit, but, in spite of our strong belief that there are fairies there, not a single one would come out. Perhaps they came and we couldn't see them; who knows?
Fairies and Fairy Hosts ('sluagh") (1)
"O yes," Marian said, as she heard Michael and myself talking over our hot milk, "there are fairies there, for I was told that the Pass was a notable fairy haunt."
Then I said through Michael," Can you tell us something about what these fairies are?"
And from that time, save for a few interruptions natural in conversation, we listened and Marian talked, and told stories as follows:
"Generally, the fairies are to be seen after or about sunset, and walk on the ground as we do, whereas the hosts travel in the air above places inhabited by people. The hosts used to go after the fall of night, and more particularly about midnight. You'd hear them going in fine weather against a wind like a covey of birds. And they were in the habit of lifting men in South Uist, for the hosts need men to help in shooting their javelins from their bows against women in the action of milking cows, or against any person working at night in a house over which they pass. And I have heard of good sensible men whom the hosts took, shooting a horse or cow in place of the person ordered to be shot.
(1) "Sluagh, "hosts," the spirit-world. The "hosts" are the spirits of mortals who have died. . . . According to one informant, the spirits fly about in great clouds, up and down the face of the world like the starlings, and come back to the scenes of their earthly transgressions. No soul of them is without the clouds of earth, dimming the brightness of the works of God, nor can any win heaven till satisfaction is made for the sins of earth." – ALEXANDER CARMICHAEL, Carmina Gadelica, ii. 330.
A Cow and a Daughter
"There was a man who had only one cow and daughter. The daughter was milking the cow at night when the hosts were passing, and that human being whom the hosts had lifted with them was her father's neighbour. And this neighbour was ordered by the hosts to shoot the daughter as she was milking, but, knowing the father and daughter he shot the cow instead.
The next morning he went where the father was and said to him, "You are missing the cow."
"Yes," said the father "I am."
And the man who had shot the cow said, "Are you not glad your cow and not your daughter was taken? For I was ordered to shoot your daughter and I shot pour cow, in order to show blood on my arrow."
"I am very glad of what you have done if that was the case," the father replied " It was the case" the neighbour said.
"My father and grandfather knew a man who was carried by the hosts from South Uist here to Barra. I understand when the hosts take away earthly men they require another man to help them. But the hosts must be spirits. My opinion is that they are both Spirits of the dead and other Spirits not the dead.
"A child was taken by the hosts and returned after one night and one day, and found at the back of the house with the palms of its hands in the holes in the wall, and with no life in its body. It was dead in the spirit. It is believed that when people are dropped from a great height by the hosts they are killed by the fall. As to fairies, my firm opinion is that they are Spirits who appear in the shape of human beings."
Living in Crevices
The question was now asked whether the fairies were anything like the dead, and Marian hesitated about answering. She thought they were like the dead, but not to be identified with them, The fallen angel idea concerning fairies was an obstacle she could not pass, for she said,
"When the fallen angels were cast out of Heaven God commanded them thus:
"You will go to take up your abodes in crevices under the earth in mounds, or soil, or rocks."
And according to this command they have been condemned to inhabit the places named for a certain period of time, and when it is expired before the consummation of the world, they will be seen as numerous as ever."
Now we heard two good stories, the first about fairy women spinning for a mortal, the second about a wonderful changeling who was a magic musician:
"I have heard my father, Alexander MacNeil, who was well known to Mr. Alexander Carmichael and to Mr J. F. Campbell of Islay, say that his father knew a woman in the neighbourhood who was in a hurry to have her stock of wool spun and made into cloth, and one night this woman secretly wished to have some women to help her. So the following morning there appeared at her house six or seven fairy women in long green robes, all alike chanting, "A wool-card, and a spinning-wheel."
And when they were supplied with the instruments they were so very desirous to get, they all set to work, and by midday of that morning the cloth was going through the process of the hand-loom. But they were not satisfied with finishing the work the woman bad set before them, but asked for new employment.
The woman had no more spinning or weaving to be done, and began to wonder how she was to get the women out of the house. So she went into her neighbour's house and informed him of her position in regard to the fairy women. The old man asked what they were saying.
"They are earnestly petitioning for some work to do, and I have no more to give them," the woman replied.
"Go you in," he said to her, "and tell them to spin the sand, and if then they do not move from your house, go out again and yell in at the door that Dun Borve is in fire!"
The first plan had no effect, but immediately on hearing the cry, "Dun Borve is in fire!" the fairy women disappeared invisibly. And as they went, the woman heard the melancholy wail, "Dun Borve is in fire! Dun Borve is in fire! And what will become of our hammers and anvil?" – for there was a smithy in the fairy-dwelling."
The Tailor and the Changeling
"There was a young wife of a young man who lived in the township of Allasdale, and the pair had just had their first child. One day the mother left her baby in its cradle to go out and do some shearing, and when she returned the child was crying in a most unusual fashion. She fed him as usual on porridge and milk, but he wasn't satisfied with what seemed to her enough for any one of his age, yet every suspicion escaped her attention.
As it happened, at the time there was a web of home-made cloth in the house waiting for the tailor. The tailor came and began to work up the cloth. As the woman was going out to her customary shearing operation, she warned the tailor if he heard the child continually crying not to pay much attention to it, adding she would attend to it when she came home, for she feared the child would delay him in his work.
"All went well till about noon, when the tailor observed the child rising up on its elbow and stretching its hand to a sort of shelf above the cradle and taking down from it a yellow chanter [of a bagpipe]. And then the child began to play. Immediately after the child began to play the chanter, the house filled with young fairy women all clad in long green robes, who began to dance, and the tailor had to dance with them.
"About two o'clock that same afternoon the women disappeared unknown to the tailor, and the chanter disappeared from the hands of the child also unknown to the tailor; and the child was in the cradle crying as usual.
"The wife came home to make the dinner, and observed that the tailor was not so far advanced with his work as he ought to he in that space of time. However, when the fairy women disappeared, the child had enjoined on the tailor never to tell what he had seen. The tailor promised to be faithful to the child's injunctions, and so he said nothing to the mother.
"The second day the wife left for her occupation as usual, and told the tailor to be more attentive to his work than the day before. A second time at the same hour of the day the child in the cradle, appearing more like an old man than a child, took the chanter and began to play. The same fairy women tilled the house again, and repeated their dance, and the tailor had to join them.
"Naturally the tailor was as far behind with his work the second day as the first day, and it was very noticeable to the woman of the house when she returned. On this she asked him to tell her what the matter might be. Then he said to her,
"I urge on you after going to bed tonight not to fondle that child, because he is not your child, nor is he a child: he is an old fairy man. And tomorrow, at dead tide, go down to the shore and wrap him in your plaid and put him on a rock and begin to pick that shell-fish which is called limpet, and for your life do not leave the shore until such a time as the tide will flow so high that you will scarcely be able to wade in to the main shore."
The woman complied with the tailor's advice, and when she had waded to the main shore and stood there looking at the child on the rock, it cried to her,
"You had a great need to do what you have done. Otherwise you'd have seen another ending of your turn; but blessing be to you and curses on your adviser."
When the wife arrived home her own natural child was in the cradle."
The Testimony of Murdoch MacLean
The husband of Marian MacLean had entered while the last stories were being told, and when they were ended the spirit was on him, and wishing to give his testimony he began:
Lachlann's Fairy Mistress
"My grandmother, Catherine Maclnnis, used to tell about a man named Lachlann, whom she knew, being in love with a fairy woman. The fairy woman made it a point to see Lachlann every night, and he being worn out with her began to fear her. Things got so bad at last that he decided to go to America to escape the fairy woman. As soon as the plan was fixed, and he was about to emigrate, women who were milking at sunset out in the meadows heard very audibly the fairy woman singing this song:
What will the brown-haired woman do
"Lachlann emigrated to Cape Breton, landing in Nova Scotia; and in his first letter home to his friends he stated that the same fairy woman was haunting him there in America." (1)
(1) This curious tale suggests that certain of the fairy women who entice mortals to their love in modern times are much the same, if not the same, as the succubi of Middle-Age mystics. But it is not intended by this observation to confuse the higher orders of the Sidhe and all the fairy folk like the fays who come from Avalon with succubi; though succubi and fairy women in general were often confused and improperly identified the one with the other. It need not be urged in this example that we have to do not with a being of flesh and blood, whatever various readers may think of her.
Abduction of a Bridegroom
"I have heard it from old people that a couple newly married, were on their way to the home of the bride's father, and for some unknown reason the groom fell behind the procession, and seeing a fairy-dwelling open along the road was taken into it.
No one could ever find the least trace of where he went, and all hope of seeing him again was given up.
The man remained with the fairies so long that when he returned two generations had disappeared during the lapse of time. The township in which his bride's house used to be was depopulated and in ruins for up to twenty years, but to him the time had seemed only a few hours; and he was just as fresh and youthful as when he went in the fairy dwelling."
Nature of Fairies
"Previous to his story-telling Murdoch had heard us discussing the nature and powers of fairies, and at the end of this account he volunteered, without our asking for it, an opinion of his own:
"This (the story just told by him) leads me to believe that the spirit and body [of a mortal] are somehow mystically combined by fairy enchantment, for the fairies had a mighty power of enchanting natural people, and could transform the physical body in some way. It cannot be but that the fairies are spirits. According to my belief they cannot be anything but spirits. My firm belief, however, is that they are not the spirits of dead men, but are the fallen angels."
Then his wife Marian had one more story to add, and she at once, when she could, began:
The Messenger and the Fairies
"Yes I have heard the following incident took place here on the Island of Barra about one hundred years ago: A young woman taken ill suddenly sent a messenger in all haste to the doctor for medicine. On his return, the day being hot and there being five miles to walk, he sat down at the foot of a knoll and fell asleep; and was awakened by hearing a song to the following air:
"Ho, ho, ho, hi, ho, ho. Ill it becomes a messenger on an important message to sleep on the ground in the open air.""
And with this, for the hour was late and dark, and we were several miles from Castlebay, we bade our good friends adieu, and began to hunt for a road out of the little mountain valley where Murdoch and Marian guard their cows and sheep. And all the way to the hotel Michael and I discussed the nature of fairies. Just before midnight we saw the welcome lights in Castlebay across the heather-covered hills, and we both entered the hotel to talk. There was a blazing fire ready for us and something to eat.
Before I took my final leave of my friend and guide, I asked him to dictate for me his private opinions about fairies, what they are and how they appear to men, and he was glad to meet my request. Here is what he said about the famous folklorist, the late Mr. J. F. Campbell, with whom he often worked in Barra, and for himself:
Michael Buchanan's Deposition Concerning Fairies
"I was with the late Mr. J. F. Campbell during his first and second tour of the Island of Barra in search of legendary lore strictly connected with fairies, and I know from daily conversing with him about fairies that be held them to be spirits appearing to the naked eye of the spectator as any of the present or former generations of men and women, except that they were smaller in stature. And I know equally that he, holding them to be spirits, thought they could appear or disappear at will. My own firm belief is that the fairies were or are only spirits which were or are seen in the shape of human beings, but smaller as regards stature. I also firmly believe in the existence of fairies as such; and accept the modern and ancient traditions respecting the ways and customs of various fairy tribes, such as John Mackinnon, the old piper, and John Campbell and the MacLeans told us. And I therefore have no hesitation in agreeing with the views held by the late Mr. J. F. Campbell regarding fairies."
The Reciters' Lament, and Their Story
The following material, so truly Celtic in its word-colour and in the profound note of sadness and lamentation dominating it, may very appropriately conclude our examination of the Fairy-Faith of Scotland by giving us some insight into the mind of the Scotch peasants of two generations ago, and into the then prevailing happy social environment under which their belief in fairies flourished For our special use Dr. Alexander Carmichael has rendered it out of the original Gaelic, as this was taken down by him in various versions in the Western Hebrides. One version was recited by Ann Macneil of Barra, in the year 1865, another by Angus Macleod of Harris, in 1877. In relation to their belief in fairies the anti-clerical bias of the reciters is worth noting as a curious phenomenon:
"Clerics Ruined Everything"
"That is as I heard when a hairy little fellow on the knee of my mother. My mother was full of stories and songs of music and chanting. My two ears never heard musical fingers more preferable for me to hear than the chanting of my mother. If there were quarrels among children, as there were, and as there will be, my beloved mother would set us to dance there and then. She herself or one of the other crofter women of the townland would sing to us the mouth-music. We would dance there till we were seven times tired. A stream of sweat would be falling from us before we stopped – hairful little lassies and stumpy little fellows. These are scattered today! scattered today over the wide world! The people of those times were full of music and dancing stories and traditions The clerics have extinguished these. May ill befall them! And what have the clerics put in their place? Beliefs about creeds, and disputations about denominations and churches! May lateness be their lot! It is they who have put the cross round the heads and the entanglements round the feet of the people. The people of the Gaeldom of today are near perishing for lack of the famous feats of their fathers. The black clerics have suppressed every noble custom among the people of the Gaeldom – precious customs that will never return, no never again return." (Now follows what the Reciters heard on the knee of their mother):
"I have never seen a man fairy nor a woman fairy, but my mother saw a troop of them. She herself and the other maidens of the townland were once out on the summer sheiling (grazing). They were milking the cows, in the evening gloaming, when they observed a flock of fairies reeling and setting on the green plain in front of the knoll. And, oh King! but it was they the fairies themselves that had the right to the dancing, and not the children of men! Bell-helmets of blue silk covered their heads, and garments of green satin covered their bodies, and sandals of yellow membrane covered their feet. Their heavy brown hair was streaming down their waist, and its lustre was of the fair golden sun of summer. Their skin was as white as the swan of the wave, and their voice was as melodious as the mavis of the wood, and they themselves were as beauteous of feature and as lithe of form as a picture, while their step was as light and stately and their minds as sportive as the little red hind of the hill. The damsel children of the shelling-fold never saw sight but them, no never sight but them, never anything so beautiful.
"There is not a wave of prosperity on the fairies of the knoll, no, not a wave. There is no growth nor increase, no death nor withering on the fairies. Seed unfortunate they! They went away from the Paradise with the One of the Great Pride. When the Father commanded the doors closed down and up, the intermediate fairies had no alternative but to leap into the holes of the earth, where they are, and where they will be."
This is what I heard on the knee of my beloved mother. Blessings be with her ever evermore!"