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From Fairy Songs

Fairy Song (Excerpt)

My child, smooth-shining,

Little sweeting.

Lusty and fat,

My own flesh and blood.

The Fostering Fairy's Lullaby (Excerpts)

These lines are from a longer poem. A fairy who had stolen a human baby one night, sings to it:

Hush! hush! little man,

Sure you have no woes,

No hole in your shoe;

My joy! my treasure bright!

I stole you one midnight:

Stole you from your place of birth.

A year now I've had you,

My darling,

My life and gladness.


Lord Tarbat's Relations

There are far more seers in the isles of Lewis, Harris, and Uist than in any other place. Yet many Highlanders too have second sight. It is a trouble to most of them who are subject to it. The sight seldom lasts long, only as long as they can keep their eyes steady without twinkling. The hardy, therefore, fix their look that they may see the longer; but the eyes of the timorous always twinkle at the first sight.

What such persons see or foresee, hardly ever fails to come true, although they may seldom tell exactly when the thing will happen.

I was once travelling in the Highland when one of my servants, who was going a little before me, was about to enter a house where I was to stay all night. But as he was going hastily to the door, he suddenly slipped back with a screech, and fell by a stone, which hit his foot.

I asked what was the matter, for he seemed very much frighted. He told me very seriously that I should not lodge in that house, for a dead coffin would shortly be carried out of it. It was when he saw this, that we heard him cry.

I neglected his words and stayed there, while he said to fellow servants that what he had seen would shortly come to pass. And the landlord, a healthy Highlander, died of an apoplectic fit before I left the house.

In the year 1653 Alexander Monro and I were walking in a place called Ullapool, in Loch Broom, on a little plain at the foot of a rugged hill. There was a servant walking with a spade in the walk before us; his back was to us, and his face to the hill. Before we came to him, he let the spade fall, and looked toward the hill.

He took notice of us as we passed near by him, which made me look at him, and perceiving him to stare a little strangely. I guessed he was a seer and called at him, at which he started and smiled.

"What are you doing?" said I.

He answered, "I have seen a very strange thing: an army of Englishmen, leading of horses, coming down that hill; and a number of them are coming down to the plain, and eating the barley which is growing in the field near to the hill."

This was on the 4th May, and four or five days before the barley was sown in the field he spoke of. Alexander Monro asked him how he knew they were Englishmen. He said because they were leading of horses, and had on hats and boots, which he knew no Scotchman would have there.

At first we took little notice of the whole story. But in the beginning of August the Earl of Middleton had occasion to march a party of his towards the South Highlands, and sent his Foot through a place called Inverlawell; and the foreparty, which was first down the hill, did fall off eating the barley which was on the little plain under it.

Learning about it, Monro called to mind what the seer had told us in May, wrote of it, and sent an express with it to me to Lochsli, in Ross, where I then was.

I had occasion once to be in company where a young lady and was told there was a notable seer, an islander, in the company. I soon asked if he knew any person to be in love with that lady. He said he did, and perceived something that made him foretell that the man would marry her and die before her. This was in 1655. I went on to ask the seer to describe the person, and I figured who it could be, although there was nothing special between the lady and him at that time.

Two years later the seer confirmed that the man he had seen beforehand, was the one I pointed out to him. This was some few months before the lady and the man got married, and that man is now dead, and the lady alive.

In January 1652, Alexander Monro and I happened to be in the house of one William MíClend, of Ferrinlea, in the county of Ross. He, the landlord, and I, were sitting in three chairs near the fire, and in the corner of the great chimney there were two islanders who were related to the landlord and had come to the house that very night. While the one of them was talking with Monro, I perceived the other to look oddly toward me. From this look, and his being an islander, I surmised that he was a seer, and asked him what he stared at.

He answered by desiring me to rise from that chair, for it was an unlucky one. I asked him why. He answered, because there was a dead man in the chair next to me.

"Well," said I, "if it be in the next chair, I may keep my own. But what does the man look like?"

He said he was a tall man, with a long grey coat, booted, and one of his legs hanging over the arm of the chair, and his head hanging dead to the other side, and his arm backward, as if it was broken.

There were some English troops quartered near that place at that time, and it was a great frost after a thaw, so that the country was covered all over with ice. Four or five of the English rode by this house some two hours after the vision, while we were sitting by the fire. We heard a great noise, and it proved to be those trooper who, with the help of other servants, carried in one of them who had fallen badly and had his arm broke. He also often fell into swooning fits. They brought him into the hall and set him in the very chair and in the very posture that the seer had talked of.

But the man did not die; he recovered, although with great difficulty.

Sir Normand MíLoud gave me this account:

A gentleman in the Isle of Harris was always seen by the seers with an arrow in his thigh. Accordingly he thought he would be shot in the thigh before he died. But he died at last without any such accident.

Sir Normand was at his burial at St. Clementís Church in the Harris. At the same time the corpse of another gentleman was brought to be buried in the same very church. The friends on either side came to debate who should enter the church first, and, in a trice they came to blows. One of them was armed with bow and arrows. He let one fly among them.

After Sir Normand had appeased the tumult, one of the arrows was found shot in the dead manís thigh.



The Four Hunters and the Four Vixens

Some hundred years ago four hunters went hunting to the braes [1] of Lochaber. After the day's sport was over, they got to a summer-pasture bothy [2] to pass the night. They reached the bothy in the dark. After kindling a fire and taking supper, they sat down about the hearth and began to converse. They felt very comfortable, and three of them said in fun that they wanted nothing now but to have their sweethearts with them there to make them as happy as kings. "Goodness between me and that wish," said the fourth hunter.

The conversation then ceased, and the three hunters withdrew to a corner of the bothy, but the fourth stayed where he was.

Shortly after that, four women entered the bothy. They looked and behaved like the sweethearts of the hunters. Three of them went over and sat beside the three hunters in the corner; but the fourth stood before the hunter who was seated at the fire.

When the hunter sitting at the fire noticed this, he drew his dirk [3] from the scabbard, and laid it across his knees. Then he took two trumps [4] out of his pocket, and began to play on them. The woman standing before him noticed this and said:

"Good is the music of the trump,
Saving the one note in its train.
Its owner likes it in his mouth
In preference to any maid."

The hunter pretended not to hear her, but went on playing on the trumps as before.

Then she began to come nearer, and tried to lay hold of him with her hand, but he kept her off as well as he could with his dirk.

When she failed in getting hold of him in this way, she tried another. "Give me a pinch of snuff,"said she.

The hunter prepared the snuff and reached it to her on the point of his dirk. When she saw this, she turned the point of her elbow towards him and said, "Put it here."

The hunter suspected that she tried to get a chance to seize the hand that held the dirk, and so he was on his guard. As soon as he noticed she was about to stretch out her arm while he was reaching her the snuff, he kept the point of his dirk towards her, and gave her one or two prods with it. That was enough. She went back to the other side of the fire, and stood there, irritating him.

At length he heard the crowing of a cock as if on a hilltop. "Over there," said the woman on the other side of the fire, "is the black cock of March [5]; it is time to depart."

She said no more, but made for the door, and her three companions sprang out after her.

As soon as daylight appeared, the fourth hunter went over to the corner, and there he found his three comrades cold and dead with their throats cut and every drop of blood sucked out of their veins. Now he had no doubt that the women were vixens [6], and the fourth would have done the same thing to him had it not been for the words and other means he had used.


Some words
  1. Brae: hillside, slope.
  2. Bothy: A basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge.
  3. Dirk: a short dagger (and little sword) in Scottish. Weapons of steel, such as a drawn sword were used as a special protection from the fairies. And a piece of cold iron or steel put into the bed of a lady "uneasy in her circumstances," would protect mother and offspring from being ''fayed," people thought in the old days.
  4. Trump: Here: trumpet.
  5. "The black cock of March." A black cock hatched in March from a cock and hen hatched in March, and it "crows at the very moment when night turns to day." - in folklore.
  6. Vixen: She-fox, female fox; a malicious woman. The original tale talks of the glastig (glaistig), however. The glastig in folklore is a kind of beautiful female fairy in a long, flowing green dress. In some stories she lures men by song or dance, in the end to drink their blood. In other tales she is peaceful, but swift to punish those who offend her. Campbell writes in a note to the tale: "Glaistig occupied a middle position between the fairies and mankind. She was not a fairy woman, but one of human race who had a fairy nature given her." I decided to render glastig into vixen. - T. K.


Scottish folktales, legends, fairy tales of Scotland, Literature  

[A] MacDougall, James. Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English: Collected from Oral Tradition. Edinburgh: J. Grant, 1910.

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