The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 1/Stories of Fairies from Scotland (pp. 55-8)

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By the Rev. Walter Gregor.

FAIRY Knots.—The fairies danced round the Hallow-fires, and, whilst they were doing so, they kept casting knots of blue ribbons with their left hands, and throwing them over their left shoulders. These knots could not be unloosed, and were called "fairy-knots." Those who were fascinated by their beauty, and were foolish enough to lift them, came immediately under the power of the "fair-folk," and were liable to be carried off by them at any moment.

Fairy Help.— John Chalmers was a thresher at Peathill, Pitsligo. There was always a good deal more straw threshed than his labour would have led one to look for. Often and again have the flails been heard in the barn after he had finished his threshing, and left the barn. It was the fairies giving their kind offices.[1]—Told by W. Clark, aged 77, Peathill.

Changlings.— When a child was to be taken away by the fairies, a "stock" was some times substituted. It was an image of the child, and was made of wood. A man's child was carried off, and a "stock" left. On discovering what had been done, the father hung it in the "crook" over the fire. In a moment it flew out by the "lum." He rushed out to look after it, and found his own child lying under the gable of the house.[2]

Protection against Fairies.—"Willie, a'm gaain t' the wall; dinna ley the hoose till I cum back." "Foo that, mither," said Willie. "Oh, it wid be better gehn ye bed in; ye dinna ken faht may tack place." "Faht cud tack place, mither?" "Ye widna ken: onywye gehn ye gan oot, pit the Bible in aneth yir wife's head." "Oh aye, a'll dee that." Willie's wife had been brought to bed a short time before, and her child, as well as herself, was in danger of being carried off by the fairies. When Willie's mother returned, she found he had left the house. Going up to the bed side, she anxiously asked if Willie had put anything below the pillow. "A dinna ken. A fan him workin aboot ma head, bit a didna sae faht he wiz aboot." The grandmother put her hand under the pillow, and drew out a peat, for "Willie was a wanton wag," and had placed a peat instead of the Bible under his wife's pillow. His mother remonstrated most solemnly with him on his entering the house again. The remonstrance only called forth a laugh. "It's nae lauchin maitter, an gehn ye dinna tack care, ye may seen get something ye're nae seekin."—Told by W. Clark, Peathill.

"Sowans," or in northern pronunciation "sones," is a dish in Scotland. It is made from "pron" i.e. siftings of oatmeal. The "pron" is first steeped in water in the "sone bowie," and allowed to stand for a short time. It is then poured into the "seysones" and drained, and thus all the "sids" are removed and nothing is left but the flour of the meal. When the "pron" was put into the "bowie," and water poured over it, a burning coal was thrown by some canny goodwives into the mixture. This they did to prevent the fairies from urinating amongst it.

Fairies not to he annoyed.—A. flat stone lay embedded in the ground a little in front of the door of Mrs. C——'s house. It was over a fairy dwelling house. On no account would she herself throw water from the door after darkness set in. She might inadvertently cast it on, or near the stone, and it might sink, and thus cause a "drap" in the dwelling of the fairies, and annoy them. The express rule was that no one of the household should cast out water from the door after nightfall. If one disregarded the rule, there was a sharp rebuke. The fairies were not to be molested, lest they might become troublesome, and take revenge, as they did when they were slighted or annoyed.

Fairy Coveteousness.—A man, Arthur, was walking along the road one evening when he heard behind him a voice saying, "Tack Arthur, tack Arthur." "No," said another voice, "No, he hiz a red caip, tack it." Arthur knew his danger, and took to his heels at once.

Breaking the witch spell on cattle.—"Dilly verge" was a woman renowned in her day for having the power to take away the milk from cows. She exercised her skill on Mr. F——'s cow in the parish of New Deer, Aberdeenshire, and the cow all at once ceased to yield milk. The goodman made a journey to ask the advice of a woman versed in occult matters. He was ordered to kindle a fire on "the winnowan hill," lead the cow three times round it "witherlans," i. e. contrary to the sun's course, catch a part of her urine, and cork it tightly into a bottle, and watch during the following night. He was told that a woman would come at a certain hour, and confess that she had done the deed of milk-stealing. All this was carried out most punctually. The members of the family watched except the goodman. At the hour mentioned by the wise woman, "Dillyverge" opened the door, and entered in great excitement, with her eyes "red like collops." She said she had passed a dreadful night, at times dreaming about the goodman, so dreadful that she could endure the misery no longer, and that she had now come to see him, and must speak with him. She was for a time denied admittance to him, but she became only the more pressing. Her request was at last granted. She spoke to him, was relieved, and the cow's milk was restored.—Told by an old couple living in the parish of Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire.

Scratching a Witch.—On the farm of K——, in the parish of P——, Aberdeenshire, lived the grandfather of the present tenant. For a considerable time after he entered on the farm his cattle did not thrive. He could account for this in no way, and at last he came to the conclusion that witch influence was at work. One morning he set out on horseback to consult "Sawtie," a noted man of wisdom in Buchan in those days. He was cordially received, and told his errand. "Oh, aye," said Sawtie, "an I can lat ye see the man's face it's deein ye a the ill, an y'ill nivver get yir nowt t' thrive til ye draw bleed o' him abeen the breath."

In somewhat vigorous words the farmer said he would soon do that, mounted his horse, and rode home as fast as possible. On reaching home and getting rid of his horse he went into the kitchen to fetch a knife to carry out his instruction—to "draw bleed abeen the breath."

The girl of the kitchen happened to be baking oatmeal cakes, and he seized hold of the "gullie" with which she was cutting each cake into quarters and turning them on the "girdle." With this he went straight to a neighbouring farmer, who was ploughing in a field not far off. He seized him, at the same time using a few strong words about his being a witch, and adding that he would soon take away his power of doing mischief to his cattle. Being a strong man, he threw him on the ground, held him down, and with the "gullie" inflicted on his forehead, just over the eyebrows, two cuts in the form of a cross. The cattle throve daily afterwards.[3]—Told by a man, aged 77, living in the parish of Pitsligo.

  1. See Popular Romances of the West of England, pp. 129, 130, by Robert Hunt; compare Choice Notes, pp. 146, 147.
  2. See Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North East of Scotland, p. 61.
  3. See Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties, p. 181, by William Henderson; Popular Romances of the West of England, p. 315, by Robert Hunt, F.R.S.; Choice Notes, p. 83. Compare Folk-Lore Record, vol. v. pp. 155-7.