The Science of Fairy Tales/Chapter 3
FAIRY BIRTHS AND HUMAN MIDWIVES.
Stories of midwives who have been summoned to the birth of fairies—Human visitors to Fairyland must not eat there—The reason—Fairies' gratitude—The conditions of fairy gifts.
A tale, the scene of which is laid near Beddgelert, runs, as translated by Professor Rhys, in this way:—"Once on a time, when a midwife from Nanhwynan had newly got to the Hafodydd Brithion to pursue her calling, a gentleman came to the door on a fine grey steed and bade her come with him at once. Such was the authority with which he spoke, that the poor midwife durst not refuse to go, however much it was her duty to stay where she was. So she mounted behind him, and off they went, like the flight of a swallow, through Cwmllan, over the Bwlch, down Nant yr Aran, and over the Gadair to Cwm Hafod Ruffydd before the poor woman had time even to say Oh! When they got there, she saw before her a magnificent mansion, splendidly lit up with such lamps as she had never before seen. They entered the court, and a crowd of servants in expensive liveries came to meet them, and she was at once led through the great hall into a bed-chamber, the like of which she had never seen. There the mistress of the house, to whom she had been fetched, was awaiting her. She got through her duties successfully, and stayed there until the lady had completely recovered, nor had she spent any part of her life so merrily; there was naught but festivity day and night: dancing, singing, and endless rejoicing reigned there. But merry as it was, she found she must go, and the nobleman gave her a large purse, with the order not to open it until she had got into her own house; then he bade one of his servants escort her the same way she had come. When she reached home she opened the purse, and, to her great joy, it was full of money; and she lived happily on those earnings to the end of her life."
It is a long leap from Carnarvonshire to Lapland, where this story is told with no great variation. A clergyman's wife in Swedish Lappmark, the cleverest midwife in all Sweden, was summoned one fine summer's evening to attend a mysterious being of Troll race and great might, called Vitra. At this unusual call she took counsel with her husband, who, however, deemed it best for her to go. Her guide led her into a splendid building, the rooms whereof were as clean and elegant as those of very illustrious folk; and in a beautiful bed lay a still more beautiful woman, for whom her services were required, and who was no other than Vitra herself. Under the midwife's care Vitra speedily gave birth to a fair girl, and in a few minutes had entirely recovered, and fetched all sorts of refreshments, which she laid before her benefactress. The latter refused to eat, in spite of Vitra's reassuring persuasion, and further refused the money which the Troll-wife pressed upon her. Vitra then sent her home, bidding her look on the table when next she entered her cowherd's hut and see what she would find there. She thought no more of the matter until the following spring, when on entering the hut she found on the table half a dozen large spoons of pure silver with her name engraved thereon in neat letters. These spoons long remained an heirloom in the clergyman's family to testify the truth of the story. A Swedish book, published in 1775, contains a tale, narrated in the form of a legal declaration solemnly subscribed on the 12th April 1671 by the fortunate midwife's husband, whose name was Peter Rahm, and who also seems to have been a clergyman. On the authority of this declaration we are called on to believe that the event recorded actually happened in the year 1660. Peter Rahm alleges that he and his wife were at their farm one evening late when there came a little man, swart of face and clad in grey, who begged the declarant's wife to come and help his wife then in labour. The declarant, seeing that they had to do with a Troll, prayed over his wife, blessed her, and bade her in God's name go with the stranger. She seemed to be borne along by the wind. After her task was accomplished she, like the clergyman's wife just mentioned, refused the food offered her, and was borne home in the same manner as she had come. The next day she found on a shelf in the sitting-room a heap of old silver pieces and clippings, which it is to be supposed the Troll had brought her.
Apart from the need of human aid, common to all the legends with which we are dealing, the two points emphasized by these Swedish tales are the midwife's refusal of food and the gratitude of the Troll. In a Swabian story the Earthman, as he is called, apologizes for omitting to offer food. In this case the midwife was afraid to go alone with her summoner, and begged that her husband might accompany her. This was permitted; and the Earthman showed them the way through the forest with his lantern, for if was of course night. They came first to a moss door, then to a wooden door, and lastly to a door of shining metal, whence a staircase went down into the earth, and led them into a large and splendid chamber where the Earthwife lay. When the object of their visit was accomplished the Earthman thanked the woman much, and said: "You do not relish our meat and drink, wherefore I will bestow something else upon thee." With these words he gave her a whole apronful of black coals, and taking his lantern again he lighted the midwife and her husband home. On the way home she slily threw away one coal after another. The Earthman said nothing until he was about to take his leave, when he observed merely: "The less you scattered the more you might have." After he had gone the woman's husband remonstrated with her, bidding her keep the coals, for the Earthman appeared in earnest with his gift. When they reached home, however, she shook out her apron on the hearth, and behold! instead of coals, glittering true gold pieces. The woman now sought eagerly enough after the coals she had thrown away, but she found them not.
Confining our attention for the moment to the refusal of food, it would seem that the Earthman's apology in the foregoing narrative is, as too many human apologies are, a mere excuse. The real reason for the midwife's abstention was not that fairy food was distasteful, but that she durst not touch it, under penalty of never again returning to the light of day. A Danish tradition tells of a woman who was taken by an elf on Christmas Eve down into the earth to attend his wife. As soon as the elf wife was delivered her husband took the child away; for if he could find two newly married persons in the bridal bed, before they had repeated their Paternoster, he could, by laying the child between them, procure for it all the good fortune intended for the newly wedded pair. During his absence the elfwife took the opportunity of instructing her helper as to her conduct when he returned; and the first and chief point of her advice was to eat nothing that was offered her. The elfwife was herself a Christian woman who had been inveigled down into the dwellings of the elves; she had eaten, and therefore had never escaped again. On the elf's return, accordingly, the midwife refused food, and he said: "They did not strike thee on the mouth who taught thee that." Late rabbinical writings contain a similar legend of a Mohel, a man whose office it was to circumcise, who was summoned one winter's night by a stranger to perform the ceremony upon a child who would be eight days old the following day. The stranger led him to a lofty mountain, into the bowels of which they passed, and after descending many flights of steps found themselves in a great city. Here the Mohel was taken to a palace, in one of whose apartments was the child's mother lying. When she saw the Mohel she began to weep, and told him that he was in the land of the Mazikin, but that she was a human being, a Jewess, who had been carried away when little from home and brought thither. And she counselled him to take good heed to refuse everything whether of meat or drink that might be offered him: "For if thou taste anything of theirs thou wilt become like one of them, and wilt remain here for ever."
We touch here upon a very ancient and widespread superstition, which we may pause to illustrate from different parts of the world. A Manx tale, which can be traced back to Waldron, narrates the night adventure of a farmer who lost his way in returning home from Peel, and was led by the sound of music into a large hall where were a great number of little people feasting. Among them were some faces he seemed to know; but he took no notice of them until the little folk offered him drink, when one of them, whose features seemed not unknown to him, plucked him by the coat and forbade him, whatever he did, to taste anything he saw before him; "for if you do," he added, "you will be as I am, and return no more to your family."
It is necessary for the hero of a Picard story to go and seek the devil in his own abode. The devil of popular imagination, though a terrific ogre, is not the entirely Evil One of theologians; and one of his good points in the story referred to is that he has three fair daughters, the fairest of whom is compelled by the hero to help him in overcoming her father. She accordingly instructs him to eat no meat and to drink no wine at the devil's house, otherwise he will be poisoned. This may remind us of Kan Püdäi, who in the Altaic ballad descends with his steed to the middle of the earth and encounters various monsters. There the grass and the water of the mountain forest through which he rode were poison. In both cases, what is probably meant is, that to eat or drink is to return no more from these mysterious abodes; and it may be to the intent to obviate any such consequence that Saint Peter, in sending a certain king's son down through a black and stinking hole a hundred toises deep underground, in a Gascon tale, to fetch Saint Peter's own sword, provides him with just enough bread in his wallet every morning to prevent his bursting with hunger. An extension of this thought sometimes even prohibits the hero from accepting a seat or a bed offered by way of hospitality on the part of the devil, or the sorceress, to whose dwelling his business may take him, or even to look at the fair temptress who may seek to entice him to eat.
The meaning of the superstition is not easy to trace, but it should be remembered that in the lower stages of human civilization no distinction is drawn between supernatural or spiritual beings who have never been enclosed in human bodies, and the spirits of the dead. Savage philosophy mingles them together in one phantasmagoria of grotesquery and horror. The line which separates fairies and ogres from the souls of men has gradually grown up through ages of Christian teaching; and, broad as it may seem to us, it is occasionally hardly visible in these stories. Every now and then it is ignored, as in the case of the old friends found among the "little people" by the Manx farmer. Less startling than these, but quite as much in point, are the women, like some already mentioned, who are carried off into Fairyland, where they become wives and mothers. They can never come back to their old life, though they retain enough of the "mortal mixture" to require the adventurous human midwife to relieve their pains. Accordingly, we need not be surprised if the same incidents of story or fibres of superstition attach at one time to ghosts and at another to the non-human creatures of imagination, or if Hades and Fairyland are often confounded. Both are equally the realm of the supernatural. We may therefore inquire whether eating is forbidden to the chance sojourner in the place of the dead equally as to the sojourner in Fairyland, if he wish to return to the upper air. And we shall find that it is.
Proserpine ate seven grains of a pomegranate which grew in the Elysian Fields, and so was compelled to remain in the Shades, the wife of "the grisly king." Thus, too, when Morgan the Fay takes measures to get Ogier the Dane into her power she causes him to be shipwrecked on a loadstone rock near to Avalon. Escaping from the sea, he comes to an orchard, and there eats an apple which, it is not too much to say, seals his fate. Again, when Thomas of Erceldoune is being led down by the Fairy Queen into her realm, he desires to eat of the fruit of certain trees.
"He presed to pul the frute with his honde,
As man for fode was nyhonde feynte;
She seid, Thomas, lat them stande,
Or ellis the fiend will the ateynte.
If thou pulle the sothe to sey,
Thi soule goeth to the fyre of hell
Hit cummes never out til domusday,
But ther ever in payne to dwelle."
An old story preserved for us by Saxo Grammaticus describes the visit of some Danish heroes to Guthmund, a giant who rules a delightful land beyond a certain river crossed by a golden bridge. Thorkill, their conductor, a Scandinavian Ulysses for cunning, warns his companions of the various temptations that will be set before them. They must forbear the food of the country, and be satisfied with that which they had brought with them; moreover, they must keep apart from the natives, taking care not so much as to touch them. In spite, however, of Thorkill's warnings to them, and his excuses in their behalf to the king, some of the heroes fell and were left behind when their friends were at last allowed to depart. So far we see that the prohibition and the danger we found extant in the Fairyland of modern folk-tales apply also to the classic Hades; and we have traced them back a long way into the Middle Ages in French, British, and Danish traditions relating to fairies and other supernatural existences, with a special threat of Hell in the case of Thomas of Erceldoune.
On the other side of the globe the Banks' islanders believe, like the Greeks, in an underground kingdom of the dead, which they call Panoi. Only a few years ago a woman was living who professed to have been down there. Her object had been to visit her brother, who had recently died. To do this she perfumed herself with water in which a dead rat had been steeped, so as to give herself a death-like smell. She then pulled up a bird's nest and descended through the hole thus made. Her brother, whom of course she found, cautioned her to eat nothing, and by taking his advice she was able to return. A similar tale is told of a New Zealand woman of rank, who was lucky enough to come back from the abode of departed spirits by the assistance of her father and his repeated commands to avoid tasting the disgusting food of the dead. Wäinämöinen, the epic hero of the Finns, determined to penetrate to Manala, the region of the dead. We need not follow in detail his voyage; it will suffice to say that on his arrival, after a long parley with the maiden daughter of Tuoni, the king of the island, beer was brought to him in a two-eared tankard.
"Wäinämöinen, old and trusty,
Gaz'd awhile upon the tankard;
Lo! within it frogs were spawning,
Worms about its sides were laying.
Words in this wise then he utter'd:
'Not to drink have I come hither
From the tankard of Manala,
Not to empty Tuoni's beaker;
They who drink of beer are drowned,
Those who drain the can are ruin'd.'"
The hero's concluding words might form a motto for our teetotallers; and in any case his abstinence enabled him to succeed in his errand and return. A point is made in the poem of the loathsome character of the beverage offered him, which thus agrees with the poison referred to in some of the narratives I have previously cited. The natives of the Southern Seas universally represent the sustenance of spirits as filthy and abominable. A most remarkable coincidence with the description of Tuoni's beer occurs in a curious story told on one of the Hervey Islands, concerning a Mangaian Dante. Being apparently near death, this man directed that, as soon as the breath was out of his body, a cocoa-nut should be cracked, and its kernel disengaged from the shell and placed upon his stomach under the grave-clothes. Having descended to the Shades, he beheld Miru, the horrible hag who rules them, and whose deformities need not now be detailed. She commanded him to draw near. "The trembling human spirit obeyed, and sat down before Miru. According to her unvarying practice she set for her intended victim a bowl of food, and bade him eat it quite up. Miru, with evident anxiety, waited to see him swallow it. As Tekanae took up the bowl, to his horror he found it to consist of living centipedes. The quick-witted mortal now recollected the cocoa-nut kernel at the pit of his stomach, and hidden from Miru's view by his clothes. With one hand he held the bowl to his lips, as if about to swallow its contents; with the other he secretly held the cocoa-nut kernel, and ate it—the bowl concealing the nut from Miru. It was evident to the goddess that Tekanae was actually swallowing something: what else could it be but the contents of the fatal bowl? Tekanae craftily contrived whilst eating the nourishing cocoa-nut to allow the live centipedes to fall on the ground one or two at a time. As the intended victim was all the time sitting on the ground it was no difficult achievement in this way to empty the bowl completely by the time he had finished the cocoa-nut. Miru waited in vain to see her intended victim writhing in agony and raging with thirst. Her practice on such occasions was to direct the tortured victim-spirit to dive in a lake close by, to seek relief. None that dived into that water ever came up alive; excessive anguish and quenchless thirst so distracting their thoughts that they were invariably drowned. Miru would afterwards cook and eat her victims at leisure. Here was a new event in her history: the bowl of living centipedes had been disposed of, and yet Tekanae manifested no sign of pain, no intention to leap into the cooling, but fatal, waters. Long did Miru wait; but in vain. At last she said to her visitor, 'Return to the upper world' (i.e., to life). 'Only remember this—do not speak against me to mortals. Reveal not my ugly form and my mode of treating my visitors. Should you be so foolish as to do so, you will certainly at some future time come back to my domains, and I will see to it that you do not escape my vengeance a second time!' Tekanae accordingly left the Shades, and came back to life"; but he, it is needless to say, carefully disregarded the hag's injunction, or we should not have had the foregoing veracious account of what happens below.
The tortures reserved for Miru's victims cast a weird light on the warning in the Picard story against eating and drinking what the devil may offer. But whether poisoning in the latter case would have been the preliminary to a hearty meal to be made off the unlucky youth by his treacherous host, or no, it is impossible to determine. What the tales do suggest, however, is that the food buried with the dead by uncivilized tribes may be meant to provide them against the contingency of having to partake of the hospitality of the Shades, and so afford them a chance of escaping back to the upper air. But, putting this conjecture aside, we have found the supposition that to eat of fairy food is to return no more, equally applicable to the world of the dead as to Fairyland. In seeking its meaning, therefore, we must not be satisfied without an explanation that will fit both. Almost all over the earth the rite of hospitality has been held to confer obligations on its recipient, and to unite him by special ties, to the giver. And even where the notion of hospitality does not enter, to join in a common meal has often been held to symbolize, if not to constitute, union of a very sacred kind. The formation of blood relationship, or brotherhood, and formal adoption into a tribe or family (ceremonies well known in the lower culture), are usually, if not always, cemented in this way. The modern wedding breakfast, with its bridecake, is a survival from a very ancient mode of solemnizing the closest tie of all; and when Proserpine tasted a pomegranate she partook of a fruit of a specially symbolic character to signify acceptance of her new destiny as her captor's wife. Hence to partake of food in the land of spirits, whether they are human dead, or fairies, is to proclaim one's union with them and to renounce the fellowship of mortals.
The other point emphasized in the Swedish tales quoted just now is the Troll's gratitude, as evidenced by his gifts to the successful midwife. Before considering this, however, let us note that these supernatural beings do not like to be imposed upon. A German midwife who was summoned by a Waterman, or Nix, to aid a woman in labour, was told by the latter: "I am a Christian woman as well as you; and I was carried off by a Waterman, who changed me. When my husband comes in now and offers you money, take no more from him than you usually get, or else he will twist your neck. Take good care!" And in another tale, told at Kemnitz of the Nicker, as he is there called, when he asks the midwife how much he owes her, she answers that she will take no more from him than from other people. "That's lucky for thee," he replies; "hadst thou demanded more, it would have gone ill with thee!" But for all that he gave her an apron full of gold and brought her safely home.
A Pomeranian story marks the transition to a type of tale wherein one special characteristic of elfin gifts is presented. For in this case, when the mannikin asked the midwife what her charge was, she modestly replied: "Oh, nothing; the little trouble I have had does not call for any payment." "Now then, lift up thy apron!" answered he; and it was quickly filled with the rubbish that lay in the corner of the room. Taking his lantern, the elf then politely guided her home. When she shook out the contents of her apron, lo! it was no rubbish which fell on the ground, but pure, shining minted gold. Hitherto she and her father had been very poor; thenceforth they had no more want their whole lives long. This gift of an object apparently worthless, which turns out, on the conditions being observed, of the utmost value, is a commonplace of fairy transactions. It is one of the most obvious manifestations of superhuman power; and as such it has always been a favourite incident in the stories of all nations. We have only to do here with the gift as it appears in the group under analysis; and in these cases it presents little variety. In a tale told on the lake of Zug the dwarf fills the woman's apron with something at which he bids her on no account look before she is in her own house. Her curiosity, however, is uncontrollable; and the moment the dwarf vanishes she peeps into her apron, to find simply black coals. She, in a rage, flings them away, keeping only two as evidence of the shabby treatment she had met with; but when she got home these two were nothing less than precious stones. She at once ran back to where she had shaken out the supposed coals; but they were all gone. So a recompense of straws, dust, birch leaves, or shavings becomes, as elsewhere told, pure gold, pure silver, or thalers. Nor is the story confined to Europe. In Dardistan it is related that a boy, taken down by a Yatsh, or demon, into an underground palace, is allowed to be present at a Yatsh wedding. He finds the Yatshes assembled in great force and in possession of a number of valuables belonging to the dwellers in his own village. On his return his guide presents him with a sack full of coals, which he empties as soon as he is out of sight. One little piece, however, remains, and is transformed into a gold coin when he reaches home.
Conversely, when the midwife is rewarded with that which seems valuable it turns out worthless. An Irishwoman, in relating a professional experience among the Good People, wound up her story as follows: "The king slipped five guineas into my hand as soon as I was on the ground, and thanked me, and bade me good-night. I hope I'll never see his face again. I got into bed, and couldn't sleep for a long time; and when I examined my five guineas this morning, that I left in the table-drawer the last thing, I found five withered leaves of oak—bad scran to the giver!" This incident recalls the Barber's tale of his fourth brother in the "Arabian Nights." This unlucky man went on selling meat to a sorcerer for five months, and putting the bright new money in which the latter paid him into a box by itself; but when he came to open the box he found in it nothing but a parcel of leaves, or, as Sir Richard Burton has it, bits of white paper cut round to look like coin. Chinese folklore is full of similar occurrences, which we cannot now stay to discuss. But, returning to western traditions, there is a way of counteracting the elves' transforming magic. The wife of a farmer named Niels Hansen, of Uglerup, in Denmark, was summoned to attend a troll-wife, who told her that the troll, her husband, would offer her a quantity of gold; "but," she said, "unless you cast this knife behind you when you go out, it will be nothing but coal when you reach home." The woman followed her patient's advice, and so continued to carry safely home a costly present of gold.
The objection of supernatural beings to iron, and its power of undoing their charms, will be considered in a future chapter. The good luck of Niels Hansen's wife offers meantime another subject of interest; for it was due to her own kindness of heart. A short time before she had been raking hay in a field, when she caught a large and fat toad between the teeth of her rake. She gently released it, saying: "Poor thing! I see that thou needest help; I will help thee." That toad was the troll-wife, and as she afterwards attended her she was horrified to see a hideous serpent hanging down just above her head. Her fright led to explanations and an expression of gratitude on the part of the troll-wife. This incident is by no means uncommon; but a very few examples must suffice here. Generally the woman's terror is attributed to a millstone hanging over her head. At Grammendorf, in Pomerania, a maid saw, every time she went to milk the cows, a hateful toad hopping about in the stable. She determined to kill it, and would have seized it one day had it not, in the very nick of time, succeeded in creeping into a hole, where she could not get at it. A few days after, when she was again busy in the stable, a little Ulk, as the elves there are called, came and invited her to descend with him into Fairyland. On reaching the bottom of a staircase with her conductor, she found her services were required for an Ulkwife, whose time was at hand. Entering the dwelling she was frightened to observe a huge millstone above her, suspended by a silken thread; and the Ulk, seeing her terror, told her she had caused him exactly the same, when she chased the poor toad and attempted to kill it. The girl was compelled to share in the feast which followed. When it was over she was given a piece of gold, that she was carefully to preserve; for so long as she did so she would never be in want of money. But her guide warned her at parting never to relate her experience, otherwise the elves would fetch her again, and set her under the millstone, which would then fall and crush her. Whether this was indeed the consequence of her narrating this very true story we do not know. After some of the beliefs we have been considering in the foregoing pages it is, however, interesting to note that no ill attended her eating and drinking in Fairyland, and that the gold she received did not turn to dross, though it possessed other miraculous qualities which might very well have led her to the bad end threatened by the Ulk. Perhaps a portion of the story has been lost.
Sometimes a different turn is given to the tale. A Swabian peasant-woman was once in the fields with her servant-maid, when they saw a big toad. The woman told her maid to kill it. The latter replied: "No; I won't do that, and I will stand sponsor for it yet once more." Not long afterwards she was sent for to become sponsor, and was conducted into the lake, where she found the toad now in guise of a woman. After the ceremony was over, the lake-woman rewarded her with a bushel of straw, and sent by her hand a girdle for her mistress. On the way home the girl tried the girdle on a tree to see how it would look, and in a moment the tree was torn into a thousand pieces. This was the punishment devised by the lake-woman for her mistress, because she had wished to put her to death while in the form of a toad. The straw was, of course, pure gold; but the girl foolishly cast it all away except a few stalks which clung to her dress. So a countryman who accidentally spilt some hot broth on a witch, disguised as a toad, is presented by her another day with a girdle for his little son. Suspecting something wrong, he tries it on his dog, which at once swells up and bursts. This is a Saxon saga from Transylvania; an Irish saga brings us to the same catastrophe. There a girl meets a frog which is painfully bloated, and kicks it unfeelingly aside, with the words: "May you never be delivered till I am midwife to you!" Now the frog was a water-fairy dwelling in a lake, into which the girl soon after was conveyed and compelled to become the fairy's midwife. By way of reward she is presented with a red cloak, which, on her way home, she hangs up in admiration on a tree. Well was it for her that she did so, for it set the tree on fire; and had she worn it, as she meant to do, on the following Sunday at Mass, the chapel itself would have been in a blaze.
The fairies' revenge here missed its mark, though calculated on no trifling scale. Indeed, the rewards they bestowed were never nicely balanced with the good or ill they intended to requite, but were showered in open-handed fashion as by those who could afford to be lavish. Of this we have already had several instances; a few more may be given. At Palermo a tale is told of a midwife who was one day cooking in her own kitchen when a hand appeared and a voice cried: "Give to me!" She took a plate and filled it from the food she was preparing. Presently the hand returned the plate full of golden money. This was repeated daily; and the woman, seeing the generous payment, became more and more free with her portions of food. At the end of nine months a knocking was heard at the door; and, descending, she found two giants, who caught her up on their shoulders, and unceremoniously ran off with her. They carried her to a lady who needed her offices, and she assisted to bring into the world two fine boys. The lady evidently was fully alive to her own dignity, for she kept the woman a proper human month, to the distress of her husband, who, not knowing what had become of her, searched the city night and day, and at last gave her up for dead. Then the lady (a fairy princess she was) asked her if she wished to go, and whether she would be paid by blows or pinches. The poor midwife deemed her last hour was come, and said to herself that if she must die it would be better to die quickly; so she chose blows. Accordingly the princess called the two giants, and sent her home with a large sack of money, which enabled her to relinquish business, set up her carriage, and become one of the first ladies in Palermo. Ten years passed; and one day a grand carriage stopped at her door. A lady alighted and entered her palace. When she had her face to face, the lady said: "Gossip, do you know me?" "No, madam." "What! do you not remember that I am the lady to whom you came ten years ago, when these children were born? I, too, am she who held out her hand and asked for food. I was the fairies' captive; and if you had not been generous enough to give me to eat, I should have died in the night. And because you were generous you have become rich. Now I am freed, and here I am with my sons." The quondam midwife, with tears in her eyes, looked at her, and blessed the moment she had done a generous act. So they became lifelong friends.
I have given the foregoing tale almost at full length because it has not, so far as I know, appeared before in any other than its native Sicilian dress, and because analogous stories are not common in collections from Mediterranean countries. This rarity is not, I need hardly say, from any absence of the mythological material, and perhaps it may be due to accident in the formation of the collections. If the story were really wanting elsewhere in Southern Europe, we might be permitted the conjecture that its presence in Sicily was to be accounted for by the Norman settlements there. One such story, however, is recorded from the Island of Kimolos, one of the Cyclades, but without the human captivity in Elfland, without the acts of charity, and without the gratitude. The Nereids of the Kimoliote caves are of a grimmer humour than the kindly-natured underground folk of Celtic and Teutonic lands, or than the heroine of Palermo. The payment to their human help is no subject of jest to them. A woman whom they once called in was roundly told: "If it be a boy you shall be happy; but if it be a girl we will tear you in four parts, and hang you in this cave." The unhappy midwife of course determined that it should be a boy; and when a girl arrived she made believe it was a boy, swaddled it up tightly, and went home. When, eight days afterwards, the child was unpacked, the Nereids' rage and disappointment were great; and they sent one of their number to knock at her door in the hope that she would answer the first summons. Now to answer the first summons of a Nereid meant madness. Of this the woman was fully aware; and her cunning cheated them even of their revenge.
Sometimes these supernatural beings bestow gifts of a more distinctly divine character than any of the foregoing. A midwife in Strathspey, on one such occasion, was desired to ask what she would, and it should be granted if in the power of the fairies. She asked that success might attend herself and her posterity in all similar operations. The gift was conferred; and her great-grandson still continued to exercise it when Mr. Stewart was collecting the materials for his work on the superstitions of the Highlanders, published in 1823. In like manner the Mohel, to whose adventure I have already referred, and who was originally an avaricious man, received the grace of benevolence to the poor, which caused him to live a long and happy life with his family, a pattern unto the whole world. The gift was symbolized by the restoration to him of his own bunch of keys, which he found with many others in the possession of his uncanny conductor. This personage had held the keys by virtue of his being lord over the hearts of those who never at any time do good: in other words, he was the demon of covetousness. Here we have an instance, more or less conscious, of the tendency, so marked in Jewish literature, to parable. But the form of the parable bears striking testimony to its origin in a myth common to many races. The keys in particular probably indicate that the recompense at one time took the shape of a palladium. This is not at all uncommon in the tales. The Countess Von Ranzau was once summoned from her castle of Breitenburg in Schleswig to the help of a dwarf-woman, and in return received, according to one account, a large piece of gold to be made into fifty counters, a herring and two spindles, upon the preservation of which the fortunes of the family were to depend. The gifts are variously stated in different versions of the tale, but all the versions agree in attaching to them blessings on the noble house of Ranzau so long as they were kept in the family. The Frau Von Hahnen, in a Bohemian legend, receives for her services to a water-nix three pieces of gold, with the injunction to take care of them, and never to let them go out of the hands of her own lineage, else the whole family would fall into poverty. She bequeathed the treasures to her three sons; but the youngest son took a wife, who with a light heart gave the fairy gold away. Misery, of course, resulted from her folly; and the race of Hahnen speedily came to an end.
It is quite possible that the spoons bestowed by Vitra upon the clergyman's wife in Lappmark were once reputed to be the subject of a similar proviso. So common, forsooth, was the stipulation, that in one way or other it was annexed to well-nigh all fairy gifts: they brought luck to their possessor for the time being. Examples of this are endless: one only will content us in this connection; and, like Vitra's gift, we shall find it in Swedish Lappmark. A peasant who had one day been unlucky at the chase, was returning disgusted, when he met a fine gentleman who begged him to come and cure his wife. The peasant protested in vain that he was not a doctor. The other would take no denial, insisting that it was no matter, for if he would only put his hands upon the lady she would be healed. Accordingly the stranger led him to the very top of a mountain, where was perched a castle he had never seen before. On entering it he found the walls were mirrors, the roof overhead of silver, the carpets of gold-embroidered silk, and the furniture of the purest gold and jewels. The stranger took him into a room where lay the loveliest of princesses on a golden bed, screaming with pain. As soon as she saw the peasant she begged him to come and put his hands upon her. Almost stupified with astonishment he hesitated to lay his coarse hands upon so fair a dame. But at length he yielded; and in a moment her pain ceased, and she was made whole. She stood up and thanked him, begging him to tarry awhile and eat with them. This, however, he declined to do, for he feared that if he tasted the food which was offered him he must remain there. The stranger whom he had followed then took a leathern purse, filled it with small round pieces of wood, and gave it to the peasant with these words: "So long as thou art in possession of this purse money will never fail thee. But if thou shouldst ever see me again, beware of speaking to me; for if thou speak thy luck will depart." When the man got home he found the purse filled with dollars; and by virtue of its magical property he became the richest man in the parish. As soon as he found the purse always full, whatever he took out of it, he began to live in a spendthrift manner and frequented the ale-house. One evening as he sat there he beheld the stranger with a bottle in his hand going round and gathering the drops which the guests shook from time to time out of their glasses. The rich peasant was surprised that one who had given him so much did not seem able to buy himself a single dram, but was reduced to this means of getting a drink. Thereupon he went up to him and said: "Thou hast shown me more kindness than any other man ever did, and I will willingly treat thee to a little." The words were scarce out of his mouth when he received such a blow on his head that he fell stunned to the ground; and when again he came to himself the stranger and his purse were both gone. From that day forward he became poorer and poorer, until he was reduced to absolute beggary.
This story exemplifies every point that has has interested us in this discussion: the need of the Trolls for human help, the refusal of food, fairy gratitude, and the conditions involved in the acceptance of supernatural gifts. It mentions one further characteristic of fairy nature—the objection to be recognized and addressed by men who are privileged to see them. But the consideration of this requires another chapter.
- "Y Cymmrodor," vol. v. p. 70, translated from "Y Brython," vol. iv. p. 251.
- Poestion, p. 111; Grimm, "Teut. Myth." p. 457, note, quoting at length the declaration from Hülpher, "Samlingen om Jämtland." A translation will be found in Keightley, p. 122.
- Meier, p. 59.
- Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 128, from Thiele, "Danmark's Folkesagn"; Keightley, p. 506.
- Waldron, p. 28.
- "Mélusine," vol. i. p. 446; Radloff, vol. i. p. 78; Bladé, vol. i. p. 161; Cosquin, vol. ii. p. 10; Cavallius, p. 281; "Revue des Trad. Pop." vol. iv. p. 222.
- Child, vol. i. p. 319; "Thomas of Erceldoune," p. 11 (Cambridge Text); Saxo, "Gesta Dan." l, viii.
- Journal of Anthrop. Inst. vol. x. p. 282; Shortland, p. 150; "Kalewala," rune xvi. l. 293.
- Gill, p. 172.
- Keightley, p. 261; Kuhn und Schwartz, p. 93.
- Jahn, p. 72; Keightley, p. 275, quoting Müller, "Bilder und Sagen aus der Schweiz," p. 119; Birlinger, "Volksthümliches," vol. i. p. 42; Kuhn, p. 82; Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 128; vol. iii. p. 54, quoting Müllenhoff, "Sagen, &c., der Herzogthümer Schleswig, Holstein und Lauenburg"; Kuhn und Schwartz, p. 173; Wratislaw, p. 40; Wenzig, p. 198; Liebrecht, p. 100, citing "Results of a Tour in Dardistan," part iii. p. 3.
- Kennedy, p. 106; Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 130, quoting Thiele, "Danmark's Folkesagn."
- Jahn, p. 64; cf. p. 74, where there are two maidens, one of whom had saved the toad when the other desired to kill it. They stand sponsors for the fairy child, and are rewarded with sweepings which turn to gold; also Bartsch, vol. i. p. 50, where a sword is suspended.
- Meier, p. 69; Müller, p. 140; "N. and Q.," 7th ser. vol. v. p. 501.
- Pitré, vol. v. p. 23. The story in its present form does not say that the human food enabled the lady to return from Fairyland, but only that it saved her life. Probably, however, an earlier version may have shown the incident in a more primitive form.
- Bent, p. 46.
- Keightley, p. 388, citing Stewart; Thorpe, vol. iii. p. 50 et seq., quoting Müllenhoff and Thiele; Grohmann, p. 145; see also Thorpe, vol. iii. p. 51.
- Poestion, p. 119.