The Science of Fairy Tales/Chapter 5
The belief in changelings—Precautions against changing—Motives assigned for changing—Attempts frustrated—How changelings may be known—Their physical characteristics—Devices to lead them to betray themselves—Their subsequent treatment—Journey to Fairyland to fetch back the true child—Adult changelings.
A new-born babe, of all human beings the most helpless, has always roused compassion and care. Nor is it a matter for wonder if its helplessness against physical dangers have led to the assumption that it is exposed to spiritual or supernatural evils more than its elders. At all events it seems a widespread superstition that a babe, when first it makes its appearance in this world, must be protected not merely against the natural perils of its condition, but also against enemies of an even more subtle and fearful description. The shape taken by this superstition in north-western Europe is the belief in Changelings—a belief which I propose to examine in the present chapter.
By the belief in changelings I mean a belief that fairies and other imaginary beings are on the watch for young children, or (as we shall see hereafter) sometimes even for adults, that they may, if they can find them unguarded, seize and carry them off, leaving in their place one of themselves, or a block of wood animated by their enchantments and made to resemble the stolen person. Wise mothers take precautions against such thefts. These precautions are tolerably simple, and for the most part display the same general character. First and foremost among them is the rite of baptism, whereby the little one is admitted into the Christian Church. Faith in the efficacy of baptism as a protection from the powers hostile to man is not less strong among communities nominally Protestant than among Roman Catholics, and has doubtless operated to bring many children within the pale of the visible Church who might otherwise have been long in reaching that sacred enclosure. Examples of the belief in the power of baptism against the depredations of fairies could easily be cited from all Protestant countries. Without doing this, we may just pause to note that baptism was also reckoned a remedy for disease. This is doubtless a relic of the old creed which refers all human ailments to witchcraft and other spiritualistic origins. Mr. Henderson, speaking of the notion prevalent in the north of England that sickly infants never thrive until they are christened, relates a story communicated to him by a clergyman, within whose personal knowledge it had happened. He says: "The infant child of a chimney-sweeper at Thorne, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, was in a very weak state of health, and appeared to be pining away. A neighbour looked in, and inquired if the child had been baptized. On an answer being given in the negative, she gravely said, 'I would try having it christened.' The counsel was taken, and I believe with success." The same belief is found both in North and South Wales. It is also testified to by a Scottish clergyman, who moreover adduces the following conversation as illustrative of it and of "an undefinable sort of awe about unbaptized infants, as well as an idea of uncanniness in having them without baptism in the house," which is entertained among the labouring classes in the north-east of Scotland. "Oh, sir," said the wife of a working man to the minister, on asking him to baptize her child along with others, whose mothers were present, "this registration's the warst thing the queentry ever saw; it sud be deen awa' wee athegeethir!" "Why?" asked the minister, in astonishment at the woman's words and earnestness of manner. "It'll pit oot kirsnin athegeethir. Ye see the craitirs gets their names, an we jist think that aneuch, an' we're in nae hurry sennin for you." How far, as this anecdote dimly suggests, it was the giving of a name which was supposed to protect a child, I cannot say: more probably it was the dedication to God involved in baptism. This is countenanced by the precaution said to have been observed in Nithsdale when a pretty child was born to consecrate it to God, and sue for its protection by "taking the Beuk" and other acts of prayer and devotion.
Putting aside such ceremonies as these which may be supposed distinctly Christian, there were other charms looked upon as efficacious. Thus in Scotland it was deemed highly judicious to keep an open Bible always near a child, and even to place the holy volume beneath the head of a woman in labour. In some parts of Germany it is enough to lay a single leaf out of a Bible or prayer-book in the cradle, until by the baptism of the infant the danger of robbery passes away; and a prayer-book is also placed under the pillow of the newly-made mother, who is at that time' specially liable to fall under the power of the underground folk. Indeed a prayer-book, or the mere repetition of a Paternoster, is equally valuable with a Bible for these purposes; and if, by the neglect of any of these precautions, an opportunity be given to the foe, the child may yet be saved by the utterance of the name of Jesus Christ at the moment when the change is being effected. Holy water and the sign of the cross, in Ireland, or a rosary blessed by a priest, in Picardy, enjoy a similar reputation.
All these means of prevention are veneered with some sort of Christianity; but there are others which display Heathenism naked and unblushing. While a child in Mecklenburg remains unbaptized it is necessary to burn a light in the chamber. Nor is the superstition confined to one district: it is common all over Germany and Denmark; it was once common in England; it is found in Ireland; it is found among the Lithuanians on the shores of the Baltic; it was practised by the ancient Romans, and appears to be a relic of the sacred character anciently imputed to fire. In the island of Lewis fire used to be carried round women before they were churched and children before they were christened, both night and morning; and this was held effectual to preserve both mother and infant from evil spirits, and (in the case of the infant) from being changed. The Sad Dar, one of the sacred books of the Parsees, contains directions to keep a continual fire in the house during a woman's pregnancy, and after the child is born to burn a lamp for three nights and days—a fire, indeed, is declared to be better—"so that the demons and fiends may not be able to do any damage and harm." By way of enforcing this precept we are told that when Zoroaster was born, a demon came at the head of a hundred and fifty other demons, every night for three nights, to slay him, but they were put to flight by seeing the fire, and were consequently unable to hurt him.
Iron or steel, in the shape of needles, a key, a knife, a pair of tongs, an open pair of scissors, or in any other shape, if placed in the cradle, secured the desired end. In Bulgaria a reaping-hook is placed in a corner of the room for the same purpose. I shall not stay now to discuss the reason why supernatural beings dread and dislike iron. The open pair of scissors, however, it should be observed, has double power; for it is not only of the abhorred metal,—it is also in form a cross. The use of the cross in baptism was probably one of the reasons for the efficacy of that rite against felonious fairies. At all events, over a very wide area the cross is thought a potent protection; nor is the belief by any means confined to Christian lands. Mr. Mitchell-Innes tells us that the fear of changelings exists in China. "To avert the calamity of nursing a demon, dried banana-skin is burnt to ashes, which are then mixed with water. Into this the mother dips her finger and paints a cross upon the sleeping babe's forehead. In a short time the demon soul returns—for the soul wanders from the body during sleep and is free—but, failing to recognize the body thus disguised, flies off. The true soul, which has been waiting for an opportunity, now approaches the dormant body, and, if the mark has been washed off in time, takes possession of it; but if not, it, like the demon, failing to recognize the body, departs, and the child dies in its sleep." How to hit the exact moment between the flight of the demon and the advent of the true soul doubtless puzzles many a Chinese mother fully as much as the cross puzzles the two competing souls. But when she is successful she baffles the evil spirit by deceit, of which the cross is made the instrument; though we may well believe that the child is not disguised in this way without reference to the cross's inherent sanctity; for it is a religious symbol among nations who never heard the gospel of the Crucified.
Spirits whose baleful influences are feared by man are happily easily tricked. To this guilelessness on their part must be attributed another strange method of defeating their evil designs on children. It appears to be enough to lay over the infant, or on the bed beside the mother, a portion of the father's clothes. A shepherd's wife living near Selkirk was lying in bed one day with her new-born boy at her side, when she heard a sound of talking and laughter in the room. Suspecting what turned out to be the case, she seized in great alarm her husband's waistcoat, which was lying at the foot of the bed, and flung it over herself and the child. The fairies, for it was they who were the cause of the noise, set up a loud scream, crying out: "Auld Luckie has cheated us o' our bairnie!" Soon afterwards the woman heard something fall down the chimney, and looking out she saw a waxen effigy of her baby, stuck full of pins, lying on the hearth. The would-be thieves had meant to substitute this for the child. When her husband came home he made up a large fire and threw the doll upon it; but, instead of burning, the thing flew up the chimney amid shouts of laughter from the unseen visitors. The suggestion seems to be that the sight of the father's clothes leads "the good people" to think that he himself is present watching over his offspring. Some articles of clothing, however, seem to have special virtue, such as a right shirt-sleeve or a left stocking, though wherefore is not very clear; and in China, about Canton, a fisherman's net is employed with as little apparent reason. In Sweden the babe is wrapped in red cloth, which we may be allowed to conjecture is intended to cozen the fairies by simulating fire.
Moreover, certain plants are credited with a similar gift. In Germany orant (whatever that may be), blue marjoram, and black cumin; and in Denmark garlic—nasty enough surely to keep any beings off—and bread are used. The Danes, too, place salt in the cradle or over the door. The Italians fear not only fairies who rob them of their children, but also witches who tear the faces of unbaptized infants. These are both old superstitions, dating in one form or other from classic times. To baulk the witches of their prey it is in some places customary to keep a light burning in the chamber at night, and to affix at the door of the house the image of a saint, hanging to it a rosary and an unravelled napkin; while behind the door are put a jar full of salt and a brush. A two-fold defence is thus built up; for the witch, beholding the image of the saint and the rosary, will straightway retire; or if these fail to warn her off, she will on entering be compelled to count the grains of salt, the broken threads of the napkin, and the twigs of the brush—a task that will keep her occupied from midnight, when at the earliest she can dare appear, until dawn, when she must slink away without having been able to attain her object. Among the Greeks witches are believed to have great power. They seek new-born babes to suck their blood or to prick them to death with sharp instruments. Often they inflict such injuries that a child remains for ever a cripple or an invalid. The Nereids of the fountains and springs are also on the watch "to exchange one of their own fractious offspring for a mortal babe." Constant watchfulness, and baptism as soon as the Church permits it, are therefore necessary. In England it seems to have been held in former days that witches stole children from their cradles before baptism to make an oil or unguent by boiling them to a jelly. A part of this jelly they used to drink, and with the remainder they rubbed their bodies. This was the orthodox means of acquiring magical powers. It is a Sicilian belief that the hands of unbaptized children are used by witches in their sorceries.
As we might expect, the reason why unbaptized babes are held to be so liable to these attacks is that until the initiatory rite has been performed they are looked upon as heathen, and therefore peculiarly under the dominion of evil spirits. In Sicily and in Spain an infant until baptism is called by the opprobrious epithets of Pagan, Turk, Moor, Jew. Even women will not kiss it, for to kiss a Moor, at all events in Spain, is sin; though, on the other hand, to kiss an unbaptized child, if no one else have kissed it, is sovereign against toothache. By the Greeks these little innocents are regarded not merely as not Christians, but as really less human than demoniac in their nature. This is said, indeed, to be the teaching of the Church. The lower classes, at least (and, presumably therefore, not long ago the upper classes) believe it firmly; so that an unbaptized babe is called Drakos (feminine, Drakoula), that is to say, serpent or dragon. This is the same opprobrious title that we found Gervase of Tilbury applying to the evil spirits infesting the waters of the Rhone; and we cannot doubt that it is intended to convey an imputation of Satanic nature. The extent of this superstition would form an interesting subject of inquiry. If it could be established as existing now or formerly among other Christian nations (and the superstitions of Sicily and Spain just cited point to this) it would help to clear up much of the difficulty surrounding the subject of changelings, especially the motives actuating both fairies and witches in their depredations. And, as infant baptism is by no means exclusively a Christian rite, research among heathen nations would be equally pertinent.
Meanwhile the motive usually assigned to fairies in northern stories is that of preserving and improving their race, on the one hand by carrying off human children to be brought up among the elves and to become united with them, and on the other hand by obtaining the milk and fostering care of human mothers for their own offspring. Doubts have been expressed by the German poet and mythologist, Karl Simrock, whether this was the primitive motive. He suggests that originally these spirits were looked upon as wholly beneficent, and even the theft of children was dictated by their care for the best interests of mankind. Nor does he hesitate to lay it down that the selfish designs just mentioned were first attributed to them when with growing enlightenment the feeling manifested itself that the kindly beings were falling into decay.
It might be sufficient to reply that no spiritual existences imagined by men in a state of civilization such as surrounded our Celtic and Teutonic forefathers were ever regarded as unswervingly benevolent: caprice and vindictiveness, if not cruelty, are always elements of their character. Beyond this general consideration, however, there is a further and conclusive answer in the fact that there is no warrant in tradition for the supposition that could we penetrate to the oldest strata of mythical belief we should not discover selfish designs imputed to "the good people." The distinguished commentator himself is bound to admit that the belief in their need of human help is entwined in the very roots of the Teutonic myths. It is, indeed, nothing but the mediæval and Teutonic form of tenets common to all the nations upon earth. The changeling superstition and the classic stories of children and adults beloved by gods of high and low degree are consistent with this belief, and inseparable from it. The motive is so far comprehensible: what is wanted is to know whether any special relations, such as are pointed at by the Greek epithet Drakos, were held to exist between the mysterious world and newly-born babes which would render the latter more obnoxious to attack than elder children or adults; or whether, as I have put it at the beginning of this chapter, their helplessness alone suggested their exceeding danger. To solve the riddle we must wait for a larger accumulation of documents. But in the best regulated families it is not always possible to prevent the abduction from being attempted, and sometimes accomplished, in spite of every precaution. One night a Welsh woman, waking in a fright in her husband's absence, missed her baby. She sought for it and caught it upon the boards above the bed: the fairies had not succeeded in bearing it any further away. Another felt her boy being taken from her arms; whereupon she screamed and held him tightly, and, according to her own expression, "God and me were too hard for them." The child grew up to become a famous preacher. A peasant woman in Mecklenburg who ventured to sleep without a light was attacked by an elf-woman. The stranger seized the child, but was baffled by the woman's determination; for she struggled and shrieked for her husband, and when he hurried in with a light the fairy vanished.
Nor is it always the mother who arrests the theft. A trick frequently played by the dwarfs in Northern Germany on the birth of a child was to pinch a cow's ear; and when the animal bellowed and everybody ran out to know why, a dwarf would slip indoors and effect the change. On one such occasion the father saw his infant being dragged out of the room. In the nick of time he grasped it and drew it towards himself. The changeling left in its place was found in the bed; and this he kept too, defying the efforts of the underground folk to regain it. At a place in North Jutland it happened many years ago in a lying-in room that the mother could get no sleep while the lights were burning. So her husband resolved to take the child in his arm, in order to keep strict watch over it so long as it was dark. But, unfortunately, he fell asleep; and on being awakened by a shake of the arm, he saw a tall woman standing by the bed, and found that he had an infant in each arm. The woman instantly vanished; and as he had forgotten in which arm he had held his child, there he lay without knowing which of the two children was his own. A boy, who was watching his younger sister while his parents were both from home, saw a small man and woman come from behind the oven. They told him to give them the little one; and when he refused they stepped to the cradle and endeavoured to take the babe by force. The boy, however, was strong and bold, and laid about him with such determination that the robbers at length took to flight. On the Lithuanian coast of the Baltic substantially the same tale is told with more humour. There a farmer's boy sleeping in the living-room of the house is awakened by the proceedings of two laumes, or elves. They stealthily fetch out of the bedroom the new-born babe and swathe it in swaddling clothes of their own, while they wrap in its clothes the oven-broom. Then they began to quarrel which of them should carry the broom thus rolled up into the bedroom; and as they were unable to agree they resolved to carry it together. No sooner had they disappeared into the inner apartment than the boy leaped out of bed, picked up his mistress' child and took it into his own bed. When the laumes returned the infant was not to be found. They were both very angry and began to scold one another: "It's your fault." "No, it's your fault; didn't I say, You carry it, while I stay here and keep watch? I said it would be stolen!" While they wrangled thus, kakary ku! crew the cock, and, foiled and enraged, they had to make off. The boy had great difficulty in wakening his mistress, who was in a deep sleep, dreaming a horrible dream that a stock of wood had been placed on her breast so that she could hardly breathe. He told her what had happened, but she would not believe it until she saw that she had two children—one to which she had given birth, the other fashioned out of the oven-broom.
Prayer and the utterance of a holy name are to the full as effectual as physical strength. A fisherwoman in the north-east of Scotland was once left alone in bed with her baby, when in came a little man dressed in green, and proceeded to lay hold of the child. The woman knew at once with whom she had to do, and ejaculated: "God be atween you an' me!" Out rushed the fairy in a moment, and mother and babe were left without further molestation. A curious tale is told of two Strathspey smugglers who were one night laying in a stock of whiskey at Glenlivat when they heard the child in the cradle give a piercing cry, just as if it had been shot. The mother, of course, blessed it; and the Strathspey lads took no further notice, and soon afterwards went their way with their goods. Before they had gone far they found a fine healthy child lying all alone on the roadside, and recognized it as their friend's. They saw at once how the affair stood. The fairies had taken away the real infant and left a stock; but owing to the pious ejaculation of the mother, they had been forced to drop it. As the urgency of their business did not admit of their return they took the child with them, and kept it until they went to Glenlivat again. On their arrival here they said nothing about the child, which they kept concealed. In the course of conversation the woman remarked that the disease which had attacked the little one the last time they were there had never left it, and she had now scarce any hope of its recovery. As if to confirm her statement, it continued uttering most piercing cries. The smugglers thereupon produced the real babe healthy and hearty, and told her how they had found it. The mother was, of course, pleased to recover it; and the next thing was to dispose of the changeling. For this purpose the Strathspey lads got an old creel to put him in and some straw to light under it. Seeing the serious turn matters were likely to take he resolved not to await the trial, but flew up the smoke-hole and cried out from the top that but for the guests events would have gone very differently.
Two pixies of Dartmoor, in the shape of large bundles of rags, led away one of two children who were following their mother homeward. It was eventually found, on a search being made by the neighbours with lanterns, under a certain large oak tree known to be pixy-haunted. This is hardly a changeling story, as no attempt was made to foist a false child on the parent. A tale from the Isle of Man contains two similar incidents of attempted robbery without replacing the stolen child by one of superhuman birth. The fairies there adopted artifices like those of the North German dwarfs above mentioned. A few nights after a woman had been delivered of her first child a cry of fire was raised, and every one ran out of the house to see whence it proceeded, leaving the helpless mother alone with her babe. On returning they found the infant lying on the threshold of the house. The following year, when another little stranger had presented itself, a noise was heard in an out-house among the cattle. Again everybody that was stirring, including the nurse, hurried forth to learn what was the matter, believing that the cattle had got loose. But finding all safe, they came back, only to discover that the new-born babe had been taken out of bed, as the former had been, and on their coming dropped in the middle of the entry. It might have been supposed that these two warnings would have been enough; but a third time the trick was played, and then more successfully. Forgetting what had previously happened, all who were in the house ran out one night on hearing a noise in the cow-house—all, that is, except the mother, who could not move, and the nurse, who was sleeping off the effects of alcohol. The former was lying broad awake and saw her child lifted from the bed by invisible hands and carried clean away. She shrieked at once to the nurse, but failed to arouse her; and when her husband returned, an infant was indeed lying beside her, but a poor, lean, withered, deformed creature, very different from her own. It lay quite naked, though the clothes of the true child had been considerately left for it by the ravishers.
One of the difficulties experienced by the fairies on two of the three occasions here narrated in making off with the little one occurred at the door of the house. That they should have tried, repeatedly at all events, to pass out that way is almost as remarkable as that they should have been permitted more than once to attempt the theft. For the threshold is a part of the dwelling which from of old has been held sacred, and is generally avoided by uncanny beings. Wiser, though still doomed to failure, were those Irish elves who lifted up a window and handed the infant out. For it happened that a neighbour who was coming to pay a visit that moment stopped before the house, and exclaimed: "God keep all here from harm!" No sooner had she uttered the words than she saw the child put forth, how, or by whom, she did not know; and without hesitation she went up and took it away home with her. The next morning when she called to see how her friend fared great was the moan made to her over the behaviour of the child—so different from what it had ever been before—crying all the night and keeping awake its mother, who could not quiet it by any means. "I'll tell you what you'll do with the brat," she replied; "whip it well first, and then bring it to the cross-roads, and leave the fairy in the ditch there for any one to take that pleases; for I have your child at home safe and sound as he was handed out of the window last night to me." When the mother heard this, she just stepped out to get a rod; but before she returned the changeling had vanished, and no one either saw or heard of it again.
Fairies, however, when bent upon mischief, are not always baulked so easily. They effect the exchange, sometimes in the house, and sometimes when the parent is at work in the fields and incautiously puts her offspring down the while. In these circumstances, grievous as may be the suspicion arising from the changed conduct of the nursling, it is not always easy to be sure of what has taken place. Tests, therefore, have to be applied. Often the appearance is enough. A "mighty big head," or an abnormally thick head and neck, is in Germany deemed sufficient credentials from Fairyland; while in a case from Lapland, where the hand and foot grew so rapidly as to become speedily nearly half an ell in length and the child was unable to learn to speak, whereas she readily understood what was said to her, these deviation; from the course of nature were looked upon as conclusive evidence. A reputed changeling shown to Waldron in the Isle of Man early in the last century is thus described: "Nothing under heaven could have a more beautiful face; but though between five and six years old, and seemingly healthy, he was so far from being able to walk, or stand, that he could not so much as move any one joint; his limbs were vastly long for his age, but smaller than an infant's of six months; his complexion was perfectly delicate, and he had the finest hair in the world; he never spoke, nor cried, eat scarce anything, and was very seldom seen to smile, but if any one called him a fairy-elf, he would frown and fix his eyes so earnestly on those who said it, as if he would look them through. His mother, or at least his supposed mother, being very poor, frequently went out a-charing, and left him a whole day together. The neighbours, out of curiosity, have often looked in at the window to see how he behaved when alone, which, whenever they did, they were sure to find him laughing and in the utmost delight. This made them judge that he was not without company more pleasing to him than any mortal's could be; and what made this conjecture seem the more reasonable was, that if he were left ever so dirty, the woman at her return saw him with a clean face, and his hair combed with the utmost exactness and nicety." Luther tells us that he saw and touched at Dessau a changed child which was twelve years of age. The account he gives of the child is that "he had his eyes and all members like another child; he did nothing but feed, and would eat as much as two clowns or threshers were able to eat. When one touched it, then it cried out. When any evil happened in the house, then it laughed and was joyful; but when all went well, then it cried and was very sad." So much for the Reformer's testimony of what he saw and was told. His theories and generalizations are in their way not less interesting than his testimony: as might have been expected, they are an adaptation of the ordinary superstitions to his own grim scheme of things. "Such changelings and killcrops," he goes on to say, "supponit Satan in locum verorum filiorum; for the devil hath this power, that he changeth children, and instead thereof layeth devils in the cradles, which thrive not, only they feed and suck: but such changelings live not above eighteen or nineteen years. It sometimes falleth out that the children of women in child-bed are thus changed, and Devils laid in their stead, one of which more fouleth itself than ten other children do, so that the parents are much therewith disquieted; and the mothers in such sort are sucked out, that afterwards they are able to give suck no more."
Making allowance for the influence of imagination, there can be no doubt, on comparison of these passages, that the children to whom the character of changelings was ascribed were invariably deformed or diseased. The delightful author of the "Popular Romances of the West of England" says that some thirty or forty years before the date of writing he had seen several reputed changelings. And his evidence is express that "in every case they have been sad examples of the influence of mesenteric disease." After describing their external symptoms, he adds: "The wasted frame, with sometimes strumous swellings, and the unnatural abdominal enlargement which accompanies disease of mesenteric glands, gives a very sad, and often a most unnatural, appearance to the sufferer." Professor Rhys' description of a reputed changeling, one Ellis Bach, of Nant Gwrtheyrn, in Carnarvonshire, is instructive as showing the kind of being accredited among the Welsh with fairy nature. The professor is repeating the account given to him of this poor creature, who died nearly half a century ago. He tells us: "His father was a farmer, whose children, both boys and girls, were like ordinary folks, excepting Ellis, who was deformed, his legs being so short that his body seemed only a few inches from the ground when he walked. His voice was also small and squeaky. However, he was very sharp, and could find his way among the rocks pretty well when he went in quest of his father's sheep and goats, of which there used to be plenty there formerly. Everybody believed Ellis to have been a changeling, and one saying of his is well known in that part of the country. When strangers visited Nant Gwrtheyrn, a thing which did not frequently happen, and when his parents asked them to their table, and pressed them to eat, he would squeak out drily: 'B'yta 'nynna b'yta'r cwbwl,' that is to say—'Eating—that means eating all.' " A changeling in Monmouthshire, described by an eye-witness at the beginning of the present century, was simply an idiot of a forbidding aspect, a dark, tawny complexion, and much addicted to screaming.
But a changeling was to be known in other ways than by his physical defects; under careful management he might be led to betray himself in speech or action. A Kirkcudbrightshire tale represents a child as once left in charge of a tailor, who "commenced a discourse" with him. "'Will, hae ye your pipes?' says the tailor. 'They're below my head,' says the tenant of the cradle. 'Play me a spring,' says the tailor. Like thought, the little man, jumping from the cradle, played round the room with great glee. A curious noise was heard meantime outside; and the tailor asked what it meant. The little elf called out: 'It's my folk wanting me,' and away he fled up the chimney, leaving the tailor more dead than alive." In the neighbouring county of Dumfries the story is told with more gusto. The gudewife goes to the hump-backed tailor, and says: "Wullie, I maun awa' to Dunse about my wab, and I dinna ken what to do wi' the bairn till I come back: ye ken it's but a whingin', screechin', skirlin' wallidreg—but we maun bear wi' dispensations. I wad wuss ye,' quoth she, 'to tak tent till't till I come hame—ye sall hae a roosin' ingle, and a blast o' the goodman's tobacco-pipe forbye.' Wullie was naething laith, and back they gaed the-gither. Wullie sits down at the fire, and awa' wi' her yarn gaes the wife; but scarce had she steekit the door, and wan half-way down the close, when the bairn cocks up on its doup in the cradle, and rounds in Wullie's lug: 'Wullie Tylor, an' ye winna tell my mither when she comes back, I'se play ye a bonny spring on the bag-pipes.' I wat Wullie's heart was like to loup the hool—for tylors, ye ken, are aye timorsome—but he thinks to himsel': 'Fair fashions are still best,' an' 'It's better to fleetch fules than to flyte wi' them'; so he rounds again in the bairn's lug: 'Play up, my doo, an' I'se tell naebody.' Wi' that the fairy ripes amang the cradle strae, and pu's oot a pair o' pipes, sic as tylor Wullie ne'er had seen in a' his days—muntit wi' ivory, and gold, and silver, and dymonts, and what not. I dinna ken what spring the fairy played, but this I ken weel, that Wullie had nae great goo o' his performance; so he sits thinkin' to himsel': 'This maun be a deil's get, Auld Waughorn himsel' may come to rock his son's cradle, and play me some foul prank;' so he catches the bairn by the cuff o' the neck, and whupt him into the fire, bagpipes and a'!"
In Nithsdale the elf-child displays a superhuman power of work. The mother left it on one occasion in the charge of a servant-girl, who sat bemoaning herself. "Wer't nae for thy girning face I would knock the big, winnow the corn, and grun the meal!" "Lowse the cradle band," cried the child, "and tent the neighbours, an' I'll work yere wark." With that he started up, the wind arose, the corn was winnowed, the outlyers were foddered, the hand-mill moved around as by instinct, and the knocking mell did its work with amazing rapidity. The lass and the elf meanwhile took their ease, until, on the mistress's return, he was restored to the cradle and began to yell anew.
Most of the stories of changelings, in fact, assume that, though the outward characteristics might justify vehement suspicion, yet they were not absolutely decisive, and that to arrive at certainty the elf must be brought to betray himself. No great subtlety, however, was needful; for the stratagem employed varies but little, as the following examples will show. The child of a married couple in Mecklenburg at two years of age was no longer than a shoe, but had a mighty big head, and, withal, was unable to learn to speak. Its parents were led by an old man to suspect that it had been changed, and their adviser told them: "If you wish to become certain, take an empty egg-shell, and in the child's presence pour in new beer and cause it to ferment by means of yeast. If then the child speak, my conjecture is right." His counsel was followed, and scarcely had the beer fermented when the child cried out from the cradle:
"I am as old
As Bohemian gold,
Yet for the first time now I see
Beer in an egg-shell brew'd to be."
The parents determined to fling the babe into the river the following night; but when at midnight they rose for the purpose they found in the cradle a strong, blooming child. In a Welsh tale from Radnorshire the egg-shell is boiled full of pottage in the children's sight (there are twins in this case) and taken out as a dinner for the reapers who happened to be cutting the rye and oats. In Glamorganshire the woman declares she is mixing a pasty for the reapers. An Icelandic legend makes a woman set a pot containing food to cook on the fire and fasten twigs end to end in continuation of the handle of a spoon until the topmost one appears above the chimney, when she puts the bowl in the pot. Another woman in a Danish tale engaged to drive a changeling out of the house he troubled; and this is how she set about it. In his temporary absence she killed a pig and made a black pudding of it, hide, hair and all. On his return she set it before him, for he was a prodigious eater. He began gobbling it up as usual; but as he ate his efforts gradually slackened, and at last he sat quite still, eyeing it thoughtfully. Then he exclaimed: "A pudding with hide! and a pudding with hair! a pudding with eyes! and a pudding with bones in it! Thrice have I seen a young wood spring upon Tiis Lake, but never yet did I see such a pudding! The devil will stay here no longer!" And so saying he ran off and never returned.
Of these devices, however, the normal one is that of the egg-shells. Sometimes one egg-shell only is employed, sometimes two—a dozen—or an indefinite number. At seaside places, like Normandy and the Channel Islands, egg-shells are sometimes replaced by shells of shell-fish. In all the stories the end is the same, namely, to excite the curiosity and wonder of the imp to such a pitch that he gives expression to it in language akin to that of the North German or the Danish tale just quoted. The measure of age given in his exclamation is usually that of the trees in the forest, or indeed the forest itself. In the instance from Mecklenburg, Bohemian gold (Böhmer Gold) is made the measure, and this runs through quite a number of Low Dutch stories. There can be little doubt, however, that it is a corruption, and that the true form is, as given in a Schleswig-Holstein tale, Bohemian Forest (Behmer Woelt). In Hesse Wester Forest (Westerwald) is found, and so on in other countries, the narrator in each case referring to some wood well known to his audience. The Lithuanian elf, or laumes, says: "I am so old, I was already in the world before the Kamschtschen Wood was planted, wherein great trees grew, and that is now laid waste again; but anything so wonderful I have never seen." In Normandy the changeling declares: "I have seen the Forest of Ardennes burnt seven times, but I never saw so many pots boil." The astonishment of a Scandinavian imp expressed itself even more graphically, for when he saw an egg-shell boiling on the fire having one end of a measuring rod set in it, he crept out of the cradle on his hands, leaving his feet still inside, and stretched himself out longer and longer until he reached right across the floor and up the chimney, when he exclaimed: "Well! seven times have I seen the wood fall in Lessö Forest, but never till now have I seen so big a ladle in so small a pot!" And the Danish story I have cited above represents the child as saying that he has seen a young wood thrice upon Tiis Lake. The Welsh fairies are curiously youthful compared with these hoary infants, which is all the more remarkable when the daring exaggerations of Cambrian story-tellers are considered. It is a modest claim only to have seen the acorn before the oak and the egg before the hen, yet that is all that is put forward. In one of the Lays of Marie de France the wood of Brezal is indicated as the spot where the oak was seen. The formula thus variously used would appear to be a common one to describe great antiquity, and in all probability itself dates back to a very remote period.
But changelings frequently conform to the more civilized usage of measuring their age by years. And various are the estimates given us, from fifteen hundred years in the Emerald Isle down to the computation, erring perhaps on the other side, of the young gentleman in the English tale, who remarks: "Seven years old was I before I came to the nurse, and four years have I lived since, and never saw so many milk-pans before." A yet more mysterious hint as to her earlier life is dropped by an imp in Brittany. She has been treated to the sight of milk boiling in egg-shells, and cries: "I shall soon be a hundred years old, but I never saw so many shells boiling! I was born in Pif and in Paf, in the country where cats are made; but I never saw anything like it!" To all right-minded persons this disclosure contained sufficient warrant for her reputed mother to repudiate her as a witch, though cats are no less intimate with fairies than with conjurers.
Simrock, in his work on German mythology already cited, inclines to the opinion that the object of the ceremony which the suspected child is made to witness is to produce laughter. He says: "The dwarf is no over-ripe beauty who must keep her age secret. Rather something ridiculous must be done to cause him to laugh, because laughter brings deliverance." The problem set before the heroes of many folk-tales is to compel laughter, but that does not seem to be intended in these changeling stories. At least I have only met with it in one, and it certainly is not common. The confession of age which the ceremony draws forth is really much more. It is a confession that the apparently human babe is an imposture, that it belongs in fact to a different race, and has no claim on the mother's care and tenderness. Therefore it is not always enough for the fraud to be discovered: active means must sometimes be taken to rid the family of their supernatural burden and regain their own little one. In Grimm's story, in which the child laughs, a host of elves comes suddenly bringing back the true and carrying away the false one; and in many of the German and Northern tales the changeling disappears in one way or other immediately after its exclamation. We are sometimes even told in so many words that the changeling had betrayed himself, and the underground folk were obliged to give back the stolen child. And in the Lithuanian story we have cited the laumes straightway falls sick and dies. Such conduct accords entirely with the resentment at being recognized which we have in a previous chapter found to be a characteristic of spiritual existences. It is much more like the dislike of being found out attributed to beings who are in the habit of walking invisible, than any mystical effect of laughter.
If this be so, still less do the stories where it is required actually to drive the imp away support the learned German's contention. The means taken in these stories are very various. Sometimes it is enough to let the child severely alone, as once in the Isle of Man where a woman laid her child down in the field while she was cutting corn, and a fairy changed it there and then. The changeling began to scream, but the mother was prevented by a man who had been a witness to the transaction from picking it up; and when the fairy found that no notice was taken the true child was brought back. In the island of Lewis the custom was to dig a grave in the fields on Quarter Day and lay the goblin in it until the next morning, by which time it was believed the human babe would be returned. In the north of Germany one is advised not to touch the changeling with the hands, but to overturn the cradle so that the child falls on the floor. The elf must then be swept out of the door with an old broom, when the dwarfs will come and bring back the stolen child. Putting it on the dunghill and leaving it there to cry has been practised successfully in England; but in Ireland this is only one part of a long and serious ceremony directed by a wizard or "fairy-man." In dealing with these stories we must always remember that not merely are we concerned with sagas of something long past, but with a yet living superstition, and that the practices I am about to mention—even the most cruel and the most ridiculous of them—so far respond to the actual beliefs of the people that instances of their occurrence are quite recent and well authenticated, as we shall presently see. An anonymous but well-informed writer describes, as if it were by no means an unusual ceremony, that just referred to; and Kennedy gives the same in the shape of a legend. It seems to consist in taking a clean shovel and seating the changeling on its broad iron blade, and thus conveying the creature to the manure heap. The assistants would then join hands and circle about the heap thrice while the fairy-man chanted an incantation in the Irish language. At its conclusion all present would withdraw into the house, leaving the child where it had been placed, to howl and cry as it pleased. Says Mr. Kennedy: "They soon felt the air around them sweep this way and that, as if it was stirred by the motion of wings, but they remained quiet and silent for about ten minutes. Opening the door, they then looked out, and saw the bundle of straw on the heap, but neither child nor fairy. 'Go into your bed-room, Katty,' said the fairy-man, 'and see if there's anything left on the bed!' She did so, and they soon heard a cry of joy, and Katty was among them in a moment, kissing and hugging her own healthy-looking child, who was waking and rubbing his eyes, and wondering at the lights and all the eager faces."
Whether it was the noise made by the child or the incantation that drew the "good people's" attention, we are left in doubt by this story. A Norman woman was, however, advised to make her child cry lustily "in order to bring its real mother to it." And this is probably the meaning of the many tales in which the elf is beaten, or starved and subjected to other ill-usage, or is threatened with death. In the Pflöckenstein Lake in Bohemia wild women are believed to dwell, who, among other attributes common to elves or fairies, are believed to change infants. In order to compel a re-exchange, directions are given to bind with a weed growing at the bottom of the lake and to beat with a rod of the same, calling out therewithal: "Take thine own and bring me mine." A mother in a Little Russian tale had a baby of extraordinary habits. When alone, he jumped out of the cradle, no longer a baby but a bearded old man, gobbled up the food out of the stove, and then lay down again a screeching babe. A wise woman who was consulted placed him on a block of wood and began to chop the block under his feet. He screeched and she chopped; he screeched and she chopped; until he became an old man again and made the enigmatical confession: "I have transformed myself not once nor twice only. I was first a fish, then I became a bird, an ant, and a quadruped, and now I have once more made trial of being a human being. It isn't better thus than being among the ants; but among human beings—it isn't worse!" Here the chopping was evidently a threat to kill. Nor, if we may trust the stories, was this threat always an empty one. The changeling fashioned out of a broom in the Lithuanian story already cited, was disposed of, by the parish priest's advice, by hewing its head off. The reason given by the holy man was that it was not yet four and twenty hours old, and it would not be really alive until the expiration of that time. Accordingly when the neck was severed nothing but a wisp of straw was found inside, though blood flowed as if there were veins.
But even more truculent methods are represented by the story-tellers as resorted to to free the afflicted household. Nothing short of fire is often deemed sufficient for the purpose. There were various methods of applying it. Sometimes we are told of a shovel being made red-hot and held before the child's face; sometimes he is seated on it and flung out into the dung-pit, or into the oven; or again, the poker would be heated to mark the sign of the cross on his forehead, or the tongs to take him by the nose. Or he is thrown bodily on the fire, or suspended over it in a creel or a pot; and in the north of Scotland the latter must be hung from a piece of the branch of a hazel tree. In this case we are told that if the child screamed it was a changeling, and it was held fast to prevent its escape. Generally, however, it is related that the elf flies up the chimney, and when safely at the top he stops to make uncomplimentary remarks upon his persecutors. In the Nithsdale story which I have already cited, the servant girl at midnight covers up the chimney and every other inlet, makes the embers glowing hot, and undressing the changeling tosses it on them. In answer to its yells the fairies are heard moaning and rattling at the window boards, the chimney-head, and the door. "In the name o' God, bring back the bairn," she exclaims. In a moment up flew the window, the human child was laid unharmed on the mother's lap, while its guilty substitute flew up the chimney with a loud laugh.
Frightful as this cruelty would seem to every one if perpetrated on the mother's own offspring, it was regarded with equanimity as applied to a goblin; and it is not more frightful than what has been actually perpetrated on young children, and that within a very few years, under the belief that they were beings of a different race. Instances need not be multiplied; it will be enough to show that one of the horrible methods of disposing of changelings referred to in the last paragraph came under judicial notice no longer ago than the month of May 1884. Two women were reported in the "Daily Telegraph" as having been arrested at Clonmel on the 17th of that month, charged with cruelly ill-treating a child three years old. The evidence given was to the effect that the neighbours fancied that the child, who had not the use of his limbs, was a changeling. During the mother's absence the prisoners accordingly entered her house and placed the child naked on a hot shovel, "under the impression that this would break the charm." As might have been expected the poor little thing was severely burnt, and, when the women were apprehended, it was in a precarious condition. The prisoners, on being remanded, were hooted by an indignant crowd. It might be thought that this was an indication of the decay of superstition, even in Ireland, however much to be condemned as an outburst of feeling against unconvicted and even untried persons. But we must regard it rather as a protest against the prisoners' inhumanity than against their superstition: in either case, of course, the product of advancing civilization. For if we may trust the witness of other sagas we find the trial by fire commuted to a symbolic act, as though men had begun to be revolted by the cruelty, even when committed only on a fairy who had been found out, but were unwilling to abandon their belief in the power of the exorcism. In the north-east of Scotland, for example, where a beggar, who had diagnosed a changeling, was allowed to try his hand at disposing of it, he made a large fire on the hearth and held a black hen over it till she struggled, and finally escaped from his grasp, flying out by the "lum." More minute directions are given by the cunning man in a Glamorganshire tale. After poring over his big book, he told his distracted client to find a black hen without a single feather of any other colour. This she was to bake (not living, but dead, as appears by the sequel) before a fire of wood (not, as usual, of peat), with feathers and all intact. Every window and opening was to be closed, except one—presumably the chimney; and she was not to watch the crimbil, or changeling, until the hen had been done enough, which she would know by the falling off of all her feathers. The more knowing woman, in an Irish story, attributes the fact of the infant's being changed to the Evil Eye; and her directions for treatment require the mother to watch for the woman who has given it the Evil Eye, inveigle her into the house and cut a piece secretly out of her cloak. This piece of the cloak was then to be burnt close to the child until the smoke made him sneeze, when the spell would be broken and her own child restored. The writer who records this tale mentions the following mode of proceeding as a common one, namely: to place the babe in the middle of the cabin and light a fire round it, fully expecting it to be changed into a sod of turf, but manifestly not intending to do bodily harm to it independently of any such change. In Carnarvonshire a clergyman is credited with telling a mother to cover a shovel with salt, mark a cross in the salt, and burn it in the chamber where the child was, judiciously opening the window first. It is satisfactory to know that, so far as the recorded cases go, the ceremony lost nothing of its power by being thus toned down.
Fire, however, was not the only element efficacious for turning to flight these troublesome aliens. Water's antagonism to witches is notorious; and ample use was made of it in the old witch trials. It is equally obnoxious to fairies and their congeners. In a Welsh story from Radnorshire, when the mother has been by the egg-shell device convinced of the exchange of her own twin children, she takes the goblin twins and flings them into Llyn Ebyr; but their true kinsmen clad in blue trousers (their usual garb) save them, and the mother receives her own again. In other tales she drops the twins into the river; but in one case the witch who has been credited with the change bathes the child at a mountain spout, or pistyll, and exacts a promise from the mother to duck him in cold water every morning for three months. It is not very surprising to learn that "at the end of that time there was no finer infant in the Cwm."
There is an oft-quoted passage in Luther's "Table Talk," in which he relates that he told the Pince of Anhalt that if he were prince he would venture homicidium upon a certain changeling with which he had been brought into contact, and throw it into the river Moldaw. The great Reformer was only on a level with his countrymen in their superstitions in reference to changelings, or Killcrops, as they were then called. I have already quoted his opinion of them as devils; and the test of their true nature, which he seems to have thought infallible, was their inordinate appetite; nor did he attach any value to baptism as a means of exorcism. One excellent tale he tells on the subject concerns a peasant who lived near Halberstadt, in Saxony. This good man, in accordance with advice, was taking the child to Halberstadt to be rocked at the shrine of the Virgin Mary, when in crossing a river another devil that was below in the river called out "Killcrop! Killcrop!" Then, says Luther, the child in the basket, that had never before spoken one word, answered "Ho, ho!" The devil in the water asked, "Whither art thou going?" and the child replied, "I am going to Halberstadt to our Loving Mother, to be rocked." In his fright the man threw the basket containing the child over the bridge into the water, whereupon the two devils flew away together and cried "Ho, ho, ha!" tumbling themselves one over another, and so vanished. This may be taken as a type of many a story current in North Germany and the neighbouring Slavonic lands. It is not, however, unknown in this country. Mr. Hunt has versified a Cornish tale in which the mother took her brat to the chapel well to plunge it at dawn and pass it round slowly three times against the sun, as she had been advised to do on the first three Wednesdays in the month of May. Reaching the top of the hill on one of these occasions, she heard a shrill voice in her ear: "Tredrill, Tredrill! thy wife and children greet thee well." The little one of course replied, much to her astonishment, repudiating all concern for his wife and children, and intimating his enjoyment of the life he was leading, and the spell that was being wrought in his behalf. In the end she got rid of him by the homely process of beating and leaving him on the ground near the old church stile. A Sutherlandshire tradition tells of a child less than a year old who suddenly addressed his mother in verse as he was being carried through a wild glen. Translated, the youth's impromptu lines run thus:—
"Many is the dun hummel cow
(Each having a calf)
In the opposite dun glen,
Without the aid of dog,
Or man, or woman, or gillie,
One man excepted,
And he grey——"
At that moment his remarks were interrupted by the terrified woman throwing him down in the plaid which wrapt him, and scampering home, where to her joy she found her true babe smiling in the cradle.
These verses carry us back to the egg-shell episode, from which the consideration of the means adopted to drive away the intrusive goblin has diverted us. They contain a vague assertion of age like those then before us, but not a hint of laughter. Nor have we found anything throughout the whole discussion to favour Simrock's suggestion, or to shake the opinion that the dissolution of the fairy spell was derived either from the vexation of the supernatural folk at their own self-betrayal, or from the disclosure to the human foster-parents of the true state of the facts, and their consequent determination to exorcise the demon.
It is true we have a few more stories to examine, but we shall find that they all confirm this conclusion. The cases we have yet to deal with, except the first, exhibit a different and much more humane treatment of the changeling than the foregoing. The case excepted is found in Carnarvonshire, where one infallible method of getting rid of the child was to place it on the floor and let all present in the house throw a piece of iron at it. The old woman who mentioned this to Professor Rhys conjectured that the object was to convince the Tylwyth Teg, or fairy people, of the intention to kill the babe, in order to induce them to bring the right child back. This would be the same motive as that which threatened death by fire or other ill-usage, in some of the instances mentioned above. But we could not thus account for the requirement that iron, and only iron, was to be used; and here we have, in fact, a superstition carefully preserved, while its meaning has quite passed out of memory. In a future chapter we shall examine the attitude of mythical beings in folk-lore to metals, and especially to iron; in the meantime we may content ourselves with noting this addition to the examples we have already met with of the horror with which they regarded it.
So far from its being always deemed wise to neglect or injure the changeling, it was not infrequently supposed to be necessary to take the greatest care of it, thereby and by other means to propitiate its elvish tribe. This was the course pursued with the best results by a Devonshire mother; and a woman at Straussberg, in North Germany, was counselled by all her gossips to act lovingly, and above all not to beat the imp, lest her own little one be beaten in turn by the underground folk. So in a Hessian tale mentioned by Grimm, a wichtel-wife caught almost in the act of kidnapping refused to give up the babe until the woman had placed the changed one to her breast, and "nourished it for once with the generous milk of human kind." In Ireland, even when the child is placed on a dunghill, the charm recited under the direction of the "fairy-man" promises kindly entertainment in future for the "gambolling crew," if they will only undo what they have done. A method in favour in the north of Scotland is to take the suspected elf to some known haunt of its race, generally, we are told, some spot where peculiar soughing sounds are heard, or to some barrow, or stone circle, and lay it down, repeating certain incantations the while. What the words of these incantations are we are not informed, but we learn that an offering of bread, butter, milk, cheese, eggs, and flesh of fowl must accompany the child. The parents then retire for an hour or two, or until after midnight; and if on returning these things have disappeared, they conclude that the offering is accepted and their own child returned.
Neither ill-usage nor kindness, neither neglect nor propitiation, was sometimes prescribed and acted upon, but—harder than either—a journey to Fairyland to fetch back the captive. A man on the island of Rügen, whose carelessness had occasioned the loss of his child, watched until the underground dwellers sallied forth on another raid, when he hastened to the mouth of the hole that led into their realm, and went boldly down. There in the Underworld he found the child, and thus the robbers were forced to take their own again instead. In a more detailed narrative from Islay, the father arms himself with a Bible, a dirk, and a crowing cock, and having found the hill where the "Good People" had their abode open, and filled with the lights and sounds of festival, he approached and stuck the dirk into the threshold. The object of this was to prevent the entrance from closing upon him. Then he steadily advanced, protected from harm by the Bible at his breast. Within, his boy (who was thirteen or fourteen years of age) was working at the forge; but when the man demanded him the elves burst into a loud laugh, which aroused the cock in his arms. The cock at once leaped upon his shoulders, flapped his wings, and crowed loud and long. The enraged elves thereupon cast the man and his son both out of the hill, and flung the dirk after them; and in an instant all was dark. It should be added that for a year and a day afterwards the boy did no work, and scarcely spoke; but he ultimately became a very famous smith, the inventor of a specially fine and well-tempered sword. The changeling himself in one of Lady Wilde's tales directs his foster-mother to Fairyland. The way thither was down a well; and she was led by the portress, an old woman, into the royal palace. There the queen admits that she stole the child, "for he was so beautiful," and put her own instead. The re-exchange is effected, and the good woman is feasted with food which the fairies cannot touch, because it has been sprinkled with salt. When she found herself again at home, she fancied she had only been away an hour: it was three years.
But it was not always necessary to incur the risk of going as far as the other world. The Glamorganshire woman, whose successful cooking of a black hen has been already referred to, had first to go at full moon to a place where four roads met, and hide herself to watch the fairy procession which passed at midnight. There in the midst of the music and the Bendith en mammau she beheld her own dear little child. One of the most interesting changeling stories was gravely related in the "Irish Fireside " for the 7th of January 1884, concerning a land-leaguer who had been imprisoned as a suspect under the then latest Coercion Act. When this patriot was a boy he had been stolen by the fairies, one of themselves having been left in his place. The parish priest, however, interfered; and by a miracle he caused the elf for a moment to disappear, and the boy to return to tell him the conditions on which his captivity might be ended. The information given, the goblin again replaced the true son; but the good priest was now able to deal effectually with the matter. The imp was accordingly dipped thrice in Lough Lane (a small lake in the eastern part of Westmeath), when "a curl came on the water, and up from the deep came the naked form of the boy, who walked on the water to meet his father on shore. The father wrapped his overcoat about his son, and commenced his homeward march, accompanied by a line of soldiers, who also came out of the lake. The boy's mother was enjoined not to speak until the rescuing party would reach home. She accidentally spoke; and immediately the son dropped a tear, and forced himself out of his father's arms, piteously exclaiming: 'Father, father, my mother spoke! You cannot keep me. I must go.' He disappeared, and, reaching home, the father found the sprite again on the hearth." The ghostly father's services were called into requisition a second time; and better luck awaited an effort under his direction after the performance of a second miracle like the first. For this time the mother succeeded in holding her tongue, notwithstanding that at every stream on the way home from the lake the car on which the boy was carried was upset, and he himself fainted. This is declared to have happened no longer ago than the year 1869. The writer, apparently a pious Roman Catholic, who vouches for the fact, probably never heard the touching tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.
The foregoing story, as well as some of those previously mentioned, shows that fairy depredations were by no means confined to babes and young children. Indeed adults were often carried off; and, although this chapter is already far too long, I cannot close it without briefly examining a few such cases. Putting aside those, then, in which boys or young men have been taken, as already sufficiently discussed, all the other cases of robbery, as distinguished from seduction or illusion, are concerned with matrons. The elfin race were supposed to be on the watch for unchurched or unsained mothers to have the benefit of their milk. In one instance the captive was reputed to have freed herself by promising in exchange her husband's best mare under milk, which was retained by the captors until it was exhausted and almost dead. More usually the story relates that a piece of wood is carved in the likeness of the lady and laid in her place, the husband and friends being deceived into believing it to be herself. A man returning home at night overhears the supernatural beings at work. He listens and catches the words: "Mak' it red cheekit an' red lippit like the smith o' Bonnykelly's wife." Mastering the situation he runs off to the smith's house, and sains the new mother and her babe. And he is only just in time, for hardly has he finished than a great thud is heard outside. On going out a piece of bog-fir is found,—the image the fairies intended to substitute for the smith's wife. In North German and Danish tales it is the husband who overhears the conspirators at work, and he often has coolness enough to watch their proceedings on his return home and, bouncing out upon them, to catch them just as they are about to complete their crime. Thus, one clever fellow succeeded in retaining both his wife and the image already put into her bed, which he thrust into the oven to blaze and crackle in the sight and hearing of his wife's assembled friends, who supposed he was burning her until he produced her to their astonished gaze. A tale from Badenoch represents the man as discovering the fraud from finding his wife, a woman of unruffled temper, suddenly turned a shrew. So he piles up a great fire and threatens to throw the occupant of the bed upon it unless she tells him what has become of his own wife. She then confesses that the latter has been carried off, and she has been appointed successor; but by his determination he happily succeeds in recapturing his own at a certain fairy knoll near Inverness.
It happens occasionally that these victims of elfin gallantry are rescued by other men than their husbands. A smith at work one day hears a great moaning and sobbing out of doors. Looking out he sees a troll driving a pregnant woman before him, and crying to her continually: "A little further yet! a little further yet!" He instantly springs forward with a red-hot iron in his hand, which he holds between the troll and his thrall, so that the former has to abandon her and take to flight. The smith then took the woman under his protection, and the same night she was delivered of twins. Going to the husband to console him for his loss, he is surprised to find a woman exactly resembling his friend's wife in her bed. He saw how the matter stood, and seizing an axe he killed the witch on the spot, and restored to the husband his real wife and new-born children. This is a Danish legend; but there is a Highland one very similar to it. A man meets one night a troop of fairies with a prize of some sort. Recollecting that fairies are obliged to exchange whatever they may have with any one who offers them anything, no matter what its value, for it, he flings his bonnet to them, calling out: "Mine is yours, and yours is mine!" The prize which they dropped turned out to be an English lady whom they had carried off, leaving in her place a stock, which, of course, died and was buried. The Sassenach woman lived for some years in the Highlander's house, until the captain in command of an English regiment came to lodge in his house with his son, while the soldiers were making new roads through the country. There the son recognized his mother, and the father his wife long mourned as dead.
The death and burial of changelings, though, as here, occurring in the tales, are not often alluded to; and there are grounds for thinking them a special deduction of the Scottish mind. Sometimes the incident is ghastly enough to satisfy the devoted lover of horrors. The west of Scotland furnishes an instance in which the exchange was not discovered until after the child's apparent death. It was buried in due course; but suspicion having been aroused, the grave and coffin were opened, and not a corpse but only a wooden figure was found within. A farmer at Kintraw, in Argyllshire, lost his wife. On the Sunday after the funeral, when he and his servants returned from church, the children, who had been left at home, reported that their mother had been to see them, and had combed and dressed them. The following Sunday they made the same statement, in spite of the punishment their father had thought proper to inflict for telling a lie on the first occasion. The next time she came the eldest child asked her why she came, when she said that she had been carried off by "the good people," and could only get away for an hour or two on Sundays, and should her coffin be opened it would be found to contain nothing but a withered leaf. The minister, however, who ridiculed the story, refused to allow the coffin to be opened; and when, some little time after, he was found dead near the Fairies' Hill, above Kintraw, he was held by many to be a victim to the indignation of the fairy world he had laughed at. Sir Walter Scott mentions the tale of a farmer's wife in Lothian, who, after being carried off by the fairies, reappeared repeatedly on Sunday to her children, and combed their hair. On one of these occasions the husband met her, and was told that there was one way to recover her, namely, by lying in wait on Hallowe'en for the procession of fairies, and stepping boldly out, and seizing her as she passed among them. At the moment of execution, however, his heart failed, and he lost his wife for ever. In connection with this, Scott refers to a real event which happened at the town of North Berwick. A widower, who was paying addresses with a view to second marriage, was troubled by dreams of his former wife, to whom he had been tenderly attached. One morning he declared to the minister that she had appeared to him the previous night, stating that she was a captive in Fairyland, and begged him to attempt her deliverance. The mode she prescribed was to bring the minister and certain others to her grave at midnight to dig up her body, and recite certain prayers, after which the corpse would become animated and flee from him. It was to be pursued by the swiftest runner in the parish, and if he could catch it before it had encircled the church thrice, the rest were to come to his help and hold it notwithstanding its struggles, and the shapes into which it might be transformed. In this way she would be redeemed. The minister, however, declined to take part in so absurd and indecent a proceeding.
Absurd and indecent it would undoubtedly have been to unearth a dead body in the expectation of any such result; but it would have been entirely in harmony with current superstition. The stories and beliefs examined in the present chapter prove that there has been no superstition too gross, or too cruel, to survive into the midst of the civilization of the nineteenth century; and the exhumation of a corpse, of the two, is less barbarous than the torture by fire of an innocent child. The flight, struggles, and transformation of a bespelled lady are found both in märchen and saga: some examples of the latter will come under our notice in a future chapter.
- The belief in changelings is not confined to Europe, though the accounts we have of it elsewhere are meagre. It is found, as we shall see further on, in China. It is found also among the natives of the Pacific slopes of North America, where it is death to the mother to suckle the changeling. Dorman, p. 24, citing Bancroft.
- See a curious Scottish ballad given at length, "F. L. Record," vol. i. p. 235; Henderson, p. 15; "Cymru Fu N. and Q." vol. ii. p. 144; Gregor, p. 11 (cf. Harland and Wilkinson, p. 221); Cromek, p. 247. See Webster, p. 73, where a witch carries away a child who is not blessed when it sneezes.
- Napier, p. 40; "F. L. Journal," vol. i. p. 56; Kuhn, pp. 365, 196; Knoop, p. 155; "Zeits. f. Volksk." vol. ii. p. 33; Kennedy, p. 95; Carnoy, p. 4; "F. L. Journal," vol. ii. p. 257.
- Bartsch, vol. i. pp. 64, 89; vol. ii. p. 43; Kuhn, p. 195; Knoop, loc. cit.; Jahn, pp. 52, 71; Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 174; "Zeits. f. Volksk." vol. ii. loc. cit. W. Map, Dist. ii. c. 14; Brand, vol. ii. p. 8, note; Lady Wilde, vol. i. pp. 71, 73; Schleicher, p. 93; Tertullian, "Adv. Nationes," l. ii. c. 11; Brand, vol. ii. p. 334 note, quoting Martin, "History of the Western Islands"; Train, vol. ii. p. 132; "Sacred Books of the East," vol. xxiv. p. 277. As to the use of fire in China, see "F. L. Journal," vol. v. p. 225; and generally as to the efficacy of fire in driving off evil spirits see Tylor, vol. ii. p. 177.
- Grimm, "Teut. Myth." p. 468; Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 2, vol. iii. p. 45; Train, vol. ii. p. 133; Garnett, pp. 231, 315; "F. L. Journal," vol. v. p. 225. In Eastern Prussia a steel used for striking a light, a hammer, or anything else that will strike fire, is used. This seems to combine the dread of steel with that of fire (Lemke, p. 41).
- Grimm, "Teut. Myth." loc. cit.; Train, vol. ii. loc. cit.; Henderson, p. 14; "F. L. Journal," vol. v. p. 224; "Zeits. f. Volksk." vol. ii. p. 33; "N. and Q." 7th ser. vol. x. p. 185.
- Henderson, loc. cit.; Bartsch, vol. ii. p. 192; Pitré, vol. xv. pp. 154 note, 155; vol. xvii. p. 102, quoting Castelli, "Credenze ed usi"; Horace, "Ep. ad Pison," v. 340; Dorsa, p. 146; Wright, "Middle Ages," vol. i. p. 290; Garnett, p. 70; "Mélusine," vol. v. p. 90, quoting English authorities. Map, Dist. ii. c. 14, gives a story of babies killed by a witch. St. Augustine records that the god Silvanus was feared as likely to injure women in childbed, and that for their protection three men were employed to go round the house during the night and to strike the threshold with a hatchet and a pestle and sweep it with a brush; and he makes merry over the superstition ("De Civ. Dei," l. vi. c. 9).
- Pitré, vol. xii. p. 304, note; vol. xv. p. 154; "F. L. Españ." vol. ii. p. 51; De Gubernatis, "Usi Natal." p. 219, quoting Bézoles, "Le Baptême."
- Bartsch, vol. i. p. 46; Jahn, p. 89; Grimm, "Teut. Myth." p. 468: Simrock, p. 418.
- There is another motive for the robbery of a human creature, mentioned only, I think, in the Romance of Thomas the Rhymer, namely, that at certain seasons the foul fiend fetches his fee, or tribute of a living soul, from among the underground folk. Several difficulties arise upon this; but it is needless to discuss them until the motive in question be found imputed elsewhere than in a literary work of the fifteenth century, and ballads derived therefrom.
Since the foregoing note was written my attention has been drawn to the following statement in Lady Wilde, vol. i. p. 70: "Sometimes it is said the fairies carry off the mortal child for a sacrifice, as they have to offer one every seven years to the devil in return for the power he gives them. And beautiful young girls are carried off, also, either for sacrifice or to be wedded to the fairy king." It is easier to generalize in this manner than to produce documents in proof. And I think I am expressing the opinion of all folklore students when I say that, with all respect for Lady Wilde, I would rather not lay any stress upon her general statements. Indeed, those of anybody, however great an authority, need to be checked by the evidence of particular instances. I await such evidence.
- Sikes, p. 62; cf. Brand, vol. ii. p. 334 note; Bartsch, vol. i. p. 46.
- Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 175; vol. iii. p. 43; Kuhn, p. 195; Schleicher, p. 92.
- Gregor, p. 61; Keightley, p. 393; Campbell, vol. ii. p. 64.
- Hunt, p. 96; Waldron, p. 30. This account was given to the author by the mother herself.
- Croker, p. 81. See a similar tale in Campbell, vol. ii. p. 58. Gregor, p. 61, mentions the dog-hole as the way by which children are sometimes carried off.
- Bartsch, vol. i. p. 46; Kuhn, p. 196; Grimm, "Teut. Myth." p. 468; Poestion, p. 114; Grohmann, p. 113.
- Waldron, p. 29. The same writer gives a similar account of the changeling mentioned above, p. 107.
- "Colloquia Mensalia," quoted by Southey, "The Doctor" (London, 1848), p. 621. As to the attribute of greed, cf. Keightley, p. 125.
- Hunt, p. 85; "Y Cymmrodor," vol. vi. p. 175; Rev. Edmund Jones, "A Relation of Apparitions," quoted by Wirt Sikes, p. 56. Thiele relates a story in which a wild stallion colt is brought in to smell two babes, one of which is a changeling. Every time he smells one he is quiet and licks it; but on smelling the other he is invariably restive and strives to kick it. The latter, therefore, is the changeling. (Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 177.) Sir John Maundeville also elates that in Sicily is a kind of serpent whereby men assay the legitimacy of their children. If the children be illegitimate the serpents bite and kill them; if otherwise they do them no harm—an easy and off-hand way of getting rid of them! ("Early Trav." p. 155).
- Campbell, vol. ii. p. 58; Chambers, p. 70.
- Cromek, p. 246.
- Bartsch, vol. i. p. 42; Sikes, p. 59, quoting from the "Cambrian Quarterly," vol. ii. p. 86; "Y Cymmrodor," vol. vi. p. 209; Arnason's "Icelandic Legends," cited in Kennedy, p. 89; Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 174, quoting Thiele, "Danmark's Folkesagn samlede." See also Keightley, p. 125.
- Fleury, p. 60; "Revue des Trad. Pop." vol. iii. p. 162.
- Cf. Böhmen-Gold, Bartsch, vol. i. p. 22; Böhmegold, ibid. p. 47; Böhmer Gold, ibid. pp. 65, 79, and presumably p. 89; Böhma gold, Kuhn und Schwartz, p. 30; Boehman gold, ibid. p. 31; böm un gold (timber and gold), ibid. p. 105; Boem un holt (timber and wood), Jahn, p. 90; Bernholt in den Wolt (firewood in the forest), and Bremer Wold, Müllenhoff, cited Grimm, "Tales," vol. i. p. 388. These variations while preserving a similar sound are suspicious.
- Grimm, "Tales," vol. i. pp. 163, 388; Schleicher, p. 91; Fleury, p. 60; Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 176; quoting Asbjörnsen, "Huldreeventyr," vol. ii. p. 165. Cf. Sébillot, "Contes Pop." vol. ii. p. 78.
- Sikes, pp. 58, 59; Howells, p. 138; "Y Cymmrodor," vol. iv. p. 208, vol. vi. pp. 172, 204; Keightley, p. 436.
- Croker, p. 65; "A Pleasant Treatise of Witches," p. 62, quoted in Hazlitt, "Fairy Tales," p. 372; Sébillot, "Contes," vol. ii. p. 76; Carnoy, p. 4; Thorpe, vol. iii. p. 157; Campbell, vol. ii. p. 47; "Revue des Trad. Pop." vol. iii. p. 162. Cf. a Basque tale given by Webster, where the Devil is tricked into telling his age (Webster, p. 58).
- Simrock, p. 419.
- Jahn, p. 89; Schleicher, p. 91.
- "Choice Notes," p. 27; (this seems to have been a common prescription in Wales: see "Y Cymmrodor," vol. vi. pp. 175, 178; and in the Western Highlands: see Campbell, vol. ii. p. 64.) Brand, vol. ii. p. 335, note; (this seems also to be the case in some parts of Ireland, Lady Wilde, vol. i. p. 70.) Thorpe, vol. iii. p. 157; Kennedy, p. 94; "Irish Folk Lore," p. 45.
- Beaten—Lay of Marie de France, quoted Keightley, p. 436; Costello, "Pilgrimage to Auvergne," vol. ii. p. 294, quoted Keightley, p. 471; Fleury, p. 62, citing Bosquet, "Normandie Romanesque"; Howells, p. 139; Aubrey, "Remains," p. 30; Jahn, pp. 98, 101; Kuhn und Schwartz, p. 29; Croker, p. 81. Starved, beaten, &c.—Croker, p. 77. Threatened to be killed—Sébillot, "Trad, et Super." vol. i. p. 118; "Contes," vol. i. p. 28, vol. ii. p. 76; Carnoy, p. 4.
- Grohmann, p. 135; Wratislaw, p. 161; Schleicher, p. 92.
- "Y Brython," vol. ii. p. 20; Kennedy, p. 90; Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 174; Napier, p. 40; Lady Wilde, vol. i. pp. 72, 171; Keightley, p. 393; "Revue des Trad. Pop." vol. iii. p. 162; Campbell, vol. ii. pp. 47, 61; Croker, p. 65; Chambers, p. 70; "F. L. Journal," vol. i. p. 56; Gregor, pp. 8, 9; Cromek, p. 246.
- "Daily Telegraph," 19 May 1884; Gregor, p. 61; Lady Wilde, vol. i. pp. 38, 173; " Y Cymmrodor," vol. vi. p. 209, vol. v. p. 72.
- "Cambrian Quarterly," vol. ii. p. 86, quoted, Sikes, p. 59; "Y Cymmrodor," vol. iv. p. 208, vol. vi. pp. 172, 203. Mr. Sikes refers to a case in which the child was bathed in a solution of foxglove as having actually occurred in Carnarvonshire in 1857, but he gives no authority.
- Quoted in Southey, loc. cit. Müllenhoff relates a similar tale, see Thorpe, vol. iii. p. 46; also Grohmann, p. 126; Kuhn und Schwartz, p. 30. Bowker, p. 73, relates a story embodying a similar episode, but apparently connected with Wild Hunt legends. See his note, ibid, p. 251.
- Hunt, p. 91; "F. L. Journal," vol. vi. p. 182.
- "Y Cymmrodor," vol. vi. p. 181.
- Mrs. Bray, vol. i. p. 167; Kuhn, p. 196; Grimm, "Teut. Myth." p. 468, note; "Irish F. L." p. 45; Napier, p. 42.
- Jahn, p. 52; Campbell, vol. ii. p. 47; Lady Wilde, vol. i. p. 119.
- "F. L. Journal," vol. ii. p. 91, quoting the "Irish Fireside."
- Gregor, p. 62; Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 139, quoting Thiele; vol. iii. p. 41, quoting Müllenhoff; Campbell, vol. ii. p. 67; Cromek, p. 244.
- Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 133, quoting Thiele; Keightley, p. 391, quoting Stewart, "The Popular Superstitions of the Highlanders."
- Napier, p. 41; Lord A. Campbell, "Waifs and Strays," p. 71; "Border Minstrelsy," vol. ii. p. 173.