The Science of Fairy Tales/Chapter 6
ROBBERIES FROM FAIRYLAND.
The tale of Elidorus—Celtic and Teutonic stories of theft from supernatural beings—The thief unsuccessful—Cases of successful robbery—Robbery from the king of the serpents—Robbery of a drinking-cup, or horn—The horn of Oldenburg and similar vessels—The Luck of Edenhall—The cup of Ballafletcher—These vessels sacrificial and pagan.
The earliest writers who allude to the Welsh fairy tradtions are Giraldus Cambrensis and Walter Map, two members of that constellation of literary men which rendered brilliant the early years of the Plantagenet dynasty. Giraldus, with whom alone we have to do in this chapter, lays the scene of what is perhaps his most famous story near Swansea, and states that the adventures narrated occurred a short time before his own days. The story concerns one Elidorus, a priest, upon whose persistent declarations it is founded. This good man in his youth ran away from the discipline and frequent stripes of his preceptor, and hid himself under the hollow bank of a river. There he remained fasting for two days; and then two men of pigmy stature appeared, and invited him to come with them, and they would lead him into a country full of delights and sports. A more powerful temptation could not have been offered to a runaway schoolboy of twelve years old; and the invitation was speedily accepted. He accompanied his guides into a subterranean land, where he found a people of small stature but pure morals. He was brought into the presence of the king, and by him handed over to his son, who was then a boy. In that land he dwelt for some time; but he often used to return by various paths to the upper day, and on one of these occasions he made himself known to his mother, declaring to her the nature, manners, and state of the pigmy folk. She desired him to bring her a present of gold, which was plentiful in that region; and he accordingly stole a golden ball while at play with the king's son, and ran off with it to his mother, hotly pursued. Reaching home, his foot stumbled on the threshold, and, dropping the ball, he fell into the room where his mother was sitting. The two pigmies who had followed him at once seized the ball and made off with it, not without expressing their contempt for the thief who had returned their kindness with such ingratitude; and Elidorus, though he sought it carefully with penitence and shame, could never again find the way into the underground realm.
Narratives of the theft of valuables from supernatural beings are found all the world over. In this way, for example, in the mythology of more than one nation mankind obtained the blessing of fire. Such tales, however, throw but little light on this one of Elidorus; and it will therefore be more profitable in considering it to confine our attention to those generally resembling it current among Celts and Teutons. They are very common; and the lesson they usually teach is that honesty is the best policy—at all events, in regard to beings whose power is not bounded by the ordinary human limitations. Beginning with South Wales, we find one of these tales told by the Rev. Edward Davies, a clergyman in Gloucestershire at the beginning of this century, who was the author of two curious works on Welsh antiquities, stuffed with useless, because misdirected, learning. The tale in question relates to a small lake "in the mountains of Brecknock," concerning which we are informed that every Mayday a certain door in a rock near the lake was found open. He who was bold enough to enter was led by a secret passage to a small island, otherwise invisible, in the middle of the lake. This was a fairy island, a garden of enchanting beauty, inhabited by the Tylwyth Teg (or Fair Family), and stored with fruits and flowers. The inhabitants treated their visitors with lavish hospitality, but permitted nothing to be carried away. One day this prohibition was violated by a visitor, who put into his pocket a flower with which he had been presented. The Fair Family showed no outward resentment. Their guests were dismissed with the accustomed courtesy; but the moment he who had broken their behest "touched unhallowed ground" the flower disappeared, and he lost his senses. Nor has the mysterious door ever been found again.
In both these cases the thief is unsuccessful, and the punishment of his crime is the loss of fairy intercourse; perhaps the mildest form which punishment could take. But sometimes the chevalier d'industrie is lucky enough to secure his spoils. It is related that certain white ghosts were in the habit of playing by night at skittles on a level grass-plot on the Lüningsberg, near Aerzen, in North Germany. A journeyman weaver, who was in love with a miller's daughter, but lacked the means to marry her, thought there could be no harm in robbing the ghosts of one of the golden balls with which they used to play. He accordingly concealed himself one evening; and when the harmless spectres came out he seized one of their balls, and scampered away with it, followed by the angry owners. A stream crossed his path, and, missing the plank bridge which spanned it, he sprang into the water. This saved him, for the spirits had no power there; and a merry wedding was the speedy sequel of his adventure. In like manner a fairy, who, in a Breton saga, was incautious enough to winnow gold in broad daylight in a field where a man was pruning beeches, excited the latter's attention by this singular proceeding; and the man possessed himself of the treasure by simply flinging into it a hallowed rosary. In Germany the water-nix has the reputation of being a good shoemaker. It is related that a man, who once saw a nix on the shore of the March busy at his work, threw a rosary upon it. The nix disappeared, leaving the shoe; and a variant states that the shoe was so well made that the owner wore out successively twelve other shoes which he had caused to be made to match it, without its being any the worse.
We have already seen in the last chapter that the performance of Christian rites and the exhibition of Christian symbols and sacred books have a powerful effect against fairies. But further, the invocation, or indeed the simple utterance, of a sacred name has always been held to counteract enchantments and the wiles of all supernatural beings who are not themselves part and parcel of what I may, without offence and for want of a better term, call the Christian mythology, and who may therefore at times, if not constantly, be supposed to be hostile to the Christian powers and to persons under their protection. These beliefs are, of course, in one form or another part of the machinery of every religion. The tales just quoted are examples of the potency of a symbol. A North German story is equally emphatic as to the value of a holy name. We are told that late one evening a boy saw a great number of hares dancing and leaping. Now hares are specially witch-possessed animals. As he stood and watched them one of them sprang towards him and tried to bite his leg. But he said: "Go away! thou art not of God, but of the devil." Instantly the whole company vanished; but he heard a doleful voice exclaiming: "My silver beaker, my silver beaker!" On reaching home he told his adventure; and his father at once started back with him to the place, where they found a silver beaker inscribed with a name neither they nor the goldsmith, to whom they sold the goblet for a large sum of money, could read. The district whence this story comes furnishes us also with an account of a man who, being out late one night, came upon a fire surrounded by a large circle of women sitting at a table. He ventured to seat himself among them. Each one had brought something for the meal; and a man-cook went round them asking each what she had got. When he came to the hero of the story the latter struck him with his stick, saying: "I have a blow which our Lord God gave the devil." Thereupon the whole assembly disappeared, leaving nothing behind but the kettle which hung over the fire, and which the man took and long preserved to testify the truth of his story. A Cornish fisherman was scarcely less lucky without the protection of a pious exclamation. For one night going home he found a crowd of "little people" on the beach. They were sitting in a semicircle holding their hats towards one of their number, who was pitching gold pieces from a heap into them. The fisherman contrived to introduce his hat among them without being noticed, and having got a share of the money, made off with it. He was followed by the piskies, but had a good start, and managed to reach home and shut the door upon them. Yet so narrow was his escape that he left the tails of his sea-coat in their hands.
Vengeance, however, is sometimes swift and sure upon these robberies. It is believed in Germany that the king of the snakes is wont to come out to sun himself at noon; and that he then lays aside his crown, a prize for any one who can seize it. A horseman, coming at the opportune moment, did so once; but the serpent-king called forth his subjects and pursued him. By the help of his good steed the man succeeded in arriving at home; and, thankful to have escaped the danger, he patted the beast's neck as he jumped down, saying: "Faithfully hast thou helped me!" At that instant a snake, which had hidden herself unnoticed in the horse's tail, bit the man; and little joy had he of his crime. In another story the girl who steals the crown is deafened by the cries of her victim; and elsewhere, when the serpent-king is unable to reach the robber, he batters his own head to pieces in ineffectual rage. Perhaps he deserved his fate in some of these cases, for it seems he had a foolish liking to lay down his crown on a white cloth, or a white, or blue, silk handkerchief,—a predilection which the robber did not fail to provide him with the opportunity of gratifying, and of repenting.
Other tales represent the thief as compelled to restore the stolen goods. Thus a man who found the trolls on the Danish isle of Fuur carrying their treasures out into the air, shot thrice over them, and thereby forced the owners to quit them. He caught up the gold and silver and rode off with it, followed by the chief troll. But after he got into the house and shut the doors there was such a storming and hissing outside, that the whole house seemed ablaze. Terrified, he flung the bag wherein he had secured the treasures out into the night. The storm ceased, and he heard a voice crying: "Thou hast still enough." In the morning he found a heavy silver cup, which had fallen behind a chest of drawers. Again, a farm servant of South Kongerslev, in Denmark, who went at his master's instance, on Christmas Eve, to see what the trolls in a neighbouring hill were doing, was offered drink from a golden cup. He took the cup, and casting out its contents, spurred his horse from the spot, hotly pursued. On the way back he passed the dwelling of a band of trolls at enmity with those from whom he had stolen the cup. Counselled by them, he took to the ploughed field, where his pursuers were unable to follow him, and so escaped. The farmer kept the goblet until the following Christmas Eve, when his wife imprudently helped a tattered beggar to beer in it. It is not wonderful that both the cup and the beggar vanished; but we are to understand that the beggar was a troll. Perhaps he was. In Thyholm, a district of Denmark, there is a range of lofty mounds formerly inhabited by trolls. Some peasants who were once passing by these mounds prayed the trolls to give them some beer. In a moment a little creature came out and presented a large silver can to one of the men, who had no sooner grasped it than he set spurs to his horse, with the intention of keeping it. But the little man of the mound was too quick for him, for he speedily caught him and compelled him to return the can. In a Pomeranian story the underground folk forestalled the intention to rob them on the part of a farmer's boy whose thirst they had quenched with a can of delicious brown-beer. Having drunk, he hid the can itself, with the object of taking it home when his day's work was done, for it was of pure silver; but when he afterwards went to look for it, it had disappeared.
Moreover, ungrateful mortals are sometimes punished, even when they are lucky enough to secure their prize. Thus it is told of a man of Zahren, in Mecklenburg, who was seized with thirst on his way home from Penzlin, that he heard music in a barrow known to be the haunt of the underground folk. People were then on familiar terms with the latter; and the man cried out and asked for a drink. Nor did he ask in vain; for his appeal was at once answered by the appearance of a little fellow with a flask of delicious drink. After slaking his thirst the man took the opportunity to make off with the flask; but he was pursued by the whole troop of elves, only one of whom, and he had only one leg, succeeded in keeping up with him. The thief, however, managed to get over a cross-road where One-leg could not follow him; and the latter then, making a virtue of necessity, cried out: "Thou mayst keep the flask; and henceforth always drink thereout, for it will never be empty; but beware of looking into it." For some years the elf's injunction was observed; but one day, in a fit of curiosity, the peasant looked into the bottom of the flask, and there sat a horrid toad! The toad disappeared, and so did the liquor; and the man in a short time fell miserably sick. In a Norse tale, a man whose bride is about to be carried off by Huldre-folk, rescues her by shooting over her head a pistol loaded with a silver bullet. This has the effect of dissolving the witchery; and he is forthwith enabled to seize her and gallop off, not unpursued. One of the trolls, to retard his flight, held out to him a well-filled golden horn. He took the horn, but cast the liquor away, and rode away with both horn and girl. The trolls, when they found themselves unable to catch him, cried after him in their exasperation: "The red cock shall crow over thy dwelling!" And behold! his house stood in a blaze. Similarly, a Swedish tradition relates that one of the serving-men of the lady of Liungby, in Scania, one night of Christmas in the year 1490, rode out to inquire the cause of the noise at the Magle stone. He found the trolls dancing and making merry. A fair troll-woman stepped forth and offered him a drinking-horn and a pipe, praying he would drink the troll-king's health and blow in the pipe. He snatched the horn and pipe from her, and spurring back to the mansion, delivered them into his lady's hands. The trolls followed and begged to have their treasures back, promising prosperity to the lady's race if she would restore them. She kept them, however; and they are said to be still preserved at Liungby as memorials of the adventure. But the serving-man who took them died three days after, and the horse on the second day; the mansion has been twice burnt, and the family never prospered after. On the eve of the first of May the witches of Germany hold high revel. Every year the fields and farmyards of a certain landowner were so injured by these nocturnal festivities that one of his servants determined to put a stop to the mischief. Going to the trysting-place, he found the witches eating and drinking around a large slab of marble which rested on four golden pillars; and on the slab lay a golden horn of wondrous form. The sorceresses invited him to join the feast; but a fellow-servant whom he met there warned him not to drink, for they only wished to poison him. Wherefore he flung the proffered beverage away, seized the horn, and galloped home as hard as he could. All doors and gates had been left open for him; and the witches consequently were unable to catch him. The next day a gentleman in fine clothes appeared and begged his master to restore the horn, promising in return to surround his property with a wall seven feet high, but threatening, in case of refusal, to burn his farms down thrice, and that just when he thought himself richest. Three days were allowed to the landowner for consideration, but he declined to restore the horn. The next harvest had hardly been housed when his barns were in flames. Three times did this happen, and the landowner was reduced to poverty. By the king's kindness he was enabled to rebuild; and he then made every effort to discover the owner of the horn, sending it about for that purpose even as far as Constantinople; but no one could be found to claim it.
Somewhat more courteous was a Danish boy whom an Elf-maiden met and offered drink from a costly drinking-horn one evening as he rode homeward late from Ristrup to Siellevskov. He received the horn, but fearing to drink its contents, poured them out behind him, so that, as in several of these stories, they fell on the horse's back, and singed the hair off. The horn he held fast, and the horse probably needed no second hint to start at the top of its speed. The elf-damsel gave chase until horse and man reached a running water, across which she could not follow them. Seeing herself outwitted, she implored the youth to give her back the horn, promising him in reward the strength of twelve men. On this assurance he returned the horn to her, and got what she had promised him. But the exchange was not very profitable; for with the strength of twelve men he had unfortunately acquired the appetite of twelve. Here it may well be thought that the supernatural gift only took its appropriate abatement. In a story from the north of Scotland the cup was stolen for the purpose of undoing a certain spell, and was honourably returned when the purpose was accomplished. Uistean, we are told, was a great slayer of Fuathan, supernatural beings apparently akin to fairies. He shot one day into a wreath of mist, and a beautiful woman fell down at his side. He took her home; and she remained in his house for a year, speechless. On a day at the end of the year he was benighted in the mountains, and seeing a light in a hill, he drew nigh, and found the fairies feasting. He entered the hill, and heard the butler, as he was handing the drink round, say: "It is a year from this night's night that we lost the daughter of the Earl of Antrim. She has the power of the draught on her that she does not speak a word till she gets a drink from the cup that is in my hand." When the butler reached Uistean, he handed him the cup. The latter, on getting it in his hand, ran off, pursued by the fairies until the cock crew. When he got home, he gave the lady in his house to drink out of the cup; and immediately her speech returned. She then told him she was the Earl of Antrim's daughter, stolen by the fairies from child-bed. Uistean took back the cup to the hill whence he had brought it, and then restored the lady to her father safe and sound, the fairy woman who had been left in her place vanishing meantime in a flame of fire.
There are also legends in which a hat conferring invisibility, or a glove, figures; but the stolen article is usually, as in most of the instances cited above, a cup or a drinking-horn. Many such articles are still preserved in various parts of Northern Europe. Of these the most celebrated are the Luck of Edenhall and the Oldenburg horn. But before discussing these I must refer to some other stories, the material evidence of which is no longer extant. Gervase of Tilbury relates that in a forest of Gloucestershire there is a glade in the midst whereof stands a hillock rising to the height of a man. Knights and hunters were wont, when fatigued with heat and thirst, to ascend the hillock in question to obtain relief. This had to be done singly and alone. The adventurous man then would say: "I thirst," when a cupbearer would appear and present him with a large drinking-horn adorned with gold and gems, as, says the writer, was the custom among the most ancient English, and containing liquor of some unknown but most delicious flavour. When he had drunk this, all heat and weariness fled from his body, and the cupbearer presented him with a towel to wipe his mouth withal; and then having performed his office he disappeared, waiting neither for recompense nor inquiry. One day an ill-conditioned knight of the city of Gloucester, having gotten the horn into his hands, contrary to custom and good manners kept it. But the Earl of Gloucester, having heard of it, condemned the robber to death, and gave the horn to King Henry I., lest he should be thought to have approved of such wickedness if he had added the rapine of another to the store of his own private property. Gervase of Tilbury wrote near the beginning of the thirteenth century. His contemporary, William of Newbury, relates a similar story, but lays its scene in Yorkshire. He says that a peasant coming home late at night, not very sober, and passing by a barrow, heard the noise of singing and feasting. Seeing a door open in the side of the barrow, he looked in, and beheld a great banquet. One of the attendants offered him a cup, which he took, but would not drink. Instead of doing so, he poured out the contents, and kept the vessel. The fleetness of his beast enabled him to distance all pursuit, and he escaped. We are told that the cup, described as of unknown material, of unusual colour and of extraordinary form, was presented to Henry I., who gave it to his brother-in-law, David, King of the Scots. After having been kept for several years in the Scottish treasury it was given by William the Lion to King Henry II., who wished to see it.
By a fortune somewhat rare, this story, having been written down in the days of the early Plantagenet kings, has been lately found again among the folk in the East Riding. The how, or barrow, where it is now said to have occurred is Willey How, near Wold Newton, on the Bridlington road, a conspicuous mound about three hundred feet in circumference and sixty feet in height. The rustic to whom the adventure happened was an inhabitant of Wold Newton, who had been on a visit to the neighbouring village of North Burton, and was belated. Another tale resembling the Gloucestershire saga is found in Swabia, though the object of which the mysterious benefactor was deprived was not a cup, but a knife. Some farm servants, while at work in the fields, were approached by an unusually beautiful maiden clad in black. Every day about nine or ten o'clock in the morning, and again about four o'clock in the afternoon, she brought them a small pitcher of wine and a loaf of snow-white bread—greater luxuries, probably, to peasants then even than they would be now. She always brought a very pretty silver knife to cut the bread, and always begged them to be sure to give it back to her, else she were lost. Her visits continued until one of the servants took it into his head to keep the knife, which he was ungrateful enough to do in spite of her tears and prayers. Finding all entreaties vain, she uttered piercing cries of distress, tore her fair hair, rent her silken clothes, and vanished, never to be seen again. But often you may hear on the spot where she once appeared sobs and the sound of weeping.
A Cornish tale relates that a farmer's boy of Portallow was one night sent to a neighbouring village for some household necessaries. On the way he fell in with some piskies, and by repeating the formula he heard them use, transported himself with them, first to Portallow Green, then to Seaton Beach, and finally to "the King of France's cellar," where he joined his mysterious companions in tasting that monarch's wines. They then passed through magnificent rooms, where the tables were laden for a feast. By way of taking some memorial of his travels he pocketed one of the rich silver goblets which stood on one of the tables. After a very short stay the word was passed to return, and presently he found himself again at home. The good wife complimented him on his despatch. "You'd say so, if you only know'd where I've been," he replied; "I've been wi' the piskies to Seaton Beach, and I've been to the King o' France's house, and all in five minutes." The farmer stared and said the boy was mazed. "I thought you'd say I was mazed, so I brort away this mug to show vor et," he answered, producing the goblet. With such undeniable evidence his story could not be any longer doubted. Stealing from a natural enemy like the King of France was probably rather meritorious than otherwise; and the goblet remained in the boy's family for generations, though unfortunately it is no longer forthcoming for the satisfaction of those who may still be sceptical.
This story differs from the others I have detailed, in narrating a raid by supernatural beings on the dwelling of a human potentate—a raid in which a human creature joined and brought away a substantial trophy. In the seventeenth century there was in the possession of Lord Duffus an old silver cup, called the Fairy Cup, concerning which the following tradition was related to John Aubrey, the antiquary, by a correspondent writing from Scotland on the 25th of March 1695. An ancestor of the then Lord Duffus was walking in the fields near his house in Morayshire when he heard the noise of a whirlwind and of voices crying: "Horse and Hattock!" This was the exclamation fairies were said to use "when they remove from any place." Lord Duffus was bold enough to cry "Horse and Hattock" also, and was immediately caught up through the air with the fairies to the King of France's cellar at Paris, where, after he had heartily drunk, he fell asleep. There he was found lying the next morning with the silver cup in his hand, and was promptly brought before the King, to whom, on being questioned, he repeated this story; and the King, in dismissing him, presented him with the cup. Where it may be now I do not know, nor does Aubrey's correspondent furnish us with any description of it, save the negative but important remark that it had nothing engraven upon it beside the arms of the family.
On this vessel, therefore, if it be yet in existence, there is nothing to warrant the name of Fairy Cup, or to connect it with the adventure just related. Nor does the Oldenburg Horn itself bear any greater marks of authenticity. That famous vessel is still exhibited at the palace of Rosenberg at Copenhagen. It is of silver gilt, and ornamented in paste with enamel. It bears coats of arms and inscriptions, showing that it was made for King Christian I. of Denmark in honour of the Three Kings of Cologne, and cannot therefore be older than the middle of the fifteenth century. The legend attached to it claims for it a much greater antiquity. The legend itself was narrated in Hamelmann's "Oldenburger Chronik" at the end of the sixteenth century, and is even yet current in the mouths of the Oldenburg folk. Hamelmann dates it in the year 990, when the then Count of Oldenburg was hunting in the forest of Bernefeuer. He had followed a roe from that forest to the Osenberg, and had distanced all his attendants. It was the twentieth of July, the weather was hot, and the count thirsty. He cried out for a draught of water, and had scarcely uttered the words, when the hill opened and a beautiful damsel appeared and offered him drink in this horn. Not liking the look of the beverage, he declined to drink. Whereupon she pressed him to do so, assuring him that it would go well with him and his thenceforth, and with the whole house of Oldenburg; but if the count would not believe her and drink there would be no unity from that time in the Oldenburg family. He had no faith in her words, and poured out the drink, which took the hair off his horse wherever it splashed him, and galloped away with the horn.
Other drinking-horns, of which precisely analogous tales are told, are still to be seen in Norway. Of the one at Halsteengaard it is related that the posterity of the robber, down to the ninth generation, were afflicted, as a penalty, with some bodily blemish. This horn is described as holding nearly three quarts, and as being encircled by a strong gilt copper ring, about three inches broad, on which, in monkish characters, are to be read the names of the Three Kings of Cologne, Melchior, Baltazar, and Caspar. It is further ornamented with a small gilt copper plate, forming the setting of an oval crystal. Another horn, preserved in the museum at Arendal, was obtained in a similar manner. A father, pursuing his daughter and her lover, was stopped by a troll, and offered drink in it. Instead of drinking, he cast out the contents, with the usual result, and put spurs to his horse. He was counselled by another troll, who was not on good terms with the first, to ride through the rye and not through the wheat; but even when his pursuer was impeded by the tall rye-stalks, only the crowing of the cock before dawn rescued him. The vessel is encircled by three silver gilt rings, bearing an inscription, which seems not quite correctly reported, as follows: "Potum servorum benedic deus alme tuorum reliquam unus benede le un Caspar Melchior Baltazar."
The legend of which I am treating attaches also to a number of sacred chalices. At Aagerup, in Zealand, is one of these. The thief, nearly overtaken by the trolls he had robbed, prayed to God in his distress, and vowed to bestow the cup upon the church if his prayer were heard. The church of Vigersted, also in Zealand, possesses another. In the latter case the man took refuge in the church, where he was besieged by the trolls until morning. In Bornholm a chalice and paten belonging to the church are said to have been made out of a cup stolen in the same way by a peasant whose mother was a mermaid, and who had inherited some portion of her supernatural power; hence, probably, his intercourse with the trolls, of which he took so mean an advantage. At Viöl, near Flensborg, in Schleswig, is a beaker belonging to the church, and, like the chalice at Aagerup, of gold, of which it is narrated that it was presented full of a liquor resembling buttermilk to a man who was riding by a barrow where the underground folk were holding high festival. He emptied and rode off with it in the usual manner. A cry arose behind him: "Three-legs, come out!" and, looking round, he saw a monster pursuing him. Finding this creature unable to come up with him, he heard many voices calling: "Two-legs, come out!" But his horse was swifter than Two-legs. Then One-leg was summoned, as in the story already cited from Mecklenburg, and came after him with gigantic springs, and would have caught him, but the door of his own house luckily stood open. He had scarcely entered, and slammed it to, when One-leg stood outside, banging against it, and foiled. The beaker was presented to the church in fulfilment of a vow made by the robber in his fright; and it is now used as the communion-cup. At Rambin, on the island of Rügen, is another cup, the story of which relates that the man to whom it was offered by the underground folk did not refuse to drink, but having drunk, he kept the vessel and took it home. A boy who was employed to watch horses by night on a turf moor near the village of Kritzemow, in Mecklenburg, annoyed the underground folk by the constant cracking of his whip. One night, as he was thus amusing himself, a mannikin came up to him and offered him drink in a silver-gilt beaker. The boy took the beaker, but being openly on bad terms with the elves, argued no good to himself from such an offering. So he instantly leaped on horseback and fled, with the vessel in his hand, along the road to Biestow and Rostock. The mannikin, of course, followed, but, coming to a crossway, was compelled to give up the chase. When the boy reached Biestow much of the liquid, as was to be expected, had been shaken out of the cup, and wherever on the horse it had fallen the hair had been burnt away. Glad of escaping this danger, the boy thanked God and handed the vessel over to the church at Biestow. In none of these instances, however, do I find any description of the goblet.
Fortunately there is one, and that the most celebrated of all the cups to which a fairy origin has been ascribed, which has been often and accurately delineated both with pen and pencil. I refer to the Luck of Edenhall. It belongs to Sir George Musgrave of Edenhall, in Cumberland, in the possession of whose family it has been for many generations. The tradition is that a butler, going to fetch water from a well in the garden, called St. Cuthbert's Well, came upon a company of fairies at their revels, and snatched it from them. As the little, ill-used folk disappeared, after an ineffectual attempt to recover it, they cried:
"If this glass do break or fall,
Farewell the luck of Edenhall!"
The most recent account of it was written in the year 1880, by the Rev. Dr. Fitch, for "The Scarborough Gazette," from which it has been reprinted for private circulation in the shape of a dainty pamphlet. He speaks of it, from a personal examination, as "a glass stoup, a drinking vessel, about six inches in height, having a circular base, perfectly flat, two inches in diameter, gradually expanding upwards till it ends in a mouth four inches across. The material is by no means fine in quality, presenting, as it does on close inspection, several small cavities or air-bubbles. The general hue is a warm green, resembling the tone known by artists as brown pink. Upon the transparent glass is traced a geometric pattern in white and blue enamel, somewhat raised, aided by gold and a little crimson. It will, of course, stand on its base, but it would be far from wise to entrust it, when filled, to this support." Dr. Fitch is in accord with the common opinion of antiquaries in pronouncing it to be of Venetian origin, though Mr. Franks thought it Saracenic. He describes the case in which it is kept as evidently made for it, being of the same shape. "The lid of this case," he says, "rather unevenly fits the body by overlapping it. There is no hinge; the fastenings are certain hooks or catches, not in good condition; the security and better apposition of the lid is maintained by a piece of leather, not unlike a modern boot-lace, or thin thong. The case dates, probably, from the fifteenth century, as articles made of similar material, viz., cuir bouilli, softened or boiled leather, were much in use in that age. This case bears an elegantly varied pattern that has been recognized in an inkstand of Henry the Seventh's, yet extant. Upon the lid of this case, in very chaste and well-formed characters, is the sacred monogram I.H.S." These three letters, which do not really form a monogram, have possibly given rise to the surmise, or tradition, that the Luck was once used as a sacred vessel. Dr. Fitch goes on to quote several authorities, showing that chalices of glass were sanctioned by the church, and were, in fact, made and used; and the Luck may have been such a vessel. But I can see no sufficient evidence of it. There is nothing to show that the leathern case is of the same date as the glass itself; and it may have been made long afterwards. The earliest mention of the relic seems to have been by Francis Douce, the antiquary, who was at Edenhall in 1785, and wrote some verses upon it; nor is there any authentic family history attaching to it. The shape of the goblet, its unsteadiness when full, and the difficulty of drinking from it without spilling some of its contents, of which Dr. Fitch had some experience, would point to its being intended rather for convivial than sacred uses.
The hypothesis of the Luck's having once been a chalice explains nothing; because, as we have seen, several of the cups alleged to have been stolen from supernatural beings are chalices to this day. Moreover, what are we to think of the drinking-horns of which the same tale is told? Some of these already mentioned bear, not indeed the sacred letters, but prayers and the names of the sainted Kings of Cologne, though, unlike the cups, they are not found in churches. One drinking-horn, however, was preserved in the cathedral at Wexiö, in Sweden, until carried away by the Danes in 1570. This horn, stated to be of three hundred colours, was received by a knight on Christmas morning from a troll-wife, whose head he there and then cut off with his sword. The king dubbed him Trolle in memory of the deed, and bestowed on him a coat-of-arms containing a headless troll. How the horn came into the possession of the cathedral I do not know; but at all events it could never have been a chalice.
A silver cup, perhaps still used for sacramental purposes at the parish church of Malew, in the Isle of Man, is the subject of the following legend. A farmer returning homeward to the parish of Malew from Peel was benighted and lost his way among the mountains. In the course of his wanderings he was drawn by the sound of sweet music into a large hall where a number of little people were banqueting. Among them were some faces he thought he had formerly seen; but he forbore to take any notice of them. Nor did they take any notice of him until he was offered 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." Accordingly, when a large silver beaker was put into his hand, filled with liquor, he found an opportunity to throw its contents on the ground. The music forthwith ceased, and the company disappeared, leaving the cup in his hand. On finding his way home, he told the minister of the parish what had occurred; and the latter, with the instincts of his profession, advised him to devote the cup to the service of the Church. We are indebted to Waldron's well-known "Description of the Isle of Man," originally published in 1731, for this story. A later writer, annotating Waldron's work rather more than a quarter of a century ago, refers to the vessel in question as a paten; he states that it was still preserved in the church, and that it bore engraved the legend: "Sancte Lupe ora pro nobis." There are no fewer than eleven saints named Lupus in the calendar. Whichever of them was invoked here, the inscription points to a continental origin for the vessel, whether cup or paten, and is not inconsistent with its being of some antiquity.
Mr. Train, who quotes the tradition in his account of the Isle of Man, states that several similar tales had been placed at his disposal by friends in the island; but it was naturally beneath the dignity of an historian to do more than give a single specimen of this "shade of superstition," as he calls it. He does, however, mention (though apparently without being conscious of any close relationship with the cup of Kirk Malew) an antique crystal goblet in the possession, when he wrote, of Colonel Wilks, the proprietor of the Estate of Ballafletcher, four or five miles from Douglas. It is described as larger than a common bell-shaped tumbler, uncommonly light and chaste in appearance, and ornamented with floral scrolls, having between the designs, on two sides, upright columellæ of five pillars. The history of this cup is interesting. It is said to have been taken by Magnus, the Norwegian King of Man, from St. Olave's shrine. On what ground this statement rests does not appear. What is really known about the goblet is that having belonged for at least a hundred years to the Fletcher family, the owners of Ballafletcher, it was sold with the effects of the last of the family in 1778, and was bought by Robert Cæsar, Esq., who gave it to his niece for safe keeping. This niece was, perhaps, the "old lady, a connection of the family of Fletcher," who is mentioned by Train as having presented the cup to Colonel Wilks. The tradition is that it had been given to the first of the Fletcher family more than two centuries ago, with the injunction "that as long as he preserved it peace and plenty would follow; but woe to him who broke it, as he would surely be haunted by the Ihiannan Shee," or "peaceful spirit" of Ballafletcher. It was kept in a recess, whence it was never taken except on Christmas and Easter days, or, according to Train's account, at Christmas alone. Then, we are told, it was "filled with wine, and quaffed off at a breath by the head of the house only, as a libation to the spirit for her protection."
Here is no mention of the theft of the goblet unless from St. Olave's sanctuary; but yet I think we have a glimpse of the real character of the cups to which the legend I am discussing attaches. They were probably sacrificial vessels dedicated to the old pagan worship of the house-spirits, of which we find so many traces among the Indo-European peoples. These house-spirits had their chief seat on the family hearth; and their great festival was that of the New Year, celebrated at the winter solstice. The policy of the Church in early and mediæval times was to baptize to Christian uses as many of the heathen beliefs and ceremonies as possible. The New Year festival thus became united with the anniversary of the birth of Christ; and it is matter of history that as the Danes used, previously to their conversion, to drink to Odin and the Anses, so after that event they were in the habit of solemnly pledging Our Lord, His Apostles and the Saints. Such of the old beliefs and practices, however, as the Church could neither impress with a sacred character, nor destroy, lingered on. Among them were the superstitions of the fairies and the household spirits; and there is nothing unlikely in the supposition that special vessels were kept for the ceremonies in which these beings were propitiated. For this purpose a horn would serve as well as any goblet; if, indeed, it were not actually preferred, as being older, and therefore more sacred in shape and material. As these ceremonies gradually fell into desuetude, or were put down by clerical influence, it would be both natural and in accordance with policy that the cups devoted to the supposed rites should be transferred to the service of the Church. They would all be old-fashioned, quaint, and, many of them, of foreign and unknown provenance. Already connected in the minds of the people with the spirit world, a supernatural origin would be ascribed to them; and gift or robbery would be the theory of acquisition most readily adopted. Now, theory in a certain stage of culture is indistinguishable from narrative.
In this chapter I have dealt entirely with stolen goods; but, as we have seen in previous chapters, tales of cups and other articles lent or given by elves in exchange for services rendered are by no means unknown. I cannot, however, recall any of such gifts which are now extant. It were much to be wished that all the drinking-vessels—nay, all the articles of every kind—to which legends of supernatural origin belong were actually figured and described. Much light would thereby be thrown upon their true history. I will only now point out, with regard to the Luck of Edenhall, and the three horns of Oldenburg, of Halsteengaard, and of Arendal, of which we have full descriptions, that what we know of them is all in confirmation of the theory suggested. In particular, the names of the Three Kings connect the horns with a Christmas, or Twelfth Night, festival, which is exactly what the theory of the sacrificial nature of these vessels would lead us to expect. If we turn from the actual beakers to the stories, it is surprising how many of these we find pointing to the same festival. The cup of South Kongerslev was won and lost on Christmas Eve. The horn and pipe of Liungby were stolen "one night of Christmas." It was at Christmas-time that the Danish boy acquired his supernatural strength by giving back to the elf-maiden the horn he had taken from her. The Halsteengaard horn and the golden beaker of Aagerup were both reft from the trolls on Christmas Eve, and the horn of Wexiö on Christmas morning. The night of St. John's Day is mentioned as the time when the horn now at Arendal was obtained. The saint here referred to is probably St. John the Evangelist, whose feast is on December the 27th. And in more than one case the incident is connected with a marriage, which would be an appropriate occasion for the propitiation of the household spirit. The only instance presenting any difficulty is that of the cup at Kirk Malew; and there the difficulty arises from the name of the saint to whom the cup was apparently dedicated. Nor is it lessened by the number of saints bearing the name of Lupus. The days on which these holy men are respectively commemorated range through the calendar from January to October; and until we know which of them was intended it is useless to attempt an explanation. The question, however, is of small account in the face of the probability called forth by the coincidences that remain.
There is one other matter to which I would call attention, namely, that while stories of the type discussed in the foregoing pages are common to both Celts and Teutons, the stolen cup is exclusively a Teutonic possession. More than that, no authentic record of the preservation of the relic itself is found save in the homes and conquests of the Scandinavian race. Is this to be accounted for by the late date of Christianity, and, therefore, the more recent survival of heathen rites among Teutonic, and especially Scandinavian, peoples?
- Girald. Cambr., 1. i. c. 8.
- Davies, "Mythology," p. 155. Mr. Wirt Sikes quotes this story without acknowledgment, stating that the legend, "varying but little in phraseology, is current in the neighbourhood of a dozen different mountain lakes." As if he had collected it himself! (Sikes, p. 45). Compare an Eskimo story of a girl who, having acquired angakok power, visited the ingnersuit, or underground folk, "and received presents from them; but while carrying them homewards the gifts were wafted out of her hands and flew back to their first owners" (Rink, p. 460).
- Thorpe, vol. iii. p. 120, apparently quoting Harry's "Sagen, Märchen und Legenden Niedersachsens"; Sébillot, "Trad. et Sup." vol. i. p. 115; "Zeits. f. Volksk." vol. ii. p. 415, quoting Vernaleken.
- Kuhn und Schwartz, pp. 305, 306; "Choice Notes," p. 76.
- Niederhoffer, vol. iv. p. 130; Bartsch, vol. i. p. 278; Thorpe, vol. iii. p. 56, quoting Müllenhoff; Birlinger, "Volksthümliches," vol. i. p. 103; Grimm, "Tales," vol. ii. p. 77. A Lusatian tradition quoted by Grimm in a note represents the watersnake-king's crown as not only valuable in itself, but like other fairy property, the bringer of great riches to its possessor. Ibid. 406. Cf. a Hindoo story to the same effect, Day, p. 17; and many other tales.
- Thorpe, vol. ii. pp. 148, 146, 121, quoting Thiele, "Danmarks Folkesagn;" Jahn, p. 75.
- Bartsch, vol. i. p. 83 (see also p. 41); Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 6, quoting Faye, "Norske Folke-sagn"; ibid. p. 89, quoting Afzelius, "Svenske Folkets Sago-Hafder"; Kuhn und Schwartz, p. 26.
- Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 142, quoting Thiele. See also Keightley, p. 88; Campbell, vol. ii. p. 97.
- Gerv. Tilb., Decis. iii. c. 60; Guil. Neub. "Chronica Rerum Anglic." lib. i. c. 28, quoted by Liebrecht in a note to Gerv. Tilb.
- Nicholson, p. 83. Mr. Nicholson in a letter to me says that he had the story as given by him from an old inhabitant of Bridlington, and that it is current in the neighbourhood. Birlinger, "Volkst." vol. i. pp. 3, 5.
- "Choice Notes," p. 73.
- Aubrey, "Miscellany," p. 149.
- Thorpe, vol. iii. p. 128; Kuhn und Schwartz, p. 280. The latter is the version still found as traditional. Its details are not so full, and are in some respects different.
- Thorpe, vol. ii. pp. 15, 14, apparently quoting Faye. Dr. Geo. Stephens of the University of Copenhagen very kindly made a great number of inquiries for me with a view to obtain information, and, if possible, drawings of the Scandinavian horns and cups, but unhappily with little success. The answer to his inquiries in reference to the horns of Halsteengaard and Arendal, sent by Prof. Olaf Rygh, the learned Keeper of the Norwegian Museum at Christiania, will be read with interest. He says: "Mr. Hartland's notice of 'Halstengaard' in Norway doubtless refers to a local tale about a drinking-horn formerly in the hands of the owner of Holsteingaard, Aal parish, Hallingdal. It was first made public in the year 174–, in 'Ivar Wiels Beskriveke over Ringerige og Hallingdals Fogderi,' in 'Topografisk Journal for Norge,' Part XXXI., Christiania, 1804, pp. 179–183. I know nothing more as to the fate of this horn than what is said in Nicolaysen's 'Norske Fornlevninger,' p. 152, that it is said to have been sent to the Bergen Museum in 1845. Should this be so, it will be almost impossible to identify it among the many such horns in that collection. As described by Wiel, it was merely a very simple specimen of the kind with the common inscription JASPAR X MELCHIOR X BALTAZAR. This class of horn was largely imported to Norway from North Germany in the 15th and 16th centuries.
"Meanwhile I beg to point out that the oldest legend of this kind which has come down to us is found in 'Biskop Jens Nilssons Visitatsböger og Reise-optegnelser, udgivne af Dr. Yngvar Nielsen,' p. 393. It was written by the bishop or his amanuensis during his visitation, 1595, in Flatdal parish, Telemarken. What has become of the horn spoken of by the bishop I cannot say.
"I have no idea of what is meant by Mr. Hartland's reference to Arendal. Possibly it may concern something in the museum there, but of which I never heard. The printed catalogue of the museum (Arendal, 1882) includes nothing from the middle age or later."
- Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 144, quoting Thiele. Keightley, pp. 109, 111, note; (The latter mentions another theft of a silver jug where the thief was saved by crossing running water.) Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 140; vol. iii. p. 70, quoting Müllenhoff; Jahn, p. 53; Bartsch, vol. i. p. 60.
- Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 91, quoting Afzelius.
- Waldron, pp. 28, 106.
- Train, vol. ii. p. 154; and see a note by Harrison to his edition of Waldron, p. 106. The cup is stated by Harrison to have been, when he wrote, in the possession of Major Bacon, of Seafield House. Mrs. Russell, of Oxford, kindly made inquiries for me in the Isle of Man as to its present whereabouts, and that of the cup of Kirk Malew, and inserted a query in Yn Livar Manninagh, the organ of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, but without eliciting any information.
- It is not irrelevant to observe in this connection that several of the chalices in Sweden are said to have been presented to the churches by priests to whom a Berg-woman had offered drink in these very cups or bowls (Thorpe, vol. ii. p. 90, quoting Afzelius).