THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY
The Scottish Lowlands
When from their hilly dens, at midnight hour,
The Scottish Fairies scarcely differ in any essential point from those of England. Like them
they are divided into the rural and the domestic. Their attire is green, their residence the interior of
the hills. They appear more attached than their neighbours to the monarchical form of government, for the
Fairy king and queen, who seem in England to have been known only by the poets, were recognised by law
in Caledonia, and have at all times held a place in the popular creed. They would appear also to be more
mischievously inclned than the Southrons, and less addicted to the practice of dancing. They have,
however, had the advantage of not being treated with contempt and neglect by their human countrymen, and
may well be proud of the attention shown them by the brightest genius of which their country can boast.
There has also been long due from them an acknowledgment of the distinction conferred on them by the
editor of the Nithsdale and Galloway Song,1 for the very fanciful manner in which he has
described their attributes and acts.
Forth rush the airy elves in mimic state,
And o'er the moonlight heath with swiftness scour,
In glittering arms the little horsemen shine.
The Scottish Fairies have never been taken by the poets for their heroes or machinery, a
circumstance probably to be attributed to the sterner character of Scottish religion. We cannot,
therefore, as in England, make a distinction between popular and poetic fairies.
The earliest notice we have met with of the Fairies is in Montgomery's Flyting against
Polwart, where he says,
In the hinder end of harvest, at All-hallowe'en,
Elf-land was the name of the realm ruled by the king of Phairie. King James3
speaks of him and his queen, and "of sic a jolie court and traine as they had; how they had a teinde
and a dewtie, as it were, of all guidis; how they naturally raid and yeid, eat and drank, and did all
other actions lyke natural men and women. I think," concludes the monarch, "it is lyker
Virgilis Campi Elysii nor anything that ought to be believed by
Christianis." And one of the
interlocutors in his dialogue asks how it was that witches have gone to death confessing that they had
been "transported with the Phairie to such and such a hill, which, opening, they went in, and there
saw a faire queene, who, being now lighter, gave them a stone which had sundry virtues."
When our good neighbours2 dois ride, if I read right,
Some buckled on a beenwand, and some on a been,
Ay trottand in troops from the twilight;
Some saidled on a she-ape all graithed in green,
Some hobland on a hempstalk hovand to the sight;
The king of Phairie and his court, with the elf-queen,
With many elfish incubus, was ridand that night.
According to Mr. Cromek, who, however, rather sedulously keeps their darker attributes out
of view, and paints everything relating to them couleur de rose, the Lowland Fairies are of
small stature, but finely proportioned; of a fair complexion, with long yellow hair hanging over their
shoulders, and gathered above their heads with combs of gold. They wear a mantle of green cloth, inlaid
with wild flowers; green pantaloons, buttoned with bobs of silk; and silver
shoon. They carry quivers of
"adder-slough," and bows made of the ribs of a man buried where three lairds' lands meet;
their arrows are made of bog-reed, tipped with white flints, and dipped in the dew of hemlock; they ride
on steeds whose hoofs "would not dash the dew from the cup of a harebell." With their arrows
they shoot the cattle of those who offend them; the wound is imperceptible to common eyes, but there are
gifted personages who can discern and cure it.4<4>
In their intercourse with mankind they are frequently kind and generous. A young man of
Nithsdale, when out on a love affair, heard most delicious music, far surpassing the utterance of 'any
mortal mixture of earth's mould.' Courageously advancing to the spot whence the sound appeared to proceed,
he suddenly found himself the spectator of a Fairy-banquet. A green table with feet of gold, was laid
across a small rivulet, and supplied with the finest of bread and the richest of wines. The music
proceeded from instruments formed of reeds and stalks of corn. He was invited to partake in the dance,
and presented with a cup of wine. He was allowed to depart in safety, and ever after possessed the gift
of second sight. He said he saw there several of his former acquaintances, who were become members of
the Fairy society.
We give the following legend on account of its great similarity to a Swiss tradition already
Two lads were ploughing in a field, in the middle of which was an old thorn-tree, a trysting
place of the Fairy-folk. One of them described a circle round the thorn, within which the plough should
not go. They were surprised, on ending the furrow, to behold a green table placed there, heaped up with
excellent bread and cheese, and even wine. The lad who had drawn the circle sat down without hesitation,
ate and drank heartily, saying, "Fair fa' the hands whilk gie." His companion whipped on the
horses, refusing to partake of the Fairy-food. The other, said Mr. Cromek's informant, "thrave
like a breckan," and was a proverb for wisdom, and an oracle for country knowledge ever
The Fairies lend and borrow, and it is counted uncanny to refuse them. A young woman
was one day sifting meal warm from the mill, when a nicely dressed beautiful little woman came to her
with a bowl of antique form, and requested the loan of as much meal as would fill it. Her request was
complied with, and in a week she returned to make repayment. She set down the bowl and breathed over it,
saying, "Be never toom." The woman lived to a great age, but never saw the bottom of the
Another woman was returning late one night from a gossiping. A pretty little boy came up to
her and said, "Coupe yere dish-water farther frae yere door-step, it pits out our fire." She
complied with this reasonable request, and prospered ever after.
The Fairies Nurse
The Fairies have a great fondness for getting their babes suckled
by comely, healthy young women. A fine young woman of Nithsdale was one day spinning and rocking her
first-born child. A pretty little lady in a green mantle, and bearing a beautiful babe, came into 'the
cottage and said, "Gie my bonny thing a suck." The young woman did so, and the lady left her
babe and disappeared, saying, "Nurse kin' and ne'er want." The young woman nursed the two
children, and was astonished to find every morning, when she awoke, rich clothes for the children, and
food of a most delicious flavour. Tradition says this food tasted like wheaten-bread, mixed with wine
When summer came, the Fairy lady came to see her child. She was delighted to see how it had
thriven, and, taking it in her arms, desired the nurse to follow her. They passed through some scroggy
woods skirting the side of a beautiful green hill, which they ascended half way. A door opened on the
sunny side--they went in, and the sod closed after them. The Fairy then dropped three drops of a precious
liquid on her companion's left eyelid, and she beheld a most delicious country, whose fields were yellow
with ripening corn, watered by looping burnies, and bordered by trees laden with fruit. She was
presented with webs of the finest cloth, and with boxes of precious ointments. The Fairy then moistened
her right eye with a 'green fluid, and bid her look. She looked, and saw several of her friends and
acquaintances at work, reaping the corn and gathering the fruit. "This," said the Fairy,
"is the punishment of evil deeds!" She then passed her hand over the woman's eye, and restored
it to its natural power. Leading her to the porch at which she had entered, she dismissed her; but the
woman had, secured the wonderful salve. From this time she possessed the faculty of discerning the Fairy
people as they went about invisibly; till one day, happening to meet the Fairy-lady, she attempted to
shake hands with her. "What ee d'ye see me wi'?" whispered she. "Wi' them baith,"
said the woman. The Fairy breathed on her eyes, and the salve lost its efficacy, and could never more
endow her eyes with their preternatural power.6
The Fairy Rade
The Fairy Rade, or procession, was a matter of great
importance. It took place on the coming in of summer, awl the peasantry, by using the precaution of
placing a branch of rowan over their door, might safely gaze on the cavalcade, as with music sounding,
bridles ringing, and voices mingling, it pursued its way from place to place. An old woman of Nithadale
gave the following description of one of these processions:
"In the night afore Roodmass I had trysted with a neebor lass a Scots mile frae hame to
talk anent buying braws i' the fair. We had nae sutten lang aneath the haw-buss till we heard the loud
laugh of fowk riding, wi' the jingling o' bridles, and the clanking o' hoofs. We banged up, thinking they
wad owre us. We kent nae but it was drunken fowk ridin' to the fair i' the forenight. We glowred roun'
and roun', and sune saw it was the Fairie-fowks Rade. We cowred down till they passed by. A beam
o' light was dancing owre them mair bonnie than moonshine: they were a' wee wee fowk wi' green scarfs on,
but ane that rade foremost, and that ane was a good deal larger than the lave wi' bonnie lang hair, bun'
about wi' a strap whilk glinted like stars. They rade on braw wee white naigs, wi' unco lang swooping
tails, an' manes hung wi' whustles that the win' played on. This an' their tongue when they sang was
like the soun' o' a far awa psalm. Marion an' me was in a brade lea fiel', where they came by us; a high
hedge o' haw-trees keepit them frae gaun through Johnnie Corrie's corn, but 'they lap a' owre it like
sparrows, and gallopt into a green know beyont it. We gaed i' the morning to look at the treddit corn;
but the fient a hoof mark was there, nor a blade broken."
But the Fairies of Scotland were not, even according to Mr. Cromek,
uniformly benevolent. Woman and child abstraction was by no means uncommon with them, and the substitutes
they provided were, in general, but little attractive.
A fine child at Caerlaveroc, in Nithsdale, was observed on the second day after its birth,
and before it was baptised, to have become quite ill-favoured and deformed. Its yelling every night
deprived the whole family of rest; it bit and tore its mother a breasts, and would lie still neither in
the cradle nor the arms. The mother being one day obliged to go from home, left it in charge of the
servant girl. The poor lass was sitting bemoaning herself--" Were it nae for thy girning face, I
would knock the big, winnow the corn, and grun the meal."--" Lowse the cradle-band," said
the child, "and tent the neighbours, and I'll work yere work." Up he started--the wind arose--
the corn was chopped--the outlyers were foddered--the hand-mill moved around, as by instinct--and the
knocking-mill did its work with amazing rapidity. The lass and child then rested and diverted themselves,
till, on the approach of the mistress, it was restored to the cradle, and renewed its cries. The girl
took the first opportunity of telling the adventure to her mistress.
"What'II we do with the wee diel?" said she. "I 'II work it a pirn,"
replied the lass. At midnight the chimney-top was covered up, and every chink and cranny stopped. The
fire was blown till it was glowing hot, and the maid speedily undressed the child, and tossed him on the
burning coals. He shrieked and yelled in the most dreadful manner, and in an instant the Fairies were
heard moaning on every side, and rattling at the windows, door, and chimney. "In the name of God
bring back the bairn," cried the lass. The window flew up, the real child was laid on the mother's
lap, and the wee diel flew up the chimney laughing.
Departure Of The Fairies
On a Sabbath morning, all the inmates of a little hamlet had gone to
church, except a herd-boy, and a little girl, his sister, who were lounging beside one of the cottages,
when just as the shadow of the garden-dial had fallen on the line of noon, they saw a long cavalcade
ascending out of the ravine, through the wooded hollow. It winded among the knolls and bushes, and
turning round the northern gable of the cottage, beside which the sole spectators of the scene were
stationed, began to ascend the eminence towards the south. The horses were shaggy diminutive things,
speckled dun and grey; the riders stunted, misgrown, ugly creatures, attired in antique jerkins of plaid,
long grey clokes, and little red caps, from under which their wild uncombed locks shot out over their
cheeks and foreheads. The boy and his sister stood gazing in utter dismay and astonishment, as rider
after rider, each more uncouth and dwarfish than the other which had preceded it, passed the cottage
and disappeared among the brushwood, which at that period covered the hill, until at length the entire
rout, except the last rider, who lingered a few yards behind the others, had gone by. "What are
you, little manie? and where are ye going?" inquired the boy, his curiosity getting the better of
his fears and his prudence. "Not of the race of Adam," said the creature, turning for a moment
in its saddle, "the people of peace shall never more be seen in Scotland."7
The Nis, Kobold, or Goblin, appears in Scotland under the name of
Brownie.8 Brownie is a personage of small stature, wrinkled visage, covered with short curly
brown hair, and wearing a brown mantle and hood. His residence is the hollow of the old tree, a ruined
castle, or the abode of man, He is attached to particular families, with whom he has been known to
reside, even for centuries, threshing the corn, cleaning the house, and doing everything done by his
northern and English brethren. He is, to a certain degree, disinterested; like many great personages, he
is shocked at anything approaching to the name of a bribe or douceur, yet, like them, allows his
scruples to be overcome if the thing be done in a genteel, delicate, and secret way. Thus, offer Brownie
a piece of bread, a cup of drink, or a new coat and hood, and he flouted at it, and perhaps, in his huff,
quitted the place for ever; but leave a nice bowl of cream, and some fresh honeycomb, in a snug private
corner, and they soon disappeared, though Brownie, it was to be supposed, never knew anything of them.
A good woman had just made a web of linsey-woolsey, and, prompted by her good nature, had
manufactured from it a snug mantle and hood for her little Brownie. Not content with laying the gift in
one of his favourite spots, she indiscreetly called to tell him it was there. This was too direct, and
Brownie quitted the place, crying,
A new mantle and a new hood;
Another version of this legend says, that the gudeman of' a farm-house in the parish of
Glendevon having left out some clothes one night for Brownie, he was heard to depart, saying,
Poor Brownie! ye 'll ne'er do mair gude!
Gie Brownie coat, gie Brownie sark,
At Leithin-hall, in Dumfrieshire, a Brownie had dwelt, as he himself declared, for three
hundred years. He used to show himself but once to each master; to other persons he rarely discovered
more than his hand. One master was greatly beloved by Brownie, who on his death bemoaned him exceedingly,
even abstaining from food for many successive days. The heir returning from foreign parts to take
possession of the estate, Brownie appeared to do him homage, but the Laird, offended at his mean, starved
appearance, ordered him meat and drink, and new livery. Brownie departed, loudly crying,
Ye 'se get nae mair o' Brownie's wark!9
Ca', cuttee, ca'!
In a few years Leithin Ha' was in ruins, and "bonnie Bodsbeck" flourishing beneath
the care of Brownie.
A' the luck of Leithin Ha'
Gangs wi' me to Bodsbeck Ha'.
Others say that it was the gudeman of Bodsbeck that offended the Brownie by leaving out for
him a mess of bread and milk, and that he went away, saying,
Ca, Brownie, ca',
Brownie was not without some roguery in his composition. Two lasses having made a fine
bowlful of buttered brose, had taken it into the byre to sup in the dark. In their haste they brought
but one spoon, so, placing the bowl between them, they supped by turns. "I hae got but three sups,
" cried the one, "and it's a' dune."--" It 's a' dune, indeed," cried the
other--" Ha, ha, ha!" cried a third voice, "Brownie has got the maist o' it."--And
Brownie it was who had placed himself between them, and gotten two sups for their one.
A' the luck of Bodsbeck awa to Leithenha'.
The following story will remind the reader of Hinzelmann. A Brownie once lived with Maxwell,
Laird of Dalswinton, and was particularly attached to the Laird's daughter, the comeliest lass in all the
holms of Nithadale. In all her bye affairs Brownie was her confidant and assistant; when she was married,
it was Brownie who undressed her for the bridal bed; and when a mother's pains first seized her, and a
servant, who was ordered to go fetch the cannie wife, who lived on the other side of the
slow in getting himself ready, Brownie, though it was one of dark December's stormy nights, and the wind
was howling through the trees, wrapped his lady's fur cloak about him, mounted the servant's horse, and
dashed through the waves of the foaming Nith. He went to the cannie wife, got her up behind him, and, to
her terror and dismay, plunged again into the torrent. "Ride nae by the auld pool," said she,
"lest we suld meet wi' Brownie." "Fear nae, dame," replied he, "ye
've met a'
the Brownies ye will meet." He set her down at the hall steps, and went to the stable. There
finding the lad, whose embassy be had discharged, but drawing on his boots, he took off the bridle, and
by its vigorous application instilled into the memory of the loitering loon the importance of dispatch.
This was just at the time of the Reformation, and a zealous minister advised the Laird to have him
baptised. The Laird consented, and the worthy minister hid himself in the barn. When Brownie was
beginning his night's work, the man of God flung the holy water in his face, repeating at the same time
the form of baptism. The terrified Brownie gave a yell of dismay, and disappeared for ever.
Another name by which the domestic spirit was known in some parts of Scotland was
of which the origin is uncertain.10
Scotland has also its water-spirit, called Kelpie, who in some respects corresponds with the
Neck of the northern nations. "Every lake," says Graham11 "has its Kelpie, or
Water-horse, often seen by the shepherd, as he sat in a summer's evening upon the brow of a rock, dashing
along the surface of the deep, or browsing on the pasture-ground upon its verge. Often did this malignant
genius of the waters allure women and children to his subaqueous haunts, there to be immediately devoured.
Often did he also swell the torrent or lake beyond its usual limits, to overwhelm the hapless traveller
in the flood."12
We have now gone through nearly the whole of the Gotho-German race, and everywhere have found
their fairy system the same--a proof, we conceive, of the truth of the position of its being deeply
founded in the religious system originally common to the whole race. We now proceed to another, and,
perhaps, an older European family, the Celts.
1. Mr. Cromek. There was, we believe, some false dealing on the pert of Allan
Cunningham toward this gentleman, such as palming on him his owe verses as traditionary ones. But the
legends are genuine.
2. This answers to the Deenč Máh, Good People, of the Highlands and Ireland. An old Scottish name,
we may add, for a fairy seems to have been Bogle, akin to the English Pouke, Puck, Puckle but differing
from the Boggart. Thus Gawain Douglas says,
Of Brownyis and of Boggles full is this Beuk.
3. Daemonologie, B. III. c. 5.
4. These elf-arrows are triangular pieces of flint, supposed to have been the herds of the arrows used by
the aborigines. Though more plentiful in Scotland they are also found in England and Ireland, and were
there also attached to the fairies, and the wounds were also only to be discerned by gifted eyes
5. "It was till lately believed by the ploughmen of Clydesdale, that if they repeated the
Fairy, fairy, bake me a bannock and roast me a collop,
three several times on turning their cattle at the terminations of ridges, they would find the said fare
prepared for them on reaching the end of the fourth furrow."--Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland,
And I'll gie ye a spurtle oft' my gadend!
6. Graham also relates this legend in his Picturesque Sketches of Perthshire.
7. Hugh Miller, The Old Red Sandstone, p. 251. We are happy to have an opportunity of expressing the high
feelings of respect and esteem which we entertain for this extraordinary man. Born in the lowest rank of
society, and commencing life as a workman in a stone-quarry, he has, by the mere force of natural genius,
become not only a most able geologist but an elegant writer, and a sound and discerning critic. Scotland
seems to stand alone in producing such men.
8. He is named as we have seen by Gawain Douglas. King James says of him "The spirit called Brownie
appeared like a rough man, and haunted divers houses without doing any evil, but doing, as it were,
necessarie turns up and down the house; yet some are so blinded as to believe that their house was all
the sonsier, as they called It, that such spirits resorted there."
9. Popular Rhymes of Scotland, p. 33.
10. Grimm (Deut. Mythol., p. 479) says it is the German Schellenrock, i.e, Bell-coat, from his coat being
hung with bells like those of the fools. A Puck be says, once served in a convent in Mecklenburg, for
thirty years, in kitchen, and stable, and the only reward he asked was "tunicam de diversis coloribus
et tintinnabulis plenam."
11. Sketches of Perthsbire, p. 245.
12. In what precedes, we have chiefly followed Mr. Cromek. Those anxious for further information will meet
it in the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and other works.