Scottish Highlands

Brownie has got a cowl and coat,
And never more will work a jot.
   Colonies of Gothic Fairies, it would appear, early established themselves in the Highlands, and almost every Lowland, German, and Scandinavian Fairy or Dwarf-tale will there find its fellow. The Gaelic Fairies are very handsome in their persons; their usual attire is green. They dance and sing, lend and borrow, and they make cloth and shoes in an amazingly short space of time. They make their raids upon the low country, and carry off women and children; they fetch midwives to assist at the birth of their children, and mortals have spent a night at the fairy revels, and next morning found that the night had extended a hundred years. Highland fairies also take the diversion of the chase. "One Highlander," says Mc.Culloch,1 "in passing a mountain, bears the tramp of horses, the music of the horn, and the cheering of the huntsmen; when suddenly a gallant crew of thirteen fairy hunters, dressed in green, sweep by him, the silver bosses of their bridles jingling in the night breeze."
   The Gael call the Fairies Daoine Shi',2 (Dheenè Shee) and their habitations Shians, or Tomhans. These are a sort of turrets, resembling masses of rock or hillocks. By day they are indistinguishable, but at night they are frequently lit up with great splendour.
   Brownie, too, 'shows his honest face' in the Highlands; and the mischievous water-Kelpie also appears in his equine form, and seeks to decoy unwary persons to mount him, that he may plunge with his rider into the neighbouring loch or river.
   The Highlanders have nearly the same ideas as their Shetland neighbours, respecting the seals.
   The following legends will illustrate what we have stated.3

The Fairy's Enquiry

   A clergyman was returning home one night after visiting a sick member of his congregation. His way led by a lake, and as he proceeded he was surprised to hear most melodious strains of music. He sat down to listen. The music seemed to approach coming over the lake accompanied by a light. At length he discerned a man walking on the water, attended by a number of little beings, some bearing lights, others musical instruments. At the beach the man dismissed his attendants, and then walking up to the minister saluted him courteously. He was a little grey-headed old man, dressed in rather an unusual garb. The minister having returned his salute begged of him to come and sit beside him. He complied with the request, and on being asked who he was, replied that he was one of the Daoine Shi. He added that he and they had originally been angels, but having been seduced into revolt by Satan, they had been cast down to earth where they were to dwell till the day of doom. His object now was, to ascertain from the minister what would be their condition after that awful day. The minister then questioned him on the articles of faith; but as his answers did not prove satisfactory, and as in repeating the Lord's Prayer, he persisted in saying wed instead of art in heaven, he did not feel himself justified in holding out any hopes to him. The fairy then gave a cry of despair and flung himself into the loch, and the minister resumed his journey.

The Young Man In The Shian

   A farmer named Macgillivray, one time removed from the neighbourhood of Cairngorm in Strathspey to the forest of Glenavon, in which the fairies are said to reside. Late one night, as two of his sons, Donald and Bory, were in search of some of his sheep that had strayed, they saw lights streaming from the crevices of a fairy turret which in the day time had only the appearance of a rock. They drew nigh to it, and there they heard jigs and reels played inside in the most exquisite manner. Rory was so fascinated that he proposed that they should enter and take part in the dance. Donald did all he could to dissuade him, but in vain. He jumped into the Shian, and plunged at once into the whirling movements of its inhabitants. Donald was in great perplexity, for he feared to enter the Shian. All he could do therefore was to put his mouth to one of the crevices, and calling, as the custom was, three times on his brother, entreating him in the most moving terms, to come away and return home. But his entreaties were unheeded and he was obliged to return alone.
   Every means now was resorted to for the recovery of Rory, but to no purpose. His family gave him up for lost, when a Duin Glichd or Wise man, told Donald to go to the place where he had lost his brother, a year and a day from the time, and placing in his garments a rowan-cross, to enter the Shian boldly, and claim him in the divine name, and if he would not come voluntarily, to seize him and drag him out; for the fairies would have no power to prevent him. After some hesitation Donald assented. At the appointed time he approached the Shian at midnight. It was full of revelry, and the merry dance was going on as before. Donald had his terrors no doubt, but they gave way to his fraternal affection. He entered and found Rory in the midst of a Highland Fling, and running up, to him, seized him by the collar, repeating the words dictated by the Wise man. Rory agreed to go provided he would let him finish his dance; for he had not been, he assured him, more than half an hour in the place, but Donald was inexorable, and took him home to his parents. Rory would never have believed that his half-hour had been a twelvemonth, "did not the calves grown now into stots, and the new-born babes now toddling about the house, at length convince him that in his single reel he had danced for a twelvemonth and a day. "

The Two Fiddlers

   Nearly three hundred years ago, there dwelt in Strathspey two fiddlers, greatly renowned in their art. One Christmas they resolved to go try their fortune in Inverness. On arriving in that town they took lodgings, and as was the custom at that time, hired the bellman to go round announcing their arrival, their qualifications, their fame, and their terms. Soon after they were visited by a venerable-looking grey-haired old man, who not only found no fault with, but actually offered to double their terms if they would go with him. They agreed, and he led them out of the town, and brought them to a very strange-looking dwelling which seemed to them to be very like a Shian. The money, however, and the entreaties of their guide induced them to enter it, and their musical talents were instantly put into requisition, and the dancing was such as in their lives they had never witnessed.
   When morning came they took their leave highly gratified with the liberal treatment they had received. It surprised them greatly to find that it was out of a hill and not a house that they issued, and when they, came to the town, they could not recognise any place or person, every thing seemed so altered. While they and the townspeople were in mutual amazement, there came up a very old man, who on hearing their story, said: "You are then the two men who lodged with my great-grandfather, and whom Thomas Rimer, it was supposed, decoyed to Tomnafurach. Your friends were greatly grieved on your account, but it is a hundred years ago, and your names are now no longer known." It was the Sabbath day and the bells were tolling; the fiddlers, deeply penetrated with awe at what had occurred, entered the church to join in the offices of religion. They sat in silent meditation while the bell continued ringing, but the moment that the minister commenced the service they crumbled away into dust.

The Fairy-Labour

   Many years ago there dwelt in Strathspey a midwife of great repute. One night just as she was going to bed, she heard a loud knocking at the door, and on opening it she saw there a man and a grey horse, both out of breath. The rider requested her to jump up behind him and come away to assist a lady who was in great danger. He would not even consent to her stopping to change her dress, as it would cause delay. She mounted and away they went at full speed. On the way she tried to learn from the rider whither she was going, but all she could get from him was, that she would be well paid. At length he let out that it was to a fairy-lady he was taking her. Nothing daunted, however, she went on, and on reaching the Shian, she found that her services were really very much needed. She succeeded in bringing a fine boy to the light, which caused so much joy, that the fairies desired her to ask what she would, and if it was in their power, it should be granted. Her desire was that success might attend herself and her posterity in all similar operations. The gift was conferred and it continued, it was said, with her great-grandson, at the time the collector of these legends wrote.

The Fairy Borrowing Oatmeal

   A fairy came one day from one of the turrets of Craig-ail-naic to the wife of one of the tenants in Delnabo, and asked her to lend her a firlot of oatmeal for food for her family, promising to repay it soon, as she was every moment expecting an ample supply. The woman complied with this request, and after, as was the custom of the country, having regaled her with bread, cheese, and whiskey, she went, as was usual, to see her a part of the way home. When they had reached the summit of an eminence near the town, the Béanshi told her she might take her meal home again as she was now abundantly supplied. The woman did as desired, and as she went along she beheld the corn-kiln of an adjacent farm all in a blaze.

The Fairy Gift

   A farmer in Strathspey was one day engaged in sowing one of his fields and singing at his work. A fairy damsel of great beauty came up to him and requested him to sing for her a favourite old Gaelic song named NighanDonne na Bual. He complied, and she then asked him to give her some of his corn. At this he demurred a little and wished to know what she would give him in return. She replied with a significant look that his seed would never fail him. He then gave to her liberally and she departed. He went on sowing, and when he had finished a large field, he found that his bag was as full and as heavy as when he began. He then sowed another field of the same size, with the same result, and satisfied with his day's work, he threw the bag on his shoulder and went home. Just as he was entering the barn-door he was met by his wife, a foolish talkative body with a tongue as long, and a head as empty as the church bell, who, struck with the appearance of the bag after a day's sowing, began to ask him about it. Instantly it became quite empty. "I'll be the death of you, you foolish woman," roared out the farmer; "if it were not for your idle talk, that bag was worth its weight in gold. "

The Stolen Ox

   The tacksman (i.e. tenant) of the farm of Auchriachan in Strathavon, while searching one day for his goats on a hill in Glenlivat, found himself suddenly enveloped in a dense fog. It continued till night came on when he began to give himself up to despair. Suddenly he beheld a light at no great distance. He hastened toward it, and found that it proceeded from a strange- looking edifice. The door was open, and he entered, but great was his surprise to meet there a woman whose funeral he had lately attended. From her he learned that this was an abode of the fairies for whom she kept house, and his only chance of safety, she said, was in being concealed from them; for which purpose she hid him in a corner of the apartment. Presently in came a troop of fairies, and began calling out for food. An old dry-looking fellow then reminded them of the miserly, as he styled him, tacksman of Auchriachan, and how he cheated them out of their lawful share of his property, by using some charms taught him by his old grandmother. "He is now from home," said he, "in search of our allies,4 his goats, and his family have neglected to use the charm, so come let us have his favourite ox for supper." The speaker was Thomas Rimer, and the plan was adopted with acclamation. "But what are we to do for bread?" cried one. "We'll have Auchriachan's new baked bread, " replied Thomas; "his wife forgot to cross the first bannock." So said, so done. The ox was brought in and slaughtered before the eyes of his master, whom, while the fairies were employed about their cooking, his friend gave an opportunity of making his escape.
   The mist had now cleared away and the moon was shining. Auchriachan therefore soon reached his home. His wife instantly produced a basket of new-baked bannocks with milk and urged him to eat. But his mind was running on his ox, and his first question was, who had served the cattle that night. He then asked the son who had done it if he had used the charm, and he owned he had forgotten it. "Alas! alas!" cried he, "my favourite ox is no more." "How can that be?" said one of the sons, "I saw him alive and well not two hours ago." "It was nothing but a fairy stock, " cried the father. "Bring him out here." The poor ox was led forth, and the farmer, after abusing it and those that sent it, felled it to the ground. The carcase was flung down the brae at the back of the house, and the bread was sent after it, and there they both lay untouched, for it was observed that neither cat nor dog would put a tooth in either of them.

The Stolen Lady

   John Roy, who lived in Glenbroun, in the parish of Abernethy, being out one night on the hills in search of his cattle, met a troop of fairies, who seemed to have got a prize of some sort or other. Recollecting that the fairies are obliged to exchange whatever they may have with any one who offers them anything, however low in value, for it, he flung his bonnet to them, crying Shuis slo slumus sheen (i.e., mine is yours and yours is mine). The fairies dropped their booty, which proved to be a Sassenach (English) lady whom the dwellers of the Shian of Coir-laggac had carried away from her own country, leaving a stock in her place which, of course, died and was buried. John brought her home, and she lived for many years in his house. "It happened, however, in the course of time, " said the Gaelic narrator, "that the new king; found it necessary to make the great roads through these countries by means of soldiers, for the purpose of letting coaches and carriages pass to the northern cities; and those soldiers had officers and commanders in the same way as our fighting army have now. Those soldiers were never great favourites m these countries, particularly during the time that our kings were alive; and consequently it was no easy matter for them, either officers or men, to procure for themselves comfortable quarters." But John Roy would not keep up the national animosity to the cottan dearg (red-coats),and he offered a residence in his house to a Saxon captain and his son. When there they could not take their eyes off the English lady, and the son remarked to his father what a strong likeness she bore to his deceased mother. The father replied that be too had been struck with the resemblance, and said he could almost fancy she was his wife. He then mentioned her name and those of some persons connected with them. The lady by these words at once recognised her husband and son, and honest John Roy had the satisfaction of reuniting the long-separated husband and wife, and receiving their most grateful acknowledgments.5

The Changeling

   A couple of Strathspey lads who dealt in whiskey that never paid duty, which they used to purchase in Glenlivat, and sell at Badenoch and Fort William, were one night laying in stock 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 after set out with their goods. They had not gone far when they found a fine healthy child lying all alone on the road-side, which they soon recognised as that of their friend. They saw at once how the thing was. The fairies had taken away the real child 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 permit them to return, they took the child with them, and kept it till the next time they had occasion to visit Glenlivat. On their arrival they said nothing about the child, which they kept concealed. In the course of conversation, the mother took occasion to remark that the disease which had attacked the child the last time they were there had never left it, and she had now little hopes of its recovery. As if to confirm her statement, it continued uttering most piteous cries. To end the matter at once, the lads produced the real child healthy and hearty, and told how they had found it. An exchange was at once effected, and they forthwith proceeded to dispose of their new charge. For this purpose they 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 when at the top he cried out that things would have gone very differently with them had it not been for the arrival of their guests.

The Wounded Seal

   There once dwelt on the northern coast, not far from Taign Jan Crot Callow (John o' Groat's House), a man who gained his living by fishing. He was particularly devoted to the killing of the seals, in which he had great success. One evening just as he had returned home from his usual occupation, he was called upon by a man on horseback who was an utter stranger to him, but who said that he was come on the part of a person who wished to make a large purchase of seal- skins from him, and wanted to see him for that purpose that very evening. He therefore desired him to get up behind him and come away without any delay. Urged by the hope of profit he consented, and away they went with such speed that the wind which was in their backs seemed to be in their faces. At length they reached the verge of a stupendous precipice overhanging the sea, where his guide bade him alight, as they were now at the end of their journey. "But where," says he, "is the person you spoke of?" "You 'll see him presently," said the guide, and, catching hold of him, he plunged with him into the sea. They went down and down, till at last they came to a door which led into a range of apartments inhabited by seals, and the man to his amazement now saw that he himself was become one of these animals. They seemed all in low spirits, but they spoke kindly to him, and assured him of his safety. His guide now produced a huge gully or joctaleg, at sight of which, thinking his life was to be taken away, he began to cry for mercy. "Did you ever see this knife before?" said the guide. He looked at it and saw it was his own, which he had that very day stuck into a seal who had made his escape with it sticking in him. He did not, therefore, attempt to deny that it had been his property. "Well," said. the guide, "that seal was my father. He now lies dangerously ill, and as it is only you that can cure him, I have brought you hither." He then led him into an inner room, where the old seal lay suffering grievously from a cut in his hind quarters. He was then desired to lay his hand on the wound, at which it instantly healed, and the patient arose hale and sound. All now was joy and festivity in the abode of the seals, and the guide, turning to the seal-hunter, said, "I will now take you back to your family, but you must first take a solemn oath never again to kill a seal as long as you live." Hard as the condition was, he cheerfully accepted it. His guide then laid hold on him, and they rose up, up, till they reached the surface of the sea, and landed at the cliff. He breathed on him and they resumed the human form. They then mounted the horse and sped away like lightning till they reached the fisherman's house. At parting his companion left with him such a present as made him think light of giving over his seal-hunting.

The Brownies

   Two Brownies, man and woman, were attached to the ancient family of Tullochgorm, in Strathspey. The former was named Brownie-Clod, from a habit he had of flinging clods at passers-by; the latter was called Maug Vuluchd (i.e., Hairy Mag), on account of her great quantity of hair. She was a capital housekeeper, and used invisibly to lay out the table in the neatest and handiest manner. Whatever was called for came as if floating through the air. She kept a very strict hand over the maids, with whom she was no great favourite, as she reported their neglect of duty to their mistress. Brownie-Clod was not so pawky, and he was constantly overreached by the servants, with whom he used to make contracts. He, however, was too able for them on one occasion. He had agreed with two of them to do their whole winter's threshing for them, on condition of getting in return an old coat and a Kilmarnock hood to which he had taken a fancy. He wrought away manfully, and they had nothing to do but lie at their ease on the straw and look on. But before the term was expired they laid the coat and hood for him in the barn. The moment Brownie laid his eyes upon them he struck work, using the words prefixed to this section of our volume.
   Martyn describes the Brownie of the Western Isles as a tall man, and he tells a story of his invisibly directing a person, at Sir Norman M'Leod's, who was playing at draughts, where to place his men.

The Urisk

   There is also in the Highlands a rough hairy spirit, called the Urisk. The following legend will display his nature and character:
   To the very great annoyance of a Highland miller, and to the injury of the machinery, his mill, he found, used to be set to work at night when there was nothing in it to grind. One of his men offered to sit up, and try to discover who it was that did it; 'and, having kindled a good turf-fire, sat by it to watch. Sleep, however, overcame him, and when he awoke about midnight, he saw sitting opposite him a rough shaggy being. Nothing daunted, he demanded his name, and was told that it was Urisk. The stranger, in return, asked the man his name, who replied that it was Myself. The conversation here ended, and Urisk soon fell fast asleep. The man then tossed a panful of hot ashes into his shaggy lap, which set his hair all on fire. In an agony, and screaming with the pain, he ran to the door, and in a loud yelling tone several of his brethren were heard to cry out, "What 's the matter'with you?" "Oh! he set me on fire!" "Who?" "Myself!" "Then put it out yourself" was the reply.6


1. Account of the Highlands, etc. iv. 358
2. Men of Peace, perhaps the Stille-folk, Still-people, or rather, merely Fairy--or Spirit --people.
3. See Stewart, The Popular Superstitions of thc Highlanders. Edinburgh, 1823. As Mr. Stewart's mode of narrating is not the very best, we have taken the liberty of re-writing and abridging the legends.
4. "The goats are supposed to be upon a very good understanding with the fairies, and possessed of more cunning and knowledge than their appearance bespeaks."--Stewart: see Wales.
5. There is a similar legend in Scandinavia. As a smith was at work in his forge late one evening, he heard great wailing out on the road, and by the light of the red-hot iron that he was hammering, he saw a woman whom a Troll was driving along, bawling at her "A little more! a little more!" He ran out, put the red-hot iron between them, and thus delivered her from the power of the Troll. He led her into his house and that night she was delivered of twins, In the morning he waited on her husband, who lie supposed must be in great affliction at the loss of his wife. But to his surprise he saw there, in bed, a woman the very image of her he had saved from the Troll. Knowing at once what she must be, he raised an axe he had in his band, and cleft her skull. The matter was soon explained to the satisfaction of the husband, who gladly received his real wife and her twins.'.--. Thiele, i. 88. Oral.
6. Told, without naming his authority, by the late W. S. Rose, in the Quarterly Review for 1825.