The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 1/Stories of Fairies from Scotland (pp. 25-7)


By the Rev. Walter Gregor.

T HE Gratitude of the Fairies.—The fairies, called in the North of Scotland and it may be in other parts “the Fair Folk,” “the Good Neighbours” (Scoticé, gueede neebours, gueede neepirs), shewed themselves grateful to those of mankind that did them kindness, or paid them respect.[1] They asked help of woman, especially at the time of a birth among them; and for such help there was given a more than ordinary reward, sometimes of one kind, and sometimes of another.

One winter evening the wife of a Highlander was sitting in her cottage, when a knock was heard at the door. On its being opened, in stepped a man, unknown to her, and begged her to accompany him to a female that was ill, without telling who the patient was, where she lived, or what her ailment was. She very naturally hesitated to grant the request. The stranger’s earnestness and the promise of a reward overcame her hesitation; and, with some misgivings, she put herself under his guidance. She was led by a way wholly unknown to her, and at last reached what looked, so far as the darkness permitted her to see, like a cave. She entered, but all at once she found herself in a brightly lighted hall. She was led through splendid passages into a still more splendid bedroom, in which lay a lady in travail. After the child was born, she was asked what her fee was to be. Divining from all the attending circumstances that she was in fairy land, she refused to take any fee. She did not go, however, without a guerdon. No woman in the same case as the fairy lady should die under her hands, or under the hands of such of her descendants as followed the obstetric profession. To the present day the skill remains in the race, as told me by one who is sprung from it.

Compare with this the story of “Egebergkongen,” as given in “Norske Huldre-Eventyr-og Folkesagn,” pp. 11-14, by P. Chr. Asbyornsen, Chistiania, 1870, and “Melusine,” cc. 85-87.

Fern Seed.—Fern seed ripens at midnight on Christmas Eve, and falls immediately to the ground. If one is fortunate enough to catch it as it is falling, he gets whatever he may set his wishes upon. In the journey to gather it, not a word must be uttered to any one that may be met.

A man set out to a ferny spot one Christmas eve. He had not gone far before a dog chasing a hare came along the path. A short time after he met on horseback, as he thought, a man. He was asked if he had met a dog hunting a hare. True to his resolution, he made no answer, and held on his way. So did the “man” on horseback, with the remark that his not getting an answer was of no moment, as he would soon overtake them. By-and-bye the fern seed seeker met, riding on a cripple cow, a man in appearance, but in truth “the boodie,” i.e. the devil. He was questioned if he had met a man on horseback riding after a dog chasing a hare. Still no answer. “No matter,” said the boodie, “I’ll soon overtake them.” “Ye idiot,” said the man, taken aback by the folly of the remark, “Y’ill never get up with them.” The words were hardly over his lips, when a blast of wind burst forth and scattered the fern seed.

Told by an old couple in the parish of Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire. See Napier’s Folk-Lore of West of Scotland, p. 128, and Choice Notes, pp. 64, 65.

Hallow-Fires.—After the Hallow-fires were consumed, and those that had been engaged in the ceremony had dispersed, some were in the habit of gathering together the ashes, and covering them up—“ristin the halla-fire,”—and placing in the ashes a small stone to represent each member of the household. Next morning the ashes were carefully and anxiously inspected for the stones. If the stone that represented a member was not found, that member would be removed by death before the next Hallow-fire was kindled. The great-grandmother of the old woman (about 75 years of age) who told me this, was in the habit of performing this ceremony. One year she did it as usual, and on searching the ashes next morning, she found one of the stones was gone. She came home in sorrow, and said again and again without any one paying much attention to her, “Annie’s steenie’s awa.” Before next Hallow-fire was burnt, Annie had worn “awa to the land o’ the leal.”

Fairy Help.—The fairies were in the habit of giving a helping hand to their favourites. A farmer had a noted thresher of his grain crop. Before the invention of threshing mills, and for long after, even till thirty years ago, it was the usual way for the men of the farm to get out of bed by three or four o’clock in the morning, thresh with the flail enough to serve for the day, and be ready by the stated hour to begin the day’s labour.

This noted thresher had got into the favour of the fairies, and he had but to call and they were at his service when he went to the barn to do his threshing in the morning. His master began to suspect there was something more than mortal power at the bottom of his servant’s success as a thresher. He resolved to find out; and one morning he secreted himself in the barn before the hour of threshing came, so as to have a full view of what would go on at the threshing floor. The thresher appeared at the usual time, trimmed his lamp, placed the sheaves on the floor (usually two), and laid hold on the flail. Before beginning, he looked round, and said: “Come awa, ma reed-caippies.” In an instant the sheaves began to tumble from "“he moo” into the threshing-floor, and the fairies were hard at work, and soon finished the day’s threshing. The master waited till the whole was quiet, and the thresher had left the barn. He said nothing to him of what he had seen, but he parted with him on the first favourable opportunity.[2]

  1. Melusine, cc. 240, 241; Contes Populaires de la Haute-Bretagne, pp. 24-26, by P. Sébillot. Paris, 1881. Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland, pp. 63, 64, by W. Gregor. London, 1881.
  2. See Folk-Lore Record, vol. i. p. 28 (93).