Mr. Kirk's first chapter, "Of the Subterranean Inhabitants," naturally suggests the recent speculations of Mr. MacRitchie. The gist of Mr. MacRitchie's Testimony of Tradition is that there once was a race of earth-dwellers in this island; that their artificial caves still exist; that this people survive in popular memory as "the legendary Feens," and as the Pechts of popular tales, in which they are regarded as dwarfs. "The Pechs were unco wee bodies, but terrible strang." Here, then, it might be thought that we have the origin of Fairy beliefs. There really was, on this showing, a dwarf race, who actually did live in the "fairy-hills," or howes, now commonly looked on as sepulchral monuments.
There is much in Mr. MacRitchie's theory which does not commend itself to me. The modern legends of Pechts as builders of Glasgow Cathedral, for example, do not appear to prove such a late survival of a race known as Picts, but are on a level with the old Greek belief that the Cyclopes built Mycenæ (Testimony of Tradition, p. 72). Granting, for the sake of discussion,
that there were still Picts or Pechs in Galloway when Glasgow Cathedral was built (in the twelfth century), these wild Galloway men, scourges of the English Border, were the very last people to be employed as masons. The truth is that the recent Scotch have entirely forgotten the ages of mediæval art. Accustomed to the ill-built barns of a robbed and stinted Kirk, they looked on the. Cathedral as no work of ordinary human beings. It was a creation of the Pechts, as Mycenæ and Tiryns of the mighty walls were creations of the Cyclopes. By another coincidence, the well-known story of the last Pecht, who refuses to divulge the secret of the heather ale, is told in the Volsunga Saga, and in the Nibelungenlied, of the Last Niflung. Again, the breaking of a bar of iron, which he takes for a human arm, by the last Pecht is a tale current of the Drakos in modern Greece (see Chambers's Popular Traditions of Scotland for the last Pecht). I cannot believe that the historical Picts were a set of half-naked, dwarfish savages, hairy men living underground. These are the topics of Sir Arthur Wardour and Monkbarns. Mr. W. F. Skene may be said to have put the historic Picts in
their proper place as the ancestors of the Highlanders. The Pecht of legend answers to the Drakos and the Cyclopes: the beliefs about his habits may have been suggested by the tumuli, still more by the brochs: it seems less probable that they represent an historical memory. As to the Irish "Feens," the topic can only be discussed by Celtic scholars. But it does not follow, because the leader of the Feens seemed a dwarf among giants, that therefore his people were a dwarfish race. 1 The story proves no more than Gulliver's Travels.
Once more, we often read in the Sagas of a hero like Grettir, who opens a howe, has a conflict with a "barrow-wight," as Mr. Morris calls the "howe-dweller," and wins gold and weapons. But the dweller in the howe is often merely the able-bodied ghost of the Norseman, a known and named character, who is buried there; he is not a Pecht. Thus, as it seems to me, the Scotch and Celts possessed a theory of a legendary people, as did the Greeks. Whether any actual traditions of an earlier, perhaps a Finnish race, was at the bottom of the legend, is an obscure question, But, having such a
belief, the Scotch easily discovered homes for the fancied people in the sepulchral howes: they "combined their information." The Fairies, again, are composite creatures. As they came to births and christenings, and as Norse wise-wives (as in the Saga of Eric the Red) prophesied at festivals, Mr. MacRitchie combines his own information. The Wise-wife is a Finn woman, and Finn and Fairy amalgamate. But the Egyptians, as in the Tale of Two Brothers (Maspero, Contes Egyptiens), had their Hathors, who came and prophesied at births; the Greeks had their Mræ, as in the story of Meleager and the burning brand. The Hathors and Mræ play, in ancient Egypt and in ancient Greece, the part of Fairies at the christening, but surely they were not Finnish women! In short, though a memory of some old race may have mingled in the composite Fairy belief, this is at most but an element in the whole, and the part played by ancestral spirits, naturally earth-dwellers, is probably more important. Bishop Callaway has pointed out, in the preface to his Zulu Tales, that what the Highlanders say of the Fairies the Zulus say of "the Ancestors." In many ways, as when persons carried off to
[paragraph continues] Fairyland meet relations or friends lately deceased, who warn them, as Persephone and Steenie Steenson were warned, to eat no food in this place, Fairyland is clearly a memory of the pre-Christian Hades. There are other elements in the complex mass of Fairy tradition, but Chaucer knew "the Fairy Queen Proserpina," as Campion calls her, and it is plain that in very fact "the dread Persephone," the "Queen over death and the dead," had dwindled into the lady who borrows Tamlane in the ballad. Indeed Kirk mentions but does not approve of this explanation, "that those subterranean people are departed souls." Now, as was said, the dead are dwellers under earth. The worshippers of Chthonian Demeter (Achaia) beat the earth with wands; so does the Zulu sorcerer when he appeals to the Ancestors. And a Macdonald in Moidart, being pressed for his rent, beat the earth, and cried aloud to his dead chief, "Simon, hear me; you were always good to me." 1
xx:1 The Testimony of Tradition, p. 75.
xxii:1 In Father Macdonald's book on Moidart.