Sacred Texts  Legends & Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

p. xxiii


Thus, to my mind at least, the Subterranean Inhabitants of Mr. Kirk's book are not so much a traditional recollection of a real dwarfish race living underground (a hypothesis of Sir Walter Scott's), as a lingering memory of the Chthonian beings, "the Ancestors." A good case in point is that of Bessie Dunlop, of Dalry, in Ayrshire, tried on 8th November 1576 for witchcraft. She dealt in medicine and white magic, and obtained her prescriptions from Thomas Reid, slain at Pinkie fight (1547), who often appeared to her, and tried to lead her off to Fairyland. She, like Alison Pearson, was "convict and burnt" (Scott's Demonology, p. 146, and Pitcairn's Criminal Trials). Both ladies knew the Fairy Queen, and Alison Pearson beheld Maitland of Lethington, and Buccleugh, in Fairyland, as is recounted in a rhymed satire on Archbishop Adamson (Dalzell's Scottish Poems, p. 321). These are excellent proofs that Fairyland was a kind of Hades, or home of the dead.

Mr. Kirk, who speaks of the Sleagh Maith as confidently as if he were discussing the habits of some remote race which he has visited, credits

p. xxiv

them, as the Greek gods were credited, with the power of nourishing themselves on some fine essential part of human sacrifice, of human food, "some fine spirituous Liquors, that peirce like pure Air and Oil, on the poyson or substance of Corns and Liquors." Others, more gross, steal the actual grain, "as do Crowes and Mice." They are heard hammering in the howes: as Brownies they enter houses and cleanse the hearths. They are the Domovoys, as the Russians call them. John Major, in his exposition of St. Matthew (1518, fol. xlviii.), gives perhaps the oldest account of Brownies, in a believing temper. Major styles them Fauni or brobne. They thrash as much grain in one night as twenty men could do. They throw stones about among people sitting by the fire. Whether they can predict future events is doubtful (see Mr. Constable in Major's Greater Britain, p. xxx. Edinburgh, 1892). To us they seem not much remote from the Roman Lares--spirits of the household, of the hearth. In all these creatures Mr. Kirk recognises "an abstruse People," who were before our more substantial race, whose furrows are still to be seen on the hill-tops. They never were, to his mind, plain palpable

p. xxv

folk; they are only visible, in their quarterly flittings, to men of the second sight. That gift of vision includes not only power to see distant or future events, but the viewless forms of air. To shun the flittings, men visit church on the first Sunday of the quarter: then they will be hallowed against elf-shots, "these Arrows that fly in the dark." As is well known, superstition explained the Neolithic arrow-heads as Fairy weapons; it does not follow that a tradition of a Neolithic people suggested the belief in Fairies. But we cannot deny absolutely that some such memory of an earlier race, a shy and fugitive people who used weapons of stone, may conceivably play its part in the Fairy legend.

Thence Mr. Kirk glides into that singular theory of savage metaphysics which somewhat resembles the Platonic doctrine of Ideas. All things, in Red Indian belief, have somewhere their ideal counterpart or "Father." Thus a donkey, when first seen, was regarded as "the Father" or archetype "of Rabbits." Now the second-sighted behold the "Double-man," "Doppel-ganger," "Astral Body," "Wraith," or what you will, of a living person, and that is merely his counterpart in the abstruse world. The

p. xxvi

industry of the Psychical Society has collected much material--evidence, whatever its value, for the existence of the Double-man. We may call it a hallucination, which does not greatly increase our knowledge. From personal experience, and the experience of friends, I am constrained to believe that we may think we see a person who is not really present to the view--who may be in the next room, or downstairs, or a hundred miles off. This experience has occurred to the sane, the unimaginative, the healthy, the free from superstition, and in circumstances by no means mystic--for example, when the person supposed to be seen was not dying, nor distressed, nor in any but the most normal condition. Indeed, the cases when there was nothing abnormal in the state of the person seen are far more numerous, in my personal knowledge, than those in which the person seen was dying, or dead, or excited. The reverse appears to be the rule in the experience of the Psychical Society. "The actual proportion of coincidental to non-coincidental cases, after all deduction for possible sources of error, was in fact such that the probability against the supposition of chance coincidence became enormous, on the assumption of

p. xxvii

ordinary accuracy on the part of informants" (Professor Sidgwick, Proc. S. P. R., vol. viii. p. 607). Some 17,000 answers were collected. We must apparently accept these facts as not very abnormal nor very unusual, and doubtless as capable of some subjective explanation. But when such things occurred among imaginative and uneducated Highlanders, they became foundations and proofs of the doctrine of second sight--proofs, too, of the primitive metaphysical doctrine of counterparts and correspondences. "They avouch that every Element and different state of Being have Animals resembling these of another Element." By persons not knowing this, "the Roman invention of guardian Angels particularly assigned" has been promulgated. The guardian Angel of the Roman superstition is merely the Double or Co-walker--the type (in the viewless world) of the man in the apparent world. Thus are wraiths and ghosts explained by our Presbyterian psychologist and his Highland flock. All things universally have their types, their reflex: a man's type, or reflex, or "co-walker" may be seen at a distance from or near him during his life--nay, may be seen after his death. The gifted man of

p. xxviii

second sight can tell the substantial figure from the airy counterpart. Sometimes the reflex anticipates the action of the reality: "was often seen of old to enter a House, by which the people knew that the Person of that Likeness was to visit them in a few days." It may have occurred to most of us to meet a person in the street whom we took for an acquaintance. It is not he, but we meet the real man a few paces farther on. Thus a distinguished officer, at home on leave, met a friend, as he tells me, in Piccadilly. The other passed without notice: the officer hesitated about following him, did not, and in some fifty yards met his man. There is probably no more in this than resemblance and coincidence, but this is the kind of thing which was worked by the Highlanders into their metaphysics. 1

The end of the Co-walker is obscure. "This

p. xxix

Copy, Echo, or living Picture goes att last to his own Herd." Thus Ghosts are short-lived, and, according to M. d'Assier on the Manners of Posthumous Man (L'Homme Posthume), seldom survive for more than a century. By an airy being of this kind the Highlanders explained the false or morbid appetite. A "joint-eater" inhabited the patient, "he feeds two when he eats." As a rule, the Fairies get their food as witches do--take "the Pith and Milk from their Neighbours' Cows unto their own chiesehold, throw a Hair-tedder, at a great distance, by Airt Magic, only drawing a spigot fastened in a Post, which, will bring Milk as farr as a Bull will be heard to roar." This is illustrated in the drinking scene in Faust. This kind of charge is familiar in trials for witchcraft.

In accordance with the whole metaphysics of the system of doubles, which are parasites on humanity, is the superstition of nurses stolen by Fairies, and of children kidnapped while changelings are left in their place. The latter accounts for sudden decline and loss of health by a child; he is not the original child, but a Fairy brat. To guard against this, bread (as human food hateful to Fairies--so the Kanekas carry a boiled

p. xxx

yam about at night), or the Bible, or iron is placed in the bed of childbirth. "Iron scares spirits," as the scholiast says of the drawn sword of Odysseus in Hades. The Fairy bride, in Wales, vanishes on being touched with iron.

This belief probably came in when iron was a new, rare, and mysterious metal. The mortal nurses in Fairyland are pleasantly illustrated by the ballad

"I heard a cow lows,
A bonny, bonny cow lowe,"

in C. Kirkpatrick Sharpe's Ballad Book1 This part of the superstition is not easy to elucidate. Kirk repeats the well-known tales of the blinding of the mortal who saw too clearly "by making use of their Oyntments." Well-known examples occur in Gervase of Tilbury, and are cited in Scott's note on Tamlane in the Border Minstrelsy. As Homer fables of the dead, their speech is a kind of whistling like the cry of bats--another indication of the pre-Christian Hades. 2 They have feasts and burials; and Pashley, in his Travels in Crete, tells the well-known Border story of a man who fired on a

p. xxxi

[paragraph continues] Fairy bridal, and heard a voice cry, "Ye have slain the bonny bridegroom." It is, of course, to be noted that the modern Greek superstition of the Nereids, who carry off mortal girls to dance with them till they pine away, answers to some of our Fairy legends, while it will hardly be maintained that the Nereids are a memory of pre-historic Finns. "Antic corybantic jollity" is a note of Nereids, as well as of the Sleagh Maith. "The Inconvenience of their succubi," the Fairy girls who make love to young men, is well known in the Breton ballad, Le Sieur Nan. The same superstition is current among the Kanekas of New Caledonia. My cousin, Mr. Atkinson, was visited by a young Kaneka, who twice or thrice returned to take leave of him with much emotion. When Mr. Atkinson asked what was the matter, the lad said that he had just met, as he thought, the girl of his heart in the forest. After a scene of dalliance she vanished, and he knew that she was a forest Fairy, and that he must die in three days, which he did. This is the "inconvenience of their succubi," regretted by Mr. Kirk. Thus it appears that the mass of these opinions is not local, nor Celtic merely, but of world-wide

p. xxxii

diffusion. Thus Sir Walter Scott observes of the Afghans and Highlanders, "Their superstitions are the same, or nearly so. The Gholée Beabacan (demons of the desert) resemble the Boddach of the Highlanders, 'who walked the heath at midnight and at noon'" (Quarterly Review, xiv. 289). Again, Mr. Kirk says that "Were-wolves and Witches' true Bodies are (by the union of the spirit of Nature that runs thorow all, echoing and doubling the Blow towards another) wounded at home, when the astrial or assumed Bodies are stricken elsewhere." Thus, if a witch-hare is shot, the witch's real body is hurt in the same part; and Lafitau, in North America, found that when a Huron shot a witch-bird, the real magician was stricken in the same place. The theory that the Fairies appear as "a little rough Dog" is illustrated by the Welsh Dogs of Hell. Blackwood's Magazine for 1818 contains many examples of these Hell-dogs, which are often invested in a sheet of fire, as Rink says is the case among the Eskimo. Take a modern instance. "Mr. F. A. Paley and friend, walking home at night on a lonely road, see a large black dog rise from it, slowly walk to the side, and disappear. They search in vain. Mr. Paley

p. xxxiii

hears subsequently that this mysterious dog is the terror of the neighbourhood, but no such real dog is known." Date, summer 1837 (Journ. of S. P. R., Feb. 1893, p. 31).

The dwellings of these airy shadows of mankind are, naturally, "Fairie Hills." There is such a hill, the Fairy Hill at Aberfoyle, where Mr. Kirk resided: Baillie Nicol Jarvie describes its legends in an admirable passage in Rob Roy. Mr. MacRitchie says, "How much of this 'howe' is artificial, or whether any of it is, remains to be discovered." It is much larger than most artificial tumuli. According to Mr. Kirk, the Highlanders "superstitiously believe the souls of their Predecessors to dwell" in the fairy-hills. "And for that end, say they, a Mote or Mount was dedicate beside every Churchyard, to receive the souls till their adjacent bodies arise, and so become as a Fairy hill." Here the Highland philosophers have conspicuously put the cart before the horse. The tumuli are much older than the churches, which were no doubt built beside them because the place had a sacred character. Two very good examples may be seen at Dalry, on the Ken, in Galloway, and at Parton, on Loch Ken. The grassy howes are

p. xxxiv

large and symmetrical, and the modern Presbyterian churches occupy old sites; at Parton there are ruins of the ancient Catholic church. Round the tumulus at Dalry, according to the local form of the Märchen of Hesione, a great dragon used to coil in triple folds, before it was killed by the blacksmith. Nobody, perhaps, can regard these tumuli, and many like them, as anything but sepulchral. On the road between Balantrae, in Ayrshire, and Stranraer, there is a beautiful tumulus above the sea, which at once recalls the barrow above the main that Elpenor in the Odyssey, asked Odysseus to build for him, "the memorial of a luckless man." In the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius, the ghost of a hero who fell at Troy appears to the adventurers on a tumulus like this of the Ayrshire coast. In speaking of these barrows Mr. Kirk tells how, during a famine about 1676, two women had a vision of a treasure hid in a fairy-hill. This they excavated, and discovered some coins "of good money." The great gold corslet of the British Museum is said to have been found in Wales, where tradition spoke of a ghost in golden armour which haunted a hillock. The hillock was excavated, and the golden corslet,

p. xxxv

like the Shakespearian bricks, is "alive to testify" to the truth of the story.


xxviii:1 A much odder case is reported. Two young men photographed a reach of a river. In the photograph, when printed, was visible the dead body of a woman floating on the stream. The water was dragged. Nothing was found; but two or three days later a girl drowned herself in the pool! As the Reports of the Psychical Society sometimes say, "no confirmation has been obtained;" but this is a pleasing instance of the Reflex, and of second sight in a photographic camera.

xxx:1 It is also published in Mrs. Graham Tomson's Border Ballads (Walter Scott).

xxx:2 Note ( b), p. 81.

Next: V. Fairies and Psychical Research