Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 


The following curious story reminds one a little of Slavic tales of dead men who dwell in their tombs as in houses. Some of the Slav tomb-dwellers are harmless, others malignant. The malignant ones are dead persons who rise up bodily and go around at night devouring people. When one of these has eaten a victim he rushes back to his grave, for he is obliged to remain wherever he may be at cock-crow; if outside his grave, he falls stiff and helpless to lie there till the next night. There are two ways of giving a quietus to such a ghoul. One is to pin him to the earth by driving a stake of aspen wood through his heart; the other is to burn him to ashes. The burning, as described in Russian tales, is performed by a great crowd of people armed with bushes, long brooms, shovels, and rakes. These gather round the fire to drive back everything that comes from the body. When the body is on the fire a short time it bursts, and a whole legion of devilry rush forth in the form of worms, snakes, bats, beetles, flies, birds; these try with all their might to get away. Each carries the fate of the ghoul with it. If only one of them escapes, the dead man will be eating people the next night as actively as ever, but if the crowd drive every thing into the fire again he will be destroyed utterly.
A striking trait in the Irish fairy tales is the number of observances caused by the presence of fairies, rules of ordinary living, so to speak. For instance, nothing is more pleasing to fairies than a well-swept kitchen and clean water. A dirty kitchen and foul water bring their resentment.
The ghosts or night-walking dead, as they belong to the other world, seem to have at least in some cases the same likes and dislikes as the fairies. in the following tale Michael Derrihy, the dead man brought from the tomb by Kate, kills the three brothers because the people in the house did not throw out dirty water and brought in none that was clean, and he is determined that they shall stay killed, for he tries to do away with the only cure that can bring them to life again. Various acts of personal uncleanliness involve punishment from the fairies, in one tale they carry off from a mother an infant which she fails to wash properly; in another a careless, untidy girl, who rises in the night and commits offensive acts in the kitchen, is punished in a signal manner. There is present a whole party of fairies; men and women, though unseen by the girl. One of the women, who is making tea, takes a saucer and hurls it at her as she is returning to bed. The saucer is broken; one half flies over the bed to the wall beyond, the other is buried in the girl's hip. She screams and wakes the whole house. No one can help her She is in bed for three years after that in great suffering. No relief for her till her mother, who had just earned the gratitude of the fairies by acts of service, prays to have her daughter cured.
The fairy woman tells how the daughter offended and how she was punished, says that if the mother will go to the wall she will find one half of the saucer there; if she applies that to the affected part of the daughter's body it will cure her. The mother does as directed. One half of the saucer comes out of the hip to join the other, and the girl is cured straightway.
When the fairies are maltreated or despised they take ample vengeance; they punish severely. They are generous in a like degree for services or acts of kindness. So far as fairy methods of action are revealed to us in tales and popular beliefs, they constitute a system of rewards and punishments regulating the intercourse between this world and another. They are parts of an early religion in which material services are rewarded by material benefits, and in which conduct bordering upon morality is inculcated.
The ghosts, mainly malignant and nearly all women, are represented as partly under fairy rules and partly under Church punishment. Their position is not fixed so definitely.

Next: The Blood-Drawing Ghost