THE SCOTISH LOWLANDS
When from their hilly dens, at midnight hour,
Forth rush the airy elves in mimic state,
And o'er the moonlight heath with swiftness scour,
In glittering arms the little horsemen shine.
THE Scottish Fairies scarcely differ in any essential point from those of England. Like them they are divided into the rural and the domestic. Their attire is green, their residence the interior of the hills. They appear more attached than their neighbours to the monarchical form of government, for the Fairy king and queen, who seem in England to have been known only by the poets, were recognised by law in Caledonia, and have at all times held a place in the popular creed. They would appear also to be more mischievously inclned than the Southrons, and less addicted to the practice of dancing. They have, however, had the advantage of not being treated with contempt and neglect by their human countrymen, and may well be proud of the attention shown them by the brightest genius of which their country can boast. There has also been long due from them an acknowledgment of the distinction conferred on them by the editor of the Nithsdale and Galloway Song, [a] for the very fanciful manner in which he has described their attributes and acts.
The Scottish Fairies have never been taken by the poets for their heroes or machinery, a circumstance probably to be attributed to the sterner character of Scottish religion. We cannot, therefore, as in England, make a distinction between popular and poetic fairies.
The earliest notice we have met with of the Fairies is in Montgomery's Flyting against Polwart, where he says,
In the hinder end of harvest, at All-hallowe'en,
When our good neighbours [b] dois ride, if I read right,
Some buckled on a beenwand, and some on a been,
Ay trottand in troops from the twilight;
Some saidled on a she-ape all graithed in green,
Some hobland on a hempstalk hovand to the sight;
The king of Phairie and his court, with the elf-queen,
With many elfish incubus, was ridand that night.
Elf-land was the name of the realm ruled by the king of Phairie. King James [c] speaks of him and his queen, and "of sic a jolie court and traine as they had; how they had a teinde and a dewtie, as it were, of all guidis; how they naturally raid and yeid, eat and drank, and did all other actions lyke natural men and women. I think," concludes the monarch, "it is lyker Virgilis Campi Elysii nor anything that ought to be believed by Christianis." And one of the interlocutors in his dialogue asks how it was that witches have gone to death confessing that they had been "transported with the Phairie to such and such a hill, which, opening, they went in, and there saw a faire queene, who, being now lighter, gave them a stone which had sundry virtues."
According to Mr. Cromek, who, however, rather sedulously keeps their darker attributes out of view, and paints everything relating to them couleur de rose, the Lowland Fairies are of small stature, but finely proportioned; of a fair complexion, with long yellow hair hanging over their shoulders, and gathered above their heads with combs of gold. They wear a mantle of green cloth, inlaid with wild flowers; green pantaloons, buttoned with bobs of silk; and silver shoon. They carry quivers of "adder-slough," and bows made of the ribs of a man buried where three lairds' lands meet; their arrows are made of bog-reed, tipped with white flints, and dipped in the dew of hemlock; they ride on steeds whose hoofs "would not dash the dew from the cup of a harebell." With their arrows they shoot the cattle of those who offend them; the wound is imperceptible to common eyes, but there are gifted personages who can discern and cure it. [d]
In their intercourse with mankind they are frequently kind and generous. A young man of Nithsdale, when out on a love affair, heard most delicious music, far surpassing the utterance of 'any mortal mixture of earth's mould.' Courageously advancing to the spot whence the sound appeared to proceed, he suddenly found himself the spectator of a Fairy-banquet. A green table with feet of gold, was laid across a small rivulet, and supplied with the finest of bread and the richest of wines. The music proceeded from instruments formed of reeds and stalks of corn. He was invited to partake in the dance, and presented with a cup of wine. He was allowed to depart in safety, and ever after possessed the gift of second sight. He said he saw there several of his former acquaintances, who were become members of the Fairy society.
We give the following legend on account of its great similarity to a Swiss tradition already quoted:--
Two lads were ploughing in a field, in the middle of which was an old thorn-tree, a trysting place of the Fairy-folk. One of them described a circle round the thorn, within which the plough should not go. They were surprised, on ending the furrow, to behold a green table placed there, heaped up with excellent bread and cheese, and even wine. The lad who had drawn the circle sat down without hesitation, ate and drank heartily, saying, "Fair fa' the hands whilk gie." His companion whipped on the horses, refusing to partake of the Fairy-food. The other, said Mr. Cromek's informant, "thrave like a breckan," and was a proverb for wisdom, and an oracle for country knowledge ever after. [e]
The Fairies lend and borrow, and it is counted uncanny to refuse them. A young woman was one day sifting meal warm from the mill, when a nicely dressed beautiful little woman came to her with a bowl of antique form, and requested the loan of as much meal as would fill it. Her request was complied with, and in a week she returned to make repayment. She set down the bowl and breathed over it, saying, "Be never toom." The woman lived to a great age, but never saw the bottom of the bowl.
Another woman was returning late one night from a gossiping. A pretty little boy came up to her and said, "Coupe yere dish-water farther frae yere door-step, it pits out our fire." She complied with this reasonable request, and prospered ever after.
[a] Mr. Cromek. There was, we believe, some false dealing on the pert of Allan Cunningham toward this gentleman, such as palming on him his owe verses as traditionary ones. But the legends are genuine.
[b] This answers to the Deenè Máh, Good People, of the Highlands and Ireland. An old Scottish name, we may add, for a fairy seems to have been Bogle, akin to the English Pouke, Puck, Puckle but differing from the Boggart. Thus Gawain Douglas says,
Of Brownyis and of Boggles full is this Beuk.
[c] Daemonologie, B. III. c. 5.
[d] These elf-arrows are triangular pieces of flint, supposed to have been the herds of the arrows used by the aborigines. Though more plentiful in Scotland they are also found in England and Ireland, and were there also attached to the fairies, and the wounds were also only to be discerned by gifted eyes
[e] "It was till lately believed by the ploughmen of Clydesdale, that if they repeated the rhyme
Fairy, fairy, bake me a bannock and roast me a collop,
And I'll gie ye a spurtle oft' my gadend!
three several times on turning their cattle at the terminations of ridges, they would find the said fare prepared for them on reaching the end of the fourth furrow."--Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland, p. 83.