Piety as a Protection from the Seductions of the Tylwyth Teg
Various Exorcisms--Cock-crowing--The Name of God--Fencing off the Fairies--Old Betty Griffith and her Eikthin Barricade--Means of getting Rid of the Tylwyth Teg--The Bwbach of the Hendrefawr Farm--The Pwca'r Trwyn's Flitting in a Jug of Barm
THE extreme piety of his daily walk and conversation may have been held as an explanation why the Prophet Jones saw so few goblins himself, and consequently why most of his stories of the fairies are related as coming from other people. The value of a general habit of piety, as a means of being rid of fairies, has already been mentioned. The more worldly exorcisms, such as the production of a black-handled knife, or the turning one's coat wrong side out, are passed over by the Prophet as trivial; but by the student of comparative folk-lore, they are not deemed unimportant The last-mentioned exorcism, by the way, is current among the Southern negroes of the United States. The more spiritual exorcisms are not less interesting than the others, however. First among these is ranked the pronunciation of God's name; but the crowing of a cock is respectfully mentioned, in connection with the story of our Saviour. Jones gives many accounts which terminate in the manner of the following: Rees John Rosser, born at Hendy, in the parish of Llanhiddel, a very religious young man,' went one morning very early to feed the oxen in a barn called Ysgubor y LIan, and having fed them lay himself upon the hay to rest. While he lay there he heard the sound of music approaching, and presently a large company of fairies came into the barn. They wore striped clothes, some in gayer colours than the others, but all very gay; and they all danced to the music. He lay there as quiet as he could, thinking they would not see him, but he was espied by one of them, a woman, who brought a striped cushion with four tassels, one at each corner of it, and put it under his head. After some time the cock crew at the house of Blaen y Cwm, hard by, upon which they appeared as if they were surprised and displeased; the cushion was hastily whisked from under his head, and the fairies vanished. ' The spirits of darkness do not like the crowing of the cock, because it gives notice of the approach of day, for they love darkness rather than light ... And it hath been several times observed that these fairies cannot endure to hear the name of God.' A modern Welsh preacher (but one whose opinions contrast most decidedly with those of Jones) observes: 'The cock is wonderfully well versed in the circumstances of the children of Adam; his shrill voice at dawn of day is sufficient intimation to every spirit, coblyn, wraith, elf, bwci, and apparition to flee into their illusive country for their lives, before the light of day will show them to be an empty nothingness, and bring them to shame and reproach.' [Rev. Robert Ellis, in 'Manion Hynafiaethol' (Treherbert, 1873.) Shakspeare introduces this superstition in Hamlet:
Ber. It was about to speak, when the cock crew.
Hor.. And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons.
['Hamlet,' Act I., Sc. I]
But the opinion that spirits fly away at cock-crow is of extreme antiquity. It is mentioned by the Christian poet Prudentius (fourth century) as a tradition of common belief. [Brad, ' Popular Antiquities,' ii., 31] As for the effect of the name of God as an exorcism, we still encounter this superstition, a living thing in our own day, and in every land where modern 'spiritualism' finds believers. The mischief produced at 'spiritual séances' by 'bad spirits' is well-known to those who have paid any attention to this subject. The late Mr. FitzHugh Ludlow once related to me, with dramatic fervour, the result of his attempts to exorcise a bad spirit which was in possession of a female 'medium,' by trying to make her pronounce the name of Christ. She stumbled and stammered over this test in a most embarrassing way, and finally emerged from her trance with the holy name unspoken; the bad spirit had fled. This was in New York, in 1867. Like many others who assert their unbelief in spiritualism, Mr. Ludlow was intensely impressed by this phenomenon.
Students of comparative folklore class all such manifestations under a common head, whether related of fairies or spirit mediums. They trace their origin to the same source whence come the notions of propitiating the fairies by euphemistic names. The use of such names as Jehovah, the Almighty, the Supreme Being, etc., for the terrible and avenging God of the Jewish theology, being originally an endeavour to avoid pronouncing the name of God, it is easy to see the connection with the exorcising power of that name upon all evil spirits, such as fairies are usually held to be. Here also, it is thought, is presented the ultimate source of that horror of profane language which prevails among the Puritanic peoples of England and America. The name of the devil is similarly provided with euphemisms, some of which--such as the Old Boy--are not of a sort to offend that personage's ears and until recently the word devil was deemed almost as offensive as the word God, when profanely used.
A popular protection from the encroachments of fairies is the eithin, or prickly furze, common in Wales. It is believed that the fairies cannot penetrate a fence or hedge composed of this thorny shrub. An account illustrating this, and otherwise curious in its details, was given in 1871 by a prominent resident of Anglesea:[Hon. W.O. Stanley, in 'Notes and Queries'] 'One day, some thirty years ago, Mrs. Stanley went to one of the old houses to see an old woman she often visited. It was a wretched hovel so unusually dark when she opened the door, that she called to old Betty Griffith, but getting no answer she entered the room. A little tiny window of one pane of glass at the further side of the room gave a feeble light. A few cinders alight in the miserable grate also gave a glimmer of light, which enabled her to see where the bed used to be, in a recess. To her surprise she saw it entirely shut out by a barricade of thick gorse, so closely packed and piled up that no bed was to be seen. Again she called Betty Griffith no response came. She looked round the wretched room the only symptom of life was a plant of the Wandering Jew (Saxifraga tricolor), so called by the poor people, and clearly loved to grace their windows. It was planted in a broken jar or teapot on the window, trailing its long tendrils around, with here and there a new formed plant seeming to derive sustenance from the air alone. As she stood, struck with the miserable poverty of the human abode, a faint sigh came from behind the gorse. She went close and said, "Betty, where are you?"--Betty instantly recognised her voice, and ventured to turn herself round from the wall. Mrs. Stanley then made a small opening in the gorse barricade, which sadly pricked her fingers; she saw Betty in her bed and asked her, "Are you not well? are you cold, that you are so closed up?" "Cold! no. It is not cold, Mrs. Stanley; it is the Tylwyth Teg; they never will leave me alone, there they sit making faces at me, and trying to come to me. "Indeed! oh how I should like to see them, Betty." "Like to see them, is it? Oh, don't say so." "Oh but Betty, they must be so pretty and good." "Good? they are not good." By this time the old woman got excited, and Mrs. Stanley knew she should hear more from her about the fairies, so she said, "Well, I will go out; they never will come if I am here." Old Betty replied sharply, "No, do not go. You must not leave me. I will tell you all about them. Ah! they come and plague me sadly. If I am up they will sit upon the table; they turn my milk sour and spill my tea; then they will not leave me at peace in my bed, but come all round me and mock at me." "But Betty, tell me what is all this gorse for? It must have been great trouble for you to make it all so close." "Is it not to keep them off? They cannot get through this, it pricks them so bad, and then I get some rest." So she replaced the gorse and left old Betty Griffith happy in her device for getting rid of the Tylwyth Teg.'
A common means of getting rid of the fairies is to change one's place of residence; the fair folk will not abide in a house which passes into new hands. A story is told of a Merionethshire farmer who, being tormented beyond endurance by a Bwbach of a mischievous turn, reluctantly resolved to flit. But first consulting a wise woman at Dolgelly, he was advised to make a pretended flitting, which would have the same effect; he need only give out that he was going to move over the border into England, and then get together his cattle and his household goods, and set out for a day's drive around the Arenig. The fairy would surely quit the house when the fanner should quit it, and especially would it quit the premises of a born Cymro who avowed his purpose of settling in the foreign laud of the Sais. So then lie could come back to his house by another route, and lie would find the obnoxious Bwbach gone. The farmer did as he was told, and set out upon his journey, driving his cattle and sheep before him, and leading the cart upon which his furniture was piled, while his wife and children trudged behind. When he reached Rhyd-y-Fen, a ford so called from this legend, they met a neighbour, who exclaimed, 'Holo, Dewi, are you leaving us for good?' Before the farmer could answer there was a shrill cry from inside the churn on the cart, ' Yes, yes, we are flitting from Hendrefawr to Eingl-dud, where we've got a new home.' It was the Bwbach that spoke. He was flitting with the household gods, and the farmer's little plan to be rid of him was a complete failure. The good man sighed as he turned his horses about and went back to Hendrefawr by the same road he had come.
The famous Pwca of the Trwyn Farm, in Mynyddyslwyn parish, came there from his first abode, at Pantygasseg, in a jug of barm. One of the farm-servants brought the jug to Pantygasseg, and as she was being served with the barm in the jug, the Pwca was heard to say, 'The Pwca is going away now in this jug of barm, and he'll never come back;' and he was never heard at Pantygasseg again. Another story tells that a servant let fall a ball of yarn, over the ledge of the hill whose base is washed by the two fishponds between Hafod-yr-Ynys and Pontypool, and the Pwca said, 'I am going in this ball, and I'll go to the Trwyn, and never come back,'--and directly the ball was seen to roll down the hill-side, and across the valley, ascending the hill on the other side, and trundling along briskly across the mountain top to its new abode.