Fairy Visits To Human Abodes
Category: FAIRY MOTHERS AND HUMAN MIDWIVES.
Old people often told their children and servant girls, that one
condition of the Fairy visits to their houses was cleanliness. They were
always instructed to keep the fire place tidy and the floor well swept,
the pails filled with water, and to make everything bright and nice
before going to bed, and that then, perhaps, the Fairies would come into
the house to dance and sing until the morning, and leave on the hearth
stone a piece of money as a reward behind them. But should the house be
dirty, never would the Fairies enter it to hold their nightly revels,
unless, forsooth, they came to punish the slatternly servant. Such was
the popular opinion, and it must have acted as an incentive to order and
cleanliness. These ideas have found expression in song.
A writer in Yr Hynafion Cymreig, p. 153, sings thus of the place loved
by the Fairies:--
Ysgafn ddrws pren, llawr glan dan nen,
A'r aelwyd wen yn wir,
Tan golau draw, y dwr gerllaw,
Yn siriaw'r cylchgrwn clir.
A light door, and clean white floor,
And hearth-stone bright indeed,
A burning fire, and water near,
Supplies our every need.
In a ballad, entitled The Fairy Queen, in Percy's Reliques of Ancient
English Poetry, Nichols's edition, vol. iii., p. 172, are stanzas
similar to the Welsh verse given above, which also partially embody the
Welsh opinions of Fairy visits to their houses. Thus chants the Fairy
When mortals are at rest,
And snoring in their nest,
Unheard, and un-espy'd,
Through key-holes we do glide;
Over tables, stools, and shelves,
We trip it with our Fairy elves.
And, if the house be foul
With platter, dish, or bowl,
Upstairs we nimbly creep,
And find the sluts asleep:
There we pinch their arms and thighs;
None escapes, nor none espies.
But if the house be swept
And from uncleanness kept,
We praise the household maid,
And duely she is paid:
For we use before we goe
To drop a tester in her shoe.
It was not for the sake of mirth only that the Fairies entered human
abodes, but for the performance of more mundane duties, such as making
oatmeal cakes. The Rev. R. Jones, Rector of Llanycil, told me a story,
current in his native parish, Llanfrothen, Merionethshire, to the effect
that a Fairy woman who had spent the night in baking cakes in a farm
house forgot on leaving to take with her the wooden utensil used in
turning the cakes on the bake stone; so she returned, and failing to
discover the lost article bewailed her loss in these words, Mi gollais
fy mhig, I have lost my shovel. The people got up and searched for
the lost implement, and found it, and gave it to the Fairy, who departed
with it in her possession.
Another reason why the Fairies frequented human abodes was to wash and
tidy their children. In the Gors Goch legend, already given, is recorded
this cause of their visits. Many like stories are extant. It is said
that the nightly visitors expected water to be provided for them, and if
this were not the case they resented the slight thus shown them and
punished those who neglected paying attention to their wants. But
tradition says the house-wives were ever careful of the Fairy wants; and,
as it was believed that Fairy mothers preferred using the same water in
which human children had been washed, the human mother left this water in
the bowl for their special use.
In Scotland, also, Fairies were propitiated by attention being paid to
their wants. Thus in Allan Cunningham's Traditional Tales, p. 11, it
is said of Ezra Peden:--He rebuked a venerable dame, during three
successive Sundays for placing a cream bowl and new-baked cake in the
paths of the nocturnal elves, who, she imagined, had plotted to steal her
grandson from the mother's bosom.
But in the traditions of the Isle of Man we obtain the exact counterpart
of Welsh legends respecting the Fairies visiting houses to wash
themselves. I will give the following quotation from Brand, vol. ii.,
p. 494, on this point:--
The Manks confidently assert that the first inhabitants of their island
were Fairies, and that these little people have still their residence
among them. They call them the good people, and say they live in wilds
and forests, and on mountains, and shun great cities because of the
wickedness acted therein. All the houses are blessed where they visit
for they fly vice. A person would be thought impudently profane who
should suffer his family to go to bed without having first set a tub, or
pail full of clean water for the guests to bathe themselves in, which the
natives aver they constantly do, as soon as the eyes of the family are
closed, wherever they vouchsafe to come.
Several instances have already been given of the intercourse of Fairies
with mortals. In some parts of Wales it is or was thought that they were
even so familiar as to borrow from men. I will give one such tale, taken
from the North Wales Chronicle of March 19th, 1887.
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