Elves in Scotland: Dwellings and Mode of Life

By Thomas Crofton Croker

The Elves are a sociable tribe, passionately fond of pleasure and amusements. They rarely live together in pairs, but wander about in companies; and each has a distinct dwelling or place of abode, where they all assemble according to circumstances, and which is called Tomhan, or Shian.

These dwellings are generally in the caves and precipices of wild and lonesome places; they are built of stone, in the form of irregular towers, and so strong and durable as to resemble pieces of rock, or mounds of earth. The doors, windows, and chimneys are so skilfully concealed, that the naked eye cannot see them in the day-time, but in the night they are discovered by the bright light which issues from them.

In Perthshire they inhabit round and verdant hills, on which they dance by the light of the moon. Not far from Lochcon is a place called Coirshian, to which they are particularly attached; near it are conical elevations, especially one above Lake Katrine, which many persons are afraid to pass after sun-set.

People sometimes discover traces of them in circles, which are sometimes yellow and trodden down, sometimes of a dark green colour: in these it is dangerous to sleep or to be found after sun-set.

Joy and mirth reign in such assemblies of the fairies; for they are particularly fond of dancing, and it is one of their chief occupations. The most delightful music accompanies them.

But, in spite of all this gaiety, the fairies are jealous of the more pure and perfect happiness of man; and there is always a gloom and anxiety in their secret pleasures, as well as something false or merely illusive in the splendour of their Shians. If not absolutely malicious, they are yet peevish and envious beings. The Highlanders do not like to speak of them, especially on a Friday, when their power is said to be particularly great: and as they can be invisibly present, they are never mentioned but with much respect.

Sometimes, too, they ride invisibly in a large body, when the ringing of their bridles betrays their presence. On these occasions they often take the horses out of people’s stables, which are found in the morning fatigued and panting, their manes and tails in disorder. Their own horses are generally as white as snow.

From Fairy legends and traditions of the South of Ireland, part III., by Thomas Crofton Croker.
London: John Murray, 1828.

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