Elves in Scotland: Spiteful Tricks
Necessity does not impel the fairies to rob mankind in secret and with cunning, but a natural inclination seems to actuate them. The whirlwind is not the only artifice of which they avail themselves to steal any object; they resort to others more pernicious, and cause misfortunes, such as conflagrations, in order to derive advantage from them.
A female fairy, who lived in the towers of Craig-ail-naic, begged a farmer’s wife, in Delnabo, for a little oatmeal, for her family; promising to return it shortly, as she should soon have a large supply of it herself. The woman being afraid, granted the request of the Elf, and, according to custom, treated her with some liquor, and bread and cheese, and offered to accompany her on the road. As they were going up an eminence above the town, the Banshee stopped, and with evident satisfaction told the woman that she might take her meal home again, she having now obtained the expected supply. The woman, without asking the Elf where she had procured it, took back her own with pleasure, and returned home. But how great was her surprise, when in a few minutes after she beheld the granary of a neighbouring farm in flames.
A farmer, who held the farm of Auchriachan of Strathavon, was one day looking after his goats on a distant hill in Glenlivat, when a thick fog concealed the road, and confused his senses. Every stone was, in his eyes, as large as a mountain; every little brook seemed to flow in an opposite direction, and the poor wanderer gave up all hopes of ever again reaching his own home. As the night was closing in, he sat down quite exhausted, and expecting his end, when he saw the glimmering of a faint light. At the sight he seemed to acquire fresh strength; he arose and went towards it; when he came up with the light, he found that it was a wild and savage place, where human foot had probably never trod; still he took courage, and advanced towards an open door.
But how did his resolution fail him when he met an old female friend, whose corpse he had lately accompanied to the grave, and who appeared here to discharge the office of housekeeper! She instantly ran up to him, and told him that he would be a lost man if he did not hide himself in a corner, where he must continue till he could find an opportunity for flight. He took her advice. Scarcely had he concealed himself, when an innumerable assemblage of Fairies, who seemed to have returned from some important expedition, came in very hungry, and called out for food. “What have we to eat?” said they.
Then replied a cunning looking old Elf, who was sitting at the fire: “You all know and hate the miserly old fellow of Auchriachan, mean and avaricious as he is; he lets nothing come to us, and even deprives us of our due. From his old grandmother, the witch, he has learnt to protect every thing by a charm, and we can’t even glean upon his fields, much less touch the crop. To-night he is from home, as he is seeking his goats, our allies,” (for goats are said to have a good understanding with the Elves, and to possess more cunning than appears at first sight); “his careless people have never thought of taking any precautions, and we can now dispose, at our pleasure, of all his property; come along, and let us fetch his favourite ox for our supper!”
“Agreed!” exclaimed all with one voice, “Thomas Rymer is right; the farmer of Auchriachan is a miserable wretch, we will have his ox!” “But where shall we get bread?” said another gray-haired Elf. “We’ll also take his new-baked bread,” cried the sage counsellor; “he is a poor old creature, and his wife has forgotten to mark the sign of the cross upon the first loaf.” The unhappy man overheard all this in his corner, and had besides the mortification to see his ox brought in and killed.
While all were busy in preparing the meat, the old woman found an opportunity to let him escape. When he got out the fog was dispersed, the stones appeared in their proper shape, and the moon shone so brightly that he found his way home without any difficulty. His family were overjoyed to see him; and his wife, who thought that he must be hungry, brought some milk and new bread, and invited him to partake of it; but he would not touch it, knowing that the bread was not real bread, but only a shameful illusion. He inquired after his ox, and whether it had been, as usual, protected against evil influence? “Ah, no! dear father! in our great anxiety for you, I forgot it.”
“Alas!” cried the disconsolate farmer, “my favourite ox is gone!” “How?” said the son, “I saw it only two hours ago.” “That was only a false substitute of the Fairies; bring it hither quickly, that I may get rid of it.” And amidst the most violent invectives against the malevolent Elves, he aimed such a desperate blow at its forehead that it fell down dead. It lay there, together with the bread, and neither dog nor cat would touch it.
From Fairy legends and traditions of the South of Ireland, part III., by Thomas Crofton Croker.
London: John Murray, 1828.