Mrs. MacTavish got this story from a young girl in her service, November 1859, who learned it in OA, a district of Islay, last year, when she was employed in herding cattle.
It is a version of the same tale as Grimm’s “Bremer Stadt Musikanten,” which appears to have been long known in Germany in various shapes.
The crowing of the cock is imitated in Gaelic and in German. The Gaelic is closer. “Bringt mir den Schelm her” is not so close to “kikeriki” as the Gaelic words – which I have tried to spell phonetically – are to the note of a cock. There is a bull in the Gaelic tale, instead of an ass; and a sheep and a goose, in addition to the dog, cat, and cock, which are common to both. There are six creatures in the one tale, commonly found about the Highland cottage, which is well described; four in the other, common about German cottages. My own opinion is, that the tale is common to both languages and old, but it might have been borrowed from a book so well known in England as Grimm’s Stories are. It is worth remark, that the dog and the cat were to die at Christmas, as well as the sheep and bull, who might reasonably fear to be eaten anywhere, and who have been sacrificed everywhere; the goose, who is always a Christmas dish in the Highlands; and the cock, who should die last of his family, because the toughest. The dog was once sacrificed to Hecate on the 30th of every month; and there was a dog divinity in Egypt. Cats drew the car of Freya, a Norse divinity; they were the companions of Scotch witches, and did wondrous feats in the Highlands. See “Grant Stewart’s Highland Superstitions.” To roast a cat alive on a spit was a method of raising the fiend and gaining treasure, tried, as it is asserted, not very long ago. I myself remember to have heard, with horror, of a cruel boy, who roasted his mother’s cat in an iron pot on a Sunday, while the rest were at church, though it was not said why he did it. A cock has been a sacrifice and sacred amongst many nations; for instance, a cock and a ram’s head were emblems of Æsculapius. The crowing of a cock is a terror to all supernatural, unholy beings, according to popular mythology everywhere. When the mother, in these stories, sends her children into the world to seek their fortune, she bakes a cake, and kills a cock. A fowl, as I am informed by a minister in one of the Orkneys, is still, or was lately, buried alive by nurses as a cure for certain childish ailments. In short, the dog, the cat, and the cock may possibly have had good reason to fear death at a religious festival, if this part of their history came from the East with the Celts. The goose also has been sacred time out of mind. Bernacle geese are supposed to be hatched from a seashell. The goose was the great cackler who laid the egg of the world, according to Egyptian inscriptions on coffins. He was the emblem of Seb; he is sacred at the present day in Ceylon. He was sacred in Greece and at Rome; and the Britons would not eat his flesh in the days of Cæsar. Perhaps the custom of eating a goose at Christmas, which, to the best of my knowledge, is peculiar to the Scotch Highlands, may be a custom begun by the British Christians to mark their conversion, and carried on ever since. Much will be found on this subject in “Rawlinson’s Herodotus,” p. 122, etc.; in “Mill and Wilson’s History of British India;” and in books on Ceylon. At all events, this Gaelic story is well known in Islay, for MacLean writes that he has often heard it, and all the creatures mentioned in it have had to do with mythology at some period somewhere.
I suspect that it is one of the class given in “Contes et Apologues Indiens” (Paris, 1860), a class which includes such well known stories as “The Goose with the golden Eggs,” as a man who cut down a tree to get at the fruit (No. 45); “The Belly and the Members,” as a quarrel between the head and tail of a serpent (No. 40), a story which somewhat resembles that which is quoted in the introduction, as “MacLeod’s Fool,” “Le Sage et le Fou” (No. 18); “The two Geese that carried a Tortoise” (No. 14); “Le Jeune Brâmane qui c’est sali le Doight” (No. 64), which is a schoolboy story in Scotland in another shape; “The Ass in the Lion’s Skin” (No. 59); “Les Choses impossibles et le Reliques du Bouddha” (No. 110), which has a parallel in Gaelic, in broad Scotch, and in Norse. The Gaelic poet describes impossibilities, such as shell-fish bringing heather from the hill, and the lcimax is a certain great laird dressed in homespun. The Scotch rhyme came to me from a little boy of five year’s old, and is called “The Mantle Joe.” It begins “‘Twas on a Monday Mornin’ when the Cat crew Day;” These are “Twenty-four Weavers riding on a Paddock;” “A Hare and a Haddie racin’ owre the Lea,” and such like; and it ends, “Frae Beginning to the End it’s a’ big Lees.” The Norse song was written out for my by an officer on board a steamer, and includes “Two Squirrels taming a Bear,” and other such events; and the Sanscrit, which Chinese and French savants have translated, names similar absurd events which might sooner happen than the discovery of the reliques of Buddha. In short, European stories are to be traced in the east, and this White Pet may be one of the kind.