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Part II. – Fairies, 1st October, 1818, pp.30-35.

[Popular Superstitions of Clydesdale Contents]


   THE following fragment was written down, within these three weeks, from the recitation of a very worthy man, with whom it had been a great favourite in his youth. It certainly possesses little pretension to poetical merit; yet it details some particulars, peculiar itself, concerning the belief in fairies, and its incompleteness is, therefore, to be regretted, as it might, in all probability, have afforded farther curious illustrations of their elegant and interesting mythology. 

   Trows, mentioned in the nineteenth stanza, is a beautiful spot on the banks of the Nethan, a little way above the village of Abbey-Green, and has been the scene of many a fairy adventure. It is especially related that the builder of the noble baronial castle of Craignethan (which the inhabitants of Clydesdale have lately been delighted to regard as the true prototype of “Tillietudlem”) at first intended to erect the fortress on the braes of Trows, but, having neglected to conciliate the genii of the place, and, in particular, while digging for a foundation, having trenched upon the inviolability of a fairy ring, the dignity of an elfin chief was outraged, and a long train of untoward and disastrous events defeated the completion of Hamilton’s designs. Whatever had been accomplished during the day was sure to be demolished in the night, and, when the workmen returned to their labours in the morning, they calculated upon finding the trenches filled, the newly-erected walls overthrown, and the stones scattered about and dashed to pieces. Things continued in this problematic state for some time, till at length Hamilton determined to keep watch, to see if he could discover the cause of occurrences so unaccountable. He armed himself, and, without informing any person of his intention, went to the haunted spot, after the day had closed, where his patience was nearly exhausted by keeping the strictest outlook for a long time, without perceiving any thing remarkable. Exactly at 12, however, imagining that he heard the sound of a trumpet blown below ground, he retired under a brake, whence he discovered innumerable troops of fairies issuing from a small green knoll, who, after marching thrice around the castle, withershins, to the sound of martial music, drew themselves up in battle array, and discharged a volley of arrows at the rising walls, which were instantaneously overturned with a tremendous crash, when the whole troop vanished with the same order in which they had appeared. The nobleman prudently kept himself concealed, and on the morrow declared his resolution to transfer his residence to Craignethan, a place whose localities have been graphically described, though not with microscopic exactness, in the wonderful tale of Old Mortality. 

   The beautiful little insect, the Lady Lanners of Scotland, and Ladybird of England, is still a great favourite among our peasantry, though not now, in so far as I can gather, used for divining one’s future helpmate, to which purpose, from several rhymes still prevalent among the children, it appears to have been anciently subservient. Dr Jamieson, under the word Landers, has given us a curious account of the names and titles in various languages of this elegant little creature, for which purpose the able Scottish lexicographer has adduced part of one of those augurial rhymes, or ranes, as they are very properly denominated in Clydesdale. When any of our children lights upon one of those insects, it is carefully placed upon the open palm of the hand, and the following metrical jargon is repeated, till the little animal takes wing and flies away:- 

“Lady Lady Lanners, 

Lady Lady Lanners, 

Tak up your clowk about your head, 

An’ flee awa to Flanners. 

Flee ower firth, and flee ower fell, 

Flee ower pule and rinnan’ well, 

Flee ower muir, and flee ower mead, 

Flee ower livan, flee ower dead, 

Flee ower corn, an’ flee ower lea, 

Flee ower river, flee ower sea, 

Flee ye east, or flee ye west, 

Flee till him that lo’es me best.”1 

   Mauldslie is a princely seat on the Clyde, lately the residence of the last Earls of Hyndford. Mauldslie stream is a beautiful ford in the river, directly opposite the castle. 


The bonniest maid on Nethan braes 

Gade down to pu’ the brume, 

Her lire was as the lilies white, 

Her cheeks the rose’s blume. 

Dar was her hair as the wavan’ pines 

On the snawie mountain’s brow, 

Licht was her heart as the thrissle’s down, 

But harmless as the dow. 


She hadnae pu’t a gowden twig, 

A twig but barely twa, 

Whan out o’ the flower a wee wee man 

Upon her breast did fa’. 


His mantle was the skime o’ licht 

That glints frae the emerant green, 

An’ his bannet blue o’ skyran hue 

Outshone the heaven’s sheen. 


The skinklan’ licht about him play’t 

As roun’ the diamon-stane; 

A purer gem on lady’s han’ 

On Middle-eard was nane. 


“What gars ye pu’ the brume, fair May, 

Withouten leave o’ me? 

An’ how daur ye come at the ee o’ day 

To tread the fairy lea? 


“For I’m a knight o’ Fairy Land, 

To me belang this braes; 

Nae maiden ever hither comes 

That maiden hameward gaes. 


“For I hae power at dead o’ nicht 

To work men wae and ill, 

An’ the ee o’ day gies power to me 

O’ Mays to tak my will.” 


“Ill buss my hair wi’ the gowden brume, 

An’ speer nae leave o’ thee, 

An’ come an’ gae to the fairy knowe, 

Whane’er it listeth me: 

Sae feckless yet sae crouse a cryste, 

What maid did ever see!” 


Loud leuch the elf wi’ mockrife glee, 

An’ thrise about can brade, 

Whill a gallant man, in youdith’s blume, 

He rase afore the maid. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

The sun sae breem frae hint a clud, 

Pour’t out the lowan’ day, 

The mavis liltit frae the thorn, 

The ruddoch doun the brae. 


Far up in the air, abune their heads, 

A spat in the lift sae blue, 

The laverock chirlit his cantie sang, 

The cushet roun’ them flew. 


“Now will ye come to the fairy knowes, 

An’ speer nae leave o’ me, 

Or buss you hair wi’ the fairy flowers, 

Whane’er it pleasures thee? 


“But dinna greet, dear leman mine, 

For a’ may yet be weel; 

I’ll raise your rank wi’ state and pride, 

Gin ye pruve true and leal. 


“An’ come to me gain twall at nune, 

Whan the lanner’s flee is seen, 

‘Twill airt your way in the heat o’ day, 

To the bonnie circle green. 


“An’ braid your hair wi’ the yallow brume, 

But-an’ the violet blae, 

An’ the roses frae the sweet-sauran’ brier, 

An’ the primrose frae the brae. 


“But dinnae pu’ the dead men’s bells, 

That saw proud ower the grey craigs hing, 

For in their cup. whan the sun is up, 

Daff our noble queen an’ king.” 


That sillie May gade linkan’ hame, 

Daft as the lamb on lea – 

“An’ whar hae ye been, dear dochter mine, 

For joy skimes frae your ee? -” 


“Deep down in the sauchie glen o’ Trows, 

Aneth the cashie wud” – 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

The mirk nicht gadem an’ mornin’ cam, 

The dawn rase siller-grey, 

An’ the wast wi’ rosy spraings owerspread, 

Foreshaw’t a lowan’ day. 


The shepherd whisstl’t on his dog, 

The craw flew souchan’ by; 

Wi’ the shilfaw’s sang the green wud rang: 

Wi’ the laverock’s the sky. 


Sho buss’t hersell in a green mantell, 

Was hemmit wi’ a gowden hem; 

An’ roun’ her waist a girdle she brac’t, 

Frae the Halie Land that cam. 


Her kirtle was kiltit abune her knee, 

Her white fit wat wi’ dew, 

An’ her curlan’ locks unbun’ by a snude, 

Outower her shoulders flew. 


Sho braidit her hair wi’ the sauran’ brier, 

But an’ the milk-white slae, 

An’ the primrose wan, whare the burnie ran, 

Wi’ the violet aff the brae. 


Sho laid her doun in the fairy ring, 

An’ clos’t her doveran’ ee, 

Whan up with a bang the Fairy sprang, 

An’ stude at her left knee. 


“What garr’t you bring that girdle, fair May, 

That was sain’t in the Halie Lan’? 

For the name that we downa bear, ower it 

Was said whar his life’s blude ran. 


“An’ ye maun lowse aff that gay girdell, 

Gin ye bear luve to me, 

For hadnae I been a christen’t wicht 

That girdle waud garr’t me flee.” 


Sho’s lowst frae ‘bout her braid girdell, 

An’s luten ae tear on’t fa’ – 

“For the luve I bear to you, I fear 

My soul I am flingan’ awa.” 


He clasp’t her roun the flichteran’ breast, 

An’ press’t her cherry mou’, 

An’ kiss’t the tear tremblan’ in her ee, 

Mare clear nor blab o’ dew. 


Sax times sho cam, sax times she gade, 

Blythe as the specht on tree, 

But the sevent time she met her fairy love, 

Sho dule an’ pine maun dree. 


Glad cam the dawn in rosy robe, 

Whilk day our Saviour rase, 

An’ flang her scancing dewy veil 

Outower the hills and braes. 


Saft crap the blush alang the skies, 

The Walston Hills grew bricht, 

Syne up the east the glorious sun, 

Wade in a flude o’ licht. 


While a’ thrang roun’ to hear the word, 

An’ the joys o’ heaven to win, 

This sillie May seeks the dern green wud, 

To do a deed o’ sin. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

Black grew the lift wi’ gowsterous nicht, 

Aloud the thunner rair’t, 

Nocht could sho see, nor eard, nor tree, 

Save whan the lichtenin’ glar’t. 


Doun cam the rain an’ souchan’ hail, 

Wil’ sang the houan’ win, 

While the crashan’ taps o’ knarlie aiks 

Cam doupan’ to the grun’. 


The guilty May crap ‘neth a tree; 

A fireflaucht dartit by, 

Whan frae her side, upon the beam, 

The fairy cluve the sky; 


Amid the storm a spitefu’ lauch 

Gaffawan’ reach’t her ear, 

And in a clud the lichtenin’ blae, 

Shaw’t eldritch faces near. 


Forflee’t wi’ guilt *   *   *   *   * 

In a swarf on the grun’ she fa’s, 

The sicht forhow’t her waulen’ een, 

Sho lay in the deadthraws. 


The fittie fairies liftit her, 

Aneth them cluve the yird, 

An’ doun the grim how, to the warl’ below, 

They bure that bonnie burd. 


They scoupit ower a dowie waste, 

Whar flower had bever blawn, 

Whar the dew neer scanc’t, nor the landtide dane’t, 

Nor rain had ever fawn. 


Nae sun shines there, the mochie air, 

Wi’ smuisteran’ rowks stinks vyld, 

And asks and athers, saft an’ caul’, 

Crawl through that eerie wild. 


Afore their flicht the blackest nicht 

Has fix’t her endless wane, 

An’ brudes upon the Vale o’ Dead, 

Whar livan’ thing is nane. 


There never cam ae spark o’ licht; 

Sin’ Time’s lang march began; 

Nor willae glint hae shone thereon, 

Whan time and all are dune. 


Plump doun the deep wi’ whirlwin’ sweep, 

The fairies held their way, 

While far below a dowie sheen, 

Rase like the mornin’ grey. 


Mare fast they flew, while brichter it grew, 

Whill it wot till a flude o’ day, 

An’ shaw’t the leesome Fairy Lan’s, 

That braid aneth them lay. 


“An’ seestou that rainbow flaucht o’ fire, 

Whilk bends ower that grousome flude? 

That is the gate to Paradise, 

Allenarlie pass’t by the gude. 


“Seestou beyond that bonnie brig, 

The pink and the gilliflower blaw? 

An’ yon daizlin’ yett o’ the diamon’-stane, 

Whar angels thrang on raw? 


“Those are the seelie Lan’s o’ Leal, 

But ony dule or pine; 

They beek for ay in the blessed day, 

But they can neer be thine. 


“But cast your ee down yon ugsome hole, 

As far as sicht can gae, 

An’ though the dark tak tent an’ mark, 

A well o’ brinstane blae. 


“There debvils dwell, and fiends o’ hell 

Burn in the brinstane blae; 

A thocht o’ rest they never ken, 

Nor see ae blink o’ day. 


“But spread your ee ower the hale kintrie, 

Whilk wide afore you lies; 

Those are the seelie fairy fields, 

An’ these are the fairy skies. 


“The mornin’ licht, as roses bricht, 

Glows there the leelang day; 

An’ mang the wreaths o’ shinan’ cluds, 

A’ day we daff an’ play. 


“There ware an’ hairst ilk ither hawse, 

Upon the self-sam tree, 

Am’ spread their robe o’ mirlet hues, 

Outover fell an’ lea. 


“An’ whae can tire in Fairy Lan’, 

To quaff the lauchan’ wine; 

An’ whae can tire in the circle’s green, 

The cantie dance to twine. 


“We ride upon the thin mune beam, 

Or on the streamers play; 

In the purpour west we tak our rest, 

Or dance on the milky way; 


“Our bodies crin’t as the sunny motes, 

We bathe in a blab o’ dew; 

We roomily dwell in the heather-bell, 

An’ buss wi’ the rainbow’s hue; 


“In game an’ glee, in luve an’ lee, 

We lauch an’ dance an’ sing, 

Or hunt the rae ower plain an’ brae, 

With our noble queen an’ king. 


“At dead o’ nicht, whan MIddle eard 

Lies wrapp’t in mirkest hour, 

We work our will on wierdless wichts, 

Whae lichtlie fairy power. 


“We sail in the air on the thrissles down, 

Whan the sun in the lift is breem, 

Or ride on the glaikit mennon’s back, 

In Mauldslie’s lo’esome stream.” 


They skimm’t the grun like a flock o’ dows, 

Whill they cam till a pleasant plain, 

Whar they war aware o’ the Fairy King, 

A-huntan’ wi’ his train. 


Four-an’-twenty gentlemen 

Cam by on steeds o’ brown; 

In his hand ilk bore a siller wand, 

On his head a siller crown. 


Four-an’-twenty beltit knichts, 

On daiplit greys cam by, 

Gowden their wands an’ crowns, whilk scanc’t 

Like streamers in the sky. 


Four-an’-twenty noble kings 

Cam by on steeds o’ snaw, 

But true Thamas, the gude Rhymer, 

Was king outower them a’. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

   The good old peasant from whose mouth I wrote down the above fragment could proceed no farther with the poetry, (if poetry it may be called,) declaring, that it was thirty years since he had either heard it sung or said. According to the best of his recollection, however, he proceeded to inform me how that “bonnie May,” after having been promoted in the “Seelie Court” to the dignified station of Marie to the Elphin Queen, lived in constant terror, for twenty-one years, of being “paid awa in teind to hell,” and how that, having narrowly escaped thrice being confirmed in her fairy state, she visited her friends on this “middle-eard,” with whom she dwelt for seven years, disclosing the manners, and explaining the customs of the Fairy Land. “Ae bonnie simmer eenin, after dayligaun began, as sho was sittan on a restin-chair afore the door, enjoyan the purlan wind, the childer wha war playan aroun’ saw a rose come whirlan to her fit as if driven by an eddy-win’. Bonnie May cleekit it up, – gied a loud gaffaw, – vanished in a widdrim, – an’ was neer mare seen.” 


   I shall conclude my illustrations of the Fairy Mythology with the following “well authenticated” stories. – 

   During the “Dear Years” at the beginning of last century, an honest farmer in the parish of Douglas, who had been reduced by the badness of the seasons from beenness to poverty, was about to return homewards one morning from the fields in despair; having sown what little seed-corn he had, which was not nearly so much as the ploughed land required. While he was standing not knowing what to do, he imagined that he heard a voice behind him saying, 

“Tak – an’ gie 

As gude to me.” 

He turned round, and perceived a large sack standing at the end of the field, which, when he had opened, he found to be full of the most excellent seed-oats. Without hesitation, he sowed them; – the braird was admirable, and the harvest no less luxuriant. The man carefully preserved the sack, and as soon as possible filled it full of the very best grain that his field produced, and set it down on the very same spot on which he had received the fairy oats. A voice called to him, 

“Turn roun’ your back, 

Whill I get my sack.” 

The farmer averted his face, and then immediately looked round, but all was gone. Things ever after prospered with him, for, according to the popular saw

“Meddle an’ mell 

Wi’ the fien’s o’ Hell, 

An’ a weirdless wicht ye’ll be; 

But tak an’ len, 

Wi’ the fairy men, 

Ye’ll thrive ay whill ye dee.” 

   In the same dearth, and in the same parish, an old woman who was nearly “famishing” for hunger, having tasted no food for two or three days, was one morning astonished to find her bigonet, a kind of coif, which she had hung upon her bedside, full of oat-meal. This seasonable supply she attributed to some of her benevolent neighbours, who she imagined had been wishing to give her a little surprise. Notwithstanding the care, however, with which she husbanded her meal, it by and by was expended, and she was again almost reduced to starvation. After passing another day without food, her bigonet was again replenished; which was regularly done whenever the supply was exhausted, always allowing her to remain one day without food. Her bigonet was re-filled so regularly, that at last the old woman became secure, and presumed upon the generosity of her invisible supporter. She one day baked the whole of her supply into cakes, and having by some means or other, procured a little kitchen, (butcher-meat,) she invited her gossips to a treat. The cakes were lying spread on Nannie’s table, and the guests were just going to fall to, when, to their utter astonishment, they beheld the cakes of their own accord turn upside down, and every one of them become a large withered Kail-blade. At the same time, a voice of thunder spoke these words to the terrified Nannie: 

“Never mare 

O’ mine ye’s share, 

But want an’ wae 

Till your deein’ day!” 

It need scarcely be added, that the guests fled the house as fast as possible, and Nannie became a poor deaf object, driven by poverty to beg from door to door. The fate of mendicants at that period was hard indeed, for, instead of a handful of oatmeal, the usual alms in the farm-houses of the south-western counties of Scotland, a beggar received nothing but a kail-castock, or pen, that is, the thick rib up the middle of the colewort stalk. 

   Both the good and the bad fairies used to recruit their numbers by carrying off children, or young men and women. The malignant race delighted in spiriting away the unbaptized offspring (for it was only over them that they had any power) of affectionate parents, particularly when heirs, that they might produce as much mischief and vexation as possible, – while the benignant fairies never took any recruits but the orphans of pious parents, who had no protectors, or were oppressed by cruel and unjust guardians. Such protegées, or rather naturalized fairies, were permitted twice to resume their original state, and appear to their kindred and acquaintance. The first time was at the end of seven years, when, if they had been children when they were taken away, they appeared to their nearest relations, (in the Scottish language Concerns,) and declared to them their state, whether they were pleased with the condition of fairies, or wished to be restored to that of men. If they had been boys or girls when they were removed from this Middle Earth, and had by this time grown to men or women, they always appeared to persons of a different sex from themselves, with whom they had fallen in love, declared their state and passion, and, according to circumstances, either wished their lovers to accompany them to Fairy Land, or suggested to them a method whereby to recover them out of the hands of their elfish lords. The second appearance at the end of fourteen years was for the same purposes, and, on this occasion, they were either rescued from the power of the fairies, or confirmed under their dominion for ever. When the bad Fairies carried off a child, they always left one of their own number in its place, generally described in the language of the country as an ill-faur’d wauchie wandocht of a creature. This equivocal creature was always distinguished by being insatiable for food, and if kept, seldom failed to suck its supposed mother into a consumption. Whenever a family suspected that a child had been changed for a fairy, they had recourse to the following strange, but, in the opinion of the country, infallible ordeal. A sufficient quantity of flauchter-fail was pared from the eastern side of a hill, with which all the windows, doors, and every aperture through the house, excepting the chimney, were built up. A large fire was then made of peats, and the supposed fairy wrapped in the sheets or blankets of the woman’s bed was laid on the fire, when it was at the briskest, while one of the bystanders repeated, 

“Come to me 

Gin mine ye be; 

But gin ye be a fairy wicht, 

Fast and flee till endless nicht.” 

If the child actually was the woman’s, it instantly rolled off the fire upon the floor, but, if it was a fairy, it flew away up the chimney with a tremendous shriek, and was never more seen, while the real infant was found lying upon the threshold. 

   In my next I shall endeavour to give you some account of the popular belief in wraiths in this district. 

C. T. C. S.    

   Clydesdale, September 26, 1818

1  As the following words, which occur in these communications, are not to be met with in Jamieson’s Dictionaries, it may be proper to explain them in this place. 

Cashie, luxuriant and succulent; spoken of the shoots of vegetables. 

To Chirl, to warble merrily. 

To Chug, to tug. 

Currie, a stool. 

To Curroo, to coo; applied to the lengthened coo of the male pigeon. 

To Daff, to sport, to romp. In Jamieson it occurs in the sense of to be foolish. 

Dayligaun, twilight; day-light gaun, that is, going. 

Forfleeit, terrified, stupified with terror. 

Fleyfu‘, frightful. 

Gain, by; as, gain twall, by or at twelve. 

Hannie, the dish having a handle, into which cows are milked. 

Laudtide, the undulating motion in the air, as perceived in a droughty day; the effect of evaporation. 

Moakie, a fondling name for a calf. 

Mockrife, scornful. 

Mirlit, Merled, variegated with small interwoven spots. 

Onkennable, unknowable. 

Outower, 1. to ding, drive, &c. outower; to overturn completely. 2. Completely without, to stand outower, to stand completely without the inclosure, house, &c. 3. Quite over, us, to fling a stane ontower the waw

Ruddoch, redbreast. 

To Skime, to glance; applied to reflected light. Skime, the glance of reflected light. 

To Smuister, to smother; applied to air. 

Tweel, Atweel, indeed. Atweel, corruption of I wat weel

Ure, haze. 

Wanyoch, wan. 

Wheens, quantities, divisions. 

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