Brownies, Fairies, &c.

[Newspaper Research Contents]



WILD, romantick, happy isle, 

Still thou woos me with a smile, 

Still, the sward with daisies spread 

Seems to blossom ‘neath my tread; 

And thy hills before me rise, 

And thy vallies meet mine eyes, 

And thy streams salute mine ear, 

And thy songs I stop to hear, 

And the tales thy peasants tell 

Of dark bog where witches yell, 

Or of Brownie’s antick sports,1 

Who the gloom of midnight courts. 

Like – as rising on my soul, 

Tides that bis the waters roll, 

Rouse my boyish hopes and fears, 

Still unquenched by time or tears; 

And before me, in the wild 

Fairies bear the sleeping child,2 

And pale forms of ghastly hue 

Meet my eye, and blast my view. 

Fancy turn, from fabled tales, 

Where the shepherd tends his flock, 

In the vale or on the rock – 

Where the ash his branches throws 

O’er the mountain-stream that flows 

To – though rocks its course confine, 

Where the mottled pebbles shine. 


May I meet thee, land of Song, 

Not in tumult or in throng, 

But when every nodding bough 

Bends to hear the lover’s vow; 

When the dance is on the hill 

And the moon is on the rill, 

And the happy shepherd swain 

Blithely woos his main fain! 

May I then with rapture trace 

Every form and every face, 

And each heart, – to friendship true, 

Beat as when I bade adieu. 

                                                              R. C. 

1  The Brownie (so called from being dressed in brown clothes) was the most domesticated of all the Northern Spirits; with an appearance perfectly human, and manners simple and conciliating, he won the esteem of the peasantry, whose huts he frequented after sun-set, where his presence created no suspicion nor alarm, and where he would have been hospitably entertained, had not his requests been positively restricted to a little fresh fuel to the fire and oil to the lamp. His requests were readily complied with, and this concession on the part of the peasantry will appear no way singular, when it is considered that the Brownie thrashed the peasant’s corn, and performed his other manual labour after the family had retired to rest. His admonitory ‘good night’ was as follows. – “Gang a’ to your beds, sirs, but dinna put out the grieshoch.” (Go all to your beds, sirs, but don’t put out the embers of the fire.) – with other remains of Superstition, the Brownie has fell before the march of Learning and Religion, though some still cherish a belief in his preternatural existence; and the author of these lines remembers hearing an old man assert, that on a fine summer morning he saw one perched on the steeple of the parish church. 

2 The Fairy, to his love of revelry and dancing, is said to add qualities of a malignant nature. – The Scottish matrons charge him with the sin of carrying off infant children when their parents are asleep, and substituting little deformed urchins in their place. 

– Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, 28th November, 1817, p.4. 



To the Editor of the Inverness Courier. 

   SIR, – Though in our day the terrors of supernatural agency have been happily mitigated by sound practical philosophy, a lingering half-belief in brownies, ghosts, and fairies, too generally predominates among the youth lately emerged from the nursery; and in maturer age, those tales are apt to recur, if the nerves are severely shaken by sickness of affliction. It may therefore be of some service to preserve the memory of facts, which at first view carried every appearance that could alarm a credulous mind; but which were found to be, when rightly understood, apparitions produced by common causes. and became a subject of laughter. I shall finish the anecdotes by a very melancholy occurrence which shows how fatal may prove the shock of affright – given in heedless fun, but productive of permanent injury. The late Duchess of ——— passing a small farm, was attracted by the peculiar neatness of the house and garden, and ordering her carriage to stop at a turn of the road, walked to the enclosure. Her Grace happened to wear a green pelisse with gold embroidery, and a green hat, glittering with spangles. The family were all out sheep shearing, except one girl, who spun the big wheel and lilled a Gaelic Oaarskal, descriptive of fairy revels. Just as her lay pourtrayed the Fairy Queen, giving orders to her tiny precursor, to sweep with a broom of moon-beams, a ring for the elfin dance, the sun broke from a cloud with intense brilliance, and playing upon the adornments of her Grace’s dress, caught the eye of our songstress. The green vesture, the resplendent emanations, and the theme of her vocal solo, so excited her imagination, that she was convinced the Queen of the Fairies had come to enchant or chastise her, for some involuntary offence. She sought refuge in the pantry; where, she recollected her father had juniper for cutting with his knife, into butter-slices and prints to sell at the next market. The Gael ascribe to juniper a sovereign efficacy against the spells of fays and witches; and perhaps this salvo averted distraction from the trembler, as she watched through a hole in the pantry door, each act of the shining apparition on whim her eyes were fixed, in spite of all her efforts to withdraw them. The Duchess examined the nicely arranged, and clean, though homely furniture and utensils; and then tried to spin some carded wool, which was soon twisted up, without producing a tolerable thread. To compensate for spoiling the wool, her Grace tied a crown piece in a handkerchief to a spoke of the wheel, and departed, unconscious of the wild deray she inflicted upon the feelings of a spectatress. This girl could not summon courage to come from the lurking place, until her father and sister returned. Incoherently, yet in a powerful language she described the terrific, lustrous vision, that interrupted her work. Her friends and all who heard the marvellous adventure shared her dismay; but going to attend a sacrament at a neighbouring parish, they beheld the supposed Queen of the Fairies in the radiant garb and head-gear, so accurately, and often described by her invisible observer; and a little further inquiry dissipated their superstitious fears. 

B. G.      

– Inverness Courier, 10th May, 1821, p.3. 


   THERE is a stage of society when supernatural beings are supposed to have more intimate communication with mankind than at after and more enlightened periods. The Heathen Mythology, particularly, filled the earth with such visitants: according to it, there was much difficulty in accounting for the creation of the surrounding universe; but it seemed certain that it had been beyond the power of those who were commonly denominated Gods. These were beings whose descents were traced like those of mortals, and who, though they were of superior natures to men, yet resembled them in their intellects, in their appearances, and even in their manners, however loose and immoral these may sometimes have been. 


   Our Scottish supernatural beings may be divided into six classes: 1, Ghosts, properly so called; 2, The Wraiths of individuals; 3, Fairies; 4, Brownies; 5, Kelpies and Spunkies, and, 6, Witches, who were a race partaking of both human and spiritual natures. 


   The next set of supernatural beings mentioned by our Author are FAIRIES: they are considered to be a part of the fallen Spirits thrown down from heaven, for having joined Satan in the “great rebellion,” and of which, as our Author remarks, “the Highland mountains received an ample store.” Our bounds do not admit of our saying all that is due to beings of such high descent: we may observe, however, that the Highland Fairies do not seem to have been so genteel, nor so splendid and elegant, as those mentioned in the Fairy Tales, with habiliments “of white and gold, dropped with diamonds.” Nor wwere their garbs (as our Author says) wove by the shuttle of Iris, but by that “of some greasy Highland weaver.” The jurisdiction of Queen Mab never extended to Scotland, and the Scottish Fairies appear never to have deserted their leader Satan; though, from all we can learn, his dominion over them was but imperfect. The Fairies lived in communities, inhabiting old castles, and were a gay race, as we constantly hear of their mirth and dancing; but woe to the unfortunate wight who was ever tempted to join their revels! Their not being always visible, and the difficulty of associating with them, render our knowledge of them incomplete; but they seem to have lived in a primitive state of society, each being his own tradesman in all kinds of work – “his own weaver – his own tailor – his own shoe-maker.” Yet, contrary to the theory of Adam Smith, that only the division of labour makes clever workmen, they were frequently most expert. The Author shews this, by mentioning “a Fairy shoemaker, who sewed a pair of shoes for a Highland shepherd during the time that the latter mealed a cog of porridge for him.” The sceptics may try to account for this, from their favourite natural causes, by alleging that a sharp-set appetite produced exertion; but what will they say of a Fairy barber, who “actually shaved a man with no better razor than the palm of his hand, and yet did it so effectually, that he never afterwards required to undergo the same operation?” This must confound unbelievers, and we shall testify our faith in this story, by saying, that we wish, from our hearts, that we could fall in with a similar operator; for, what a blessing would it be, to be freed at once and for ever from that galling servitude which all of us are under to bristly beards! But there is still another incontestible evidence of the existence of Fairy tradesmen. The truth is, as mentioned by our Author, that the workmen of the great Michael Scott were all Fairies; and it is only in that way that it could be accounted for, that some stupendous bridges in the north country were built by him in the course of a single night. These naturally gave the reputation to Michael of being uncanny, and it was much dreaded that in his death his fate would be mournful. Michael, who was a good political economist, however, knew, that, as a capitalist, he was entitled to go to the best market, both for materials and labour; and he was thus excusable for hiring Fairies, if they were good workmen. To relieve the minds of his kind well-wishers, and preserve a good fame when dead, he fell on the following interesting device, which, with the result, as they regard so great a man, we give in the Author’s own words. 

     “When I am just dead,” said he, “open my breast, and extract my heart. Carry it to some place where the public may see the result. You will then transfix it upon a long pole, and if Satan will have my soul, he will come in the likeness of a black raven, and carry it off; and if my soul will be saved, it will be carried off by a white dove.” His friends faithfully obeyed his instructions. Having exhibited his heart in the manner directed, a large black raven was observed to come from the east with great fleetness; while a white dove came from the west with equal velocity. The raven made a furious dash at the heart, missing which, it was unable to curb its force, till it was considerably past it; and the dove, reaching the spot at the same time, carried off the heart amidst the cheers and ejaculations of the spectators. 

   Our readers know how customary it was for Fairies to steal healthy children, and substitute ill-thriven wretches in their place; but not content with doing so, they occasionally took away even grown-up persons, of an instance of which our Author gives the following interesting account: 

     There was once a courageous clever man, of the name of John Roy, who lived in Glenbrown, in the parish of Abernethy. One night, as John Roy was out traversing the hills for his cattle, he happened to fall in with a fairy banditti, whose manner of travelling indicated that they carried along with them some booty. Recollecting an old, and, it seems, a faithful saying, that the fairies are obliged to exchange any booty they may possess for any return, however unequal in value, on being challenged to that effect, John Roy took off his bonnet, and threw it towards them, demanding a fair exchange in the emphatic Gaelic phrase, Sluis sho slumus sheen.1 It was, no doubt, and unprofitable barter for the fairies. They, however, it would appear, had no other alternative, but to comply with John Roy’s demand; and in room of the bonnet, they abandoned the burden, which turned out to be nothing more nor less than a fine fresh lady, who, from her dress and language, appeared to be a Sasonach. With great humanity, John Roy conducted the unfortunate lady to his house, where she was treated with the utmost tenderness for several years; and the endearing attentions paid to her by John and his family, won so much her affections, as to render her soon happy in her lot. Her habits became gradually assimilated to those of her new society, and the Saxon lady was no longer viewed in any other character than as a member of John Roy’s family. 

   It happened, however, in the course of time, that the new king found it necessary to make the great roads through those countries by means of soldiers, for the purpose of letting coaches and carriages pass to the northern cities; and those soldiers had officers and commanders in the same way as our fighting army have now. Those soldiers were never great favourites in these countries, particularly during the time that our own kings were alive; and, consequently, it was no easy matter for them, either officers or men, to procure for themselves comfortable quarters. but John Roy forgot the national animosity of his countrymen to the Cottan Darg, when the latter appealed tohis generosity as an individual; and he, accordingly, did not hesitate to offer an asylum under his roof to a Saxon captain and his son, who commanded a party employed in his immediate neighbourhood. His offer was thankfully accepted of, and while the strangers were highly delighted at the cleanliness and economy of the house and family of their host, the latter was quite satisfied with the frankness and urbanity of manners displayed by his guests. One thing, however, caused some feelings of uneasiness to John Roy, and that was the extreme curiosity manifested by them, whenever they were in the company or presence of his English foundling, on whom their eyes were continually rivetted, as if she were a ghost or a fairy. On one occasion, it happened that the captain’s son lapsed into a state of the profoundest meditation, gazing upon this lady with silent emotion. “My son,” says the captain, his father, “tell me what is the cause of your deep meditation?” – “Father,” replies the sweet youth, “I think on the days that are gone; and of my dearest mother, who is now no more. I have been led into those reflections by the appearance of that lady who is now before me. Oh, father! does she not strikingly resemble the late partner of your heart; she for whom you so often mourn in secret?” – “Indeed, my son,” replied the father, “the resemblance has frequently recurred to me too forcibly. Never were twin sisters more like; and, were not the thing impossible, I should even say she was my dearest departed wife;” – pronouncing her name as he spoke, and also the names of characters nearly connected to both parties. Attracted by the mention of her real name, which she had not heard repeated for a number of years before, and attracted still more by the nature of their conversation, the lady, on strict examination of the appearance of the strangers, instantly recognised her tender husband and darling son. Natural instinct could be no longer restrained. She threw herself upon her husband’s bosom; and Ossian, the son of Fingal, could not describe in adequate terms the transports of joy that prevailed at the meeting. Suffice it to say, that the Saxon lady was again restored to her affectionate husband, pure and unblemished as when he lost her, and John Roy gratified by the only reward he would accept of – the pleasure of doing good.” 

   From the sequel of the story, it appears that some of the hordes of fairies, inhabiting the “Shian of Coir-laggack,” found it convenient, for purposes which may be easily guessed at, to take a trip to the South of England, and made no scruple to kidnap this lady in the absence of her husband, and on the occasion of her accouchement. A stock was, of course, deposited in her stead – which, of course, died in a few days after – and which of course, was interred in the full persuasion of its being the lady in question, with all the splendour which her merits deserved. Thus would the perfidious fairies have enjoyed the fruits of their cunning, without even a suspicion of their knavery, were it not for the “cleverness and generosity of John Roy, who once lived in Glenbrown.” 

   The BROWNIE has been generally considered large and lubberly, like Shakespeare’s Caliban; but the Highland Brownie, our Author tells us, was a handsome fellow, and was so called from his being of a brown complexion. They were extremely useful and faithful attendants on several Highland families, as long as the successors of their estates were lineal. They took a kindly interest in all their concerns; and neighbours remarked, that wherever a Brownie was, the affairs of the family went on well, according to the frequency of his visits. Our Author alludes to the two well-known Brownies of Tullochgorum. The affectionate guardianship of the female one, called Maggy, is well known over the Highlands; and a friend of ours has mentioned to us, that an acquaintance of his having, on a time, gone to wait on the laird, previous to his setting out for Germany, and having mentioned to him, in a field where he met him, that, in the house, he had just seen, in the cradle, his young child, with a girl in a yellow petticoat sitting by it, “Oh!” said the laird with pleasure, “I am glad to hear it, for that girl must have been our Maggy.” 

1  Mine is yours, and yours is mine. VOL. XIII. 

– Scots Magazine, 1st July, 1823, pp.36-42.



Mony is the time I hae heard frae my granny, 

O bogles and brownies by yon castle wa’; 

And auld wither’d hags wha were never thocht canny, 

And fairies by moonlicht danced in the green shaw. 

                                                                Old Song


   RECENT events have proved that superstitious belief is still as strong as ever in Caithness; and although the cry – I may almost say the watchword of the age – is that the “Schoolmaster is abroad,” I fear that wherever he is at present, he has not, as yet, reached all parts of this County. Those superstitious feelings, once so general throughout Scotland, but which have been gradually disappearing in other districts, are found with us as vigorous as ever, and one might almost fancy the days of Thomas the Rhymer had returned. During the long winter nights, the whole conversation relates to fairies and other strange sights; the old people narrate instances which occurred in their youth – whilst the young listeners treasure up what they hear from their seniors – and a fund of superstition is thus laid in for a succeeding generation. Reasoning is lost on these people. Should you attempt to challenge the truth of their statements, or express the shadow of a doubt as to their authenticity, you will draw the whole vengeance of the coterie on your devoted head; and if they cannot support their statements with argument, it is expected you will be effectually silenced when you are told that they had been informed of the correctness of them by their fathers or grandfathers; and as these were known in their generation as men of undoubted veracity, were there not truth in the report, it was not likely they either would have credited, or lent their support to the propagation of it. 

   To enumerate the various superstitions which are generally believed by such people, were a task which neither the space you can afford, or my own inclinations will permit. Fairies are as much in vogue as ever; and there are not a few who will positively assert that they have not only heard the music of their bagpipes, but seen them “between the gloamin’ and the mirk,” footing it merrily on some green knowe. I had thought that when smuggling was suppressed, that the opportunities of seeing these gentry were gone, but it seems they are determined to remain in spite of honest Mr Terence McMahon, and all the excisemen…  

   To treat these matters with levity is wrong. Reasoning, as I have said, has no effect; and ridicule seems only to bind people firmer in their prejudices. The only remedy is to be found in a more extended system of education; and, allow me to say, that a great deal lies with the spiritual guides of the people. It is a notorious fact, however, that there are many of the elders, whom, from their situation, better things might have been expected, as firm believers in those things as any of an inferior grade; and their testimony as to the truth of many circumstances tending to increase superstitious belief, naturally impress them more on the minds of the people, and render the efforts made by any other person to dispossess them of their belief entirely nugatory. It will be observed that in towns where the means of popular education are abundant, superstitious fear has little or no sway. It is principally in country places, where the means of education are more deficient, that its stronghold is to be found. Mechanics’ Institutions, Reading Clubs, and other societies of that nature ought to be encouraged, and it will soon be found that as the people become better informed, superstition will be banished to the rocky fastnesses of the Highlands, and soon, let us hope, from these wild districts also. 

   These remarks have been drawn up on account of some circumstances which occurred lately; and which, although ridiculous in themselves, have by many persons been considered as facts, and as farther corroborative proof of a belief in fairies. I hope the above observations may lead to the establishment of a better state of things. 

P. M.      

     Thurso, 3d December, 1859. 

– John o’ Groat Journal, 13th December, 1839, p.4. 




   Rich, too, in mythic and fairy lore was the old Halloween. Lightly tripped the tiny elves among the grass under the shade of the spreading oaks, to the music of oaten pipe and bog reed; and he who wished to have a sight of the good people could not choose a better night. It needed but a courage fortified by some few glasses of mountain dew, and then a cautious stroll in the pale moonlight to their haunts, and there, unobserved behind the trunk of some aged tree, you could watch, till your heart was satiated, their merry fantastic gambols, and listen to ravishing music, such as mortals never played. Burns, in the introduction to his inimitable ballad, alludes to this – 

Upon that night, when fairies light 

On Cassillis’ Downans dance, 

Or ower the lays, in splendid blaze, 

On splendid coursers prance. 

The fairies had many privileges on such a night as this, and they laboured too under many dangers. On Halloween the victim of their wiles could be restored to humanity by a certain process, if any one had bravery to attempt it. Who has not read the beautiful ballad of “Tamlane,” in which the hero, carried bodily away by the elves, finds means to inform his mistress of his misfortune, and tells her how he may be redeemed:- 

This night is Halloween, Janet, 

The morn is Hallow-day, 

An’ gin you dare your true luve win, 

You hae nae time to stay. 


This night it is good Halloween, 

When fairy folks will ride; 

And they that wad their true love win 

At Miles’s Cross they maun bide. 

The follows the fearful trial of Janet’s faith and love in the long dark journey and dreary stay by Miles’s Cross; but, 

About the dead hour of night 

She heard the bridle ring; 

And Janet was as glad of that 

As any earthly thing! 

By and by they came in sight, with their band in full play. 

Will o’ the Wisp before them went, 

Sent forth a twinkling light; 

And soon she saw the fairy band 

All riding in her sight. 


And first gaed by the black, black steed, 

And then gaed by the brown; 

But fast she gript the milk-white steed, 

And pu’d the rider down. 


She pu’d him frae the milk-white steed, 

And loot the bridle fa’, 

Then up there raise an elritch cry, 

“He’s won amang us a’!” 

*     *     *     *     * 

Real love is triumphant. But the fairies were not the only race of semi-human beings abroad on Halloween… 

   But, alas! all these have passed away, and live but in the traditionary lore of our land. Their power is gone, and the remembrance of their wondrous feats nigh extinct. Where now in the forest glade is the fairies’ ring – the little circle of trodden grass that told of their moonlight gathering? Who hears the mingled sound of soul-enchanting melody poured forth from their hemlock and bog-reed pipes, sweeping along on the evening breeze? What slumbering cherub is now snatched from the cradle by invisible hands, and the grim spiteful elf substituted? No little maid now returns, after many years’ disappearance, to tell of wonders seen in fairy-land. Nor is the night-wandering swain horror-struck by the sight of the broomstick-riding witch, nor does the dairy-maid awake in the morning to find her cattle elf-shot or mad; nor the honest farmer to rub his eyes and behold his crops cut down, and sheep smeared by the grateful Brownie. Even “Clootie” himself refuses to be summoned by mystic spell. No, he is too old to be caught with such chaff. these feats of other days are gone – irrevocably gone. Halloween present is but a shadow – a lingering halo of the halloween past. The supernatural is gone; the tangible – the nuts and apples – is all that remains. 

– Fife Herald, 23rd October, 1845, p.4. 




“Up spoke the Elfin King 

Who wonn’d within the hill, 

Like the wind in the porch of a ruined church, 

His voice was ghostly shrill.” – Scott



   The ELVES were a malicious order of Fairies. They occupied moors and forests, and were peculiarly jealous of any intrusion on their demesnes. Sportsmen they could not brook, because they regarded all wild animals as their subjects, and they never failed to revenge their destruction. They are traditionally described as “wee brown men” of prodigious strength, and hideous appearance. Thei countenance was expressive of the most savage ferocity, and their eyes glared like a bull’s. Their dress was entirely brown, the colour of the brackens, and their head was garnished with frizzly red hair. Although mortal they far exceeded in years the ordinary standard of humanity, and, in popular parlance, were still regarded as within the pale of salvation. In fine, they seem to have been lapsed spirits, who had to undergo a long and dreary probation before they could be restored to their original dignity, and were doomed to sojourn in this sublunary sphere are a sort of penitential vault, until the time of their restoration arrived. Hence they greatly envied the privilege of baptism, and were peculiarly eager that their offspring should be initiated in all the rites of the Christian faith. 

   Like the Fairies, they were in the habit of occasionally recruiting their ranks from the walks of mortality; but their depredations in this way were, if anything, more notorious than those of these tiny Buccaneers. To the mortals thus purloined, however, they showed the utmost deference, and, in virtue of their Christian baptism, invariably gave them the precedence in all their processions. Though in expectation of a coming redemption, their morals were as depraved as their persons were stunted and malignant. Their common pastime was to maim cattle, bewilder benighted travellers, and conjure the souls out of new-born infants. They were also in the habit of discharging invisible arrows at the human race, although none were possessed of the faculty of seeing these aerial shafts, with the exception of those born on Good Friday or Christmas eve. 

   Their occupations, however, were not always of this low grade. Sometimes they were dignified and chivalrous. They had several Don Quixotes among them. These night errants had a charmed circle, within which always stood a warrior, armed cap-a-pie, ready to do battle with any adventurous champion who might be ambitious of a passage at arms with a ghostly adversary. Some knights were accustomed peculiarly to search out, and delight in, encounters with these military spectres, but the unfortunate combatants seldom survived the conflict. So says the poet:- 

“Yet still the mighty spear and shield 

The Elfin warrior doth wield 

Upon the brown hill’s breast: 

And many a knight has proved his chance, 

In the charmed ring to break a lance, 

But all have foully sped.” 

   The BROWNIE was altogether a different personage from either the Elf or Fairy. He was a “spirit that dwelt apart” – the hermit of the ghostly hierarchy. While the waggeries of the Fairies generally bore the stamp of good-humoured frolic, and those of the Elves that of malice, the pranks of the Brownie were purely mischievous. Notwithstanding this, he was a gay little fellow – even a sort of Bean Brummell in his way. He patronised garments only of the most approved fashion, and was never seen without a jaunty red pointed cap upon his head. The Brownie was entirely a domestic being; and fortunate was the house he selected for his habitation. A domicile so favoured was not only fire-proof, but perfectly secure against every calamity to which houses are heir to. He was in fact the tutelary deity of the family and dwelling in which he took up his abode. But the mischievous sprite did not give his services for nothing. He very often severely taxed the patience of a household for the protection he afforded them. But what of this? – they must have been churls, if they were greatly wroth at the serviceable little fellow’s gambols. What if he did indulge himself occasionally in a small nocturnal equestrian expedition on a gentleman’s favourite barb, until the steed was flecked with sweat and foam? He had no evil design in the thing. Not he. It was done purely with the view of improving the animal’s action. If he milked a cow before an indolent dairymaid left her dormitory, it was done solely with the view of inculcating upon the damsel the virtuous habit of early rising. And if he sometimes sucked an egg, overset a utensil, or mimicked the “mew” of puss in the garret, who could be angry with him for such a trifle, or grudge him his little dish of porridge, which no considerate housewife ever omitted to place within his reach? The neglect of this he never forgave. He was very sensitive, indeed, about his commons. Nay, the omission of his customary rations made him absolutely vindictive. In such a case, the lady of the house might be tolerably certain that the beer would turn sour, or her milk not cream, and infallibly she might churn all day without getting any butter. 

   There was a species of Brownie so mischievous as to be quite intolerable to his protegèes. There is a tradition of a family’s being obliged to quit a favourite residence, in order to get quit of a troublesome inmate of this description. The expedient, however, did not succeed; for, after they had packed up their goods and chattels, and were fairly on their road to their new habitation, the master, in turning to inspect one of the carts to see that all was right, beheld, to his unspeakable dismay, the impudent Brownie pop its head out of a tub, and salute him with a merry laugh, while he jocosely remarked, “See, we flit to-day.” 

   Notwithstanding these drawbacks, the Brownie was generally exceedingly useful about a household. He could be gained over, by kind attentions, to perform the whole drudgery of the farm; and it was believed that many of the Highland families had one of the order attached to them. 


   Now for the moral to be learned from the fabrication of such imaginary beings. we firmly believe that all myths contain the seeds of moral and religious truths, which may be easily found if we take the pains to look for them. Thus the elfin superstition inculcated the necessity of vigilance in reference to man and beast. It rebuked the heated aspirations of those Don Quixotes who were ever in quest of romantic adventures; and operated as a warning to young men against rashly shooting over dangerous forests and damp moors, as the young sportsman would either suddenly meet his death from some wild animal, or, in consequence of cold, induce a lingering illness that would soon issue in it. It showed the propriety also of having a store of “holy thoughts lodging witin” as the best talisman against temptation and evil suggestions. 

   The Brownie superstition inculcated the efficacy of kindness in the treatment of domestics, and enjoined the duty of practising the rites of hospitality. Many a famished wayfarer was refreshed with the bowl of porridge placed for the imaginary Brownie, and many acts of kindness were secretly done in consequence to the benevolent donors. It was a practical commentary on the text – “Cast thy bread upon the waters, and thou shalt find it after many days.” 

– Montrose Standard, 30th July, 1852, p.5. 


(From Cunningham’s Songs of Scotland.) 

   If the songs and minstrelsy of the fairies communicated none of their own ærial spirit to the popular poetry, still the general belief in their existence and their influence served to keep up the more etherial part of the spirit of song. All that pertains to them and every attribute bestowed on them, and all the actions which the caprice of popular fancy has imputed to them, are purely and essentially poetical. They never performed menial drudgeries, like the brownies, for the sake of lying stretched out all the chimney length, and supping on curds and cream, byt he warmth of the midnight embers; nor had they the gross sensual propensities of the witches, whose inspiration served only to degrade them in vulgarity below the rest of mankind; nor were they humbled into the form of an animal, like the kelpie; nor doomed to drag a fish’s train, like the mermaid; their shapes and their pursuits were stamped with the character of a generous and an elegant superstition. If popular belief makes them exchange their own progeny for the children of men, it imputes no cruel motive for the deed; and if they are charged with falling in love with the handsome youths and beautiful maidens, and with carrying them away to fairy land, they only interposed between them and sudden death or lingering sorrow, and saved those who were doomed to an early grave. It happened, when I was a child, that a neighbouring gentleman was returning from a neighbouring fair, with his only son, a fine youth some seventeen years old. Within call of his house a brook, which in summer time a child four years old might wade, but which now, augmented by a thunder shower at the head, came down deep and broad, and being somewhat of a mossy stream, the increase of its waters made no great increase of its sound. The night was dark, and when the father reached the opposite bank of the brook his son’s horse was by his side, but the saddle was empty. Instant search was made, but the body of the youth was nowhere to be found. Soon after, it happened that the young man’s sister was returning home along the bank of the same stream; it was about the twilight, and she had reached the fatal ford, when her brother suddenly appeared and addressed her. She felt no alarm, she said, for he had the same sweet kind look which he ever had to her, and his voice was not altered. He told her he was not drowned, as had been supposed, but was carried into fairy land, and allowed to revisit the earth but once every moon. When he fell from his horse he was caught before he reached the water, and borne away as if he had been carried on wings, and laid down in a wild glen in the middle of a meeting of fairies, who were all seated on the grass listening to a new song; he was hailed as one redeemed from drowning, clothed with a green mantle, and placed on a white horse; and a fairy passing her hand over his face, bade him look, for he was among friends; and he looked, and saw the faces of many who were supposed to have fallen in battle or perished at sea, and one of them was his own uncle, whose ship had sunk in the Solway with all its mariners on board. 

   Yet he wished not, he said, to dwell away from his father’s house, and from a sister whom he tenderly loved; and though he could not return of himself, he might be won back by a dauntless and intrepid spirit. ON the first night of the moon he would be one of a troop of fairies who would pass by the kirkyard, and the mark he would be known by was a corn pipe on which he was to play; and the tune he would play was the one which his sister loved – “Aye waking O!” He entreated her, if she wished to win him, to hide herself in the kirkyard, and when the fairy train came by to leap up and seize him, and claim him as a Christian in the name of God. All this she promised to do, but she had not the courage of the heroine of Carterhaugh; for the fairy procession overcame her with so much supernatural terror, that she allowed her brother to go by without attempting his rescue. He was never again visible; but she heard him often as the fairies rode past, singing with a mournful voice of his unhappy fate and the love he bore his sister. 

   In the extensive credit which this wild story obtained we may see the desire that mankind has of imagining an intercourse with the other world, and also the feeling which never separates fairies from song. This might be exemplified in a thousand wild traditions – and tradition in a matter of this kind is a much safer guide than the conjectures of the learned and the creations of the poets, whose genius had received a colouring from classic superstition. They are apt to see everything with Greek and Latin eyes, and desire to look in the mythology of the ancients for the gloomy gods and sportive elves of the North. 

– Glasgow Herald, 12 August, 1857, p.6. 

   THE EAST CHURCH. – GREAT IMPROVEMENT. – On the morning of Monday last, numbers of our townsmen were not a little surprised to observe that the uncouth masonry, of comparatively modern erection, placed at the base between the buttresses of the East Church, from the doorway round to the gate of the New Cemetery, had been thrown down in large masses upon the road. On the day previously – Sabbath – numbers had been at church and observed no alteration on the building, nor even the slightest preparation made for the demolition of the places referred to. In the course of a single night, however, there was the ugly masonry lying in ruinous masses upon the roadway! Supposition and conjecture were alike at fault, and all inquiry was equally fruitless – no one could tell how the apparent havoc had been effected. As the night had been very stormy, with rain and wind, these elements in the first instance were blamed for the overthrow of the materials. It was recollected that, only a few weeks ago, the extensive wall, nearly a quarter of a mile in length, which separated the old church-yard from the New Cemetery grounds, had in a single night been thrown down from end to end, and as the demolition of the church-yard wall has by common consent, in the absence of more definite information, been ascribed to supernatural causes – to the brownies and fairies so popular at another period of our history – it was considered at least highly probable that, if such had been the case in the first instance, the same agencies had again been at work in throwing down the rude excrescences which had so defaced the architectural beauty of the ancient edifice. for our own part, we have no wish to penetrate into mysteries connected with the throwing down of church-yard walls or the extraneous patch-work which had been attached to the church itself, the more especially as the demolition of both was effected in the night-time, when, it is alleged by the admirers of ancient superstition, beings of unearthly and indescribable character – especially about the time of Halloween – take especial delight in walking abroad! We rather doubt the subject will long remain a mystery, and in such circumstances we cannot do otherwise than leave the question as to who overthrew the erections to the conjectures of the curious. That a great improvement has been effected in a single night no one can doubt, as the beautiful architecture of the church and the splendid buttresses, with the niches for miniature statues of the twelve apostles, now stand out undefaced by the objectionable masonry at their base, so often and justly objected to as greatly detracting from the general symmetry and effect of the building. 

– Stirling Observer, 26th November, 1857, p.3. 

   We understand that it is contemplated by a number of members of the Town Council, now that the “Brownies” have done their work in removing the unseemly structures between the buttresses of the East Church, to erect a handsome ornamental railing leading from the entrance to the New Cemetery, and going round the east end of the church at the distance of a few feet from the building, then coming with a gentle sweep across the street to the corner of Boswell or “Boggle” Hall – so called, we suspect, from its contiguity to the place where “boggles” “most do congregate” in moonless nights, taking care, however, to leave a passage to the Bowling Green, the Guild Hall, the Back Walk, and the Church-yard and Churches. The ground, then, to be laid out in some sort to accord with the Bowling Green, now so vigorously carrying into effect by the Guildry. The present wall and gateway leading to the burial-ground will be removed, and everything made to be in keeping with the New Cemetery. Should this be effected, as contemplated, there cannot be a doubt but the effect will be of a very striking character, and must add greatly to the beauty and amenity of the place. Such a site for such purposes is rarely to be met with anywhere. 

– Stirling Observer, 3rd December, 1857, p.3. 

   ENDEAVOURING TO BE ON THE SAFE SIDE. – Even so, the idolatrous Israelites had usually no thought of rejecting their God, Jehovah, but thought it was keeping on the “safe side” to pay some reverence to the gods of the heathen also. And a like practice is followed in many an obscure corner of Christendom at this day, by ignorant rustics who pay some superstitious reverence to the gods of their heathen ancestors; which they do not indeed call gods, but fairies, brownies, trolls, &c. In fact, this kind of error is the chief stronghold of superstition. Many a one who has no full belief in the mediæval legends of miracles wrought by supposed saints, thinks it a safe course to inculcate that belief along with a belief in Scripture; because, forsooth, there is at any rate no harm in men’s believing a little more than is true. And when men come to deride all these tales as groundless fictions, it will often happen that they will proceed to reject all religion. The “wall daubed with untempered mortar” will be likely in its fall to throw down with itself the sound building also. Again, there are probably many – some there are, to my knowledge – who practise and recommend the invocation of (supposed) saints, as the “safe side,” though without any full conviction that there is any advantage in it. But a little reflection would show that the opposite is the really safe side. For we know that God is able and willing to hear prayers addressed to Him through Christ: and we cannot be equally sure that it may not be offensive to Him to have deceased men so far exalted into gods as to have the divine attribute of omniscience assigned to them, by which they can hear the prayers of millions of votaries in various parts of the world. – Whately

– Greenock Advertiser, 24th March, 1859, p.4. 


(From the Examiner.) 

   A correspondent of the Times raises the very pertinent question why the spirits which play foolish pranks with chairs and tables do not make themselves generally useful. for example, when some uneasiness was felt about the Prince of Wales, why did not Mr. Hume’s spirits give intelligence of his place at sea, the state of his health, and the weather? Why do they not now give us the news of the army in China, where it is, how it is, what it has done, what it is doing, and what it is about to do? Why do they not help us in the office of detective police, and denounce criminals?.. If they do so they would become our servants-of-all-work in the way of news, and would not have a moment to themselves for table turning to any other idle diversion. To begin, they would at once be attached to the different newspapers. Every journal would have its heading of latest intelligence from our own Special Spirit Medium… 

   But, after all, there is nothing new under the sun, and the spirits of the present day are the Brownies of Scottish superstition, some of whom were of a benevolent, others of a malevolent nature; the former doing household work with matchless regularity and handiness, the latter playing all sorts of mischievous pranks… 

– Scottish Banner, 1st December, 1860, p.3. 


   The publication of an English and French work on the above subject has given occasion to a paper in the British Quarterly Review, which, though far from exhausting the subject, is not devoid of interest… 

   It is not so easy, however, as the reviewer assumes to trace the connection between the classic nymphs and satyrs on the one hand, and the fairies, imps, elves, brownies, et hoc genus omne of Teutonic demonology on the other. The classic elegance of the nymph, indeed, may be considered to have descended to the fairies, and particularly to that Queen of the tribe by whom Thomas the Rhymer was abstracted into the far and mystic regions of Fairyland; but the fairies were malevolent beings in general. The rough and hairy brownie, indeed, had something of the shaggy proportions of the satyr, but had no resemblance in temper or attributes. Indeed, the brownie is difficult to understand on any ordinary theory. He worked hard, yet declined all recompense, – putting no stress on the text, that the labourer is worthy of his hire, – and, accordingly, when an age arose which was versant in the correct principles of political economy, the brownie was obliged to evaporate. Whether the belief in the brownie originated in some domestic instance of somnambulism it is impossible to say; but the belief in its existence kept its hold in some particular places until nearly modern times. 


   The Teutonic tribes being particularly prone to the wilder classes of superstition, as much almost as the more imaginative Celts, the Lowlands of Scotland have enjoyed their own share of lively faith in ghosts and goblins. On the Borders, fairies and brownies were abundant, and apparitions by no means uncommon. It is curious to find that the commencement of the Reformation brought with is a stronger faith in all demoniac and spiritual agencies than the grosser superstition which had preceded it… 

– Perthshire Constitutional & Journal, 13th November, 1862, p.4.


   Closely associated with fairy lore pure and simple are tales concerning such other supernatural beings as the “Uruisg,” the “Gruagach,” the “Bochdan,” the “Mermaid,” and the “Brunie.” Of all these the “brunie” was he best known, though the others do not seen to have been by any means strangers to the people. This type lingered about long after the rest had been consigned to the limbo of cold neglect. Their peculiar trait was an extraordinary capacity for work, a circumstance of which farmers were always willing to take advantage. Any quantity of corn put out for them at night would be thrashed by morning. It seems they sometimes expected remuneration for their services. It is said of one of these that after having long served a certain farmer he left because no kind of reward had been offered him. He, however, occasionally returned at night, and disturbed the farmer’s rest by exclaiming at his window – 

Mar fhaigh Brunie 

Mir ‘us curachd, 

Cha dean Brunie 

Obair tuilleadh. 

   In other words, if Brunie won’t get bread and a hood Brunie will do no more work. The Giant-Fairy of “Bad-an-t-Sithean,” and also the “Mha’ag Mhullach,” and others so often mentioned in the fairy tales of Strathspey, would belong to this class. They seem to have been numerous at one time… 

– Dundee Evening Telegraph, 12th August, 1892, p.4. 

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