Tag Archives: Scotland

Thursday’s Tale: The Smith and the Fairies

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I’m off a day this week. Maybe I should have title the post Friday’s Tale instead. Anyway, “The Smith and the Fairies” comes from Scotland. It was retold by Sir George Douglas in Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales, 1901.

Years ago there lived in Crossbrig a smith of the name of MacEachern. This man had an only child, a boy of about thirteen or fourteen years of age, cheerful, strong, and healthy. All of a sudden the boy fell ill, took to his bed, and moped whole days away. No one could tell what was the matter with him, and the boy himself could not, or would not, tell how he felt. He was wasting away quickly and his father and all his friends were afraid that he would die.

At last one day, after the boy had been lying in this condition for a long time, getting neither better nor worse, always confined to bed, but with an extraordinary appetite, the smith was happily surprised to see an old man, well-known for his wisdom and knowledge of out-of-the-way things, walk into his workshop. The smith told the old man about his son.

The old man looked grave as he listened. After thinking over what he had been told, the old man said,  “It is not your son you have got. The boy has been carried away by the ‘Daoine Sith,’ and they have left a Sibhreach in his place.” The  Daoine Sith are fairies and  a Sibhreach is a changeling. “Alas! What am I to do?” asked the smith. “How am I ever to see my own son again?” “I will tell you how,” answered the old man. “But, first, to make sure that it is not your own son you have got, take as many empty egg-shells as you can get, go with them into the room, spread them out carefully before his sight, then proceed to draw water with them, carrying them two and two in your hands as if they were a great weight, and arrange when full, with every sort of earnestness, round the fire.” The smith accordingly gathered as many broken egg-shells as he could get, went into the room, and proceeded to carry out all his instructions.

He had not been long at work before there arose from the bed a shout of laughter, and the voice of the seeming sick boy exclaimed, “I am now 800 years of age, and I have never seen the like of that before.”

The smith returned and told the old man. “Well, now,” the old man said, “did I not tell you that it was not your son you had: your son is in Brorra-cheill in a digh there (a round green hill frequented by fairies). Get rid of the intruder as soon as possible, and I think I may promise you your son. You must light a very large and bright fire before the bed on which this stranger is lying. He will ask you, ‘What is the use of such a fire as that?’ Answer him at once, ‘You will see that presently!’ and then throw him into the middle of it. If it is your son, he will call out to save him; but if not, this thing will fly through the roof.”

The smith again followed the old man’s advice; kindled a large fire, answered the question put to him as he had been directed to do, and seizing the child flung him in without hesitation. The “Sibhreach” gave an awful yell, and sprung through the roof, where a hole was left to let the smoke out.

On a certain night the old man told him the green round hill, where the fairies kept the boy, would be open. And on that night the smith, having provided himself with a Bible, a dagger, and a crowing cock, was to proceed to the hill. He would hear singing and dancing and much merriment going on, but he was to advance boldly; the Bible he carried would be a certain safeguard to him against any danger from the fairies. On entering the hill he was to stick the dagger in the threshold, to prevent the hill from closing upon him. “Then,” continued the old man, “on entering you will see a spacious room before you, beautifully clean, and there, standing far within, working at a forge, you will also see your son. When you are questioned, say you come to seek him, and will not leave without him.”

The night soon came, and the smith went out, prepared as instructed. Sure enough, as he approached the hill, there was a light where light was seldom seen. Soon after the sounds of piping, dancing, and joyous merriment reached the anxious father.

Overcoming his fear, the smith approached the threshold steadily, stuck the dagger into it as directed, and entered. Protected by the Bible he carried, the fairies could not touch him, but they asked him with a good deal of displeasure what he wanted. He answered, “I want my son, whom I see down there, and will not go without him.”

Upon hearing this the whole company before him gave a loud laugh, which wakened up the cock he carried dozing in his arms, who at once leaped up on his shoulders, clapped his wings lustily, and crowed loud and long.

The fairies, incensed, seized the smith and his son, and, throwing them out of the hill, flung the dagger after them, and in an instant all was dark.

For a year and a day the boy never did a turn of work, and hardly ever spoke a word. Finally one day, while he was sitting by his father and watching him finishing a sword he was making for some chief, and which he was very particular about, the boy suddenly exclaimed, “That is not the way to do it.” Taking the tools from his father’s hands, he set to work himself and soon fashioned a sword the like of which was never seen in the country before.

From that day the young man worked constantly with his father, and became the inventor of a peculiarly fine and well-tempered weapon, the making of which kept the two smiths, father and son, in constant employment, spread their fame far and wide, and gave them the means in abundance, to live content with all the world and very happily with one another.

I like the ending in this one. The son uses what he learns in fairyland and makes a nice living for himself. I would imagine that’s not what the fairies had planned.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.

Thursday’s Tale: First Foot

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Hogmanay – Edinburgh. Photo from The Edinburgh Reporter on-line.

I don’t really have a story for today, more of a tradition to bring luck for the New Year.

Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year’s Eve celebration. The origins of Hogmanay are unclear, but may be derived from Norse and Gaelic observances. Customs vary throughout Scotland, and usually include gift-giving and visiting the homes of friends and neighbours.

The “First Footing” is a tradition celebrated on Hogmanay, a Scottish New Year’s celebration. It is supposed to bring luck and prosperity to the household for the new year. Traditionally, the “luckiest” person to enter a house in the new year is a tall, dark-haired man. Definitely do not allow it to be someone with red hair. The First Foot should bring small gifts with him that represent the wishes for the new year, a piece of coal for a warm hearth, bread and salt for all in the house to be fed adequately, and a coin for financial prosperity, and a drink (commonly whiskey) to represent good cheer.

The First Foot may have a group of people with him as long as he is the first across the threshold. After the First Foot hands the gifts to the keeper of the household and accept a drink (also typically whiskey – this is Scotland) from them to toast with them. All guests may have their glasses filled beforehand to join in the toast (traditionally “Slaínte!”). It is considered unlucky to either not offer the First Foot a drink or for them to decline it. If your First Foot does not drink alcohol, offer a different beverage instead. This is symbolic of accepting blessings and “inviting good luck to stay”.

I think I may have to try to convince someone to be our first foot this year.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.

Thursday’s Tale: The Stolen Lady

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Highland cattle in a field of heather on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Photo by Frank Krahmer.

Highland cattle in a field of heather on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Photo by Frank Krahmer.

Today’s story comes from Scotland. It has a happy ending, but it does reference the hostilities between the English and Scottish people. “The Stolen Lady” was retold by Thomas Keightley in The Fairy Mythology: Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries,  1850, which is available on-line.

John Roy, who lived in Glenbroun, in the parish of Abernethy, was out one night on the hills in search of his cattle. He met a troop of fairies, who seemed to have a prize of some sort. Remembering that the fairies are obliged to exchange whatever they may have with any one who offers them anything, no matter how low in value, for it, he flung his cap to them, crying Shuis slo slumus sheen (i.e., mine is yours and yours is mine). The fairies dropped their booty, which proved to be a Sassenach (English) lady whom the dwellers of Shian of Coir-laggac had carried away from her own country, leaving a stock in her place which, of course, died and was buried.

John brought her home, and she lived for many years in his house.

Eventually, the new king decided to make the roads through these countries by means of soldiers, to allow coaches and carriages to get to the northern cities. Those soldiers were never great favorites in these countries, so it was not easy for them, either officers or men, to find comfortable places to stay.

But John Roy would not keep up the national animosity to the cottan dearg (red-coats), and he offered a residence in his house to a Saxon captain and his son. When there, they could not take their eyes off the English lady, and the son remarked to his father what a strong likeness she bore to his deceased mother.

The father replied that he too had been struck by the resemblance, and said he could almost fancy she was his wife. He then mentioned her name and those of some people they knew. The lady by these words at once recognized her husband and son, and honest John Roy had the satisfaction of reuniting the long-separated husband and wife, and receiving their most grateful acknowledgments.

I love stories with happy endings, although I do wonder about the lady’s life, how things were from her point of view- captured by the fairies and then spending years in a stranger’s house.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.

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