THE primary object of the following short treatise is to give an account of some of those superstitions, now either dead or in their decadence, but which, within the memory of persons now living, had a vigorous existence, at least in the West of Scotland. A secondary object shall be to trace out, where I think I can discover ground for so doing, the origin of any particular superstition, and in passing I may notice the duration in time and geographical distribution of some superstitions. But, on the threshold of our inquiry, it may be of advantage to pause and endeavour to reach a mutual understanding of the precise meaning of the word Superstition—a word apparently, from the varied dictionary renderings given of it, difficult to define. However we may disagree in our definitions of the word, we
all agree in regarding a superstitious tone of mind as weak and foolish, and as no one desires to be regarded
as weak-minded or foolish, we naturally repel from ourselves as best we can the odious imputation of being superstitious. There are few who seek to know what superstition in its essence really is ; most people are satisfied to frame an answer to suit their own case, and so it happens that we have a multiplicity of definitions for the word, many of which are devoid of scientific solidity, and others have not even the merit of intelligibility. A recent definition, extremely elastic, was propounded by a popular preacher in a lecture delivered before the Glasgow Young Men's Christian Association and reported in the newspapers,—" Superstition is Scepticism," which may be legitimately paraphrased "Superstition is not believing what I believe." Although this definition may be very gratifying to the self-pride of most of us, we must nevertheless reject it, and look for a more definite and instructive signification, and for this end we may very properly consult the meanings given in several standard dictionaries and lexicons, for in them we expect to find precision of statement, although in this instance I believe we shall be disappointed. Theophrastus, who lived several centuries before the Christian era, defines "Superstition" according to the translation given of his definition in the Encydopadia Aleiropolitana, as "A cowardly state of mind with respect to the supernatural," and supplies the following illustration: "The superstitious man is one, who, having taken care to wash his hands and sprinkle himself in the temple, walks about during the day with a little laurel in his mouth, and if he meets a weasel on the road, dares not proceed on his way till some person has passed, or till he has thrown three stones across the road."
Under "Superstition," in the Encydopcedia Metropoliana, the following definitions are given:—
1st.—Excess of scruple or ceremony in matters of religion: idle worship: vain reverence: a superfluous, needless, or ill-governed devotion.
2nd.—Any religious observance contrary to, or not sanctioned by. Scripture or reason.
3rd.—All belief in supernatural agency, or in the influence of casual occurrences, or of natural phenomena on the destinies of man which has no foundation in Scripture, reason, or experience.
4th.—All attempts to influence the destiny of man by methods which have no Scriptural or rational
connection with their object.
" Unnecessary fear or scruple in religion: religion without morality: false religion: reverence of beings not properly objects of reverence: over nicety: exactness: too scrupulous.
"A being excessive (in religion) over a thing as if in wonder or fear: excessive reverence or fear: excessive exactness in religious opinions and practice: false worship or religion: the belief in supernatural agency: belief in what is absurd without evidences: excessive religious belief."
These dictionary meanings do not, of course, attempt to decide what should be the one only scientifically
correct significance of the term, but only supply the
varying senses in which the word is used in literature and in common speech, but they suffice to show that it is used by different persons with different significations, each person apparently gauging first his own position, and defining superstition as something which cannot be brought to tell against himself.
After pondering over the various renderings, it occurred to me that the following definition would embrace the
whole in a few words: Religion founded on erroneous ideas of God. But when I set this definition alongside the case of an otherwise intelligent man carrying in his trousers' pocket a raw potato as a protection against rheumatism, and alongside the case of another man carrying in his vest pocket a piece of brimstone to prevent him taking cramp in the stomach; and when I consider the case of ladies wearing earrings as a preventive against, or cure for, sore eyes; and, again, when I remembered a practice, very frequent a few years ago, of people wearing what were known as galvanic rings in the belief that these would prevent their suffering from rheumatism, I could not perceive any
direct connection between such superstitious practices and religion, and the construction of a new definition was rendered necessary. The following, I think, covers the whole ground : Beliefs and practices founded upon erroneous ideas of God and nature. With this meaning the term " Superstition" is employed in the following pages, and if the definition commend itself to the reader it will at once become apparent that the only way by which freedom from superstition can be attained is to search Nature and Revelation for correct views of God and His methods of working. Notwithstanding our pretensions
to a correct religious knowledge, a pure theology, and freedom from everything like superstition, it is strange yet true, that, if we except the formulated reply to the question in the Westminster Catechism, "What is God," scarcely two persons—perhaps no two persons—have exactly the same idea of God. We each worship a God of our own. In one of the late Douglas Jerrold's "Hedgehog Letters" he introduces two youths passing St. Giles' Church at a lonely hour, when the one addresses the other thus:—" The old book and the parson tell us that at the beginning God made man in his own image. We have now reversed this, and make God in our image." A sad truth, although not new; Saint Paul made a similar remark to the philosophic Athenians; but the remark applies not to this age or to Saint Paul's age alone—its applicability extends to every age and every people. As Goethe remarks, "Man never knows how anthropomorphic he is. "Our minds instinctively seek an explanation of the cause or causes of the different phenomena constantly occurring around us, but instinct does not supply the solution. Only by patient watching and consideration can this be arrived at; but in former ages scientific methods of investigation were either not known, or not cared for, and so men were satisfied with merely guessing at the causes of natural phenomena, and these guesses were made from the standpoint of their own human passionate intelligence. Alongside the intelligence everywhere observable in the operations of nature they placed their own passionate humanity, they projected themselves into the universe and anthropomorphised nature. Thus came men to regard natural phenomena as manifestations
of supernatural agency; as expressions of the wrath or pleasure of good or evil genii, and although in our day we have made great advances in our knowledge of natural phenomena, the majority of men still regard the ways of providence from a false standpoint, a standpoint erected in the interests of ecclesiasticism. Churchmanship acts as a distorting medium, twisting and displacing things out of their natural relations, and although this influence was stronger in the past than it is now, still there remains a considerable residuum of the old influence among us yet. For example, we are not yet rid of the belief that God has set apart times, places, and duties as specially sacred, that what is not only sinless but a moral obligation at certain times and places becomes sinful at other times and places. Ecclesiastical influence thus familiarises us with the distinctions of secular and sacred, and we hear frequent mention made of our duties to God and our duties to man, of our religious duties and our worldly duties, and we frequently hear religion spoken of as something readily distinguishable from business. But not only are these things separated by name from one another, they are often regarded as opposites, having no fellowship together. Hence has arisen in many minds a slavish fear of performing at certain times and in certain places the ordinary duties of life, lest by so doing they anger God. In certain conditions of society such belief, erroneous though it be, may have served a useful purpose in restraining, and thereby so far elevating a rude people, just as now we may see many among ourselves restrained from evil, and influenced to the practice of good, by beliefs which, to the enlightened among us, are palpable absurdities.
Before reviewing the superstitious beliefs and practices of our immediate forefathers, we may, I think, profitably occupy a short time in gaining some general idea of the prominent features of ancient Pagan religions, for without doubt much of the mythology and superstitious practice of our forefathers had a Pagan origin. I shall not attempt any exhaustive treatise on this subject, for the task is beyond me, but a slight notice of ancient theology may not here be irrelevant. The late George Smith, the eminent Assyriologist, says:—"Upwards of 2000 years B.C. the Babylonians had three great gods—Anu, Bel, and Hea. These three leading deities formed members of twelve gods, also called great. These were—
1. Anu, King of Angels and Spirits. Lord of the city Eresh.
2. Bel, Lord of the world, Father of the Gods, Creator. Lord of the city of Nipur. 3. Hea, Maker of fate. Lord of the deep, God of wisdom and knowledge. Lord of the city of Eridu.
4. Sin, Lord of crowns. Maker of brightness. Lord of the city Urr.
5. Merodash, Just Prince of the Gods, Lord of birth. Lord of the city Babylon.
6. Vul, the strong God, Lord of canals and atmosphere. Lord of the city Mura.
7. Shama, Judge of heaven and earth. Director of all. Lord of the cities of Larsa and Sippara.
8. Ninip, Warrior of the warriors of the Gods, Destroyer of wicked. Lord of the city Nipur.
9. Nergal, Giant King of war. Lord of the city Cutha.
10. Nusku, Holder of the Golden Sceptre, the lofty God.
11. Belat, Wife of Bel, Mother of the great Gods. Lady of the city Nipur.
12. Ishtar, Eldest of Heaven and Earth, Raising the face of warriors. Below these deities there were a large body of gods, forming the bulk of the Pantheon; and below these were arranged the Igege or angels of heaven; and the anunaki or angels of earth; below these again came curious classes of spirits or genii, some were evil and some good." The gods of the Greeks were numbered by thousands, and this at a time when—according to classical scholars —the arts and sciences were at their highest point of development in that nation. Their religion was of the grossest nature. Whatever conception they may have had of a first cause—a most high Creator of heaven and earth—it is evident they did not believe he took anything to do directly with man or the phenomena of
nature; but that these were under the immediate control of deputy-deities or of a conclave of divinities, who possessed both divine and human attributes—having human appetites, passions, and affections. Some of these were local deities, others provincial, others national, and others again phenomenal: every human emotion, passion and affection, every social circumstance, public or private, was under the control or guardianship of one or more of these divinities, who claimed from men suitable honour and worship, the omission of which honour and worship was considered to be not only offensive to the divinities, but as likely to be followed by punishment. The vengeance of the deities was thought to be avertable by the performance of certain propitiatory
deeds, or by offering certain sacrifices. The kind of sacrifice required had relation to the particular department over which the divinity was supposed to be guardian; and these deeds and sacrifices were in many cases most gross and offensive to morality. The phenomena of nature, being under the direction of one or more divinities, every aspect of nature was regarded as an expression of anger or pleasure on the part of the divinities. Thunder, lightning, eclipses, comets, drought, floods, storms—anything strange or terrible, the cause of which was not understood, was ascribed to the wrath of some divinity; and men hastened to propitiate, as best they might, the divinities who were supposed to be scourging or threatening them. These deputy-gods were supposed to occupy the space between the earth and moon, and, being almost numberless and invisible, their worshippers held them in the same dread as if they
possessed the attribute of omniscience.
For the purpose of guiding men in their relations towards these gods, there existed a large body of men whose office it was to understand the divinities, their natures and attributes, and direct men in their religious duties. This body of men acted as mediums between the gods and the people, and not only were they held in high esteem as priests, but frequently they attained great power in the State. Often this priestly incorporation had greater influence and control than the civil power; nor is this to be wondered at, when we remember that they were supposed to be in direct communication with the holy gods, in whose hands were the destinies of men. The sun, the giver and vivifier of all life, was the primary god of antiquity, being worshipped by Assyrians,
Chaldeans, Phoenicians, and Hebrews under the name of Baal or Bell, and by other nations under other names. The priests of Baal always held a high position in the State. As the sun was his image or symbol in heaven, so fire was his symbol on earth, and hence all offerings made to Baal were burned or made to pass through the fire, or were presented before the sun. Wherever, in the worship of any nation, we find the fire element, we may at once suspect that there we have a survival of ancient sun-worship.
The moon was regarded as a female deity, consort of the sun or Baal, and was worshipped by the Jews under the name of Ashtoreth, or Astarte. Her worship was of the most sensual description. The worship of sun and moon formed one system, the priests of the one being also priests of the other.
Apart from the priestly incorporation of which we have spoken, there was another class of men who assumed knowledge of supernatural phenomena. These were known as astrologers or star-gazers, wizards, magicians, witches, sooth-sayers. By the practice of certain arts and repetition of certain formula, these pretended to divine and foretell events both of a public and private nature. They were believed in by the mass of people, and were consulted on all sorts of matters. By both the civil and ecclesiastical authorities their practices and pretensions were sometimes condemned, and themselves forbidden to exercise their peculiar gifts, but nevertheless the people continued to believe in them and consult them. Their pretensions were considerable, extending even to raising and consulting the spirits of the dead.
This leads me to notice the ancient belief concerning the souls of the departed. By almost all nations, Jews and Gentiles, there was a prevailing belief that at death the souls ofgood men were taken possession of by good spirits and carried to Paradise, but the souls of wicked men were left to wander in the space between the earth and moon,
or consigned to Hades, or Unseen World. These wandering spirits were in the habit of haunting the living,
especially their relations, so that the living were surrounded on every side by the spirits of their wicked ancestors, who were always at hand tempting them to evil. However, there were means by which these ghosts might be
exorcised. A formula for expelling wicked spirits is given by Ovid in Book V. of the Fasti:—
"In the dread silence of midnight, upon the eighth day of May, the votary rises from his couch barefooted, and snapping his fingers as a sure preventative against meeting any ghost during his subsequent operations, thrice washing his hands in spring water, he places nine black beans in his mouth, and walks out. These he throws behind him one by one, carefully guarding against the least glance backwards, and at each cast he says, 'With these beans I ransom myself and mine.' The spirits of his ancestors follow him and gather the beans as they fall. Then, performing another ablution as he enters his house, he clashes cymbals of brass, or rather some house hold utensil of that metal, entreating the spirits to quit his roof. He then repeats nine times these words, 'Avaunt ye ancestral manes.' After this he looks behind, and is free for one year."
Some nations in addition to a personal formula for laying the ghosts of departed relatives, had a national
ritual for ghost-laying, a public feast in honour of departed spirits. Such a feast is still held in China, and also in Burmah. In 1875 the following placard was posted throughout the district of Rangoon, proclaiming a feast of forty-nine days by order of the Emperor of China :— "There will this year be scarcity of rice and plenty of sickness. Evil spirits will descend to examine and inquire into the sickness. If people do not believe this, many will die in September and October. Should any people call on you at midnight, do not answer; it is not a human being that calls, but an evil spirit. Do not be wicked, but be good."
But I do not propose to write a treatise on Pagan theology, nor do I propose to trace in historical detail the progress through which Christian and Pagan beliefs have in process of time become assimilated, when I have occasion, I may notice these things. I intend, as I said at the beginning, to deal with superstition, no matter from what source it may have arisen, recognising superstition to be as already defined—beliefs and practices founded upon erroneous ideas of God and the laws of nature. In many things, I believe, we are yet too superstitious, and our popular theology, instead of aiding to destroy these erroneous beliefs, aids them in maintaining their vitality. Orthodox Christians believe in a general and also in a special providence; the ancients, on the other hand, believed that all events were under the control and direction of separate and special divinities, so that when praying for certain results, they addressed the divinity having control over that phenomenon or circumstance by which they were affected, and when their desires were gratified,
they expressed their thankfulness by offerings to that divinity.
If their desires were not granted, they regarded that circumstance as a token of displeasure on the part of that
divinity, and besought the aid of their priests and soothsayers to discover the reason of his anger, and offered
sacrifices and peace offerings. Now, orthodox Christians in the same circumstances pray to God for special and personal blessings, and when they are granted, they feel grateful, and sometimes express their gratitude. A common method of expressing this gratitude is by giving something to the church. Thus we find in our church records entries like the following:—
From --- , As a thank-offering for the recovery £ s. D.
of a dear child. ---
,,--- , Peace-offering for reconciliation with
an old friend, ---
„ --- , Offering for the preservation of a
friend going abroad. ---
„ --- , Thank-offering for a fortunate trans
action in business. ---
Such offerings are remarked upon favourably by the leaders of the Church, and regarded as examples worthy of being imitated by all pious Christians. But should the prayers not be granted, there is no gift. The non-fulfilment of their desires is regarded perhaps not altogether as an evidence of God's displeasure, but at least as a token that what was asked it was not His pleasure to grant. They make little enquiry concerning the real cause of failure, but take credit to themselves for humbly submitting to God's will. This unenquiring submission is often, however, both sinful and superstitious. Every result has its cause, and it is surely our duty, as far as
observation and reason can guide us, to discover the causes which operate against us. The great majority of the afflictions and misfortunes which befall us are punishments for the breakage of some law, the committal of some sin physical or moral, and this being the case, it behooves us to find out what law has been transgressed, what the nature of the sin committed. This principle is acknowledged by our religious teachers, but the laws which have been broken, have not been wisely sought after. The field of search has been almost exclusively the moral, or the theological field; whereas the correct rule is, for physical effects, look for physical causes; for moral effects, moral causes. This rule has not been followed. A few cases illustrative of what I mean will clearly demonstrate the superstitious nature of what is a widely diffused opinion among the religious societies of this country at the present time.
Forty-six years ago, when cholera first broke out in this country, it was immediately proclaimed to be a judgment for a national sin; and so it was, but for a sin against physical laws. I well remember the indignation which arose and found expression in almost every pulpit in the country, when the Prime Minister of that day, in reply to a petition from the Church asking him to proclaim a national fast for the removal of the plague, told his petitioners to first remove every source of nuisance by cleansing drains and ditches, and removing stagnant pools, and otherwise observe the general laws of health, then having done all that lay in our power, we could ask God to bless our efforts, and He would hear us. All sorts of absurd causes were seriously advanced to account for the presence of this alarming malady. One party
discovered the cause in a movement for the disestablishment of religion. Another considered it was a judgment from God for asking the Reform Bill. The Radicals proclaimed it to be a trick of the Tories to prevent agitation for reform, and added that medical men were bribed to poison wells and streams. The non-religious displayed as great superstition in this matter as did the religious. Large bills, headed in large type "Cholera Humbug,'' were at that time posted on the blank walls of the streets of Glasgow. The feeling against medical men was then so intense, that some of them were mobbed, and narrowly escaped' with their lives. In Paisley, considered to be the most intelligent town in Scotland, a doctor, who was working night and day for the relief of the sufferers, had his house and shop sacked, and was obliged to fly for shelter, or his life would have been sacrificed to the fury of the mob.
When we read that epidemics which broke out in the times of our forefathers, were ascribed to such absurd causes as the introduction of forks, or because the nation neglected to prosecute with sufficient vigour alleged cases of compact with the devil, we wonder at and pity their ignorance, and rejoice that we live in a more enlightened age. But the fact is, that among the mass of the people there is really no great difference between the present and the past. There is a close family likeness in this matter of superstition between now and long ago, and this state of matters will continue so long as a knowledge of physical science—that science which treats of the laws by which God is pleased to overrule and direct material things—is not made a religious duty. There are physical sins and there are moral sins, and the punishment for the
first is apparently even more direct than for the second, for in the case of physical sins we are punished without mercy. Through neglect of these laws, we are continually suffering punishment, shortening and making miserable our own lives and the lives of those dependent upon us; and periodically judgments descend on the careless community, in the form of severe epidemics. Any religion which advocates practices, or teaches doctrines inconsistent with our physical, intellectual, or moral well being, cannot be from God, and vice versa; and this is a
strong argument in favour of Christianity as taught by its Founder. I wish I could say the same of the Christianity
taught by our ecclesiastics, either Protestant or Catholic.
The introduction into the heathen world of the fundamental truths that there is but one God, omnipotent and omniscient, who overrules every event, that He has revealed Himself through His Son as a God of love and mercy, and that man's duty to Him is obedience to His laws, was a mighty step in advance of the gross conceptions of idolatry formerly prevalent among these nations. But neither heathens nor Christians had for a long time any clear idea that the overruling of God in Providence was according to fixed laws. Being ignorant on this point, they ascribed to unseen supernatural agency, working in a capricious fashion, all phenomena which appeared to
differ from, or disturb the ordinary course of events. Upon such matters heathen and Christian ideas commingled, and thus heathen ideas and practices were incorporated with Christian ideas and practices. Then when ecclesiastical councils met to determine truth, and formulate their creeds, these combined heathen and Christian ideas being accepted by them, became dogmas
of the Church, and henceforth those who differed from the dogmatic creed of the Church, or advocated views in
advance of these confessions, were regarded as enemies of truth. Naturally, as the Church became powerful she became more repressive, and opposed all enquiry which appeared to lead to conclusions different from those already promulgated by her, and finally, it became a capital offence to teach any other doctrines than those sanctioned by the Church. The beliefs of the members of these councils being, as we have already seen, a mixture of heathen and Christian ideas, the Church thus became a great conservator of superstition; and to show that this was really so, we may adduce one example:—
Pope Innocent VIII. issued a Bull as follows:—" It has
"come to our ears that members of both sexes do not
"avoid to have intercourse with the infernal fiends, and
"that, by this service, they afflict both man and beast, that
"they blight the marriage bed, destroy the births of women
" and the increase of cattle, they blast the corn on the
"ground, the grapes of the vineyard and the fruits of the
"trees, and the grass and herbs of the field." The promulgation of this Bull is said to have produced dreadful
consequences, by thousands being burned and otherwise put to death, for having intercourse with the fiends. We regret to say such beliefs and such means of repressing free enquiry were not confined to one branch of the Christian Church. Protestants as well as Roman Catholics, when they had the power, suppressed many of the practices of heathenism after a cruel fashion, but at the same time fostered the superstitions and Pagan beliefs which had originated these practices, and punished those who protested against these beliefs. The same method
of procedure is in operation at the present day. Nevertheless, the introduction of Christianity into the heathen world made a wonderful revolution in their religious practices as well as in their beliefs. Their idols and the symbols of their divinities were abolished, along with the sacrifices offered to these. Their great festivals, at which human sacrifices were offered and abominable practices committed, were so modified as to be stripped of their immorality and cruelty, and while being retained—retained because they could not be utterly abolished—they were Christianized,—that is, a Christian colouring was given to them,—and they became Church festivals or holydays,—a subject I will treat more fully of in another chapter.
It is not, as I have already said, my intention to trace the gradual development of our modern idea of Providence, our ascription of universal government, of all direction of the phenomena of nature and of life to the one only omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God, but rather to place before the reader the practices and beliefs
which prevailed in this country during the early years of the present century. And from this survey we shall discover what a mass of old Pagan ideas still survived and influenced the minds and practice of the people,—how they yet clung to the notion that many of the phenomena of nature and life were under the control of super natural agents, although they did not regard these agents, as what in olden times they were considered to be—divinities, but believed them to be a class of beings living upon or within the earth, and endowed by the devil with supernatural powers.
In the northern sagas, and in the old ballads and saintly
legends of the Middle Ages—supernatural agents who played a prominent part—there are giants of enormous size and little dwarfs who can make themselves invisible, and do all sorts of good to their favourites, and harm to their enemies. We are also introduced there to dragons and other monsters which have human understandings, and,
guided by a wicked spirit, could do great mischief. Such beings took the place of the ancient divinities, and in many cases when the hero or saint is in great straits, in combat with these evil spirits or fiends, Jesus Christ comes to their assistance. One instance will exemplify this:
"O'er him stood the foul fiends,
And with their clubs of steel,
Struck him -o'er the helmit
That in deadly wound he fell.
But God his sorrow saw,
To the fiends his Son he sent;
From the earth they vanished
With howling and lament.
The Christian hero thanked his God,
From the ground he rose with speed.
Joyfully he sheathed his sword.
And mounted on his steed."
Illustrations of " Northern Antiquities.''
By the beginning of this century these ideas of the personnel of supernatural agencies had become slightly
modified in this country at least, giants and dragons having given way to fairies, brownies, elves, witches, etc. The Rev. Mr. Kirk, of Aberfeldy, published a work descriptive of these supernatural beings. He says they are a kind of astral spirits between angels and humanity, being like men and women in appearance, and similar in many of their habits; some of them, however, are
double. They marry and have children, for which they keep nurses; have deaths and burials amongst them, and they can make themselves visible or invisible at pleasure. They live in subterranean habitations, and in an invisible condition attend very constantly on men. They are very fond of human children and pretty women, both of which they will steal if not protected by some superior influence. Women in childbed stand in danger of being taken, but if a piece of cold iron be kept in the bed in which they lie, the spirits won't come near. Children are in greater
danger of being stolen before baptism than after. They sometimes, to supply their own needs, spirit away the milk
from cows, but more frequently they transfer the milk to the cows of some person who stands high in their favour.
This they do by making themselves invisible, and silently milking and removing the milk in invisible vessels. When people offend them they shoot flint-tipped arrows, and by this means kill either the persons who have offended them or their cattle. They cause these arrows to strike the most vital part, but the stroke does not visibly break the skin, only a blue mark is the result visible on the body after death. These flint arrow-heads are occasionally found, and the possession of one of these will protect the possessor against the power of these astral beings, and at the same time enable him or her to cure disease in cattle and women. These flints were often sewed into the dresses of children to protect them from the Evil-eye. There were many other means of protection against the power of these beings, which we shall have occasion to refer to again. There is one method, however, which may be mentioned now. If, when a calf is born, its mouth be smeared with a balsam
of dung, before it is allowed to suck, the fairies cannot milk that cow. Those taken to fairyland lose the power of calculating the lapse of time, although they are not unconscious of what is going on around them. Those spirited away to fairyland may be recovered by their friends or relatives, by performing certain formula, or—and this was often the method resorted to—by outwitting the fairies, getting possession of their stolen friends, and then doing or saying something which fairies cannot bear, upon which they are forced to depart, leaving the recovered party behind them.
The following information concerning the government, &c., of fairyland, is taken from Aytoun:—The queen of fairyland was a kind of feudatory sovereign under Satan, to whom she was obliged to pay kave, or tithe in kind;
and, as her own fairy subjects strongly objected to transfer their allegiance, the quota was usually made up in children who had been stolen before the rite of baptism had been administered to them. This belief was at one time universal throughout all Scotland, and was still prevalent at the beginning of this century. Charms were quite commonly employed to defend houses from the inroads of the fairies before the infants were baptised; but even baptism did not always protect the baby from being stolen. During the period of infancy, the mother required to be ever watchful; but the risks were especially great before baptism. It is difficult to define exactly the power which the queen of Efland had, for besides carrying off Thomas the Rhymer, she was supposed to have carried off no less a personage than James IV. from the field of Flodden, and to have detained him in her enchanted country. There was also a king of
elfland. From the accounts extracted from or volunteered by witches, &c., preserved to us in justiciary and presbyterial records, he appears to have been a peaceable, luxurious, indolent personage, who entrusted the whole business of his kingdom, including the recruiting department, to his wife. We get a glimpse of both their majesties in the confessions of Isabella Gowdie, in Aulderne, a parish in Nairnshire, who was indicted for witchcraft in 1662. She said—"I was in Downie Hills, and got meat there from the queen of the fairies, more than I could eat. The queen is brawly clothed in white linen, and in white and brown cloth; and the king is a braw man, well-favoured, and broad-faced. There were plenty of elf bulls rowting and skoyling up and down, and affrighted me." Mr. Kirk says ," that in fairyland they have also books of various kinds—history, travels, novels, and plays—but no sermons, no Bible, nor any book of a religious kind." Every reader of Hogg's Queen!s Wake knows the beautiful legend of the abduction of "Bonny Kilmeny"; but in Dr. Jamieson's Illustrations of Northern Antiquities we have found amongst these heroic and romantic ballads another legend more fully descriptive of fairyland. In this legend, a young lady is carried away to fair)' land, and recovered, by her brother:—
"King Arthur's sons o* merry Carlisle
Were playing at the ba',
And there was their sister,
burd Ellen, r the midst,
amang them a' Child Rowland kicked it wi' his foot.
And keppit it wi' his knee;
And aye as he played, out o'er them a',
o'er the kirk he gar'd it flee.
Eurd Ellen round about the aisle
To seek the ba' has gane;
But she bade lang, and ay langer,
And she came na back again.
They sought her east, they sought her west,
They sought her up and down.
And wae were the hearts in merry Carlisle,
For she was nae gait found."
Merlin, the warlock, being consulted, told them that burd Ellen was taken away by the fairies, and that it would be a dangerous task to recover her if they were not well instructed how to proceed. The instructions which Merlin gave were, that whoever undertook the quest for her should, after entering elf land, kill every person he met till he reached the royal apartments, and taste neither meat nor drink offered to them, for by doing otherwise they would come under the fairy spell, and never again get back to earth. Two of her brothers undertook the journey, but disobeyed the instructions of the warlock, and were retained in elf land. Child Rowland, her youngest brother, then arming himself with his father's claymore, excalibar—that never struck in vain—set out on the dangerous quest. Strictly observing the warlock's instructions, after asking his way to the king of elf land's castle of every servant he met, he, in accordance with these instructions, when he had received the desired information, slew the servant. The last fairy functionary he met was the hen-wife, who told him to go on a little further till he came to a round green hill surrounded with rings from the bottom to the top, then go round it widershins (contrary to the sun) and every time he made the circuit, say—"Open door, open door, and let me
come in," and on the third repetition of this incantation they would open, and he might then go in. Having received this information, he fulfilled his instructions, and slew the hen-wife. Then proceeding as directed, he soon reached the green hill, and made the circuit of it three times, repeating the words before mentioned. On the third repetition of the words the door opened, and he went in, the door closing behind him. " He proceeded through a long passage, where the air was soft and agreeably warm, like a May evening, as is all the air in elfland. The light was a sort of twilight or gloaming ; but there were neither windows nor candles, and he knew not whence it came if it was not from the walls and roof, which were rough and arched like a grotto, and composed of a clear transparent rock incrusted with sheefs silver, and spar and various bright stones." At last he came to two lofty folding doors which stood ajar. Passing through these doors, he entered a large and spacious hall, the richness and brilliance of which was beyond description. It seemed to extend throughout the whole length and breadth of the hill. The superb Gothic pillars by which the roof was supported were so large and lofty, that the pillars of the " Chaury Kirk or of the Pluscardin Abbey are no more to be compared to them than the Knock of Alves is to be compared to Balrimes or Ben-a-chi." They were of gold and silver, and were fretted like the west window of the Chaury Kirk (Elgin Cathedral), with wreaths of flowers, composed of diamonds and precious stones of all manner of beautiful colours. The key stones of the arches, instead of being escutcheoned, were ornamented also with clusters of diamonds in brilliant devices.
From the middle of the roof, where the arches met, was hung, suspended by a gold chain, an immense lamp of one hollowed pearl, and perfectly transparent, in the centre of which was a large carbuncle, which, by the power of magic, turned round continually, and shed throughout all the hall a clear mild light like that of the setting sun. But the hall was so large, and these dazzling objects so far removed, that their blended radiance cast no more than a pleasing mellow lustre around, and excited no other than agreeable sensations in the eyes of Child Rowland. The furniture of the hall was suitable to its architecture ; and at the further end, under a splendid canopy, sitting on a gorgeous sofa of velvet, silk and gold, and "kembing her yellow hair wi' a silver kemb,''
"Was his sister Burd Ellen.
She stood up him before,
God rue or thee poor luckless fode (man),
What hast thou to do here?
And hear ye this my youngest brother,
Why badena ye at hame?
Had ye a hunder and thousand lives
e canna brook ane o' them.
And sit thou down; and wae, oh wae!
That ever thou was born,
For came the King o' Elfland in,
Thy leccam (body) is forlorn."
After a long conversation with his sister, the two folding doors were burst open with tremendous violence, and in came the King of Elf land, shouting—
"with fi, fe, fa, and fum,
I smell the blood of a Christian man.
Be he dead, be he living, with my brand
I'll clash his hams frae his ham pan." D
Child Rowland drew his good claymore (excalibar) that never struck in vain. A furious combat ensued, and the king was defeated ; but Child Rowland spared his life on condition that he would free his sister, Burd Ellen, and his two brothers, who were lying in a trance in a cornel: of the hall. The king then produced a small crystal phial containing a bright red liquor, with which he anointed the lips, nostrils, ears and finger tips of the two brothers, who thereupon awoke as from a profound sleep, and all four returned in triumph to "merry Carlisle." The Rev. Mr. Kirk's descriptions of the subterranean homes of the fairies and of their social habits are just the counterparts of the fairyland of this beautiful ballad legend. There can be little doubt that such beliefs are but survivals in altered form of what were in still more ancient times religious tenets. What were formerly divinities have given place to the more lowly fairies, brownies, &c., and from the position of Pagan gods they have, through the opposing influence of
Christianity, been removed to the other side, and became servants of the devil, actively opposing the kingdom of Christ. Some have supposed that the fairies may have originally been considered to be descendants of the Druids, for some reason consigned to inhabit subterranean caves under green hills in wild and lonely glens. Others have identified them with the fallen angels. One thing is certain, that the notion that there exists supernatural men, women, and animals who inhabit subterranean and submarine regions, and yet can indulge in intercourse with the human race, is of very great antiquity, and widely spread, existing in Arabia, Persia, India, Thibet, among the Tartars, Swedes, Norwegians,
British, and also among the savage tribes of Africa. In the west of Scotland there was a class of fairies who acted a friendly part towards their human neighbours, helping the weak or ill-used, and generally busying themselves with acts of kindness; these were called "brownies." The fairies proper were a merry race, full of devilment, and malicious, tricky, and troublesome, and the cause of much annoyance and fear among the people. Besides these supernatural beings—brownies, fairies, &c.—there existed a belief in persons who were possessed of supernatural powers—magicians, sorcerers, &c. About the Reformation period, these persons were considered to be in the actual service of the devil, who was then thought to be raising a more determined opposition than ever to the spread of the kingdom of God, and adopting the insidious means of enlisting men and women into his service by conferring upon them supernatural powers; so that by this contract they were bound to do mischief to all good Christian people; and the more mischief they could do the greater would be the favours they received from their master. This belief was not confined to the ignorant, but was equally accepted by the educated and by the Church. Measures were taken to frustrate the devil, and the faithful were recommended to make search for those who had compacted with his Satanic Majesty, and laws were enacted for the punishment of the compacters when found. The faithful, under the belief that they were fighting the battle of the Lord, brought numbers of poor wretches to trial, many of whom,
strangely enough, believed themselves guilty of the crime imputed to them. After trial and conviction, they were put to death. The belief that the devil could and did
invest men and women with supernatural powers affected all social relations, for everything strange and unaccountable—and, in a non-scientific age, we can readily conceive how almost everything would be brought into this category—was ascribed to this cause, and each suspected his or her neighbour; even the truest friendship was sometimes broken through this suspicion. The laws against witchcraft in this country were abrogated last century, but the abrogation of the law could not be expected to work any sudden change in the belief of the people; at most, the alteration only paved the way for the gradual departure of the superstition, and since the abrogation of the law the belief has been decaying, but still in many parts of the country it lingers on till the present time, instances of which appear every now and again in the newspapers of the day.