Monday, March 23, 2020

LEPRECAT 1c ... "last"(?) really old stuff?

Still (happily) with the Olde Folks ..... 

Today let's try a few individual cases, take on the Enigma of Robert Kirk (I'll fail there), ask a question about Wings and Fairies (I'll BS profusely there), and exhibit extreme confusion about the claim that Henry Hudson saw Little People on his trip up the Hudson River looking for the Northwest Passage. 

Hmmm... that seems WAY too much to bite off, but let's at least start. (Yes. folks, I'm really just creating as I type these things --- I say "being spontaneous", a less kind person would say "winging it." Know at least that I have a couple of foot-thicknesses of notes and 300 folklore books nearby, so at least there's that.)  :=}


Forfarshire/Angus Scotland, c. mid 1600s.

I may or may not have located the original of this claim. I first saw it in FATE Magazine, which, surprisingly, often has good things in it, but still is not the finest of reference points. FATE was reprinting a piece of work by HT Wilkins, also often OK, but not the finest source. Then there was someone named Charles John Tibbitts, in 1889 (Folklore and Legends of Scotland.) Better, but the two renditions did not exactly cohere. Finally, writing in the Edinburgh Review of 1818, under the pen-name of Agrestis, someone in a landed house in Angus, laid claim to this story. His telling agreed with Tibbits and not Wilkins ... so this is from what I believe is the original source. 

Agrestis says that he wants very much to help preserve the folklore of the olde times which is vanishing. He says that, among others, he has interviewed a very old woman, who for all her life, wished to do the same. His sittings with her were, apparently, in the mid-1700s, but that would still make the story a century old when she told it. This tale is therefore a memory of the local people, rather than a claim of original firsthand experience. But, here it is:

At a farm which adjoined that of the old woman's family, there was a farmer's work-hand who had the unprepossessing name of John Smith. One day he was sent to fertilize a field by casting turf upon it, upon which job he labored all day. A small stony hill or Crag stood nearby, called Merlin's Craig. From behind this hill walked a small woman, only about a foot and a half tall, and obviously one of the little people. ... a perfectly formed woman clad in a green dress and red stockings. She had long blonde hair. 

The lady was angry. John had been cutting out sections of turf in one area to haul them to the field to be fertilized, but to her, his actions were tantamount to carving off the roof of her and her family's house! John was stunned and fearful. She ordered him to place all his "divots" back where they belonged. This he promptly did, and raced back to the farmhouse. There he told the farmer what had happened with the expected incredulous response. John was ordered to re-fetch the divots in a cart, and bring them back to the farm. Reluctantly, this he did.

Nothing happened to John Smith nor the farmer in subsequent days, and the incident was nearly forgotten. But just a year from that day, John left the farm after work to return to his own home. He carried with him a "stoup" (flagon, stein, bottle) of milk as he went. But John Smith did not arrive. Instead he was absent some significant time (months? years? the story teller could not remember how long.) Finally he reappeared, the stoup still in his hand. 

He told the following story: 
On approaching Merlin's Craig that fateful day, he became ill, and slumped to the ground. He fell asleep until perhaps midnight or later, he was awakened by a crowd of male and female fairies dancing in a ring. He was given a pretty girl as a partner and he, feeling cured, joined the dance. They danced together three times 'round the Faery ring, and away somewhere a cock crowed. The fairies (knowing that this presaged dawn) rushed with him towards the Crag, whereupon a doorway opened and all rushed in. 

He met there the older blonde fairy woman that he had originally encountered. She informed him that the turf above her house that he had cut away had recovered and was again green. She forgave him on the promise that if he would say nothing of his time spent underground with the fairy people, they would release him. He swore an oath to this (which he kept for some time, but not eternally apparently) and found on his release that much time had passed (though the stoup of milk was still fresh in his hand.)

John Smith never walked close to Merlin's Craig again, and another laborer (a shepherd) when approached by these people (having fallen asleep and awakened by their dancing) refused to go with them. He was only saved by having a copy of The Lord's Prayer in his hat, which he grabbed and held tightly. 

Well, a great story. Not sure what else can be said. We don't have an interview with the witnesses nor anyone who directly knew them. We don't even have the real name of the reporter to the Edinburgh Review. This is a Gray Basket story. It's not simply a Throwaway Story. Proper exploratory behavior here is to set it aside and see if the rest of the exploration casts any light on it. These Little People are behaving "properly" for their alleged character, and are friendlier than we have been led to believe. You would not build your hypothetical house on cases like this, but lay them nearby in the Idea Field nevertheless. 


 Shetland, Zettland, Orkneys, c. 17th century. 

A writer-scholar named John Brand made trips all over Scotland during the late 1600s and early 1700s collecting general data on the culture and economy of the areas. He laid special emphasis on the antiquities and the folklore. 

As he did so, he came across many people willing to tell him about the Little People. The primary entity mentioned (alongside many tales of Mermaids and Merpeople) were the Brownies. These folk-folks were often distinguished by their antics within the homes of the peasantry, doing mainly "good works." I cite no specific case here because Brand doesn't talk about the subject that way.

The following is Brand's language --- Quote:
"Not above forty or fifty years ago, every family had a brownie, or evil spirit, so called, which served them, to which they gave a sacrifice for his service; as when they churned their milk, they took a part thereof, and sprinkled every corner of the house with it, for Brownie’s use; likewise, when they brewed, they had a stone which they called "Brownie’s stane", wherein there was a little hole into which they poured some wort for a sacrifice to Brownie. They also had some stacks of corn, which they called Brownie's Stacks, which, though they were not bound with straw ropes, or in any way fenced as other stacks used to be, yet the greatest storm of wind was not able to blow away straw off them."

So it's hard to know (feel?) what to make of such. I don't have the original source but I DO have a set of Brand's similar work. In these volumes he talks of similar matters concerning folkloric entities and it is easy to believe that he did in fact do the actual interviewing of many people. The other thing that you can get from the three volumes is that Brand is no lightweight. He's a serious intellectual and a good observer. The stories are astounding, that's for certain, but it's equally certain that Brand thought that the people were telling him what they truly believed. (I won't go into the Merpeople stories --- I covered that topic way back in the blog years ago.)

But it is SO hard for moderns like ourselves to consider. Is that their problem or ours? 


John Beaumont (Visions or real world?): somewhere in England c. 1700AD. 

Beaumont wrote a thesis on Spirits, Genii, Apparitions and the like based upon information that he culled from classical writers, witch trials, and his own experiences. Much of this material seems very dream-like or otherwise non-normal consciousness. But he DOES seem to claim to have seen (several times) a kind of creature that one would only call members of the Little People. 

His words: "(these people) being of a brown complexion, and about three feet in stature; they had both black loose network gowns, tied with a black sash about their middles, and within the network appeared a gown of a golden color, with somewhat of a light striking through it; their heads were not dressed with topknots, but they had white linen caps on, with lace on them ... on over it they had a black lace network hood." 

Beaumont claimed to see these fairies dancing circle dances, singing and holding hands. He asked them about their nature and was told that they were superior to us, and were creatures who lived in the air. 

Well, if any of that were true, Beaumont should have either been talking to the aerial fairies or Sylphs (of which there are almost no reports at all,) or he was talking to the typical Agricola style coballos of the forest, field, and rural nature --- and they lied to him (as they are want to do.) 

A pretty weak case though ardently told. Janet Bord saw it this way as well. 


 Newborough, Wales c. mid to late 1700s. 

I acquired a bit of a treasure not long ago  entitled Y CYMMRODOR. This was a run of the journal of the CYMMRODORIAN Society of London in the 1870s and 1880s. LOADED with Welsh cultural and folkloric matters. 

Blundering aimlessly through it, I discovered in Volume 7 (1886) a fairy encounter tale. 

This event had occurred about a century back to the lady who lived in the house nearby to the reporter's informant. It was a well-known and very local set of incidents. It was a Brownie type of tale, but in this case the Brownie (a little woman) lived outside the house not in, and each week would bring the lady a freshly baked loaf of bread. This was in exchange for the borrowing of the lady's bread-baking griddle that the lady herself ordinarily used. 

This unusual barter continued as long as the lady agreed not to watch how the fairy went away, so as to perhaps discover her residence.  Of course, the lady finally gave in to her curiosity and peeked. That ended the Brownie barter, sadly for all. The lady said that her peeking revealed that the Brownie (the informant being Welsh used the Welsh term meaning the Good People, or the Tylwyth Teg) went directly to the nearby lake and pliunged beneath the waters. 

 Perhaps a slightly better case, and surely charming.  

Well, I've done it again --- completely gassed out. 

I'll get back on the horse in a couple of days, and stare Robert Kirk and Henry Hudson in the eyes then.    Till then, may the Wind be always at your back.  


  1. Truly peculiar and interesting material. You have a trove of wonderful things. Thank you for sharing this stuff!

    1. Thank you. My library is a bit of a treasure built over the last decade and a half. It is not like sitting in one of Britain's libraries, but it is still potent (and the best that this Yank can do). AND, having one's own books encourages the "random read" phenomenon (rather than the narrow directed read of the Internet search.) THAT is the very underestimated source of the serendipitous discovery. Please keep reading real books folks. They contain the not-yet-kicked-over-stones.



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