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Tales of Scottish Folklore
Tales of Scottish Folklore

Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales
Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales

Scottish Faeries

The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales
The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales


Scottish Belief in Fairies

Belief in fairies goes back to prehistoric times, and is not confined to this country. Hereabouts, however, it may have developed out of a folk-memory of that smallish race associated with the bronze age.

These primitive folk lived in small communities, using “beehive” houses sunk deep into the heather—turf ed over and rather like green mounds when seen at a distance. They were hunters and herdsmen, and they worked in bronze. You can still find their tiny flint arrows (or “ elf-bolts”) on the moors and high pastures.

As time passed these people were driven farther and farther into the wilds—became furtive and nocturnal, nimble in getting out of sight. That they stole children to sacrifice to their god made them a folk to be feared. Some of these dwarfish people are said to have existed in the remoter parts of Scotland well into the 18th century. Few people believe in fairies now, but there are many places in Angus, Fife and Perthshire associated with them. Not long ago I passed Fairy—green, where they are said to have danced in the dewy meadows under the slopes of historic Dunsinane Hill. Schiehallion, one of Perthshire’s noblest peaks is named in gaelic, " the fairy hill of the Caledonians.”

Tales of fairies were not only handed down by word of mouth. In 1691 the Rev. Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle published a remarkabLe book called ‘The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies,’ and he is said to have been eventually spirited away into the Dun-shi, or Fairy Hill, at Aberfoyle “because he knew too much !“

Urisks and brownies also inhabited these parts. Ben Doran was haunted by a urisk (half man, half goat), but he was met and banished by St. Fillan. The footprint of another can be seen in Glen Lyon, and he is said to have had his lair in the wild foaming burn called Inbhir—inneoin.

Morphie, near Montrose, also had its urisk, but Ben Venue in the Trossachs is the most famous haunt of these monsters­Coire nan Urisgean being the recognised howff of all the urisks in Scotland.

Brownies were more domesticated, and made themselves useful, working at night. There was one at Fern ‘wha wrocht like twenty men, thrashin’ strae and muckin’ the byres.’ A useful chap to have about the place, and no doubt well worth the bannocks and milk put out for him on the Brownie Stone!

When bridges were fewer, and fords in general use, kelpies were commoner than they are now. Many a traveller, coming to a river haunted by one of these demon-steeds has been:

“Feared to pass the place
Whaur he roars among the rocks and muckle stanes.”

Both the North and South Esks had kelpies, and the head of one was carved on the keystone of the bridge at Shielhill when the dangerous ford there was replaced by the stone structure.

There was also a kelpie in a pool beside Craigendowie (Lethnot), and at a hill lochan set above Glen Ogle in Perthshire. These water—spirits, however, should not be confused with the traditional monsters of certain highland lochs—Loch Ness, of course, for one. Strange to say, it was a water—bull that had its lair in Loch Rannoch.

Fairyland’s location was vague, but it seemed usually to be underground and entered through some fairy hillock. The Queen of Elfhame, mounted on her milk—white steed, came out now and again to cast her spells, and on moonshiny nights the fairies would dance in a ring. “Fairy rings,” dark green and sprinkled with toadstools, still serve to show where their feet had danced. New born babes were ever in danger of being carried off by the fairies—at least until the christening was past—but there were various means of preventing this. If the fairies did succeed in stealing the child a peevish changeling was left in its place, and this fairy child usually pined away.

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