1 February 2021- Black Dog in Folklore continued

By | February 11, 2021

The session:

Followed on the theme of Black Dogs and Boggy beasts with other similar beasts by completing the flitting with the boggart and starting with the Good Folk and the Fairy Folk.

1/.  Flitting with the Boggart .  Sometimes the helpful or mischievous boggart would become so troublesome a family would seek to move .  We followed a detailed tale of a boggart attached to a family.  This tale was designed to entertain.

We looked at the development of a story recorded in two different locations.  The story we started with was from Yorkshire recorded in Literary Gazette April 1825, quoted in Katharine M Briggs British Folktale and Legends: A sampler London Paladin/Granada 1977 p122.  The family were being troubled by an unseen Boggart who tormented the children.  This Boggart lived in a closet which had a knot hole in the door.  The children would poke things through, and they would be violently thrown out.  Eventually the family resolved to move out and leave the Boggart behind.  The Boggart hid himself in a large churn and spoke to them as they were travelling to the new home.  The family decided to return to the house they had just left.

This tale bears a remarkable likeness to that recorded by John Roby in ‘Traditions of Lancashire’.  This had some added details such as a worthy old lady recounting the tale but elements of it were almost verbatim.  This was set in Lancashire and is thought to be a more recent version.

These tales often have little gems of old traditions and ancient beliefs.  Knot holes were thought to be a way of seeing things you could not otherwise see, portals.  Holes in stones were believed to be protection from witches.

2/.  Fairy Folk/Good People

They are very much the superior elite of household beings.  These are not the fairies from children’s story books and are more sinister, tricksy, and dangerous and need to be treated with respect.

They would spend most of their time in their own realm but would visit our world for their own purposes or to encounter humans.

Care had to be taken in interactions with them.  Humans had to play fair with them, not be mean-spirited with them, not be disrespectful, not spy on them, not talk openly about them.  They are addressed as ‘Good People’, ‘Hidden People.  Using their names is disrespectful and there is power in using a name.  It was a widespread and ancient belief that using a name gave you power over them.  This is something which comes up in other tales such as Odysseus, Rumpelstiltskin.  It also features in modern day story-telling in films such as Beetlejuice and Candyman.

If they were offended, they would take swift and nasty retribution.

Stories often like morality tales

The lifestyle of the Good Folk was similar to humans and they had a social hierarchy.

There was an aristocracy with a king and a queen.  They would come to this world to hold their feasts, ride or hunt.

There were also ordinary Fairy folk who were small about the size 3-year-old children who looked human like.  They too enjoyed feasting, but they also had to work as farmers and bakers etc..  As part of their work, they would visit markets in the human world.  They could extract money from human farmers’ pockets without their knowledge.

Good people were masters of magic.  They could give gifts which appeared to be of little or no value and turn them into gold etc.  They could not fly using wings but used some magic device such as a cap, belt or spell.  They could appear and disappear at will.

The best time to see them was at dawn or dusk, bright star or moon lit nights.  Out of the corner of your eye between one blink and the next.  Also if you held a 4 leaf clover or had a holed stone.

There are lots of tales and legends which fall into 4 categories:-

  • Stories where they benefit from human kindness and offer a reward.
  • React to unkindness and disrespect.
  • Changelings, fairy left in place of a human baby
  • Adult humans wander into their Fairy Land or are abducted there.

We looked at a number tales about the first group of The Good People and these included :-

  • Scottish Borders:- a poor shepherd rewarded for helping a Fairy Woman and her child
  • Galloway:- Sir Godfrey Mac Cullough rewarded for diverting his drains
  • Lochmaben, Dumfries & Galloway:- a woman prospered after obliging the Fairy Folk
  • Deunant, Aberdaron:- a farmer prospered after redesigning his house to accommodate the Fairy Folk
  • Airlie, Tayside:- cakes baking at the fire were sometimes taken by the Fairy Folk

A common theme was finding Fairy underground homes under houses, tree roots etc.  This may link back to prehistoric workings which had chambers underground and may have been seen as an explanation of that.  There were also memories of offerings made in the past linking back to ploughing and rites to ensure a good harvest.

We looked in detail at Paddy O’Gadhra’s Fairy Shilling Malin Glen, Donegal:- where a Fairy rewarded his help carrying a heavy basket with a shilling which kept reappearing in his pocket even after he had spent it.  Eventually, he started to fear his wonderful gift so he went to the priest in Glencolumcile and told him what had happened. The priest put his stole around his neck and made the sign of the cross on the shilling, and it vanished.  This tale shows rewards for a good deed and the response to Christianity.

We also looked at the Broken Fairy Peel (ref Westwood & Simpson, “The Lore of the Land”):- A peel is a wooden shovel for the removal of bread from the oven.  This was set at Burlow Castle, Ardlington, in Sussex which was well known for fairies, and nobody liked to go by it after dark for fear of them.  One day, a man called Charles was ploughing a field alongside the earthwork, together with a mate called Harry, when they heard a noise under the ground, which was a Fairy, calling for help because she was baking bread and had broken her peel.  “Put it up and I’ll try and mend it”, said Charles, and up through a crack in the dry ground came a little peel, no bigger than a cheese knife. Charles was careful not to laugh at the tiny thing, but mended it and laid it back in the crack. Harry had his back turned during this and when Charles told him about it, he refused to believe it, saying it was nonsense and there were no fairies nowadays.

Next day they were working in the same field and stopped for their lunch, Charles heard the voice again, and saw standing close by the crack, a little bowl full of “summat that smelled a hell and all better than small beer.” He drank it up eagerly and meant to keep the bowl to show Harry, for he was elsewhere again, but it slipped out of his hands and smashed to pieces, so Harry only laughed at him.  But Harry was paid out.  He fell ill and could no longer work, and pined away ’til he was only skin and bone. The doctor could do nothing for him, and he died a year later, at the very same day and hour that the little voice was first heard and when he spoke against the Fairies.

This tale picks up a number of the recurring themes.  A place where you did not venture after dark, located close to ancient earthworks, with the fairy living under ground. A reward for a good turn and showing respect.  Dire punishment for being disrespectful.

Next time we shall continue with Fairies.

Last Updated on March 25, 2021