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A Remonstrance

A REMONSTRANCE WITH SCOTSMEN FOR HAVING SOURED THE DISPOSITION OF
THEIR GHOSTS AND FAERIES


Not only in Ireland is faery belief still extant. It was only the
other day I heard of a Scottish farmer who believed that the lake in
front of his house was haunted by a water-horse. He was afraid of it,
and dragged the lake with nets, and then tried to pump it empty. It
would have been a bad thing for the water-horse had he found him. An
Irish peasant would have long since come to terms with the creature.
For in Ireland there is something of timid affection between men and
spirits. They only ill-treat each other in reason. Each admits the
other side to have feelings. There are points beyond which neither will
go. No Irish peasant would treat a captured faery as did the man
Campbell tells of. He caught a kelpie, and tied her behind him on his
horse. She was fierce, but he kept her quiet by driving an awl and a
needle into her. They came to a river, and she grew very restless,
fearing to cross the water. Again he drove the awl and needle into her.
She cried out, "Pierce me with the awl, but keep that slender, hair-
like slave (the needle) out of me." They came to an inn. He turned the
light of a lantern on her; immediately she dropped down like a falling
star, and changed into a lump of jelly. She was dead. Nor would they
treat the faeries as one is treated in an old Highland poem. A faery
loved a little child who used to cut turf at the side of a faery hill.
Every day the faery put out his hand from the hill with an enchanted
knife. The child used to cut the turf with the knife. It did not take
long, the knife being charmed. Her brothers wondered why she was done
so quickly. At last they resolved to watch, and find out who helped
her. They saw the small hand come out of the earth, and the little
child take from it the knife. When the turf was all cut, they saw her
make three taps on the ground with the handle. The small hand came out
of the hill. Snatching the knife from the child, they cut the hand off
with a blow. The faery was never again seen. He drew his bleeding arm
into the earth, thinking, as it is recorded, he had lost his hand
through the treachery of the child.

In Scotland you are too theological, too gloomy. You have made even
the Devil religious. "Where do you live, good-wyf, and how is the
minister?" he said to the witch when he met her on the high-road, as it
came out in the trial. You have burnt all the witches. In Ireland we
have left them alone. To be sure, the "loyal minority" knocked out the
eye of one with a cabbage-stump on the 31st of March, 1711, in the town
of Carrickfergus. But then the "loyal minority" is half Scottish. You
have discovered the faeries to be pagan and wicked. You would like to
have them all up before the magistrate. In Ireland warlike mortals have
gone amongst them, and helped them in their battles, and they in turn
have taught men great skill with herbs, and permitted some few to hear
their tunes. Carolan slept upon a faery rath. Ever after their tunes
ran in his head, and made him the great musician he was. In Scotland
you have denounced them from the pulpit. In Ireland they have been
permitted by the priests to consult them on the state of their souls.
Unhappily the priests have decided that they have no souls, that they
will dry up like so much bright vapour at the last day; but more in
sadness than in anger they have said it. The Catholic religion likes to
keep on good terms with its neighbours.

These two different ways of looking at things have influenced in each
country the whole world of sprites and goblins. For their gay and
graceful doings you must go to Ireland; for their deeds of terror to
Scotland. Our Irish faery terrors have about them something of make-
believe. When a peasant strays into an enchanted hovel, and is made to
turn a corpse all night on a spit before the fire, we do not feel
anxious; we know he will wake in the midst of a green field, the dew on
his old coat. In Scotland it is altogether different. You have soured
the naturally excellent disposition of ghosts and goblins. The piper
M'Crimmon, of the Hebrides, shouldered his pipes, and marched into a
sea cavern, playing loudly, and followed by his dog. For a long time
the people could hear the pipes. He must have gone nearly a mile, when
they heard the sound of a struggle. Then the piping ceased suddenly.
Some time went by, and then his dog came out of the cavern completely
flayed, too weak even to howl. Nothing else ever came out of the
cavern. Then there is the tale of the man who dived into a lake where
treasure was thought to be. He saw a great coffer of iron. Close to the
coffer lay a monster, who warned him to return whence he came. He rose
to the surface; but the bystanders, when they heard he had seen the
treasure, persuaded him to dive again. He dived. In a little while his
heart and liver floated up, reddening the water. No man ever saw the
rest of his body.

These water-goblins and water-monsters are common in Scottish folk-
lore. We have them too, but take them much less dreadfully. Our tales
turn all their doings to favour and to prettiness, or hopelessly
humorize the creatures. A hole in the Sligo river is haunted by one of
these monsters. He is ardently believed in by many, but that does not
prevent the peasantry playing with the subject, and surrounding it with
conscious fantasies. When I was a small boy I fished one day for
congers in the monster hole. Returning home, a great eel on my
shoulder, his head flapping down in front, his tail sweeping the ground
behind, I met a fisherman of my acquaintance. I began a tale of an
immense conger, three times larger than the one I carried, that had
broken my line and escaped. "That was him," said the fisherman. "Did
you ever hear how he made my brother emigrate? My brother was a diver,
you know, and grubbed stones for the Harbour Board. One day the beast
comes up to him, and says, 'What are you after?' 'Stones, sur,' says
he. 'Don't you think you had better be going?' 'Yes, sur,' says he. And
that's why my brother emigrated. The people said it was because he got
poor, but that's not true."

You--you will make no terms with the spirits of fire and earth and air
and water. You have made the Darkness your enemy. We--we exchange
civilities with the world beyond.

William Butler Yeats