Survivals in Belief Among the Celts, by George Henderson, , at sacred-texts.com
IT is a primitive idea that the soul can leave the body. As separable soul 1 it may take manifold forms. A Breton tale tells of a giant's life as being in an egg, in a dove, in a hare, in a wolf, which lives in a coffer at the bottom of the sea. On Gadhelic ground we meet with it in the young king of Easaidh Ruadh, where the giant's soul is spoken of as, first, in the Bonnach stone, then in the threshold. "There is a flagstone under the threshold. There is a wether under the flag. There is a duck in the wether's belly, and an egg in the belly of the duck, and it is in the egg that my soul is." The king in his pursuit of his lady-love, taken captive by the giant, had the assistance of a dog, a falcon, and an otter. The dog pulled out the wether; the falcon caught the duck as it flew away; and the otter recovered the egg from the ocean into which it had rolled. Thereafter he had but to crush the egg and end the giant's life. Parallel to this is the case of the sea-beast who captures the king's daughter in Campbell's tale of 'The Sea-Maiden':
the soul of the beast is in an egg, in a trout, in a hoodie, in a hind, which lives in an island in a loch.
Next, the external-soul may be regarded as present in an object intimately associated with a man, as, for instance, the ancestral sword.
The Highland oath upon the dirk is referred to in the legends of Strathisla, 1 the Strathylefe 2 of the charter of King William of Scotland. The 'Sick-Bed of Cuchulainn,' an ancient Gadhelic tale, says expressly that, of old, demons were wont to speak to men from out of their weapons: the consequence was that, if men swore false oaths, their swords became turned, or turned themselves against them. 3 The Gadhelic asseveration 4—by thy father's hand and by thy grandfather's hand and by thine own two hands supporting them—has reference ultimately to the sword. The custom is parallel to that in Aeschylus, who makes a hero swear by his sword. 5 One recalls the familiar spirit which Paracelsus kept imprisoned in the pummel of his sword as in the portrait of Lumley Castle, and of which Butler in Hudibras speaks:
In the modern Scottish oath with uplifted hand both judge and witness appeal to the Deity, as did the Greeks when they lifted up their hand at sacrifice, as did Aaron when he lifted up his hand towards the people. But the Gadhelic tradition leads back to an earlier world, and recurs likewise in the word for oath, 1 which was originally taken in presence of the relics. Keating (vol. iii. 53) tells of one whose head fell off at the fair of Taillte for having sworn falsely by the hand of Ciaran. And Spenser for his time says: "The Irish use now to sweare by their lord's hand, and to forsweare it they hold it more criminal than to sweare by God." 2
The external-soul may meet us as a little spectre (fuatharlan) or moth. This I have heard spoken of as a soul-form. And for the more general belief let me adduce what Pennant states:
"The belief in spectres still exists; of which I had a remarkable proof while I was in the county of Breadalbane. A poor visionary, who had been working in his cabbage garden, imagined that he was raised suddenly into the air, and conveyed over a wall into an adjacent corn-field: that he found himself surrounded by a crowd of men and women, many of whom he knew to have been dead some years, and who appeared to him skimming over the tops of the unbended corn, and mingling together like bees going to hive: that they spoke an unknown language and with a hollow sound: that
they very roughly pushed him to and fro; but on his uttering the name of God, all vanished but a female sprite, who, seizing him by the shoulder, obliged him to premise an assignation, at that very hour, that day sevennight: that he then found that his hair was all tied in double knots, and that he had almost lost the use of his speech: that he kept his word with the spectre, whom he soon saw come floating through the air towards him: that he spoke to her, but she told him at that time she was in too much haste to attend to him, but bid him go away, and no harm should befall him; and so the affair rested when I left the country." 1
An authentic instance given by a friend is that of M. A., a solicitor in Edinburgh, about seventy years ago; he saw a moth flitting round the table suddenly wing its flight to a neighbouring room. Where is it gone? he called, and added that it was a soul-spirit haunting the place, and a sign of death.
This, is but another case of the soul taking a form somewhat analogous to that of the butterfly-soul. In Wales aged people used to say that white moths were the souls of the dead who in this form were allowed to take farewell of the earth. When any kind of moth fluttered around a candle, people said somebody was dying, and the soul was passing (Trevelyan, 307).
The soul is at times thought to assume the form of a butterfly, dearbadan Dé, tarmachan Dé being the Highland names; they are in part god-names. The Irish féiliocán the Manx follican, 'butterfly,' do not show the god-soul in the name, but there is an
[paragraph continues] Irish legend as to a priest who came to disbelieve that men had souls. "Who ever saw a soul?" he would say. "If you can show me one I will believe." All the king's sons were on his side, but at last a mysterious child comes on the scene and shows him that if we have life though we cannot see it, we may also have a soul though it is invisible. He had met at last one who believed, and having told the child his story he bade him watch, "for a living thing will soar up from my body as I die, and you will then know that my soul has ascended into the presence of God." This was to be a sign that his previous teaching was a lie. His death is then described, and when his agony seemed to cease, the child, who was watching, "saw a beautiful living creature, with four snow-white wings, mount from the dead man's body into the air, and go fluttering round his head. So he ran to bring the scholars; and when they all knew it was the soul of their master, they watched with wonder and awe. until it passed from sight into the clouds. And this was the first butterfly that was ever seen in Ireland; and now all men know that the butterflies are the souls of the dead waiting for the moment when they may enter Purgatory, and so pass through torture to purification and peace." But the schools of Ireland were quite deserted after that time, for people said, what is the use of going so far to learn when the wisest man in all Ireland did not know if he had a soul till he was near losing it; and was only saved at last through the simple belief of a little child? 1
In Brittany souls are frequently thought of as in butterfly form; but there the soul, on leaving the body, is often held to take the form of a fly, sometimes that of a raven. 1 There is here, and in what is said of the moth, much that reminds of what Ralston (Songs of the Russian People, 118) tells of the Slays: "The butterfly seems to have been universally accepted by the Slavonians as an emblem of the soul. In the Government of Yaroslav one of its names is dushichka, a caressing diminutive of dusha, the soul. In that of Kherson it is believed that if the usual alms are not distributed at a funeral, the dead man's soul will reveal itself to his relatives in the form of a moth flying about the flame of a candle. The day after receiving such a warning visit, they call together the poor and distribute food among them. In Bohemia tradition says that if the first butterfly a man sees in the spring is a white one, he is destined to die within the year. The Servians believe that the soul of a witch often leaves her body while she is asleep and flies abroad in the shape of a butterfly. If during its absence her body be turned round, so that her feet are placed where her head was before, the soul-butterfly will not be able to find her mouth, and so she will be shut out, from her body. Thereupon the witch will die."
With this one might compare the belief in the Cotswolds in the Death's Head Moth as an
harbinger of death, while in the Midlands the bat is regarded with awe,—both possibly old British.
The idea of the soul as in bee-form is familiar; for this reason the habit prevailed in some places of veiling the hive in crape, as if to notify them of a death in the household. I remember the case of I. B., who, when his brother died, put the bees into mourning. 1 The late Rev. Dr. Forsyth, minister of Abernethy, recorded the following tradition in his earlier days when minister at Dornoch,—a legend which illustrates also the ideas of the soul-bridge and of the tree as taken to witness: "Once upon a time there were two men travelling together on foot along Speyside. The elder one of the two grew weary, and they sat down to rest under a tree, having drunk of a little stream that ran below them. The wearied man soon fell asleep, and his companion sat watching the larks singing above the furze-bushes and the dimpling and purling of the burn. He heard his fellow-traveller groaning and muttering in a restless sleep, and he soon after saw creep out of his mouth an insect like a bee, only wanting its wings. This bee crawled along the man's clothes and down on the sod till it came to the brook, which it could neither fly over nor swim. It aye turned back and back, and aye tried it again, till the waking man, letting it creep on his sword, helped it across. It then went on two hundred yards or more and disappeared in a small cairn. Presently the sleeper came to himself and told his
friend that he had a strange dream: a 'wee wee crayterie no bigger nor a bee' had told him of a hidden treasure, and had promised to show it to him. It had seemed to him as if the creature came out of his mouth, had crossed the burn by his comrade's help, and had gone out of sight in a cairn. The watcher (who had had time to follow the bee to the cairn just hid by a rising ground, and not more than two hundred yards off) laughed at the story, but the elder man said that it must be true, and declared his mind to seek the cairn and its contents. High words followed, and the younger, drawing his sword, slew the man who had dreamt the dream of gold. The victim with his last breath upbraided the other with treachery, and took the tree, under which he had slept and now lay, to witness that he had been foully murdered. The murderer dug out the cairn and found the treasure, gold and silver and silver arm-pieces, and became a gay rich man, but 'aye where he went men saw a tree abuve him and behind him, aye walking where he walked, and staying where he stayed. An’ for all his gear he neuer got a friend to bide wi’ him, nor a lass to mary him. At last he was ouer weary of it all, and went to the priest and telled him the way of it, and made a restitution to the dead man's folk, and that was good to him whatever; but he didna live lang syne.'" 1
Hugh Miller, in My Schools and Schoolmasters (ch. vi.), records a story told him by his cousin at Gruids, Sutherland. He communicated to me, says Miller, a tradition illustrative of the Celtic theory of
dreaming, of which I have since often thought. "Two young men had been spending the early portion of a warm summer day in exactly such a scene as that in which he communicated the anecdote. There was an ancient ruin beside them, separated, however, from the mossy bank on which they sat, by a slender runnel, across which there lay, immediately over a miniature cascade, a few withered grass stalks. Overcome by the heat of the day, one of the young men fell asleep; his companion watched drowsily beside him; when all at once the watcher was aroused to attention by seeing a little indistinct form, scarce larger than a humble-bee, issue from the mouth of the sleeping man, and, leaping upon the moss, move downwards to the runnel, which it crossed along the withered grass stalks, and then disappeared amid the interstices of the ruin. Alarmed by what he saw, the watcher hastily shook his companion by the shoulder, and awoke him; though, with all his haste, the little cloud-like creature, still more rapid in its movements, issued from the interstice into which it had gone, and, flying across the runnel, instead of creeping along the grass stalks and over the sward, as before, it re-entered the mouth of the sleeper, just as he was in the act of awakening. 'What is the matter with you?' said the watcher, greatly alarmed,—'What ails you?' 'Nothing ails me,' replied the other; 'but you have robbed me of a most delightful dream. I dreamed I was walking through a fine rich country, and came at length to the shores of a noble river; and, just where the clear water went thundering down a precipice, there was a bridge all of silver, which I crossed; and then, entering a noble palace, on the
opposite side, I saw great heaps of gold and jewels, and I was just going to load myself with treasure, when you rudely awoke me, and I lost all.' I know not what the asserters of the clairvoyant faculty may think of the story; but I rather believe I have occasionally seen them make use of anecdotes that did not rest on evidence a great deal more solid than the Highland legend, and that illustrated not much more clearly the philosophy of the phenomena with which they profess to deal."
This is exactly the story in King Gunthram's Dream; it portrays an aspect of the external soul:
These Highland stories have a strange similarity to that in the Latin of Paul the Deacon (720-790 A.D.). "It befell one day that Gunthram, King of the Franks, went hunting in a forest, and, as often happens, his companions were scattered, and he himself left alone with one loyal attendant. He was overcome with sleep, and slept with his head resting on his retainer's knees. As the king slept, the other in whose lap he lay, saw a small creature like a lizard come out of his mouth and look for some way to cross a slender stream of water that was running near. He drew his sword from the sheath and laid it across the water, and the little reptile went over it to the other side, and disappeared in a hole in the hill. It returned not long after, and came back over the sword and into the king's mouth. When Gunthram awoke he described a wonderful vision. It seemed in his dream that he had crossed a river on an iron bridge and entered a mountain where he found a great treasure of gold. Then the squire told him what he had seen while the king was asleep.
[paragraph continues] Search was made in the place, and great heaps of ancient gold discovered there. Of this the king had a paten made of great size and weight adorned with precious stones which he intended to have sent to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, but he was prevented, and placed it on the shrine of St. Marcellus at Chalons, the capital of his kingdom, where it is to this day."
Ere passing from this, I may add another curious story from the same source as illustrating a parallel belief as well as transformation. Cunincpert, King of the Lombards, was standing at the window of the palace in Pavia, consulting with his marshal (marhyaiz, i.e. the groom who bits and bridles the horse) how to remove his enemies Aldo and Grauso. A large fly settled on the window sill before him; the king made a blow at it with his dagger, but only cut off a leg. Meantime, Aldo and Grauso were coming to the palace, ignorant of the king's designs against them. When they were at the church of St. Romanus near the palace, there met them a one-legged man, who said to them that if they went to Cunincpert he would kill them. They were filled with terror at this, and took refuge behind the altar in the church: this was told to the king. Then C. blamed his marshal for publishing his intention. But the marshal answered: "My lord king, thou knowest that since this was spoken of in counsel I have not departed from thy presence; and how could I tell it to any one?" Then the king sent to Aldo and Grauso asking why they had fled to sanctuary. They answered: "Because it was declared to us that our Lord the king would have put
us to death." Again the king sent to ask them who had given them these tidings, affirming that unless they told they should never have grace. Then they sent to the king to say that a lame man had met them, wanting a foot, and with a wooden leg, who had warned them of destruction. Then the king saw that the fly whose foot he had cut off was an evil spirit, and had discovered his secret. He brought away Aldo and Grauso from their refuge, and forgave them, and took them into his favour.
The nearest parallel is in a Breton story where the soul is seen as an insect. Pezr Nicol was a man, and he died. His friend, Yvon Peuker, saw a fly come out of the dying man's mouth, a shadowy fly,—with gauzy wings, something like the ephemeral insects that hover over streams at eventide. It dipped its feet in a basin of milk, flew round the room and vanished. When it re-appeared it settled on the corpse, and there remained, allowing itself to be shut in the coffin with the dead man. Peuker saw it again when they reached the churchyard, and understood then that it must be the soul of Pezr Nicol. The insect soon flew to a marsh not far from the farm on which Pezr Nicol dwelt during his life. Then it perched upon a thorn-bush.
"Poor little fly! what do you do here?" asked the good Peuker.
"You can see me, then?"
"I see you certainly since I am speaking to you. Tell me, are you not the soul of the departed Pezr Nicol, who was my best friend on earth?"
"Yes. This is the place where God wills me to be for my expiation, and I have to remain here five
hundred years. God must regard you with great favour, having permitted you to recognise my soul under this form."
The soul then explains the dipping of the feet in milk as an act of cleansing ere appearing before the Judge, and explains his flitting about as a bidding farewell to the farm-implements and animals, and his being shut in the coffin as an obligation to remain with the body until God gave sentence. 1
The belief in the bird-soul was well known in the Highlands. To illustrate: A farmer was coming home from Inverness to Buntait when at a weird part of the way his mare got uncontrollable and ran up with him to where was a waterfall (eas). Whereupon he swooned and fell off. On recovering he found his way home and was amazed at finding his mare tied in the stable, not knowing how it happened, for nobody confessed to having tied her. Soon after he hurt himself in moving a heavy box of oats at the farm of Shewglie; a plough or two broke thereafter at the spring-work, always a bad omen. Getting more unwell, he said to his wife the night before his death: "What a beautiful bird I heard singing by my bedside to-night." "I well believe it," she replied. To which he answered: "It was my ghost; I cannot live long." He it was who composed the song containing the verse:
i.e. '‘Tis not thy "guck-ook" (or sad cry) that I heed; ’tis my deep need that is my plaint; ere thou comest again, O sad one! I shall be a-nailed in the coffin.'
In St. Kilda the cuckoo is a bird of ill omen (cf. Glasgow Herald, June 10, 1910). A common bye-name for it over the Highlands is bradag, 'rascal,' from its neglect of its young: to express contempt or ill-luck there is the phrase: 'chac a chuthag air' = 'the cuckoo "dropped" on him.' It is a bird of augury: 'chuala mi chuthag gun bhiadh am bhroinn . . . s dh’aithnich mi féin nach rachadh a bhliadhna leam' = 'I heard the cuckoo while fasting (ere I took breakfast i.e.) . . . and I knew that the year would not go well with me.' It is unlucky in the Highlands to hear the first cuckoo of the season ere one has broken one's fast. In Mid-Wales there seems to be a trace of a belief that the cuckoo was once a beautiful lady who wept over her brother's death until she was changed into a bird (Trevelyan, 109). With this last falls to be compared the Slavic belief that the cuckoo is a transformed girl who mourned too much for her lost lover.
It is curious that in Anglo-Saxon lyrics of the eighth century the cuckoo is a bird of sorrow, filling the heart with care—which may be due to Celtic influence, as it is an idea alien to Germanic literature, though I cannot prove this by citing old references as yet. The Breton fishers near St. Malo not so long ago spoke of it as 'parent,' and thought of it as a good augury for fishing: at St. Jacut the first boat that hears the cuckoo casts out
a ray-fish as offering: the sailors of St. Cast, if they hear it sing when embarking, light a pipe in its honour. In Friesland, Lithuania, and south-east of the Urals there are dances in honour of the cuckoo, which have been regarded as remnants of a totem-dance in Europe. 1 The Highland song by Dr. Maclachlan of Rahoy speaks of the cuckoo as dispelling sorrow—’s to thogadh bròn om chridhe, i.e. '’tis thou wouldst raise grief from mine heart'—but this is quite modern, and the whole song reproduces loosely the feeling of a poem in English which speaks of the bird thus:
[paragraph continues] In some of the Celtic areas of old the feeling would have been the reverse.
I take the following from Miss Dempster of Skibo's collection in a document among the Campbell of Islay Manuscripts in the Advocates’ Library: "Some days before the death of Dr. Bethune, sometime minister of the parish of Dornoch (1816), a large cormorant was observed sitting on the steeple of the parish church—the whole town took this as a sign that the incumbent was not long for this world. One of the same birds was seen flying and lighting on parts of the building in 185? the vulgar predicted from this a similar result, and the event justified the saying, for the then clergyman sickened and died after a short illness.
A common proverb associates the magpie with death, but if two come to a house it portends a
wedding. 1 The raven is equally a bird of omen, raven-knowledge 2 or wisdom being proverbial; I find it referred to in a poem in the 'Massacre of the Rosses,' and quite recently in a poem in memory of Louisa MacDougall of MacDougall by the clan bard to whom the raven is symbolic of the prowess and valour of the descendants of Conn and Somerled:
The Isle of Man has similar beliefs. As to the magpie they say:
Ravens, too, are uncanny, because they were originally Odin's messengers, suggests Mr. Moore, but perhaps the parallel Norse belief is only a coincidence.
In Wales the eagle was of old a bird of divination. "The descendants of a person who had eaten eagles’ flesh to the ninth generation possessed the gift of second sight." The eagles of Snowdon were regarded as oracles; chained eagles were supposed to guard the resting-place of King Arthur. When high winds prevailed the saying was, "the eagles are breeding whirlwinds on Snowdon" (Trevelyan, 81-82). One recalls the Roman service of the consecratio (Herodian, iv. 2), where the eagle that
rose from the pyre symbolised the soul of the Emperor, the eagle-god. The eagle of the legions was a fetich to the common soldier, who anointed it and prepared a sacellum for it in the camp (Pliny, Hist. Nat. xiii. 23). The fire-stealer Prometheus is an eagle-god; from a divine eagle some royal families of old fabled their descent (v. Reinach, Cultes, Mythes et Religions, iii. p. 78). The witches (doiteagan) of Mull in legend are said to assume raven form, and in this guise raise a tempest and croak maledictions on the Lochlin princess associated in Mull story with the disaster 1 to a vessel from Spain.
The soul in swan form is best evidenced by the Fate of the Children of Lir, a tragic story of great pathos wherein human beings are transformed into swans at the bidding of a cruel stepmother. It is easily accessible in Joyce's Old Gaelic Romances. The metamorphoses of the three daughters of Lir, the sea-god, is but a return to their primitive estate. In its basic idea one may compare Zeus and his wooing of Leda, a legend which goes back to an early age when some Greek tribe had for goddess a swan which they thought of as of near kin to mortals. With the rise of thought such gods in animal form give place to gods in human form.
In St. Kilda (Gaelic, 'Hirt, Hiort') this phase of belief appears as 'the ghost-bird.' The last British specimen of the Great Auk was captured there on Stac-an-Armuinn between 1830 and 1835. "It was described as being about the size of a year-old lamb,
with a head like a razor-bill, and short wings, so that it could not fly. The men caught the bird, tied a rope to its leg, and kept it for two or three days. The extraordinary appearance of the bird impressed the men so much that they thought it was a ghost, and looked upon it as the cause of the bad weather they were experiencing. They, therefore, killed the poor bird, and threw it at the back of the house, covering it with stones. It has ever since gone by the name of the 'ghost-bird.'" 1
The sapient islanders of the Hebrides would thus seem to have been at the same level of belief with those Greeks who believed that the soul left the body in the form of a bird. 2
Here, I think, one should place Cuchulainn's bird-of-valour, which symbolises not merely the hero's fury, but the transmission of the ancestral god-soul, symbolised among other peoples by the eagle-tipped sceptre, handed down from king to king, as well as by the eagle portrayed on standards, which goes back on the belief that the soul of a monarch once upon a time appeared as an eagle, and in this form watched over the fortunes of empire. The standard transmits the virtue of the ancestral hero; the soul of the slain king is magically
transmitted to his successor. It springs from Manism, or the worship of manes or spirits, comprehensive of all forms of totemism to which there are early references in Gadhelic saga. Thus the mother of Conaire Mōr learns that her son must not kill birds. Once he saw great white-speckled birds of unusual size and beauty coming towards him. He pursues them until his horses were tired. The birds would go a spear-cast before him, and would not go any further. He pursued them out to sea and overcame them. The birds quit their bird-skins and turn upon him with spears and swords. One of them protects him and says: "I am Némglan, king of thy father's birds, and thou hast been forbidden to cast at birds, for here there is no one that should not be dear to thee because of his father and mother." 1 The violation of this Tabu led to Conaire's death. In the Cuchulainn saga there is the case of Dechtere and her attendant troop of bird-maidens.
In the traditions of the Cymry birds appear as instruments of divination to diagnose royal blood. The bird-soul is here the ancestral-soul. According to Giraldus Cambrensis it happened that in the time of Henry I. Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Tudor, who, although he only held of the king one commote, namely, a fourth part of the cantref of Caio, yet was reputed as lord in Deheubarth, was returning from court by way of Llangorse Lake, in Brecknockshire, with Milo, Earl of Hereford, and Lord of Brecknock, and Payn Fitz John, who then held Ewyas, two of the king's secretaries and privy councillors. It was winter, and the lake was covered
with water-fowl of various kinds. Seeing them, Milo, partly in joke, said to Gruffydd: "It is an old saying in Wales that if the natural prince of Wales, coming to this lake, command the birds upon it to sing, they will all immediately sing." Gruffydd replied: "Do you, therefore, who now bear sway in this country, command them first." Both Milo and Payn having made the attempt in vain, Gruffydd dismounted from his horse, fell on his knees with his face to the east, and after devout prayers to God, stood up, and making the sign of the Cross on his forehead and face, cried aloud: "Almighty and all-knowing God, Lord Jesus Christ, show forth here to-day thy power! If thou hast made me lineally to descend from the natural princes of Wales I command these birds in thy name to declare it." Forthwith all the birds, according to their kind, beating the air with outstretched wings, began altogether to sing and proclaim it. No wonder that all who were present were amazed and confounded, and that Milo and Payn reported it to the king, who is said to have taken it philosophically enough. "By the death of Christ" (his customary oath), he replied, "it is not so much to be wondered at. For although by our great power we may impose injustice and violence upon these people, yet they are nevertheless known to have the hereditary right to the country." 1
In Scotland there was a saying that the robin "had a drop of God's blood in its veins, and that therefore to kill or hurt it was a sin, and that some evil would befall any one who did so; and, conversely, any kindness done to poor robin would be
repaid in some fashion. Boys did not dare to harry a robin's nest." The yellow-hammer and the swallow were said, each, "to have a drop of the Devil's blood in its veins; so the yellow-hammer was 'remorselessly harried,' and the swallow 'was feared and therefore let alone.'" 1 Here is an illustration of the blood of the gods communicated to earthly organisms.
One may infer from many references that the Druids practised augury from the cries of birds. In an ancient poem ascribed to St. Columba, he says, alluding to the omens of the Druids:
A Latin Life of St. Moling has it that the wren is a bird of augury: magus avium, eo quod aliquibus praebet augurium; the Pseudo-Cormac Glossary explains it as drui-en, a druid bird. In Gaelic dreathan (donn) is used for 'wren'; Stokes 2 gives dreoan, from *dreo = W. dryw, 'wren; also druid, soothsayer,' from proto-Celtic *drevo, cognate with German treu, E. true. It seems to me that this derivation has much to support it in the folk-lore concerning it as a bird of soothsaying; the druid of birds.
O’Curry says the Druids divined from the chirping of tame wrens.
The wren has a drop of God's blood, in the folk-belief of some Highland districts. He is king of birds, a dignity attained to according to West
[paragraph continues] Highland tradition by his having secreted himself above the eagle that soared high above all other birds, whereupon the wren flew a little upwards and cried: "Birds, behold your king." He was accordingly elected king in the assembly of birds. Yet the Manx custom of 'hunting the wren' shows that once a year it was ceremoniously slain, and its feathers distributed so as to communicate divine virtue. Without a dead wren to protect them the Manx fishermen would not once upon a time go to sea. It was a 'fairy' of uncommon beauty, says Bullock in his History of the Isle of Man, that used to unduly entice the men to sea, where they perished, and on being hunted down by a knight-errant she was only able to escape by assuming the form of a wren. A spell brought it to pass that every New Year the wicked 'fairy' had to take wren-form, and ultimately perish by a human hand. The feathers of the killed wren were preserved with religious care as an effectual preservation from shipwreck for one year; every person met with had to purchase a feather and to wear it in their hats for the day. Formerly the naked body was interred with great solemnity in a secluded corner of the churchyard, and the evening concluded with all manner of sports.
Possibly it was but a coincidence that the stoning of the wren took place on St. Stephen's Day, for Waldron, speaking of an earlier time, says "On the 24th of December, towards evening, all the servants in general have a holiday; they go not to bed all night, but ramble about till the bells ring in all the churches, which is at 12 o'clock; prayer being over,
they go to hunt the wren, and after having found one of these poor birds, they kill her and lay her on a bier with the utmost solemnity, bringing her to the parish church, and burying her with a whimsical kind of solemnity, singing dirges over her in the Manx language, which they call her knell, after which Xmas begins." 1 The divinity of the wren as protecting spirit is here indicated; the slaughter is a rite of sacrifice to attain communion with the divine, here held to be a malific power.
In West Sutherland I ascertained that some of the fishermen formerly held it was unlucky to kill a gull, for gulls were the souls of the deceased. Perhaps the idea of the isle or paradise of birds, as in the legend of St. Brendan, was founded on the belief of the soul in bird-form. Nothing has taken firmer hold of the Gadhelic mind than the Fate of the Children of Lir, who were turned into swans at the instance of their cruel stepmother, but they retained their souls, as is witnessed by their having ascribed to them the knowledge of their own Gadhelic music and their Gadhelic speech. Further, in the Highlands it used to be said that the earth placed over spots where a murder had been committed was wont to be disturbed by birds at night, which recalls to one the old Arab belief that the blood of a murdered man turned into an accusing bird till vengeance was taken for the dead. An Irish tradition in Keating 2 tells of a queen and her handmaid who were turned into two herons at the word of Columcille. Another
tells of Aoife in the form of a crane that belonged to the sea-god, Manannán. 1
Birds are credited with a speech of their own. Such was the lapwing's cry: Mhurchaidh bhig! na creach mo nid (sic), i.e. 'little Murdoch, harry not my nest.' All such ascriptions of speech to birds are attempts to give renderings in human language of the cries of the various birds. Though many and varied they need not here detain us.
For parallels where this belief has assumed a developed form one may point to the Dove Cult of primitive Greece, where sacred doves are associated with a sepulchral cult. It was the favourite shape in which the spirit of the departed was imagined to haunt its last resting-place. An early Indian code requires that upon the occasion of a sacrifice a fragment of the offering to the departed spirits should also be thrown to the birds, "because we are taught that our fathers glide along, taking the form of birds." 2
Here comes the transition to the Language of Animals.
(a) The last words said by the cow were: Na buail do bhas orm = 'do not smite me with your palm.' It was not right that the blessed creature, the cow, should be struck by 'the flesh of the sinner.' If one had only a stick three inches long he should use it in driving the cow instead of striking her with his hand. Can this be a survival of a religious precept? Cf. the sacred cow of the Hindoos.
(b) The last words spoken by the horse were:
[paragraph continues] i. e. 'Hurry me not down a brae, nor force (lit. strike) me up an incline; on the level do not spare me; feed me well on going home!'
(c) When sheep had language, as all animals once had, it is said that the last thing spoken by a sheep was a request that its bones should never be burned. Since that time it is not considered right to throw a bone of a sheep into the fire, and any person doing so is checked. One may infer that in pre-Christian rites the sheep was burnt in sacrifice. Cf. the sacrifices to Crom Cruach.
Cattle are so deeply loved that in the Highlands certain names run in the breed from generation to generation; cattle-names may be very old, as also cattle calls, e.g. pruch, a call to cows only, with meaning 'come here'; to calves the call is, pruicidh; also pru-dhé, pru-dhé, pru-dhé.
Numerous traces of animal worship existed among the Gauls. The tribal names Taurisci, Brannovices, Eburones point respectively to a veneration of the Bull, the Raven, the Boar, among peoples who probably once traced their descent from them. Place-names like Tarvisium, 'Bulltown (?)'; Lugudunum, 'Raven-Fort'; personal names like Deiotarus, 'the divine bull '; Artogenos, 'the descendant of the bear,' point in the same direction. The boar was also sacred, as may be inferred from emblems on
coins. The mare-goddess Epona had its parallel in the male horse-god Rudiobus, of which an image in bronze, showing no rider, has been found near Orleans, along with figures of boars and of a stag. 1
So closely was the association between man and cattle felt in former times that we come across cases of 'animal-fasting,' like as we meet with the equally archaic though different idea of 'fasting on a person' in the Brehon Laws. The fasting of cattle as well as of human beings is spoken of in Adamnan's Second Vision, translated by Stokes from the Lebar Breac. He notes: "That calves were sometimes made to fast in Ireland after a chieftain's death appears from a poem in the Cogadh Gaedel re Gallaibh (ed. Todd, p. 100), two lines of which mean: 'Though calves are not suffered to go to the cows in lamentation for noble Mahon.' The practice may possibly, Dr. Todd suggests, have been suggested by Jonah iii. 7. But it rather seems a result of the belief in the souls of animals, and of the tendency to treat them as human, which are found in every race at a certain stage of its culture." 2 In Ireland the local saints were believed to guard the lives of certain kinds of animals. St. Colman's teal could neither be killed nor injured; St. Brendan provided an asylum for stags, wild boars and hares; St. Beanus protected his cranes and the grouse which bred upon the Ulster mountains. 3
The local saints often took the place of the old gods. Caesar's statement 4 shows us that to the ancient Britons hare, goose and domestic fowl were
taboo. Giraldus gives a story of the loathing shown by the Irish chieftains on being offered a dish of roasted crane. 1 The hare often figures in folk-belief. Thus Boudicca, the queen-heroine of the ancient Britons, loosed a hare from her robe, observed its movements as a kind of omen, and when it turned propitiously the whole multitude rejoiced and shouted. 2 In Western Brittany not many years ago the peasantry could hardly endure its name; 3 such is the case in parts of Russia. The oldest Welsh laws allude to the magical character of the hare, which was thought to change its sex every month or year, and to be the companion of the witches who were believed to assume its shape. In one part of Wales the hares are called St. Monacella's lambs, and it is said that up to very recent times no one in the district would kill one. "When a hare was pursued by dogs it was believed that if any one cried 'God and St. Monacella be with thee!' it was sure to escape." 4
To be fed on the hares of Naas was one of the prerogatives of the kings of Tara, 5 which means that to others it was forbidden. Shape-shifting or transformation into hare-form may fitly lead to the consideration of the theriomorphic soul or the soul in animal form.
(a) Transformation into hare-form.—This deeply-rooted belief has been current for ages, and is not yet extinct. Wherever witchcraft obtains any hold
this belief is met with. I have personally heard of and known many women who were regarded as having the power of shifting themselves into hare-shape. It was most uncanny to see a hare pacing a thatched cottage in the gloaming, still more to see several of them capering at cross-roads. The belief is exemplified in many folk-tales, as in 'The Leeching of O’Céin's Leg,' where the gearraidh, 'hare,' is spoken of, the nearest Scottish form to the Irish geirrfhiadh, 'short-deer.' As a rule geārr is used for 'hare,' but maigheach also occurs from magh, 'plain,' i.e. 'campestris.' There are numerous stories in the Highlands of hares having been shot at with a gun having a 'silver six-pence,' the creature shot being reputed to be some local witch afterwards found suffering of secret wounds. The transformation of witches into hare-form is the chief Highland characteristic, which tallies with the Isle of Man account. 1 It enters into Welsh folk-lore, but it is rather the idea of augury that is emphasised. 2 In Brittany at Lannion 3 souls take the form of hares. Everywhere in Celtdom it is a creature of omen for expectant mothers who have their old rites to avert hare-lip. Its lore dates from British times, and is met with widely in England; a writer in the Oxford Times (2nd January, 1909) refers to the Phantom Hare thus: "In the Cotswold country the rustics declare that every seventh child of a seventh child possesses 'second sight,' and that the 'wraith,' or, as they call it, the 'bogy,' of a person about to die is always visible to such persons. An old woman told
me here that he who should deceive a maid, or lead her astray, would be ever afterwards haunted by her 'bogy' in the shape of a hare. This, she declared, was invisible to all except the haunted one, and in the end the hare, by some means or other, caused the deceiver to die."
A memorandum made by Bishop White-Kennett about the hare, which we may regard as a token from what Caesar says regarding the hare, the cock and the goose, is here in point: "When one keepes a hare alive and feedeth him till he have occasion to eat him, if he telles before he kills him that he will do so, the hare will thereupon be found dead, having killed himself." Mr. Gomme points out that this respect is carried further at Biddenham, where, on the 22nd September, a little procession of villagers carried a white rabbit (a substitute for hare) decorated with scarlet ribbons through the village, singing a hymn in honour of St. Agatha. All the young unmarried women who chanced to meet the procession extended the first two fingers of the left hand pointing towards the rabbit, at the same time repeating the following doggerel:
This ancient custom had for its object the reverential burying of a rabbit or hare.
Gregorson Campbell in his Witchcraft and Second-Sight in the Highlands and Isles of Scotland, gives tales wherein witches are credited with the power of appearing in the guise of sheep, hares, cats, rats, gulls, cormorants, whales. By far the most common belief is that of witches in hare-form; of this class.
of story the saying holds: though not to be believed, it may be told (ged nach gabh e creidsinn, gabhaidh e innseadh). In this category is to be placed the tale of the Sutherland worthy as recently re-told in the Northern Chronicle, from the old man's experience by Mr. D. M. Rose. The narrative is characteristic of its class. Mr. Rose says:
"Donald told me the story himself, and swore it was 'true as gospel.' Of course I was bound to believe him, and did not hurt the poor man's feelings by telling him that such yarns were common in half a dozen northern counties. In the days of his youth Donald had been sent to cut peaty away in hills at a spot far distant from any human habitation. About mid-day Donald sat down on the peat-bank to rest, but was startled at hearing weird sounds in his neighbourhood. He sprang to his feet and looked eagerly in every direction without discovering anything to account for the strange noise. He was about to resume his seat, when presently there came into view, over a small hillock, a monster hare with two black hounds in pursuit. As the beast was making straight for the spot where he stood, Donald grasped his 'spadarel,' and raising it aloft he brought it down on poor puss's back, severing her into two as she passed. Just fancy the horror of Donald when he gazed at the severed fragments. One part of puss was gradually transforming itself into the face and features of a neighbour's wife who had an uncanny reputation, while the other portion remained 'a hare.' Donald had such a 'sair fleg' that he bolted. After running a few paces he thought it prudent to recover his
[paragraph continues] 'spadarel,' and was exceedingly astonished to find not the least trace of the dead bit of woman, hare or hounds! Donald was so thoroughly alarmed that he rushed homewards. His wife, who was absent, came hurrying in with the startling news that the neighbour's wife had been killed about the middle of the day, and that she had been at the house to see the body laid out. Donald at once sprang to his feet, although he felt as 'waik as a child,' a cold shiver ran down his back although there were 'big drops of swate' falling from his brow. At last Donald managed to ask his wife if the 'woman was in bittocks,' i.e. in pieces. 'What do you mean,' said his wife, 'the poor craitur went to the byre to milk the coos, and as she passed one of the shelties draive his two hind heels into the poor woman's side, and she didna live an hoor after that.' 'Thank the Lord,' says Donald, with a fervent sigh of relief, but he kept the story of his own 'experiences in memory for many a year'—not even revealing his tale to the wife of his bosom. Of course he had seen the soul of the witch trying to escape from the black hounds of Hades!"
A totem animal is a characteristic omen. Boudicca, the Queen of the Iceni, is said to have taken a hare from out her bosom, and to have drawn an augury therefrom as to the course of her attack upon the Roman army. In Northamptonshire if a hare run along a street it portends fire to some house near by. In 1648 Sir Thomas Browne says it was deemed unlucky when a hare crossed one's path: there were few over three-score that were not perplexed by it. In parts of Scotland the unluck due to meeting a
hare did not extend after the next meal was taken. In north-east Scotland the name of the hare must not be pronounced at sea. One cannot but agree with Mr. Gomme's conclusion that a classification of the beliefs and customs connected with the hare takes us to every phase of totemistic belief, and that it is impossible to reject such a mass of cumulative evidence. 1
Shape-shifting (dol ann an riochd) does not as such raise the question of re-incarnation of the soul. Soul and body are not nicely differentiated at that stage. The good folks I have known who were held to assume the form of hares at will were thought of as doing so as complete natures: on regaining human-form, if wounded in their hare-form, they had the self-same wounds on the corresponding part of the body. Parallel is the Welsh case of Llew Llawgyffes who, on being wounded, assumed eagle-form, and was afterwards found in bird-form with the flesh putrefying from his wound. The eagle-form is not quite a case of the bird-soul: it belongs to the category of shape-shifting, and to a stage of thought which looks at body and soul as one. His wound is the cause of his death, just as the wounds got by certain hares are held to be the cause of a certain witch's death.
(b) Transformation into cat-form.—An Hebridean tale tells how there was once a wedding; and the folks went to it all but one young man. He was asked to the wedding too, but somehow he didn't go, but his mother went. He stretched himself in bed and lay awake. Three cats came in by a
window. When they got in, seeing nobody in they changed into three girls. The young man saw them and knew them. They drank up his mother's milk. He looked at them and they noticed him looking. They besought him not to tell, and threatened that if he ever told it would be all the worse for him. They then left. His mother came back from the wedding and he at once told her what he saw. Some time after his mother and their mother had a quarrel, and his mother cast up to the other the shapes her daughters had taken. Not long after this when the young man was on an errand he was late of returning. A search was made for him, and he was found dead on the way.
With this compare the strange big cats in the Fled Bricrend, 1 an early Irish tale of the Cuchulainn saga. One night as their portion was assigned the heroes, three cats from the cave of Cruachan were let loose to attack them, i.e. three beasts of magic. Conall and Loigaire made for the rafters, having left their food with the beasts. In that wise they slept till the morrow. Cuchulainn fled not from his place from the beast which attacked him. But when it stretched its neck out for eating, Cuchulainn gave a blow with his sword on the beast's head, but the blade glided off as ’twere from stone. Then the cat set itself down. In the circumstances Cuchulainn neither ate nor slept. As soon as it was early morning the cats were gone.
Clearly these cats are representative of another-world power: and are thought of as one of the disguises under which the other-world magician
tests the hero, one of a series of tests through which Curoi, such is the magician's name, awards the palm for bravery to Cuchulainn.
Early Irish is catt, Welsh cath, Gaulish, cattos: the tribal name in Clan Chattan (the Mackintoshes, with Cattanachs, Shaws, Davidsons, and other septs) and in Cataibh, Cataobh, 'Sutherland'; Diuc Chatt, Duke of Sutherland; the root survives in Caithness (Caitness being heard with old people), all pointing to a belief in animal kinship, as witnessed to by the idea of transformation.
(c) Transformation of a human being into mare-form,—"the horse being a blessed animal since our Saviour was born in a manger." Dornoch is noted in the annals of witchcraft in Scotland as the place where the last execution for that supposed crime took place. Witchcraft ceased to be a capital offence by Act of Parliament in 1736. The execution at Dornoch occurred in 1722. The victim was a woman, who, according to popular belief, turned her daughter into a pony by her magical arts and got the devil to shoe it. This belief was more than an unconscious reminiscence of the horse's shoe in the burgh crest. The traditional site of the execution is the part of Dornoch known as Littleton, where, in one of the gardens, a stone with 1722 deeply incised upon it marks the spot.
For illustration I translate a modern narrative from Tiree which exemplifies fairly recent belief:
"Once upon a time there were two young lads who had engaged to serve in the house of a great man. They had the same food and the same work, yet, in spite of all, one of them was strong, seemly and
stout, while the other was daily declining,—and, what was exceeding strange, every morning he was very tired as if he were not getting half enough of food. This was causing great astonishment to every one, and especially to the lads themselves. They knew not what it meant nor what they should do. Thereupon the lad who was seemly and stout said: 'When we go to bed to-night you will take my place by the wall and I will go on the side where you are lying.' Thus they did. They went to bed, and he who was by the wall slept at once, but though the other went to bed he slept not; he kept awake to see what should happen. While he thus reflected, who should enter but his mistress with a horse-bridle in her hand. As soon as she came in she shook the bridle to his face, which she no sooner did than he sprang into horse-form (became a horse). She then took him out and put a saddle on him, and sprang on his back and rode off. At no length of time they reached a big house, and she sprang to the ground and opened a stable-door where were many horses besides. She tied him there and went off. Though he was in horse-form he had human consciousness, inasmuch as he was awake at the time she shook the bridle at him. Accordingly, when she went away he began to try whether he could take the bridle off with his fore-feet. At last he succeeded, which he no sooner did than he was a man as formerly. Then he caught the bridle and bethought him of contesting with his mistress when ever she returned.
"Shortly thereafter she came with many more women like unto her. When he saw his mistress
he shook the bridle at her, as she had done to him, which he no sooner did than she all at once became a big beautiful mare. Then he took her out and saddled her, but instead of going home, what did he do but go to a smithy and roused the smith. He requested the smith to put four shoes on her. The smith replied that he would not at all do so, it was too late to do such a work. The lad said that he would give him anything, even a 'white' note (a pound sterling), provided he could have her shod. On hearing this the smith came out and kindled the fire, and in a short time the house-wife was shod. Then he made for home. On arriving he took the bridle off her and she was a woman as formerly. Thereupon he went to sleep. On the morrow great sorrow fell on the household, for the mistress was ill. And, what made everybody wonder, no one was allowed into her chamber to see her. As things were in such a case the lad came where his master was and requested to be permitted to see her. The master said no, that nobody was allowed to enter. The lad said that he must needs go. What with everything he did the lad got in where she was. As soon as she saw him she scowled at him. He enquired how she was. She was not willing to answer, but he said to her: 'Stretch out your plut (paw, hand),' which she would not do. He seized hold of her, pulled out her hand, and what was it but that she had a horse-shoe thereon, and on the other hand as well, likewise a horse-shoe on each foot. He looked at her and said: 'Well you know what this means and the dreadful work you were at. Now give me your troth that I shall never either see or
hear of your being at this disgraceful work, and I will take off the shoes.' She pledged to him her word, and he removed the shoes, and all was well thereafter. In a short time the lean lanky fellow grew stout and strong, and everybody about the place had peace. Such, for you, is the tale of the famous witches."
The original, which I owe to the kindness of a Tiree man, the Rev. J. MacCallum, Manse of Assynt, is as follows:
“Bha aon uair ann dà ghille òg a bha air fasdadh ann an tigh duine mhóir. Bha iad air an aon bhiadh agus air an aon obair, ach an deidh gach nì bha fear dhiubh gu làidir, coltach, reamhar, agus bha fear eile dol air ais gach latha, agus nì bha glé iongantach bha e anabharrach sgìth a h-uile maduinn mar nach biodh e faighinn leth gu leòr do chadal. Bha so a’ cur mòran iongantais air gach h-aon agus gu sònruichte orra féin. Cha robh fios aca dé bu chiall do no dé a dheanadh iad. An sin thubhairt esan a bha gu coltach, reamhar: '’Nuair a théid sinn a luighe nochd théid thu-sa ann am àite-sa ris a bhalla agus théid mi-se air an taobh air a bheil thu-sa.' Rinn iad mar sin. Chaidh iad do’n leabaidh agus chaidil e-san a chaidh ris a’ bhalla anns a mhionaid ach ged a chaidh a feur eile luighe cha do chaidil e. Dh’fhan e ’na dhùsgadh fiach dé thachradh. ’Nuair a bha e a’ smuaintinn air na nithean so cò thàinig a steach ach a bhan-mhaighstir agus srian eich aice ’na làimh. Cho luath ’sa thainig i ’steach chrath i an t-srian m’a choinneamh agus cha bu luatha rinn i so na leum e-san ’na each. An sin thug i mach e agus chuir i diollaid air a dhruim. An sin leum i ga mharcachd
agus dh’fhalbh i leis. Ann an ceann úine nach robh fada ràinig iad tigh mór agus thàinig i-se air làr agus dh’fhosgail i dorus stàbuill far an robh móran each eile. Cheangail i ann an sin e agus dh’fhalbh i. Ged a bha e-san ’na each bha fathast mothachadh duine aige a chionn gun robh e ’na dhùsgadh an uair a chrath i an t-srian ris. Mar sin ’nuair a dh’fhalbh i-se thòisich e-san air fiachuinn am b’urrainn dha an t-srian a thoirt dheth le ’chasan toisich. Mu dheireadh chaidh aige air so a dheanamh. Agus cho luatha ’s a thachair so bha e ’na dhuine mar bha e roimhe. An sin rug e air an t-srian agus thubhairt e ris féin gum fiachadh e i ri a bhan-mhaighstir ’nuair a thigeadh i air a h-ais.
“Tachdan beag na dheidh sin thainig i féin agus móran de mhnathan eile a bha coltach rithe féin. ’Nuair chunnaic e-san a bhan-mhaighstir chrath e an t-srian rithe mar a rinn i-se rise-san agus cho luath ’s a rinn e so leum i-se ’na cabal mór briagha. An sin thug e mach i agus chuir e oirre an dìollaid ach an àite dol dhachaigh ’s e rinn e dol gu tigh gobhainn agus a chur air a chois. Dh’iarr e air a ghobhainn ceithir chruidhean a chur oirre. Thubhairt an gobhainn nach cuireadh gu dearbh, gu robh e ro an-moch air-son dol a dheanamh a leithid so de dh’obair. Thubhairt an gille gun tugadh e nì sam bith, eadhon not gheal ach na cruidhean fhaotainn oirre. ’Nuair a chual an gobhainn so thàinig e mach agus bheothaich e an teine agus ann an ùine bhig bha bean a’ bhaile air a cruidheadh agus an sin ghabh e dhachaigh. ’Nuair a ráinig e an tigh thug e dhith an t-srian agus bhà i ’na bean mar a bha i roimhe. ’Na dheidh sin chaidh
e-san a chadal. Air an là màireach bha bròn mór air an tigh sin oir bha bean an tighe 1 gu tinn. Agus ni a bha ’cur iongantais air gach h-aon cha robh neach sam bith air a ligeil a steach ga faicinn. ’Nuair a bha so mar so thàinig e-san, an gille, far an robh a mhaighstir agus thubhairt e e-san a ligeil a steach ga faicinn. Thubhairt am maighstir nach leigeadh, nach robh neach sam bith ri dol a steach ach thubhairt an gille gu feumadh e-san dol a steach. Leis a h-uile rud a bh’ann fhuair e steach far an robh i. Cho luath ’s a chunnaic i e chas i sgreang oirre.
“Dh’fhoighneac e dhìth ciamar a bha i. Cha robh i air-son freagairt a thoirt dha ach thubhairt e-san rithe: Sin a mach do phluit. 2 Cha deanadh i so agus rug e oirre is thug e mach a làmh agus de a bha ann ach gun robh cruidh eich oirre agus air an laimh eile cuideachd, agus air gach cois. Sheall e oirre agus thubhairt e rithe: 'Tha fios agad gu math de is ciall da so agus de an obair uamhasach a bha thu ’deanamh. A nis thoir dhomh-sa t’fhacal nach faic agus nach cluinn mi iomradh ort gu bràth tuilleadh ris an obair mhaslach so agus bheir mi dhiot na cruidhean.' Thug i dhà a facal agus thug e-san dhìth na cruidhean agus bha gach nì gu math tuilleadh. Ann an úine bhig dh’fhàs an gille bha caol truagh gu leathan làidir agus bha sith aig gach neach mu’n tigh.
"Sin agaibh naigheachd nam buitsichean móra!"
It is to be remarked that a variant of this Tiree tale exists in Ireland, where it has quite recently
been printed: Lúb Na Caillighe, narrated by Michael Mhag Ruaidhri, and edited with vocabulary by Mr. J. Lloyd. 1 The story is located at The Loop, a tiny hamlet in Ballymulligan townland, five miles to the east of Moneymore, Co. Derry. The location has been motived in part by the word Lúb, usually meaning 'a bend,' 'a curve,' having the secondary sense of 'quirk, trick.' Hence 'Lúb na Caillighe' means also 'the Hag's Trick,' 'the Old Wife's Trickery.' The Irish version is located in Ulster, the province which most abounded with wizardry and the black art, according to the Irish folk-tale. This may be a remnant of old tradition referring to some relics of primitive rites among the Picts of Ulidia of old. The secret was revealed to the lad by an old woman who lived with her daughter not far off from the farm where he was employed. The details further differ in that the Tiree version ascribes human reason to the lad while in horse-form, inasmuch as the bridle was shaken over him while awake. But the Ulster version has it: "If thou be asleep when the hag comes in, she will shake the bridle above thy head in bed, and through the might of her druidism thou wilt arise up towards her, and she will put the bridle on thee." This done, the Hag rides him during the night throughout the length and breadth of the land, which causes his feeling quite exhausted as he awakes from sleep in the morning. The plan advised by the wise woman friend in the Ulster version is that the lad is to keep awake by tightening a waxed flaxen cord around his big toe, so as
to ward off all sleep. The Hag comes to his bed thrice, but finds him awake: the third time she goes off in high dudgeon, as it was near midnight; hence "it was no time for her to delay about it." Apparently, unless her bridle had worked its magic by that hour, she was left powerless, for the Hag retired to her bed where the lad, who went thither at cock-crow, found her fast asleep,—"her snoring would fetch deaf kine from the woods." He shook the bridle, which was at the head of the bed, over her, and the Hag became a mare. At daybreak, as he was returning, he came upon a smithy. He asks the smith to shoe the mare. The smith was in great haste, for he took them for fairy-folk from the hills, and he was not long about his work. On reaching the house he took her into her room, took off the bridle, when she resumed her woman-shape as before, save that she had shoes on her feet and hands, and she as dead as a herring, her blood being well-nigh shed through the steel nails in the shoes. He left her in that shape, and went to sleep himself. Her husband was good and just, and saw that her wizardry won her the deserts she merited. We do not hear that the shoes were taken off her as in the Tiree version. The Irish version adds that the lad finally married the daughter of her who instructed him how to cope with the Hag's wiles.
The only magic-bridle in living Highland folklore is that attributed to the Willox family: it has the gift of calling up in the water-pail for the purpose the apparition of the worker of the evil-magic; it makes the figure of the absent one present. The bridle or bit thereof was said to have been got
from the water-horse. It is a relic of the bridle of Manannan's steed, the horse of the lord of ocean.
The Clan Leod are thought of as having a close connection with the horse. It is mentioned in the rhyme:
[paragraph continues] i.e. the progeny of Leod, the progeny of the horse, lame and awkward, fed on chaff and rank grass, on the black "beard of dried oats," and singed barley-straw. This curious rhyme points to the horse as held once in special esteem among this clan whose name is of Norwegian origin. The horse may have been to them an object of imitation, and in some ways a sort of ideal. A modern philosopher remarks on the English: "they have forgotten that they are horses though the fact remains. Do they not still worship their totem at their chief festivals, abstain from eating it, and pay more attention to its breeding than to their own." 1 The mythic Hengist and Horsa contain some such reference.
Gregorson Campbell states: 2 In the Hebrides a horse is supposed to have reference to the Clan Mac Leod. The surname of horses is Mac Leod, as the Coll bard said to the Skye bard:
= Is tric a mharcaich mi le m’ shréin
An dream g’am bheil thu fhéin ’s do bhean.
Under this phase of the theriomorphic soul I may include Morc Na Maighe of Lochaber tradition. Although I find O’Brien's Irish Dictionary gives morc as 'hog or swine,' it seems but a variant of marc, 'horse' (whence marcach, 'rider'), the word which gives his name to King Mark of Cornwall, who is fabled to have had horse's ears. The legend associates Morc Na Maighe with Caoilte, but belongs to a much more primitive strata of myth than the Féinn Cycle. She is credited with being on foot as swift as the lightning; Caoilte and the Morc have the speed of the venomous winter wind, but the Morc is swifter than Caoilte, the fleetest of the Féinn. In their contest she outran him. As the glens were filling and foretelling of the storms and the clouds were lowering Caoilte had recourse to the device of springing aloft and seizing hold of her by the mane, nor did she ever perceive he was hanging to her. At long last, as sun was setting, Morc Na Maighe lay down by the foot of an oak tree, worn out by the heat, and her breath visible as vapour or mist. Caoilte standing by her side taunts her with her speed being the slower because of her weariness. The impudent reply to her query if he is really there is that Caoilte is the better for that race-before-a-leap. He will now proceed and bids her fare-well.
"It is age that has sufficed for me," she said. "But I have had my own day and I hope now to
go home (literally, I am not of a hope that I will not now go home)." There we have the death-sigh of an old order of mythic beings. "Happy wilt thou be, thou shaggy hairy ugly thing, if thy four feet keep pace with what thy two eyes see," said Caoilte on meeting her. In this legend we have to do with more than a mere personification of cloud shapes, with an aspect really of the theriomorphic soul. It belongs to an early stage of the process of belief which led to the forming of deities named Tarvos (the bull), Moccos (the pig), Epŏna (the goddess of horses), Damŏna (the goddess of cattle), Mullo (the ass), among the Gauls and to the ancient Britons having held the hen, the goose and the hare as taboo, as not to be killed or eaten.
76:1 J. A. MacCulloch, The Childhood of Fiction, 134-5.
77:1 Legends of Strathisla, Inverness-shire, and Strathbogie, Elgin, 1862, p. 10.
77:2 Ib. p. 105.
77:3 § 2 of 'Serglige Chonchulaind' in Windisch's Irische Texte; cf. "I swear by my shield and by my spear" (Ériu, iv. 99).
77:4 "Air laimh t’ athar ’s do sheanar is air do dhā laimh fhéin ga saoradh sin"-v. Barra version of 'Deirdire and the Sons of Usnech.'
77:5 Usener's Götternamen, 1896, p. 280.
78:1 Mionn; E. Ir. mind, oath, diadem, the swearing relics of a saint, cognate with O. Welsh minn, sertum.
78:2 Spenser's View of the State of Ireland, 82, 99.
79:1 Pennant's Tour, i. 96.
80:1 Lady Wilde's Anc. Legends, i. 66-67.
81:1 Sébillot, p. 342.
With the priest's thought compare the Indeterminates or questions barred by Buddha: whether the Soul is the same as the body or different from it: v. Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. i. 186 fol.
82:1 Chuir Iain Bān aodach dubh air na seilleanan nuair chaochail a bhrathair = John Bayne placed black clothing on the bees when his brother died. Cf. telling the bees of the death of the owner (a custom widely spread in England).
83:1 Rev. W. Forsyth, Dornoch, Folk-Lore Journal, vi. 171.
88:1 Condensed from Le Braz's La Legende de la Mort en Basse Bretagne.
90:1 Sébillot, 339.
91:1 Pigheid bās ’s a dhā banais. Seemingly old British; cf. the belief in the Cotswolds that to have a magpie cross one's path in the morning means that a death will follow.
91:2 Fios fithich.
92:1 v. 'The Tobermory Treasure Ship in Fact and Legend,' by Rev. D. McGillivray, in Northern Chronicle, January or February 16, 1910.
93:1 St. Kilda and its Birds, by J. Wiglesworth, M.D., F.R.C.P., Liverpool, 1903, p. 37; cf. A. B. Cook, in Folk-Lore for 1904, p. 387 n.
93:2 The literary evidence for which is seen in the myths of Caeneus (Ovid's Metam. 12, 514 ff.) and Ctesylla (Ant. Lib. i.); the monumental evidence in works like G. Weicker's Der Seelenvogel and J. E. Harrison's Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (p. 197 In Egypt the king's soul is referred to as a hawk under the twelfth and nineteenth dynasties (Flinders Petrie, Religion and Conscience in Ancient Egypt, p. 30).
94:1 Orgain Brudne Da Dergae, ed. Stokes, § 7, 13.
95:1 Girald. Cambr., Itinerarium Cambriae, l. i. c. 2.
96:1 Napier's Folk-Lore of the West of Scotland, p. 111.
96:2 Indogerm. Forschungen, 1910, 2nd pt. p. 143.
98:1 A. W. Moore, The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man, pp. 133, 144, where the various accounts are quoted, also the music of 'Hunt the Wren.'
98:2 Keating's History of Ireland, vol. iii. p. 91 (Irish Texts Society ed.).
99:1 Duanaire Fhinn., pt. i. p. 119.
99:2 Bertholet, The Transmigration of Souls, 64.
101:1 Reinach's Orpheus (French ed.), p. 168.
101:2 Rev. Celtique, 12, p. 441.
101:3 Elton's Origins of English History, 287.
101:4 De Bello Gallico, V. 12.
102:1 Conqu. Hibern. i. 31.
102:2 Dion. Cass. lxii. 3.
102:3 Cf. Figuier, Prim. Man (Tylor), 268.
102:4 Pennant's Tour Through Montgomeryshire and Sikes's British Goblins, 162.
102:5 O’Curry's Man. and Cus. ii. 141.
103:1 The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man, by A. W. Moore, p. 147.
103:2 Trevelyan, p. 77.
103:3 Sébillot, 196.
107:1 Folklore as an Historical Science, 287-288.
108:1 v. my trans. in Irish Texts Society ed.
114:1 Ta’a—Tiree dialect.
114:2 Sort of slang for 'paw, hand.'
115:1 Atha Cliath, Connradh na Gaedhilge, 1910.
117:1 Craveth Read, Natural and Social Morals, p. 85.
117:2 Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands, p. 269.