Harold was born where restless seas
Howl round the storm-swept Oreades.
OF the Orcadian Fairies we have very little information. Brand [a] merely tells us, they were, in his time, frequently seen in several of the isles dancing and making merry; so that we may fairly conclude they differed little from their Scottish and Shetland neighbours. One thing he adds, which is of some importance, that they were frequently seen in armour.
Brownie seems to have been the principal Orkney Fairy, where he possessed a degree of importance rather beyond what was allotted to him in the neighbouring realm of Scotland.
"Not above forty or fifty years ago," says Brand, "almost every family had a Brownie, or evil spirit, so called, which served them, to whom they gave a sacrifice for its 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 stone, wherein there was a little hole, into which they poured some wort for a sacrifice to Brownie. My informer, a minister of the country, told me that he had conversed with an old man, who, when young, used to brew and sometimes read upon his bible; to whom an old woman in the house said that Brownie was displeased with that book he read upon, which, if he continued to do, they would get no more service of Brownie. But he being better instructed from that book which was Brownie's eyesore, and the object of his wrath, when he brewed, he would not suffer any sacrifice to be given to Brownie; whereupon, the first and second brewings were spilt and for no use, though the wort wrought well, yet in a little time it left off working and grew cold; but of the third browst or brewing, he had ale very good, though he would not give any sacrifice to Brownie, with whom afterwards they were no more troubled. I had also from the same informer, that a lady in Unst, now deceased, told him that when she first took up house, she refused to give a sacrifice to Brownie, upon which, the first and second brewings misgave, but the third was good; and Brownie, not being regarded and rewarded as formerly he had been, abandoned his wonted service: which cleareth the Scripture, 'Resist the devil and he will flee from you.' They also had stacks of corn which they called Brownie's stacks, which, though they were not bound with straw ropes, or any way fenced as other stacks use to be, yet the greatest storm of wind was not able to blow anything off them."
A very important personage once, we are told, inhabited the Orkneys in the character of Brownie.
"Luridan," says Reginald Scot, "a familiar of this kind, did for many years inhabit the island of Pomonia, the largest of the Orkades in Scotland, supplying the place of manservant and maid-servant with wonderful diligence to those famifies whom he did haunt, sweeping their rooms and washing their dishes, and making their fires before any were up in the morning. This Luridan affirmed, that he was the genius Astral of that island; that his place or residence in the days of Solomon and David was at Jerusalem; that then he was called by the Jews Belelah; after that, he remained long in the dominion of Wales, instructing their bards in British poesy and prophecies, being called Wrthin, Wadd, Elgin; 'and now,' said he, 'I have removed hither, and, alas! my continuance is but short, for in seventy years I must resign my place to Balkin, lord of the Northern Mountains.'
"Many wonderful and incredible things did he also relate of this Balkin, affirming that he was shaped like a satyr, and fed upon the air, having wife and children to the number of twelve thousand, which were the brood of the Northern Fairies, inhabiting Southerland and Catenes, with the adjacent islands. And that these were the companies of spirits that hold continual wars with the fiery spirits in the mountain Heckla, that vomits fire in Islandia. That their speech was ancient Irish, and their dwelling the caverns of the rocks and mountains, which relation is recorded in the antiquities of Pomonia." [b]
Concerning Luridan, we are farther informed from the Book of Vanagastus, the Norwegian, that it is his nature to be always at enmity with fire; that he wages war with the fiery spirits of Hecla; and that in this contest they do often anticipate and destroy one another, killing and crushing when they meet in mighty and violent troops in the air upon the sea. And at such times, many of the fiery spirits are destroyed when the enemy hath brought them off the mountains to fight upon the water. On the contrary, when the battle is upon the mountain itself; the spirits of the air are often worsted, and then great moanings and doleful noises are heard in Iceland, and Russia, and Norway, for many days after. [c]
The Water-spirit called Tangle, from Tang, the seaweed with which he is covered, appears sometimes as a little horse, other times as a man.
[a] Description of Orkney, Zetland, &c. Edin. 1703.
[b] Reg. Scot. Discoverie of Witchcraft, b. 2. c. 4. Lond. 1666.
[c] Quarterly Review, vol. xxii. p. 367