Fairy Money and Fairy Gifts in General
The Story of Gitto Bach, or Little Griffith--The Penalty of Blabbing--Legends of the Shepherds of Cwm Llan--The Money Value of Kindness--Ianto Llewellyn and the Tylwyth Teg--The Legend of Hafod Lwyddog--Lessons inculcated by these Superstitions.
'THIS is fairy gold, boy, and 'twill prove so, says the old shepherd in 'Winter's Tale;' sagely adding, 'Up with it, keep it close; home, home, the next way We are lucky, boy, and to be so still, requires nothing but secrecy.' ['Winter's Tale,' Act III., Sc. 3.] Here we have the traditional belief of the Welsh peasantry in a nut-shell. Fairy money is as good as any, so long as its source is kept a profound secret; if the finder relate the particulars of his good fortune, it will vanish. Sometimes--especially in cases where the money has been spent--the evil result of tattling consists in there being no further favours of the sort The same law governs fairy gifts of all kinds. A Breconshire legend tells of the generosity of the Tylwyth Teg in presenting the peasantry with loaves of bread, which turned to toadstools next morning; it was necessary to eat the bread in darkness and silence to avoid this transformation. The story of Gitto Bach, a familiar one in Wales, is a picturesque example. Gitto Bach (little Griffith), a good little farmer's boy of Glamorganshire, used often to ramble to the top of the mountain to look after his father's sheep. On his return he would show his brothers and sisters pieces of remarkably white paper, like crown pieces, with letters stamped upon them, which he said were given to him by the little children with whom he played on the mountain. One day he did not return. For two years nothing was heard of him. Meantime other children occasionally got like crown-pieces of paper from the mountains. One morning when Gitto's mother opened the door there he sat-the truant -dressed exactly as he was when she saw him last, two years before. He had a little bundle under his arm. 'Where in the world have you been all this time?' asked the mother. 'Why, it's only yesterday I went away!' quoth Gitto. 'Look at the pretty clothes the children gave me on the mountain, for dancing with them to the music of their harps.' With this he opened his bundle, and showed a handsome dress; and behold, it was only paper, like the fairy money.
But usually, throughout Wales, it is simply a discontinuance of fairy favour which follows blabbing. A legend is connected with a bridge in Anglesea, of a lad who often saw the fairies there, and profited by their generosity. Every morning, while going to fetch his father's cows from pasture, he saw them, and after they were gone he always found a groat on a certain stone of Cymmunod Bridge. The boy's having money so often about him excited his father's suspicion, and one Sabbath day he cross-questioned the lad as to the manner in which it was obtained. Oh, the meddlesomeness of fathers! Of course the poor boy confessed that it was through the medium of the fairies, and of course, though he often went after this to the field, he never found any money on the bridge, nor saw the offended Tylwyth Teg again. Through his divulging the secret their favour was lost.
Jones tells a similar story of a young woman named Anne William Francis, in the parish of Bassalleg, who on going by night into a little grove of wood near the house, heard pleasant music, and saw a company of fairies dancing on the grass. She took a pail of water there, thinking it would gratify them. The next time she went there she had a shilling given her, 'and so had for several nights after, until she had twenty-one shillings.' But her mother happening to find the money, questioned her as to where she got it, fearing she had stolen it. At first the girl would not tell, but when her mother 'went very severe on her,' and threatened to beat he?, she confessed she got the money from the fairies. After that they never gave her any more. The Prophet adds: ' I have heard of other places where people have had money from the fairies, sometimes silver sixpences, but most commonly copper coin. As they cannot make money, it certainly must be money lost or concealed by persons.' The Euhemerism of this is hardly like the wonder-loving Jones.
In the legends of the two shepherds of Cwm LIan and their experience with the fairies, the first deals with the secrecy feature, while the second reproduces the often impressed lesson concerning the money value of kindness. The first is as follows: One evening a shepherd, who had been searching for his sheep on the side of Nant y Bettws, after crossing Bwlch Cwm LIan, espied a number of little people singing and dancing, and some of the prettiest damsels he ever set eyes on preparing a feast. He went to them and partook of the meal, and thought he had never tasted anything to equal those dishes. When it became dusk they pitched their tents, and the shepherd had never seen before such beautiful things as they had about them there. They provided him with a soft feather-bed and sheets of the finest linen, and he retired, feeling like a prince. But on the morrow, lo and behold! his bed was but a bush of bulrushes, and his pillow a tuft of moss. He however found in his shoes some pieces of silver, and afterwards, for a long time he continued to find once a week a piece of silver; placed between two stones near the spot where he had lain. One day he divulged his secret to another, and the weekly coin was never placed there again.
There was another shepherd near Cwm Llan, who heard some strange noise in a crevice of a rock, and turning to see what it was, found there a singular creature who wept bitterly. He took it out and saw it to be a fairy child, but whilst he was looking at it compassionately, two middle-aged men came to him and thanked him courteously for his kindness, and on leaving him presented him with a staff as a token of remembrance of the occasion. The following year every sheep he possessed bore two ewe lambs. They continued to thus breed for years to come; but one very dark and stormy night, having stayed very late in the village, in crossing the river that comes down from Cwm Llan, there being a great flood sweeping everything before it, he dropped his staff into the river and saw it no more. On the morrow he found that nearly all his sheep and lambs, like his staff, had been swept away by the flood. His wealth had departed from him in the same way as it came-with the staff which he had received from the guardians of the fairy child.
A Pembrokeshire Welshman told me this story as a tradition well known in that part of Wales. Ianto Llewellyn was a man who lived in the parish of Llanfihangel, not more than fifty or eighty years ago, and who had precious good reason to believe in the fairies. He used to keep his fire of coal balls burning all night long, out of pure kindness of heart, in case the Tylwyth Teg should be cold. That they came into his kitchen every night he was well aware; he often heard them. One night when they were there as usual, lanto was lying wide awake and heard them say, 'I wish we had some good bread and cheese this cold night, but the poor man has only a morsel left; and though it's true that would be a good meal for us, it is but a mouthful to him, and he might starve if we took it.' At this lanto cried out at the top of his voice, 'Take anything I've got in my cupboard and welcome to you!' Then he turned over and went to sleep. The next morning, when he descended into the kitchen, he looked in his cupboard, to see if by good luck there might be a bit of crust there. He had no sooner opened the cupboard door than he cried out, 'O'r anwyl! what's this?' for there stood the finest cheese he had ever seen in his life, with two loaves of bread on top of it 'Lwc dda i ti!' cried lanto, waving his hand toward the wood where he knew the fairies lived; 'good luck to you! May you never be hungry or penniless!' And he had not got the words out of his mouth when he saw--what do you think?--a shilling on the hob! But that was the lucky shilling. Every morning after this, when lanto got up, there was the shilling on the hob another one, you mind, for he'd spent the first for beer and tobacco to go with his bread and cheese. Well, after that, no man in the parish was better supplied with money than lanto Llewellyn, though he never did a stroke of work. He had enough to keep his wife in ease and comfort, too, and he got the name of Lucky lanto. And lucky he might have been to the day of his death but for the curiosity of woman. Betsi his wife was determined to know where all this money came from' and gave the poor man no peace. 'Wel, naw wfft!' she cried--which means in English, 'Nine shames on you '--' to have a bad secret from your own dear wife!' 'But you know, Betsi, if I tell you I'll never get any more money.' ' Ah,' said she, ' then it's the fairies!' 'Drato!' said he--and that means 'Bother it all '--' yes--the fairies it is.' With that he thrust his hands down in his breeches pockets in a sullen manner and left the house. He had had seven shillings in his pockets up to that minute, and he went feeling for them with his fingers, and found they were gone. In place of them were some pieces of paper fit only to light his pipe. And from that day the fairies brought him no more money.
The lesson of generosity is taught with force and simplicity in the legend of Hafod Lwyddog, and the necessity for secrecy is quite abandoned. Again it is a shepherd, who dwelt at Cwm Dyli, and who went every summer to live in a cabin by the Green Lake (Llyn Glas) along with his fold. One morning on awaking from sleep he saw a good-looking damsel dressing an infant close by his side. She had very little in which to wrap the babe, so he threw her an old shirt of his own, and bade her place it about the child. She thanked him and departed. Every night thereafter the shepherd found a piece of silver placed in an old clog in his cabin. Years and years this good luck continued, and Meirig the shepherd became immensely wealthy. He married a lovely girl, and went to the Hafod Lwyddog to live. Whatever he undertook prospered--hence the name Hafod Lwyddog, for Lwydd means prosperity. The fairies paid nightly visits to the Hafod. No witch or evil sprite could harm this people, as Bendith y Mammau was poured down upon the family, and all their descendants. ['Cymru Fu,' 472]
The thought will naturally occur that by fostering belief in such tales as some of the foregoing, roguery might make the superstition useful in silencing inquiry as to ill-gotten gains. But on the other hand the virtues of hospitality and generosity were no doubt fostered by the same influences. If any one was favoured by the fairies in this manner, the immediate explanation was, that he had done a good turn to them, generally without suspecting who they were. The virtues of neatness, in young girls and servants, were encouraged by the like notions; the belief that a fairy will leave money only on a clean-kept hob, could tend to nothing more directly. It was also made a condition of pleasing the Tylwyth Teg that the hearth should be carefully swept and the pails left full of water. Then the fairies would come at midnight, continue their revels till daybreak, sing the well--known strain of 'Toriad y Dydd,' or 'The Dawn,' leave a piece of money on the hob, and disappear. Here is seen a precaution against fire in the clean-swept hearth and the provision of filled water-pails. That the promised reward did not always arrive, was not evidence it would never arrive; and so the virtue of perseverance was also fostered.
Superstitions of this class are widely prevalent among Aryan peoples. The 'Arabian Nights' story of the old rogue whose money turned to leaves will be recalled. In Danish folk-lore, the fairy money bestowed on the boors turns sometimes to pebbles, and sometimes grows hot and burns their fingers, so that they drop it, when it sinks into the earth.