[From Leech's Guide, 1861]
HUMANITY in all latitudes and in all ages ever has loved and still loves to associate itself with the ideal beings of the invisible world. The Teutonic, the Saxon, and the Celtic nations, do but imitate the ancients of the eastern world, especially those of Persia and Egypt, in having their little gods as well as their great ones their genii and their spirits, to make up a respectable nomenclature to their mothology.
The Manx people in particular, inhabiting so small and isolated a spot as they do, were most fruitful in supernal creations, so that in their history, their laws, their literature, their poetry, and religion, sprites, fairies, and other small people, were as plenty as the blackberries upon their hedges. The Druids, who held the fastnesses of Monas mountains for four hundred years after they had been driven out from England, taught the people an entire system of supernatural mystery. They could tell future events by the entrails of beasts and the flowing of the blood of impaled victimsay, they could create fire by miraculous meansof which the people must obtain a supply of them, or miserably perish. The Manx laws commence with a recital of the wonderful exploits of Manannan-beg-mac-y-Lheirr, the first king of Man, who held the land. He was a paynin[Heathen.] and a mighty wizard, who among other wonderful deeds enshrouded his little kingdom in mists, which have scarcely disappeared even to this day.
The first Manx poet of which we have any record wove up this mystic legend into song; so that it is nowise strange the vulgar commonalty should have their superstitions, since their betters and teachers inculcated such foolery in the laws and literature of the Island.
Perhaps the curious would wish to see a specimen of this first Manx poet, who wrote in 1504. The following few lines and literal translation may suffice, without regard to rhyme, measure, or accent -
Manannan beg va Mac y Leirr,
Shen yn chied er cc row rieau ee
Agh myr share oddyrns cur-my-n-er,
Cea row eh hene agh An-chreestee
Cha nee lesh e Chliwe ren eh ee reayll
Cha nee lesh e Hideyn, my lesh a Vhow;
Agh tra aikagh eh Lhuingys troailt
Oailagh eh cc my geayrt lash Kay.
Yinnagh eh Doinney ny hassoo er Brooghe
Er-lhieu shen hene dy beagh ayn Keead;
As shen myr dreill Manannan keoie,
Yn Ellan shoha ayn lesh cosney Bwoid.
Little Manannan was son of Leirr,
He was the first that ever had it [ie the Island]
But as I can best conceive,
He himself was a heathen.
It was not with his sword he kept it,
Neither with arrows or bow
But when he would see ships sailing,
He would cover it ronnd with a fog.
He would set a man, standing on a hill,
Appear if he was a hundred;
And thus did wild Manannan protect
That island with all its booty.
Iit is, however, difficult at this period to say precisely how far the belief of the peasantry of this Island extends into those occult mysteries which once made up the prmcipal knowledge of the common people. But leaving fairyology, we may refer to some of the popular customs peculiar to this Island.
This is a new-years greeting, somewhat unique, it being purely a Manx custom. A company of young men go to the houses df the more wealthy, repeating in Manx or in English the following rude rhymes
"Again we assemble a merry New-Year,
To wish to each one of the family here,
Whether man, woman, or girl or boy,
That long life and happiness all may enjoy.
May they of potatoes and herrings have plenty,
With butter and cheese and each other dainty;
And may their sleep never, by night or by day,
Disturbed be, by even the tooth of a flea;
Until at the Quaaltagh again we appear,
To wish you, as now, a happy New-Year."
On this being repeated at the door with an intonation peculiar to Manx chanters, they are invited into the house to partake of its hospitalities.
This is May-eve; and the Manx ceremony is preserved from the usage and worship of the Druids. The etymology of the word Boaldyn has been differently defined; but probably the origin of the days observance cast light upon the amame given to the day. Pliny, speaking of the usages of the Druids, says" The first day of May was a great annual festival in honour of Belinus, or the sun. On the evening of this day prodigious fires were kindled in all their sacred places, and on the tops of all their hills and cairns, and many sacrifices offered to that glorious luminary, which now began to shine upon them with great warmth and lustre." In the Gaelic this day is still called Beltein (thiat is, the fire of Bel), from the Druidical observance. Boal is a broad Manx guttural corruption of Bel, and dyn is a Scandinavian spelling of tein; hence the Manx words Laa-Boaldyn mean the day of Bels fire, lau being the Manx word for day.
On the evening preceding this great Druidical festival, primroses, butter-cups, and such like flowers are plentifully strewed before the cottage doors of the Manx peasantry, to exclude the fairies on that sacred night. This floral charm certainly presents a pretty sight to the pedestrian stranger, when returning home by twilight, or by the light of the moon, from the mountains or wild glen. But the May-fires of Mona, gilding her hill-tops from parish to parish are a sublime spectacle well worthy of notice. From the ignited dry gorse, ling, and heather, the surrounding mountains on this occasion are all in a blaze of burning glory, casting the reflection upon the mirrored surface of the surrounding sea. Probably most of the Manxrnen who now practice these fires are ignorant of their origin. Some say they are intended to frighten the fairies and witches, so they shall not come to break the nets of the herring fishery tlae ensuing season. All consider them as a propitiatory sacrifice to some great ruling power, to obtain favour and ensure safety from the evil genii of the sea and the storm. But all such modern devotees to the custom should know, that these May-fires commemorate a religious festival many centuries older than the christian era. They are a convincing proof that Mona was once the home of the Druids, and associate the mind with the religious ceremonies of those primeval times.
This custom of the Island answers to the harvest-home of England, and both are derived from the Levitical law.
After thou host gathered in the corn and the wine, thou shalt rejoice in thy feast," &c. It is, indeed, a continuation of the wave-offertory of the Hebrews, when the reapers old and young, male and female, meet with the family and friends of the husbandman. Mieillea strictly means the reapers rest, but instead of rest they generally dance all night.
Or Hollantide Eve, was first a Druidical and afterwards a Roman festival. The first Christian missionaries to Mona were obliged to incorporate some of the rites of the Druids, and even those of the Wodin into the Christian worship, before the adhesion of the people to ancient customs could be overcome. The present name of this festival is derived from the word saue, which means save, and points to the prayer for the salvation of departed saints. On this occasion bands of boys go round the town repeating a doggerel rhyme commencing
"Hop-tu-nanThis is old Hollantide night
TrollalaaThe moon sinnes fair and bright," &c.
The supper of this night with the peasantry is a compound of potatoes, parsnips, and fish, dressed with butter.
This custom takes place on St. Stephens day in some parts of the Island. it is founded on a tradition that a syren fairy once charmed the warriors of Mona by her sweet notes, and decoyed them off into the sea where they were drowned. She had thus well nigh stripped the country of its chivalry, when a knight sprang up so bold and artful that he had certainly slain the fairy, but that she escaped by taking the form of the wren. The knight cast a spell over the wren, and condemned her and all her race to destruction by Manx hands, which destruction has been going on once a year from that time, with the hope the fairy-one may thus fall into their hands. The feathers of the slain are craved as charms to preserve mariners from shipwreck. The sport ended, the supposed witch wren is tied to the top of a pole with its wings extended and decked with evergreens and ribbons.
The more probable origin of this custom is vested in a tradition connected with Ireland, whence it may have been introduced. The protestant army having halted for the night, the drummer was suddenly aroused from his slumber by the sounding noise of his own drum, and looking up he found the wren pecking some crumbs of bread, the remains of the soldiers evening repast. This opportune circumstance saved the army, as the enemy were on the point of attack, hence the wren became an object of persecution by every Romanist.
Another opinion prevails, that this barbarous practice is intended to commemorate the martyrdom of Stephen, if so, it ought to be abolished.
The sport is now principally pursued by boys for a few pence realised from the exhibition and charmed feathers.
This is a great night for the displays of the church. It is celebrated on Christmas-eve, and continued till after midnight. The church is gorgeously decorated with holly, laurel, ivy, variegated laurestina, and December blossoms and evergreens of all sorts, brilliantly illuminated by wax candles of immense size, and made harmonious with all the music available. The whole ceremony of course commemorates the salutation of the angels to the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem. Before the break of day the singers traverse the streets, chanting "Christians awake," and other hymns adapted to the occasion..
This grotesque custom of introducing Christmas is not exclusively of Manx practice and origin, as it prevails in many parts of the north of England. Some half-dozen of lads dress in white, with piramidical paper caps, appearing fantastic enough, and carrying wooden swords. They cry out at the doors, " Who wants to see the white boys act ?" They then essay a rude comical drama, half verse half prose, in which St.George, Prince Valentine, King of Egypt, Sambo, the Doctor, and Bedzebub himself, are the principal actors. The hurried manner and the burlesque intonations of the speakers, make the performance unique and odd. At the close of this ludicrous affair a few half-pence are looked for.
We may now introduce the demonology of the Manx. At this period the appliances of civilization have chased away from the towns many of the warlock, and made spooks, as the Dutch call them, much more scarce than formerly. It is a fact, however, that the peasantry of the pastoral districts are many of them firm believers in the little gentlemen and ladies with pale green jackets. yclepped fairies; many of the more illiterate stretch their faith to take in the monsters hereafter enumerated.
Many Manxmen returning home at a late hour at night across the mountains and the deep glens, and especially if they be persons of rum-habits, are sure to eucounter the fairies, who, perched overhead upon the tree tops, cut rare fandangoes, such as gibbering, fiddling, and dancing. Next we have
This monster of the deep, who of yore by a terrible curse, for unrequited love made to a flesh-and-blood mortal, enveloped the Island in mist; and she is still heard to sing her wailing notes on the lonely rocks near the Calf of Man, at the dread hour of midnight, when the howling storm is past, and the pale moon looks out sickly from the heavens. To one who visits this rude and ragged shore in the vicinity of the Calf, it will not seem strange that the imagination of the natives should conjure up wild monsters of the deep.
Standing on the pinnacle of Cronk Naharah and facing the west and south, Fistard Head, Spanish Head, and the Calf of Man are just before you. The twelve deep chasms separating the disrupted mountain into huge blocks, and yawning like the bottomless pit, are just at your left hand, constituting, without exception, the greatest natural curiosity of Mona. The gulph-like sea at this point is immensely deep, even to the foot of the mountain. The latter rises almost perpendicularly 400 feet just at the edge of the water, and towers up to three times that height as it recedes from the shore. It consists of horizontal layers of grey schist, resembling limestone in appearance. Huge masses of these rocks have been detached from the headland, and stand up in frightful fragments on the declivity, ready to topple and plunge headlong into the boiling deep below. These, with the caves, grottos, and frightfully opening chasms, worn by the action, or torn out by the violence of the waves, add a horrific sublimity to the spot, making one shudder on viewing it, The Calf of Man with its swelling hills, its needle, and its burrough are just before wild and desolate are these to the fancy. On the right hang the fearfully shaggy cliffs in all the rudeness of torn and disrupted nature, rent by some mighty convulsion. Dark and fearful thoughts seize the imagination, and hurry the beholder into the mountain caves and subterranean abysses, where sea monsters, mountain genii, and boding angels of the storm meet in mystic revelry. On the other hand reposes, like molten glass, or is lashed into fury by the winds, the dark blue sea fathomless and mysterious; and while azure depths, sea-worn caves, frowning precipices, and ragged monuments of Gods awfulness seize the mind with terror, the wild screaming of the seamew and the pintard, which in countless flocks are ever wheeling over the spot, add to its loneliness and solemnity. No wonder the wailing of the mermaid is heard here.
Or wild bull of the water, is a terrible fellow when he gets among the Manx cattle feeding near the cliff. The fear of the farmer is, that in absence of civilized bulls, the breed may some how or other get crossed, and so the next generation of calves all run off into the sea. Many is the deadly fight farm servants have had with these stubborn intruders, when the former have come home late at night from the village pot-house, and armed themselves with pitchforks for the encounter. It is confessed, however, that the light of the next morning has often shone on fearful wounds got by the civilized stock in these affrays ; and strange to tell, they were punctured wounds, just such as might be expected from a pitchfork!
Or water-horse, though fleet as the winds, and much addicted to chase the land horses in the field, is not so much dreaded as the Tarroo Ushtey, for it would be a decided improvement of the Manx ponies so to cultivate the stock, that the next race of colts should be good swimmers, so as to cross the gullies in flood time. There is a noisy night man called
Who near the sea-shore, and when the storm is high, the mad waves lash the rocks in wild fury, and the darkness lours, raises his voice above the winds and the waves, and cries out" howlaa! howlaa! howlaa! " This is a fearful fellow, acknowledged on all hands, but what he would be at in this terrible yell is not so well known.
Then we have
Or the great fallen fairy transformed into a wild satyr, covered like a he-goat with shaggy hair. A volume might be filled with the exploits of this wonderful being. He has been known to mow the grass of a large meadow in a single night, in rebuke of a lazy farmer, who omitted "to make hay while the sun shone." He has carried huge stones of many tons weight from the bottom of the lowest vallies to the top of the highest hills, and placed them as corner stones to mansions about to be erected. But as the doings of this extraordinary sprite verge on the wonderful and romantic, we better go to poetry at once.
"His was the wizard hand that toild
At midnights witching hour;
That gatherd the sheep from the coming storm
Ere the shepherd saw it lour;
Yet ask no fee save a scatterd sheaf
From the peasailts garnered hoard,
Or cream-bowl pressed by a virgin lip
To be left on the household board."
The history of this strange solitary being is somewhat melancholy. He was once a fairy of the male sex in good reputation; but falling in love head and ears with a pretty Manx maiden, and offering to abandon the fairies for a domestic life with this flesh-and-blood-nymph, he so offended his airy people, that they expell ed him from fairy- hail, and cursed him with an undying existence on the Manx mountains, in the shape and form he now assumes. And now follows
This is a giant sprite, of more potency than any or all that ever attempted to trample rough-shod over Mona. He has no long goats hair like the Phynnodderee, neither was he ever in love with a Manx lass, yet as the great arbiter of right and wrong among the Manx he is with out a parallel. His skin is thick and black as India-rubber; he can lie in the dark caves of South Baroole and Snaefell without a bed; and although he has never been seen by daylight, yet his tall shadow has often frowned over the wild regions of the North, as reflected, or rather cast by the pale moon, when the storm was gathering on the brownie hills. If by reason of sickness or other misfortune the stack of a farmer remain un-thrashed until after Candlemas, the Big Boggane takes the work in hand, and in a single night he thrashes out the whole stack, scattering the straw and chaff to the four winds, but garnering up every kernel of the wheat to the farmers use. On the contrary, if the stack be unthrashed by the laziness or the druekenness of the owner, the Boggane Moor lays to and does the needed work in a single night; but mark the retribution !the straw and chaff are found piled up on the thrashing floor, but never a kernel of grain is to be found among the offal. What a fine allegory this in rebuke of drunken habits ! The bills at the pot-house will engross the grain, while nothing remains to the drinking farmer but the straw and the chaff.
Perhaps of all the notions having to do with the invisible, no one has a stronger hold upon the Manx mind than a belief in
The general notion is, that when some one has a longing for something in anothers possession, and breaks the tenth commandment by coveting it, he is apt to cast an evil eye at it, if he is refused it. For instance, two persons at a fair are anxious to possess themselves of the same cow. One obtains it; but the other losing it, casts an evil eye on it. The cow loses her milk, or the milk loses its unctious property, so that no butter can be be made from it; or the cow becomes diseased and dies, and perhaps taints the whole flock of the purchaser. To detect the mischief, the owner burps the carcase of his dead cow on the highway, and if possible at a cross road; and the first person who shall come along the road and approach the barbacue, is the one with the evil eye.
While treating of diseased animals, it may be well enough to mention, that for many years past the people of the Island have been blest with a fairy-doctor, whose occult mysteries in phyisic are so potent, that not all the witches of old England, the hobgoblins of Saxony, the Warlocks of Scotia, the Spooks of Dutchland, nor the fairies and yenii of Mona could escape his notice; but each and every, and all of them, were subject to his exorcism, and fur half-a-crown or a five shilling piece, he could lay them all.
Thus much for Manx mysteries ; but the schoolmaster is abroad, and will make sad havock of the goblins of Mona, and dispel her wizard mists; and with them many of her absurd customs, strange beliefs, and barbarous laws will disappear; so that except in the sequestered glens or on the brownie hills, the elves, fairies, - and witches will nowhere be found.
We admit that in the preceding chapter we have given ample scope for the risibility of our English visitors, but let them not indulge too much in the laugh at these Manx superstitions, remembering that late as the reign of James I. Parliament passed a law punishing with death any one who should "consort with, entertain, or feed a witch, or other invisible or infernal spirit."