[From A Second Manx Scrapbook]



5. Cures and Charms.


Further instances of the darker side of Manx witchcraft will crop up when we come to consider the superstitions connected with animals and plants. Its brighter side is best seen in the charms and cures which, though performed or prescribed by men and women (mostly men) having the name of charmers, " fairy-doctors," and witches, display nothing of the diabolical.

Long before 1797, when Feltham wrote his Tour, the Teare family of Ballawhane in Andreas must have been noted for their skill in human and animal medicine. By degrees their willingness to practise it for their neighbours' benefit was given a supernatural colouring, until in the first half of the 19th century Charles Teare's adroitly spectacular use of the family recipes made him the most famous of all the Manx charmers. The confusion in the popular mind between witchcraft and fairydom is seen not only in his title of " fairy doctor," but in the name, still remembered, of his little plot where he grew his herbs, the " fairy garden," to which men came by stealth at night and rolled themselves on it before going to the fishing. One of Teare's elaborate cures is described in detail in Dr. Clague's Manx Reminiscences, page 127. In 1849 a woman of the same family performed a cure on the doctor himself (page 129). Teare concerned himself with the diseases of animals and crops more than with human ailments, and was typical of a multitude of his forgotten predecessors and humbler followers. With regard to the question of whence such powers are believed to emanate, it was commonly agreed that Teare possessed, like Ewan Christian of Lewaigue, a mysterious book of written charms and other magical formulas.1 But we have Teare's statement on oath in the presence of a magistrate and of Train the historian who reports it in 1845, that he " never called evil spirits to his assistance." Nor, it is still said, would he on any account operate between midnight and cockcrow. He was, in short, like most men of his profession in the Isle of Man, a " brother of the light," not of the shadow. Nevertheless, the original prescriptions had resolved themselves, by degrees, into magical practices of the traditional sort.

A. W. Moore says that one of Teare's daughters was carrying on the family traditions at the time he was engaged on his Folk-lore of the Isle of Man. Another at least of Teare's children, known as Charley Chalse, inherited some of his skill. Mr. C. H. Kee, of Ramsey, when a boy of ten, enjoyed the privilege of witnessing Charley's curative powers in action, and I append his story as an illustration of the methods of these " charmers." Mr. Kee's elder brother returned from a sea-voyage to their home at Leodas, and found one of their cows sick. She had been standing for days refusing to eat or drink and taking no notice of anyone, but roaring all the time. The brother went, taking the little boy with him, to Teare at Gat y Whing near Ballawhane, and asked him to come at once. Teare was lying on his bed half drunk, and there was no food in the house. This was about 10 a.m. The brother gave Mrs. Teare two half-crowns to buy something to eat. Thereupon the fairy-doctor got up, went round to the back of the house, and cut with a knife some herbs from two or three different spots in the garden. They then went back to Leodas, Teare accompanying them. When Teare entered the cowhouse the cow turned her head round and looked at him. He rubbed the herbs along her back and threw them down before and beside her. She let out one final unearthly bellow and quietened down. Then she began to eat and drink, and was all right afterwards. My informant does not remember that Teare spoke any words when applying the herbs ; if he did, it was under his breath.

This scion of the Ballawhane family was exceptional in being sometimes the worse for liquor, but he was seldom or never quite incapable. One night, however, he came out of the Friendship Inn at Ramsey, walked straight into the harbour, and was drowned.

Mrs Charley Chalse Gat y Whing
Mrs Charley Chalse Gat y Whing

After his death his widow practised similar cures with success, and so did their crippled son, Danny. In 1904 T. E. Brown [sic Brown died 1897 ! - is 1894 meant ?] , then living in Ramsey, took Mr. George B. Cowen, the well-known Ramsey photographer, to Mrs. Charley Chalse's house at Gat y Whing and persuaded her to sit for him. It was much against her will, for she feared she was committing the sin of vanity, and quoted Scripture texts and the Commandment forbidding graven images. She had " navar been tuk before," and in all probability never was again. Her cottage, in front of which she sat for her portrait, was a good specimen of the type which succeeded the sod-houses-two rooms below and a loft to sleep in.


When a cure of any magnitude is undertaken by the charmer himself or herself, it is seldom that anyone else is permitted to see what goes on, as happened in the Leodas case just related. Personally, I can say no more than that I have known a sick cow to recover after having been thus treated. It is fairly common knowledge, however, that stroking with the hand or with plants and twigs forms part of the treatment, also making the sign of the cross and spitting. All charmers, professional and amateur, male and female, are expert pre-prandial expectorators. Something is said to be whispered into the animal's ear as well. Writers on folk-lore report that the patient immediately rises up whole, but from what I have heard I gather that some hours, up to as many as twentyfour, sometimes elapse before the desired result appears. It may not appear at all. Infallibility is not claimed. In serious cases the state of the tide has some obscure connexion with the question of success or failure, and with the length of time which must intervene between charm and cure.

To treat superficial human ailments of various kinds, from erysipelas to a stye in the eye, a stone was kept by some of the charmers. It was rubbed on the affected spot, while the Lord's Prayer or some less respectable formula was muttered in a tone which made it unintelligible to the sufferer. Sometimes a second or third treatment at the witch's house was necessary, but she was careful to repeat it at the same hour of the day exactly on each occasion. A man who was thus cured of a troublesome eye when a boy remembers having been kept waiting on his second visit until the finger of the clock marked the appointed moment.

The dealings between a witch and her client sometimes imply clairvoyance on her part. A man's cow was laid low by an obscure complaint. In despair he made the journey to Douglas, reinforced by a friend, with a view to getting advice from a certain wise woman. By way of testing her qualifications he began by asking her to tell them what they had come for. At this challenge she showed anger, or feigned it. Then she looked into a cup (contents unknown to my narrator, who was a brother of one of the men), and said: "You have come to me about a four-footed beast, but I cannot tell what kind of a beast it is." She further said, " One of you is short of a limb." One of the men had indeed lost an arm, but he was wearing a voluminous cloak to conceal the loss, for both he and his companion wished to remain unidentified. In the end she gave them a herb, with full directions how to use it. They took it back to the country, and, says my informant, it cured the cow.

Another instance of clairvoyance in witchcraft may be given here, although no cure was in question. A dog, valuable because well-trained and intelligent, disappeared from the Northside farm where he was employed, and nothing could be seen or heard of him. The farmer went to Nan Wade, the famous witch or wise woman, then living at Poortown near St. John's, for help in solving the mystery. After she had got a detailed description of the missing animal, but without making any inquiry as to the man's name or where he came from, she retired into the adjoining room for a short while. When she came out she said: " Your dog is not alive on the Island." He then asked her where it was, and whether it was alive or dead. She retired for a further space of time. On coming back she described the situation of his house with regard to its immediate surroundings, and told him to go back home and walk straight from the house to a river which ran, she said, on the West side of it, and then follow the current along the East bank. He went home and carried out her instructions, forcing his way for a hundred yards or more through brambles and undergrowth, until, on a ridge of gravel cast up by the stream, he found his dog lying dead under a bush. It had, he concluded, been killed by a neighbour with whom he was at loggerheads, and the body bidden there. The Rushen man (well known to me) who told me this story was of the opinion that Nan could not possibly have known by natural means who her visitor was or the situation of his farm, because the river in question was the Agneash river, which is ten or eleven miles from Nan's home by the nearest road and on the other side of the mountains. The querent had never had any dealings with her before.

A calf in Ballaugh Glen " took sick " and wouldn't feed. The family got a herb which had been recommended to them, boiled it, and mixed the liquor with milk. Then " the calf was put sitting on his behind " and the mixture poured down his throat. After that he was wanting more, and always throve from then on, says one of the family.

A man who lived by a certain railway-crossing in Lezayre parish had a sow which fell incurably sick. After trying several specifics of a veterinary nature he took advice from a charmer, and threw over the creature's back (possibly with a few well-chosen words mumbled sotto voce, as charms should be mumbled) a pinch of dust from the nearest cross-roads. Next morning the sow, which had previously refused to move, feed, or suckle her offspring, was walking about as usual. My informant asked me to say nothing about the transaction, which had happened not long before ; but that was twenty-five years ago. The commoner practice in such cases, it may be remarked, is to gather the dust or soil from the fresh track of the person suspected of the overlooking, or else from her threshold. But cross-roads, in addition to the sign they make, promise a fourfold chance of catching the required footprint.

In conformity with these customary measures, a dog in the South of the Island, which was apparently dying of some complaint undiagnosable and therefore the result of buitcheragh, was sprinkled with dust collected with a brush into a dollan from the suspected culprit's doorstep. The dog, like the sow, had lain for days almost without moving, but a few hours after the remedy had been applied he was working the sheep as cleverly as ever.

Perhaps an old-fashioned remedy for " anything wrong with a hoss's eye " may be mentioned among these charms for animals, although there is no magic in it now, whatever form of words may have been used to assist its action in the past. A certain long, narrow, whitish and bone-like shell from the sea - shore - probably the shuggiloon of An Anglo-Manx Vocabulary -is crushed fine and blown into the eye, the patient's consent and faith in the cure being dispensed with. The effect is to stimulate the lachrymal gland and wash out foreign matter ; possibly inflammation due to other causes might be relieved by this operation, possibly not. A similar cure is described, for cattle, in the Gallovidian Encyclopedia, where the shell is called a caum or clam. That this use of it in the Island may formerly have been credited with magical efficacy is suggested by " A Note on Lime from Seashells for Charms and Medical Purposes " in the Folk-lore journal, vol. iv., page 265. The contributor mentions having seen, especially in Co. Wexford, miniature limekilns in which sea-shells were burned ; there was a vague tradition that the ash had special virtue in charms.

A remedy which appears to be more than purely medical is mentioned in the course of a lengthy finding on a trial for witchcraft and sorcery held by an Archidiaconal Court.2John Corlet having threatened one of the accused persons, John Steon, that he would present him to the Great Enquest for his evil deeds, Steon replied that he might not be able to do so, for by then he might " be sick and have need to be washed in tobacco water and swine's broth." Of tobacco water as a cure I know nothing ; but swine's broth is used in the Táin Bó Fraech, an Irish tale of which the oldest extant MS. belongs to the 12th century. Fraech, who is human on one side only of his pedigree, is hurt in slaying a monster. King Aillell says " Let a broth be made for this man, namely, a broth of fresh bacon." The minced flesh of a heifer is to be added. Fraech is put into the broth and rubbed from head to foot ; fairy women then come and take him away. Next morning he returns healed.3

Quite in accordance with modern practice is the cure of an ox described in the same finding. Steon told Gilbert Moore that he would do him a mischief, and shortly afterwards Moore's ox was struck lame. When Moore sent for Steon the latter " spit upon the Ox and handled him and he recovered."'

A Report of the Malew Churchwardens in 1634 contains the following item : " Alsoe their is a Crosse in ye Mids of Foure Wayes within our P'ish at which we heare that some used to lay their sick Children to what purpose we know not."4

A truly heroic remedy was practised not long ago in the Isle of Man. A blacksmith named Molroy, whose smithy stood next to the present Grosvenor Hotel in Andreas village, cured cancer by applying a poultice made of a certain herb. After the treatment had been repeated a sufficient number of times he was able to draw out the cancer by the roots. Sufferers came to him from all over the Island, from Liverpool, and from still farther away. He would tell nobody the name of the herb, not even his own son, and the secret was lost when he died about thirty years ago 5. [see 3rd Scrapbook]

We read, however, in Carmina Gadelica 6 of the eradication of superficial cancerous growths by means of the herb named Curran cruaidh, the hemlock - literally " hard carrot." " The old Highlanders used a plaster of hemlock for the extraction of cancer. The plaster was applied to the part affected. It is said to have been effective in the earlier stages of the disease, extracting the cancer with its innumerable roots and rootlets, and leaving a hollow where it had been. The process of extraction is said to have been extremely painful, the sound of the tearing out of the roots of the cancer being like the snapping of linen thread."

The flame-in-darkness of smithcraft has from remote ages picked it out against the obscure mass of less picturesque employments, and its initiates' mastery over metals which were in their time the precious metals has linked them with the subterranean powers. The smith-god Gobannon is invoked in an ancient Gaulish butter-charm, and St. Patrick's great protective incantation averts the enchantments of " women and smiths and druids "-the wizards, the witches, and the charcoal-blackened smelters and armourers of the forests and river-banks. Manx blacksmiths have not been free from suspicions of inspiration from an infernal source. In common with the witches some were able to take the hare-shape when they wished,7 to cast spells, and to cure men and beasts. Bloodstopping was also one of their specialities.


That a few men have the power of stopping the flow of blood-venous and arterial are not distinguished-from a wound, is firmly believed by many people, and circumstantial tales are told in testimony. It seems to be a male prerogative ; at all events, I have only once heard of its being done by a woman. Neither have I seen it done by either sex ; accounts which have reached me have, with one exception, been but hearsay and valueless as proofs, unless their profusion can be held to argue a basis of fact. I suspect that the basis of fact consists in the application of ribwort or some other astringent herb, notwithstanding that a form of words is held to be the essential feature of the cure and the presence of the charmer to be unnecessary. I have not heard the limit of his range ; perhaps it varies with the professional calibre of each individual.

Twenty years ago a case which dated to some years earlier was thus popularly related. A man employed by the Isle of Man Steampacket Company damaged himself severely during a voyage from Liverpool to Douglas ; " the blood was pouring from him " and could not be staunched. As soon as the steamer came alongside the pier a message was sent to a practitioner in the town ; he pronounced the charm in his own house, and the man on the steamer immediately ceased to bleed.

According to another story the benefit is not necessarily restricted to the human race. Half a dozen years ago, as I was passing a house in Dalby in the company of a local man, he pointed to the farmyard and said, " They were killing a pig there one time, and So-and-so came by, going up the road. He was a man that knew a lot of these old charms they're telling about, but too fond altogether of playing jokes on people. Well, he looked at the pig and said something under his breath, and the blood stopped running." 8 They had to send for him later, to take off the spell.

This seriously-told tale rather contradicts the belief that to work the charm demands an expenditure of nervous force which is not lightly incurred. " It takes it out of them terrible." It is also held that such gifts will be withdrawn if they are used frivolously, for they are bestowed by Providence on those who are worthy of them. Ewan Christian of Lewaigue in Maughold, for example, an earnest and renowned lay-preacher who died nearly sixty years ago, is characteristically credited with this power to stop the flow of blood, together with other faculties equally mysterious in their workings and beneficial in their results. Another blood-charmer in the same parish was Jim Crellin of Ballaberna, son of Juan Richard. It is not many years since he died.

Faith on both sides is essential to success, also the sufferer's permission. A man I knew intimately for many years, and whose statements I learned to trust, told me an experience of his own which bears this out. When a boy he was constitutionally subject to bleeding from the nose. On one occasion of the kind his aunt offered to charm it for him, but he refused her aid, until he began to feel faint from loss of blood. This frightened him even more than the idea of being charmed, and he let her use the words. Nothing else was done, but the bleeding stopped at once.

More blood-stopping charms have been recorded than any others of the verbal kind. Several recorded in the early part of the 18th century can be found in Harrison's Mona Miscellany. All but one of the verbal charms given by Moore are the same as those in the Miscellany. Some of them appear again in Dr. Clague's Manx Reminiscences, together with others added from his own knowledge. One notices, by the way, that it is only the word-formulas that are meant to do good which have got into print.


As is proper to an occupation where so much depends on luck,fishing-boats and gear have always been conspicuously sensitive to both good and evil influences. The luck of a successful boat can be transferred to an unsuccessful one by secretly sweeping - at midnight for choice - dust from the doorstep of the fortunate skipper and shaking it over the unlucky nets the next time they are used, before they touch the water. Dust taken from the steps of a church was reckoned useful in the same way.

Certain herbs, culled by the witch in the correct manner, were boiled, and the resulting brewage sprinkled over the nets and about the boat to ensure good catches. Sometimes the herbs themselves were tied in an oilskin bag to the mollag famman, the tail-buoy of the net, or fastened inside the bow of the boat. These were well-known and popular practices, and it would not be safe to say that such charms are no longer used in cases of extreme necessity. If they are dead it is because the fishing is nearly dead. Of their former use I have heard one account which takes a humorous twist not characteristic of Manx superstitions.

One of the crews engaged in the Shetland fishing was having a very bad season, no luck at them at all. So they decided to take measures to remedy this state of affairs, and sent, by a boat going home from Lerwick, a message to Nan Wade to do her best for them, together with a fee of five shillings which they had raised among themselves-two half-crowns, for such charms should always be paid for in silver. She sent them a big bundle of herbs to be boiled and applied to the gear in the customary manner.9 The next time they tried their luck they got such a catch that the nets broke under the weight of it, and they lost both fish and nets. The skipper pushed his cap back, scratched his head, spat over the side, and remarked ruefully, " Well, boys, I'm thinking if we'd sent her half as much it's like we'd have done a sight batthar till this ! " With half as many fish in the nets they would have saved both nets and fish.

On a similar occasion, but in home waters, a packet of herbs which had been tied to one of the nets disappeared. It was thought to have dropped off, and the youngest member of the crew (now the friend who told me the story) was sent to Nan's house for another lot. When she handed it to him she told him to tell the skipper that the first lot had been cut off and burned by one of the men. An unbeliever among them was suspected and accused. He stoutly denied it at first, but in the end admitted that he had done it.

Variations could be introduced into the boat-charm at the discretion of the witch. On the recommendation of Nan Wade the same boy was sent to buy three rows or papers of pins at the village shop. They were all to be pins that had never been used, and not one must be missing from the rows. These were boiled, together with herbs supplied by Nan, and the liquor sprinkled over the nets as usual, each man at the same time drinking a mouthful, and doubtless keeping a sharp lookout for pins.

Knots tied by a witch and given to seamen to evoke winds were as popular in the Isle of Man as in the rest of North-Western Europe. Within the last thirty years the three knots were tied by an old woman living in the Abbeylands of Kirk Patrick for a Peel fisherman, who wore the cord as a belt. The man is, I believe, still living. In making use of one of these charms, the third knot should never be loosened save in extreme need, and, especially, should never be cut with a knife. If it is untied with insufficient reason, or by a man other than its rightful owner, the consequent hurricane will bring grave disaster. In Brittany the three knots were once tied by a captured mermaid for her capturer.


Besides the personal cures worked by the professionals, simple treatment for simple ailments could be administered to a patient by a friend or by himself. A common method of getting rid of a stye in the eye was to describe a circle round it lightly with a brass pin, saying words. To be effective this had to be done during the ebb of the tide. Round a blotch or a pimple on a baby's skin the mother would rub her " fasting spit " with the point of her forefinger three times, and finish by " signing " the spot or putting the dumb-cross on it " in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

For the tingling numbness called " pins and needles " the cure was likewise, and more appropriately, a slight pricking or scratching of the limb with a brass pin. The words accompanying the act have already been recorded as a nursery-rhyme :

" Ping, pang prash,
Cur yn cadley jiargan as my chass ! "

" Pin, pin of brass,
Send the blood-sleep out of my foot ! "

The stone-cure also could be worked by the patient on himself. If wind or pain in the intestines troubled a man he would go out of the house-or if he was out of doors he would look around him immediately the pain began-pick up the first white stone he saw, spit on the underside of it, and replace it exactly in the spot where it had been lying, with the same side downwards. The pain would soon stop. Superficial pains and aches of a slight nature were rubbed with the underside of a white stone, which was then put back on the ground. In both methods the theory, consciously held or otherwise, was evidently that the pain should pass away into the earth.

An old remedy for worms which cannot be styled a charm is nonetheless evidently connected in people's minds with the traditional mode of expelling the small lizard called a " mancreeper " when it is supposed to have run down a human throat. The cure in both cases is to eat only well-salted food, or, better still, to swallow a quantity of unmixed salt, and then lean open-mouthed over water, especially water which is running audibly. The worms hear it, and cannot refrain from coming out to quench their thirst. So far as the mancreeper is concerned, there are many variants of the same " cure " in other countries.


A number of these have been published. I regret extremely that I have none to add, except an apparently unrecognized one in Rydings' Manx Tales, page 39. " And that Juan, who was sittin' nex' her, grabs her pockad-han'kecher, and winkin' at the fallar nex' him, rams it undhar his oxthar 'spectin' the gel would rag him for it, lek mos' gels would." The intention in such an act is more than merely to invite a pleasant scuffle. When the girl gets the handkerchief back it is supposed to carry with it a powerful sexual attraction, especially if the man can seize an opportunity to press it against her face.10


1 To the Carmarthenshire family known as the Physicians of Myddfai, which produced medical men for more than six centuries, the secrets of their inherited skill were, it is said, first revealed by a dead ancestress in the shape of a fairy.

The Highland family of MacBeth (anglicised Beaton) has had a similar record since the 14th century. The people attributed some of their wonderful cures to a compact with the Devil

2 Manx Note Book, No. 12, page 190. The contributor, R.B., gives its date as 1717. Moore, in reprinting it in his Folk-lore, page 81, dates it 1690; in quoting an item from it in Yn Lioar Manninagh, iii., 310, he dates it 1712.

3 Leahy, Heroic Romances of Ireland, ii., 41.

4 Delightfully discreet of the worthy Wardens, who must have known all about it.

5 Kneen, Manx Place-names, page 64.

6 I ought to say that I heard this recently from an unknown man met on a road in Maughold, and have not verified it. Vol, ii., page 266.

7 Blacksmiths in Abyssinia can turn themselves into hyenas and other animals. (Cox, Introduction to Folk-lore, page 88.)

8 A similar story is told by Moore in his Folk-lore (page 96) about a man near Laxey. Most of the instances of blood-stopping would no doubt be difficult to track down to their starting-point.

9 Doubtless the all-powerful vervaine was the principa ingredient.

10 An English charm of kindred nature is described in Brand's Popular Antiquities. Two pieces of lemon-peel carried under the armpits during the day and rubbed at night on the four bedposts will bring the future husband during sleep-that is to say, in a dream.

6. Witchcraft and Fairydom.

Into the central sink of the larger witchcraft many foreign currents of belief and practice have been deflected. Though they have joined its muddy welter of obscenities, imbecilities and cruelties by force of attraction they do not wholly refuse their true character to analysis. But analysis of the contents of the quagmire was far from the intention of the ecclesiastical authorities in Britain and on the Continent. Their only purpose was to drain society of it, and of anything which seemed to them to resemble it ; and no doubt their sweeping condemnations increased the popular confusion of the various branches of superstition, especially confusion of the powers and practices of the witches with those of the fairies. Joan of Arc was as deeply implicated by her accusers with the fairies as she was with witchcraft ; no distinction was made between them, or between fairies and evil spirits. All were equally the Devil's offspring.

Curiously enough, it was after the Reformation that this ecclesiastical view of the matter began to prevail in Great Britain ; but it did not originate then. In 1438, for example, a Montacute woman was convicted for " fortune-telling and incantation." The fourth head of the accusation was " that she professed to cure children afflicted with violent [acris] spirits, which the common folk call Feyry, and that she had communication with these unclean spirits, and sought their advice whenever she pleased." She admitted no more than that she used prayer to cure people who came or sent to her. " The Bishop ordered her to recite these prayers before him in public ; in which he heard certain strange and unknown words which the woman was unable to explain."1 These evil spirits called Feyry appear to have been what are otherwise known as witches' familiars. We find mention in Kennish's poems of exactly the same belief concerning a Manx witch.

In other parts of England, and more notably in Scotland, fairies, witches and spirits were similarly jumbled together. In Italy the word for a fairy, fata, is occasionally used to denote a witch of a certain rank or variety.

The early histories of the two realms, witchdom and fairydom, almost certainly share at least one important feature ; for there is little doubt that some of the pagan goddesses, Hecate, Diana, " Herodias," and others, who were adopted as queens or leaders of the post-pagan witches, were by a different course of descent diminished into fairy queens.2 Reginald Scot in the 16th century alludes to them as " Fairies or Ladies " who headed the rout of witches. A French name of the same period for the witches' male leader or Devil —" Abiron "—strongly resembles that of the fairy king Oberon or Auberon.

Much could be adduced from literary sources to show that the territory of the witches and that of the fairies have a considerable stretch of boundary which is common to both, and which is sufficiently ill - defined - as boundaries are apt to be in the world of superstition - to render their respective jurisdictions confused and uncertain. But there is no question of any original identity of the two realms. It is merely that their spheres of influence intersect.

Some evidence of this confusion in Manx traditions may be of interest, even though the particulars are not peculiar to the Island. Thus, the circular and nocturnal dancing of the fairies, and their knowledge of spells and potions, resemble certain well-known activities of the witches. Night-riding of horses and tangling their manes, attributed to the fairies in Ireland and elsewhere, was in Man a pastime of the witches also. Waldron has the prior form of the superstition.3 In entering the hill of North Barrule the witches were adopting a habit of the fairies, elves and trolls. Witches, like fairies and other non-human beings, could change their shapes and dispense with a visible shape altogether. Both knew what was said about them in their corporeal absence. Both were able to fly, yet both found difficulty in crossing running water. Many of the herbs and other specifics used as antidotes to witchery were equally valid against the fairies; for the ill-will of both was liable to cause similar mischiefs, which could be averted by similar means. For example, the yellow flowers scattered to defeat the witches' aims on May Eve, St. John's Eve and November Eve (all important dates in the fairy calendar) were potent likewise against fairy interference. Both bodies were unusually busy on these nights ; if they were less active at Christmastide it may have been due to the greater concentration of the Christian faith on this old pagan festival than on the others. Waldron reports the seeing of a party of thirteen fairies, a number which was—in other countries at all events—that of a witches' coven.4 The substitution of human by demonic infants is in Man the subject of many short fairy tales; in Scotland it has been popularly accounted for by the demand for babies to sacrifice to Satan at the witches' revels. A tumultuous attempt by fairies to drag her baby from the arms of a Glen May woman is exactly paralleled by two Scottish stories, except that in the latter versions the would-be kidnappers were notorious witches.5

Yet in the main the two corporations, though sharing or exchanging some of their characteristics, were kept separate in the people's minds. The witches were, and are, living human beings, the fairies were not.6 Nowadays we do not hear much in the Isle of Man about the Devil in any capacity, except that he was, proverbially, beaten by Manachan in some affair which has been lost to history ; but that the witches' powers emanated from him as their master was acknowledged by Bishop Wilson when in 1741 he exhorted his clergy to denounce witchcraft as " a cursed practice carried on secretly by Satan and his instruments . . . to terrify those that practise it, and to confirm people's faith in God, against any hurt the Devil or his agents can do them." He further stigmatizes the witches as " wretched instruments of Satan."7 The powers of the fairies, on the other hand, both for injury and for benefit, were their own, and subtler and more incalculable in their nature. When Kennish's Glen Rushen witch was scared by the shooting,8 in hare-shape, of her cousin and crony Kate of Maughold, she decided to suspend her personal activities and make catspaws of the fairies to attain her ends. She harboured them, and sent them forth on her commissions. This was partly to ensure her own safety and partly because they were better at the flying and able to pass unseen through keyholes and crevices. She used them, in fact, as her " familiars," a class of being which does not appear in Manx oral tradition, so far as I am aware.9


1 Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, March, 1910, from Harl. MS. 6966, page 51.

2 Hence perhaps the tendency in many countries to call the fairies " good," however dangerous they were to meddle with ; they were the Good People, Good Neighbours, Daoine Maith, Bonnes Dames, Guten Holden, etc. They had been good—for their pagan worshippers.

3 Rhys, Celtic Folk-lore, page 194, notices a similar confusion in Monmouthshire of fairies and witches in this matter of using other people's horses without leave.

4 Waldron's fairies, however, were in hunting kit, one of them winding ;a horn ; while the twelve principal Norse gods were captained by Odin, the Wild Huntsman.

5 Dalyell, Darker Superstitions of Scotland, page 584.

6 The 17th -century Scottish minister Kirk, who was in his lifetime and afterwards reckoned a first-rate authority on the fairies, thoroughly confounds them with both witches and spirits, so far as their deeds are a criterion. His book reads more like a treatise on witches than on fairies. The attribution of witch-practices to the fairies is noticeable throughout Scotland; even so far north as Westray the fairies used to steal milk from the cows.

7 Moore, Folklore of the Isle of Man, page 84.

8 By means of ammunition extemporized by the sportsman out of the silver studs or buttons on his wristbands, " the heirlooms of his granny." (Mona's Isle, page 56.) This detail of a story which must have been a memory of Kennish's youth was heard again by Roeder in Rushen nearly a hundred years later (see his Manx Notes and Queries, page 10), and I heard it half a dozen years ago in Patrick. In North Germany it is necessary that the silver so used is inherited (Thorpe, Northern Myth., iii., 27), and this may explain the persistence of what now appears to be a meaningless detail in the Manx story. Silver jacket-buttons are similarly turned into bullets for witches, in the shapes of a duck and a hare, in two Danish stories. (Thorpe, ii., 193.)

As a further illustration of the continuity of Insular folk-lore, and incidentally as a piece of testimony to the trustworthiness of Waldron as a recorder, it is notable that Train, writing about the same time as Kennish, reports hearing many of the wild legends related to Waldron upwards of a century earlier. (History, ii., 164.)

9 In view of the above and of the fairy reputation of the elder tree in the Isle of Man, it is interesting to read in Grimm (Tent. Myth., 1074) that the German witch gets her familiar spirits from underneath the elder, which is otherwise called " the elves' grave."


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