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Fairies of Fife

Fairy Changelings. Buckhaven.
Fairies are terrible troublesome, they gang dancing round fouks lums, and run through the houses they haunt, and play odd tricks, and lift new born bairns from their mothers, and none of them is safe to lie with their mothers, a night or two after they are born, unless the mother gets a pair of men’s breeches under her head for the first three nights; when the Fairies are frighted, they will leave an old stock with the woman, and whip away the child. One tried to burn an old stock that the Fairies left in the cradle; but when the fire was put on, the old stock jumped out upon a cat and up the lum.

Frequent reference has been made to the supposed power of fairies over unchristened children and their mothers. “Changelings” were greatly feared. If a child developed a strong and uncontrollable temper, there arose a suspicion that it was a ” changeling,” the meaning being that the fairies had slipped away the mother’s own child and substituted a little fiend in human form in its stead. It was believed that the best way to set the suspicion at rest was to submit the little unfortunate to the test of the fire.


Inquiring at an old man, as I understood he was an elder of the kirk, and the minister was present, I inquired at him by what means they used to prevent their women in child-bed, and their new-born infants, from being carried away by the fairies? The honest man told me very gravely, that indeed he had never seen a fairy himself, but that he had known many who, in the night time, had been much disturbed by them in their houses. That in particular, he was well acquainted with one, whom he named, whose child was carried away by them, and a fairy infant child left in its place; that the goodman never recovered his own, but got rid of the fairy child by burning its toes in the fire. And that he was likewise well acquainted with another man whose wife was carried off by them; that frequently she appeared to her husband afterwards, and urged him to win her back from them; but, being married to another he refused. I had great curiosity to know by what means the honest woman was to be won. But either the old elder was not au jait, or did not choose to inform me, for fear, I suppose, the minister might think he held communion with evil spirits.

The old and widespread superstitious belief that a fairy changeling, if passed through the fire, became again the person the fairies had stolen, believed but not acted on by the old women of Fife in an earlier part of this [19th] century.
Mackay, p. 16.

Charms against Fairies. St. Andrews
Professor Playfair, in a letter to Mr. Brand, dated St. Andrews Jan. 26th, 1804, mentioning the superstitions of his neighbourhood, says, In private breweries, to prevent the interference of the fairies, a live coal is thrown into the vat. A cow’s milk no fairy can take away, if a burning coal is conducted across her back and under her belly immediately after her delivery. The same mischievous elves cannot enter into a house at night if, before bedtime, the lower end of the crook, or iron chain, by which a vessel is suspended over the fire, be raised up a few links.”

Fairy Vengeance. Inchdairnie
Old Mrs. Ross . belonged to Inchdairnie, Fifeshire, I have heard her seriously tell of a house in that locality in which a murder or some great crime had been committed, and which had one night been pulled down by the fairies. The owner of the building tried to rebuild it, but it was in vain; as soon as the building was up a certain height, the fairies in the night time pulled it down again.

Gyre-Carling (g hard), the Queen of Fairies. Superstitious females, in Fife, are anxious to spin off all the flax that is on their rocks, on the last night of the year; being persuaded that if they left any unspun, the Gyre-Carlin, or—as they also pronounce the word—the Gy-carlin, would carry it off before morning.

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