Welsh Folklore is almost inexhaustible, and in these pages the writer treats of only one branch of popular superstitions. Ancient customs are herein only incidentally referred to, but they are very interesting, and worthy of a full description. Superstitions associated with particular days and seasons are also omitted. Weather signs are passed over, Holy wells around which cluster superstitions of bye-gone days form no part of this book. But on all these, and other branches of Folklore, the author has collected much information from the aged Welsh peasant.
The sources of the information contained in this essay are various, but the writer is indebted, chiefly, to the aged inhabitants of Wales, for his information. In the discharge of his official duties, as Diocesan Inspector of Schools, he visited annually, for seventeen years, every parish in the Diocese of St. Asaph, and he was thus brought into contact with young and old. By his journeys he became acquainted with many people in North Wales, and he hardly ever failed in obtaining from them much singular and valuable information of bye-gone days, which there and then he dotted down on scraps of paper, and afterwards transferred to note books.
ORIGIN OF THE FAIRIES (Y TYLWYTH TEG)
The Fairy tales that abound in the Principality have much in common with like legends in other countries. This points to a common origin of all such tales. There is a real and unreal, a mythical and a material aspect to Fairy FolkLore. The prevalence, the obscurity, and the different versions of the same Fairy tale show that their origin dates from remote antiquity. The supernatural and the natural are strangely blended together in these legends, and this also points to their great age, and intimates that these wild and imaginative Fairy narratives had some historical foundation. If carefully sifted, these legends will yield a fruitful harvest of ancient thoughts and facts connected with the history of a people, which, as a race, is, perhaps, now extinct, but which has, to a certain extent, been merged into a stronger and more robust race, by whom they were conquered, and dispossessed of much of their land. The conquerors of the Fair Tribe have transmitted to us tales of their timid, unwarlike, but truthful predecessors of the soil, and these tales shew that for a time both races were co-inhabitants of the land, and to a certain extent, by stealth, intermarried.
Fairy tales, much alike in character, are to be heard in many countries, peopled by branches of the Aryan race, and consequently these stories in outline, were most probably in existence before the separation of the families belonging to that race. It is not improbable that the emigrants would carry with them, into all countries whithersoever they went, their ancestral legends, and they would find no difficulty in supplying these interesting stories with a home in their new country. If this supposition be correct, we must look for the origin of Fairy Mythology in the cradle of the Aryan people, and not in any part of the world inhabited by descendants of that great race.
But it is not improbable that incidents in the process of colonization would repeat themselves, or under special circumstances vary, and thus we should have similar and different versions of the same historical event in all countries once inhabited by a diminutive race, which was overcome by a more powerful people.
In Wales Fairy legends have such peculiarities that they seem to be historical fragments of by-gone days. And apparently they refer to a race which immediately preceded the Celt in the occupation of the country, and with which the Celt to a limited degree amalgamated.
NAMES GIVEN TO THE FAIRIES
The Fairies have, in Wales, at least three common and distinctive names, as well as others that are not nowadays used.
The first and most general name given to the Fairies is “Y Tylwyth Teg,” or, the Fair Tribe, an expressive and descriptive term. They are spoken of as a people, and not as myths or goblins, and they are said to be a fair or handsome race.
Another common name for the Fairies, is, “Bendith y Mamau,” or, “The Mothers’ Blessing.” In Doctor Owen Pughe’s Dictionary they are called “Bendith eu Mamau,” or, “Their Mothers’ Blessing.” The first is the most common expression, at least in North Wales. It is a singularly strange expression, and difficult to explain. Perhaps it hints at a Fairy origin on the mother’s side of certain fortunate people.
The third name given to Fairies is “Ellyll,” an elf, a demon, a goblin. This name conveys these beings to the land of spirits, and makes them resemble the oriental Genii, and Shakespeare’s sportive elves. It agrees, likewise, with the modern popular creed respecting goblins and their doings.
Davydd ab Gwilym, in a description of a mountain mist in which he was once enveloped, says:
Yr ydoedd ym mhob gobant
Ellyllon mingeimion gant.
There were in every hollow
A hundred wrymouthed elves.
In Pembrokeshire the Fairies are called Dynon Buch Teg, or the Fair Small People.
Another name applied to the Fairies is Plant Annwfn, or Plant Annwn. This, however, is not an appellation in common use. The term is applied to the Fairies in the third paragraph of a Welsh prose poem called Bardd Cwsg, thus:
Y bwriodd y Tylwyth Teg fi . .. oni bai fy nyfod i mewn
pryd i’th achub o gigweiniau Plant Annwfn.
Where the Tylwyth Teg threw me . .. if I had not come
in time to rescue thee from the clutches of Plant Annwfn.
Annwn, or Annwfn is defined in Canon Silvan Evans’s Dictionary as an abyss, Hades, etc. Plant Annwn, therefore, means children of the lower regions. It is a name derived from the supposed place of abode—-the bowels of the earth—-of the Fairies. Gwragedd Annwn, dames of Elfin land, is a term applied to Fairy ladies.
Ellis Wynne, the author of Bardd Cwsg, was born in 1671, and the probability is that the words Plant Annwfn formed in his days part of the vocabulary of the people. He was born in Merionethshire.
Gwyll, according to Richards, and Dr. Owen Pughe, is a Fairy, a goblin, etc. The plural of Gwyll would be Gwylliaid, or Gwyllion, but this latter word Dr. Pughe defines as ghosts, hobgoblins, etc. Formerly, there was in Merionethshire a red haired family of robbers called Y Gwylliaid Cochion, or Red Fairies, of whom I shall speak hereafter.
Coblynau, or Knockers, have been described as a species of Fairies, whose abode was within the rocks, and whose province it was to indicate to the miners by the process of knocking, etc., the presence of rich lodes of lead or other metals in this or that direction of the mine.
That the words Tylwyth Teg and Ellyll are convertible terms appears from the following stanza, which is taken from the Cambrian Magazine.
Pan dramwych ffridd yr Ywen,
Lle mae Tylwyth Teg yn rhodien,
Dos ymlaen, a phaid a sefyll,
Gwilia’th droed—-rhag dawnsva’r Ellyll.
When the forest of the Yew,
Where Fairies haunt, thou passest through,
Tarry not, thy footsteps guard
From the Goblins’ dancing sward.
Although the poet mentions the Tylwyth Teg and Ellyll as identical, he might have done so for rhythmical reasons. Undoubtedly, in the first instance a distinction would be drawn between these two words, which originally were intended perhaps to describe two different kinds of beings, but in the course of time the words became interchangeable, and thus their distinctive character was lost. In English the words Fairies and elves are used without any distinction. It would appear from Brand’s Popular Antiquities, that, according to Gervase of Tilbury, there were two kinds of Goblins in England, called Portuni and Grant. This division suggests a difference between the Tylwyth Teg and the Ellyll. The Portuni, we are told, were very small of stature and old in appearance, “statura pusilli, dimidium pollicis non habentes,” but then they were “senili vultu, facie corrugata.” The wrinkled face and aged countenance of the Portuni remind us of nursery Fairy tales in which the wee ancient female Fairy figures. The pranks of the Portuni were similar to those of Shakespeare’s Puck. The species Grant is not described, and consequently it cannot be ascertained how far they resembled any of the many kinds of Welsh Fairies. Gervase, speaking of one of these species, says: “If anything should be to be carried on in the house, or any kind of laborious work to be done, they join themselves to the work, and expedite it with more than human facility.”
In Scotland there were at least two species of elves, the Brownies and the Fairies. The Brownies were so called from their tawny colour, and the Fairies from their fairness. The Portuni of Gervase appear to have corresponded in character to the Brownies, who were said to have employed themselves in the night in the discharge of laborious undertakings acceptable to the family to whose service they had devoted themselves. The Fairies proper of Scotland strongly resembled the Fairies of Wales.
The term Brownie, or swarthy elve, suggests a connection between them and the Gwylliaid Cochion, or Red Fairies of Wales.