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Welsh Folklore and Fairytales
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Fairytales from Wales
One can hardly think of Wales without a harp. The music of this most
ancient and honorable instrument, which emits sweet sounds, when heard
in a foreign land makes Welsh folks homesick for the old country and
the music of the harp. Its strings can wail with woe, ripple with
merriment, sound out the notes of war and peace, and lift the soul in
Usually a player on the harp opened the Eistedfodd, as the Welsh
literary congress is called, but this time they had engaged for the
fairies a funny little fellow to start the programme with a solo on
The figure of this musician, at the congress of Welsh fairies, was the
most comical of any in the company. The saying that he was popular
with all the mountain spirits was shown to be true, the moment he
began to scrape his fiddle, for then they all crowded around him.
"Did you ever see such a tiny specimen?" asked Queen Mab of Puck.
The little fiddler came forward and drawing his instrument from under
his arm, proceeded to scrape the strings. He had on a pair of moss
trousers, and his coat was a yellow gorse flower. His feet were clad
in shoes made of beetles' wings, which always kept bright, as if
polished with a brush.
When one looked at the fiddle, he could see that it was only a wooden
spoon, with strings across the bowl. But the moment he drew the bow
from one side to the other, all the elves, from every part of the
hills, came tripping along to hear the music, and at once began
Some of these elves were dressed in pink, some in blue, others in
yellow, and many had glow worms in their hands. Their tread was so
light that the flower stems never bent, nor was a petal crushed, when
they walked over the turf. All, as they came near, bowed or dropped a
curtsey. Then the little musician took off his cap to each, and bowed
There was too much business before the meeting for dancing to be kept
up very long, but when the violin solo was over, at a sign given by
the fiddler, the dancers took seats wherever they could find them, on
the grass, or gorse, or heather, or on the stones. After order had
been secured, the chairman of the meeting read regrets from those who
had been invited but could not be present.
The first note was from the mermaids, who lived near the Green Isles
of the Ocean. They asked to be excused from traveling inland and
climbing rocks. In the present delicate state of their health this
would be too fatiguing. Poor things!
It was unanimously voted that they be excused.
Queen Mab was dressed, as befitted the occasion, like a Welsh lady,
not wearing a crown, but a high peaked hat, pointed at the top and
about half a yard high. It was black and was held on by fastenings of
scalloped lace, that came down around her neck.
The lake fairies, or Elfin Maids, were out in full force. These lived
at the bottom of the many ponds and pools in Wales. Many stories are
told of the wonderful things they did with boats and cattle.
Nowadays, when they milk cows by electric machinery and use steam
launches on the water, most of the water sprites of all kinds have
been driven away, for they do not like the smell of kerosene or
gasoline. It is for these reasons that, in our day, they are not often
seen. In fact, cows from the creameries can wade out into the water
and even stand in it, while lashing their tails to keep off the flies,
without any danger, as in old times, of being pulled down by the Elfin
The little Red Men, that could hide under a thimble, and have plenty
of room to spare, were all out. The elves, and nixies and sprites, of
all colors and many forms were on hand.
The pigmies, who guard the palace of the king of the world
underground, came in their gay dresses. There were three of them, and
they brought in their hands balls of gold, with which to play tenpins,
but they were not allowed to have any games while the meeting was
In fact, just when these little fellows from down under the earth were
showing off their gay clothes and their treasures from the caves, one
mischievous fairy maid sidled up to their chief and whispered in his
"Better put away your gold, for this is in modern Wales, where they
have pawn shops. Three golden balls, two above the one below, which
you often see nowadays, mean that two to one you will never get it
again. These hang out as the sign of a pawnbroker's shop, and what you
put in does not, as a rule, come out. I am afraid that some of the
Cymric fairies from Cornwall, or Montgomery, or Cheshire, might think
you were after business, and you understand that no advertising is
In a moment, each of the three leaders thrust his ball into his bosom.
It made his coat bulge out, and at this, some of the fairies wondered,
but all they thought of was that this spoiled a handsome fellow's
figure. Or was it some new idea? To tell the truth, they were vexed at
not keeping up with the new fashions, for they knew nothing of this
latest fad among such fine young gallants.
Much of the chat and gossip, before and after the meeting, was between
the fairies who live in the air, or on mountains, and those down in
the earth, or deep in the sea. They swapped news, gossip and scandal
at a great rate.
There were a dozen or two fine-looking creatures who had high brows,
who said they were Co-eds. This did not mean that these fairies had
ever been through college. "Certainly the college never went through
them," said one very homely fairy, who was spiteful and jealous. The
simple fact was that the one they called Betty, the Co-ed, and others
from that Welsh village, called Bryn Mawr, and another from Flint, and
another from Yale, and still others from Brimbo and from Co-ed Poeth,
had come from places so named and down on the map of Wales, though
they were no real Co-ed girls there, that could talk French, or
English, or read Latin. In fact, Co-ed simply meant that they were
from the woods and lived among the trees; for Co-ed in Welsh means a
The fairy police were further instructed not to admit, and, if such
were found, to put out the following bad characters, for this was a
perfectly respectable meeting. These naughty folks were:
The Old Hag of the Mist.
The Invisible Hag that moans dolefully in the night.
The Tolaeth, a creature never seen, but that groans, sings, saws, or
The Dogs of the Sky.
All witches, of every sort and kind.
All peddlers of horseshoes, crosses, charms, or amulets.
All mortals with brains fuddled by liquor.
All who had on shoes which water would not run under.
All fairies that were accustomed to turn mortals into cheese.
Every one of these, who might want to get in, were to be refused
Another circle of rather exclusive fairies, who always kept away from
the blacksmiths, hardware stores, smelting furnaces and mines, had
formed an anti-iron society. These were a kind of a Welsh "Four
Hundred," or élite, who would have nothing to do with anyone who had
an iron tool, or weapon, or ornament in his hand, or on his dress, or
who used iron in any form, or for any use. They frowned upon the idea
of Cymric Land becoming rich by mining, and smelting, and selling
iron. They did not even approve of the idea that any imps and dwarfs
of the iron mines should be admitted to the meeting.
One clique of fairies, that looked like elves were in bad humor,
almost to moping. When one of these got up to speak, it seemed as if
he would never sit down. He tired all the lively fairies by
long-winded reminiscences, of druids, and mistletoes, and by telling
every one how much better the old times were than the present.
President Puck, who always liked things short, and was himself as
lively as quicksilver, many times called these long-winded fellows to
order; but they kept meandering on, until daybreak, when it was time
to adjourn, lest the sunshine should spoil them all, and change them
into slate or stone.
It was hard to tell just how much business was disposed of, at this
session, or whether one ever came to the point, although there was a
great deal of oratory and music. Much of what was said was in poetry,
or in verses, or rhymes, of three lines each. What they talked about
was mainly in protest against the smoke of factories and collieries,
and because there was so much soot, and so little soap, in the land.
But what did they do at the fairy congress?
The truth is, that nobody to-day knows what was done in this session
of the fairies, for the proceedings were kept secret. The only one who
knows was an old Welshman whom the story-teller used to meet once in a
while. He is the one mortal who knows anything about this meeting, and
he won't tell; or at least he won't talk in anything but Welsh. So we
have to find out the gist of the matter, by noticing, in the stories
which we have just read what the fairies did.