Celticsprite’s Blog

Faerie Lore: The Llanfabon Changeling
October 27, 2011, 6:12 pm
Filed under: Faerie Lore, Fairy Music
Hi to all bloggers!… I would like to share with you this welsh singular legend called “The Llanfabon Changeling” regarding an amusing fairy changeling. Posted from the book “The Welsh Fairy Book” by W. Jenkyn Thomas (1908) (Obtain this full work and many more backups by clicking here!) Illustrations by Willy Pogány – New York, Stokes [1908]

AT a farmhouse called Berth Gron, in the parish of Lianfabon, there once lived a young widow. She had a little boy whom she loved more than her own eyes. He was her only comfort, and she was afraid of letting the sun shine on him, as the saying goes. Pryderi–that was the name she had given him–was about three years old, and a fine child for his age.
At this time the parish of Llanfabon was full of fairies. On nights when the moon was bright, they often used to keep the hard-working farmers awake with their music until the cock crew in the morning. On nights when the moon was dark, they delighted in luring men into desolate bogs by displaying false lights. Even in the daytime they would play tricks on people if they were not very careful.
The widow knew that the Fair Family were very fond of stealing babies out of their cradles, and you can imagine how careful she was of her little treasure. She hated leaving him out of her sight by night or day: if ever she had to do so, she was miserable until she returned to him and found him safe and sound.
One day when he was lying asleep in his cradle, she heard the cows in the byre lowing piteously as if they were in great pain. As there was nobody in the house but herself to look after her precious boy, she was afraid at first of going out to see what was amiss. The lowing, however, became more and more agonised, and she became frightened. Not being able to stand it any longer, she rushed out, forgetting in her fright to place the tongs crossways on the cradle.
When she got to the cow house, she was amazed to find that there was nothing whatever the matter with the cattle: they were chewing their cud placidly, and they turned their great meek eyes in mild surprise upon her, evidently wondering why she had burst in upon them so unceremoniously. Realising that she had been the victim of some deception, she ran back to the house as fast as her feet could carry her, and to the cradle. She was afraid of finding it empty, but bending over it she found a little boy in it who greeted her with “Mother.” She looked hard at him: he was very like Pryderi, and yet there was a something about him which made her think that he was different from him. At last she said doubtingly, “You are not my child.”
“I am truly,” said the little one. “What do you mean, mother?”
But something kept whispering to her constantly that he was not her child, and as time went on she became convinced that she was right. The little boy after a while became cross and fretful, unlike Pryderi, who was always as good as gold. In a whole year he never grew at all.
Pryderi, on the other hand, was a very growing child. Besides, the little fellow seemed to get uglier every day, whereas Pryderi had been getting prettier and prettier: at least his mother thought so. She did not know what to do.
Now, there was in the parish of Llanfabon a man who had the reputation of being well informed on matters which are dark to most people. This reputation he had gained by living at a place called the Castle of the Night. This castle had been built of stones from Llanfabon Church, and was haunted. Many men had tried to live there, but had been compelled to leave because ghosts plagued them so. That this man was able to dwell there in seeming peace and comfort was proof positive, in the eyes of the people of Llanfabon, that he had some control at least over the powers of darkness.
The widow went to this wise man and laid her trouble before him. After hearing her story he said to her, “If you follow my directions faithfully and minutely, I think I shall be able to help you. At noon to-morrow take an eggshell and prepare to brew some beer in it. See that the boy watches what you are doing, but take care not to tell him to pay attention. He will ask you what you are doing. You are to say, ‘I am brewing beer for the harvestmen.’ Listen carefully to what he says when he hears that, but pretend not to catch it. After you have put him to bed to-morrow night, come and tell me all about it.”
The widow returned home, and the next day at noon she followed the cunning man’s advice. She took an eggshell and got everything ready for brewing beer. The boy stood by her, watching her as a oat watches a mouse. Presently . he asked, “What are you doing, mother?” She said, “I am brewing beer for the harvestmen, my boy.” Then the boy said quietly to himself:
“I am very old this day,
I was living before my birth,
I remember yonder oak
An acorn in the earth,
But I never saw, the egg of a hen
Brewing beer for harvestmen.”
The widow heard what he said, but pretended not to have caught it, and asked, “What did you say, my son?” He said, “Nothing, mother.” She then turned round and saw that he was very cross, and the angry expression on his face made him very repulsive to look upon.
After she had put him to bed that night, the widow went to the Castle of the Night, as she had been ordered. As soon as she entered, the wise man asked, “Were you able to catch what he said?”
“He spoke very quietly to himself,” answered the widow, “but I am quite sure that what he said was:
‘I am very old this day,
I was living before my birth,
I remember yonder oak
An acorn in the earth,
But I never saw the egg of a hen
Brewing beer for harvestmen.'”
“It is well,” said the wise man. “If you follow my directions faithfully and minutely, I think I shall be able to help you. The moon will be full in four days, and you must go at midnight to where the four roads meet above the Ford of the Bell. Hide yourself somewhere where you can see everything that comes along any of the roads without being seen yourself. Whatever happens, do not stir or utter a sound. If you do, my plans will be frustrated and your own life will be in danger. Come to me the day after and tell me what you see.”
By midnight on the appointed day the widow had concealed herself carefully behind a large bush near the cross-roads above the Ford of the Bell, where she could see everything that came along any of the four roads without being seen herself. For a long time there was nothing to be seen or heard: the moon shone brightly, and the melancholy silence of midnight lay over all. Before long dark clouds obscured the moon, and at last the anxious widow heard the faint sounds of music in the far distance. The strains came nearer and nearer, and she listened with rapt attention. Before long the melody was close at hand, and she saw a procession of fairies coming along one of the roads. Soon the vanguard of the procession came up, and she saw that there were hundreds of fairies marching along. They were singing the sweetest songs she had ever heard, and she felt that she could listen to them for ever. Just as the middle of the procession came opposite her hiding place, the moon emerged from behind a black cloud, and in the clear, cold light which then flooded the earth she beheld a sight which turned her pleasure into bitter pain and made her heart beat almost out of her body. Walking between two fairies was her own dear little boy. She nearly forgot herself altogether, and was on the point of springing into the midst of the fairies to snatch her darling from them. But she remembered in time that the wise man had warned her that his plans would be upset and her own life in danger if she carried out her intention, and controlling herself by a supreme effort she neither stirred nor uttered a sound. When the long procession had wound itself past and the music had died away in the distance, she issued from her concealment and went home to bed, but her heart was so full of longing for her lost child that she never slept a wink all night.
On the morrow she went to the wise man early. He was expecting her, and as she entered he perceived by her looks that she had seen something to disturb her. She told him what she had witnessed at the cross-roads, and he again said, “it is well. If you will follow my directions faithfully and minutely, I think I shall be able to help you.”
He then brought out a great book, bound in calf-skin, opened it, and pored long over it. After much deliberation he said, “You must find a black hen without a single white feather, or one of any other colour than black. Do you burn peat or wood?”
“I burn peat,” said the widow.
“After you have found the hen,” resumed the wise man, “you must light a wood fire and bake the hen before it, with its feathers and all intact. After you have placed it to bake before the fire, close every passage and hole in the wall, leaving only the chimney open. After that, avoid looking at the boy, but watch the hen baking, and do not take your eyes off it until the last feather has fallen off it.”
Strange as the directions of the wise man appeared, she determined to follow them as faithfully and minutely as she had the previous directions. But oh, the weary tramp she had before she could find a black hen without a single white feather or one of any other colour than black. She tried every farm in the parish of Llanfabon in vain, and she was nearly driven to the conclusion that if this breed of hens had ever existed on the earth it had become extinct. It was weeks before she secured the right hen, and it was at a farm miles away from Llanfabon that she was successful in her search.
Her repeated disappointments were all the more bitter because she was forced to hide her disgust with the little fellow who was there instead of her boy. When he addressed her as “Mother,” it was almost more than she could bear, but she was just able to make no difference in her behaviour towards him, though he seemed to be getting smaller, crosser and uglier every day.
Having found the black hen, she built up a wood fire, and when it was burning brightly she wrung the hen’s neck and placed it as it was, feathers and all, in front of the fire. She then closed every passage and hole in the walls, leaving only the chimney open, and sat in front of the fire to watch the hen baking. The little fellow called to her several times, but though she answered him she was careful not to look at him. After a bit she fell into a swoon. When she came out of it she saw that all the feathers had fallen off the hen, and looking round the house she saw that the changeling had disappeared. Then she heard the strains of music outside the house, and they were the same as those she had heard at the cross-roads. All of a sudden the music ceased, and she heard a little boy’s voice calling, “Mother.” She rushed out, and lo! and behold, who should be standing within a few paces of the threshold but her own dear little boy.
She snatched him up in her arms and almost smothered him with kisses. She laughed and wept in turn, and her joy was greater than words can tell. When asked where he had been all this long while, the little boy had no account to give of himself except that he had been listening to lovely music. He was pale and wan and thin, but under his mother’s loving care he soon became his bonny self again, and mother and son lived happily ever afterwards.

Faerie Lore : "Yallery Brown"
July 19, 2011, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Faerie Lore, Fairy Music
I have always been attracted by this singular fairy character.

The first time I saw an image of him was on the marvellous book “Faeries” (1979) by Brian Froud and Alan Lee…

“Yallery Brown” is a mischievous fairy-like nature spirit in an old Lincolnshire folk tale from England, which itself is usually named after the creature. You may always find him supposedly trapped or sleeping under a flat stone…so, watch out!

Hereby my fav. story ever as recounted by the famous Joseph Jacobs… on his book “More English Fairy Tales“, New York: G. P. Putnam’s sons; London (1894)
(Original featured drawing by John Dickson Batten)

“Yallery Brown”

ONCE upon a time, and a very good time it was, though it wasn’t in my time, nor in your time, nor anyone else’s time, there was a young lad of eighteen or so named Tom Tiver working on the Hall Farm. One Sunday he was walking across the west field ’twas a beautiful July night, warm and still and the air was full of little sounds as though the trees and grass were chattering to themselves. And all at once there came a bit ahead of him the pitifullest greetings ever he heard, sob, sobbing, like a bairn spent with fear, and nigh heart-broken; breaking off into a moan and then rising again in a long whimpering wailing that made him feel sick to hark to it. He began to look everywhere for the poor creature. ‘It must be Sally Bratton’s child,’ he thought to himself; ‘she was always a flighty thing, and never looked after it. Like as not, she’s flaunting about the lanes, and has clean forgot the babby.’ But though he looked and looked, he could see naught. And presently the whimpering got louder and stronger in the quietness, and he thought he could make out words of some sort. He hearkened with all his ears, and the sorry thing was saying words all mixed up with sobbing —

‘Ooh! the stone, the great big stone! ooh! the stones on top!’

Naturally he wondered where the stone might be, and he looked again, and there by the hedge bottom was a great flat stone, nigh buried in the mools, and hid in the cotted grass and weeds. One of the stones was called the ‘Strangers’ Table’. However, down he fell on his knee-bones by that stone, and hearkened again. Clearer than ever, but tired and spent with greeting came the little sobbing voice — ‘Ooh! ooh! the stone, the stone on top.’ He was gey, and misliking to meddle with the thing, but he couldn’t stand the whimpering babby, and he tore like mad at the stone, till he felt it lifting from the mools, and all at once it came with a sough out o’ the damp earth and the tangled grass and growing things. And there in the hole lay a tiddy thing on its back, blinking up at the moon and at him. ‘Twas no bigger than a year-old baby, but it had long cotted hair and beard, twisted round and round its body so that you couldn’t see its clothes; and the hair was all yaller and shining and silky, like a bairn’s; but the face of it was old and as if ’twere hundreds of years since ’twas young and smooth. Just a heap of wrinkles, and two bright black eyne in the midst, set in a lot of shining yaller hair; and the skin was the colour of the fresh-turned earth in the spring — brown as brown could be, and its bare hands and feet were brown like the face of it. The greeting had stopped, but the tears were standing on its cheek, and the tiddy thing looked mazed like in the moonshine and the night air.

The creature’s eyne got used like to the moonlight, and presently he looked up in Tom’s face as bold as ever was; ‘Tom,’ says he, ‘thou’rt a good lad!’ as cool as thou can think, says he, ‘Tom, thou’rt a good lad!’ and his voice was soft and high and piping like a little bird twittering.

Tom touched his hat, and began to think what he ought to say. ‘Houts!’ says the thing again, ‘thou needn’t be feared o’ me; thou’st done me a better turn than thou know’st, my lad, and I’ll do as much for thee.’ Tom couldn’t speak yet, but he thought, ‘Lord! for sure ’tis a bogle!’

‘No!’ says he as quick as quick, ‘I am no bogle, but ye’d best not ask me what I be; anyways I be a good friend o’ thine.’ Tom’s very knee-bones struck, for certainly an ordinary body couldn’t have known what he’d been thinking to himself, but he looked so kind like, and spoke so fair, that he made bold to get out, a bit quavery like –‘Might I be axing to know your honour’s name?’

‘H’m,’ says he, pulling his beard; ‘as for that’ — and he thought a bit — ‘aye so,’ he went on at last, ‘Yallery Brown thou mayst call me, Yallery Brown; ’tis my nature seest thou, and as for a name ’twill do as any other. Yallery Brown, Tom, Yallery Brown’s thy friend, my lad.’

‘Thankee, master,’ says Tom, quite meek like.

‘And now,’ he says, ‘I’m in a hurry tonight, but tell me quick, what’ll I do far thee? Wilt have a wife? I can give thee the finest lass in the town. Wilt be rich? I’ll give thee gold as much as thou can carry. Or wilt have help wi’ thy work? Only say the word.’

Tom scratched his head. ‘Well, as for a wife, I have no hankering after such; they’re but bothersome bodies, and I have women folk at home as’ll mend my clouts; and for gold that’s as may be, but for work, there, I can’t abide work, and if thou’lt give me a helpin’ hand in it I’ll thank –‘

‘Stop,’ says he, quick as lightning. ‘I’ll help thee and welcome, but if ever thou sayest that to me — if ever thou thankest me, see’st thou, thou’lt never see me more. Mind that now; I want no thanks, I’ll have no thanks’; and he stampt his tiddy foot on the earth and looked as wicked as a raging bull.

‘Mind that now, great lump that thou be,’ he went on, calming down a bit, ‘and if ever thou need’st help, or get’st into trouble, call on me and just say, “Yallery Brown, come from the mools, I want thee!” and I’ll be wi’ thee at once; and now,’ says he, picking a dandelion puff, ‘good night to thee’, and he blowed it up, and it all came into Tom’s eyne and ears. Soon as Tom could see again the tiddy creature was gone, and but for the stone on end and the hole at his feet, he’d have thought he’d been dreaming.

Well, Tom went home and to bed; and by the morning he’d nigh forgot all about it. But when he went to the work, there was none to do! All was done already, the horses seen to, the stables cleaned out, everything in its proper place, and he’d nothing to do but sit with his hands in his pockets. And so it went on day after day, all the work done by Yallery Brown, and better done, too, than he could have done it himself. And if the master gave him more work, he sat down, and the work did itself, the singeing irons, or the broom, or what not, set to, and with ne’er a hand put to it would get through in no time. For he never saw Yallery Brown in daylight; only in the darklins he saw him hopping about, like a Will-o-th’-wyke without his lanthorn.

At first ’twas mighty fine for Tom; he’d naught to do and good pay for it; but by and by things began to grow vicey-varsy. If the work was done for Tom, ’twas undone for the other lads; if his buckets were filled, theirs were upset; if his tools were sharpened, theirs were blunted and spoiled; if his horses were clean as daisies, theirs were splashed with muck, and so on; day in and day out, ’twas the same. And the lads saw Yallery Brown flitting about o’ nights, and they saw the things working without hands o’ days, and they saw that Tom’s work was done for him, and theirs undone for them; and naturally they began to look shy on him, and they wouldn’t speak or come nigh him, and they carried tales to the master and so things went from bad to worse.

For Tom could do nothing himself; the brooms wouldn’t stay in his hand, the plough ran away from him, the hoe kept out of his grip. He thought that he’d do his own work after all, so that Yallery Brown would leave him and his neighbours alone. But he couldn’t — true as death he couldn’t. He could only sit by and look on, and have the cold shoulder turned on him, while the unnatural thing was meddling with the others, and working for him.

At last, things got so bad that the master gave Tom the sack, and if he hadn’t, all the rest of the lads would have sacked him, for they swore they’d not stay on the same garth with Tom. Well, naturally Tom felt bad; ’twas a very good place, and good pay too; and he was fair mad with Yallery Brown, as’d got him into such a trouble. So Tom shook his fist in the air and called out as loud as he could, ‘Yallery Brown, come from the mools; thou scamp, I want thee!’

You’ll scarce believe it, but he’d hardly brought out the words but he felt something tweaking his leg behind, while he jumped with the smart of it; and soon as he looked down, there was the tiddy thing, with his shining hair, and wrinkled face, and wicked glinting black eyne.

Tom was in a fine rage, and he would have liked to have kicked him, but ’twas no good, there wasn’t enough of it to get his boot against; but he said, ‘Look here, master, I’ll thank thee to leave me alone after this, dost hear? I want none of thy help, and I’ll have naught more to do with thee — see now.’

The horrid thing broke into a screeching laugh, and pointed its brown finger at Tom. ‘Ho, ho, Tom!’ says he. ‘Thou’st thanked me, my lad, and I told thee not, I told thee not!’

‘I don’t want thy help, I tell thee,’ Tom yelled at him — ‘I only want never to see thee again, and to have naught more to do with ‘ee –thou can go.’

The thing only laughed and screeched and mocked, as long as Tom went on swearing, but so soon as his breath gave out — ‘Tom, my lad,’ he said with a grin, ‘I’ll tell ‘ee summat, Tom. True’s true I’ll never help thee again, and call as thou wilt, thou’lt never see me after today; but I never said that I’d leave thee alone, Tom, and I never will, my lad! I was nice and safe under the stone, Tom, and could do no harm; but thou let me out thyself, and thou can’t put me back again! I would have been thy friend and worked for thee if thou had been wise; but since thou bee’st no more than a born fool I’ll give ‘ee no more than a born fool’s luck; and when all goes vicey-varsy, and everything agee — thou’lt mind that it’s Yallery Brown’s doing though m’appen thou doesn’t see him. Mark my words, will ‘ee?’

And he began to sing, dancing round Tom, like a bairn with his yellow hair, but looking older than ever with his grinning wrinkled bit of a face:

‘Work as thou will
Thou’lt never do well;
Work as thou mayst
Thou’ It never gain grist;
For harm and mischance and Yallery Brown
Thou’ st let out thyself from under the stone.’

Tom could never rightly mind what he said next. ‘Twas all cussing and calling down misfortune on him; but he was so mazed in fright that he could only stand there shaking all over, and staring down at the horrid thing; and if he’d gone on long, Tom would have tumbled down in a fit. But by and by, his yaller shining hair rose up in the air, and wrapt itself round him till he looked for all the world like a great dandelion puff; and it floated away on the wind over the wall and out o’ sight, with a parting skirl of wicked voice and sneering laugh.

And did it come true, sayst thou? My word! but it did, sure as death! He worked here and he worked there, and turned his hand to this and to that, but it always went agee, and ’twas all Yallery Brown’s doing. And the children died, and the crops rotted — the beasts never fatted, and nothing ever did well with him; and till he was dead and buried, and m’appen even afterwards, there was no end to Yallery Brown’s spite at him; day in and day out he used to hear him saying —

‘Work as thou will
Thou’ It never do well;
Work as thou mayst
Thou’ It never gain grist;
For harm and mischance and Yallery Brown
Thou’ st let out thyself from under the stone.’

>Suggested Albums for folk band versions of "Thomas the Rhymer" and "Tam Lin"

>FairyLore concerning the Otherworld have always nurtured the folk music ballads, and the characters of Tam Lin and Thomas Rhymer are not excluded.

In the case of Tam Lin I gladly recommend versions from Fairport Convention‘s “Liege and Lief“, featuring the vocals of Sandy Denny w/ arrangement of “Tam Lin” by Dave Swarbrick, and from Steeleye Span’s “Tonight’s the Night,” featuring a rocking version by Maddy Prior.

Regarding “Thomas The Rhymer” I recomend once again the work of Steeleye Span – they have recorded two different versions for the “Now We Are Six album“, and Re-recorded (differently) for “Present–The Very Best of Steeleye Span” album.

There is a cute rendering of this ballad under the name of “True Thomas” by my friend Danny Carnahan on his solo album w/Robin Petrie “Journeys of the Heart“.

Hereby a quotation of his booklet liner notes and own version for the lyrics:

” I wrote this song around a very old Child ballad based on the 13th century legend of Thomas Rymer of Ercildoun. Thomas was said to have visited the land of Faery and returned with the gift of prophesy and a tongue that could not lie. Most recent versions of the ballad leave off at the point where Thomas is taken to the other world, but one 14th century version in Middle English recounts what happened afterwards and how Thomas returned to earth. I based my lyrics on this older story.”

True Thomas

(from “Journeys of the Heart”)

Thomas lay upon the grassy banks
And beheld a lady gay
Come riding o’er so brisk and bold
All on the ferny brae

And her skirt was of the silk so green
And her cloak the velvet fine
And at each toss her horse’s mane
Rang fifty bells and nine

And Thomas did salute her,
Bowing down upon his knee
And he’s said, ‘Well met, enchanting one,
You’re the flow’r of this country’

And as he’s gazed upon her
Oh, so blind with love was he
That he has kissed her ruby lips
All ‘neath the Eildon Tree

‘Oh, now you’ve kissed me, Thomas
You must ride away with me
To serve my will for seven years
Whate’er your chance may be’

And she’s mounted up her snow-white steed
And pulled Thomas up behind
And aye, each time her bridle rang
They flew swift as the wind

And on they road and farther on
Till they spied a garden green
And she’s said, ‘Light down, dear Thomas
For we near my fair country

And take this bread and wine
And lay your head down on my knee
For when your fill you’ve eaten
I will show you fairlies three

See the narrow road to Paradise
How it winds through thorn and tree
The broad road leads to the gates of Hell
Though fair it seems to be

But see you not yon farther road
Winding round the lily lea
That is the road to my fair land
Whence you must go with me

But hold your tongue, dear Thomas
And answer only unto me
For should you speak unto another
Your own home you ne’er will see’

When Thomas came into the hall
Oh, a well-bred man was he
They asked him questions one and all
But not one word spoke he

It’s of woven clouds she’s made the roof
And of flowered vines the walls
And jewels did shower down as rain
That night among them all

And each day brought Thomas wonders
Never seen be mortal eye
And each night brought Thomas wonders
As next the lady he did lie

But she’s rose and said, ‘Dear Thomas,
Now it’s time you were away.
For seven years have passed and gone
Though it seems but seven days’

‘If it’s seven years, my lady,
Since my face on earth was seen,
Pray give to me some token
That I may prove where I have been’

And it’s on they rode and farther on
To the Huntley Banks rode she
And she set him down upon the ground
Beside the Eildon Tree

‘As you’d have a token , Thomas,
A rare token shall it be,
For the gift I give you, Thomas,
Is a tongue that cannot lie’

But he’s cried, ‘I pray you, lady,
And give not this gift to me,
For how may I counsel prince or lord
Or court a fair lady?’

‘Be careful in your silence
As you’re careful what you say,
May your truth outlive them all,’ she said
As she turned and rode away

© 1984 Danny Carnahan/Post-Trad Music

>Faerie Lore : Fairy Music : The Ballad of "Thomas The Rhymer"
February 4, 2011, 5:45 pm
Filed under: Faerie Lore, Fairy Music, Thomas The Rhymer


Thomas Learmonth (c. 1220 – c. 1298; also spelled Learmount, Learmont, or Learmounth), better known as Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas, was a 13th century Scottish laird and reputed prophet from Earlston (then called “Erceldoune”) , seems to be the protagonist of the ballad “Thomas the Rhymer” (Child Ballad 37 A/B/C).
His reputation for supernatural powers for a time rivalled that of Merlin. Thomas became known as “True Thomas” because he could not tell a lie. Popular lore recounts how he prophesied many great events in Scottish history,[5] including the death of Alexander III of Scotland.

Thomas’ gift of prophecy is linked to his poetic ability, although it is not clear if the name Rhymer was his actual surname or merely a soubriquet. He is often cited as the author of the English Sir Tristrem, a version of the Tristram legend, and some lines in Robert Mannyng‘s Chronicle may be the source of this association.

He is also the probable source of the legend of Tam Lin (also called Tamlane, Tamlin, Tomlin, Tam Lien, Tam-a-Line, or Tam Lane), since this character was also raptured by the Queen of the Fairies. While this ballad is specific to Scotland, the motif of capturing a person by holding him through all forms of transformation is found throughout Europe in folktales.

Musicologists have traced the ballad, “Thomas the Rhymer”, back at least as far as the 13th century. It deals with the supernatural subject matter of fairy-folk. The theme of this song also closely relates to another song, that of Tam Lin ( Child Ballad 39A ), which follows the same general topical lines. Its more general theme relates to temptation and mortal pleasures. Joseph Jacobs included a variant, “Tamlane”, in More English Fairy Tales

Child took the threat to take out Tam Lin’s eyes as a common folk precaution against mortals who could see fairies, in the tales of fairy ointment. Joseph Jacobs interpreted it as rather a reversal of the usual practice; the Queen of Faerie would have kept him from seeing the human woman who rescued him.

Several different variants of the ballad of Thomas Rhymer exist, most having the same basic theme. They tell how Thomas either kissed or slept with the Queen of Elfland and either rode with her or was otherwise transported to Fairyland.

One version relates that she changed into a hag immediately after sleeping with him, as some sort of a punishment to him, but returned to her originally beautiful state when they neared her castle, where her husband lived. Thomas stayed at a party in the castle until she told him to return with her, coming back into the mortal realm only to realise that seven years had passed. He asked for a token to remember the Queen by; she offered him the choice of becoming a harper or a prophet, and he chose the latter.

After a number of years of prophecy, Thomas bade farewell to his homeland and presumably returned to Fairyland, whence he has not yet returned.

There is also a 14th-century romance “Thomas of Erceldoune“, with accompanying prophecies, which clearly relates to the ballad, though the exact nature of the relationship is not clear. The romance survives complete or in fragments in five manuscripts, the earliest of which is the Lincoln codex compiled by Robert Thornton. The romance confirms the content of the ballad

Hereby I post the collected versions issued for the first time on “THE ENGLISH AND SCOTTISH POPULAR BALLADS” by FRANCIS JAMES CHILD [1882-1898]

37A.1 TRUE THOMAS lay oer yond grassy bank,
And he beheld a ladie gay,
A ladie that was brisk and bold,
Come riding oer the fernie brae.
37A.2 Her skirt was of the grass-green silk,
Her mantel of the velvet fine,
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane
Hung fifty silver bells and nine.
37A.3 True Thomas he took off his hat,
And bowed him low down till his knee:
‘All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For your peer on earth I never did see.’
37A.4 ‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
‘That name does not belong to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
And I’m come here for to visit thee.
* * * * *
37A.5 ‘But ye maun go wi me now, Thomas,
True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
For ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro weel or wae as may chance to be.’
37A.6 She turned about her milk-white steed,
And took True Thomas up behind,
And aye wheneer her bridle rang,
The steed flew swifter than the wind.
37A.7 For forty days and forty nights
He wade thro red blude to the knee,
And he saw neither sun nor moon,
But heard the roaring of the sea.
37A.8 O they rade on, and further on,
Until they came to a garden green:
‘Light down, light down, ye ladie free,
Some of that fruit let me pull to thee.’
37A.9 ‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
‘That fruit maun not be touched by thee,
For a’ the plagues that are in hell
Light on the fruit of this countrie.
37A.10 ‘But I have a loaf here in my lap,
Likewise a bottle of claret wine,
And now ere we go farther on,
We’ll rest a while, and ye may dine.’
37A.11 When he had eaten and drunk his fill,
‘Lay down your head upon my knee,’
The lady sayd, re we climb yon hill,
And I will show you fairlies three.
37A.12 ‘O see not ye yon narrow road,
So thick beset wi thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.
37A.13 ‘And see not ye that braid braid road,
That lies across yon lillie leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
37A.14 ‘And see not ye that bonny road,
Which winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Whe[re] you and I this night maun gae.
37A.15 ‘But Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
Whatever you may hear or see,
For gin ae word you should chance to speak,
You will neer get back to your ain countrie.’
37A.16 He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years were past and gone
True Thomas on earth was never seen.

37B.1 As Thomas lay on Huntlie banks-+-
A wat a weel bred man was he-+-
And there he spied a lady fair,
Coming riding down by the Eildon tree.
37B.2 The horse she rode on was dapple gray,
And in her hand she held bells nine;
I thought I heard this fair lady say
These fair siller bells they should a’ be mine.
37B.3 It’s Thomas even forward went,
And lootit low down on his knee:
‘Weel met thee save, my lady fair,
For thou’rt the flower o this countrie.’
37B.4 ‘O no, O no, Thomas,’ she says,
‘O no, O no, that can never be,
For I’m but a lady of an unco land,
Comd out a hunting, as ye may see.
37B.5 ‘O harp and carp, Thomas,’ she says,
‘O harp and carp, and go wi me;
It’s be seven years, Thomas, and a day,
Or you see man or woman in your ain countrie.’
37B.6 It’s she has rode, and Thomas ran,
Until they cam to yon water clear;
He’s coosten off his hose and shon,
And he’s wooden the water up to the knee.
37B.7 It’s she has rode, and Thomas ran,
Until they cam to yon garden green;
He’s put up his hand for to pull down ane,
For the lack o food he was like to tyne.
37B.8 ‘Hold your hand, Thomas,’ she says,
‘Hold your hand, that must not be;
It was a’ that cursed fruit o thine
Beggared man and woman in your countrie.
37B.9 ‘But I have a loaf and a soup o wine,
And ye shall go and dine wi me;
And lay yer head down in my lap,
And I will tell ye farlies three.
37B.10 ‘It’s dont ye see yon broad broad way,
That leadeth down by yon skerry fell?
It’s ill’s the man that dothe thereon gang,
For it leadeth him straight to the gates o hell.
37B.11 ‘It’s dont ye see yon narrow way,
That leadeth down by yon lillie lea?
It’s weel’s the man that doth therein gang,
For it leads him straight to the heaven hie.’
* * * * *
37B.12 It’s when she cam into the hall-+-
I wat a weel bred man was he-+-
They’ve asked him question[s], one and all,
But he answered none but that fair ladie.
37B.13 O they speerd at her where she did him get,
And she told them at the Eildon tree;

37C.1 TRUE Thomas lay on Huntlie bank,
A ferlie he spied wi’ his ee,
And there he saw a lady bright,
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.
37C.2 Her shirt was o the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o the velvet fyne,
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane
Hang fifty siller bells and nine.
37C.3 True Thomas, he pulld aff his cap,
And louted low down to his knee:
‘All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see.’
37C.4 ‘O no, O no, Thomas,’ she said,
‘That name does not belang to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
That am hither come to visit thee.
37C.5 ‘Harp and carp, Thomas,’ she said,
‘Harp and carp along wi me,
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your bodie I will be.’
37C.6 ‘Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird shall never daunton me;’
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon Tree.
37C.7 ‘Now, ye maun go wi me,’ she said,
‘True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
And ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro weal or woe, as may chance to be.’
37C.8 She mounted on her milk-white steed,
She’s taen True Thomas up behind,
And aye wheneer her bridle rung,
The steed flew swifter than the wind.
37C.9 O they rade on, and farther on-+-
The steed gaed swifter than the wind-+-
Untill they reached a desart wide,
And living land was left behind.
37C.10 ‘Light down, light down, now, True Thomas,
And lean your head upon my knee;
Abide and rest a little space,
And I will shew you ferlies three.
37C.11 ‘O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.
37C.12 ‘And see not ye that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.
37C.13 ‘And see not ye that bonny road,
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.
37C.14 ‘But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
Whatever ye may hear or see,
For, if you speak word in Elflyn land,
Ye’ll neer get back to your ain countrie.’
37C.15 O they rade on, and farther on,
And they waded thro rivers aboon the knee,
And they saw neither sun nor moon,
But they heard the roaring of the sea.
37C.16 It was mirk mirk night, and there was nae stern light,
And they waded thro red blude to the knee;
For a’ the blude that’s shed on earth
Rins thro the springs o that countrie.
37C.17 Syne they came on to a garden green,
And she pu’d an apple frae a tree:
‘Take this for thy wages, True Thomas,
It will give the tongue that can never lie.’
37C.18 ‘My tongue is mine ain,’ True Thomas said;
‘A gudely gift ye wad gie to me!
I neither dought to buy nor sell,
At fair or tryst where I may be.
37C.19 ‘I dought neither speak to prince or peer,
Nor ask of grace from fair ladye:’
‘Now hold thy peace,’ the lady said,
‘For as I say, so must it be.’
37C.20 He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
And till seven years were gane and past
True Thomas on earth was never seen.

>Faerie Lore : Fairy Music : "Thomas the Rhymer & The Two Fiddlers"
February 3, 2011, 4:24 pm
Filed under: Faerie Lore, Fairy Music, Thomas The Rhymer


Posted from the bookWonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend” by Donald Alexander Mackenzie – Illustrations by John Duncan – Frederick A Stokes Co., New York – [1917] – (Obtain this full work and many more backups by clicking here!)

Thomas Learmonth (c. 1220 – c. 1298; also spelled Learmount, Learmont, or Learmounth), better known as Thomas the Rhymer or True Thomas, was a 13th century Scottish laird and reputed prophet from Earlston (then called “Erceldoune”). He is also the protagonist of the ballad “Thomas the Rhymer” (Child Ballad number 37). He is also the probable source of the legend of Tam Lin.

“Thomas the Rhymer & The Two Fiddlers”

Another story about Thomas is told at Inverness. Two fiddlers, named Farquhar Grant and Thomas Cumming, natives of Strathspey, who lived over three hundred years ago, once visited Inverness during the Christmas season. They hoped to earn money by their music, and as soon as they arrived in the town began to show their skill in the streets. Although they had great fame as fiddlers in Strathspey, they found that the townspeople took little notice of them. When night fell, they had not collected enough money to buy food for supper and to pay for a night’s lodging. They stopped playing and went, with their fiddles under their right arms, towards the wooden bridge that then crossed the River Ness.

Just as they were about to walk over the bridge they saw a little old man coming towards them in the dusk. His beard was very long and very white, but although his back was bent his step was easy and light. He stopped in front of the fiddlers, and, much to their surprise, hailed them by their names saying: “How fares it with you, my merry fiddlers?”

“Badly, badly!” answered Grant.

“Very badly indeed!” Cumming said.

“Come with me,” said the old man. “I have need of fiddlers to-night, and will reward you well. A great ball is to be held in my castle, and there are no musicians.”

Grant and Cumming were glad to get the chance of earning money by playing their fiddles and said they would go. “Then follow me and make haste,” said the old man. The fiddlers followed him across the wooden bridge and across the darkening moor beyond. He walked with rapid strides, and sometimes the fiddlers had to break into a run to keep up with him. Now and again that strange, nimble old man would turn round and cry: “Are you coming, my merry fiddlers?”

“We are doing our best,” Grant would answer, while Cumming muttered: “By my faith, old man, but you walk quickly!”

“Make haste, Grant; make haste, Cumming, the old man would then exclaim; “my guests will be growing impatient.”

In time they reached the big boat-shaped mound called Tom-na-hurich, and the old man began to climb it. The fiddlers followed at a short distance. Then he stopped suddenly and stamped the ground three times with his right foot. A door opened and a bright light streamed forth.

“Here is my castle, Cumming; here is my castle, Grant,” exclaimed the old man, who was no other than Thomas the Rhymer. “Come within and make merry.”

The fiddlers paused for a moment at the open door, but Thomas the Rhymer drew from his belt a purse of gold and made it jingle. “This purse holds your wages,” he told them. “First you will get your share of the feast, then you will give us fine music.”

As the fiddlers were as hungry as they were poor, they could not resist the offer made to them, and entered the fairy castle. As soon as they entered, the door was shut behind them.

They found themselves in a great hall, which was filled with brilliant light. Tables were spread with all kinds of food, and guests sat round them eating and chatting and laughing merrily.

Thomas led the fiddlers to a side table, and two graceful maidens clad in green came forward with dishes of food and bottles of wine, and said: “Eat and drink to your hearts’ content, Farquhar Grant and Thomas Cumming–Farquhar o’Feshie and Thomas o’ Tom-an-Torran. You are welcome here to-night.”

The fiddlers wondered greatly that the maidens knew not only their personal names but even the names of their homes. They began to eat, and, no matter how much they ate, the food on the table did not seem to grow less. They poured out wine, but they could not empty the bottles.

Said Cumming: “This is a feast indeed.”

Said Grant: “There was never such a feast in Strathspey.”

When the feast was ended the fiddlers were led to the ballroom, and there they began to play merry music for the gayest and brightest and happiest dancers they ever saw before. They played reels and jigs and strathspeys, and yet never grew weary. The dancers praised their music, and fair girls brought them fruit and wine at the end of each dance. If the guests were happy, the musicians were happier still, and they were sorry to find at length that the ball was coming to an end. How long it had lasted they could not tell. When the dancers began to go away they were still unwearied and willing to go on playing.

Thomas the Rhymer entered the ballroom, and spoke to the fiddlers, saying: “You have done well, my merry men. I will lead you to the door, and pay you for your fine music.”

The fiddlers were sorry to go away. At the door Thomas the Rhymer divided the purse of gold between them, and asked: “Are you satisfied?”

“Satisfied!” Cumming repeated. “Oh, yes, for you and your guests have been very kind!”

“We should gladly come back again,” Grant said.

When they had left the castle the fiddlers found that it was bright day. The sun shone from an unclouded sky, and the air was warm. As they walked on they were surprised to see fields of ripe corn, which was a strange sight at the Christmas season. Then they came to the riverside, and found instead of a wooden bridge a new stone bridge with seven arches.

“This stone bridge was not here last night,” Cumming said.

“Not that I saw,” said Grant.

When they crossed the bridge they found that the town of Inverness had changed greatly. Many new houses had been built; there were even new streets. The people they saw moving about wore strange clothing. One spoke to the fiddlers, and asked: “Who are you, and whence come you?”

They told him their names, and said that on the previous night they had played their fiddles at a great ball in a castle near the town.

The man smiled. Then Farquhar said: “The bridge we crossed over last evening was made of wood. Now you have a bridge of stone. Have the fairies built it for you?”

The man laughed, and exclaimed, as he turned away: “You are mad. The stone bridge was built before I was born.”

Boys began to collect round the fiddlers. They jeered at their clothing, and cried: “Go back to the madhouse you have escaped from.”

The fiddlers hastened out of the town, and took the road which leads to Strathspey. Men who passed them stopped and looked back, but they spoke to no one, and scarcely spoke, indeed, to one another.

Darkness came on, and they crept into an empty, half-ruined house by the wayside and slept there. How long they slept they knew not, but when they came out again they saw that the harvesting had begun. Fields were partly cut, but no workers could be seen in them, although the sun was already high in the heavens. They drank water from a well, and went on their way, until at length they reached their native village. They entered it joyfully, but were unable to find their homes. There, too, new houses had been built, and strange faces were seen. They heard a bell ringing, and then knew it was Sabbath day, and they walked towards the church. A man spoke to them near the gate of the churchyard and said: “You are strangers here.”

“No, indeed, we are not strangers,” Grant assured him. “This is our native village.”

“You must have left it long ago,” said the man, “for I have lived here all my life, and I do not know you.”

Then Grant told his name and that of his companion, and the names of their fathers and mothers. “We are fine fiddlers,” he added; “our equal is not to be found north of the Grampians.”

Said the man: “Ah! you are the two men my grandfather used to speak of. He never saw you, but he heard his father tell that you had been decoyed by Thomas the Rhymer, who took you to Tom-na-hurich. Your friends mourned for you greatly, but now you are quite forgotten, for it is fully a hundred years since you went away from here.”

The fiddlers thought that the man was mocking them, and turned their backs upon him. They went into the churchyard, and began to read the names on the gravestones. They saw stones erected to their wives and children, and to their children’s children, and gazed on them with amazement, taking no notice of the people who passed by to the church door.

At length they entered the church hand in hand, with their fiddles under their arms. They stood for a brief space at the doorway, gazing at the congregation, but were unable to recognize a single face among the people who looked round at them.

The minister was in the pulpit. He had been told who the strangers were, and, after gazing for a moment in silence, he began to pray. No sooner did he do so than the two fiddlers crumbled into dust.

Such is the story of the two fiddlers who spent a hundred years in a fairy dwelling, thinking they had played music there for but a single night.