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THE TESTIMONY OF TRADITION.


BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

ANCIENT AND MODERN BRITONS: a Retrospect.
2 vols., demy 8vo, 24s.

ACCOUNTS OF THE GYPSIES OF INDIA. Collected
and Edited. With Map and 2 Illustrations.
Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.

London : Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd.


[Illustration: THE BRUGH OF THE BOYNE, NEW GRANGE, COUNTY MEATH.
(_From the South._)]




THE

TESTIMONY OF TRADITION


BY
DAVID MACRITCHIE

AUTHOR OF "ANCIENT AND MODERN BRITONS"


_WITH TWENTY ILLUSTRATIONS_


LONDON
KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH, TRÜBNER & CO., LIMITED
1890




LONDON:

PRINTED BY WOODFALL AND KINDER,

70 TO 76, LONG ACRE, W.C.


PREFACE.


A large portion of this work has already appeared in the form of a
series of articles contributed to the _Archæological Review_
(Aug.-Oct., 1889, and Jan., 1890), but these have here undergone
some alteration and have been supplemented to a considerable extent.

With regard to the correctness of the deductions drawn in the
following pages from the facts and traditions there stated, there
may easily be a difference of opinion. And indeed one writer, Mr.
Alfred Nutt, in the course of a very learned dissertation on the
Development of the Fenian or Ossianic Saga,[1] has expressed his
dissent from the theories advanced in the articles referred to. It
would be out of place to enter here into a consideration of the
grounds of Mr. Nutt's objections, even if that did not demand an
undue amount of space; but it may be pointed out that the articles
upon which his criticism is based only state very partially the case
which even the following more enlarged version is far from
presenting fully. But what is of much greater importance is, that
the theory which I have here endeavoured to set forth has the
peculiar advantage of possessing a tangible test of its worth. What
that test is will be readily seen by every reader. If the result of
future archæological excavations should be to confirm tradition (as
it is needless to say the writer of these pages believes will be the
case), the question then will be one, not of interpreting tradition
so that it may square with current beliefs, but of modifying or
altering these beliefs, where they are distinctly in disagreement
with tradition.


FOOTNOTE:

[1] Appended to the collection of "Folk and Hero Tales from
Argyllshire" which forms the second volume of the series entitled
"Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition" (London, 1890; published by
the Folk-Lore Society).




CONTENTS.


PAGE

PREFACE v


CHAPTER I.

Shetland Finns - Orkney Finnmen - Finn Localities - Kayaks
and Kayak-men - An Orkney Kayak of 1696 1-11


CHAPTER II.

"Zee-Woners" - Piratical Mer-folk - Landsmen and Mermen -
Iberian Skin-boats - Boats made by Norway Finns - "Marine
People" of the Hebrides - Probable Finns in Galloway 12-25


CHAPTER III.

"Inhabitants of the Isles of this Kingdom" - The Isles in
the Seventeenth Century - "Barbarous Men" 26-32


CHAPTER IV.

Homes of the Finns - Norwegian Suzerainty 33-38


CHAPTER V.

Finnish Influence in Norway 39-42


CHAPTER VI.

The Feinne - The Battle of Gawra - The Feenic Confederacy 43-50


CHAPTER VII.

Feens or Cruithné - Fin in the Kingdom of the Big
Men - Dwarfish Tyrants 51-57


CHAPTER VIII.

Pechts or Dwarfs - Pechts' Houses - Earth-Houses in
Greenland - "Interlude of the Droichs" 58-65


CHAPTER IX.

How the Pechts Built - Pecht-lands - The Builders of
Corstorphine Church - "Unco wee bodies, but terrible
strang" 66-74


CHAPTER X.

Strongholds of the Feens - The _Broch_ and the
_Sith-Bhrog_ 75-79


CHAPTER XI.

Fians and Fairies - Tenth-Century Fairies - Continental
Fians and Fairies - Finn and his Dwarf in Sylt 80-88


CHAPTER XII.

Witchcraft of the Trollmen - The King of the Sidhtir of
Munster - The "Great-Beamed Deer" of the Feens - Reindeer in
Scotland in the Twelfth Century - Pechts and Fairies 89-100


CHAPTER XIII.

Hollow Hillocks - The Settler and the Mound-Dwellers -
"Hog-Boys" - Maes-How - Interior of the Chambered
Mound - A Dwarf's House in Sylt - The Little People in
Scotland - Fairy Mounds 101-118


CHAPTER XIV.

The Brugh of the Boyne - The Brugh as Described in
1724 - Gaels _versus_ Dananns - Dananns, Fir Sidhe, or
Fairies - Cruithne=Feinne - Inmates of the Brugh - Plunder
of the Boyne Hillocks in 861 - _Sith Eamhna_ - Tales of
Adventures in "Weems" - The Dowth Mound 119-140


CHAPTER XV.

Goblin Halls - The Castle Hill of Clunie - Tomnahurich,
Inverness - The Palace of the King of the Pechts - Pecht
Localities - The Fairy Knowe of Aberfoyle - Chambered
Mounds 141-155


CHAPTER XVI.

Scott's "Rob Roy" - Shaggy Men - Red Fairies of Wales -
Brownies and Forest-Men - The Ainos - A Hairy Race - Modern
"Pechts" - Cave-Men - Dwarf-Tribes and Reindeer - _Pÿgmei
Vulgo Screlinger Dicti_ 156-175


CHAPTER XVII.

Platycnemic Men - _Ur-uisg_=_Mailleachan_ 176-180


Appendix A. - _The Brugh of the Boyne_ 181-189

Appendix B. - _The Skrælings_ 190-193

Index 195-205





LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


THE BRUGH OF THE BOYNE, NEW GRANGE, COUNTY MEATH _Frontispiece._

KAYAKKER IN HIGH SEA _To face page_ 12

WIGWAMS OF THE JURA ISLANDERS IN 1772 " 24

MAES-HOW, ORKNEY " " 108

SECTIONAL VIEW AND GROUND PLAN OF MAES-HOW " 108

THE INTERIOR OF THE "HOW" " 109

SECTIONAL VIEW OF THE BRUGH OF THE BOYNE " " 120

DOORWAY OF THE BRUGH " 121

ENLARGED SECTIONAL VIEW OF PASSAGE AND CHAMBER,
BRUGH OF THE BOYNE " " 122

GROUND PLANS OF PASSAGE AND CHAMBER, BRUGH OF
THE BOYNE (From Drawings of 1724 and 1889) " " 124

EASTERN RECESS OF CENTRAL CHAMBER, BRUGH OF THE BOYNE " " 126

DOWTH (_Uaimh Feirt Bodan os Dubath_), COUNTY MEATH " " 136

PLAN OF DOWTH " 137

PLAN OF PASSAGE AND CHAMBER AT DOWTH " 138

BEE-HIVE CHAMBER, DOWTH " 139

KNOWTH (_Uaimh Cnoghbhai_), COUNTY MEATH " " 140

THE DWARFS OF GERMAN FOLK-LORE " " 164

AN AINO PATRIARCH " 168

AINO OF 1804 " 170

A "GOOD FAIRY" OF TRADITION " 173




THE

TESTIMONY OF TRADITION.




CHAPTER I.


In one of an interesting series of papers on "Scottish, Shetlandic,
and Germanic Water Tales,"[2] Dr. Karl Blind remarks as follows: -

It is in the Shetland Tales that we hear a great deal of
creatures partly more than human, partly less so, which
appear in the interchangeable shape of men and seals. They
are said to have often married ordinary mortals, so that
there are, even now, some alleged descendants of them, who
look upon themselves as superior to common people.

In Shetland, and elsewhere in the North, the sometimes
animal-shaped creatures of this myth, but who in reality
are human in a higher sense, are called _Finns_. Their
transfiguration into seals seems to be more a kind of
deception they practise. For the males are described as
most daring boatmen, with powerful sweep of the oar, who
chase foreign vessels on the sea. At the same time they are
held to be deeply versed in magic spells and in the healing
art, as well as in soothsaying. By means of a "skin" which
they possess, the men and the women among them are able to
change themselves into seals. But on shore, after having
taken off their wrappage, they are, and behave like, real
human beings. Anyone who gets hold of their protecting
garment has the Finns in his power. Only by means of the
skin can they go back to the water. Many a Finn woman has
got into the power of a Shetlander and borne children to
him; but if a Finn woman succeeded in reobtaining her
sea-skin, or seal-skin, she escaped across the water. Among
the older generation in the Northern isles persons are
still sometimes heard of who boast of hailing from Finns;
and they attribute to themselves a peculiar luckiness on
account of that higher descent.

* * * * *

Tales of the descent of certain families from water beings
of a magic character are very frequent in the ... North. In
Ireland such myths also occur sporadically. In Wales ...
the origin from mermen or mermaids is often charged as a
reproach upon unhappy people; and rows originate from such
assertions. In Shetland the reverse is, or was, the case.
There the descendants of Finns have been wont to boast of
their origin; regarding themselves as favourites of
Fortune....

* * * * *

But who are the Finns of the Shetlandic story? Are they
simply a poetical transfiguration of finny forms of the
flood? Or can the Ugrian race of the Finns, which dwells in
Finland, in the high north of Norway, and in parts of
Russia, have something to do with those tales in which a
Viking-like character is unmistakable?

* * * * *

Repeated investigations have gradually brought me to the
conviction that the Finn or Seal stories contain a
combination of the mermaid myth with a strong historical
element - that the Finns are nothing else than a fabulous
transmogrification of those Norse "sea-dogs," who from eld
have penetrated into the islands round Scotland, into
Scotland itself, as well as into Ireland. "Old sea-dog" is
even now a favourite expression for a weather-beaten,
storm-tossed skipper - a perfect seal among the wild waves.

The assertion of a "higher" origin of still living persons
from Finns ... would thus explain itself as a wildly
legendary remembrance of the descent from the blood of
Germanic conquerors. The "skin" wherewith the Finns change
themselves magically into sea-beings I hold to be their
armour, or coat of mail. Perhaps that coat itself was often
made of seal-skin, and then covered with metal rings, or
scales, as we see it in Norman pictures; for instance, on
the Bayeux tapestry. The designation of Norwegian and
Danish conquerors, in Old Irish history, as "scaly
monsters," certainly fits in with this hypothesis.

* * * * *

But however the Finn name may be explained etymologically,
at all events Norway appears in the Shetland tales, and in
the recollection of the people there, as the home of the
"Finns." And this home - as I see from an interesting bit of
folk-lore before me - is evidently in the south of
Norway....

"Before coming to this important point, I may mention a
Shetlandic spell-song ... [which] refers to the cure of the
toothache; the Finn appearing therein as a magic
medicine-man: -

A Finn came ow'r fa Norraway,
Fir ta pit töth-ache away -
Oot o' da flesh an' oot o' da bane;
Oot o' da sinew an' oot o' da skane;
Oot o' da skane an' into da stane;
An dare may do remain!
An dare may do remain!
An dare may do remain!

In this, though not strictly and correctly, alliterative
song, the Finn is not an animal-shaped creature of the
deep, but a man, a charm-working doctor from Norway....
Presently we will, however, see that the Finns of the
Shetlandic stories are martial pursuers of ships, to whom
ransom must be paid in order to get free from them. This
cannot apply ... to a mere marine animal or sea monster:
for what should such a creature do with ransom money?... As
to their animal form, Mr. George Sinclair writes: -

"Sea monsters are for most part called 'Finns' in Shetland.
They have the power to take any shape of any marine animal,
as also that of human beings. They were wont to _pursue
boats at sea_, and it was dangerous in the extreme to say
_anything against them_. I have heard that _silver money
was thrown overboard to them_ to prevent their doing any
damage to the boat. In the seal-form they came ashore every
ninth night to dance on the sands. They would then cast off
their skins, and act _just like men and women_. They could
not, however, return to the sea without their skins - they
were _simply human beings_, as an old song says:

"'I am a man upo' da land;
I am a selkie i' da sea.
An' whin I'm far fa every strand,
My dwelling is in Shöol Skerry.'"

* * * * *

There are many such folk-tales in the northern Thule. A
man, we learn, always gets possession of the Finn woman by
seizing the skin she has put off. One of these stories says
that the captured Finn woman would often leave her husband
to enjoy his slumber alone, and go down amongst the rocks
to converse with her Finn one: but the inquisitive people
who listened could not understand a single word of the
conversation. She would, it is said, return after such
interviews with briny and swollen eyes.

The human family of this Finn were human in all points
except in hands, which resembled web feet. Had the foolish
man who was her husband burnt or destroyed the skin, the
Finn woman could never have escaped. But the man had the
skin hidden, and it was found by one of the bairns, who
gave it to his mother. Thereupon she fled; and it is said
that she cried at parting with her family very bitterly.
The little ones were the only human beings she cared for.
When the father came home, he found the children in tears,
and on learning what had happened, bounded through the
standing corn to the shore, where he only arrived in time
to see, to his grief, his good wife shaking flippers and
embracing an ugly brute of a seal. She cried: -

"Blissins' be wi' de,
Baith de and da bairns!
Bit do kens, da first love
Is aye da best!"

whereupon she disappeared with her Finn husband and lover.

* * * * *

... I here give what Mr. Robert Sinclair says of the
capture of Finn brides by Shetlanders:

"Each district, almost, has its own version of a case where
a young Shetlander had married a female Finn. They were
generally caught at their toilet in the tide-mark, having
doffed the charmed covering, and being engaged in dressing
their flowing locks while the enamoured youth, by some
lucky stroke, secured the skin, rendering the owner a
captive victim of his passion. Thus it was that whole
families of a mongrel race sprang up, according to
tradition. The Finn women were said to _make good
housewives_. Yet there was generally a longing after some
previous attachment; if ever a chance occurred of
recovering the essential dress, no newly formed ties of
kindred could prevent escape and return to former
pleasures. This was assiduously guarded against on the one
side, and watched on the other; but, as the story goes,
female curiosity and cunning were always more than a match
for male care and caution; and the Finn woman always got
the slip. One or two of these female Finns were said to
have the power to conjure up from the deep a superior breed
of horned cattle; and these always throve well. I have seen
some pointed out to me as the offspring of these
'sea-kye.'"

In answer to my question, the Shetland friend lays great
stress on the fact of the Finn woman being wholly distinct
from the Mermaid....

* * * * *

Of the Finn man my informant says: -

"Stories of the Norway Finns were rife in my younger days.
These were said to be a race of creatures of _human origin_
no doubt, but possessed of some power of enchantment by
which they could, with the use of a charmed seal-skin,
become in every way, to all appearance, a veritable seal;
only _retaining their human intelligence_. It seems that
any seal-skin could not do; each _must have their specially
prepared skin_ before they could assume the aquatic life.
But then they could live for years in the sea. Yet they
were not reckoned as belonging to the natural class of
'amphibia.' As man or seal they were simply Finns, and
could play their part well in either element. Their feats
were marvellous. It was told me as sheer truth that they
could _pull across to Bergen_ - nearly 300 miles - in a few
hours, and that, while ordinary mortals were asleep, they
could make the return voyage. Nine miles for every warp
(stroke of the oar) was the traditional speed...."

Here, then, the Finns are men of human origin; remaining
intelligent men in their sea-dog raiment; coming from
Norway; not swimming like marine animals, but rowing
between Shetland and Norway - namely, to the town of Bergen,
which lies in the southern ... part of Norway. As strong
men at sea, they row with magic quickness.... Each one of
them ... must have his specially prepared skin.... There is
nothing here of the swimming and dipping down of a seal.

We have followed Dr. Karl Blind so far. But, while recognizing the
value of his statements and comments up to this point, it is
necessary to give only a modified assent to some of his subsequent
deductions, and to flatly deny the correctness of others; because
his researches in "Shetlandic folk-lore" have clearly been too
limited in their extent, or rather, he has omitted to check those
traditions by any possible contemporary records. Some of those tales
were received from a Shetland woman "who strongly believed in the
Finns, and declared herself to be a descendant of them.... She was,
she said, the 'fifth from the Finns,' and she attributed great
luckiness to herself, although she was as poor as poor could be."
One of her stories is of her father's great-grandfather; and as this
ancestor of the woman's is not spoken of as a "Finn," it would seem
that she was "fifth from the Finns" through another branch of her
lineage. But, at any rate, this progenitor in the fourth degree
cannot have belonged to a much later period than the middle of the
eighteenth century. However, we shall see these Shetland Finns more
plainly described if we turn to the latter part of the seventeenth
century.

In "A Description of the Isles of Orkney," written by the Rev. James
Wallace, A.M., Minister of Kirkwall, about the year 1688, one reads
as follows: -

Sometime about this Country [Orkney] are seen these Men
which are called _Finnmen_; In the year 1682 one was seen
sometime sailing, sometime Rowing up and down in his little
Boat at the south end of the Isle of _Eda_, most of the
people of the Isle flocked to see him, and when they
adventured to put out a Boat with men to see if they could
apprehend him, he presently fled away most swiftly: And in
the Year 1684, another was seen from _Westra_, and for a
while after they got few or no Fishes, for they have this
Remark here, that these _Finnmen_ drive away the fishes
from the place to which they come.

Again, in Brand's "Brief Description of Orkney, Zetland, etc."
(1701), it is stated: -

There are frequently _Fin-men_ seen here upon the Coasts,
as one about a year ago on _Stronsa_, and another within
these few Months on _Westra_, a gentleman with many others
in the Isle looking on him nigh to the shore, but when any
endeavour to apprehend them they flee away most swiftly;
Which is very strange, that one man sitting in his little
Boat, should come some hundred of Leagues, from their own
Coasts, as they reckon _Finland_ to be from _Orkney_; It
may be thought wonderfull how they live all that time, and
are able to keep the Sea so long. His Boat is made of
Seal-skins, or some kind of leather, he also hath a Coat of
Leather upon him, and he sitteth in the middle of his Boat,
with a little Oar in his hand, Fishing with his Lines: And
when in a storm he seeth the high surge of a wave
approaching, he hath a way of sinking his Boat, till the
wave pass over, lest thereby he should be overturned. The
Fishers here observe that these _Finmen_ or _Finland-men_,
by their coming drive away the Fishes from the Coasts. One
of their Boats is kept as a Rarity in the _Physicians Hall
at Edinburgh_.

This last fact was first stated by Wallace (1688; previously
quoted), who remarks:

One of their Boats sent from Orkney to Edinburgh is to be
seen in the Physitians hall with the Oar and the Dart he
makes use of for killing Fish, [and it is stated by Mr.
John Small, M.A., &c., in his edition[3] of this book that
the boat spoken of was "afterwards presented to the
University Museum, now incorporated with the Museum of
Science and Art, Edinburgh"; and a note appended to the
second edition also states that "there is another of their
boats in the Church of Burra in Orkney."]

Wallace's book has also a note ascribed to the author's son, to the
following effect:

I must acknowledge it seems a little unaccountable how
these _Finn-men_ should come on this coast, but they must
probably be driven by storms from home, and cannot tell,
when they are any way at sea, how to make their way home
again; they have this advantage, that be the Seas never so
boisterous, their boats being made of Fish Skins, are so
contrived that he can never sink, but is like a Sea-gull
swimming on the top of the watter. His shirt he has is so
fastned to the Boat, that no water can come into his Boat
to do him damage, except when he pleases to untye it....

There is, it will be seen, some difference of opinion as to the
place whence these Finn-men came. The Shetlandic folk-lore indicates
Bergen, on the south-western coast of Norway; Brand regards Finland
as their home; while Wallace takes a still wider range. This last
writer (who is the first in point of time) says this of
them: - "These _Finn-men_ seem to be some of these people that dwell
about the _Fretum Davis_ [Davis Straits], a full account of whom may
be seen in the natural and moral History of the _Antilles_, Chap.
18." At first sight, and according to modern nomenclature, the
connection between the Antilles and Davis Straits seems very remote.
But it must be remembered that the traditional country of "Antilla,"
or the "Antilles," probably included the modern Atlantic seaboard of
North America; and that, when that territory was invaded by the
Norsemen of the tenth century, it was found to contain a population
of exactly the same description as those "Finn" races - people of
dwarfish stature, who traversed their bays and seas in skin-covered
skiffs.[4] However, Wallace's theory is obviously untenable. It is


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Online LibraryDavid MacRitchieThe testimony of tradition → online text (page 1 of 20)