(or Godparent, or Nurse)
for the Elves

fairy tales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther types 476*, 476**,
and migratory legends of Christiansen type 5070

translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2019


  1. The Troll Labor (Sweden, Peter Rahm).

  2. The Clergyman's Wife (Sweden).

  3. The Servant Girl and the Elves (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  4. The Godmother (Switzerland, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  5. The Woman among the Elves (Germany, Karl Lyncker).

  6. The Dwarfs in Schalk Mountain and Wohlden Mountain (Germany, Carl and Theodor Colshorn).

  7. An Underground Woman in Labor (Germany, Karl Bartsch).

  8. Midwife for a Nixie (Germany, Adalbert Kuhn and Wilhelm Schwartz).

  9. The Midwife of Hafoddydd (Wales, John Rhys).

  10. The Fairy Nurse (Ireland, W. R. Wilde).

  11. The Fairy Nurse (Ireland, Patrick Kennedy).

  12. The Midwife of Listowel (Ireland, Jeremiah Curtin).

  13. Fairy Ointment (England, Anna Eliza Bray).

  14. Fairy Ointment (England, Joseph Jacobs).

  15. Link to another collection of legends about humans who are spirited away by underground people: Abducted by Aliens.

  16. Notes and Bibliography.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Troll Labor


In the year 1660, when I and my wife had gone to my farm (fäboderne), which is three quarters of a mile from Ragunda parsonage, and we were sitting there and talking a while, late in the evening, there came a little man in at the door, who begged of my wife to go and aid his wife, who was just then in the pains of labor. The fellow was of small size, of a dark complexion, and dressed in old gray clothes.

My wife and I sat a while, and wondered at the man; for we were aware that he was a troll, and we had heard tell that such like, called by the peasantry Vettar (spirits), always used to keep in the farmhouses, when people left them in harvest time. But when he had urged his request four or five times, and we thought on what evil the country folk say that they have at times suffered from the Vettar, when they have chanced to swear at them, or with uncivil words bid them go to hell, I took the resolution to read some prayers over my wife, and to bless her, and bid her in God's name go with him.

She took in haste some old linen with her, and went along with him, and I remained sitting there. When she returned, she told me, that when she went with the man out at the gate, it seemed to her as if she was carried for a time along in the wind, and so she came to a room, on one side of which was a little dark chamber, in which his wife lay in bed in great agony. My wife went up to her, and, after a little while, aided her till she brought forth the child after the same manner as other human beings. The man then offered her food, and when she refused it, he thanked her, and accompanied her out, and then she was carried along, in the same way in the wind, and after a while came again to the gate, just at ten o'clock.

Meanwhile, a quantity of old pieces and clippings of silver were laid on a shelf, in the sitting room, and my wife found them next day, when she was putting the room in order. It is to be supposed that they were laid there by the Vettar.

That it in truth so happened, I witness, by inscribing my name.

Ragunda, the 12th of April, 1671.

Pet. Rahm.

The Clergyman's Wife


A clergyman's wife in Swedish Lappmark, the cleverest midwife in all Sweden, was summoned one fine summer's evening to attend a mysterious being of Troll race and great might, called Vitra. At this unusual call she took counsel with her husband, who, however, deemed it best for her to go. Her guide led her into a splendid building, the rooms whereof were as clean and elegant as those of very illustrious folk; and in a beautiful bed lay a still more beautiful woman, for whom her services were required, and who was no other than Vitra herself.

Under the midwife's care Vitra speedily gave birth to a fair girl, and in a few minutes had entirely recovered, and fetched all sorts of refreshments, which she laid before her benefactress. The latter refused to eat, in spite of Vitra's reassuring persuasion, and further refused the money which the troll-wife pressed upon her. Vitra then sent her home, bidding her look on the table when next she entered her cowherd hut and see what she would find there. She thought no more of the matter until the following spring, when on entering the hut she found on the table half a dozen large spoons of pure silver with her name engraved thereon in neat letters.

These spoons long remained an heirloom in the clergyman's family to testify the truth of the story.

The Servant Girl and the Elves


Once upon a time there was a poor servant girl who was diligent and neat. Every day she swept out the house and shook the sweepings onto a large pile outside the door. One morning just as she was beginning her work she found a letter on the pile of sweepings. She could not read, so she stood her broom in the corner and took the letter to her employers. It was an invitation from the elves, asking the girl to serve as godparent at the baptism of one of their children.

At first the girl did not know what she should do, but finally they convinced her to accept. It would not be right, they said, to decline such an invitation.

Three elves came and led her to a hollow mountain where the little people lived. Everything there was small, but more ornate and splendid than can be described. The new mother was lying in a bed of ebony decorated with pearl buttons. The covers were embroidered with gold. The cradle was made of ivory, and the bathtub of gold. The girl stood in as godparent, and then wanted to go back home, but the elves asked her fervently to stay with them for three days. She agreed to do so, and the time passed with pleasure and joy. The little people did everything to make her happy.

Finally she wanted to return home. They filled her pockets with gold and led her outside the mountain. She arrived home. Wanting to begin her work, she picked up the broom that was still standing in the corner and started to sweep. Then some strange people came out of the house and asked her who she was and what she was doing there. It was not three days, as she thought, that she had spent in the mountain with the little men, but rather seven years. In the meantime her former employers had died.

The Godmother


Two girls, all dressed up, were walking along playfully and mischievously one evening when suddenly a gigantic fat toad waddled across their path. The girls joked about the large animal: One of them said that if it ever had a baby, she would be its godmother. The other one quickly added that she would cook for the occasion.

A few days afterward, late in the evening, an old woman knocked at the cottage door of the two girls, reminded them of their promise, and asked them to come to the baptism of the toad's child. They hesitated a long time, but fear finally drove the mischievous pair out into the night and the fog. The old woman led them to a remote place where the ceremony was taking place. A woman was there with a newborn child, and surrounded by all kinds of strange and unusual guests. Sighing, the two girls did what they had promised to do. As they were discharged from their duties, the woman thanked them kindly and gave them an apron filled with coal from the fireplace. The girls did not dare to throw the unwanted gift away, but as they quickly made their way homeward, they let most of the coal fall to the ground, paying no attention to a voice that repeatedly sounded from behind:

The more you throw away,
The less you will have!

When they arrived at home, the little bit of coal that they still had was nothing but pure gold.

The Woman among the Elves


Not long ago there lived in Frankenberg a midwife who could tell many amazing things about the elves, for once she had spent an entire eight days among them observing their deeds and ways.

One dark night when all the neighbors were sound asleep a loud knocking at the house door had awakened the woman. She jumped up and peered through the window, but she could see nothing except for a lantern in front of the house.

Then a voice called out, "Throw on your clothes and come with me. A woman is in need of your service!"

The midwife did what she had been asked, went down, and with hesitating steps followed the lantern, which was already one street ahead of her. She could not see the person who was carrying it. Thus it went through several streets, then out through the convent gate, and then a good way beyond the town.

Finally the light stopped moving. A hidden trapdoor opened, and many steps led underground. Trembling and praying, the midwife followed her mysterious leader, and before long she found herself in a roomy chamber surrounded by elves, who cordially welcomed her. Before she had time to recover from her surprise, one of the little people stepped up to her and asked her to follow him to the woman for whose sake she had been summoned.

Soon afterward a tiny, cute elf came to the world. Since mother and child were both doing well, the midwife hoped that she would be able to return to her own people the next morning. But that was not so. The elves did not want to let her go. Each day they treated her better than the day before, giving her everything that she could want.

During this time the elves often went out, not returning unless they were loaded down with all kinds of pretty things. Before leaving they always rubbed their eyes with a liquid which they kept in a glass. The old woman noticed this, and once when the little people had gone out she found the glass and put a little of its contents on her right eye.

In the meantime eight days had passed, and the elves no longer resisted the old woman's request. As soon as it was dark they allowed her to return home, saying, "For your reward take along those sweepings behind the door!"

Smart enough to not despise the unusual gift, she brushed the sweepings into her apron. Then with good cheer she followed the lantern, which -- as had happened eight days earlier -- was carried on ahead by an invisible hand.

A half hour later she arrived safely at home, much to the amazement of her husband, who for eight days had been terribly worried over her disappearance. She told him everything that had happened and then shook the sweepings that she was carrying in her apron onto the table before him.

Oh, how the old people's hearts leapt for joy! How their eyes gleamed! How they stood there in silence, fearing that one little word of gladness might cause the dream to vanish that now so enraptured them! Finally they found their tongues. Their amazement turned to words, and they saw that it was no dream. It was pure reality. Lying on the table was a pile of glistening gold pieces!

Some time later there was a fair in Frankenberg. The midwife, who had suddenly become rich, walked among the market booths looking and from time to time making a purchase. Suddenly she saw the elves scattered throughout the crowd. Unseen by others they were skillfully plundering the tables and booths. This she could see with her right eye, which she had rubbed with the liquid at the time she was with the elves.

She could not stand to see the little thieves freely getting away with this, so she called out, "Hey! What are you doing?"

The elves recognized her and asked, "Which eye can you see us with?"

She answered, "With the right one."

Then they blew into her right eye, and in that instant it became like a black night. She never saw the elves again, and for as long as she lived she remained blind in her right eye.

The Dwarfs in Schalk Mountain and Wohlden Mountain


Schalk Mountain (Schalksberg), between Ettenbüttel and Wilsche, near Gilde on the Aller River, is only a little mole hill today, but formerly it was a high and narrow mountain in which the dwarf people made their home.

At that time no people lived here yet, and the dwarfs liked that, for they could carry on as they wished either above or below ground, and not be disturbed. They had a good life. For them every day was Sunday, with a holiday in the middle of each week. They ate and drank, played and danced, and at times did metalsmithing as well. Even today people often find the slag from the hard coal that they used in their work.

When the first herder came to this region he found nothing but fields of peas surrounding the mountain, and the most beautiful music sounded from within the mountain without interruption. However, when his sheep approached the pea fields, they jumped about as though someone were secretly pinching them. Moreover, his dog would often begin to yelp, and refused to approach the place again.

However, more and more people came here, establishing villages and conducting business. They often came into contact with the dwarfs, who were sometimes friendly and sometimes hostile, just as it happened. The underground people complained most of all about the humans' noisy activities, and, on the other hand, the humans complained about the thefts commtted by the underground people.

But still, they often lent one another a helping hand, and whenever the humans did something for the dwarfs, they were rewarded with red gold.

Thus there was once a poor but pious servant girl who was busy cleaning out the house. Just as she about to carry the sweepings outside, she discovered a letter lying in her dustpan. It was addressed to her. Standing her broom against the wall, she read it. In the letter she was summoned to stand in as a godparent for a dwarf child the next day, and was promised that no harm would come to her.

She did not want to do this, but her employers told her that she must not decline, for if she did so, it would not go well for her. Thus she went forth that night, for that was when she was told to come. At twelve o'clock the mountain opened, and now she was just as pleased as she earlier had been afraid, for down there it was magnificent. Everything was made of pure gold, and everyone was friendly and well disposed toward her.

After giving the child a name, they laid it into a golden cradle, and the musicians played until it fell asleep again. Then they had the best things to eat and drink, after which they danced and sang until morning on a large meadow. After they were tired, the girl said that she wanted to return home, but the dwarfs begged and begged until she finally agreed to stay three more days, and all three days were filled with pleasure and joy.

When she finally started out for home, the dwarfs rewarded her most generously and told her that the golden cradle would be saved for her forever. Then they opened the mountain and let her go.

The servant girl went home and took the broom from the wall in order to sweep out the entranceway. But behold, the house had changed completely during the three days. The entranceway was completely different. The cows had a different sound and a different color, and her good old white horse was gone. Some people approached her, but she did not know any of them. They spoke differently and wore different clothing styles. And no one knew anything about her. She told them all about her employers, but no one remembered them. And they all stared at her.

Now in Gilde there lived an old shepherd who himself did not know how old he was, and no one else knew it either. When he heard about the girl, he came over and said that his grandfather had told him that when his father was young, a girl had gone to the dwarfs and had not returned.

That instant the girl turned into an ancient woman, collapsed, and was dead.

Schalk Mountain is now almost completely gone. The dwarfs departed, but they left behind the cradle filled with gold. Many have searched and dug for it, but no one has found it. Someday, however, a swineherd, the servant girl's last relative, will drive his herd this way, and a sow will root out the cradle, and with part of the gold the herder will have a church built in Ettenbüttel. Its tower will be higher than the Andreas Tower in Braunschweig, in other words, just as high as Schalk Mountain formerly was. He will present the golden cradle to the king, and with the remaining money he will live comfortably until he dies.

An Underground Woman in Labor


A woman who died at Neu-Bukow in 1841 at the age of 118 told that when she was a child underground people lived in a mountain near her home town (the name is not given). She herself and other children often saw them, but they always ran away from them. One night an underground man knocked at their door and asked the mother to go with him. His wife was in labor. He also asked to borrow a kettle. The mother went with him and was gone the entire night. She returned the next morning and reported that a little boy had been born.

Midwife for a Nixie


A midwife in Westerhausen was sitting one evening at home when someone knocked on her window and shouted that she should come outside. She did so, and there stood a nix, who told her to follow him. They walked to the Beck [a deep pond near Westerhausen], and the nix took a rod and struck the water with it. The water separated, and with dry feet they walked to the bottom.

Here the woman helped the nix's wife deliver a child. To thank the midwife, the nixie told her that when the nix asked her how she should be paid, instead of money, she should ask for some of the sweepings.

Then the midwife bathed the new baby, and while doing so she heard the nix's other children -- there were five of them -- running around and asking their father, "Shall we pinch her? Shall we pinch her?" But the father told them not to.

When the midwife was finished the nix asked, "What shall I pay you?"

Following the wife's advice, she requested some of the sweepings from behind the door.

"God told you to say that," said the nix, giving her what she wanted. Then he took her back home, and when she looked at the sweepings, they had turned to pure gold.

The Midwife of Hafoddydd


Once on a time, when a midwife from Nanhwynan had newly got to the Hafoddydd Brithion to pursue her calling, a gentleman came to the door on a fine gray steed and bade her come with him at once. Such was the authority with which he spoke, that the poor midwife durst not refuse to go, however much it was her duty to stay where she was. So she mounted behind him, and off the went, like the flight of a swallow, through Cwmllan, over the Bwlch, down Nant yr Aran, and over the Gader to Cwm Hafod Ruffydd, before the poor woman had time even to say "Oh!"

When they reached there, she saw before her a magnificent mansion, splendidly lit up with such lamps as she had never seen before. They entered the court, and a crowd of servants in expensive liveries came to meet them, and she was at once led through the great hall into a bed-chamber, the like of which she had never seen. There the mistress of the house, to whom she had been fetched, was awaiting her.

The midwife got through her duties successfully, and stayed there until the lady had completely recovered, nor had she spent any part of her life so merrily, for there naught but festivity went on day and night: dancing, singing, and endless rejoicing reigned there. But merry as it was, she found that she must go, and the nobleman gave her a large purse, with the order not to open it until she had got into her own house. Then he bade one of his servants escort her the same way that she had come. When she reached home she opened the purse, and, to her great joy, it was full of money.

She lived happily on those earnings to the end of her life.

The Fairy Nurse


There lived a woman in Innish Shark -- one of the group of islands on the eastern coast -- named Biddy Mannion, as handsome and likely a fisherman's wife as you would meet in a day's walk. She was tall, and fair in the face, with skin like an egg, and hair that might vie with the gloss of the raven's wing.

She was married about a twelvemonth, when the midwife presented her husband, Patsy-Andrew M'Intire, with as fine a man-child as could be found between Shark and America, and sure they are the next parishes, with only the Atlantic for a mearing between them. The young one throve apace, and all the women and gossips said the Biddy Mannion was the lucky woman, and the finest nurse seen in the island for many a day.

Now the king of the fairies had a child about the same age, or a little older. But the queen was not able to nurse it, for she was might weakly after her lying-in, as her husband had a falling-out with another fairy potentate that lives down one side of the Giant's Causeway, who, by the force of magic and pishrogues, banished the suck from the Connaught princess for spite.

The gentry had their eye upon Biddy Mannion for a long time, but as she always wore a gospel round her neck, and kept an errub and a bit of a burnt sod from St. John's Night sewed up in her clothes, she was proof against all their machinations and seductions. At long run, however, she lost this herb, and one fine summer's night the young gaurlaugh [infant], being mighty cross with the teeth, wouldn't sleep in the cradle at all, but was evermore starting and crying, as if the life was leaving him, so she got up at last, determined to take him to bed to herself, and she went down to the kitchen to light a candle.

Well, just as she was blowing a coal, three men caught a hold of her before she could bless herself, and she was unable to shout or say a word, so they brought her out of the house quite easy, and put her upon a pillion, behind one of themselves, on a fine black horse that was ready waiting outside the door. She was no sooner seated behind one of the men than away they all galloped, without saying a word. It was as calm and beautiful a night as ever came out of the sky, just before the moon rose "between day and dark," with the gloom of parting twilight softening every break upon the surrounding landscape, and not a breath of air was to be felt.

They rode on a long time, and she didn't know where they were going to; but she thought to herself they must be on the mainland, for she heard the frogs croaking in ditches. [There are no frogs in these small islands.] The bunnaun lena [bittern] was sounding away in the bogs, and the minnaun airigh [clocking snipe] was wheeling over their heads. [Neither of these birds are found in the small islands of the west.]

At last the horse stopped of itself all of a sudden before the gate of a big house at the butt of a great hill, with trees growing all round it, where she had never been before in her life. There was much light in the house, and presently a grand looking gentleman dressed all in scarlet, with a cocked hat on his head and a sword by his side, and his fingers so covered with rings that they shone like lassar lena [ranunculus flammea, a brilliant yellow flower] in a bog-hole, lifted her off the pillion as polite as possible, handed her into the house, and bid her a cead mile failte, just the same as if he had known her all his lifetime.

 The gentleman left her sitting in one of the rooms, and when he was gone she saw a young woman standing at the thrashal of the door, and looking very earnestly at her, as if she wanted to speak to her.

"Troth, I'll speak, anyway," says Biddy Mannion, "for if I didn't, I'm sure I'd burst." And with that she bid her the time of day, and asked her why she was looking at her so continuously.

The woman then gave a great sigh, and whispered to her, "If you take my advice, Biddy Mannion, you'll not taste bit, bite, or sup, while you are in this house, for if you do you'll be sorry for it, and maybe never get home again to your child or husband. I ate and drank my fill, forrior geraugh [an expression denoting great regret], the first night I came, and that's the reason that I am left here now in this enchanted place, where everything you meet is bewitched, even to the meat itself. But when you go home, send word to them that's after me, Tim Conneely, that lives one side of the Killaries, that I am here, and may be he'd try what Father Pat Prendergast, the blessed abbot of Cong, could do to get me out of it."

Biddy was just going to make further inquiries, when in the clapping of your hand the woman was gone, and the man with the scarlet coat came back, and the same strange woman, bringing a young child in her arms. The man took the child from the woman, and gave it to Biddy to put it to the breast, and when it had drank its fill he took it away, and invited her into another room, where the queen -- a darling, fine-looking lady as you'd meet in a day's walk -- was seated in an armchair, surrounded by a power of quality, dressed up for all the world like judges with big wigs, and red gowns upon them. There was a table laid out with all sorts of eating, which the man in the cocked hat pressed her to take. She made answer that she was no ways hungry, but that if they could give her a cure for a little girl belonging to one of her neighbors, who was mighty dauny, and never well in herself since she had a fit of the feur-gurtagh [literally, "hungry grass," a weakness, the result of sudden hunger, said to come on persons in consequence of treading on a particular kind of fairy-enchanted grass], while crossing the Minaune Pass in Achill, and to send herself home to Shark, she would be forever obliged to them.

The king, for that was the gentleman with the cocked hat, said he had ne'er a cure.

"Indeed, then," said the mother of the child, "as I was the cause of your coming here, honest woman, you must get the cure; go home," says she, speaking for all the world like an Englishwoman, "and get ten green rishes from the side of the well of Aughavalla [a holy well in the barony of Murrisk, not far from Croagh Patrick]. Throw the tenth away, and squeeze the juice of the rest of them into the bottom of a teacup, and give it to the colleen to drink, and she will get well in no time."

The king then put a ring on her finger and told her not to lose it by any manner of means, and that as long as she wore this ring no person could hurt or harm her. He then rubbed a sort of an ointment on her eyes, and no sooner had he done so that she found herself in a frightful cave where she couldn't see her hand before her.

"Don't be any ways afraid," says he. "This is to let you know what kind of a people we are that took you away. We are the fallen angels that the people up above upon the earth call the fairies."

And then after a while she began to see about her, and the place was full of dead men's bones, and had a terribly musty smell. And after a while he took her into another room where there was more light, and here she found a wonderful sight of young children, and them all blindfolded, and doing nothing but sitting upon pookauns [mushrooms, fairy-stools, or puff-balls] These were the souls of infants that were never baptized, and are believed "to go into naught." After that he showed her a beautiful garden, and at the end of it there was a large gate, which he opened with a key that was hung to his watch chain.

"Now," says he, "you are not far from you own house," so he let her out; and then says he, "Who is that that is coming down the boreen?" And when she turned her back to look who it was, behold the man with the red coat and the cocked hat had disappeared.

Biddy Mannion could not see anybody, but she knew full well the place where she was in a minute, and that it was the little road the led down to the annagh [a cut away bog] just beside her own house, and when she went up to the door she met another woman the very moral of herself, just as fair as if she saw her in the looking-glass, who said to her as she passed, "What a gomal your husband is that didn't know the difference between you and me."

She said no more, but Biddy went in and found her child in a beautiful sleep, with his face smiling, like the buttercups in May.

The Fairy Nurse


There was once a little farmer and his wife living near Coolgarrow. They had three children, and my story happened while the youngest was on the breast.

The wife was a good wife enough, but her mind was all on her family and her farm, and she hardly ever went to her knees without falling asleep, and she thought the time spent in the chapel was twice as long as it need be. So, begonies, she let her man and her two children go before her one day to mass, while she called to consult a fairy-man about a disorder one of her cows had. She was late at the chapel, and was sorry all the day after, for her husband was in grief about it, and she was very fond of him.

Late that night he was wakened up by the cries of his children calling out, "Mother, mother!" When he sat up and rubbed his eyes, there was no wife by his side, and when he asked the little ones what was become of their mother, they said they saw the room full of nice little men and women, dressed in white and red and green, and their mother in the middle of them, going out by the door as if she was walking in her sleep. Out he ran, and searched everywhere round the house, but neither tale nor tidings did he got of her for many a day.

We.. the poor man was miserable enough, for he was as fond of his woman as she was of him. It used to bring the salt tears down his cheeks to see his poor children neglected and dirty, as they often were, and they'd be bad enough only for a kind neighbor that used to look in whenever she could spare time. The infant was out with a wet nurse.

About six weeks after -- just as he was going out to his work one morning -- a neighbor, that used to mind women at their lying-in, came up to him, and kept step by step with him to the field, and this is what she told him:

Just as I was falling asleep last night I hears a horse's tramp in the bawn, and a knock at the door, and there, when I cam out, was a fine-looking dark man mounted on a black horse, and he told me to get ready in all haste, for a lady was in great want of me. As soon as I put on my cloak and things, he took me by the hand, and I was sitting behind him before I felt myself stirring.

"Where are we going, sir?" says I.

"You'll soon know," says he, and he drew his fingers across my eyes, and not a stim remained in them.

I kept a tight grip of him, and the dickens a knew I knew whether he was going backwards or forwards, or how long we were about it, till my hand was taken again, and I felt the ground under me. The fingers went the other way across my eyes, and there we were before a castle door, and in we went through a big hall and great rooms all painted in fine green colors, with red and gold bands and ornaments, and the finest carpets and chairs and tables and window curtains, and fine ladies and gentlemen walking about.

At last we came to a bedroom, with a beautiful lady in bed, and there he left me with her; and, bedad, it was not long till a fine bouncing boy came into the world. The lady clapped her hands, and in came Fear Doircha (Dark Man), and kissed her and his son, and praised me, and gave me a bottle of green ointment to rub the child all over.

Well, the child I rubbed, sure enough; but my right eye began to smart me, and I put up my finger and gave it a rub, and purshuin to me if ever I was so frightened.

The beautiful room was a big rough cave, with water oozing over the edges of the stones and through the clay. And the lady, and the lord, and the child, wizened, poverty-bitten creatures -- nothing but skin and bone, and the rich dresses were old rags.

I didn't let on that I found any difference, and after a bit says Fear Doircha, "Go before me to the hall door, and I will be with you in a few moments and see you safe home."

Well, just as I turned into the outside cave, who should I see but poor Molly. She looked round all frightened and says to me in a whisper, "I'm brought here to give suck to the child of the king and the queen of the fairies. But there is one chance of saving me. All the court will pass the cross near Templeshambo next Friday night on a visit to the fairies of Old Ross. If John can catch me by hand or cloak when I ride by, and has courage not to let go his grip, I'll be safe. Here's the king. Don't open your mouth to answer. I saw what happened with the ointment."

Fear Doircha didn't once cast his eye towards Molly, and he seemed to have no suspicion of me. When we came out I looked about me, and where do you think we were but in the dike of the Rath of Cromogue. I was on the horse again, which was nothing but a big boolian bui (ragweed), and I was in dread every minute I'd fall off. But nothing happened till I found myself in my own bawn.

The king slipped five guineas into my hand as soon as I was on the ground, and thanked me, and bade me good night. I hope I'll never see his face again. I got into bed and couldn't sleep for a long time. And when I examined my five guineas this morning, that I left in the table drawer the last thing, I found five withered leaves of oak -- bad scran to the giver!"

Well, you may all think the fright, and the joy, and the grief the poor man was in when the woman finished her story. They talked, and they talked, but we needn't mind what they said till Friday night came, when both were standing where the mountain road crosses the one going to Ross.

There they stood looking toward the bridge of Thuar, and I won't keep you waiting, as they were in the dead of the night, with a little moonlight shining from over Kilachdiarmid.

At last she gave a start, and "By this and by that," says she, "here they come, bridles jingling, and feathers tossing."

He looked, but could see nothing. And she stood trembling, and her eyes wide open, looking down the way to the ford of Ballinacoola. "I see your wife," says she, "riding on the outside just so as to rub against us. We'll walk on promiskis-like, as if we suspected nothing, and when we are passing I'll give you a shove. If you don't do your duty then, dickens cure you!"

Well, they walked on easy, and the poor hearts beating in both their breasts; and though he could see nothing, he heard a faint jingle, and tramping, and rustling, and at last he got the push that she promised. He spread out his arms, and there was his wife's waist within them, and he could see her plain, but such a hullabaloo rose as if there was an earthquake; and he found himself surrounded by horrible-looking things, roaring at him, and striving to pull his wife away. But he made the sign of the cross, and bid them be gone in God's name, and held his wife as if it was iron his arms were made of. Bedad, in one moment everything was as silent as the grave, and the poor woman lying in a faint in the arms of her husband and her good neighbor.

Well, all in good time she was minding her family and her business again, and I'll go bail, after the fright she got, she spent more time on her knees, and avoided fairy-men all the days of the week, and particularly Sunday.

It is hard to have anything to do with the good people without getting a mark from them. My brave midwife didn't escape no more nor another. She was one Thursday at the market of Enniscorthy, when what did she see walking among the tubs of butter but Fear Doirche, very hungry looking, and taking a scoop out of one tub and out of another.

"Oh, sir," says she, very foolish, "I hope your lady is well, and the young heir."

"Pretty well, thank you," says he, rather frightened like. "How do I look in this new suit?" says he, getting to one side of her.

"I can't see you plain at all, sir," says she.

"Well, now," says he, getting round her back to the other side.

"Musha, indeed, sir, your coat looks no better nor a withered dock-leaf."

"Maybe, then," says he, "it will be different now," and he struck the eye next him with a switch.

Begonies, she never saw a stim after with that one till the day of her death.

The Midwife of Listowel


"Why do you call the fairies 'good people?'" asked I.

"I don't call them the good people myself," answered Duvane, "but that is what the man called them who told me the story. Some call them the good people to avoid vexing them. I think they are called the good people mostly by pious men and women, who say that they are some of the fallen angels."

"How is that?"

"They tell us that when the Lord cast down the rebel angels the chief of them all and the ringleaders went to the place of eternal punishment, but that the Lord stopped His hand while a great many were on the way. Wherever they were when He stopped His hand there they are to this day. Some of these angels are under the earth; others are on the earth, and still others in the air. People say that they are among us at all times, that they know everything that is going on, that they have great hope of being forgiven at the day of judgment by the Lord and restored to heaven, and that if they hadn't that hope they would destroy this world and all that's in it."

At this juncture the mason called out, "I will not say whether I think the fairies are fallen angels or who they are, but I remember a case in whic h a woman lost an eye through the fairies."

"If you do," said I, "I hope you will tell it."

"I will indeed," said he.

There was an old woman, a midwife, who lived in a little house by herself between this and Listowel. One evening there was a knock at the door; she opened it, and what should she see but a man who said she was wanted, and to go with him quickly. He begged her to hurry. She made herself ready at once, the man waiting outside. When she was ready the man sprang on a fine, large horse, and put her up behind him. Away raced the horse then. They went a great distance in such a short time that it seemed to her only two or three miles.

They came to a splendid large house and went in. The old woman found a beautiful lady inside. No other woman was to be seen. A child was born soon, and the man brought a vial of ointment, told the old woman to rub it on the child, but to have a great care and not touch her own self with it. She obeyed him and had no intention of touching herself, but on a sudden her left eye itched. She raised her hand, and rubbed the eye with one finger. Some of the ointment was on her finger, and that instant she saw great crowds of people around her, men and women. She knew that she was in a fort among fairies, and was frightened, but had courage enough not to show it, and finished her work.

The man came to her then, and said, "I will take you home now."

He opened the door, went out, sprang to the saddle, and reached his hand to her, but her eye was opened now and she saw that in place of a horse it was an old plow beam that was before her. She was more in dread then than ever, but took her seat, and away went the plow beam as swiftly as the very best horse in the kingdom. The man left her down at her own door, and she saw no more of him.

Some time after there was a great fair at Listowel. The old midwife went to the fair, and there were big crowds of people on every side of her. The old woman looked around for a while and what did she see but the man who had taken her away on a plow beam. He was hurrying around, going in and out among the people, and no one knowing he was in it but the old woman.

At last the finest young girl at the fair screamed and fell in a faint -- the fairy had thrust something into her side. A crowd gathered around the young girl. The old woman, who had seen all, made her way to the girl, examined her side, and drew a pin from it. The girl recovered.

A little later the fairy made his way to the old woman. "Have you ever seen me before?" asked he.

"Oh, maybe I have," said she.

"Do you remember that I took you to a fort to attend a young woman?"

"I do."

"When you anointed the child did you touch any part of yourself with the ointment I gave you?"

"I did without knowing it; my eye itched and I rubbed it with my finger."

"Which eye?"

"The left."

The moment she said that he struck her left eye and took the sight from it. She went home blind of one eye, and was that way the rest of her life.

Fairy Ointment


Once upon a time there was, in this celebrated town [Tavistock], a Dame Somebody, I do not know her name, and as she is a real character, I have no right to give her a fictitious one. All I with truth can say, is, that she was old, and nothing the worse for that; for age is, or ought to be, held in honor as the source of wisdom and experience. Now this good old woman lived not in vain, for she had passed her days in the useful capacity of a nurse; and as she approached the term of going out of the world herself, she was still useful in her generation, by helping others into it -- she was, in fact, the Sage-femme of the village; for though I have the utmost dislike to mixing up French, or any foreign words, with the good, plain English of my native land, I here for once venture on a French expression, because it is, in certain particulars, considered as a refinement so much in fashion, that I must not venture to neglect it.

One night, about twelve o'clock in the morning, as the good folks say who tell this tale, Dame Somebody had just got comfortably into bed, when rap, rap, rap came on her cottage door, with such bold, loud, and continued noise, that there was a sound of authority in every individual knock. Startled and alarmed by the call, she arose from her bed, and soon learnt that the summons was a hasty one to bid her attend on a patient who needed her help. She opened her door; when the summoner appeared to be a strange, squint-eyed, little, ugly, old fellow, who had a look, as she said, very like a certain dark personage, who ought not at all times to be called by his proper name. Not at all prepossessed in favor of the errand by the visage of the messenger, she nevertheless could not, or dared not resist the command to follow him straight, and attend upon "his wife."

"Thy wife!" thought the good dame. "Heaven forgive me; but as sure as I live I be going to the birth of a little divel."

A large coal-black horse, with eyes like balls of fire, stood at the door. The ill-looking old fellow, without more ado, whisked her up on a high pillion in a minute, seated himself before her, and away went horse and riders, as if sailing through the air, rather than trotting on the ground. How Dame Somebody got to the place of her destination she could not tell; but it was a great relief to her fears when she found herself set down at the door of a neat cottage, saw a couple of tidy children, and remarked her patient to be a decent-looking woman, having all things about her fitting the time and the occasion.

A fine, bouncing babe soon made its appearance, who seemed very bold on its entry into life, for it gave the good dame a box on the ear, as, with the coaxing and cajolery of all good old nurses, she declared the "sweet little thing to be very like its father."

The mother said nothing to this, but gave nurse a certain ointment with directions that she should "strike the child's eyes with it."

Now you must know that this word strike in our Devonshire vocabulary, does not exactly mean to give a blow, but rather what is opposite, to rub, smooth down, or touch gently.

The nurse performed her task, though she thought it an odd one; and as it is nothing new that old nurses are generally very curious, she wondered what it could be for; and thought that, as no doubt it was a good thing, she might just as well try it upon her own eyes as well as those of the baby; so she made free to strike one of them by way of trial; when, O! ye powers of fairyland, what a change was there!

The neat, but homely cottage, and all who were in it, seemed all on a sudden to undergo a mighty transformation; some for the better, some for the worse. The new-made mother appeared as a beautiful lady attired in white; the babe was seen wrapped in swaddling clothes of a silvery gauze. It looked much prettier than before, but still maintained the elfish cast of the eye, like his redoubted father: whilst two or three children more had undergone a metamorphosis as uncouth as that recorded by Ovid when the Cercopians were transformed into apes. For there sat on either side the bed's head, a couple of little flat-nosed imps, who with "mops and mows," and with many a grimace and grin, were "busied to no end" in scratching their own polls, or in pulling the fairy lady's ears with their long and hairy paws.

The dame, who beheld all this, fearing she knew not what in the house of enchantment, got away as fast as she could, without saying one word about "striking" her own eye with the magic ointment, and what she had beheld in consequence of doing so. The sour-looking old fellow once more handed her up on the coal-black horse, and sent her home in a whip-sissa. Now what a whip-sissa means is more than I can tell, though I consider myself to be tolerably well acquainted with the tongues of this "West Countrie." It may mean, perhaps, "Whip, says he," in allusion to some gentle intimation being feelingly given by the rider to the horse's sides with a switch, that he should use the utmost dispatch; but my derivation of the word, like that of some better etymologists on difficult occasions, may be a little far fetched. I, therefore, leave the point to be settled by the learned. Certain it is, the old woman returned home much faster than she went. But mark the event.

On the next market day, when she sallied forth to sell her eggs, who should she see but the same, wicked-looking old fellow, busied, like a rogue as he was, in pilfering sundry articles from stall to stall.

"O! ho!" thought the dame, "have I caught you, you old thief? But I'll let you see I could set master mayor and the two town constables on your back, if I chose to be telling."

So up she went, and with that bold free sort of air, which persons, who have learnt secrets that ought not to be known, are apt to assume when they address any great rogue hitherto considered as a superior, she inquired carelessly after his wife and child, and hoped both were as well as could be expected.

"What!" exclaimed the old pixy thief, "do you see me today?"

"See you! To be sure I do, as plain as I see the sun in the skies; and I see you are busy into the bargain."

"Do you so! " cried he. "Pray with which eye do you see all this?"

"With the right eye to be sure."

"The ointment! The ointment!" exclaimed the old fellow. "Take that for meddling with what did not belong to you -- you shall see me no more."

He struck her eye as he spoke, and from that hour till the day of her death she was blind on the right side; thus dearly paying for having gratified an idle curiosity in the house of a pixy.

Fairy Ointment


Dame Goody was a nurse that looked after sick people and minded babies. One night she was woke up at midnight, and when she went downstairs, she saw a strange squinny-eyed, little ugly old fellow, who asked her to come to his wife who was too ill to mind her baby. Dame Goody didn't like the look of the old fellow, but business is business; so she popped on her things, and went down to him. And when she got down to him, he whisked her up on to a large coal-black horse with fiery eyes, that stood at the door; and soon they were going at a rare pace, Dame Goody holding on to the old fellow like grim death.

They rode, and they rode, till at last they stopped before a cottage door. So they got down and went in and found the good woman abed with the children playing about; and the babe, a fine bouncing boy, beside her.

Dame Goody took the babe, which was as fine a baby boy as you'd wish to see. The mother, when she handed the baby to Dame Goody to mind, gave her a box of ointment, and told her to stroke the baby's eyes with it as soon as it opened them. After a while it began to open its eyes. Dame Goody saw that it had squinny eyes just like its father. So she took the box of ointment and stroked its two eyelids with it. But she couldn't help wondering what it was for, as she had never seen such a thing done before. So she looked to see if the others were looking, and, when they were not noticing, she stroked her own right eyelid with the ointment.

No sooner had she done so, than everything seemed changed about her. The cottage became elegantly furnished. The mother in the bed was a beautiful lady, dressed up in white silk. The little baby was still more beautiful then before, and its clothes were made of a sort of silvery gauze. Its little brothers and sisters around the bed were flat-nosed imps with pointed ears, who made faces at one another, and scratched their polls. Sometimes they would pull the sick lady's ears with their long and hairy paws. In fact, they were up to all kinds of mischief; and Dame Goody knew that she had got into a house of pixies. But she said nothing to nobody, and as soon as the lady was well enough to mind the baby, she asked the old fellow to take her back home. So he came round to the door with the coal-black horse with eyes of fire, and off they went as fast as before, or perhaps a little faster, till they came to Dame Goody's cottage, where the squinny-eyed old fellow lifted her down and left her, thanking her civilly enough, and paying her more than she had ever been paid before for such service.

Now next day happened to be market-day, and as Dame Goody had been away from home, she wanted many things in the house, and trudged off to get them at the market. As she was buying the things she wanted, who should she see but the squinny-eyed old fellow who had taken her on the coal-black horse. And what do you think he was doing? Why he went about from stall to stall taking things from each, here some fruit, and there some eggs, and so on; and no one seemed to take any notice.

Now Dame Goody did not think it her business to interfere, but she thought she ought not to let so good a customer pass without speaking. So she ups to him and bobs a curtsey and said, "Gooden, sir, I hopes as how your good lady and the little one are as well as --"

But she couldn't finish what she was a-saying, for the funny old fellow started back in surprise, and he says to her, says he, "What! do you see me today?"

"See you," says she, "why, of course I do, as plain as the sun in the skies, and what's more," says she, "I see you are busy, too, into the bargain."

"Ah, you see too much." said he. "Now, pray, with which eye do you see all this?"

"With the right eye to be sure," said she, as proud as can be to find him out.

"The ointment! The ointment!" cried the old pixy thief. "Take that for meddling with what don't concern you. You shall see me no more."

And with that he struck her on the right eye, and she couldn't see him any more. And, what was worse, she was blind on the right side from that hour till the day of her death.

Notes and Bibliography

"Midwife (or Godparent) for the Elves" tales are classified as type 476* tales in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther folktale classification system, or as a migratory legend type 5070. For more information about folktale types see:

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Revised March 4, 2019.