Sunday, October 19, 2008

Feen, Elfe und die Kleinen Leute in den Wollen

The current state of affairs in the financial markets have oozed their miasmal stench all the way down to the humblest levels of life. We think of the huge houses of commerce and the Gnomes of Zürich industriously brewing mercantile magic without any concern whatsoever for what may come to pass for the rest of us. It's unseemly, really.

Well, long ago things were different. Normal, everyday people had help at the mere whisper of a request. We're too sophisticated these days for the need of 'The Little People' and try to fool ourselves into thinking that we can handle it all rather well ourselves. Just this past week, across my desk came a rather odd looking book. I started to process it paying it no mind at all, but my hand would not release it and, instead, drew it back to my focused gaze.

"An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies and Other Supernatural Creatures" by Katharine Briggs - 453 pp., fully indexed : with complete bibliographic entries.
ISBN : 0-394-73467-X [$19.00]

As a spinner, weaver and knitter, I am always on the lookout for anything at all even loosely connected to those arts and, sure enough - within the pages of this wonderful collection was the patron fairy of Spinners: Habetrot. Who knew? I was aware of the American Indian legend of the old spirit of the loom that would confound a weaver's warp if the shuttle was left in the shed of the warp over night, but the spinning pixies were a revelation. Here's the entry . . . (Be patient with the language - it's in Scots but you'll soon adjust)

The name of the Border patron fairy of spinning. William Henderson in Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties (pp. 258-62) tells a story from the Wilkie manuscript about this faiy which has many points of interest.

A Selkirkshire gudewife had a bonny, idle daughter who much preferred roaming over the countryside gathering flowers to blistering her fingers with spinning. The gudewife did all that she could to make the lassie a notable spinster, but all in vain, till one day she lost patience, gave her daughter a sound whipping, threw down seven heads of lint in front of her and told her that they must all be spun up into yarn within three days, or it would be the worse for her. The lassie knew her mother meant what she said, so she set to work in earnest, and worked hard for a whole day, but she only blistered her soft little hands and produced a few feet of lumpy, uneven thread. When it grew dark she cried herself to sleep.. She woke up on a glorious morning, looked at her wretched stint, and despaired. 'I can do no good here,' she thought, 'I'll away oot into the caller air.'

She wandered here and there down the stream and at last sat down on a SELF-BORED STONE and burst into tears. She had heard no one come near, but when she looked up there was an old wife beside her, plying her spindle busily and pulling out her thread with a lip that seemed make for that very purpose. The lass was a friendly wee thing, and she wished the old wife a kind good morning. Then like the bairn she was she asked, 'Whit way are ye saie lang lipit, gudewife?' 'With drawing the thread, ma hinnie,' said the old wife, well pleased with her. '
I wet my fingers with my lips, as I draw the thread from the distaff.' 'That's what I sud be doing, ' said the lassie, 'but it's a' nae gude.' And she told the old wife her story. 'Fetch me yir lint, and I'll hae it spun up in gude time,' said the kind old wife; and the lassie ran home and fetched it.

'What's yir name, gudewife?' she asked, 'and whaur will I get it?'. But, the old wife took the lint without answering - and was nowhere. The girl sat down, thoroughly bewildered, and waited. Presently the hot sun made her drowsy and she fell asleep.

The sun was setting when
she woke, and she heard a whirring sound and voices singing coming from under her head. She put her eye to the self-bored stone and beneath her she saw a great cavern, with a number of queer old wives sitting spinning in it, each on a white marble stone, rounded in the river, called a 'colludie stone'. They all had long lips, and her friend of that morning was walking up and down among them, drecting them all, ad as the lassie peped in she heard her say, 'Little kens the wee lassie on the brae-head that Habetrot is my name. There was one spinner sitting a little apart from the rest who was uglier than all of them. Habetrot went up to her and said: 'Bundle up the yarn, Scantlie Mab, for it's time the wee lassie sud gie it to her Minnie." At that the lassie knew that it was time for her to be at the cottage door, and she got up and hurried home. She met Habetrot just outside, who gave her seven beautiful hands of yarn. 'Oh whit can I dae for ye in return?' she cried. 'Naething, naething,' siad Habetrot, 'but dinna tell yer mither whae spun the yarn.'

The lassie went into the cottage treading on air but famished with hunger, for she had eaten nothing since the day before. Her mother was in the box-bed fast asleep, for she had been hard at work making black puddings, 'sausters' they called them round there, and had gone to bed early. The lassie spread out her yarn so that her mother could see it when she waked, then she blew up the fire, took down the frying-pan and fried the first sauster and ate it, then the second, then the third, and so on till she had eaten all seven. Then she went up the ladder to bed.

The mother was awake first in the morning. There she saw seven beautiful skeins of yarn spread out, but not a trace of her seven sausters except a black frying-pan. Half-distracted between joy and anger, she rushed out of the house singing:

'Ma daughter's spun se'en, se'en, se'en,
Ma daughter's eaten se'en, se'en, se'en
And all before daylight!'

And who should come riding along but the yound laird himself. "What's that you're crying, Goodwife?' he said, and she sang out again:

'Ma daughter's spun se'en, se'en, se'en,
Ma daughter's eaten se'en, se'en, se'en
an' if ye don't believe me, come and see for yersel!'

The laird followed her into the house, and when he saw the smoothness and eveness of the skeins, he wanted to see the spinner of them, and when he saw the bonny lass, he asked her to be his wife.

The laird was handsome and braw, and the lass was glad to say yes, but there was one thing that troubled her: the laird kept talking of all the fine yarn she would be spinning for him after the wedding. So one evening the lassie went down to the self-bored stone and called on Habetrot. Habetrot knew what her trouble would be, but she said, 'Never heed, hinnie, bring your jo here and we'll sort it for ye.' So next night at sunset the pair of them stood at the self-bored stone and heard Habetrot singing, and at the end of the song she opened a hidden door and let t
hem into the mound. The laird was astonished at all the shapes of deformity he saw before him asked aloud why their lips were so distorted. One after another they muttered in hardly intelligible tones, 'With sp-sp-spinning.' 'Aye, aye, they were once bonnie eneugh,' said Habetrot, 'but spinners aye gan of that gait. Yer own lassie 'ill be the same, bonnie though she is noo, for she's fair mad about the spinning.'

'She'll not!' said the laird. 'Not another spindle shall she touch from this day on!' 'Just as ye say, laird,' said the lassie; and from that day on she roamed the countryside with the laird or rode about behind him as blithe as a bird, and every head of lint that grew on their land went to old Habetrot to spin."

This pleasant version of Grimm's tale of 'The Three Spinners' is more than a mere folk-tale, for Habetrot
was really believed to be the patroness of spinners, and it was seriously held that a shirt made by her was a sovereign remedy for all sorts of diseases. It is strange that so many of these spinng fairies had names ending in 'trot', 'throt' or 'tot'. There is TRYTEN-A-TROTEN, GWARYN-A-THROT and TOM TIT TOT. Habetrot, however, is not sinister like the others, though the over-hearing of her name suggests a similar motif which somehow got overlaid.

Fairies and their ilk seasoned Man's explanations of his universe in the best way possible for his time and experiences. Personally, I think we could use a bit of fairy dust these days to unravel the tangled Web of Woe we are currently witnessing. The good news is that we all have our own magic wand completely at our disposal, any time of day or night. The simple three-part spell of Attraction carries with it our own innate ability to create for ourselves great joy and prosperity - without the help of the Gnomes of
Zürich or the Wizards of Wall Street. It's not even necessary to dance naked 'round a fire in the forest on a full moon, fun as that may be.

Belief, Expectation, Acceptance

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