The baobhan sìth – ‘fairy furies’

27 Jan

A notion was prevalent among the people of Lewis, and of the Highlands and Islands generally, that it was imprudent to wish — or rather to express a wish — for anything at any time of the night without simultaneously invoking the protection of the Deity.

If the invocation were forgotten or neglected they believed that their wish would be granted in some terrible manner. Probably this superstitious belief originated in the following and kindred stories.

Three men were hunting in the hills of Kintail. Having had but little success, and being reluctant to return home empty-handed, they agreed to pass the night in one of the shielings or huts, of which there were many on the moors. (‘Shielings,’ says my informant, ‘much larger than those to be met with in Lewis.’) Having lit a fire in the shieling they cooked some venison, of which they made a repast. After their meal they pulled some dry grass and moss and spread it on the floor to serve as a bed. Two of them sat on one side of the fire and the third at the other side began playing the trump (Jew’s-harp). One of the two began to talk of their unsuccessful day’s toil, but added that they would not grumble at their ill success were they now with their sweethearts. His comrade agreed with him heartily, and at the same time expressed a wish that their three sweethearts should be with them in the shieling.

Immediately three tall, handsome young women made their appearance, two of whom crossed over to the two men, the third remained with the musician. The fire was dimly burning, and the man could not see how things were going with his comrades and their two strange visitors, but he noticed to his consternation a stream of blood flowing towards the fire from the place where they were, and looking at the same time at the woman who sat by him he observed that her feet were not like human feet but like the hoofs of a deer.

His fears were terribly aroused, and he wished heartily to make his escape. He made an excuse to the woman that he must go out for some water to drink, but she offered to go herself. He declined and rose to go out. He no sooner made a movement to the door than the woman got up, and endeavoured to lay hold of him before he reached the door, but he escaped and ran with all possible speed towards the nearest human dwelling.

The woman pursued him with a speed equal to his own. At length he reached a glen which was inhabited, and there the woman gave up the chase, and exclaimed several times: ‘Dhith sibhs’ ur cuthaich fein ach dh’fhag mo chuthaich fein mise.’ You ate your own victims (?), but my victim (?) escaped from me.

On the day following the people of the glen went to the shieling, where they found the mangled remains of the two men, their throats cut, their chests laid open, and their hearts torn away. I asked my informant who these women were. He wondered at my ignorance, and replied that they were ‘Baobhan Sith’ (Fairy Furies). He often related similar stories.

Carmichael, Celtic Review Volume V, 1905, pp163-165.
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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