Tuesday, 3 June 2008

A Hundred Parts of the Glass

Five hundred years ago, there was a wizard who married a rather lovely witch. Love being what it is, before long they had a charming daughter. She, while being quite magical was conceived and born purely with Loves own magic.

It happened, that while out walking with her daughter gathering herbs, the witch placed her daughter on a mossy bank to snooze. The little girl, being but a toddler was quite tired out. She fell asleep almost instantly and the witch went about her herb-collecting. She became quite engrossed in the work that when she finally remembered her daughter it was not quite morning, not quite afternoon. She returned to the mossy bank to collect the little girl, but imagine her consternation on finding something quite ugly and wrinkled in place of her daughter. It was, I am afraid to say, a changeling.

No pretty little mouth, but a gaping maw; no charming dark eyes, but gawping green eyes like goosegogs! No fine hair like a wave of dark chocolate, but a few sparse wiry hairs like roots on a turnip. The witch went pale with horror and then with rage. You see, while she had the ability to use magic, the faeries are practically made of the stuff. She could not fight them, but she was determined to get her daughter back. She used a spell to wrench from the realm of Faery a darksome sprite - all spry brittle laughter and spiteful as nettle stings. Still, the sprite was respectful, for the witch could use her magicks on him.

"Mistress, your child is with Mab, imprisoned in a mirror, nor shall she be returned or allowed to grow to her maidenhood," the sprite told her.

The witch banished the sprite back to his realm and declared loudly,

"Hear me Mab - I shall have my daughter back! This I do swear by Oak and Elm and Bluebell Woods!"

Gathering her herbs then, she took the changeling by the ankle and went home. The wizard was furious, but set his mind to the task as did his wife. They took a mirror of the finest glass and carefully shattered it into a hundred parts. These parts were then heated at the edges and made into two half spheres. Then with a spell, the wizard bound the changeling into a nutshell and placed it within the hemispheres before sealing them up into a glass ball with iron bands. The wizard and his witch-wife then bound the ball with many spells and enchantments. This done, they took the ball out to the woods and suspended it between the trees - over a running stream. Faeries cannot cross running waters, so the ball twitched to the side of the stream on which the magical parents had brought it.

"Mab, here is your child. Bring back my girl or I will plunge your child into the stream."

Suddenly a mirror appeared in between the trees in which they saw their daughter still apparently asleep on the mossy bank where her mother had last left her. She was very pale. In front of the mirror stood a small elegantly dressed figure with a hammer in his hand. He was a faery mastersmith, a hard hand with a hammer.

"Release the faerie child carefully or I smash the mirror and you lose your daughter forever," the faerie-mastersmith sneered.

The witch paled in horror, but the wizard stood firm. He demanded that his child be freed from the mirror first. The mastersmith wriggled and writhed until their daughter was suddenly in her mother's arms. Now the wizard freed the changeling from the ball with a word. But the changeling was transferred into the faerie mirror. The witch and her wizard-husband turned themselves into eagles and carried their daughter back home with them. About her neck they placed a small iron crucifix on a light steel chain. This way she would never be faery-taken again.

Faeries don't like cold iron or the sign of the cross. They cannot cross running water either. Traditionally, a baby would have an open pair of scissors (so forming a cross) over their cradles, or a cross made of iron. The iron horseshoe nailed onto some porches of old houses in Britain may also be to prevent the faeries crossing the threshold. They loved to steal human children and replaced them with a faery child or changeling.

A 'goosegog' is an old English name for a gooseberry.


Rosemary in Utah said...

"...by the ankle..." Made me laugh!

"They loved to steal human children..."
Just for mischief? Was this usually a permanent switch?
(I've ordered--finally--"At the Bottom of the Garden", I'll be less bother in the future!)

Griffin said...

The faeries were said to love children so if they got hold of them and the real mother of the child did not know what to do then it was likely to be very permanent.

The usual way to tell if you had a changeling was to make a brew of some kind in an eggshell. The changeling would then remark that old as it (the changeling)was it had never seen brewing in an eggshell before. The mother would then fling the child at the fireplace and the faery mother would rescue her child and return the human one.

I haven't heard of 'At the Bottom of the Garden' - I'll have to look that one up. My info comes from the now out of print copy I have of 'The Dictionary of Fairies' by Katharine Briggs a highly noted folklorist, now sadly dead - or as I like to think, actually with the faeries!

Griffin said...

Aha! At the Bottom of the Garden is the US title for the book I already have. Here in the UK it's called Troublesome Things. It's a good read.

Another book that's good is 'From the Beast to the Blonde' by Marina Warner about fairytales and their tellers.

If it's still around, there was a lovely book about the faeries called, 'Faeries' by Brian Froud and Alan Lee. Froud has done other books on faeries too. He's an illustrator I think and his pix are wonderful.

madameshawshank said...

Griffin ...goosegog..the history of our language..of any language..a tale of language using language..tricky...

as for the ball...suspended outside the entrance to The National Gallery in Canberra..first time I saw it I was transfixed..didn't want to walk to the car as we left the gallery...staring at glass as cloud..

imagining it bouncing..oh they say..it will break shatter..no says the fun ball..watch ..I WILL bounce and you will learn about intent:-)

ah to Marina!