THE FAIRY CONGRESS – Welsh Fairy Tales by William Elliot Griffis

One can hardly think of Wales without a harp. The music of this most ancient and honorable instrument, which emits sweet sounds, when heard in a foreign land makes Welsh folks homesick for the old country and the music of the harp. Its strings can wail with woe, ripple with merriment, sound out the notes of war and peace, and lift the soul in heavenly melody.

Usually a player on the harp opened the Eistedfodd, as the Welsh literary congress is called, but this time they had engaged for the fairies a funny little fellow to start the programme with a solo on his violin.

The figure of this musician, at the congress of Welsh fairies, was the most comical of any in the company. The saying that he was popular with all the mountain spirits was shown to be true, the moment he began to scrape his fiddle, for then they all crowded around him.

“Did you ever see such a tiny specimen?” asked Queen Mab of Puck.

The little fiddler came forward and drawing his instrument from under his arm, proceeded to scrape the strings. He had on a pair of moss trousers, and his coat was a yellow gorse flower. His feet were clad in shoes made of beetles’ wings, which always kept bright, as if polished with a brush.

When one looked at the fiddle, he could see that it was only a wooden spoon, with strings across the bowl. But the moment he drew the bow from one side to the other, all the elves, from every part of the hills, came tripping along to hear the music, and at once began dancing.

Some of these elves were dressed in pink, some in blue, others in yellow, and many had glow worms in their hands. Their tread was so light that the flower stems never bent, nor was a petal crushed, when they walked over the turf. All, as they came near, bowed or dropped a curtsey. Then the little musician took off his cap to each, and bowed in return.

There was too much business before the meeting for dancing to be kept up very long, but when the violin solo was over, at a sign given by the fiddler, the dancers took seats wherever they could find them, on the grass, or gorse, or heather, or on the stones. After order had been secured, the chairman of the meeting read regrets from those who had been invited but could not be present.

The first note was from the mermaids, who lived near the Green Isles of the Ocean. They asked to be excused from traveling inland and climbing rocks. In the present delicate state of their health this would be too fatiguing. Poor things!

It was unanimously voted that they be excused.

Queen Mab was dressed, as befitted the occasion, like a Welsh lady, not wearing a crown, but a high peaked hat, pointed at the top and about half a yard high. It was black and was held on by fastenings of scalloped lace, that came down around her neck.

The lake fairies, or Elfin Maids, were out in full force. These lived at the bottom of the many ponds and pools in Wales. Many stories are told of the wonderful things they did with boats and cattle.

Nowadays, when they milk cows by electric machinery and use steam launches on the water, most of the water sprites of all kinds have been driven away, for they do not like the smell of kerosene or gasoline. It is for these reasons that, in our day, they are not often seen. In fact, cows from the creameries can wade out into the water and even stand in it, while lashing their tails to keep off the flies, without any danger, as in old times, of being pulled down by the Elfin Maids.

The little Red Men, that could hide under a thimble, and have plenty of room to spare, were all out. The elves, and nixies and sprites, of all colors and many forms were on hand.

The pigmies, who guard the palace of the king of the world underground, came in their gay dresses. There were three of them, and they brought in their hands balls of gold, with which to play tenpins, but they were not allowed to have any games while the meeting was going on.

In fact, just when these little fellows from down under the earth were showing off their gay clothes and their treasures from the caves, one mischievous fairy maid sidled up to their chief and whispered in his ear:

“Better put away your gold, for this is in modern Wales, where they have pawn shops. Three golden balls, two above the one below, which you often see nowadays, mean that two to one you will never get it again. These hang out as the sign of a pawnbroker’s shop, and what you put in does not, as a rule, come out. I am afraid that some of the Cymric fairies from Cornwall, or Montgomery, or Cheshire, might think you were after business, and you understand that no advertising is allowed here.”

In a moment, each of the three leaders thrust his ball into his bosom. It made his coat bulge out, and at this, some of the fairies wondered, but all they thought of was that this spoiled a handsome fellow’s figure. Or was it some new idea? To tell the truth, they were vexed at not keeping up with the new fashions, for they knew nothing of this latest fad among such fine young gallants.

Much of the chat and gossip, before and after the meeting, was between the fairies who live in the air, or on mountains, and those down in the earth, or deep in the sea. They swapped news, gossip and scandal at a great rate.

There were a dozen or two fine-looking creatures who had high brows, who said they were Co-eds. This did not mean that these fairies had ever been through college. “Certainly the college never went through them,” said one very homely fairy, who was spiteful and jealous. The simple fact was that the one they called Betty, the Co-ed, and others from that Welsh village, called Bryn Mawr, and another from Flint, and another from Yale, and still others from Brimbo and from Co-ed Poeth, had come from places so named and down on the map of Wales, though they were no real Co-ed girls there, that could talk French, or English, or read Latin. In fact, Co-ed simply meant that they were from the woods and lived among the trees; for Co-ed in Welsh means a forest.

The fairy police were further instructed not to admit, and, if such were found, to put out the following bad characters, for this was a perfectly respectable meeting. These naughty folks were:

The Old Hag of the Mist.

The Invisible Hag that moans dolefully in the night.

The Tolaeth, a creature never seen, but that groans, sings, saws, or stamps noisily.

The Dogs of the Sky.

All witches, of every sort and kind.

All peddlers of horseshoes, crosses, charms, or amulets.

All mortals with brains fuddled by liquor.

All who had on shoes which water would not run under.

All fairies that were accustomed to turn mortals into cheese.

Every one of these, who might want to get in, were to be refused admittance.

Another circle of rather exclusive fairies, who always kept away from the blacksmiths, hardware stores, smelting furnaces and mines, had formed an anti-iron society. These were a kind of a Welsh “Four Hundred,” or élite, who would have nothing to do with anyone who had an iron tool, or weapon, or ornament in his hand, or on his dress, or who used iron in any form, or for any use. They frowned upon the idea of Cymric Land becoming rich by mining, and smelting, and selling iron. They did not even approve of the idea that any imps and dwarfs of the iron mines should be admitted to the meeting.

One clique of fairies, that looked like elves were in bad humor, almost to moping. When one of these got up to speak, it seemed as if he would never sit down. He tired all the lively fairies by long-winded reminiscences, of druids, and mistletoes, and by telling every one how much better the old times were than the present.

President Puck, who always liked things short, and was himself as lively as quicksilver, many times called these long-winded fellows to order; but they kept meandering on, until daybreak, when it was time to adjourn, lest the sunshine should spoil them all, and change them into slate or stone.

It was hard to tell just how much business was disposed of, at this session, or whether one ever came to the point, although there was a great deal of oratory and music. Much of what was said was in poetry, or in verses, or rhymes, of three lines each. What they talked about was mainly in protest against the smoke of factories and collieries, and because there was so much soot, and so little soap, in the land.

But what did they do at the fairy congress?

The truth is, that nobody to-day knows what was done in this session of the fairies, for the proceedings were kept secret. The only one who knows was an old Welshman whom the story-teller used to meet once in a while. He is the one mortal who knows anything about this meeting, and he won’t tell; or at least he won’t talk in anything but Welsh. So we have to find out the gist of the matter, by noticing, in the stories which we have just read what the fairies did.

Welsh Fairy Tales