Fairies in Brittany

[This is taken from W.Y. Evans Wentz's The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.]



In Lower Brittany, which is the genuinely Celtic part of Armorica, instead of finding a widespread folk-belief in fairies of the kind existing in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, we find a widespread folk-belief in the existence of the dead, and to a less extent in that of the corrigan tribes. For our Psychological Theory this is very significant. It seems to indicate that among the Bretons - who are one of the most conservative Celtic peoples - the Fairy-Faith finds its chief expression in a belief that men live after death in an invisible world, just as in Ireland the dead and fairies live in Fairyland. This opinion was first suggested to me by Professor Anatole Le Braz, author of La Legende de la Mort, and by Professor Georges Dottin, both of the University of Rennes. But before evidence to sustain and to illustrate this opinion is offered, it will be well to consider the less important Breton fées or beings like them, and then corrigans and nains (dwarfs).

The ‘Grac’hed Coz

‘.- F. M. Luzel, who collected so many of the popular stories in Brittany, found that what few fées or fairies there are almost always appear in folk-lore as little old women, or as the Breton story-teller usually calls them, Grac’hed coz. I have selected and abridged the following legendary tale from his works to illustrate the nature of these Breton fairy-folk :-

In ancient times, as we read in La Princesse Blondine, a rich nobleman had three sons; the oldest was called Cado, the second, Méliau, and the youngest, Yvon. One day, as they were together in a forest with their bows and arrows, they met a little old woman whom they had never seen before, and she was carrying on her head a jar of water. ‘Are you able, lads,’ Cado asked his two brothers, ‘to break with an arrow the jar of the little old woman without touching her?’ ‘We do not wish to try it,’ they said, fearing to injure the good woman. ‘All right, I’ll do it then, watch me.’ And Cado took his bow and let fly an arrow. The arrow went straight to its mark and split the jar without touching the little old woman; but the water wet her to the skin, and, in anger, she said to the skilful archer: ‘You have failed, Cado, and I will be revenged on you for this. From now until you have found the Princess Blondine all the members of your body will tremble as leaves on a tree tremble when the north wind blows.’ And instantly Cado was seized by a trembling malady in all his body. The three brothers returned home and told their father what had happened; and the father, turning to Cado, said: ‘Alas, my unfortunate son, you have failed. It is now necessary for you to travel until you find the Princess Blondine, as the fée said, for that little old woman was a fée, and no doctor in the world can cure the malady she has put upon you.’

‘Fées of Lower

Brittany.- Throughout the Morbihan and Finistère, I found that stories about fees are much less common than about corrigans, and in some localities extremely rare; but the ones I have been fortunate enough to collect are much the same in character as those gathered in the C™tes-du-Nord by Luzel, and elsewhere by other collectors, Those I here record were told to me at Carnac during the summer of 1909; the first one by M. Yvonne Daniel, a native of the Ile de Croix (off the coast north-west of Carnac); and the others by M. Goulven Le Scour.

‘The little lIe de Croix was especially famous for its old fées; and the following legend is still believed by its oldest inhabitants :- “ An aged man who had suffered long from leprosy was certain to die within a short time, when a woman bent double with age entered his house. She asked from what malady he suffered, and on being informed began to say prayers. Then she breathed upon the sores of the leper, and almost suddenly disappeared: the fée had cured him.” ‘

‘It is certain that about fifty years ago the people in Finistère still believed in fées. It was thought that the fées were spirits who came to predict some unexpected event in the family. They came especially to console orphans who had very unkind step-mothers. In their youth, Tanguy du Chatel and his sister Eudes were protected by a fée against the misfortune which pursued them; the history of Brittany says so. In Léon it is said that the fées served to guide unfortunate people, consoling them with the promise of a happy and victorious future. In the Cornouailles, on the contrary, it is said that the fées were very evilly disposed, that they were demons.

‘My grandmother, Marie Le Bras, had related to me that one evening an old fée arrived in my village, Kerouledic (Finistère), and asked for hospitality. It was about the year 1830. The fée was received; and before going to bed she predicted that the little daughter whom the mother was dressing in night-clothes would be found dead in the cradle the next day. This prediction was only laughed at; but in the morning the little one was dead in her cradle, her eyes raised toward Heaven, The fée, who had slept in the stable, was gone.’

In these last three accounts, by M. Le Scour, we observe three quite different ideas concerning the Breton fairies or fées: in Finistère and in Leon the fées are regarded as good protecting spirits, almost like ancestral spirits, which originally they may have been; in the Cornouailles they are evil spirits; while in the third account, about the old fée - and in the legend of the leper cured by a fée - the fées are rationalized, as in Luzel’s tale quoted above, into sorceresses or Grac’hed Coz.

Children Changed by ‘Fées ‘.-M. Goulven Le Scour, at my request, wrote down in French the following account of actual changelings in Finistère :- ‘ I remember very well that there was a woman of the village of Kergoff, in Plouneventer, who was called -, the mother of a family. When she had her first child, a very strong and very pretty boy, she noticed one morning that he had been changed during the night; there was no longer the fine baby she had put to bed in the evening; there was, instead, an infant hideous to look at, greatly deformed, hunchbacked, and crooked, and of a black colour. The poor woman knew that a fée had entered the house during the night and had changed her child.

‘This changed infant still lives, and to-day he is about seventy years old. He has all the possible vices; and he has tried many times to kill his mother. He is a veritable demon; he often predicts the future, and has a habit of running abroad during the night. They call him the “Little Corrigan”, and everybody flees from him. Being poor and infirm now, he has been obliged to beg, and people give him alms because they have great fear of him. His nick-name is Olier.

‘This woman had a second, then a third child, both of whom were seen by everybody to have been born with no infirmity; and, in turn, each of these two was stolen by a fée and replaced by a little hunchback. The second child was a most beautiful daughter. She was taken during the night and replaced by a little girl babe, so deformed that it resembled a ball. If her brother Olier was bad, she was even worse; she was the terror of the village, and they called her Anniac. The third child met the same luck, but was not so bad as the first and second.

‘The poor mother, greatly worried at seeing what had happened, related her troubles to another woman. This woman said to her, “If you have another child, place with it in the cradle a little sprig of box-wood which has been blessed (by a priest), and the fée will no longer have the power of stealing your children.” And when a fourth child was born to the unfortunate woman it was not stolen, for she placed in the cradle a sprig of box-wood which had been blessed on Palm Sunday (Dimanche des Rameaux). (1)

‘The first three children I knew very well, and they were certainly hunchbacked: it is pretended in the country that the fées who come at night to make changelings always leave in exchange hunchbacked infants. It is equally pretended that a mother who has had her child so changed need do nothing more than leave the little hunchback out of doors crying during entire hours, and that the fée hearing it will come and put the true child in its place. Unfortunately, Yvonna - did not know what she should have done in order to have her own children again.’

Transformation Power of ‘Fées

‘,-At Kerallan, near Carnac, this is what Madame Louise Le Rouzic said about the transformation power of fées:-‘ It is said that the fées of the region when insulted sometimes changed men into beasts or into stones.’ (2)

(1) By a Carnac family I was afterwards given a sprig of such blessed box-wood, and was assured that its exorcizing power is still recognized by all old Breton families, most of whom seem to possess branches of it.

(2) This idea seems related to the one in the popular Morbihan legend of how St. Cornely, the patron saint of the country and the saint who presides over the Alignements and domestic horned animals, changed into upright stones the pagan forces opposing him when he arrived near Carnac; and these stones are now the famous Alignements of Carnac.

Other Breton

Fairies.-Besides the various types of fées already described, we find in Luzel’s collected stories a few other types of fairy-like beings: in Les Compagnons (The Companions),  the fée is a magpie in a forest near Rennes - just as in other Celtic lands, fairies likewise often appear as birds (see our study, pp. 302 ff.); in La Princesse de l’Etoile Brillante (The Princess of the Brilliant Star),  a princess under the form of a duck plays the part of a fairy (cf. how fairy women took the form of water-fowls in the tale entitled the Sick Bed of Cuchulainn (see our study, p. 345); in Pipi Menou et les Femmes Volantes (Pipi Menou and the Flying Women), there are fairy women as swan-maidens; and then there are yet to be mentioned Les Morgans de l’ile d’Ouessant (The Morgans of the Isle of Ushant), who live under the sea in rare palaces where mortals whom they love and marry are able to exist with them. In some legends of the Morgans, like one recorded by Luzel, the men and women of this water-fairy race, or the Morgans and Morganezed, seem like anthropomorphosed survivals of ancient sea-divinities, such, for example, as the sea-god called Shony, to whom the people of Lewis, Western Hebrides, still pour libations that he may send in sea-weed, and the sea-god to whom anciently the people of lona poured libations.

The ‘Morgan

‘.- To M. J. Cuillandre (Glanmor), President of the Fédération des Etudiants Bretons, I am indebted for the following weird legend of the Morgan, as it is told among the Breton fisher-folk on the lie Molène, Finistère :-

‘Following a legend which I have collected on the lle Molène, the Morgan is a fairy eternally young, a virgin seductress whose passion, never satisfied, drives her to despair. Her place of abode is beneath the sea; there she possesses marvellous palaces where gold and diamonds glimmer. Accompanied by other fairies, of whom she is in some respects the queen, she rises to the surface of the waters in the splendour of her unveiled beauty. By day she slumbers amid the coolness of grottoes, and woe to him who troubles her sleep. By night she lets herself be lulled by the waves in the neighbourhood of the rocks. The sea-foam crystallizes at her touch into precious stones, of whiteness as dazzling as that of her body. By moonlight she moans as she combs her fair hair with a comb of fine gold, and she sings in a harmonious voice a plaintive melody whose charm is irresistible. The sailor who listens to it feels himself drawn toward her, without power to break the charm which drags him onward to his destruction; the bark is broken upon the reefs: the man is in the sea, and the Morgan utters a cry of joy. But the arms of the fairy clasp only a corpse; for at her touch men die, and it is this which causes the despair of the amorous and inviolate Morgan. She being pagan, it suffices to have been touched by her in order to suffer the saddest fate which can be reserved to a Christian. The unfortunate one whom she had clasped is condemned to wander for ever in the trough of the waters, his eyes wide open, the mark of baptism effaced from his forehead. Never will his poor remains know the sweetness of reposing in holy ground, never will be have a tomb where his kindred might come to pray and to weep.’

Origin of the ‘Morgan

‘.- The following legendary origin is attributed to the Morgan by M. Goulven Le Scour, our Carnac witness :- ‘ Following the old people and the Breton legends, the Morgan (Mari Morgan in Breton) was Dahut, the daughter of King Gradlon, who was ruler of the city of Is. Legend records that when Dahut had entered at night the bedchamber of her father and had cut from around his neck the cord which held the key of the sea-dike flood-gates, and had given this key to the Black Prince, under whose evil love she had fallen, and who, according to belief, was no other than the Devil, St. Guenolé soon afterwards began to cry aloud, “Great King, arise ! The flood-gates are open, and the sea is no longer restrained ! “ (1) Suddenly the old King Gradlon arose, and, leaping on his horse, was fleeing from the city with St. Guenolé, when he encountered his own daughter amid the waves. She piteously begged aid of her father, and he took her up behind him on the horse; but St. Guenolé, seeing that the waters were gaining on them, said to the king, “Throw into the sea the demon you have behind you, and we shall be saved!” Thereupon Gradlon flung his daughter into the abyss, and he and St. Guenolé were saved. Since that time, the fishermen declare that they have seen, in times of rough sea and clear moonlight, Dahut, daughter of King Gradlon, sitting on the rocks combing her fair hair and singing, in the place where her father flung her. And to-day there is recognized under the Breton name Marie Morgan, the daughter who sings amid the sea.’

(1) ‘According to the annotations to a legend recorded by Villemarqué, in his Barzaz Breiz, pp. 39-44, and entitled the Submersion de la Vile d’Is; St. Guenolé was traditionally the founder of the first monastery raised in Armorica; and Dahut the princess stole the key from her sleeping father in order fittingly to crown a banquet and midnight debaucheries which were being held in honour of her lover, the Black Prince.

Breton Fairyland Legends.-

In a legend concerning Mona and the king of the Morgans, much like the Christabel story of English poets, we have a picture of a fairyland not under ground, but under sea; and this legend of Mona and her Morgan lover is one of the most beautiful of all the fairy-tales of Brittany.’ Another one of Luzel’s legends, concerning a maiden who married a dead man, shows us Fairyland as a world of the dead. It is a very strange legend, and one directly bearing on the Psychological Theory; for this dead man, who is a dead priest, has a palace in a realm of enchantment, and to enter his country one must have a white fairy-wand with which to strike ‘in the form of a cross’ two blows upon the rock concealing the entrance.M. Paul Sébillot records from Upper Brittany a tradition that beneath the sea-waves there one can see a subterranean world containing fields and villages and beautiful castles; and it is so pleasant a world that mortals going there find years no longer than days.

Fairies of Upper Briitany. 

Principally in Upper Brittany, M. Sébillot found rich folk-lore concerning fées, though some of his material is drawn from peasants and fishermen who are not so purely Celtic as those in Lower Brittany; and he very concisely summarizes the various names there given to the fairy-folk as follows :- ‘ They are generally called Fées (Fairies), sometimes Ftes (Fates), a name nearer than fées to the Latin Fata; Fte (fem.) and Fte (mas.) are both used, and from Fte is probably derived Faito or Faitaud, which is the name borne by the fathers, the husbands, or the children of the fées (Saint-Cast). Near Saint-Briac (Ille-et-Vilaine) they are sometimes called Fions; this term, which is applied to both sexes, seems also to designate the mischievous lutins (sprites). Round the Mené, in the cantons of Collinée and of Moncontour, they are called Margot la Fée, or ma Commère (my Godmother) Margot , or even the Bonne Femme (Good Woman) Margot. On the coast they are often enough called by the name of Bonnes Dames (Good Ladies), or of nos Bonnes Mères les Fées (our Good Mothers the Fairies); usually they are spoken of with a certain respect.’ As the same authority suggests, probably the most characteristic Fées in Upper Brittany are the Fées des Houles (Fairies of the Billows); and traditions say that they lived in natural caverns or grottoes in the sea-cliffs. They form a distinct class of sea-fairies unknown elsewhere in France or Europe. M. Sébillot regards them as sea-divinities greatly rationalized. Associated with them are the fions, a race of dwarfs having swords no bigger than pins.  A pretty legend about magic buckwheat cakes, which in different forms is widespread throughout all Brittany, is told of these little cave-dwelling fairies :-

Like the larger fées the fions kept cattle; and one day a black cow belonging to the fions of Pont-aux-Hommes-Nées ate the buckwheat in the field of a woman of that neighbourhood. The woman went to the fions to complain, and in reply to her a voice said: ‘Hold your tongue; you will be paid for your buckwheat!’ Thereupon the fions gave the woman a cupful of buckwheat, and promised her that it would never diminish so long as none should be given away. That year buckwheat was very scarce, but no matter how many buckwheat cakes the woman and her family ate there was never diminution in the amount of the fairy buckwheat. At last, however, the unfortunate hour came. A rag-gatherer arrived and asked for food. Thoughtlessly the woman gave him one of her buckwheat cakes, and suddenly, as though by magic, all the rest of the buckwheat disappeared for ever.

Along the Rance the inhabitants tell about fées who appear during storms. These storm-fairies are dressed in the colours of the rainbow, and pass along following a most beautiful fée who is mounted in a boat made from a nautilus of the southern seas. And the boat is drawn by two sea-crabs. In no other place in Brittany are similar fées said to exist.’ In Upper Brittany, as in Lower Brittany, the fées generally had their abodes in tumuli, in dolmens, in forests, in waste lands where there are great rocks, or about menhirs; and many other kinds of spirits lived in the sea and troubled sailors and fisher-folk. Like all fairy-folk of Celtic countries, those of Upper Brittany were given to stealing children. Thus at Dinard not long ago there was a woman more than thirty years old who was no bigger than a girl of ten, and it was said she was a fairy changeling.  In Lower Brittany the taking of children was often attributed to dwarfs rather than to fees, though the method of making the changeling speak is the same as in Upper Brittany, namely, to place in such a manner before an open fire a number of eggshells filled with water that they appear to the changeling - who is placed where he can well observe all the proceedings - like so many small pots of cooking food; whereupon, being greatly astonished at the unusual sight, he forgets himself and speaks for the first time, thus betraying his demon nature.

The following midwife story, as told by J. M. Comault, of Gouray, in 1881 is quite a parallel to the one we have recorded (on p. 54) as coming from Grange, Ireland : -

A midwife who delivered a Margot la fée carelessly allowed some of the fairy ointment to get on one of her own eyes. The eye at once became clairvoyant, so that she beheld the fées in their true nature. And, quite like a midwife in a similar story about the fées des houles, this midwife happened to see a fée in the act of stealing, and spoke to her. Thereupon the fée asked the midwife with which eye she beheld her, and when the midwife indicated which one it was, the fée pulled it out. (1)

Generally, like their relatives in insular Celtdom, the fairies of Upper Brittany could assume various forms, and could even transform the human body; and they were given to playing tricks on mortals, and always to taking revenge on them if ill-treated. In most ways they were like other races of fairies, Celtic and non-Celtic, though very much anthropomorphosed in their nature by the peasant and mariner.

As a rule, the fées of Upper Brittany are described in legend as young and very beautiful. Some, however, appear to be centuries old, with teeth as long as a human hand, and with backs covered with seaweeds, and mussels, or other marine growths, as an indication of their great age.  At Saint-Cast they are said to be dressed in toile, a kind of heavy linen cloth.

On the sea-coast of Upper Brittany the popular opinion is that the fées are a fallen race condemned to an earthly exile for a certain period. In the region of the Mené, canton of Collinée, the old folk say that, after the angels revolted, those left in paradise were divided into two parts: those who fought on the side of God and those who remained neutral. These last, already half-fallen, were sent to the earth for a time, and became the fées.

The general belief in the interior of Brittany is that the fees once existed, but that they disappeared as their country was changed by modern conditions. In the region of the Mené and of Ercé (Ille-et-Vilaine) it is said that for more than a century there have been no fées; and on the sea-coast, where it is still firmly believed that the fées used to live in the billows or amid certain grottoes in the cliffs against which the billows broke, the opinion is that they disappeared at the beginning of the last century. The oldest Bretons say that their parents or grandparents often spoke about having seen fées, but very rarely do they say that they themselves have seen fées. M. Sébillot found only two who had. One was an old needle-woman of Saint-Cast, who had such fear of fées that if she was on her way to do some sewing in the country, and it was night, she always took a long circuitous route to avoid passing near a field known as the Couvent des Fées. The other was Marie Chéhu, a woman eighty-eight years old.


It is the corrigan race, however, which, more than fées or fairies, forms a large part of the invisible inhabitants of Brittany; and this race of corrigans and nains (dwarfs) may be made to include many kinds of lutins, or as they are often called by the peasant, follets or esprits follets (playful elves). Though the peasants both in Upper and in Lower Brittany may have no strong faith in fées, most of them say that corrigans, or nains, and mischievous house-haunting spirits still exist. But in a few localities, as M. Sébillot discovered, there is an opinion that the lutins departed with the fées, and with them will return in this century, because during each century with an odd number like 1900, the fairy tribes of all kinds are said to be visible or to reappear among men, and to become invisible or to disappear during each century with an even number like 1800. So this is the visible century.

Corrigans and follets only show themselves at night, or in the twilight. No one knows where they pass the day-time.

Some lutins or follets, after the manner of Scotch kelpies, live solitary lives in lakes or ponds (whereas corrigans are socially united in groups or families), and amuse themselves by playing tricks on travellers passing by after dark. Souvestre records a story showing how the lutins can assume any animal form, but that their natural form is that of a little man dressed in green; and that the corrigans have declared war on them for being too friendly to men. From what follows about lutins, by M. Goulven Le Scour, they show affinity with Pucks and such shape-shifting hobgoblins as are found in Wales :- ‘ The lutins were little dwarfs who generally appeared at cross-roads to attack belated travellers. And it is related in Breton legends that these lutins sometimes transformed themselves into black horses or into goats; and whoever then had the misfortune to encounter them sometimes found his life in danger, and was always seized with great terror.’ But generally, what the Breton peasant tells about corrigans he is apt to tell at another time about lutins. And both tribes of beings, so far as they can be distinguished, are the same as the elfish peoples - pixies in Cornwall, Robin Good-fellows in England, goblins in Wales, or brownies in Scotland. Both corrigans and lulins are supposed to guard hidden treasure; some trouble horses at night; some, like their English cousins, may help in the house-work after all the family are asleep; some cause nightmare; some carry a torch like a Welsh death-candle; some trouble men and women like obsessing spirits; and nearly all of them are mischievous. In an article in the Revue des Traditions Populaires (v. 101), M. Sébillot has classified more than fifty names given to lutins and corrigans in Lower Brittany, according to the form under which these spirits appear, their peculiar traits, dwelling-places, and the country they inhabit.

Like the fairies in Britain and Ireland, the corrigans and the Cornish pixies find their favourite amusement in the circular dance. When the moon is clear and bright they gather for their frolic near menhirs, and dolmens, and tumuli, and at cross-roads, or even in the open country; and they never miss an opportunity of enticing a mortal passing by to join them. If he happens to be a good-natured man and enters their sport heartily, they treat him quite as a companion, and may even do him some good turn; but if he is not agreeable they will make him dance until he falls down exhausted, and should he commit some act thoroughly displeasing to them he will meet their certain revenge. According to a story reported from Lorient (Morbihan) it is taboo for the corrigans to make a complete enumeration of the days of the week :-

The ‘Corrigan’ Taboo.- ‘

At night, the corrigans dance, singing, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday”; they are prohibited from completing the enumeration of the days of the week. A corrigan having had the misfortune to permit himself to be tempted to add” Saturday “, immediately became hunchbacked. His comrades, stupefied and distressed, attempted in vain to knock in his hump with blows of their fists.’

‘Corrigans’ at Carnac.-

How the tradition of the dancing corrigans and their weekday song still lives, appears from the following accounts which I found at and near Carnac, the first account having been given during January 1909 by Madame Marie Ezanno, of Carnac, then sixty-six years old :- ‘ The corrigans are little dwarfs who formerly, by moonlight, used to dance in a circle on the prairies. They sang a song the couplet of which was not understood, but only the refrain, translated in Breton: “Di Lun (Monday), Di Merh (Tuesday), Di Merhier (Wednesday).”

‘They whistled in order to assemble. Where they danced mushrooms grew; and it was necessary to maintain silence so as not to interrupt them in their dance. They were often very brutal towards a man who fell under their power, and if they had a grudge against him they would make him submit to the greatest tortures. The peasants believed strongly in the corrigans, because they thus saw them and heard them. The corrigans dressed in very coarse white linen cloth. They were mischievous spirits (espirits follets), who lived under dolmens.’

One morning, M. Lemort and myself called upon Madame Louise Le Rouzic in her neat home at Kerallan, a little group of thatched cottages about a mile from Carnac. As we entered, Madame Le Rouzic herself was sitting on a long wooden bench by the window knitting, and her daughter was watching the savoury-smelling dinner as it boiled in great iron pots hanging from chains over a brilliant fire on the hearth. Large gleaming brass basins were ranged on a shelf above the broad open chimney-place wherein the fire burned, and massive bedsteads carved after the Breton style stood on the stone floor. When many things had been talked about, our conversation turned to corrigans, and then the good woman of the house told us these tales :-

‘Corrigans’ at Church.-‘

In former times a young girl having taken the keys of the church (presumably at Carnac) and having entered it, found the corrigans about to dance; and the corrigans were singing, “Lundi, Mardi” (Monday, Tuesday). On seeing the young girl, they stopped, surrounded her, and invited her to dance with them. She accepted, and, in singing, added to their song “Mercredi” (Wednesday). In amazement, the corrigans cried joyfully, “She has added something to our song; what shall we give her as recompense? “ And they gave her a bracelet. A friend of hers meeting her, asked where the fine bracelet came from; and the young girl told what had happened. The second girl hurried to the church, and found the corngans still dancing the rond. She joined their dance, and, in singing, added “Jeudi” (Thursday) to their song; but that broke the cadence; and the corrigans in fury, instead of recompensing her wished to punish her. “What shall we do to her? “ one of them cried. “ Let the day be as night to her ! “ the others replied. And by day, wherever she went, she saw only the night.’

The ‘Cornigans” Sabbath.- ‘

Where my grandfather lived,’ continued Madame Le Rouzic, ‘there was a young girl who went to the sabbath of the corrigans; and when she returned and was asked where she had been, said, “I have travelled over water, wood, and hedges.” And she related all she had seen and heard. Then one night, afterwards, the cornigans came into the house, beat her, and dragged her from bed. Upon hearing the uproar, my grandfather arose and found the girl lying flat on the stone floor. “Never question me again,” she said to him, “or they will kill me.” ‘

This account about corrigans, more rational than any preceding it, may possibly refer to a dream or trance-like state of mind on the part of the young girl; and if it does, we can then compare the presence of a mortal at this corrigan sabbath, or even at the ordinary witches’ sabbath, to the presence of a mortal in Fairyland. And according to popular Breton belief, as reliable peasants assure me, during dreams, trance, or ecstasy, the soul is supposed to depart from the body and actually see spirits of all kinds in another world, and to be then under their influence. While many details in the more conventional corrigan stories appear to reflect a folk-memory of religious dances and songs, and racial, social, and traditional usages of the ancient Bretons, the animistic background of them could conceivably have originated from psychical experiences such as this girl is supposed to have bad.


‘Corrigans’ as Fairies.-

Some Breton legends give corrigans the chief characteristics of fairies in Celtic Britain and Ireland; and Villemarqué in his Barzaz Breiz (pp. 25-30) makes the Breton word corrigan synonymous with fee or fairy, thus :- ‘ Le Seigneur Nann et la Fée (Aotrou Nann hag ar Cornigan).’ In this legend the corrigan seems clearly enough to be a water-fairy: ‘The Korrigan was seated at the edge of her fountain, and she was combing her long fair hair.’ But unlike most water-fairies, the Fée lives in a grotto, which, according to Villemarqué, is one of those ancient monuments called in Breton dolmen, or ti ar corrigan; in French, Table de pierres, or Grotte aux Fées - like the famous one near Rennes. The fountain where the Fee was seated seems to be one of those sacred fountains, which, as Villemarqué says, are often found near a Grotte aux Fées, and called Fontaine de la Fée, or in Breton, Feunteun ar corrigan. ‘In another of Villemarqué’s legends, L’Enfant Supposé, after the egg-shell test has been used and the little corrigan changeling is replaced by the real child, the latter, as though all the while it had been in an unconscious trance-state - which has a curious bearing on our Psychological Theory - stretches forth its arms and awakening exclaims, ‘Ah! mother, what a long time I have been asleep.’  And in Les Nains we see the little Duz or dwarfs inhabiting a cave and guarding treasures.

In his introduction to the Banzaz Breiz, Villemarqué describes les kornigan, whom he equates with les fées, as very similar to ordinary fairies. They can foretell the future, they know the art of war - quite like the Irish ‘gentry’ or Tuatha De Danann - they can assume any animal form, and are able to travel from one end of the world to another in the twinkling of an eye. They love feasting and music - like all Celtic fairy-folk; and dance in a circle holding hands, but at the least noise disappear. Their favourite haunts are near fountains and dolmens. They are little beings not more than two feet high, and beautifully proportioned, with bodies as aerial and transparent as those of wasps. And like all fairy, or elvish races, and like the Breton Morgans or water-spirits, they are given to stealing the children of mortals. Professor J. Loth has called my attention to an unpublished Breton legend of his collection, in which there are fairy-like beings comparable to these described by Villemarqué; and he tells me, too, that throughout Brittany one finds to-day the counterpart of the Welsh Tylwyth Teg or’ Fair Family’, and that both in Wales and Brittany the Tylwyth Teg are popularly described as little women, or maidens, like fairies no larger than children.

Fairies and Dwanfs.-

Where Villemarqué draws a clear distinction is between these korrigan and fées on the one hand, and the nains or dwarfs on the other. These last are what we have found associated or identified with corrigans in the Morbihan. Villemarqué describes the nains as a hideous race of beings with dark or even black hairy bodies, with voices like old men, and with little sparkling black eyes. They are fond of playing tricks on mortals who fall into their power; and are given to singing in a circular dance the weekday song. Very often corrigans regarded as nains, equally with all kinds of lutins, are believed to be evil spirits or demons condemned to live here on earth in a penitential state for an indefinite time; and sometimes they seem not much different from what Irish Celts, when talking of fairies, call fallen angels. Le Nain de Kerhuiton, translated from Breton by Professor J. Loth, in part illustrates this :- Upon seeing water boiling in a number of egg-shells ranged before an open fire, a polpegan-changeling is so greatly astonished that he unwittingly speaks for the first time, and says, ‘Here I am almost one hundred years old, and never such a thing have I yet seen! ‘ ‘Ah! son of Satan! ‘ then cries out the mother, as she comes from her place of hiding and beats the polpegan - who thus by means of the egg-shell test has been tricked into revealing his demon nature. In a parallel story, reported by Villemarqué in his Barzaz Breiz, a nain-changeling is equally astonished to see a similar row of egg-shells boiling before an open fire like so many pots of food, and gives himself away through the following remark; - ‘ I have seen the acorn before the oak; I have seen the egg before the white chicken: I have never seen the equal to this.’

Nature of the Corrigans ‘.- As to the general ideas about the corrigans, M. Le Scour says :- ‘ Formerly the corrigans were the terror of the country-folk, especially in Finistère, in the Morbihan, and throughout the C™tes-du-Nord. They were believed to be souls in pain, condemned to wander at night in waste lands and marshes. Sometimes they were seen as dwarfs; and often they were not seen at all, but were heard in houses making an infernal noise. Unlike the lavandiéres de nuits (phantom washerwomen of the night), they were heard only in summer, never in winter.’



Copyright © World Spirituality · All Rights Reserved