THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE
The one occupation of the Fairy folk celebrated in song and prose was dancing. Their green rings, circular or ovoidal in form, abounded in all parts of the country, and it was in these circles they were said to dance through the livelong night. In “Can y Tylwyth Teg,” or the Fairies’ Song, thus they chant:- O’r glaswellt glen a’r rhedyn man, Gyfeillion dyddan, dewch, E ddarfu’r nawn–mae’r lloer yu llawn, Y nos yn gyflawn gewch; O’r chwarau sydd ar dwyn y dydd, I’r Dolydd awn ar daith. Nyni sydd lon, ni chaiff gerbron Farwolion ran o’n gwaith.
“Yr Hynafion Cymraeg”, p. 153.
From grasses bright, and bracken light, Come, sweet companions, come, The full moon shines, the sun declines, We’ll spend the night in fun; With playful mirth, we’ll trip the earth, To meadows green let’s go, We’re full of joy, without alloy, Which mortals may not know.
The spots where the Fairies held their nightly revels were preserved from intrusion by traditional superstitions. The farmer dared not plough the land where Fairy circles were, lest misfortune should overtake him. Thus were these mythical beings left in undisturbed possession of many fertile plots of ground, and here they were believed to dance merrily through many a summer night.
Canu, canu, drwy y nos, Dawnsio, dawnsio, ar waen y rhos, Yn ngoleuni’r lleuad dlos; Hapus ydym ni! Pawb o honom sydd yn llon, Heb un gofid dan ei fron: Canu, dawnsio, ar y ton Dedwydd ydym ni!
Singing, singing, through the night, Dancing, dancing, with our might, Where the moon the moor doth light: Happy ever we! One and all of merry mien, Without sorrow are we seen, Singing, dancing on the green: Gladsome ever we!
“Professor Rhys’s Fairy Tales”
These words correctly describe the popular opinion of Fairy dance and song, an opinion which reached the early part of the present century.
Since so much has reached our days of Fairy song and dance, it is not surprising that we are told that the beautiful Welsh melody, “Toriad y Dydd”, or the Dawn of Day, is the work of a Fairy minstrel, and that this song was chanted by the Fairy company just as the pale light in the east announced the approach of returning day.
Chaucer (1340 c. to 1400 c.), alluding to the Fairies and their dances, in his ‘Wife of Bath’s Tale,’ writes:– In olde dayes of King Artour, Of which the Bretons speken gret honour, All was this lond ful-filled of Faerie; The elf-quene with hire joly compagnie Danced ful oft in many a grene mede. This was the old opinion as I rede; I speke of many hundred yeres ago; But now can no man see non elves mo.
Tyrwhitt’s Chaucer i., p. 256.
In the days of the Father of English poets, the elves had disappeared, and he speaks of “many hundred yeres ago,” when he says that the Fairy Queen and her jolly company danced full often in many a green meadow.
Number 419 of the Spectator, published July 1st, 1712, states that formerly “every large common had a circle of Fairies belonging to it.” Here again the past is spoken of, but in Wales it would seem that up to quite modern days some one, or other, was said to have seen the Fairies at their dance, or had heard of some one who had witnessed their gambols. Robert Roberts, Tycerrig, Clocaenog, enumerated several places, such as Nantddu, Clocaenog, Craig-fron-Bannog, on Mynydd Hiraethog, and Fron-y-Go, Llanfwrog, where the Fairies used to hold their revels, and other places, such as Moel Fammau, have been mentioned as being Fairy dancing ground. Many an aged person in Wales will give the name of spots dedicated to Fairy sports. Information of this kind is interesting, for it shows how long lived traditions are, and in a manner, places associated with the Fair Tribe bring these mysterious beings right to our doors.
I will now relate a few tales of mortals witnessing or joining in Fairy dances.
The first was related to me by David Roberts. The scene of the dance was the hill side by Pont Petrual between Ruthin and Cerrig-y-Drudion.
- “A Man who found himself on a Heap of Ferns after joining in a Fairy Dance”.
A man who went to witness a Fairy dance was invited to join them. He did so, and all night long he greatly enjoyed himself. At the break of day the company broke up, and the Fairies took their companion with them. The man found himself in a beautiful hall with everything he could desire at his command, and here he pleasantly passed the time ere he retired to rest. In the morning when he awoke, instead of finding himself on a couch in Fairy Hall, be found himself lying on a heap of fern on the wild mountain side.Although somewhat unfortunate, this man fared better than most men who joined the Fairy dances.
- “The Fairies threw dust into a Man’s Eyes who Saw them Dance”
This tale is taken from “Cymru Fu”, p. 176, and is from the pen of “Glasynys”. I give it in English.
William Ellis, of Cilwern, was once fishing in Llyn Cwm Silin on a dark cloudy day, when he observed close by, in the rushes, a great number of men, or beings in the form of men, about a foot high, jumping and singing.
He watched them for hours, and he never heard in all his life such singing. But William went too near them, and they threw some kind of dust into his eyes, and whilst he was rubbing his eyes, the little family disappeared and fled somewhere out of sight and never afterwards was Ellis able to get a sight of them.
The next tale “Glasynys” shall relate in his own words. It appears in “Cymru Fu” immediately after the one just related.
- “A Man Dancing with the Fairies for Three Days”.
“Y mae chwedl go debyg am le o’r enw Llyn-y-Ffynonau. Yr oedd yno rasio a dawnsio, a thelynio a ffidlo enbydus, a gwas o Gelli Ffrydau a’i ddau gi yn eu canol yn neidio ac yn prancio mor sionc a neb. Buont wrthi hi felly am dridiau a theirnos, yn ddi-dor-derfyn; ac oni bai bod ryw wr cyfarwydd yn byw heb fod yn neppell, ac i hwnw gael gwybod pa sut yr oedd pethau yn myned yn mlaen, y mae’n ddiddadl y buasai i’r creadur gwirion ddawnsio ‘i hun i farwolaeth. Ond gwaredwyd of y tro hwn.”
This in English is as follows:–“There is a tale somewhat like the preceding one told in connection with a place called Llyn-y-Ffynonau. There was there racing and dancing, and harping and furious fiddling, and the servant man of Gelli Ffrydau with his two dogs in their midst jumping and dancing like mad. There they were for three days and three nights without a break dancing as if for very life, and were it not that there lived near by a conjuror, who knew how things were going on, without a doubt the poor creature would have danced himself to death. But he was spared this time.”
The next tale I received from Mr. David Lloyd, schoolmaster, Llanfihangel-Glyn-Myfyr, and he heard it in that parish.
- “A Harper and the Fairies”.
There once lived in a remote part of Denbighshire, called Hafod Elwy, an old harper, named Shon Robert, who used to be invited to parties to play for the dancers, or to accompany the singers. One evening he went to Llechwedd Llyfn, in the neighbourhood of Cefn Brith, to hold a merry meeting, and it was late before the lads and lasses separated. At last the harper wended his way homeward. His path was over the bare mountain.
As he came near a lake called Llyndau-ychain, he saw on its verge a grand palace, vividly illuminated. He was greatly surprised at the sight, for he had never seen such a building there before. He, however, proceeded on his way, and when he came in front of this beautiful palace he was hailed by a footman, and invited to enter. He accepted the invitation, and was ushered into a magnificent room, where a grand ball was being held. The guests surrounded the harper and became very friendly, and, to his wonder, addressed him by name. This hall was magnificently furnished. The furniture was of the most costly materials, many things were made of solid gold. A waiter handed him a golden cup filled with sparkling wine, which the harper gladly quaffed. He was then asked to play for the company, and this he did to the manifest satisfaction of the guests. By and by one of the company took Shon Robert’s hat round and collected money for the harper’s benefit, and brought it back to him filled with silver and gold. The feast was carried on with great pomp and merriment until near the dawn of day, when, one by one, the guests disappeared, and at last Shon was left alone. Perceiving a magnificent couch near, he laid himself thereon, and was soon fast asleep. He did not awake until mid-day, and then, to his surprise, he found himself lying on a heap of heather, the grand palace had vanished away, and the gold and silver, which he had transferred from his hat the night before into his bag, was changed to withered leaves.
The following tale told me by the Rev. R. Jones shows that those who witness a Fairy dance know not how time passes.
- “A Three Hours Fairy Dance seeming as a Few Minutes”
The Rev. R. Jones’s mother, when a young unmarried woman, started one evening from a house called Tyddyn Heilyn, Penrhyndeudraeth, to her home, Penrhyn isaf, accompanied by their servant man, David Williams, called on account of his great strength and stature, Dafydd Fawr, Big David. David was carrying home on his back a flitch of bacon. The night was dark, but calm. Williams walked somewhat in the rear of his young mistress, and she, thinking he was following, went straight home. But three hours passed before David appeared with the pork on his back.
He was interrogated as to the cause of his delay, and in answer said he had only been about three minutes after his young mistress. He was told that she had arrived three hours before him, but this David would not believe. At length, however, he was convinced that he was wrong in his time, and then he proceeded to account for his lagging behind as follows:–He observed, he said, a brilliant meteor passing through the air, which was followed by a ring or hoop of fire, and within this hoop stood a man and woman of small size, handsomely dressed. With one arm they embraced each other, and with the other they took hold of the hoop, and their feet rested on the concave surface of the ring. When the hoop reached the earth these two beings jumped out of it, and immediately proceeded to make a circle on the ground. As soon as this was done, a large number of men and women instantly appeared, and to the sweetest music that ear ever heard commenced dancing round and round the circle. The sight was so entrancing that the man stayed, as he thought, a few minutes to witness the scene. The ground all around was lit up by a kind of subdued light, and he observed every movement of these beings. By and by the meteor which had at first attracted his attention appeared again, and then the fiery hoop came to view, and when it reached the spot where the dancing was, the lady and gentleman who had arrived in it jumped into the hoop, and disappeared in the same manner in which they had reached the place.
Immediately after their departure the Fairies vanished from sight, and the man found himself alone and in darkness, and then he proceeded homewards. In this way he accounted for his delay on the way.
In Mr. Sikes’s “British Goblins”, pp. 79-81, is a graphic account of a mad dance which Tudur ap Einion Gloff had with the Fairies, or Goblins, at a place called Nant-yr-Ellyllon, a hollow half way up the hill to Castell Dinas Bran, in the neighbourhood of Llangollen. All night, and into the next day, Tudur danced frantically in the Nant, but he was rescued by his master, who understood how to break the spell, and release his servant from the hold the Goblins had over him! This he did by pronouncing certain pious words, and Tudur returned home with his master.
Mr. Evan Davies, carpenter, Brynllan, Efenechtyd, who is between seventy and eighty years old, informed the writer that his friend John Morris told him that he had seen a company of Fairies dancing, and that they were the handsomest men and women that he had ever seen. It was night and dark, but the place on which the dance took place was strangely illuminated, so that every movement of the singular beings could be observed, but when the Fairies disappeared it became suddenly quite dark.
Although from the tales already given it would appear that the Fairies held revelry irrespective of set times of meeting, still it was thought that they had special days for their great banquets, and the eve of the first of May, old style, was one of these days, and another was “Nos Wyl Ifan”, St. John’s Eve, or the evening of June 23rd.
Thus sings Glasynys, in Y Brython, vol. iii. p. 270:– Nos Wyl Ifan. Tylwyth Teg yn lluoedd llawen, O dan nodded tawel Dwynwen, Welir yn y cel encilion, Yn perori mwyn alawon, Ac yn taenu hyd y twyni, Ac ar leiniau’r deiliog lwyni, Hud a Lledrith_ ar y glesni, Ac yn sibrwd dwyfol desni!
I am indebted to my friend Mr Richard Williams, F.R.H.S., Newtown, Montgomeryshire, for the following translation of the preceding Welsh lines:– The Fairy Tribe in merry crowds, Under Dwynwen’s calm protection, Are seen in shady retreats Chanting sweet melodies, And spreading over the bushes And the leafy groves Illusion and phantasy on all that is green, And whispering their mystic lore.
May-day dances and revelling have reached our days, and probably they have, like the Midsummer Eve’s festivities, their origin in the far off times when the Fairy Tribe inhabited Britain and other countries, and to us have they bequeathed these Festivals, as well as that which ushers in winter, and is called in Wales, “Nos glan gaua”, or All Hallow Eve. If so, they have left us a legacy for which we thank them, and they have also given us a proof of their intelligence and love of nature.
JOIN THE WEE FOLK AND ENJOY, SAINT PADDY’S DAY
CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan