Spinning with the fairies

I feel I should issue a health warning for this post – do not read it if you are allergic to what some of my friends and family call ‘Celtic bollocks’ (a phrase which sounds best in a cod Irish accent).

On the other hand, if that’s your thing, go and break out the Enya.

I’ve had people ask about my Ravelry name. (If you don’t know it, Ravelry is a networking site for yarnaholics, with about a million members). I couldn’t use my own name – too many Kates – so I am Eilian.

Eilian, when it occurs at all, is a man’s name in Wales and I’m definitely not male (there was a saint, arrived here in the 6th century or so). No, I called myself Eilian after an old story. The original is firmly rooted in a particular place – there’s even an Eilian’s field where it’s supposed to have happened – but it’s not as isolated as it used to be, and the oral tradition has always been tweaked.

I shall tweak away, photographically at least. So here goes.

Once upon a time, an elderly couple lived in a large and isolated farm, and they needed a maid. So they took themselves off to the hiring fair at Caernarfon, and towards the end of the day they saw someone they thought would suit, standing a little way apart from the others. They took her on, and she came to the farmhouse at the agreed time. Her name was Eilian.

During the long winter nights, it was the custom of the house for all the women to sit and spin and gossip by the fire. This was not to Eilian’s taste, however, and she would take herself off outside and spin by the light of the moon.

Gradually the woman of the house realised that Eilian was spending longer and longer spinning, and less and less time doing her work, though the yarn she produced – and there was lots of it – was of high quality.

She also seemed to be venturing further from the house, and in fact was spinning in a field where the Tylwyth Teg [the Fair Folk] were known to dance. As the days grew longer, Eilian spent more and more time spinning in the field, and one evening she did not return when it grew dark.

The year moved on, and autumn and winter returned to the farm. The elderly woman was well known as a midwife, and late one night of drizzle and mist there was a knocking at the door; a gentleman, a handsome stranger, needed her help for his wife. She got up on the horse behind him, and they set off in the gloom. The woman recognised where she was going: a place of old stones.

But as they approached, she also realised that it was not quite as she had always believed it to be. There was an opening where she was certain there had never been an opening before.

They entered, and the opening proved to be the way into a cave-room where a beautiful woman lay on a bed in childbirth, and it was the finest bed the midwife had ever seen, and the room was the finest too. A large fire roared away, and by its light the midwife was eventually able to deliver an equally beautiful child.

She took the baby to clean it by the fire and the husband came to her. He gave her an ointment and asked her to dress the baby’s eyes with it, but added that she should be very careful not to touch it to her own eyes. She did as she was asked, but inadvertently rubbed her right eye – and saw through it that the room was a dank and dark hole in the earth, that the glorious bed was a pile of rushes, and that the beautiful woman was her former servant Eilian. Through her left eye, however, all was still luxury and elegance. She kept her observations to herself, wisely, and allowed the man to take her home.

Some time later the woman was at the market in Caernarfon and saw the gentleman moving around the stalls. Without thinking, she went up to him and asked after Eilian’s health, just as she would normally do. ‘She is well,’ he answered. ‘Tell, me, which eye do you see me with?’

‘This one,’ she said, again instinctively, gesturing at it – and he took a sharp rush off one of the stalls and put out her eye.

(I just love the fact that parents who can be squeamish about violent TV shows will happily tell their children stories that involve the putting out of eyes in Caernarfon market.)

Now I write it out, I think the part about Eilian spinning as opposed to working must have been lurking in my subconscious when I chose the name. Or maybe it called to me because a hillock behind my house is supposed to be a place of the Tylwyth Teg, and the gas man reckons he saw one, sitting on the gate, when he was a boy. Personally, as an archaeologist, I think the place is an Iron Age hut circle.

And down to earth – or maybe that should be ‘up to earth’? – with a thump. Time to sort out my stash in anticipation of Wonderwool Wales. I am not buying yarn, I am not buying yarn, I am not buying yarn…

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10 thoughts on “Spinning with the fairies

    1. kate Post author

      Yersss – I’ve had to explain several times (people saying ‘what?’ or ‘but that’s a man’s name’ and looking at me oddly), and you do feel a bit of a fool standing in the pub telling fairy stories…

      Reply
  1. Knitsister

    Oh yes you will, oh yes you will!!! I am going on the Sunday, which day are you there?
    I love this story and love your photos, clever girl. I know what you mean about story telling, I used to be told all the brother’s Grimm stories, doesn’t seem to have done me any harm……oh well I am not sure now that I think about it.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Thanks, Heike – I might have guessed you’d also been raised on gory tales!

      We’re going on the Saturday – shame I’ll miss you, but there probably won’t be anything for you to buy anyway, beacuse we’ll have bought it. Not me, of course, because I’m Not Buying Yarn… (if I say it often enough, it will be true)

      Reply
  2. Knitsister

    Shame that I’ll miss you and just for the record: I am only going for research to see if there is anything I want for my website. Ya right, I can hear you say!!!
    I am organising WWKIP day in Llangollen this year again, Sat 11 June, it would be great if could (and some of your gang) could make it?
    Have fun at Wonderwool
    xx

    Reply
  3. r Ashworth

    Eilian was a Celtic Saint who came by boat with his farm animals and family from Rome and was given land on north Anglesey by Caswallon Law Hir (Caswallon long hand) – the area is known today as Llaneilian. The saint (who had previously blinded Caswallon then forgiven him and restored the king’s sight) allowed Eillan all the land his pet deer could travel around before being caught by Caswallon’s dogs. The deer leapt a huge gorge and escaped and Eilian gained a huge area of land.
    The Church of St Eilian is worth a visit – it is a gem!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I knew a little about Eilian the saint, but not a lot – many thanks for this; I hardy ever get onto Mon but I must have a day out and visit the church. I must admit the story sounds almost as mythical as Penygroes’ (female) Eilian and the fairies, though… What on earth had Caswallon done to merit being blinded by a saint, I wonder?

      Reply
    1. kate Post author

      It’s really local, then (though I do hope nobody in his family had his eyes put out in the marketplace by the lord of the fair folk, ho ho)… The field named after Eilian is just outside Penygroes, between there and Caernarfon.

      Reply

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