The Housewife

There was once a farmer's wife called Inary who lived on Tiree. She was a hardworking woman and after the chores of the day were done she would spin and weave long into the night.

One night when she was up alone spinning her yarn for her next batch of cloth, she was overtaken by a great tiredness. 'I wish someone would come from land or sea, from far or near, to help me finish this cloth!' Inary exclaimed.

Just then there was a knock at the door and a voice called 'Let me in Inary I have come to help you.' Inary opened the door to find a tiny woman dressed in green, the newcomer came straight in and sat down at the spinning wheel and started to spin. Inary had hardly time to shut the door when another woman knocked upon it and asked to be let in. Inary opened the door and another small green clad lady entered and set her hands straight to the distaff. Inary's visitors continued to arrive until she lost count of them all. Some sat down at the loom and started to weave. Some teazed and carded wool while others boiled fulling water over the fire for the finished cloth. The whole room was full of the women and yet their clattering failed to wake Inary's family in the next room.

She realised at last that they were faeries from Burg Hill and her sleeping family were under a spell. The faeries began to complain of hunger and Inary tried to feed them all, but the more they worked the hungrier they became.

Inary was soon down to her last loaf and desperate she ran from the house and went straight to the cottage of the local wise man. Inary tumbled out her story and begged the old man to help her.

The wise man was grave and told Inary that her foolish request had brought her into this trouble. Her husband was indeed in an enchanted sleep and she must get the faeries out of the house and sprinkle him with fulling water to wake him. Furthermore she must cry 'Burg Hill is on fire!' three times to make the faeries leave and upset all the tools and implements with which they had been working. Inary thanked the old man and went back to her house where the faeries were still at work, with all her might she cried....

'There is fire in Burg Hill!

Burg Hill is on fire!

Burg Hill is in red flames of fire!'

The faeries cried out in alarm in fear that everything they valued in the faery hill would be destroyed, and they all ran out of Inary's door. Once they were all gone Inary took the band of the spinning wheel, turned the loom upside down, twisted the distaff backwards and took the fulling water off the fire.

The faeries soon realised that they had been tricked and were back hammering on the door asking Inary to let them back in. Inary refused, so they asked the spinning wheel to help them. 'How can I?' the spinning wheel replied, 'I am without a band.' The faery folk appealed to the distaff to let them in. 'I cannot.' replied the distaff, 'I am twisted contrary.' Then they asked the loom. 'I would happily let you in but I am set topsy-turvy.' it replied. The impatient faeries appealed to the fulling water. 'I cannot help you,' it replied, 'I am off the fire.' In desperation the faeries appealed to the last loaf sitting on Inary's hearth and it bounded across the room to open the door.

Inary remembered the old man's words and quickly sprinkled some of the fulling water on her sleeping husband. The farmer sat up and strode to the door, and when he flung it open the faeries had fled, and they never came back to trouble Inary again.

Source:
Scottish Folk Tales and Legends
Barbara Ker Wilson
Oxford University Press, 1954.

Fairy Tales and Folklore

Weaving / Spinning Goddesses

Mythology

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