Fairy-Lore of the Pyrenees Part II

Carrying on from the previous article, below we will delve deeper into the existing fairy-lore of the Pyrenees, which is under-explored in the ethnographic record in the 20th century. We will read sweeping examinations by no less than Charles Dickens (!), local enthusiasts and French local anthologies from 1909…

 

Firstly, it is interesting to note that in the French Pyrenees, Les Blanquettes (as examined in the previous article) were also locally known in the Béarn as Hados, and the name of the village of Belhades (Petite Leyre) may derive etymologically from belle hados (beautiful fairy).

 

Also, coincidentally, from an anthology dating back to 1870 we can find the illustrious Charles Dickens summarising Pyrenean fairy-lore thus, which must be admitted is not in a uniformly complimentary fashion:

‘As to the fairies, they are still visible to the unsophisticated Pyreneans, and they sit at the entrance of their grottos, combing their golden hair, much as they used to in our old nursery days. He who tries to reach them, perishes; should he find favour in their eyes, he disappears for ever from this world. If, however, a mortal releases a fairy from a spell, she sometimes lends him her magic wand, with which he can obtain whatever he desires. In the Barège valley the fairies inhabit the interior of the Pic de Bergons, and flax placed at the foot of their abode is instantly spun into the finest thread. In the valley of Barousse they go from house to house on New Year’s night, carrying happiness in their right hands, and sorrow in their left, under the form of two children, the one crowned with flowers, the other weeping. To propitiate them a repast is spread in a room with open doors and windows, and on the morrow the master of the house distributes the food among his family and servants, with good wishes for the New Year. Occasionally, however, tricks may be played upon female fairies with impunity, as when one was caught in a pair of trousers left in a garden for this purpose’.[1]

Also discovered from much rootling around is a list of several different types of fairy attested as living around French Pyrenees. It should be mentioned that no sources can be found for this list, attributed as it is to a local within the Hautes-Pyrénées, however oral history is a vital part of ethnographic research and as such it deserves to be included:

Balandrou (Hautes-Pyrénées) – This creature allegedly cultivated an apple tree whose golden fruit would bestow immortality.

Dames Blanches (Aude & Hautes-Pyrénées) – These live within the castles of Puivert and Mauvezin.

Encantadas (Vaucluse) – These fairies dwell around Rousillon near caves, rivers and waterfalls, and also deep within the woods, and they dream of being human.

Fada (Ariège) – Similarly these fairies wish to be human, and protect hordes of gold.

Goga (Catalonia) – This fairy lives in Gariotxes beside a river, where she washes her clothes. Anyone who manages to steal these clothes by moonlight is said to become prosperous in the future.

Hada (Gascony) – These creatures have webbed feet and live near water or in caves. They have been known to help farmers, and also in the Ariège they are said to advise on crops.

Nore (Aude) – This fairy was said to live atop the peak of Bugarach.

Outasuna-Maithagarria (Basque) – Linked to hunting, she appears riding a deer and resembles the goddess Diana.

Sarrasine (Ariège) – Dwelling in the rivers of the Salat valley, they have webbed feet.

Parques de la Lune (Ariège) – These nocturnal fairies dwell at crossroads in the Arize Massif, and are said to hold the destiny of both the living and the dead.

Romula (Ariège) – This fairy is said to live in the Grotte du Camaillot near St-Jean-de-Verges, and she charms both humans and animals with her singing. She crosses the river of the dead and was the deity of that river (more about this creature below).

Roneca (Aude) – A terror of children, she is said to haunt various valleys in the Aude with a candle and a large sack on her back to collect infants who are bad.

Saurimonda (Aude) – Dwelling in the valleys of this area and also around the Montagne Noire, she is said to be beautiful with blonde hair and is popularly linked to both gold and the sun. Nuggets of gold in rivers are attributed to her dropping her comb in the waters.[2]

 

The legend of Romula is tied to a large stone head near the Roc d’Huile, seen when crossing the river at Saint-Jean-de-Verges (whether it is still there I cannot verify). The head is so large that it would take a dozen wine barrels to fill it where it hollow. In order to find out the name of this alleged ‘giant’, one has to ask Romula, who lives in the Grotte du Camaillot. She is in charge of checking the ‘passports’ of those who cross the river in Death’s boat, and has long golden hair and silver eyes. The head is said to date from the Roman era, and the legend linking Romula to this monument runs this:

At a time when the Romans had pitched their tents at the Massif du Plantaurel, Romula (whose name is eerily similar to Romulus, one of the twin founders of Rome) was awaiting Death’s boat on the landing stage at the Roc d’Huile. Within the boat were two people, Fortunatus and Infortunatus. Fortunatus had all his papers in good order and was allowed to pass, however Inforunatus was not so lucky, as his passport lacked the appropriate signature. Additionally, he was an infamous bandit and had been a cruel man during his lifetime, making the lives of local people wretched. Romula reproached him, showing him all that he had done badly in life, his robberies, bluster and injustices and condemned him to remain standing where he was. The water around him turned to oil, which became alight, the flames melting the rock around the man. By the time that the water had put the flames out, the man had become stone, and his enlarged form that had fused with the rock stood stolidly in the earth, his legs sunken into the soil, and only his head remained above ground… [3]

 

There are more fairy stories to follow in Part III, which will arrive in good time.

 

 

 

References

[1] Dickens, Charles, ‘Superstitions of the Pyrenees’ in All the Year Round, Vo. 3, No. 23, January Ist, 1870, p. 113.

[2] Translated from the French from this source: https://aubedesfees.forumactif.fr/t480-les-fees-des-pyrenees

[3] Anon, Almanac Patoues of the Ariejo (Fouix: Imprimario de Gadrat Ainat), 1909.

 

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