Hiding in Plain Sight

Things have been quite hectic lately, and I’m on another business trip next week. I’m still working my way through Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, and I plan to post some folktales and folklore from Letters 3, 4, and 5 when I get a chance. I also want to post about some of the witchcraft trials that Scott discusses in Letter 5. I may stop after that; the rest of the letters are still interesting, but not necessarily on the theme of this blog. We’ll see.

Just to keep things from going completely quiescent, here’s a little folktale straight from Letter 3 (I’ve reformatted it a bit). The motif of hiding someone (usually a lover or a son, I think) by turning them into an ordinary household object is a common one. I have vague memories of a Baba Yaga story where the heroine uses this trick, but my Russian Folktales book is in a box right now, so I can’t look it up. I could try to find the Aarne-Thompson tale type for you — but alas, I feel lazy today. So just enjoy the story, instead.

328px William adolphe bouguereau the spinner
The Spinner (1873)
William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Image: Wikipedia

There is a remarkable story in the Eyrbiggia Saga (“Historia Eyranorum”), giving the result of such a controversy between two of these gifted women, one of whom was determined on discovering and putting to death the son of the other, named Katla, who in a brawl had cut off the hand of the daughter-in-law of Geirada.

A party detached to avenge this wrong, by putting Oddo to death, returned deceived by the skill of his mother. They had found only Katla, they said, spinning flax from a large distaff.

“Fools,” said Geirada, “that distaff was the man you sought.”

They returned, seized the distaff, and burned it. But this second time, the witch disguised her son under the appearance of a tame kid. A third time he was a hog, which grovelled among the ashes.

The party returned yet again; augmented as one of Katla’s maidens, who kept watch, informed her mistress, by one in a blue mantle.

“Alas!” said Katla, “it is the sorceress Geirada, against whom spells avail not.”

Accordingly, the hostile party, entering for the fourth time, seized on the object of their animosity, and put him to death. This species of witchcraft is well known in Scotland as the glamour, or deceptio visus, and was supposed to be a special attribute of the race of Gipsies.

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