On Wednesday and Thursday, we considered, in a very roundabout way, the historical precedents for the philosophy of White in Magic. I promised you a peek at a folkloric representation of Black as well, but this time, we’ll do something a bit different. For rather obvious reasons, there’s never been a folkloric “system” which has really expressed Black’s philosophy. After all, even if some dictators might wish that they could create hordes of zombies to keep the peasantry in check, it would – allowing for the absence of such zombies – be politically unwise for a dictator to tell the general populace about such aspirations. We can, however, reason inductively and find general populations that believe that they live under a Black system.
This article will be based on a single primary source. Indeed, I’ll be doing very little work besides transcribing this source onto Microsoft Word and making some brief notes. Nevertheless, I think that as this source is so difficult to get a hold of and so fascinating to fans of folklore and dark fantasy alike, it is worthwhile my re-releasing it here. In June 1891, in the just the second issue of what would become a discipline-defining magazine, Folk-Lore, M.C. Balfour wrote of the “Legends of the Cars,” of the folklore of England’s historical swamp district. Since this article’s initial publication, it has been reprinted in bits and pieces, primarily by the mid-20th Century folklorist, Katherine Briggs. Here, I’ll be presenting you with excerpts, some of which are not present in Briggs. Due to the dialect, it may be a bit heavy-going at times, but trust me: If you have even the remotest interest in ghostly lore, you’re going to find this stuff mind-blowing and might begin to understand why I’ve chosen to study it. I am no fan of fantasy in fiction or in film. What strikes me in folklore like this is that, just two centuries ago, a great number of people still believed it. The people of this part of Lincolnshire lived their lives in daily terror.
I’ll begin by giving a shortened version of Balfour’s introduction and will follow it up with a single one of her legends, that of Tiddy Mun. Following the text, I’ll offer an abridged version of the legend to fill in any gaps left by the dialect and will give a brief analysis of the story as it relates to Magic. Tiddy simply means small, and Mun is man. Where we encounter a word in the text which not simply archaic but too much a part of dialect to be readily deduced after being read aloud, I will give a Standard English translation in brackets in the first instance. In this text, the word tha appears often, meaning either they or the; with this in mind, it is not difficult to decipher in context. Similarly, un usually means them but can sometimes mean him. If possible, I suggest that you read Tiddy Mun aloud; not only aiding comprehension, it also helps relay the legend’s otherworldly feel.
Balfour, M.C. “Legends of the Cars.”
Folklore, Vol. 2, No. 2 (June 1891), pp. 145-56.
I fancy that many people still picture Lincolnshire to themselves as a region of bogs and swamps, of fever-haunted marshes, and ague-infested lowlands. […] Now this is an entirely mistaken idea of the shire.
Even in the South, the true fen district, the drainage system has been so widely carried out, that I am told the great marshes have been almost entirely reclaimed, and many hundreds of useless acres are now turned into fertile farm-lands. […] Broad dykes now intersect the fertile fields, and run beside the roads, on their way to join a central canal which carries the waters of the district to the sea, the original river meandering now on one side now on the other, a mere brook of but a few feet wide, often dried up in summer. […]
Here, in this bleak and lonely tract, scarcely yet won over to civilization, has dwelt for ages a people, ignorant, poverty-stricken, weakened by malaria, and strongly affected by their wild home; and here still, amongst a few elders, who remember the traditions of their youth, and the beliefs of their fathers, linger tales that tell of the old pagan customs, that have perhaps existed in these parts since the very dawn of history. […]
[I ]cannot preserve the rude poetry and grace of the vernacular; but I tell these stories of the Cars of the Ancholme Valley exactly as told to me, lest in altering I might spoil them. I heard the first from an aged woman, a life-long dweller in these cars, who in her young days herself observed the rite she describes, though she would not confess it within the hearing of her grand-children, whose indifference and disbelief shocked her greatly. To her, “Tiddy Mun” was a perfect reality, and one to be loved as well as feared.
Whiles syne [since], afore tha dykes wor made, an’ tha river-bed changed, whan tha Cars wor nobutt bog-lands, an’ full o’ watter-holes; tha wor teemin, as thou mayst a’ heerd wi’ Boggarts [malicious, asocial fairies] and Will-o’-tha-Wykes [the same as a Jack-o’-Lantern or Will-o’-the-Wisp; fairies which lead one off-road at night], an’ sich loike; voices o’ deed folks, an’ hands wi’outen airms, that came i’ tha darklins [night], moanin’ an’ cryin an’ beckonin’ all night thruff [through]; todlowries dancin’ on tha tussocks [clumps of grass], an’ witches ridin’ on tha great black snags [dead, submerged tree breaching the surface of the water], that turned to snakes, an’ raced about wi’ ’em i’ tha watter; my word! ‘twor a stra-ange an’ ill place to be in, come evens.
Folk wor gey skeered on un nat’rally, an’ wouldna goo nigh un wi’outen a charm o’ some sort, just a witches pink or a Bible-ball, or the loike o’ that. A’ll tell thee ’bout them another toime. Tha shook wi’ froight, a tell thee, whan tha found their sels i’ tha Cars at darklins. For sartain, tha wor mostly shakin i’ they toimes; for tha agur [fever caused by malaria] an’ fever were terrible bad, an’ thar wor poor weak crysoms, fit for nowt but to soop gin an’ eat op’um [drink gin and eat opium]. In ma young days, we’d all tha agur; tha women ower tha fire, tha men out i’ the garth [farm yard], even tha bairns [children] had tha shakes reg’lar. Ay mebbe, tha’s better off noo, but a don’t know, a don’t know, tha’s lost Tiddy Mun. Weel, weel. Tha kenned [knew] foine that tha fever an’ agur comed fra tha bogs, but so come as tha heerd tell, that tha ma-ashes mun be drained as tha ca’ it, tha wor sore miscontented, for tha wor used to un, an’ ther feythers afore em’, an’ tha thowt, as tha sayin’ is, bad’s bad, but meddlins wuss.
Tha tell’t un fine tales, ‘at tha mists ‘ud lift, an’ tha bogs ‘ud come i’ tha molds, an’ th’ud be no’on agur; but tha misliked tha changement, an’ wor main fratched [angry] wi’ tha Dutchies, who comed across tha seas for tha delvin [digging].
Tha folk would na give tha Duchies vittles [food], or beddin’, or fair words; no’on let ’em cross tha door-sill; an’ tha said to each ither, tha said, as t’ud be ill days for the Cars, an’ tha poor Car-folk, so-be tha bog-holes wor meddled wi’, an’ ‘Tiddy Mun’ wor unhapped.
For thee know’st, Tiddy Mun dwelt in tha watter-holes doun deep i’ tha green still watter, an’ a comed out nobbut of evens, whan tha mists rose. Than a comed crappelin out i’ tha darklins, limpelty lobelty, like a dearie wee au’d gran’ther, wi’ lang white hair, an’a lang white beardie, all cotted an’ tangled together; limpelty-lobelty, an’ a gowned i’ gray, while tha could scarce see un thruff tha mist, an’a come wi’ a sound o’ rinnin’ watter, an’ a sough o’ wind, an’ laughin’ like tha pyewipe [piewipe; a type of bird] screech. Tha wor none so skeered on Tiddy Mun like tha boggarts an’ such hawiver. A worn’t wicked an’ tantrummy like the watter-wives; an’ a worn’t white an’ creepy like tha Dead Hands. But natheless, ‘twor sort o’ shivery like when tha set round tha fire, to hear the screechin’ laugh out by the door, passin’ in a skirl o’ wind an’ watter; still tha only pulled in a bit nigher together, an’ lispit wi’ a keek [peek] ower tha shouther, “’Arken to Tiddy Mun!”
Mind ye, tha au’d Mun hurted none, nay, a wor real good to un at times. Whan tha year wor geyan wet, and tha watter rose i’ tha marshes, while it creepit up to the doorsill, an’ covered tha pads, come tha fust New Moon, tha feyther an’ mither, an’ a’ tha brats, ‘ud go out i’ tha darklins, an’ lookin’ ower the bog, called out together, thoff mappen [though maybe] a bit skeered an’ quavery like: “Tiddy Mun, wi’-out a name, / tha watter’s thruff!” an’ all holdin’ togither an’ tremblin’, a’d stan’ shakin’ an’ shiverin’, while tha heerd tha pyewipe screech ‘cross tha swamp; ‘twor tha au’d Mun’s holla! An’ i’ tha morn, sure ‘nough, tha watter ‘ud be doun, an’ tha pads dry. Tiddy Mun a done tha job for un.
What’s that? Ay’ a called ‘un Tiddy Mun, for a wor none bigger ‘n a three year’s bairn, but a hadn’t rightly no sort of a name— A niver had none. Someday a’ll tell thee how that comed.
So’s a wor sayin’. Tiddy Mun dwelt i’ tha watter-holes, an’ noo tha Dutchies wor a emptyin’ ’em out, while a wor dry as a two year au’d Motherin’ cake— An’ thou’ll no take much o’ that. Hasn’t heard tha au’d rhyme, as says: “Tiddy Mun, wi-out a name, / White heed, walkin’ lame; / While tha watter teems tha fen / Tiddy Mun’ll harm nane.”
An’ this wor tha pother! for tha watter-holes wor most dry, an’ tha watter wor drawd off into big dykes, so that tha soppy, quiverin’ bog wor turnin’ in firm molds, an’ wheer’d Tiddy Mun be than? Iverybody said, as ill times wor comin’ for tha Cars.
But, however, tha wor no help for’t; tha Dutchies delved, an’ tha’ Dutchies drawd tha watter off, an’ tha dykes gotten ever langer an’ langer, an’ deeper an’ deeper; tha watter runned away, an’ runned away down to tha river, an’ tha black, soft bog-lands ‘ud soon be turned to green closin’s.
But thoff tha work gotten done, it wor no’on wi’out trouble. At the Inn o’ nights, on tha great settle, an’ i’ tha garths, an’ i’ tha kitchens to home, tha lispit strange an’ queer tales, ay dearie me, stra’ange an’ queer, but ‘true’s death! an’ tha au’d folk wagged ther heads, an’ tha young uns wagged ther tongues, an’ tha anes thowt, an’ tha ithers said:
“Ay, an’ for sure, it’s ill comes o’ crossin’ Tiddy Mun!” For mark ma words! ‘twar first ane, syne anither o’tha Dutchies wor gone, clean sperrited away! not a sight o’un anywheres! tha sowt for un, an’ sowt for un, but no’on a shadow of un wor iver seen more, an’ tha Car-folk kenned fine, that a’d niver find un, nay, not if a sowt till tha gowden Beasts o’ Judgement come a-roarin’ an’ a rampin’ ower tha land, for to fett tha sinners.
Tiddy Mun a’d fetted un away, an’ drooned un i’ tha mud holes, wheer tha hadn’t drawed off all tha watter!
An’ tha Car-folk nodded an’ said:
“Ay, that comed o’ crossin’ Tiddy Mun!”
But tha browt more Dutchies for tha work, an’ thoff Tiddy Mun fetted un, an’ fetted un, tha work gotten on natheless an’ tha wor no help for ‘t.
An’ soon tha poor Car-folk kennt that tha au’d Mun wor sore fratched wi’ iverybody.
For soon a sneepit all i’ turn: tha coos pined, tha pigs starved, an’ tha pownies went lame; tha brats took sick, tha lambs dwined, tha creed meal brunt ‘issen, an’ tha new milk craddled; tha thatch fell in, an’ tha walls burst out, an’ all an’ anders went arsy-varsy.
At first tha Car-folk couldna think vat tha au’d Mun ‘ud worritt ‘s ain people sich an’ away; an’ a thought mayhap ‘twor witches or tha tod-lowries, as done it. So tha lads stoned tha wall-eyed witch up to Gorby out o’ tha Market-Place, an’ Sally to Wadham wi’ tha Evil Eye, she as charmed the dead men out o’ ther graves, i’ tha kirk garths; tha ducked she in tha horse-pond while a wor most dead; an’ tha all said “our father” back’ards an’ spat to the east to keep tha tod-lowries’ pranks of; but ‘twor no’on helping; for Tiddy Mun ‘isself wor angered, an’ wor visitin’ it on ‘s poor Car-folks. An’ what could tha do?
The bairns sickened i’ ther mothers’ airms; an’ ther poor white faces niver brightened oop; an’ tha feythers sat an’ smoked, while tha mothers grat [cried], ower tha tiddy innocent babbies lyin’ theer so white an’ smilin’ an’ peaceful. ‘Twor like a frost ‘at comes an’ kills the bonniest flowers. But tha hearts wor sore, an’ ther stomachs empty, wi’ all this sickness an’ bad harvesti an’ what not; an’ somethin’ mun be done, or the Car-folk ‘ud soon be a’ deed an’ gone.
Endlins, some ‘un minded how, whan tha watters rose i’ tha marshes, afore tha delvin’; an’ tha folk ca’ed out to Tiddy Mun, come New Moon i’ tha darklins; a heerd un an’ did as a wor axed. An’ tha thowt, mappen if tha ca’d un age’an, so’s to show un like, as tha Car-folk wished un well, an’ that a’d give un tha watter back if tha only could— Maybe a’d take tha bad spell undone, and forgive ‘un again.
So tha fixed vat tha should a’ meet togither come tha next New Moon doun by tha cross dyke, ly tha au’d stope nigh on to John Ratton’s garth.
Weel, ‘twor a reg’lar gath’rin’, there wor au’d Tom o’ tha Hatch an’ Willem, his sister’s son, from Priestrigg; an’ crooked Fred Lidgitt, an’ Brock o’ Hell-gate, an’ Ted Badley, as wor feyther’s brothers to me; an’ lots more on ’em, wi’ women-folk an’ bairns. A’ll no say a warna theer masel, just mappen, thee knawst!
Tha comed i’ threes an’ fowers, joompin’ at ivery sough o’ wind, an’ screechin’ at ivery snag, but tha didn’t need, for tha poor au’d Boggarts an’ Jack o’ Lanterns [the same as Will-o’-tha-Wykes; misleading spirits] wor clean delved away. Mebbe ther’s boggarts an’ bogles [the same as a boggart] still, an’ witches an’ things, a dunnot say; but they good au’d times is gone i’ tha marshes, an’ tha poor swamp-bogles mun flit [must move] wi’ tha watter an’ a seen ’em go, mysel.
But, hawiver, as a wor sayin, tha comed, every one wi’ a stoup o’ fresh watter in ‘s hand; an’ whiles it darkened, tha stood a’ togithur, lispin’ an’ flusterin’, keekin’ i’ tha shades ower tha shouthers, an’ ‘arkenin’ oneasy-like to tha skirlin’ o’ tha wind, an’ tha lip-lap o’ tha rinnin’ watter.
Come tha darklins at long last, an’ tha stood all on ’em at tha dyke-edge, an’ lookin ower to tha new River, tha ca’d out a’ togither, stra’ange an’ loud, “Tiddy Mun, wi-out a name, / Here’s watter for thee, tak’ tha spell undone!” an’ tha teemed tha watter out o’ tha stoups [buckets]in tha dyke splash sploppert!
‘Twor geyan skeerful, stannin’ holdin’ on togither, i tha stillness. Tha ‘arkened wi’ all ther might, to hear if Tiddy Mun answered ’em; but ther wor nothing but on-natral stillness. An’ then, just whan tha thowt ‘twor no’on good, ther broke out tha awfullest wailin’ an’ whimperin’ all round about ’em; it comed back’ards an’ for’ards, for all tha world like a lot o’ little cryin’ babbies greetin’ [crying] as if to break ther hearts, an’ none to comfort ’em: a sobbed an’ sobbed thersels most quiet, an’ then began again louder ‘n ever, wailin’ an’ moanin’ till a made uns heart ache to hear ’em.
An’ all to wanst the mothers cried out as ‘twor ther dead bairns, callin’ on Tiddy Mun to tak tha spell undone, an’ fleein’ above us i’ tha darklins, moaned an’ whimpered soft-like, as if thea kenned ther mothers’ voices an’ wor tryin’ to reach ther bosom. An’ tha wor women as said ‘at tiddy hands ‘ad touched ’em, an’ cold lips kissed ’em, an’ soft wings fluttered round ’em that night, as tha stood waitin’ an’ ‘arkening to tha woful greetin’. Than all at once, tha wor stillness agean, an’ tha could hear tha watter lappin’ at ther feet, an’ fond-like from tha river hissen, th’ aud pyewipe screech, once an’ again comed, an’ fortrue, ‘twor tha aud man’s holler. An’ tha kenned a’d tak tha spell undone, for ‘twor so kind an’ broodlin’ an’ sorry-like as never was.
Ay dearie day! how tha laughed an’ grat together, runnin’ an’ jumpin’ about, like a pack o’ brats comin’ out o’ school, as tha set off home, wi’ light hearts, an’ never a thought on tha boggarts. Only tha mothers thought o’ ther dead babies an’ ther arms felt empty an’ ther hearts lonesome an’ wearyin’ for tha cold kiss an’ tha flutterin’ o’ tha tiddy fingers, an’ tha grat wi’ thinkin’ on ther poor wee bodies, driftin’ aboot i’ the soughin’ o’ tha night win’.
But fro’ that day, mark me words! ‘twor strange an’ thrivin’ i’ tha Cars. Tha sick bairns got well, an’ tha cattle throve, an’ tha bacon-pigs fattened; tha men folk addled good wages, an’ bread wor plenty; fur Tiddy Mun had taken tha bad spell undone. But every New Moon as was, out tha went in tha darklins, to tha gainest dyke-edge, feyther an’ mither an’ brats; an’ tha teemed tha watter i’ tha dyke cryin’, “Tiddy Mun wi-out a name / Here’s watter for thee!” An’ tha pyewipe screech ‘ud come back, soft and tender an’ pleased. But for certain-sure, if wan o’ un didna go out, c’ep a wor sick, Tiddy Mun missed un, an wor angered wi’ un, an’ laid tha spell on ‘un ‘arder nor ever; while a went wi’ tha others, come next New Moon, to ax tha spell undone. An’ whan tha bairns wor bad, a tellt un as Tiddy Mun ‘ud fett vem away; an’ a wor good as gold to once, for tha kenned as a’d do it.
But thae days is gone by, an’ folk now ken nowt about un. Ay, faix, is it true for a’ that; a’ve seen un mysel, limpin’ by i’ tha fog, all grey an’ white an’ creechin’ like tha pyewipe, but ’tis lang syne a’s ben by, an’ a’ve teemed tha watter out o’ tha stoup too, but a’m too aud now, thou seest, an’ a cannot walk, since years gone. But a guess Tiddy Mun’s bin’ frighted away wi’ a’ tha new ways an’ gear, for folk dinna ken un no more, an’ a niver hear say now, as we used to say when a wor young, an’ annybody had a mort o’ trouble an’ mischance, an’ wry luck, us said, “Ah, thou arnt bin out I’ tha New Moon lately, an’ for certain-sure, it’s ill to cross Tiddy Mun wi-out a name!”
The people of the marshes live in constant fear of the evil spirits (bogles, boggarts, will-o’-the-wisps, water-wives, and animated hands) which prowl the fens at night. The Car-folk are also plagued by constant sickness, resorting to gin and opium just make it through the day (and night). The only ally the Car-folk have is the mysterious Tiddy Mun, a being which – unlike the boggarts – is not malicious but which is still incredibly frightening: Tiddy Mun was the size of a three-year-old child, had no name, “dwelt in the water-holes down deep in the green still water and only came out at night, shuddering along, like a dear, little, old grandfather, with long, white hair and a long, white beard that was all knotted and tangled together; shuddering along, and wearing a grey gown so that one could hardly see him through the mist, and coming with a sound of running water, a sough of wind, and a laugh like the screech of a bird.” Although people weren’t scared of him as they were of the evil spirits, one still got “a sort of shivery feeling while sitting around the fire and hearing the screeching laugh out by the door, passing in a swirl of wind and water.” All people did was to “pull a bit closer together and whisper with a peek over the shoulder.” Clearly, Tiddy Mun was a much beloved, benevolent being!
To be fair though, Tiddy Mun was on the Car-folk’s side, helping them out in times of flood. Unfortunately, times of upheaval arrived when workmen came over from the Netherlands in order to drain the fens. Although the fens caused sickness and wretched, the Car-folk were afraid of the future and showed the Dutch only coldness. The Car-folk were right to be afraid. Grass and farm land might have emerged from under the swamp, but everything began to go wrong. The Dutch were the first to feel Tiddy Mun’s wrath, yet though the spirit drowned many of the foreigners, more just came to replace them. Then, the Car-folk’s fortunes crashed as well: Livestock were slain and children died. At first, the Car-folk were unable to believe that Tiddy Mun would be doing this to his own people, so they blamed the witches and the evil spirits, violently banishing the former from the district and saying charms against the latter. This did no good, and the suffering continued.
Finally, the Car-folk hit upon performing a ritual to show Tiddy Mun that although they could not halt the Dutch’s progress, they wished the spirit well. The Car-folk came out on the night of a new moon and offered Tiddy Mun buckets of water. The spirit was unmoved. Then, the ghosts of the Car-folk’s dead infants joined the supplication, begging Tiddy Mun to remove the bad spell and kissing their mothers with cold lips. At last, Tiddy Mun was appeased although he still required periodic worship.
That Bit About Magic
It is, perhaps, more difficult to imagine the daily lives of humans living under the influence of Black than of any other color in Magic. By necessity, Black citizens must excuse their awful rulers, much in the same way as the Car-folk do not blame the monstrous, ghostly Tiddy Mun for their wretched lives; their problems appear to them to originate either from the natural environment or from the less spirits, both of which seem, more or less, to be under Tiddy Mun’s sway. Even if one takes an altogether kind view of Tiddy Mun’s intentions, his methods are gruesome. Those who oppose his will (the Dutch) simply vanish, drowned in the deep water-holes, and when the humans who depend upon him fail to save his kingdom from the outsiders, he slaughters the innocent children, damning their infant ghosts to wander the bogs in agony and woe.
Again, in the case of Tiddy Mun, we are not merely discussing some tall-tale, some campfire story. The elderly woman who narrated the legend in the late 1800s vividly recalled having taken part in Tiddy Mun’s appeasement rituals herself. Furthermore, though life in the Cars had certainly undergone material improvement since the marsh’s draining, she still longs for the old days and the swamp spirits, even for the “poor au’d Boggarts,” the very beings which had tortured the Car-folk in her youth. It is difficult to imagine how people managed to live in such a state of mind, how true insanity was not the end result of a lifetime in the Cars.
So, next time you complain about scrounging up some money for rent, just feel glad that you’re not living in the early-1800s Cars.