Listen well and heed the old wisdom; young men, if you're out and about in the forests and hills of Scotland, be careful what you wish for. Fear the Baobhan Síth and live long!
Forgive the theatrics, but I can't resist; Scottish folklore often demands theatre from us. I've written about the Baobhan Síth before, in the form of a short story entitled The End of Malcolm McLeod wherein the unlucky namesake character falls afoul of the fairy woman after betraying his would-be wife.
But it falls short of explaining the nature of Scotland's very own vampire. So, it's time for me to rectify this failure in the first instalment of my Scottish Folklore series.
Lust and Hunger; The White Lady of the Highlands
The Baobhan Síth is one of the fair folk; a fairy, but not the kind you may associate with children's literature. This is no Tinkerbell, either in looks or temperament. Like many fairy creatures, they are complex, entirely inhuman, and entirely capable of being vicious and malevolent.
The stories differ in some ways, but isn't that the way with most folklore? They agree on some things, however; Baobhan Síth are vampires of sorts that feed on the blood of men and, as fairy creatures, they abhor iron an horses. Most often taking the form of a beautiful woman in a long green or white dress (perfectly designed to hide the cloven deer hooves that they have rather than human feet), Baobhan Síth can also take the form of hooded crows. Some stories also say that they can take the form of wolves.
They share many characteristics with both vampires and succubi, but are distinct from both. Baobhan Síth keep to themselves; they do not want wealth or power, or chase youth and beauty. They are hungry creatures that prefer solitude, and they do not bite their victims but rather slice their throats with long, sharp nails.
Drawn primarily to hunters thanks to the smell of blood and death on their clothes, Baobhan Síth are nonetheless not picky feeders; they are said to change form to seduce their prey. While they prefer men, they will drink from women.
There are no male Baobhan Síth, according to the stories, but women killed by them are apt to turn themselves and haunt the lonely byways of the highlands seeking their own prey. Most of the stories about them carry a few key themes:
- Twisted wish fulfilment
In many senses, tales of the Baobhan Síth are infused with moral lessons and warnings, which is common in folk tales.
The Story of the Late Hunters
Though tales of the Baobhan Síth are traditionally found in the highlands, there are a few farther south. This one comes from the central belt and the Royal Burgh of Stirling which sits on a high, rocky structure overlooking the fording points of the river forth.
So the story goes, two sons of that rock, noblemen, were out hunting one day, as they often were, and returned late. They were feckless men who cared for nothing but drinking, hunting, and whoring, and so they returned long after sunset in a howling rain storm. Though they knocked on the gates and called out, the watchman didn't rouse from his sleep or leave his hut.
Perhaps he didn't hear them, or perhaps he thought a night in the cold would be good for them. Either way, they turned away from the gates and began to lead their horses around the perimeter of the wall, seeking shelter in the bushes and trees that huddled around it. After a time, they smelled smoke and food on the wind, following it to a lonely shieling where a fire roared and there was stew in the pot. Tired and cold as they were, they never stopped to wonder why they had never seen it before
Spoiled boys who had grown into greedy men, they thought nothing of tying the horses under a sheltering tree and throwing themselves down by the fire to eat and drink what was not theirs in a home they did not own. Once they were warm and their hunger and thirst had been sated, they wished for company. Female company, and it arrived in the form of a beautiful woman with raven hair and a long, white dress.
The older hunter demanded she dance with him, never stopping to wonder if she was the owner of the house they had so selfishly taken over, and she acquiesced. Her dress and hair whipped as she danced, and soon the younger hunter realized that the cries his friend made were not joyous; he fell to the ground in a bloody heap and the woman stooped to drink from a gaping wound in his neck.
He fled out into the cold and wet, sandwiching himself between the horses, for he knew she was not human and the iron of the horses shoes would be a barrier. The Baobhan Síth shrieked, having been cheated of a meal; through the night she circled him as he clung to the horses, always just out of sight in the shadows where her eyes glittered like gems.
As dawn broke, the Baobhan Síth and her Shieling disappeared and he untethered the horses, riding to the gates as fast as he could. Few believed him, of course, and the second mans body was never found.
So, as you can see, it's never a good idea to abuse Scottish hospitality.
If you want to read more about Scottish folklore, consider the other instalments in this series:
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
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