An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 101There's nane that goes by Carterhaugh
But maun leave him a wad
or pledge. Also he was "a wee, wee man." The portion of the ballad that makes him a mortal kidnapped by fairies is only a clumsy late explanation of the older myth of well-sprite or god, obviously lurking beneath. Is Triduana the old British goddess Keridwen who possessed the mystic cauldron Amen, conferring inspiration (or clear sight) on whoever drank of its waters?
Another good example of myth run to seed in folk-tale is the fairly widespread story of the musician who ventures to explore an underground passage, and never returns. The mythological pedigree of this tale is very clear indeed; but it seems better in the interests of the reader (having first reasoned from effect to cause) to reverse the usual method of folklore for once and argue from known cause to effect. Starting, then, with such myths as those of Orpheus, Ishtar, and others, in which the object is to demonstrate how death may be vanquished and the dead restored, we find the plot turned to the uses of folklore, the heroes entering upon a quest in the Underworld of Fairyland or the abode of a dishonoured goddess, rather than in the sad shades of Hades. Thus Ogier the Dane essays the Land of Faerie, and Tannhäuser enters the Hill of Venus or Holda—the Hörselberg—as Thomas the Rhymer enters the Hill of Ercildoune. Is there a formula? Can we reduce[Pg 228] the general circumstances to a least common denominator something like this?
An adventurous person, usually a musician or maker of poetry, ventures underground (1) in myth to recover a beloved one from the clutches of death, (2) in folklore to gain the love of the Queen of Faerie, or some discredited goddess who takes her place.
But we have not yet plumbed the depths of mythic degeneration. From the allurements of Fairyland we descend still farther to the more dusty shadows of the underground passage. Very numerous are the local tales which tell of these. Thus in Edinburgh a piper accompanied by his dog (for so were the dead ever accompanied in primitive times) dares the dangers of an underground passage from the cliff-perched Castle to Holyrood Palace. The sound of his pipes guides those who follow his progress standing in the streets above, but at a certain point the music ceases and the piper never returns.
In this volume it has been the policy of the author to give where possible examples which have come within his own personal notice, thus avoiding such as have done service again and again in works on myth and folklore; but to show how a folk-tale of universal fame and interest may become localized we will repeat one of these here. The Faust legend, based upon the pact with Satan, has many variants; but surely it is surprising to a degree to discover it as a local story in a Scottish lowland community.