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Elf-shot Cattle

  • Thomas Davidson


This paper outlines the beliefs associated with Elf-shot and the influence these had on the treatment of cattle disease and the pattern of field ploughing. The subject may conveniently be introduced and partially defined by way of two examples. In the late Autumn of 1884 a Buchan farmer was heard to complain ‘I’ve gotten an ill job this mornin’ in the deth o’ a fine stirk by elfshot, an’ the pity is he wasna fasent to a hair tether (a halter made of hair) fan the wapin wad a fa’en short o’m’. When asked whether it might not have been due to quarter-ill, he replied ‘that could na be, my neebor an’ me opent up the beast, an’ there was a hole through his hert’. Some few years before in 1867 a Mr Hew Morrison saw a cow which was said to have been killed by the fairies. When he pointed out to the farmer that her death had been caused by rolling over, and her long horns penetrating the ground had kept her in a position from which she could not rise, he was told that was the common way in which cows fall when struck by the saighead sithe or fairy arrow.



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1 Scottish Notes and Queries, 1st series, 5, p. 178.

a Proceedings Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, XVI, pp. 177-8.

3 J. G. Dalyell, The Darker Superstitions of Scotland, pp. 356-7.

4 R. Kirk, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, 1893, p. 19.

5 R. Pitcairn, The Criminal Trials in Scotland, III, p. 607.

6 Philosophical Transactions, 28, pp. 99-100.

7 R. Cromek, Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, p. 237

* get.


8 Pitcairn, ibid., III, p. 607.

9 Philosophical Transactions, 28, p. 99.

10 A. A. Macgregor, The Peat Fire Flame, p. 16.

11 R. Kirk, ibid., pp. 19-20, 21.

12 Statistical Account of Ireland, III, p. 27.

13 W. Henderson, Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, p. 185.

14 Highland Papers : ‘Witchcraft in Bute’, III, p. 27.

15 Henderson, General View of the Agriculture of Caithness, p. 204.

16 The Denham Tracts, II, p. 113.

17 Folk-lore, XVII, p. 200.

18 New Statistical Account of Scotland : Shetland, p. 142.

19 Scottish Review, XXV, pp. 91-103.

20 J. Spence, Shetland Folklore, pp. 144-6.

21 New Statistical Account of Scotland : Shetland, p. 141.

22 Henderson, ibid., p. 204.

23 Proceeding Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society, III, pt. 3, p. 82.

24 J. Logan, The Scottish Gael, pp. 339-41.

25 Henderson, ibid., pp. 186-7.

26 Folk-Lore, XVII, pp. 200-210.

27 Ibid., XXIII, p. 45.

28 J. Brand, Observations on Popular Antiquities, 1841-2, 11, pp. 401-3.

29 J. Evans, Ancient Stone Implements, p. 326.

30 L. Spence, Fairy Tradition of Britain, p. 173.

31 Proceedings Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 3rd series, III, p. 473.

32 Proceedings Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 3rd series, III, p. 474.

33 Ibid., pp. 476-7.

34 Folk-Lore, XVI, pp. 335-6.

35 Pitcairn, ibid., 11, pp. 535-6.

36 Dalyell, ibid., p. 355.

37 O. Cockayne, Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England, III, p. 53.

38 Grattan and Singer, Anglo-Saxon Magic and Medicine, p. 175.

39 Cockayne, ibid., 11, p. 291.

40 Grattan and Singer, ibid., p. 185.

41 Proceedings Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society, III, pt. 3, p. 82 : quoting John Smith, Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire, p. 77.

* Here we may have the reason for the S-shaped wall-ties invariably found on farm house, cottage and out-house walls.

42 Proceedings Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society, III, pt. 3, p. 77.

43 Agricultural History Review, III, pt. 11, pp. 80-94, where the whole question of curved plough strip is discussed with particular reference to its historical significance.

44 The Denham Tracts, II, p. 146.

45 Proceedings Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society, III, pt. 3, p. 75.

46 Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum, X, p. 988.

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  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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