Crodh mara by Zenna Tagney (Isle of Skye)
We all know the problem- we’ve saved up a supply of stale urine and then we don’t know what to do with it all… Luckily, folklore provides us with a variety of uses for the control of nuisance fairies, as I shall describe.
It’s well known that the Good Folk object to strong and offensive smells, whether that’s a burning shoe, singed sheep hide or the powerful ammonia scent of stale urine, a substance our ancestors stored up for use in curing leather and, at a household level, for cleaning laundry– it removes stains and brightens colours. This substance is called maistir in Scottish Gaelic and had many additional uses.
Trapping with urine
At Shewbost on the Hebrides fairy cattle, the crodh mara, used to come ashore to graze and the local people were able to catch them and add them to their own herds of livestock by the simple measure of sprinkling maistir across their path back to the sea (see MacPhail, Folklore from the Hebrides, II, p.384). Furthermore, mermaids- just like the fairies- also have an aversion to the substance. Sprinkled between a mermaid and the sea, she would not be able to cross, although these charms were only effective so long as the urine was renewed daily. In one case the person responsible forgot one morning to sprinkle ‘fresh’ maistir and, as soon as she detected it, the mermaid escaped, calling her herd of fae cows by name to follow her.
Repelling with urine
A sprinkling of maistir around a home will protect the household from the faes. It is especially helpful just after a baby has been born, when both nursing mother and child need to be protected against the risk of abduction. In Ross-shire in the north of Scotland, all new born babies were bathed in urine (or uisge-or- ‘golden water) to prevent the fairies stealing them (Folklore vol.14, p.381).Perhaps on the same basis, carrying the mother over the drain from the cow shed is reckoned to be equally effective.
Changelings could be driven away, forcing the faeries to return their infant captive, by exposing them to a range of unpleasant conditions, of which the mildest involved maistir. A suspected changeling could be laid on top of the pot in which the liquid was being stored and, because of the stench, this might alone be enough to expel it. This remedy is plainly the flip side to the defence of new born babies and their mothers.
In fact, maistir can be a general protective against bad luck. On the Isle of Man, for example, ploughs would be washed with the substance before they were taken out to the fields for the annual ploughing. On Halloween in the Highlands cattle, doorposts and walls of houses would all be sprinkled with the liquid to protect the premises from the fays.
So, nuisance fairies? Problem solved! Sprinkle stale urine around your house and they won’t come near. The problem is, nobody else may either, given the stench…