Wise & Subtle Art of Reading Cards The Wytch of Middling Memory The Wytch of Exceptional Memory Combinations
Hie to Carterhaugh: Ballads Green Grow the Rushes: Songs & Chants
Wortcunning: Seeds and Weeds Blackthorn and Hawthorn: To Harm or Heal
T'ween Dusted Pages of Auld: Suggested Books A Proverbial Wytch: Proverbs, Maxims and Wise Words Old Craft Glossary
Tom Tit Tot: Faery Lore The Fabled Hare Artful Avians: Bird Lore Standing Stone and Elder Tree Labyrinths and Mazes Beneath the Mask: Guising Midsummer Lore Merry Misrule Kilkenny's Wytch: Dame Alice
Which Witch is Wytch? Walking The Crooked Path Fetch Light Atop the Hedgerow The Old Straight Track: Ley Lines Oot and Aboot: Crossing the Hedge By Horse and Hattock Skry Stone, Shew Stone: Divination Signs and Symbols To 'Prentis Seekers
Diana and Her Darling Crew: Links About the HedgeWytch Credits and Kudos

Traditional Ballads

"...And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years,
We pay a tiend to hell..."


Ballads first appeared in the Middle Ages in Europe as a form of story-song readily identifiable by several characteristics (three primary and two secondary)

Traditional Ballad Characteristics

1. The ballad tells a story.

2. It tells its story in song, in simple melody.

3. It is a folk story-song since it has the unmistakable qualities of treatment, of style, of subject matter that come only from folk culture.

The two Secondary characteristics--impersonality and concern with a single situation rather than a developmental series of events--are not integral but expected.

The meanings behind many of the Traditional Ballads we are familiar with are varied and complex. Throughout the centuries many ballads have been written about such things as conflicts between family members, the pursuit of a love, or even betrayal and acts of treachery. 

Ballads often also contain descriptive historical elements that stand as markers against the tides of time. In the case of traditional witchcraft we shall look at the ones that contain strong supernatural themes such as magic, shape shifting and more. These ballads have encoded within them Magical Laws and Ethics, able to be passed within familial contexts without the discouragement by the powerful church and its allies for trafficking with Sorcery and Witchcraft.

These are the threads that weave through the otherworldly fabric of Balladeering that we take an interest in and pursue below. 

(Some ballads are taken from The Ballad Book, edited by Edward Leach)

Thomas the Rhymer

True Thomas lay o'er yon grassy bank 
And he beheld a lady gay, 
A lady that was both brisk and bold 
Come riding o'er the fernie brae. 
Her skirt was of the grass-green silk, 
Her mantlet of the velvet fine, 
At ilka tett of her horses mane 
Hung fifty silver bells and nine. 

True Thomas he took off his hat, 
And bowed him low down to his knee; 
'All hail thou mighty Queen of Heaven! 
For your peer on earth I ne'er did see!' 

'Oh no, oh no, True Thomas' she says, 
That name does not belong to me; 
I am but the Queen of Fair Elfland, 
That has come for to visit thee.' 

'But ye maun go wi' me now Thomas, 
True Thomas ye maun go wi me, 
For ye maun serve me seven years 
Thro weel or wae as may change to be.' 

She turned about her milk white steed, 
And took True Thomas up behind, 
And aye whene'er the bridle rang, 
The steed flew swifter than the wind. 

For forty days and forty nights, 
He wade thro red blude to the knee, 
And he saw neither sun nor moon, 
But heard the roaring of the sea. 

O they rade on and further on, 
Until they came to a garden tree; 
'Light down, light down, ye ladie free, 
And I'll pull of that fruit for thee.' 

'O no, O no, True Thomas,' she says 
'That fruit maun not be touched by thee, 
For all the plagues that are in hell, 
Light on the fruit of this countrie. 
'But I have a loaf here in my lap, 
Likewise a bottle of red wine, 
And now ere we go further on, 
Well rest awhile, and ye may dine.' 

When he had eaten and drunk his fill, 
She said 'Lay your head upon my knee, 
And ere we climb yon high high hill, 
I will show you fairlies three.' 

'Ah see ye not that broad broad road 
That lies by the lily leven? 
O that is the way of wickedness, 
Tho some call it the road to Heaven.' 

'And see ye not that narrow narrow road, 
All beset with thorns and briers? 
O that is the way of righteousness, 
Tho after it but few enquires.' 

'And see ye not that bonny bonny road, 
Which winds about the ferny brae? 
O that is the road to fair Elfland, 
Where you and I this night maun gae.' 

'But Thomas you must hold your tongue, 
Whatever you may hear or see, 
For if one word you should chance to speak, 
You will never get back to your ain countrie.' 

He has gotten a coat of the green green cloth, 
Likewise shoes of the velvet sheen, 
And till seven years were past and gone, 
True Thomas ne'er on earth was seen.

Twa Corbies

As I was walking all alane 
I heard twa corbies making a mane: 
The tane unto the tither did say, 
'Whar sall we gang and dine the day?' 

'In behint yon auld fail dyke 
I wot there lies a new-slain knight; 
And naebody kens that he lies there 
But his hawk, his hound, and his lady fair. 

'His hound is to the hunting gane, 
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame, 
His lady 's ta'en anither mate, 
So we may mak our dinner sweet. 

'Ye'll sit on his white hause-bane, 
And I'll pike out his bonny blue e'en: 
Wi' ae lock o' his gowden hair 
We'll theek our nest when it grows bare. 

'Mony a one for him maks mane, 
But nane sall ken whar he is gane: 
O'er his white banes, when they are bare, 
The wind sall blaw for evermair.' 

(Scottish Version)

Double Rose

Tam Lin

O I forbid you, maidens a',
That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.

There's nane that gaes by Carterhaugh
But they leave him a wad,
Either their rings, or green mantles,
Or else their maidenhead.

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little aboon her knee,
And she has broded her yellow hair
A little aboon her bree,
And she's awa to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can hie.

When she came to carterhaugh
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she fand his steel standing,
But away was himsel.

She had na pu'd a double rose,
A rose but only twa,
Till upon then started young Tam Lin,
Says, Lady, thou's pu nae mae.

Why pu's thou the rose, Janet,
And why breaks thou the wand?
Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh
Withoutten my command?

"Carterhaugh, it is my own,
My daddy gave it me,
I'll come and gang by Carterhaugh,
And ask nae leave at thee.?

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little aboon her knee,
And she has broded her yellow hair
A little aboon her bree,
And she is to her father's ha,
As fast as she can hie.

Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the ba,
And out then came the fair Janet,
The flower among them a'.

Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the chess,
And out then came the fair Janet,
As green as onie glass.

Out then spake an auld grey knight,
Lay oer the castle wa,
And says, Alas, fair Janet, for thee,
But we'll be blamed a'.

"Haud your tongue, ye auld fac'd knight,
Some ill death may ye die!
Father my bairn on whom I will,
I'll father none on thee."

Out then spak her father dear,
And he spak meek and mild,
"And ever alas, sweet Janet," he says,
"I think thou gaest wi child."

"If that I gae wi child, father,
Mysel maun bear the blame,
There's neer a laird about your ha,
Shall get the bairn's name.

"If my love were an earthly knight,
As he's an elfin grey,
I wad na gie my ain true-love
For nae lord that ye hae.

"The steed that my true love rides on
Is lighter than the wind,
Wi siller he is shod before,
Wi burning gowd behind."

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little aboon her knee,
And she has broded her yellow hair
A little aboon her bree,
And she's awa to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can hie.

When she came to Carterhaugh,
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she fand his steel standing,
But away was himsel.

She had na pu'd a double rose,
A rose but only twa,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Says, Lady, thou pu's nae mae.

"Why pu's thou the rose, Janet,
Amang the groves sae green,
And a' to kill the bonny babe
That we gat us between?"

"O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin," she says,
"For's sake that died on tree,
If eer ye was in holy chapel,
Or christendom did see?"

"Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,
Took me with him to hide,
And ance it fell upon a day
That wae did me betide.

"And ance it fell upon a day
A cauld day and a snell,
When we were frae the hunting come,
That frae my horse I fell,
The Queen o' Fairies she caught me,
In yon green hill do dwell.

"And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years,
We pay a tiend to hell,
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I'm feard it be mysel.

"But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday,
Then win me, win me, an ye will,
For weel I wat ye may.

"Just at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that wad their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they maun bide."

"But how shall I thee ken, Tam Lin,
Or how my true-love know,
Amang sa mony unco knights,
The like I never saw?"

"O first let pass the black, lady,
And syne let pass the brown,
But quickly run to the milk-white steed,
Pu ye his rider down.

"For I'll ride on the milk-white steed,
And ay nearest the town,
Because I was an earthly knight
They gie me that renown.

"My right hand will be gloved, lady,
My left hand will be bare,
Cockt up shall my bonnet be,
And kaimed down shall my hair,
And thae's the takens I gie thee,
Nae doubt I will be there.

"They'll turn me in your arms, lady,
Into an esk and adder,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I am your bairn's father.

"They'll turn me to a bear sae grim,
And then a lion bold,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
And ye shall love your child.

"Again they'll turn me in your arms
To a red het gand of airn,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I'll do you nae harm.

"And last they'll turn me in your arms
Into the burning gleed,
Then throw me into well water,
O throw me in with speed.

"And then I'll be your ain true-love,
I'll turn a naked knight,
Then cover me wi your green mantle,
And cover me out o sight."

Gloomy, gloomy was the night,
And eerie was the way,
As fair Jenny in her green mantle
To Miles Cross she did gae.

About the middle o the night
She heard the bridles ring,
This lady was as glad at that
As any earthly thing.

First she let the black pass by,
And syne she let the brown,
But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed,
And pu'd the rider down.

Sae weel she minded what he did say,
And young Tam Lin did win,
Syne covered him wi her green mantle,
As blythe's a bird in spring

Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
Out of a bush o broom,
"Them that has gotten young Tam Lin
Has gotten a stately-groom."

Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
And an angry woman was she:
"Shame betide her ill-far'd face,
And an ill death may she die,
For she's taen awa the bonniest knight
In a' my companie.

"But had I kend, Tam Lin,"she says,
"What now this night I see,
I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een,
And put in twa een o tree."

The Weaver's Bonny or the Devil's Nine Questions

If you don't answer my questions nine
Sing ninety-nine and ninety,
I'll take you off to hell alive,
And you are the weaver's bonny.

What is whiter than milk?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
What is softer than silk?
Say you're the weaver's bonny."

Snow is whiter than milk,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
Down is softer than silk,
And I'm the weaver's bonny."

What is louder than a horn?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
What is sharper than a thorn?
Sing I am the weaver's bonny.

Thunder's louder than a horn,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety ;
Death is sharper than a thorn,
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny.

What is higher than a tree?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
What is deeper than the sea?
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny.

Heaven's higher than a tree,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
And hell is deeper than the sea,
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny.

What is innocenter than a lamb?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
What is worse than woman kind?
Say I'm the weaver's bonny.

A babe is innocenter than a lamb,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety ;
The devil's worse than woman kind,
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny."

You have answered me questions nine,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
You are God's, you're not my own,
And you're the weaver's bonny."

4. The Twa Magicians

The lady stands in her bower door,
As straight as willow wand;
The blacksmith stood a little forebye,
Wi hammer in his hand.

 'Weel may ye dress ye, lady fair,
Into your robes o red;
Before the morn at this same time,
I'll gain your maidenhead.'

3'Awa, awa, ye coal-black smith,
Woud ye do me the wrang
To think to gain my maidenhead,
That I hae kept sae lang!'

Then she has hadden up her hand,
And she swam by the mold,
'I wudna be a blacksmith's wife
For the full o a chest o gold.

 'I 'd rather I were dead and gone,
And my body laid in grave,
Ere a rusty stock o coal-black smith
My maidenhead shoud have.'

But he has hadden up his hand,
And he sware by the mass,
'I'11 cause ye be my light leman
For the hauf o that and less.'

O bide, lady, bide, 
And aye he bade her bide;
The rusty smith your leman shall be,
For a' your muckle pride.

Then she became a turtle dow,
To fly up in the air,
And he became another dow,
And they flew pair and pair.
O bide, lady, bide, &c. 

She turnd hersell into an eel,
To swim into yon burn,
And he became a speckled trout, 
To gie the eel a turn.
O bide, lady, bide, &c.

Then she became a duck, a duck,
To puddle in a peel,
And he became a rose-kaimd drake,
To gie the duck a dreel.
O bide, lady, bide, &c. 

She turnd hersell into a hare,
To rin upon yon hill,
And he became a gude grey-hound,
And boldly he did fill.
0 bide, lady, bide, &c.

Then she became a gay grey mare,
And stood in yonder slack,
And he became a gilt saddle,
And sat upon her back.
Was she wae, he held her sae,
And still he bade her bide;
The rusty smith her leman was,
For a' her muckle pride.

Then she became a het girdle,
And he became a cake,
And a' the ways she turnd hersell,
The blacksmith was her make.
Was she wae, &e.

She turnd hersell into a ship,
To sail out ower the flood;
He ea'ed a nail intill her tail,
And syne the ship she stood.
Was she wae, &c.

Then she became a silken plaid,
And stretchd upon a bed,
And he became a green covering,
And gaind her maidenhead.
Was she wae, &c.

The Cruel Mother

There was a lady lived in York
All alone and a-lonely
She was courted by her own father's clerk,
Down by the Greenwood side.

She lent her back against a thorn
All alone and a-lonely
And there she had two pretty babes born,
Down by the Greenwood side.

She took a penknife long and sharp
All alone and a-lonely
And stabbed those pretty babes through their hearts,
Down by the Greenwood side.

She dug a grave by the light of the Moon
All alone and a-lonely
And covered it over with dirt and stones,
Down by the Greenwood side.

One day as she was going to church
All alone and a-lonely
She spied two pretty babes in the porch,
Down by the Greenwood side.

"O babes, O babes if you were mine
All alone and a-lonely
I'd dress you up in satin fine,
Down by the Greenwood side.

"O Mother, O Mother when we were thine
All alone and a-lonely
You did not treat us half so fine,
Down by the Greenwood side."

"O babes, O babes, can you foresee
All alone and a-lonely
What the future holds for me,
Down by the Greenwood side."

"It's seven years a fish in the flood
All alone and a-lonely
And seven years a bird in the wood,
Down by the Greenwood side."

"And seven years the tongue of a bell
All alone and a-lonely
And seven more years a porter in Hell,
Down by the Greenwood side."

"O welcome, welcome bird in the wood
All alone and a-lonely
And welcome, welcome fish in the flood,
Down by the Greenwood side."

"And welcome, welcome tongue of a bell
All alone and a-lonely
But Christ deliver me from Hell,
Down by the Greenwood side."

The Elfin Knight

My plaid awa, my plaid awa,
And ore the hill and far awa,
And far awa to Norrowa,
My plaid shall not be blown awa.

The elfin knight sits on yon hill,
Ba, ba, ba, lilli ba
He blaws his horn both lowd and shril.
The wind hath blown my plaid awa

He blowes it east, he blowes it west,
He blowes it where he lyketh best.

"I wish that horn were in my kist,
Yes, and the knight in my armes two."

She had no sooner these words said,
When that the knight came to her bed.

"thou art over young a maid", quoth he,
"married with me thou il wouldst be"

"I have a sister younger than I,
And she was married yesterday"

"Married with me if thou wouldst be,
a courtesie thou must do to me.

"For thou must shape a sark to me,
without any cut or heme" quoth he.

"Thou must shape it knife-and-sheerlesse,
And also sue it needle-threedlesse"

"If that piece of courtesie I do to thee,
another thou must do to me.

I have an aiker of good ley-land,
Which lyeth low by yon sea-strand.

For thou must care it with thy horn,
So thou must sow it with thy corn.

And bigg a cart of stone and lyme,
Robin Redbreast he must trail it hame.

Thou must barn it in a mouse-holl,
And trash it into thy shoes soll.

And thou must winnow it in thy looff,
And also seek it in thy glove.

And thou must bring it over the sea,
And thou must bring it dry home to me.

When thou hast gotten thy turns well done,
Then come to me and get thy sark then.

I'l not quite plaid for my life
It haps my seven bairns and my wife
The wind shall not blow my plaid awa.

My maidenhead I'l then keep still,
Let the elphin knight do what he will
The wind's not blown my plaid awa.


The Ballad of Pewter Bay

On some long night, when the stars are streaming,
While catfish drowse and herons stand dreaming,
You might hear the tale of Pewter Bay,
The small sea hamlet with its waters gray.

Oh, once the bay held waters greening.
Full shores there were and life a'teeming.
Though now that shore is pale and weer,
And silence haunts the jettied pier.

So, sit my friend and have a fine sup,
While I weave the tale of the Pewter Cup.
The Tale begins whence the Roodmas fires
Hath climbed the sky in magenta spires.

A local Witch who worked the land
Had made her home upon the sand.
And there she plied her cunning trade,
To many a gentle man and maid.

Knowledge and wisdom she had gained
When a series of letters was exchanged
T'ween her and a boy from the Bayou way
Packets left at morn by the dockside quay.

Secrets they shared were both new and old
Including maps to the soul's inner gold.
She thought quite sure she could depend
On her distant mentor and far away friend.

But as these tales will all bear true,
She found her friend would soon eschew.
Letters that had once brought gain
Would seem to bear her nought but pain.

One letter asked for a simple trade,
A Pewter Cup, ornate and finely made.
To be given up for a coveted Book,
And this trade began the donnybrook.

The ships at sea had sailed quite swift,
To bring the Witch these treasured gifts.
The cup arrived as he had said it should,
With an added gift - a bowl formed of wood.

These gifts weren't given from the heart
They now were tools that forced apart
The bonds of kith and kin and friend.
And with this act - no way to mend.

The sky grew dark and the seas turned black
As Witch made to give the Cup back.
The wind was whistled to a hearty gale
As Witch set forth her simple sail.

She narrowed her eyes at thought of the knave
As her small boat was cast wave upon wave.
Three miles out while the mermen slept
She damned the boy and then she wept.

She gazed far down into the briny deep
Where secrets still far older sleep.
And she cast the Cup into the sea
Where there it rests for all eternity.

Nary a drop from this Cup had been drunk
As it slowly drifted and slowly sunk.
And this is why even to this day,
The waters 'round here are silvery gray.

You've supped your wine, now my tale is told,
Aye, Friendship can't be bought or sold.
Now here ends the Ballad of Pewter Bay.
Oh, What happened to the Witch you say?

When the wind rises and dolphins croon,
And full and round's the shape of the moon,
Look out to sea and bend your ear,
It may just be that Witch you hear...

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