This week's forecast for Strange Company HQ: mostly cloudy with a strong chance of malevolent goblins.
The following details of one Scottish Highlander's brush with The Weird comes from two published sources: "The Gael," (volume 6, 1877,) and the Rev. A. Maclean Sinclair's "Glenhard Collection of Gaelic Poetry." (Sinclair received his information from a man whose grandfather had personal involvement with the story.)
In the mid 1700s there lived in Lochaber one Donald Bán, who, for very good reasons, became renowned as "Donald Bán of the Goblin" [or "Bócan," to use the native tongue.] Donald, we are informed, was no stranger to the supernatural. A cousin of his mother's had been carried away by the fairies, and one night Donald himself saw this lost relation among the fairy folk, "dancing as hard as he could." On another occasion, Donald was out hunting, when he noticed a man on the back of a deer climbing a large rock. "Home, Donald Bán," the man instructed him. Donald heeded this advice, fortunately for him. That night, eleven feet of snow fell on the place where he had planned to camp. Such encounters were merely an opening act for a spectacularly strange episode in his life.
The details of Donald Bán's initial encounter with his goblin are lost to history. The source material contents itself with the majestic, if enigmatic, line, "It was on the hill that Donald first met with the Bócan." Who--or what--the Bócan was also unrecorded. Some proposed that the being was a servant of Donald's who had been killed when he and his master fought in the battle of Culloden. Apparently, this "gille" had once given a poverty-stricken neighbor more assistance than his master approved of. The two quarreled over this excessive generosity, causing the "gille" to vow, "I will be avenged for this, alive or dead."
The one thing that can be said for certain about the Bócan was that it was a thoroughgoing paranormal pain in the neck. The goblin physically injured Donald Bán and his family. It ruined the household's food supplies. For whatever reason, the butter was a particular target of the being's wrath, despite all efforts to preserve it. We are told that on one occasion, one Ronald of Aberadair tried to keep his butter clean by holding his bonnet over it, and carrying his dirk in his hand (presumably to fend off the goblin,) but by the time he reached the table, the butter had magically been dirtied. At night, no one could sleep due to the goblin's penchant for stone-throwing: "the Bócan was throwing things out of the walls, and they would hear them rattling at the head of Donald's bed." When Angus mac Alister Bán (the grandfather of Sinclair's informant) spent the night at Donald's home, he received a very rude welcome: "Something seized his two big toes, and he could not get free any more than if he had been caught by the smith's tongs. He could not get moved. It was the Bócan, but he did nothing more to him." All of Lochaber, it seems, witnessed the goblin's many destructive pranks, although no one, not even Donald himself, ever actually saw their tormentor.
Donald and his family became so weary of this supernatural persecution that they decided to move to another house, hoping that the goblin would be content to stay behind. They took with them all their possessions except a harrow, which was left by the side of the house. However, as they began traveling along the road, they spied the harrow...following them. "Stop, stop," sighed Donald. "If the harrow is coming after us we may as well go back again." And so they did.
The goblin had a special animus towards Donald's wife. Although it never gave its reasons for this spite--imps, fairies and the like have never felt the need to justify themselves--it may have been because she belonged to the clan MacGregor. One night, the goblin went to the roof of the house and cried, "Are you asleep, Donald Bán?"
"Not just now," his host replied.
"Put out that long grey tether, the MacGregor wife."
"I don't think I'll do it tonight," said Donald.
"Come out yourself, then, and leave your bonnet."
Donald's wife whispered to him, "Won't you ask at him when the Prince will come?"
No sooner had she said these words that the goblin snapped, "Didn't you get enough of him before, you grey tether?"
No matter how uninvited or unpleasant they may be, all houseguests eventually leave. One night, the goblin bid the family farewell. As the Rev. Sinclair described it, "The last night that the Bócan came he was saying that such and such other spirits were along with him. Donald's wife said to her husband, 'I should think that if they were along with him they would speak to us.' The Bócan answered, 'They are no more able to speak than the sole of your foot.' 'Come out here, Donald Bán,' said the Bócan. 'I will,' said Donald, 'and thanks be to the good Being that you have asked me.' Donald was going out, and taking his dirk along with him. 'Leave your dirk inside, Donald,' said the Bócan, 'and your knife as well.' Donald went out, and he and the Bócan went through Acha-nan-Comhachan by night, and on through rivers and a birch-wood for about three miles till they reached the stream of the Fert. When they got to this the Bócan showed him a hole where he had hid plough-irons while he was alive. While Donald was taking the plough-irons out of the hole the two eyes of the Bócan were putting more fear on him than anything else he ever heard or saw. When he had got the irons, they went home to Mounessie, himself and the Bócan, and parted that night at the house of Donald Bán."
There is a poetic footnote to this little tale. During the period when Donald was troubled by his pesky visitor, he wrote a hymn which, happily, has been preserved for posterity:
O God that created me so helpless,
Strengthen my belief and make it firm.
Command an angel to come from Paradise
And take up his abode in my dwelling,
To protect me from every trouble
That wicked folks are putting in my way;
Jesus that didst suffer thy crucifixion,
Restrain their doings, and be with me thyself.
Little wonder though I am thoughtful--
Always at the time when I go to bed
The stones and the clods will arise--
How could a saint get sleep there!
I am without peace or rest,
Without repose or sleep till the morning;
O thou that art in the throne of grace,
Behold my treatment and be a guard to me.
Little wonder though I am troubled,
So many stories about me in every place,
Some that are unjust will be saying
"It is all owing to himself, that affair."
Judge not except as you know,
Though the Son of God were awaking you;
No one knows if I have deserved more
Than a rich man that is without care.
Although I am in trouble at this time,
Verily, I shall be doubly repaid,
When the call comes to me from my Saviour
I shall receive mercy and new grace;
I fear no more vexation
When I ascend to be with thy saints;
O thou that sittest on the throne
Assist my speaking and accept my prayer.
O God, make me mindful
Night and day to be praying,
Seeking pardon richly
For what I have done, on my knees.
Stir with the Spirit of Truth
True repentance in my bosom,
That when thou dost send death to seek me,
Christ may take care of me.
Thus ends our brief look at typical domestic life in 18th century Scotland.