Self Did It

Fairy Legends of Aarne-Thompson-Uther Type 1137
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2009

These legends, for the most part told as true stories connected to specific places, are reminiscent of the encounter between Odysseus (Ulysses) and the Cyclops Polyphemus. Homer's Greek hero claims that his name is Outis (nobody). Later, after having been blinded by Odysseus, Polyphemus shouts to his fellow Cyclops, "Nobody is killing me!" to which they respond by belittling him for making such an uproar over nothing.


  1. My Ainsel (Northumberland, England).

  2. My Own Self (Sunderland, England).

  3. The Miller and the Ourisk (Scotland).

  4. The Story of Tam M'Kechan (Scotland).

  5. Mysel' i' da Mill (Shetland Islands, Scotland).

  6. A Donegal Fairy (Ireland).

  7. Legends of the Mill: The Beggar Woman and the Fairy (Norway).

  8. Issi Teggi (Self Did It) (Estonia).

  9. The Fairy in the House (Basque).

  10. Links to additional tales.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

My Ainsel

Northumberland, England

A widow and her son, a little boy, lived together in a cottage in or near the village of Rothley, Northumberland. One winter evening, the child refused to go to bed with his mother, as he wished to sit up for a while longer, "for," said he "I am not sleepy."

The mother, finding remonstrance in vain, at last told him that if he sat up by himself, the fairies would most certainly come and take him away. The boy laughed as his mother went to bed, leaving him sitting by the fire.

He had not been there long, watching the fire and enjoying its cheerful warmth, till a beautiful little figure, about the size of a child's doll, descended the chimney, and alighted on the hearth! The little fellow was somewhat startled at first, but its prepossessing smile as it paced to and fro before him, soon overcame his fears, and he enquired familiarly "What do they ca' thou?"

"Ainsel" answered the little thing haughtily, at the same time retorting the question, "And what do they ca' thou?"

"My Ainsel," answered the boy; and they commenced playing together like two children newly acquainted. Their gambols continued quite innocently until the fire began to grow dim; the boy then took up the poker to stir it, when a hot cinder accidentally fell upon the foot of his playmate, her tiny voice was instantly raised to a most terrific roar, and the boy had scarcely time to crouch into the bed behind his mother, before the voice of the old fairy mother was heard shouting "Who's done it? Who's done it?"

"Oh! It was My Ainsel!" answered the daughter.

"Why then," said the mother, as she kicked her up the chimney, "What's all the noise for, there's nyen [no one] to blame."

My Own Self

Sunderland, England

In a tiny house in the North Countrie, far away from any town or village, there lived not long ago, a poor widow all alone with her little son, a six-year-old boy.

The house-door opened straight on to the hillside, and all round about were moorlands and huge stones, and swampy hollows; never a house nor a sign of life wherever you might look, for their nearest neighbors were the "ferlies" in the glen below, and the "will-o'-the-wisps" in the long grass along the path-side.

And many a tale she could tell of the "good folk" calling to each other in the oak trees, and the twinkling lights hopping on to the very window sill, on dark nights; but in spite of the loneliness, she lived on from year to year in the little house, perhaps because she was never asked to pay any rent for it.

But she did not care to sit up late, when the fire burnt low, and no one knew what might be about; so, when they had had their supper she would make up a good fire and go off to bed, so that if anything terrible did happen, she could always hide her head under the bedclothes.

This, however, was far too early to please her little son; so when she called him to bed, he would go on playing beside the fire, as if he did not hear her.

He had always been bad to do with since the day he was born, and his mother did not often care to cross him; indeed, the more she tried to make him obey her, the less heed he paid to anything she said, so it usually ended by his taking his own way.

But one night, just at the fore-end of winter, the widow could not make up her mind to go off to bed, and leave him playing by the fireside; for the wind was tugging at the door, and rattling the windowpanes, and well she knew that on such a night, fairies and such like were bound to be out and about, and bent on mischief. So she tried to coax the boy into going at once to bed.

"The safest bed to bide in, such a night as this!" she said; but no, he wouldn't.

Then she threatened to "give him the stick," but it was no use.

The more she begged and scolded, the more he shook his head; and when at last she lost patience and cried that the fairies would surely come and fetch him away, he only laughed and said he wished they would, for he would like one to play with.

At that his mother burst into tears, and went off to bed in despair, certain that after such words something dreadful would happen, while her naughty little son sat on his stool by the fire, not at all put out by her crying.

But he had not long been sitting there alone, when he heard a fluttering sound near him in the chimney, and presently down by his side dropped the tiniest wee girl you could think of; she was not a span high, and had hair like spun silver, eyes as green as grass, and cheeks red as June roses.

The little boy looked at her with surprise.

"Oh!" said he; "what do they call ye?"

"My own self," she said in a shrill but sweet little voice, and she looked at him too. "And what do they call ye?"

"Just my own self too?" he answered cautiously; and with that they began to play together.

She certainly showed him some fine games. She made animals out of the ashes that looked and moved like life; and trees with green leaves waving over tiny houses, with men and women an inch high in them, who, when she breathed on them, fell to walking and talking quite properly.

But the fire was getting low, and the light dim, and presently the little boy stirred the coals with a stick, to make them blaze; when out jumped a red-hot cinder, and where should it fall, but on the fairy-child's tiny foot.

Thereupon she set up such a squeal, that the boy dropped the stick, and clapped his hands to his ears; but it grew to so shrill a screech, that it was like all the wind in the world, whistling through one tiny keyhole.

There was a sound in the chimney again, but this time the little boy did not wait to see what it was, but bolted off to bed, where he hid under the blankets and listened in fear and trembling to what went on.

A voice came from the chimney speaking sharply. "Who's there, and what's wrong?" it said.

"It's my own self," sobbed the fairy child; "and my foot's burnt sore. O-o-h!"

"Who did it?" said the voice angrily; this time it sounded nearer, and the boy, peeping from under the clothes, could see a white face looking out from the chimney opening.

"Just my own self too!" said the fairy-child again.

"Then if ye did it your own self," cried the elf-mother shrilly, "what's the use o' making all this fash about it?" And with that she stretched out a long thin arm, and caught the creature by its ear, and, shaking it roughly, pulled it after her, out of sight up the chimney.

The little boy lay awake a long time, listening, in case the fairy mother should come back after all; and next evening after supper, his mother was surprised to find that he was willing to go to bed whenever she liked.

"He's taking a turn for the better at last!" she said to herself; but he was thinking just then that, when next a fairy came to play with him, he might not get off quite so easily as he had done this time.

The Miller and the Ourisk


The ourisk of the Celts was a creature by no means peculiarly malevolent or formidably powerful, but rather a melancholy spirit, which dwelt in wildernesses far removed from men. If we are to identify him with the Brown Dwarf of the Border moors, the ourisk has a mortal term of life and a hope of salvation, as indeed the same high claim was made by the satyr who appeared to St. Anthony. Moreover, the Highland ourisk was a species of lubber fiend, and capable of being over-reached by those who understood philology.

It is related of one of these goblins which frequented a mill near the foot of Loch Lomond, that the miller, desiring to get rid of this meddling spirit, who injured the machinery by setting the water on the wheel when there was no grain to be grinded, contrived to have a meeting with the goblin by watching in his mill till night. The ourisk then entered, and demanded the miller's name, and was informed that he was called Myself; on which is founded a story almost exactly like that of Outis in The Odyssey, a tale which, though classic, is by no means an elegant or ingenious fiction, but which we are astonished to find in an obscure district, and in the Celtic tongue, seeming to argue some connection or communication between these remote Highlands of Scotland and the readers of Homer in former days, which we cannot account for. After all, perhaps, some churchman more learned than his brethren may have transferred the legend from Sicily to Duncrune, from the shores of the Mediterranean to those of Loch Lomond.

The Story of Tam M'Kechan


There lived in the adjoining parish of Rosemarkie, when the fame of the mill was at its highest, a wild unsettled fellow, named M'Kechan. Had he been born among the aristocracy of the country, he might have passed for nothing worse than a young man of spirit; and after sowing his wild oats among gentlemen of the turf and of the fancy, he would naturally have settled down into the shrewd political landlord, who, if no builder of churches himself, would he willing enough to exert the privilege of giving clergymen, exclusively of his own choosing, to such churches as had been built already.

As a poor man, however, and the son of a poor man, Tam M'Kechan seemed to bid pretty fair for the gallows; nor could he plead ignorance that such was the general opinion. He had been told so when a herd-boy; for it was no unusual matter for his master, a farmer of the parish, to find him stealing peas in the corner of one field, when the whole of his charge were ravaging the crops of another. He had been told so too when a sailor, ere he had broken his indentures and ran away, when once caught among the casks and packages in the hold, ascertaining where the Geneva and the sweetmeats were stowed. And now that be was a drover and a horse-jockey, people, though they no longer told him so, for Tam had become dangerous, seemed as certain of the fact as ever.

With all his roguery, however, when not much in liquor he was by no means a very disagreeable companion; few could match him at a song or the bagpipe, and though rather noisy in his cups and somewhat quarrelsome, his company was a good deal courted by the bolder spirits of the parish, and among the rest by the miller. Tam had heard of the piebald horses and their ghostly attendants [fairies that were believed to frequent the area]; but without more knowledge than fell to the share of his neighbors, he was a much greater skeptic, and after rallying the miller on his ingenuity and the prettiness of his fancy, he volunteered to spend a night at the mill, with no other companion than his pipes.

Preparatory to the trial the miller invited one of his neighbors, the young farmer of Eathie, that they might pass the early part of the evening with Tam; but when, after an hour's hard drinking, they rose to leave the cottage, the farmer, a kindhearted lad, who was besides warmly attached to the jockey's only sister, would fain have dissuaded him from the undertaking.

"I've been thinking, Tam," he said, "that flyte wi' the miller as ye may, ye would better let the good people alone; or stay, sin' ye are sae bent on playing the fule, I'll e'en play it wi' you; rax me my plaid; we'll trim up the fire in the killogie thegether; an' you will keep me in music."

"Na, Jock Hossack," said Tam, "I maun keep my good music for the good people; it's rather late to flinch now; but come to the burn edge wi' me the night, an" to the mill as early in the morning as ye may; an' hark ye, tak a double caulker [dram] wi' you."

He wrapt himself up closely in his plaid, took the pipes under his arm, and, accompanied by Jock and the miller, set out for the dell, into which, however, he insisted on descending alone. Before leaving the bank, his companions could see that he had succeeded in lighting up a fire in the mill, which gleamed through every bore and opening, and could hear the shrill notes of a pibroch [a bagpipe tune] mingling with the dash of the cascade.

The sun had risen high enough to look aslant into the dell, when Jock and the miller descended to the mill, and found the door lying wide open. All was silent within; the fire had sunk into a heap of white ashes, though there was a bundle of fagots untouched beside it, and the stool on which Tam had been seated lay overturned in front. But there were no traces of Tam, except that the miller picked up, beside the stool, a little flat-edged instrument, used by the unfortunate jockey in concealing the age of his horses by effacing the marks on their teeth, and that Jock Hossack found one of the drones of his pipes among the extinguished embers.

Weeks passed away, and there was still nothing heard of Tam; and as everyone seemed to think it would be in vain to seek for him any where but in the place where he had been lost, Jock Hossack, whose marriage was vexatiously delayed in consequence of his strange disappearance, came to the resolution of unraveling the mystery, if possible, by passing a night in the mill.

For the first few hours he found the evening wear heavily away; the only sounds that reached him were the loud monotonous dashings of the cascade, and the duller rush of the stream as it swept past the mill-wheel. He piled up fuel on the fire till the flames rose halfway to the ceiling, and every beam and rafter stood out from the smoke as clearly as by day; and then yawning, as he thought how companionable a thing a good fire is, he longed for something to amuse him.

A sudden cry rose from the further gable, accompanied by a flutter of wings, and one of the miller's ducks, a fine plump bird, came swooping down among the live embers.

"Poor bird!" said Jock, "From the fox to the fire; I had almost forgotten that I wanted my supper."

He dashed the duck against the floor -- plucked and emboweled it -- and then, suspending the carcass by a string before the fire, began to twirl it round and round to the heat. The strong odoriferous fume had begun to fill the apartment, and the drippings to hiss and sputter among the embers, when a burst of music rose so suddenly from the green without, that Jock, who had been so engaged with the thoughts of his supper as almost to have forgotten the fames, started half a yard from his seat.

"That maun be Tam's pipes," he said ; and giving a twirl to the duck he rose to a window.

The moon, only a few days in her wane, was looking aslant into the dell, lighting the huge melancholy cliffs with their birches and hazels, and the white flickering descent of the cascade. The little level green on the margin of the stream lay more in the shade; but Jock could see that it was crowded with figures marvelously diminutive in stature, and that nearly one half of them were engaged in dancing. It was enough for him, however, that the music was none of Tam's making; and, leaving the little creatures to gambol undisturbed, he returned to the fire.

He had hardly resumed his seat when a low tap was heard at the door, and shortly after a second and a third. Jock sedulously turned his duck to the heat, and sat still. He had no wish for visitors, and determined on admitting none. The door, however, though firmly bolted, fell open of itself, and there entered one of the strangest-looking creatures he had ever seen. The figure was that of a man, hut it was little more than three feet in height; and though the face was as sallow and wrinkled as that of a person of eighty, the eye had the roguish sparkle and the limbs all the juvenile activity of fourteen.

"What's your name, man?" said the little thing coming up to Jock, and peering into his face till its wild elfish features were within a few inches of his. "What's your name?"

"Mysel' an Mysel'" -- i. e., myself -- said Jock, with a policy similar to that resorted to by Ulysses in the cave of the giant.

"Ah, Mysel' an Mysel'!" rejoined the creature; "Mysel an Mysel'! and what's that you have got there, Mysel' an Mysel'?" touching the duck as it spoke with the tip of its finger, and then transferring part of the scalding gravy to the cheek of Jock.

Rather an unwarrantable liberty, thought the poor fellow, for so slight an acquaintance; the creature reiterated the question, and dabbed Jock's other cheek with a larger and still more scalding application of the gravy.

"What is it?" he exclaimed, losing in his anger all thought of consequences, and dashing the bird, with the full swing of his arm, against the face of his visitor, "It's that!"

The little creature, blinded and miserably burnt, screamed out in pain and terror till the roof rung again; the music ceased in a moment, and Jock Hossack had barely time to cover the fire with a fresh heap of fuel, which for a few seconds reduced the apartment to total darkness, when the crowd without came swarming like wasps to every door and window of the mill.

"Who did it, Sanachy -- who did it?" was the query of a thousand voices at once.

"Oh, 'twas Mysel' an Mysel'," said the creature; "'twas Mysel' an Mysel'."

"And if it was yoursel' and yoursel', who, poor Sanachy," replied his companions, "can help that?"

They still, however, clustered round the mill; the flames began to rise in long pointed columns through the smoke, and Jock Hossack had just given himself up for lost, when a cock crew outside the building, and after a sudden breeze had moaned for a few seconds among the cliffs and the bushes, and then stink in the lower recesses of the dell, he found himself alone.

He was married shortly after to the sister of the lost jockey, and never again saw the good people, or, what he regretted nearly as little, his unfortunate brother-in-law. There were some, however, who affirmed, that the latter had returned from fairyland seven years after his mysterious disappearance, and supported the assertion by the fact, that there was one Thomas M'Kechan who suffered at Perth for sheep-stealing a few months after the expiry of the seventh year.

Mysel' i' da Mill

Shetland Islands, Scotland

A Yell man was grinding corn in the water mill one night. He was alone, and according to custom, was winding floss (common rush) to pass the time. As the grinding was likely to occupy most of the night he set about preparing supper. He had brought a fowl with him which he proceeded to roast, using the klibbi-tengs (fire-tongs made from a bent hoop) as a gridiron.

Presently he heard the sound of music and dancing and knew that the trows had come. Shortly afterwards the door was quietly opened. One of them, a young woman, came into the mill and wanted to know the occupant's name. The man knew whom he had to deal with, however, and the answer he gave was a cautious one.

"Mysel' i' da mill," he replied.

The visitor, however, seemed in no hurry to depart. She went to the fire and touched the fowl, and afterwards approached the man and placed a hand on his shoulder. This rather upset his temper. He resented the familiarity, and seizing the sizzling fowl by its legs, he dashed it full in the woman's face. The latter immediately fled outside screaming with pain and fright.

The music ceased, and the merrymakers crowded round their companion, and with anger in their voices, demanded to know how she had come by the injury.

"It was mysel' i' da mill," she told them.

On hearing this, the trows replied in chorus, "Sel' dö sel' ha'e."

The mirth was resumed, and the lone occupant of the mill settled down to his task, well satisfied that his ready wit had saved him.

A Donegal Fairy


Ay, it's a bad thing to displeasure the gentry, sure enough -- they can be unfriendly if they're angered, an' they can be the very best o' gude neighbors if they're treated kindly.

My mother's sister was her lone in the house one day, wi' a' big pot o' water boiling on the fire, and ane o' the wee folk fell down the chimney, and slipped wi' his leg in the hot water.

He let a terrible squeal out o' him, an' in a minute the house was full o' wee crathurs pulling him out o' the pot, an' carrying him across the floor.

"Did she scald you?" my aunt heard them saying to him.

"Na, na, it was mysel' scalded my ainsel'," quoth the wee fellow.

"A weel, a weel," says they. "If it was your ainsel scalded yoursel', we'll say nothing, but if she had scalded you, we'd ha' made her pay."

Legends of the Mill: The Beggar Woman and the Fairy


My grandmother used to tell a story about a mill-goblin somewhere up in the country, where no one could get anything ground at the mill, it was so bewitched. But one evening came a beggar-woman, who badly wanted to get a little corn ground, and she asked if she could not get leave to stay there for the night and do it.

"Oh, dear no!" said the owner of the mill; "you can't stay there at night; neither you nor the mill would have any peace for the goblin."

But the beggar-woman wanted so badly to get her corn ground, for she had not a spoonful of meal to make either soup or porridge for the children at home. Well, at last she got leave to go into the mill and grind her corn at night. When she came there, she made a fire on the hearth, where a big pot of tar was hanging. She started the mill, and sat down by the hearth with her knitting.

In a while a girl came into the mill and said "Good evening" to her.

"Good evening," answered the beggar-woman, and went on with her knitting.

But very soon the strange girl began raking the fire out over the hearth, but the beggar-woman raked it together again.

"What's your name?: said the fairy, as you already will have guessed that the strange girl was.

"My name is Self!" answered the beggar-woman.

"The girl thought that was a strange name, and began raking the fire about again. This made the beggar-woman angry, and she began scolding and raking the fire together. They were thus employed for some time, when the beggar-woman, watching her opportunity, upset the boiling tar over the girl, who began screaming and screeching, and as she ran out of the mill, she cried, "Father, father, Self has burnt me!"

"Well, if you have burnt yourself, you have only yourself to blame," said a voice in the hill.

Issi Teggi (Self Did It)


The Estonians call a farm servant who is in charge of barns and grain a row-man. Such a row-man was once sitting and molding buttons when the devil came up to him, greeted him, and asked, "What are you doing there?"

"I am molding eyes."

"Eyes? Can you mold me some new ones?"

"Oh yes, but right now I do not have any at hand."

"But would you do it for me another time?"

"I can do that," said the row-man.

"When should I come back?"

"Whenever you want to."

The next day the devil returned to have eyes molded for himself.

The row-man said, "Do you want large ones or small ones?"

"Very large ones."

The man began to melt a large quantity of lead, saying, "I cannot mold for you unless you let me tie you down."

He told him to lie down with his back on a bench, then took some thick, strong cords and tied him down securely.

After the devil was tightly bound, he asked, "What is your name?"

"My name is Issi (self)."

"That is a good name. I do not know of a better one."

The lead was now molten. The devil opened his eyes wide, thinking to get new ones, and waiting for the cast.

"I'm pouring now," said the row-man, then poured the hot lead into the devil's eyes.

The devil jumped up, with the bench on his back, and ran away. He ran past some people who were plowing in a field. They asked, "Who did that to you?"

The devil answered, "Issi teggi (self did it)."

The people laughed and said, "Self done, self have."

The devil died of his new eyes, and since then no one has ever seen him again.

The Fairy in the House


There was once upon a time a gentleman and lady. And the lady was spinning one evening. There came to her a fairy, and they could not get rid of her; and they gave her every evening some ham to eat, and at last they got very tired of their fairy.

One day the lady said to her husband, "I cannot bear this fairy; I wish I could drive her away."

And the husband plots to dress himself up in his wife's clothes just as if it was she, and he does so. The wife goes to bed, and the husband remains in the kitchen alone, and the fairy comes as usual. And the husband was spinning. The fairy says to him, "Good-day, madam."

"The same to you too; sit down."

"Before you made chirm, chirin, but now you make firgilun, fargalun." [That is, the wife span evenly with a clear steady sound of the wheel, but the man did it unevenly.]

The man replies, "Yes, now I am tired."

As his wife used to give her ham to eat, the man offers her some also.

"Will you take your supper now?"

"Yes, if you please," replies the fairy.

He puts the frying-pan on the fire with a bit of ham. While that was cooking, and when it was red, red-hot, he throws it right into the fairy's face. The poor fairy begins to cry out, and then come thirty of her friends.

"Who has done any harm to you?"

"I, to myself; I have hurt myself."

"If you have done it yourself, cure it yourself."

And all the fairies go off, and since then there came no more fairies to that house. This gentleman and lady were formerly so well off, but since the fairy comes no longer the house little by little goes to ruin, and their life was spent in wretchedness. If they had lived well they would have died well too.

Links to additional tales

  1. Briggs, Katherine M, "Masell," A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language: Part A, Folk Narratives (London: Taylor and Francis, 1991), p. 321. Originally published in London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970.

  2. Kuhn, Adalbert; and Wilhelm Schwartz, "Selbergedån," Norddeutsche Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1848), pp. 97-98. In a Low German dialect.

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Revised June 24, 2009.