Wednesday 28 November 2012

Book Week Scotland: Hairy Tooth Fairy

A child losing a tooth is one of life's milestones and along with it comes the tradition of the tooth fairy. In Carmina Gadelica, Alexander Carmichael records a version of the tooth fairy custom which is still familiar to us today. As a postscript to the story, he also describes similar customs about cutting hair (hands up who still has a lock of hair among the family heirlooms?) and the threat of doing something which might stop you growing.

An Luch: The Mouse
The little boy or girl who lost a tooth said, ‘A luchag, a luchag, thoir dhomsa fiacaill gheal òir (no airgid) is bheir mise dhut fiacaill gheal chnàimh.’ ‘Little mouse, little mouse, give me a white tooth of gold (or silver) and I will give thee a white tooth of bone.’ (Or the bargain may be the other way about)

'Little dude' with his latest loose tooth from

After that the child placed the fallen tooth ‘ann am fròg a’ bhalla,’ in a chink of the wall of the house, there to remain until the mouse should replace it with the little tooth of white gold or the little tooth of white silver. And the boy or girl visited the chink many times a day to see if the little mouse had brought the promised tooth.

Is e an dochas dòlais 
A lònaich a’ bhaintighearn.
It was hope amid grief
That sustained the great lady.


A luchag! a luchag!
A luchag bheag bhàidh!
A luchag! a luchag!
A luchag bheag ghràidh!

Thoir thusa dhomhsa
Fiacaill bheag òirgill,
Thoir thusa dhomhsa
Fiacaill bheag airghill,

Is bheir mise dhutsa
‘Na chomhnadh, ‘na dhàil,
Fiacaill bheag bhòidheach bhàn,
Fiacaill bheag ògain chual chnàmh,
Fiacaill bheag òighe chual chnàmh,
Fiacaill bheag ògraidh luath-ghàir.

Luch-fheòir or Field mouse from

Little mouse! little mouse!
Little mouse, kindly one!
Little mouse! little mouse!
Little mouse, beloved one!

Give thou to me
A little tooth gold-white,
Give thou to me
A little tooth silver-white,

And I will give to thee
In its stead, in return,
A little tooth of beauteous white,
A little tooth of boy, bone bound,
A little tooth of maid, bone bound,
A little tooth of youngster laughing loud.

Similarly when hair was cut, at the waxing of the moon, the child from whom the hair was taken placed a lock of it in the hole of a wall as high as the hand could reach. After that the little owner of the lock was to grow with the growing moon until the little hear reached as high as the little hand had reached before. The child went every now and then to measure the head against the hair in the wall. Those hopes! And those disappointments!

Phases of the moon from
Phases of the moon

The ‘luch fheòir,’ field-mouse, was believed to exert a bad influence. A child who stepped across a field-mouse would stop growing and would remain a dwarf. Hence to a small person of dwarfish form is said ‘Is tu thug an leum luideach thar na luch fheòir,’ ‘It is thou who gavest the clumsy leap over the field-mouse.’ ‘Is tu thug an leum luch,’ ‘It is thou who gavest the mouse-leap,’ that is, the little leap in growing.

To place the sieve on a child’s head had the same effect; hence the sayings, applied as those above, ‘Chuireadh an criathar air do cheann,’ ‘The sieve was placed upon thine head.’ ‘Is tu thug an leum criathair,’ ‘It is thou who gavest the sieve-leap,’ a small leap in growing.

Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, (Edinburgh, 1941) pp. 18-19.

Field mouse:
Phases of the moon:

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]