This is a old Cornish story about a pretty young girl called Jenny who has given birth to a beautiful baby son three or four days previously. She decides to leave her baby for a few hours to go to the Harvest Festival in the village. In the world of Cornish fairies, this is a NO-NO in capital letters a thousand feet tall. It can only end in total catastrophe.
“Jenny, thinking about her baby left all alone at home, didn’t stop for the drinking after the harvest festival, but had one good drink of beer, got some cakes to take home and then she hurried away. When she opened her door, she saw, by the moonlight, that the cradle was overturned. Straw and rags were on the floor, but no child was in sight”:
“In searching all the holes and corners, she came to the corner where the wood was kept and there, among the heaps of dried grasses, ferns, and gorse, she found the child fast asleep. Being very tired, she took up the child and went to bed”.
“The next morning, when she looked at the baby by daylight, it seemed to her that there was somehow something strange about him. She didn’t know what, but he seemed to be different somehow from when she went off to the Harvest Festival. The baby was healthy enough but he seemed never satisfied unless he was all the time breastfeeding or eating. He would roar like a bull if he didn’t get his own way. He always wanted to be in her arms or eating. She began to wonder what on earth was going on”.
“Poor Jenny couldn’t do her household chores and had no rest at all in her life with the squalling hungry brat. Yet despite all his breastfeeding and eating, the baby always seemed to be wasting away to skin and bone. And so it continued through the entire winter. The more he ate the thinner he became. Many of the neighbours shook their heads when they saw the child and said that they feared the fairies had played a trick on her that afternoon when she went to the harvest festival.”
“They believed that the fairies had left a changeling which, according to local belief:
“….was believed to be a fairy child that had been left in place of a human child stolen by the fairies.”
Nobody knew why the fairies did this. Every culture across Western Europe seems to have had its own ideas. On that basis, there is no reason to exclude immediately that this was not an attempt by superior beings to harvest human DNA, and then to manipulate it, although the ease with which a changeling was identified hints at the many problems they were having with this.
Jenny’s neighbours told her:
“You can do nothing better with the child than to bathe him in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea”.
Carn Brea is the first hill after Land’s End and is made of Hercynian granite. It is at the southern edge of the civil parish of St Just in west Cornwall and has a beacon which is the first of an entire network on the hill tops of England. In this way important messages can be passed such as “Spanish Armada in sight” (1588) or “Battle of Trafalgar won” (1805):
As far as I know, the last time the beacons were used was for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The next episode in this cute little fairy story will appear soon.