by Tracy Boyd

© 2004

Tom Thumbe astride his mouse steed.

by Jemima Blackburn, 1855. (1)




The folktale of Tom Thumbe, which was very

well-known in oral form before it first appeared

in print in 1621, (1) is a decidedly Pagan tale with Christian overtones whose earlier messages shine through every page.  The story incorporates within its far-reaching scope the seasonal concerns of the agricultural community, but without the usual mythic emphasis of Sovereignty’s role as representative of the land.  Here, she is the Goddess of Fate and beneficent fairy godmother of the diminutive and charm-

ing Tom Thumbe. 

Master Tom’s story rather ingeniously revolves around the very popular court of the originally Celtic King Arthur, although there is no prior connection between the two in the literature of the Arthurian cycles.  The fuller title of his biography is The History of Tom Thumbe, the Little, for his small stature surnamed, King Arthur’s Dwarfe: Whose Life and aduentures containe many strange and wonderfull accidents, published for the delight of merry Time-spenders. (2)

As we shall see, this “earliest surviving English text of a popular fairy tale,” (3) whose roots have been said to be of “unknown ancient origins,” (4) is emblazoned with sacred Irish mythical themes and characters of the greatest archetypal magnitude.  In view of the path that the sacred literature of the ancient Celts has traveled over the centuries, we should not be surprised to find the survival here of these ancient Irish motifs, but these, to the best of our knowledge, have gone unnoticed since its first publication. 

Of central interest to our inquiry are the fairy-beliefs that are preserved, and to some extent enlarged upon, in the writings of Shakespeare, because they are the same beliefs that are given expression in the tale of Tom Thumbe.  The sources of Shakespeare’s fairies are based on “the folk-belief of his day and the romantic literature of the previous four centuries . . . [that] have their ultimate origin in one and the same set of beliefs and rites.” (5)  That well-spring, the origin and source of all, is “to be found in Ireland.” (6)  The setting of our tale in the illustrious court of Arthur, King of Britain, is in keeping with the fairy spirit of the day, for only twenty years prior to its publication, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream had given audiences a glimpse of the splendid fairy court of Titania and Oberon. 

As Alfred Nutt so astutely observes in his writings on The Fairy Mythology of Shakespeare, “It is evident that Shakespeare derived both the idea of a fairy realm reproducing the external aspect of a mediaeval court, and also the name of his fairy king from mediaeval romance, that is from the Arthurian cycle.” (7)  And it is Arthur who sits on the “throne of Faery” (8) in that rich and varied literature of the Norman-French and Anglo-Norman troubadours of the 11th and 12th centuries.  The material of their songs was gathered from the Celtic tales of Brittany and Wales, and these, in turn, were inherited from “the Irish story-tellers, [who constituted] the dominant literary class in the Celtic world throughout the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries.” (9) 

These singers of the long-forgotten past were of the class of Druids trained in the poetic arts who were sometimes distinguished by the title of Bard.  To be more precise, we should explain that “the Irish Druids were composed of two classes: the priesthood and the Filid, [‘seers’] who were both bards, prophets and diviners.  The latter caste long survived the former as a poetic body, retaining much of the lore of the other . . . more strictly religious brotherhood.” (10)

And who, exactly, were the Druids?  Some have doubted that they even existed.  This preposterous claim, which is entirely lacking in foundation, has been dis-proved by the massive documentation by others of their accomplishments as well

as by their own voluminous texts.

        The plain truth is that the Druidic cult is very much better documented in

        the historical sense than are many events of vital importance to European

        history. . . .  We know rather more about Druidism than we do of the begin-

        nings of the Christian faith in this island, yet we are invited to regard the       

        whole question of the existence of Druidism as a hypothetical one! (11)

Be assured that they were – and are – quite real.  The Druids were naturalists, herbalists and healers, magicians of the highest order, conjurers of storm and wind and mist, prophets and poets, philosophers and priests, who believed in the transmigration of souls and the unity of all matter.  They were highly esteemed judges, too, arbiters on the battlefield and elsewhere, and they abstained from war.  Without exception, “every Irish king had his personal Druid, as had every queen, . . . [and] Druids were themselves occasionally kings.” (12)  In short, they were geniuses of every description.  But they were ruthless, too, – feared as well as loved.  And this is mostly how they have been remembered. 

They are known to us, too, for their worship in sacred woodland groves, and for their inextricable identification with the oak to the exclusion of all other trees, regardless of the lack of truth of that singular association with the oak.  A con-

fusion of etymologies has created this false, but to some extent true, concept of Druidic worship.  Some claim that this arose from the erroneous attribution of the “Greek word drus, ‘an oak’” (13) to the origin of their name, but the original mean-ing of drus was not specific to the oak.  It meant simply ‘tree’.  Only later did it come to mean ‘oak’, and later still, ‘other trees bearing acorns [that is, nuts,] or mast’. (14)  But the confusion also lies in the ancient Celtic languages themselves, the fight being between the various words for ‘oak’ and ‘door’, which descend from the root dur, as opposed to words for ‘tree’, which derive their meaning from the root dru

We should, then, interpret the literal meaning of Druid (which most dictionaries still define as ‘oak-wise’, from dru-wid) as one who is ‘Wise in the Way of Trees’.  But we can’t be too literal, or we shall miss essential layers of meaning that have attached themselves to the Druids over the centuries.  Rightly or wrongly, the word Druid would seem to have conjured up many plays on words, which was itself a prominent characteristic of the Welsh Bard, or the Irish Ollave, the master-poet, who “knew the history and mythic value of every word he used.” (15)


The History of Tom Thumbe opens with the memory of “the old time, when King Arthur ruled this land.” (16) Tom’s father is a man of some years, a simple plowman “called old Thomas of the Mountaine, which was the Kings owne Husbandman,” (17) and a member of the King’s Council at court.  Old Thomas has been long married, but much to his disappointment, the couple is childless.  Despite the fact that his wife is clearly beyond her childbearing years, for she is specifically referred to as “the Old Woman,” (18) he nevertheless wishes rather desperately for a child. 

And so, one day, he speaks this thought aloud, saying,


        “Oh Wife (quoth he) happy were I if blessed with one Child: one

        Child though it were no bigger then my thumb, would make me

        happy . . . would bring me the greatest content in the world: There-

        fore would I haue thee (my deare wife) go to the Prophet Merlin,

        and of him learne the cause of thy barrennesse, and our wants in

        hauing children; he is a man, rather a diuell or spirit, cunning in

        all Arts and Professions, all sciences, secrets and discoueries, a

        conjurer, an inchanter, a charmer, hee consorts with Elues and

        Fayries, a Commaunder of Goblins, and a worker of Night-wonders:

        hee can shew the secrets of Nature, calculate childrens Birthes,

        and no doubt, but discouer the cause of thy barrennesse, and be a

        means to procreat vs children . . . .” (19)

And so, on the very next morning, just as the sun was beginning to rise, his old and unnamed wife dutifully presented herself at the “Caue of old Merlin, which was the hollow trunke of a blasted Oke, all ouer growne with withered mosse, . . . [where she finds him] mumbling spels of incantation, making Characters in sand, with an Ebone staff.” (20)  Having successfully pleaded her case, the aged Merlin delivers his oracular answer in the form of an “AEnygma, or mysticall Riddle.” (21)


        Ere thrice the Moone her brightnes change,

        A shapelesse child by wonder strange,

        Shall come abortiue from thy wombe,

        No bigger than thy Husbands Thumbe:

        And as desire hath him begot,

        He shall have life, but substance not . . .”  (22)

The Druid’s riddle goes on to describe in some detail just the sort of being that this woman can expect to emerge prematurely from her womb, but it is this last quoted mysterious line: He shall have life, but substance not,” which gives us pause to wonder whether this is not the very definition of a fairy.  Perhaps the actions of a very devoted fairy godmother can illuminate us.


Great fuss and preparation is made by Old Thomas for the arrival of the one who is to be called Tom Thumbe.

        . . . but such a Child-bed lying in was neuer seene nor heard of; for

        thither came the Queene of Fayres to bee her Midwife, with her

        attendants the Elues and Dryades, with such like midnight dancing

        shadowes, who gaue most diligent assistance, at that painfull houre

        of the womans deliuerie. (23)

If we should wonder why so honored a person as the Queene of Fayres should act as anyone’s midwife, we have only to look at the untold numbers of highly venerated deities in the ancient world who have appeared as midwives and goddesses of childbirth.  We find a very specific answer in the entangled etymologies of words encompassing the world of Faerie with those of the fate of the new-born child.  The consensus regarding

        the origin of the word ‘fairy’. . . [is] that it was distantly derived from

        the Latin noun fatum, or ‘fate’, that is the word which describes those

        goddesses, the Fatae, who were supposed to govern the trend of human

        affairs, and who are also known in Latin by the name Parcae, and to the

        ancient Greeks as Moirai. . . . [T]he Latin word fatum gave rise to the

        Italian fata, and . . . in later Roman Gaul it also took the form fata . . .

        [where], in accordance with a law of Celtic phonetics . . . gave it the sound

        of ‘fa’a’, and in the plural ‘fa’ae’. This later, in early French, came to be

        pronounced as fa’ee, and still later as fee, from which, again, came the

        English ‘fay’, almost certainly the product of Norman-French influence. (24)

We are left in the dark, however, as to the identity of “this midnights Midwife, the Queene of Fayres,” (25) for she remains nameless throughout the telling of Tom Thumbe.  We should not take offense that she, like Tom’s mother, is unnamed, but rather should regard it as a sign of her extremely sacrosanct status.  This is an honor reserved for only the most highly revered – and feared – goddesses.  The audience knows exactly who she is, but dares not speak her name.  She can be only one of two goddesses of Fate, either Queen Titania or Queen Mab, the somewhat inter-changeable appellations for two distinctly different Queens of Faerie. 

We are tempted by the references to “midnight” to presume that she is the Mab whom we know from Shakespeare, but because she is emphatically portrayed as “good,” we can safely assume that she is Titania.  She is decidedly not the creature whom Romeo’s friend Mercutio conjures in describing the convoluted hauntings of Romeo’s apparently ominous dream.  But it shall behoove us to ascertain the elements of Mab’s personality, her attributes and functions, so that we might better understand her lighter complement in the figure of Titania. 

Benvolio asks, Queen Mab!  What’s she? (26) Mercutio’s reply, leaving out no detail too small, imprints upon our minds an unforgettable and forever indelible impression of this weaver of dreams.

        She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes

        In shape no bigger than an agate-stone

        On the fore-finger of an alderman,

        Drawn with a little team of atomies

        Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep:

        Her waggon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs;

        The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers;

        The traces, of the smallest spider’s web;

        The collars, of the moonshine’s watery beams;

        Her whip, of cricket’s bone; the lash, of film;

        Her waggoner, a small grey-coated gnat,

        Not half so big as a round little worm

        Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;

        Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut,

        Made by the joiner sqirrel or old grub,

        Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coach-makers.

        And in this state she gallops night by night

        Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;

        O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on curtsies straight;

        O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees;

        O’er ladies’ lips, who straight on kisses dream;

        Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,

        Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.

        Sometimes she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,

        And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;

        And sometimes comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail,

        Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,

        Then dreams he of another benefice;

        Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,

        And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,

        Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,

        Of healths five fathom deep; and then anon

        Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes;

        And, being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two,

        And sleeps again.  This is that very Mab

        That plats the manes of horses in the night;

        And bakes the elf-locks in foul sluttish hairs,

        Which once untangled much misfortune bodes;

        This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,

        That presses them and learns them first to bear,

        Making them women of good carriage:

        This is she–– (27)

Queen Mab is a watered-down descendent of the aphrodisiacal Maeve, or Medb, one of the greatest of Irish goddesses, named for the sacred mead that intoxicates. (28) “Originally a goddess of the land’s sovereignty, the goddess of Tara, the island’s magical center, she was demoted in myth . . . under Christian influence, to a mere mortal queen.” (29)  Prior to her de-Paganization and her subsequent further reduction to a diminutive Queen of Faerie, Maeve was portrayed in the sagas of Pagan Ireland as a fierce warrior, irresistible to any man who looked upon her, omnipotent in her rule over her many lovers and consorts, a goddess of war and love who was said to “ride into battle in an open car . . . glamorously attired.” (30)  Her powerful personality has been described as “distinctly nasty,” (31) a late mis-ogynistic observation predicated upon her refusal to “bow down to any man.” (32)  Mercutio, who so intimately knows the underside of life, shows us the mere shadow of her former self. 

This sometimes malevolent Mab whose tangled silken skeins catch us up in an indecipherable web of dreams, bears no resemblance whatsoever to the “Queene of Fayres, . . . kind Midwife, & good Godmother” (33) whom we meet in the tale of Tom Thumbe.  Titania, too, is an elaboration by Shakespeare of deities of distant memory, culled, perhaps, from the mythology of another Fairy Queen, Aine, or Aynia, of ancient Ireland, “a sun-goddess . . .  [whose] special feast was Midsummer Night.” (34)  This deposed goddess relegated to the realm of faerie was anciently believed to be the giver of “the vital spark of life.” (35) 

Shakespeare did not invent the name ‘Titania’, for the names of both Titania and Mab are found “in one of the magical manuscripts in the British Museum . . .  [where] ‘Tyton, Florella and Mabb’ are mentioned as ‘the treasures of the earth’.” (36)  But he is said to have found it in his beloved Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where the author uses it rather indiscriminately to describe not only some rather formi-dable goddesses, but employs the name, also, for a vast array of lesser-known minor goddesses for whom the appellation seems altogether arbitrary.  And Ovid uses the name of Titania with equal enthusiasm for the virgin-huntress, goddess-queen of the oak, Diana, (37) and for the wise sorceress Circe, (38) who, in the Odyssey, shows herself as an aspect of Diana. (39)

Perhaps Shakespeare was merely echoing the widely-held belief of his time, “that the fairies were the same as the classic nymphs, the attendants of Diana.  The Fairy Queen was therefore the same as Diana whom Ovid . . . styles Titania.” (40)  It has been suggested, too, that Shakespeare merely used the name of Titania “as an epithet attached to Diana.” (41)  He may have made no distinction between the two, which is the custom in the very active faerie-faith of Scotland, where the name Diana is actually regarded “as the same as Titania.” (42) 

As we shall shortly see in the fitting-out of her godson, there is the slightest sliver of a hint of the oaken ancestry of Titania, but enough so that we could venture a guess, such as we have done, that Titania is the unnamed Queene of Fayres in the story of Tom Thumbe.  Among her attendants specifically named at the child’s birth are the Dryades, the ‘oak nymphs’, or priestesses of the goddess of the oak, who diligently assist at the “old woman’s” painful hour.

Aside from her gossamer-thin Dianic associations, what we know of Titania is what Shakespeare has told us of her in his great sweeping mythic language.  We meet her in A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, first performed in 1600, where the elfin queen enumerates the subsequent consequences of infertility that the “forgeries of jeal-ousy” (43) between her and her Fairy King, Oberon, have inflicted upon the land and the life of the people.  There can be no doubt from the reverberations of their cosmic brawl that this Queen of Fairies is Sovereignty Herself, that she is the land itself; that the maintenance of a harmonious relationship between this queen and her king is the controlling element in the life-and-death balance of all realms; and that, except for scale, these worlds are inseparable and indistinguishable. (44) 

We quote Titania’s crucially insightful recitation in its entirety to prove the point.

        And never, since the middle summer’s spring,

        Met we on hill, in dale, forest, or mead,

        By paved fountain, or by rushy brook,

        Or in the beached margent of the sea,

        To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,

        But with thy brawls thou hast disturb’d our sport.

        Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,

        As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea

        Contagious fogs; which, falling in the land,

        Have every pelting river made so proud

        That they have overborne their continents:

        The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,

        The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn

        Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard:

        The fold stands empty in the drowned field,

        And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;

        The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,

        And the quaint mazes in the wanton green

        For lack of tread are undistinguishable:

        The human mortals want their winter here:

        No night is now with hymn or carol blest:

        Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,

        Pale in her anger, washes all the air,

        That rheumatic diseases do abound:

        And thorough this distemperature we see

        The seasons alter; hoary-headed frosts

        Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,

        And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown

        An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds

        Is, as in mockery, set.  The spring, the summer,

        The childing autumn, angry winter, change

        Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,

        By their increase, now knows not which is which.

        And this same progeny of evil comes

        From our debate, from our dissension:

        We are their parents and original. (45)

And what is the focus of their dispute?  Well, the mischievous Puck, “that merry wanderer of the night . . . [who] jest[s] to Oberon,” (46) tells a fairy who serves the queen that,


        “Because that she as her attendant hath

        A lovely boy, stol’n from an Indian king;

        She never had so sweet a changeling;

        And jealous Oberon would have the child

        Knight of his train, to trace the forests wild;

        But she, perforce, withholds the loved boy,

        Crowns him with flowers, and makes him all her joy. (47)

When Oberon begs his queen for the this over-adored little boy, acquiescence to which would bring their dissension to an end, Titania’s determination to maintain her seemingly strange attachment is made all too clear, and with good reason.  She reads her fairy king the riot act:


                    Set your heart at rest;

        The fairy land buys not the child of me.

        His mother was a votaress of my order . . .

        But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;

        And for her sake I do rear up the boy,

        And for her sake I will not part with him. (48)

And when Oberon, set in his determination, again demands the child, she says that she will not part with him, Not for thy fairy kingdom,” (49) and storms off the stage with her train of fairies.  Needless to say, she eventually caves in and the battle is ended.  Presumably the seasons right themselves, the crops are once again in plentiful supply, and all is right with the world. 

Titania’s undying devotion to little Tom Thumbe is equally fierce, but no one gets in the way of her doting beneficence.  Her unbounded goodness with respect to his well-being is apparent from her very presence in the birthroom.  Among the more notable gifts to her God-Sonne “giuen him at the houre of his birth” (50) as tokens of her love and protection, were the invaluable bestowing of invisibility, and the ability to fast “foreuer without foode or sustenance.” (51)  Within four minutes of his birth, she had provided him with a most splendid outfit, one that any of us would be proud to wear.

        First, a hat made of an Oken Leafe, with one feather of a Tittimouse

        tayle sticking in the same for a plume: his Band and Shirt being both

        sowed to-gether, was made of a Spiders Cobweb, only for lightnesse

        and soft wearing for his body: his cloth for his Doublet and Hose, the

        tenth part of a dramme of Thistledowne weaued together; his Stock-

        ings the outward Rinde of greene Apple: his Garters two little hayres

        pulled from his Mothers eyebrowes: as for his Shooes and Bootes,

        they were made of a mouses skin, tan’d into Leather: the largenesse

        wherof was sufficient to make him twelue payre of Bootes, & as many

        shooes and Pantofles (Slippers). (52)

It is no wonder that Tom manages to survive a host of unimaginably close near-death experiences. Being somewhat prone to accident, and other things of an unavoidable nature that might plague anyone of his size, he has many close calls, but somehow he miraculously escapes unscathed each and every time.  There is an otherworldly quality about it all.  Once again, we are left to wonder whether this magical child is not, indeed, a fairy.  Some swear that he is not.  The world’s foremost experts on the world of the fairy tale, Iona and Peter Opie, definitively state that he is not.  They say that “Tom, though no fairy himself, possesses that most useful means of fulfilling ambitions, a fairy godmother.” (53) Yes, she stands by his side, as any good fairy godmother would, and does, but there is more to it than this. 

Titania has brought this boy into the world.  She has touched him at the hour of his birth, and has clothed him in such a way as to make him presentable to the world.  If Tom Thumbe is not a fairy, and though he behaves like one, he is not a god, we can only attribute these feats to one who has been touched by a fairy and is thus “enchanted,” “devoted,” or “fey.” (54)  He is, then, literally and figuratively devoted to her, and she to him.  We get a sense of the entangled implications of these mean-ings in the confused language used to describe such a state.  Lewis Spence, in his brilliant tome on The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, has attempted to sort it out. 

        The Scottish expression ‘fey’, used of a person who appears to be fated or

        doomed, or raised to a pitch of supernatural excitement, is usually associated

        with a condition of mind in which the sufferer becomes ecstatic or prophetic.

        It appears to be derived from the Old English ‘fay’, signifying ‘enchanted’.


The mutual attachment would seem to border on the obsessive were it not for the fact that there is a somewhat obscure underlying theme that binds the two.  It is obscure only in that Titania’s former role as Sovereign has been reduced by her transformation into midwife and godmother.  The earthy undercurrent nevertheless remains, and it is brightly reflected in the activities of her godson, his father, and to some extent, his mother.  To begin with, the old Thomas is the king’s plowman and sower of seed in the fields.  Given the job that he is charged with, it is understood, for it could not be otherwise, that it is his wife who is not “sufficient to bring children.” (56)  Merlin, the awesomely skilled Druid, manages to bless this plow-man’s barren wife with only a three-moon term, such term owing not to his apparent lack of skill in this regard, but in direct response to the plowman’s specific wish for a thumb-sized child.  We are reminded of the phrase, “Be careful what you ask for.  The gods will grant you your wish.”


Of the deeds and adventures of the mercurial Tom Thumbe himself, we may recite numerous agrarian-informed incidents that reveal his fated attachment to the Queene of Fayres as a kind of constant reminder of her former Sovereignty.  And there are calendrical citations which, although entirely Christianized, maintain the ritual trappings of the Pagan agricultural life.  This, of course, was the actual state of affairs in 16th and 17th century English life, and earlier, so we should not be surprised to find it thus here.  But the recitation of the calendar is a most unusual event in the folk-tale, and it is here proffered in a most typically Tom-Thumbish topsy-turvy manner.

        . . . about Christmas time, his father had killed a Hogge, and his

        mother was to make Puddings.  And hauing all things ready: as

        Bloud, Oatemeale, Suet, Salt and Spice all mingled, and well sea-

        soned together in a greate Bowle of wood; vpon the side whereof,

        Tom was to sit (in stead of a Candlesticke to hold the Candle, and

        giue her light . . . [when] of a suddaine hee tipt and fell into the

        Pudding batter . . . . (57)

His mother, recovering the candle, but not her son, which rather surprisingly causes her to grieve for but “a minutes space,” (58) goes about her business of preparing the Blood Pudding quite as though nothing has happened.  Of course, he ends up being scooped up with the pudding and thrown into the boiling kettle where, “rumbling and tumbling vp and downe the Kettle,” (59) he experiences a kind of “hurlyburly,”

(60) or ‘disorderly and confused’ baptism in scalding water over the raging fire.  This is another hint that Tom Thumbe is fey, which in archaic Scottish use means, not only “mentally confused,” (61) and ‘fated, or doomed to death’, but more specifically suggests one who is ‘in an unusually excited or gay state, [a condition which was] formerly believed to portend sudden death’. (62) 

But his ordeal is not over.  While pieces of the pudding are flying this way and that about the room, “as if the Diuell and old Merlin had beene amongst them,” (63) and Tom is still struggling for his life, there “at that very instant time, comes to the doore, a sturdy beging Tinker, and asked an almes for good Saint Iohns sake.” (64) Wanting to rid herself of the “vnrulines of that pudding in the Kettle,” (65) Tom’s mother, running, gives it to the tinker who, “being therewith well pleased, . . . hyes him away as fast as his legs can beare him.” (66)

And what a perfect instance of synchronicity.  There are so many hilarious implications in the tinker’s arrival, that one hardly knows where to begin in their enumeration.  Well, firstly, the word tinker, or more correctly, “tinkler,” (67) is of echoic origin, and means what it sounds like, ‘to make a tinkling sound’.  This is an announcement that we are most assuredly in the realm of the tinkling bells of faerie.  And not only were tinkers menders of pots and pans, but they were “said to have struck pots and pans to announce their coming.” (68) 

The tinker is known, too, for his notoriously profane speech, so when he appears just at the moment of chaotic crescendo, Tom’s mother is saved from having to use the proverbial tinker’s damn.”  And because of the ‘lowly status’ of the tinker, he is given the pudding that is ruined, and therefore ‘something of no value’, which is the very definition of something that is “not worth a tinker’s damn.” (69)  But what is here a worthless “tinker’s damn,” would have been a thing of great value in the ancient Celtic world.  It would have been a “Druid’s curse,” for at the very time of this tale’s recording, these itinerants, these outcasts, or “Travelers,” as they are now known, still spoke the rare and ancient Celtic language of Shelta Thari, which is believed to have descended from the secret esoteric language of the Bardic priesthood. (70) 

Then, to liven things up a bit more, and to assure us that we are in the grip of faerie and therefore won’t know what day it is, and also, perhaps, to test our knowledge of the calendar, we are told that the tinker is there to beg alms for St. John.  Well something’s wrong here, because, as we were told at the beginning of the pudding fiasco, it was “about Christmas time.” (71)  At that time of year, the day specifically designated for giving to the poor was the 21st of December, the day of the Winter Solstice.  It was known, also, as St. Thomas’s Day, and the sort of begging that the tinker was engaged in door-to-door, done usually by children, was called ‘going Thomasing’. (72)  Some accounts describe this as “going a gooding”; (73) the name of the day itself being called ‘Gooding’, a day of giving alms to old women and poor widows who return the favor with sprigs of evergreen branches. (74)  It was the day, also, for “brewing, baking, and skilling of fat swine.” (75)

On the very opposite side of the year, on the 24th of June, is St. John’s Day, so named for John the Baptist, the miracle son born of very old parents.  Zacharias the priest, and Elisabeth, the cousin of the Virgin Mary, had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well striken in years.” (76)  But Zacharias prayed, and there appeared the angel Gabriel who said, thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.” (77)  Whereas Merlin is the mystical begetter of Tom’s miracu-

lous generation, and the pronouncer of his name to be, we are given to understand that the barren Elisabeth’s pregnancy is the work of the Holy Ghost; for as Gabriel tells us, with God nothing shall be impossible. (78) 

We heard these very same sentiments, and on a hardly less grand scale, in the recitation of Merlin’s omniscient command of the magic arts.  The parallels between these two stories cannot have been lost on the hearers of Tom’s tale.  But had they been missed, the joke of the begging of alms for St. John on St. Thomas’s Day would have served as a riotous reminder, jolting the memory into the connec-tion.  And if that didn’t do the trick, the common belief that “invisibility was thought to be conferred through the virtue of fern-seed, which is ‘supposed to become visible only on St. John’s eve, and at the very moment when the Baptist was born’,” (79) could not have gone unremembered as Tom slipped into the pudding.

There was, in actual fact, some genuine confusion regarding these two comple-mentary opposing days of the calendar, a confusion that was not entirely attrib-utable to the dating of the birth of John the Baptist exactly six months prior to the birth of his cousin Jesus.  Having noted that there were some similarities between the original celebrations of the winter and the summer solstices of the Pagan year, the Church fathers merely enlarged upon these for their own use until they became indistinguishable – at least in their own minds.  On the occasion of John’s feast day, for example, we are told that “the liturgy for the feast of his Nativity has retained certain affinities with that of Christmas, but because of its date the feast has become linked with certain customs connected with the summer solstice.” (80)  It’s all very convenient; a neat little package.

The Church’s diabolically labyrinthine efforts to remove from memory all traces of the ancient Pagan rituals of the natural non-ecclesiastical seasons invariably resulted in this sort of chaos and general pandemonium.  The designation of St. John’s Day as the 24th of June, three days after the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, was purposefully designed to overshadow the exuberant joy of the Pagan cele-bration of this day that was known as Midsummer’s Day in the ancient calendar, and which continued despite the Christian overlay.  The lingering devotion to Pagan ritual is clearly echoed in the pudding episode, in which we are privileged to observe at first hand the backfiring of the Christian plan.  And what we are witness to in this tale is sheer unadulterated midsummer madness (81) at Midwinter.  And that is the whole point. 

At each successive station of the sun, at each turning point of the year: from the moment of absolute stillness at the Winter Solstice, to the coming light of Imbolc (Candlemas), the Equinox of Spring when the sun is at zero point, the absolute demarcation of Winter vs. Summer at Beltaine, the height of the Summer at the June Solstice, the coming of Autumn at the feast of Lammas, the end of Summer at Hallowmas, and the falling of the light once more into its lowest point at the Winter Solstice, the thin veil that separates the worlds is opened for a brief moment.  At such liminal times, when things are “neither this nor that,” (82) all boundaries vanish to create a mystical, mysterious atmosphere in which all the rules are suspended as one is subsumed into sacred time and sacred space.  But at such times, in order not to be taken up permanently into that intensified state of seamlessness, “real” earthly boundaries must be reaffirmed, and all who would cross the lines, whether they be real or imagined, visible or invisible, must be propitiated. (83)

Our Irish tinker, the outsider who stands on the other side of the door’s threshold, has gone happily on his way with a most insincere offering of a pudding.  While the tinker has made himself visible, Tom Thumbe has crossed the threshold un-seen.   Despite the fact that he has passed the barrier of the doorway, he never-theless remains in a state of limbo, trapped in the all-encompassing womb of the “blood,” or “black,”pudding from which he will “eate himself at libertie from his black bondage.” (84)  He, like the tinker, is the perennial outsider who permanently resides in that place between the worlds where, most anciently, and in all times, the heroes of myth invariably find themselves. 

The doorway itself symbolizes liminal time.  The presence of this Irishman at the door begging alms for a saint of June goes way beyond the obfuscation of cal-endrical days, for in the poetic Irish tree alphabet-calendar, the month of June (June 10-July 7), the month of the oak, is the Month of the Door, or Duir. (85) More specifically, June is the Door of the Year through which the Oak King passes, standing aside for the Holly King who rules the waning, or second half of the year.  The New Year Holly King is represented by the Irish letter Tinne (“T”), (86) for the tinker who knocks at the door, and perhaps also for Tom who has gone out the door with the pudding in the tinker’s bag.  The appearance here of the tinker at the door is a reminder that the Oak King and the Holly King are forever at each others throats, having made “a compact to behead one another at alternate New Years–meaning midsummer and midwinter–” (87) until the end of time. 

We see this beheading ritual played out in the late 14th century alliterative verse known as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which the fay-man . . . [who] green all over glowed . . . both garments and man (88) arrives during the Midwinter/Christmastide/New Year celebrations at Arthur’s court with a holly-bundle in one hand, and an axe in the other (89) to challenge the Oak King Arthur.  Robert Graves has cited a forerunner of this story in “the originally Irish Romance of Gawain and the Green Knight,” in which the holly bush is the giant’s club. (90)  As we shall see, the giant whom Tom Thumbe later encounters wields a club of oak.  The measure of the power of these events of the ancient calendar on daily life is demonstrated by the extent to which the Church rigorously and aggressively covered them up.  The seamless overlayment of their own holy days is shown in the unashamedly transparent, wholly impossible coincidence that John the Baptist was not only born on the 24th of June, but that he “lost his head on St. John’s Day” (91) as well.


Following the chaos of the Midwinter pudding episode is another accidental and equally frantic return to the womb, which like the first, draws on the practices of the ancient Celtic world for its archetypal material.  We find Tom still under the somewhat neglectful eye of his mother in this next incident in which Tom’s mother carries him to the fields in her milk pail when she goes to milk her cows.  Having carefully settled him under the sheltering protection of a thistle, she attends to her milking, presumably at not some little distance, whereupon “there comes a Red Cow, and at one bit eates vp this little man, . . . Thistle and all . . . at one mouthfull, where without chewing he went as easily downe into the Cowes belly, as if he had beene made of a docke leafe.” (92)

The Red Cow swallows up Tom Thumbe.

by Jemima Blackburn, 1855. (2)

Her pail, by now being full, Tom’s mother returns to find neither boy, nor thistle.  After searching “vp and downe,” (93) calling her son’s name to no avail, she “went crying amongst her Kine,” (94) where she finally hears his muffled voice.  No doubt she could hear also the “nimble timberd fellow[‘s]” (95) footsteps coming from deep within the belly of the very distressed cow, for Tom mirrored from within, the wild movements of his mother’s frantic back-and-forth search without, going up and down as he danced a “Trench-more in her belly.” (96)  Finally, the cow is delivered of her burden, and Tom, being expelled in a cowturd, “besmeared as he was,” (97) is thus re-born.

Of course, the thistle has been the pre-eminent emblem of Scotland since at least the latter part of the 15th century, (98) but the old Irish view of thistles, that they were indicative of fertile land, (99) meshes seamlessly with the themes of our tale.  According to herbalists of the mid-1600’s, the dock leaf, too, had associations in Ireland with fertility, for while the leaf and its milky stem have many curative abilities, its seeds are a guarantee against barrenness in women. (100)  There was the belief, too, that the docken, like the cow-parsnip, was invested with “great power in breaking fairy spells, but could also cause one to be fairy-struck.” (101)  This is quite a humorous bit, but only if we know how susceptible cows are to fairy attack, and only if we’ve recognized Tom’s apparent state of feyness.

The cow itself is a universal archetype of both Mother and Moon, the red cow being synonymous with the pregnant phase of the motherly full moon, as distinct from the virginal white crescent and the black crone phases.  In Celtic mythology there is a magical and mystical quality about cows in general, their attribution as “provider[s] of nourishment for entire communities” (102) making them even more so.  In the Irish stories “the chthonic cow is depicted as red with white ears . . . and numerous cows [are] connected with otherworld beings, with magic and supernatural powers.” (103)  On a slightly more earthly level, one of the greatest fears of the agrarian com-

munity was the theft of cow’s milk by the fairies, not to mention the disturbance they were said to cause the cows by their very presence.  An uncountable number of charms and precautions were thus available for the prevention of such thefts, and offerings of “bowls of milk or cream . . . [were] left for the fairies at night, who thus legally received what they might otherwise have stolen.” (104)

Despite her coloration, the red cow who unwittingly facilitates Tom’s dung-smeared re-birthing seems to have her feet planted firmly on the ground.  She is put through considerable misery and discomfort while the wild and terrified Tom capers about in her belly to-and-fro.  The dance he dances is described in the Opie’s footnote to the tale as “a boisterous country dance.” (105)  The ‘Trenchmore’, as it was known in Ireland, was introduced to England for the first time at

        the Christmas season of 1551-52 at the court of Edward VI of England. . . .

        [where it became] what is probably the best-attested English dance of the

        Stuart and Tudor period. . . . The wild and boisterous . . . dance was . . .

        distinguished by the number of its ‘tricks’ or ‘capers’, and ‘capering’ is the

        verb most often used to describe its performance. (106)

Owing, no doubt, to its wild, overblown, over-the-top steps, and its “lively tune in triple time,” (107) the manic-tempoed Trenchmore acquired certain associations with the sacred Morris dance, most particularly in its allusions to the fertilizing activities of May.  One poetic source tells us of Nimble-heeled mariners . . . capering . . . sometimes a Morisco, or Trenchmore of forty miles long.” (108)  Here we see the performance of these dances, one sacred, the other social, in a distinctly secular context.  They have become interchangeable forms without benefit of the usual ritual that excused the excesses of the Morris dance.  But the sacred Morrisers were by no means defeated.  With the great good humor that was the trademark of the Fool, Will Kemp, who was the premiere Morris dancer of his, or any, time, is quoted as having said of his mad Morris dancing from London to Norwich in nine days, “Some sweare, in a Trenchmore, I have trode a good way to win the world.” (109)

In the midst of this deliberate confusion of capering dance, the highly skilled teller of our tale has an eye on the background story, for as soon as he moves us into the next episode, thoughts come to mind of the ash-blackened faces of the Morrisers who leap the great Celtic fires at the rites of Beltaine on the Eve of May.  Perhaps he hopes that we will recall that the first of May is the chimney-sweep’s special holiday, or that we will know that the beautiful Irish goddesses known as the Morrigan, are really the death-dealing ravens or crows who spell their enemies to death with black curses. (110)  All of these elements are unspoken, but somehow very present, lurking in the shadows of the story we are about to hear.

FE, FI, FO, FUM . . .”

Following fast upon the heels of his tumultuous birth from the cow’s arse, we find Tom falling down a chimney in his next adventure.  As the story goes, the boy was “desirous to helpe his Father driue the plowe, and in seeds-time to see the manner of his sowing wheate.” (111)  So his father allowed him to watch at a distance, placing him in the ear of a horse to keep him out of harm’s way as he “went a sowing wheate vp and down the land.” (112)  But in his absence, Tom was assigned the job of crow-keeper, by whom, we are not told, “to scarre away Crowes” (113) from the fields.  And so,   


        with a cudgell made of a Barley straw . . . [he] stood most manfully

        in the middle of the land, crying, Shooe, shooe, Crow, shooe; but

        amongst the rest, there came a huge blacke Rauen, that in stead of a

        wheate corne, carried poore Tom quite away. (114)

        . . . in all the way of this her long flight, Tom Thumbe did nothing but

        cry, Shough, shough Crowe, shough, in this maner affrighting the poor

        Rauen in her flight, that she durst neither swallow him downe her maw,

        nor let him fall out of her beake . . . . (115)

Now, “as the raven is a talking bird it is connected with prophecy and hence wisdom.” (116)  This bird of black foreboding is best-known as a prognosticator of impending death.  Its name, like that of the crow, is of onomatopoeic, or echoic origin, being an imitation of the hoarse croaking call that announces one’s doom – usually from the rooftop. (117)  In flight, Tom talks so much that the bird can’t get a word in edgewise, but even as she collapses with exhaustion from the weight of her journey onto the roof of a giant’s castle, our raven speaks not a word.  We can safely assume, therefore, that whatever is about to befall Tom will not be fatal. 

Having alighted on the castle roof, manic Tom, none the worse for wear, “with a nimble skip suddenly escaped both from her beake and tallons, and with much lightnesse leapt vp to the top of the Castle chimney.” (118)  Being insatiably curious and preternaturally oblivious to danger, and so, always living life on the edge, our young fool could not resist peering down the blackened smoke-filled chimney.  But as he did so, “of a sodaine came a puffe of winde, and blew poore Tom downe into the Gyants Chimney, where he grew almost besides his wits, to see himselfe by the fire side.” (119)  Here he finds himself face to face with a giant who is roasting and voraciously feasting upon the drawn and quartered remains of his human victims, “deuouring them all one after another, legs, armes & heads bit by bit till they were all eaten vp at last.” (120)

Witnessing this scene, we see that it is no accident that the raven has chosen this castle.  One might even say that she was drawn to it by those invisible threads of mythology that seem to connect everything to everything else with which there is an affinity.  The eating of the slain enemy is the usual right of the Morrigan, the ‘Great Queens’ of War and Death, who determine the outcome of war by shape-shifting into dreaded ravens or crows on the field of battle, where they hop on one foot, with one eye open, to menace the enemy with curses, and to inspire the warriors under their protection.

The story-teller’s language is quite specific in his description of Tom’s reaction to this “fearful sight.” (121)  He is “amazed,” (122) which is to say, he is ‘dazed’ and ‘stupefied’, frozen in place without a visible path of escape.  He has not escaped the sharp-eyed notice of the preoccupied giant, who, “thinking him to be some Fairy, or a spirit come thither by miracle, ran with an eager fury to catch him . . . [but] neither strength nor policy could take him.” (123)  Seeking refuge in a mouse-hole, Tom settled down for the night and fell asleep, leaving the befuddled giant “in a great wonder” (124) as to what sort of “strange creature” (125) this was that had landed on his hearth and eluded his grasp.  So puzzled was he that


        hee went supperlesse to bed, but could not sleepe all that night for

        thinking of Tom Thumbe . . . therefore, in the middle of the night, hee

        rose vp and tooke his clubbe, (which was the whole arme of an Oke)

        and went vp and downe the Castle in the darke, (for light had he none)

        crying with a roaring voyce . . .

                ‘Now fi, fee, fau, fan,

                I feele smell of a dangerous man:

                Be he aliue, or be he dead,

                Ile grind his bones to make me bread’. (126)

The thunderous utterance of this all-too-familiar incantation appears in print for the first time in this tale, which is thought to be the “prototype” for all such subsequent bellowing threats. (127)  A cursory look at the later stories, such as Jack the Giant-Killer (Jack and the Beanstalk), and others whose evil giants roar Fe, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman,” (128) makes it clear that these ogres are decidedly not of English stock.  We can say with some definite certainty that the giant who brandishes the oak-club in our story is of Celtic origin.  We know this from the language of his magic spell, which was “among the more potent and important enchantments of the Celts . . . that known as fith-fath, or fath-fith . . .

[which was] employed to bring about invisibility,” (129) and to “transform one object into another.” (130) The Gaelic spell was one of many poetic incantations used by the Bardic order of Druids, the penultimate “masters of magic,” (131) to shift planes of reality. 

We learn from Lewis Spence, himself a master of this subject, that:

        According to the doctrine of the Celtic wizard, a unity existed in nature

        which permitted of such metamorphoses, its underlying elements were

        one and the same, and capable of alteration by the power of will, which

        could reassemble its basic factors into any shape desired. The incanta-

        tions by which he verbally expressed this overriding intention were

        usually chanted in verse. (132)

        In pronouncing incantations, the usual method employed was to stand

        upon one leg, to point to the person or object on which the spell was to

        be laid with the fore-finger, at the same time closing an eye, as if to con-

        centrate the force of the entire personality upon that which was to be placed

        under ban. (133)

The giant’s first impression of Tom, that he must be a fairy, which is to say, a being who is fey, or enchanted, alludes to the Druidic fith-fath spell by a series of etymological links, for the word fey had more than one magical meaning in Old Irish. (134)  “According to Cormac’s “Glossary” the Fe, or magic wand, was so called, while the expression Fa seems to have been associated with the Lia Fail, or Stone of Royal Destiny, and with the spell of fith-fath (pronounced “fee-fa”). (135)  His presumption, which is right on the mark, embroils his sleepless mind in layers of linguistic multiple-entendre, and causes him to rise to pronounce the ancient “words of magic” (136) that were, in times past, the exclusive property of the poet-priests whose incomparable verbal skills were powerful enough to kill.

The Irish rite of fith-fath was known as fath-fith in the Western Isles of Scotland where it was still known, and practiced, in the early 20th century. (137)  The Gaelic word fath means “a kind of poem or incantation,” (138) and so, the speaking of the fith-fath spell

        had its origin in the term fath, “the poetic art”, which among the Celts

        certainly inculcated a knowledge of that class of incantation or sarcastic

        and scorching verbiage which . . . enabled the bard to disfigure his oppo-

        nents physically by utterance of terrific jibes alone . . . . By extension,

        the ability to disfigure may possibly have come later to include both the

        transformation of persons into animals and the act of causing their com-

        plete disappearance.


        A satire of the bard Cairpre brought out blotches upon the face of Bres,

        while another of his lampoons caused the Fomorians to become power-

        less. Queen Maeve of Ulster assured a hero that if he refused combat with

        Cuchullin her bards would so transform him by their satires that he would

        perish from shame. This kind of satire could scarcely have been other than

        magical in its essence, and incantational in its form.  From this to the spell,

        which was thought of as bringing about transformation into animal form, is

        but a short step . . . . (139)        


The rumbling fee-fo-fum pronouncements of the menacing giants of the folk-tale were “for long a puzzle to antiquaries of the older school, some of whom regarded it as a term surviving from the language of an aboriginal folk” (140) of unknown and mysterious origin.  It was the pre-eminent scholar of Celtic mysteries, Lewis Spence, who in 1945 put forward the obvious derivation of the phrase from fith-fath (“fee-fa”), (141) showing that the “aboriginal folk” in question were none other than the Druidic Bards.  Apparently there has been no other mention of it since.  We offer it again in the hopes that such knowledge, so essential to a deeper understanding of such tales as this, is not lost to us forever. 

We have seen a strong Druidic presence throughout this tale’s telling.  At times the references are so subtle or obscured by our own lack of knowledge that they escape our notice entirely.  We may cite the Irish tinker as one such example.  But if we are paying attention to the blatantly obvious clues dropped here, there, and everywhere, beginning with Merlin, the most revered and famous of all Druids, whose skills in the magic arts are enumerated in the text itself, and whom Tom’s mother observes “mumbling spels of incantation” at the entrance to his oaken cave, (142) we begin to get a picture of the huge Druidic influence that has somehow gone unnoticed.  The brutish, belching, bellowing thug who roams his dark castle halls with a menacing club made from “the whole arme of an Oke,” (143) the most conspicuously sacred of all trees in the Druidic religion, is what remains.  It is no longer a question of his concentrating the mind with “the whole force of his will upon the person or object he wishe[s] to bespell or transform.” (144)  The will has come down to sheer brute force.  There is no mind left. 

One cannot but wonder whether this fairy-tale dolt of a giant, this deposed magician whose former powers rendered him omnipotent in the ancient Pagan world, was the victim of a spell gone wrong, or the loser in a satiric contest between wizards.  We see no evidence of his ability “to render [him]self invisible, to change the bodily shape, to produce an enchanted sleep, to induce lunacy, . . . [or to effectively utter] spells and charms which caused death.” (145)  We see only a weapon of oak as the last remaining remnant of who he was. 

There were many circumstances that contributed to his downfall.  The Druidic rites were suppressed by the conquering Romans who, if it is possible to believe this, viewed their rites as cruel and barbarous.  The barbaric Romans waged a most insidious war on these sacred priests and priestesses, annihilating them without mercy, even as they praised their exceptional brilliance.  It could be said that the giant whom we see here represents the Druid religion from the Roman point of view.  But it was the official religion of Christianity that was finally responsible for reducing these former king-makers, skilled in “the art of rain-making, bringing down fire from the sky, and causing mists, snow-storms and floods,” (146) to the likes of what we see in this story.  They weren’t killed.  They simply slipped away unnoticed as their holy sites and sacred days were Christianized one after the other.

Of all the angry skulking giants who seek their revenge on those who have brought them to this pass, none speaks to this point more vividly than the giant whom Arthur slew on Mont St. Michel.  Ungainly arms had he, like an oak with ridged bark.” (147)  And as if the limbs of the oak were not enough for us to glimpse the former stature of this defamed giant, Druidic humor prevails in its spelling out.  We are told in some great gory detail in the Morte Arthure that this tree-like man collected the beards of Christian kings.  The translator of the alliterative poem, which dates to about 1400, duly notes that “the beard was the token of authority,” (148) as indeed it is.  But what comes through here, in the undercurrent, in the richly layered esoteric language, is that these beards are what we call the “oak-beards,” or male catkins, that produce the flowers of the tree, which he wears all “crisped and curled,” (149) on a hairy tunic over his anciently gnarled body.

The oak-armed thundering mass of brutality in Tom Thumbe’s story is no match for our diminutive thumb-sized hero.  When, finally, the giant did grab hold of Tom, still wanting “to know whether hee was a humane creature, or a spirit,” (150)


        Tom hauing more then an ordinary nimblenesse in himselfe, did . . . 

        giue a skippe downe (vnchewed) into his throat, and so into his belly,

        and there kept such a rumbling and tumbling in his guts, as if hee

        would haue gnawne a hole quite thorow . . . [that the giant] in a fury

        hyed he vp to the toppe of his Castle wall, where he disgorged his

        stomacke, and cast out his burthen, at least three miles into the Sea

        . . . . (151)



Of course, the giant becomes the very instrument by which Tom is propelled into fame in King Arthur’s court, for Tom is next swallowed whole by a fish of unnamed species, which fish is caught and presented to the King’s table, whereupon Tom is discovered alive and well within, “and for the strangenesse of his stature, accepted of for his Hignesse Dwarfe.” (152)  Arthur is so charmed by his smallness that he becomes a kind of court lap dog, forever in the King’s company, with gifts of every description lavished upon him by one and by all.  Among those of particular interest to our inquiry is the presentation by the King of “a gold Ring from his owne finger, the which Tom Thumbe wore for a girdle, as a fauour about his middle, for it was the iust compasse of his body to hoope it in round.” (153)  Now, in itself, this is a very entertaining bit of humor, but as we shall see, it is far, far more than that, for “the word for ring in most Celtic languages is literally translated as ‘thumb-tie’ – perhaps an oblique reference to the divinatory thumb.” (154)

In the later 17th century expanded English versions of this Tom Thumbe story, the fish is identified as a salmon. (155)  This is no small detail.  It may, in fact, be the secret core of the entire tale, for the “Salmon of Knowledge,” the “Hazel of Wisdom,” which was Tom’s favored food source, and the “Thumb of Knowledge” have an intertwined purpose in the exploits of Finn mac Cumhail, the boy-hero of Irish saga whose faint echo is heard here.  Finn’s oldest written story dates to the 9th century, where it is recorded in a Psalter, (156) and then in larger form in The Boyhood Exploits of Fionn, a 10th century, or earlier, Irish text. (157) 

In the Welsh Bardic tradition, where he is known as Gwion Bach, or Little Gwion, his name being “the equivalent (gw for f) of Fionn, or Finn,” (158) the stories are older still.  Their mythologies, like their names, are indecipherable in spirit, if not in exact detail.  Gwion is “re-born” as the famed Taliesin in the 16th century text of Hanes Taliesin. (159)  Although much of this manuscript’s material has been dated to the 6th century, it has been definitively identified by the indefatigable Celtic scholar John Matthews, as having an earlier basis of some “several hundred years.” (160) The Irish poets sing the name of Finn MacCool still, for his memory is con-tinued in the works of James Joyce, one of the greatest bards of all time, where we know this hero by the name of Finnegan, or “Finn-again,” in Finnegans Wake. (161)

The ancient Irish tale of Fionn begins with a magic well.  It is told that before the waters of the goddess Boann welled-up, flowing over to form the River Boyne,

        . . . there was only a well, shaded by nine magic hazel-trees. These

        trees bore crimson nuts, and it was the property of these nuts that        

        whoever ate of them immediately became possessed of the knowl-

        edge of everything that was in the world. . . . One class of creatures

        alone had this privilege–divine salmon who lived in the well, and

        swallowed the nuts as they dropped from the trees into the water,

        and thus knew all things, and appear in legends as the “Salmons

        of Knowledge”. . . . [But when the river formed,] the all-knowing

        inhabitants of the well . . . wandered disconsolately through the

        depths of the river, looking in vain for their lost nuts. One of these

        salmon was afterwards eaten by the famous Finn mac Coul, upon

        whom all omniscience descended. (162)

“Druids and magicians sought anxiously for the Eo Feasa, the Salmon of Knowledge, in the hope of partaking of its flesh and thus acquiring universal wisdom.” (163)  One such Druid was Finneces, (‘Finn the Poet’) (164) who had devoted seven years to this so far unsuccessful endeavor.  One day, as Fionn mac Cumhail, or Finn (‘the Fair’), wandered the banks of the Boyne, he came upon the aged Druid.  No sooner had the seer agreed to instruct his wandering namesake in the arts of poetry, than did the elder Finn catch the long-wished-for fish. 

He instructed the boy to cook the prized salmon, with the strict injunction that under no circumstances was he to eat any portion of it.  But while it was cooking, a blister rose upon the skin of the fish, and he laid his thumb on it to remove the imperfection.  Being thus scalded by the heat of it, he placed his thumb in his mouth against his teeth to relieve the pain, “whereupon foreknowledge was vouchsafed him” (165) in an instant.  Of course it fell to him to eat the entire fish, for it had been foretold that such an honor would fall to one named Finn.  Thus is the “Thumb of Knowledge” called, in remembrance of Finn’s fated encounter with the sacred salmon and his acquisition of “fore-knowledge and magic counsel” (166) therefrom.  And in this manner, too, did the “Thumb of Knowledge” become “associated with vision of a supernatural kind [so that] when the sorcerer desired “the sight”, he pressed one of his teeth with his thumb.” (167) 

Finn himself had to repeat this gesture each time he required use of the second sight, so that “whenever he put his thumb into his mouth, and sang through teinm laida, then whatever he did not know would be revealed to him.” (168)  The ex-ceedingly powerful Gaelic verse known as teinm laida, a term which means “the ‘Illumination of Rhymes’ or the ‘Analysis of Song’,” (169) sheds much light on this mysteriously layered gesture.  Once again, we are indebted to John Matthews who has gathered, sifted, and interpreted such mysteries as these from mostly inaccess-ible sources.  He informs us that

        Several commentators have suggested . . . that Teinm Laida meant, literal-   

        ly,‘the chewing (or breaking open) of the pith’. Some assume that this

        refers to Fionn’s thumb, which he is said to chew ‘from the skin to the flesh,

        from the flesh to the bone, from the bone to the marrow, from the marrow to

        the juice’ (Curtain: Hero Tales of Ireland). Yet in the context of the stories

        it would seem that what is actually being referred to is the eating of a nut –

        the sense of the word teinm being ‘to crack open, or husk, (a nut)’. In this

        instance we may infer that the nut in question is one of the Nine Hazels of

        (Poetic) Wisdom referred to in various texts. (170)

As an example of extreme fore-sight gained by means of the hazel nut, we might consider the fact that Shakespeare’s Mab, the shadowy Queene of Fayries and Goddess of Fate, rides in a chariot that is made of an empty hazel-nut.” (171)  We cite also an instance in which the all-knowing hazel tree itself determines fate in the Grimm Brothers’ tale of Cinderella. (172)  In this version we are told that the mourning Cinderella was given, by a series of serendipitous and magical circum-stances, a branch of hazel by her father, which she immediately planted on her mother’s grave, over which she wept such a profusion of tears that the hazel grew into a magnificent tree.  Under its sheltering protection she continued to weep and pray, and whatsoever help she asked of the mothering tree, it was provided. 

In other versions, such as the very late 17th century French Disneyesque Perrault, with which we are perhaps more familiar, the hazel tree was replaced by a “god-mother of hers, who was a fairy,” (173) and who performed all of her miraculous feats with a magic wand of unspecified material.  We should like to imagine that her wand was of peeled hazel, for “supple hazel twigs were woven into ‘wishing caps’ which granted the desire of the wearer” in Wales and other Celtic countries, (174) but we shall never know.  We do know that the Irish Druid’s wand, which was used to bring about transformations, among other things, was made from the branch of the yew, and sometimes the wood of hawthorn or rowan, while the Gallic Druid preferred the oak. (175)

Of the hazel tree and its wisdom-bestowing nut, we learn from the esteemed contemporary bard, Robert Graves, that in the poetic Irish tree alphabet-calendar, the letter “C”, or Coll, which means ‘hazel’, is the ninth tree, standing for the ninth month. (176)  Nine is among the most sacred of numbers of Ireland, encompassing, as it does, the entirety of the world. (177)  As we might have surmised, the fair Finn’s name itself is inseparable from the nut of wisdom, for mac Cumhail, pro-nounced, and sometimes written as MacCool, (178) means ‘Son of the Hazel’. (179)  The name Finn, or Fionn, has also led some to ascribe a fairy-nature to him.  As is the case with his mythic descendent, Tom Thumbe, it has been said that “if Fin was not precisely a fairy, he certainly had a strong fairy connection.” (180)  In addition to this very substantial connection, a somewhat tenuous etymology has been suggested between the name Fionn and “the word fane as meaning fairy, . . . [and] the name fion employed [in Brittany] as meaning a diminutive race of elves.” (181)  You decide.

We find it no small coincidence that the main staple of Tom Thumbe’s diet is the hazel nut.  We note that although blessed by his Godmother, the Queene of Fayries, with the ability to fast “foreuer without foode or sustenance,” (182) when he did partake of food, “the seruice was the curnell of a hazell-nut, of which he eate but the third part, and the rest serued him sufficiently for foure meales after, yet grew he sometimes sicke by eating so much at one time.” (183)  The only other nut men-tioned in the story is the walnut, or rather, it’s shell, in which Tom rests “in stead of a chaire,” (184) and of which his coach, “made of halfe a Wal-nut-shell,” (185) is con-structed.  We are thus assured that the specificity of the hazel nut as his primary food source is intentional, and that its covert and inverted reference to Finn’s fate is here satirized by the “accidental,” or fated, swallowing of Tom Thumbe by the salmon. 

In this, as in each of the other fated swallowings, the ingestion of the thumb-boy is emphatically accomplished without chewing, as distinct from the practice of chewing, or biting the thumb to obtain wisdom.  And, just maybe, by way of a hilariously rude joke, Tom Thumbe is the very personification, if we can call it that, of Finn’s “Thumb of Knowledge.”  The choice of the name “Thumbe” is itself a clarion call to the cognoscenti, appearing to refer as much to the diminished stature of Tom’s former self, namely the heroic Finn, as it does to Tom’s dimin-utive physical size, which was the, not unhumorous, result of his father’s wish.  This kind of thinking typifies the mazed and tangled allusions employed in the ancient Bardic system of camouflage and satire.  Virtually all of the their outpourings, whether oral or written, were composed of enigmatic riddles whose internal truths were accessible only to the initiated. (186)  We have unearthed not a few of these in The History of Tom Thumbe, which is, indeed, the story of an initiate. 

The flowing theme that runs through the various mishaps that befall our young hero is that of rebirth through the elements of Earth (Cow), Air (Raven), Fire (Giant), and Water (Salmon), which is but another way of describing the stages of Bardic initiation.  There is the episode, too, of the cauldron in which the underworld pig is transformed into Blood Pudding, and Tom is baptized by water and blood and fire all at once.  We are led to imagine that Tom’s all-too-brief period of gestation might be the cause for these repeated re-enactments of the birthing process.  Yet each of his fated “accidents” reflects the same kind of metamorphoses that we find in such rites whose ultimate goal is to become one with the “living elements of Creation” (187) in order to gain mastery over them.  There is the implicit under-standing in the taking on of these other forms “that all matter is indeed one and that the assumption of its various forms can readily be achieved through the spiritual and mental potency of the magical initiate.” (188)

When such mastery had been obtained, the Celtic Bard presented a recitation of his achievements in an encrypted and mysterious riddle form by stating who he had been, where he had been, and what he had accomplished.  The enumeration was comprised of a series of poetic clues whose cumulative effect revealed the essence of his being through the passing seasons of the sacred year, and the unending circularity of time.  The god-like I Am revelations of what he had become, which is to say, the essence of everything, reflected a mystical understanding of the entire universe.  One such ancient incantation, known as The Song of Amergin (1268 B.C.E.), combines the attributes of valor, sacred knowledge, clarity, and inspiration.  These are the prerequisites for achieving resolutions to the questions of the universe.


        I am a stag of seven tines,

        I am a wide flood on a plain,

        I am a wind on the deep waters,

        I am a shining tear of the sun,

        I am a hawk on a cliff,

        I am fair among flowers,

        I am a god who sets the head afire with smoke,

        I am a battle-waging spear,

        I am a salmon in a pool,

        I am a hill of poetry,

        I am a ruthless boar,

        I am a threatening noise of the sea,   

        I am a wave of the sea,

        Who but I knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen? (189)

But, whereas the successful Druidic initiate, whether in dream or vision, trans-

mogrifies, that is to say, happily takes the form of other sentient beings of the earth, air, and water, or adopts the form or essence of trees, rocks, waves, clouds, and so forth, Tom is reduced to manic episodes of capering, kicking, and screaming to escape his traumatic imprisonments.  And he never talks about them again.  It is as though he has no memory of them.  Even his time in the belly of the much sought after salmon seems to have had no effect whatsoever on this thumbling.  And this is so because, unlike the sacred Bards of the almost forgotten past, he has not partaken of the essence of his mothers of re-birthing, has not become them, and so he re-mains as unconscious as he was on the day of his premature birth.  And as on that day, the Queene of Fayries must intervene once more on his behalf.


Having become, by virtue of his size, the darling of King Arthur and His court, many came from throughout the land to pay him tribute.  “Amongst the rest, his olde Godmother the Queene of Fayries came for to see him, and to witnesse what Fame and good Fortunes had befallen him.” (190)

        But so it happened, that she found her little God-sonne asleepe (in

        the King’s Garden) vpon the toppe of a Red Rose new blowne. And

        being then iust highnoone-tide, (her chiefest time of liberty to worke

        wonders in) she stood inuisibly before him, stroaking downe the

        sweaty droppes with her vnfelt hand from his little forehead, which

        cast him into a most sweete and pleasurable dreame, and withall

        bestowed foure of the most rarest guifts of the world vpon him, which

        she left there lying by against his awaking. First, an inchanted Hat,

        the which by wearing hee should know, what was done in all parts of

        the world. A Ring likewise inchanted, that hauing it vpon his finger,

        hee might goe if hee pleased into any place vnseene, and walke inuis-

        ible. Thirdly, a Girdle, that by wearing it, should change him into what

        shape soeuer he desired. And lastly, a payre of shooes, (that being on

        his feete) would in a moment carry him to any part of the earth, and to

        be any time where hee pleased. Thus with a feruency of loue blessed

        shee him, and departed. (191)

As we are explicitly told, the Queene of Fayries arrives at the high-noon hour.  This is one of “the four hinges of the day,” (192) the others being “dusk, midnight and early dawn, [that] are cardinal [hours] to the fairies”; (193) times when the “doors open between the worlds.” (194)  As she gazes lovingly at him, this Goddess of Fate realizes his shortcomings (no pun intended) and immediately rectifies the situation by heaping magical gifts upon him that are of such magnitude as to defy the imagi-nation.  Her beloved godson is, of course, asleep, and so he, too, is open to the world of dream and the unconscious.  We are in fact told, if parenthetically, that when he awakens he knows the function of each of the magical presents because it has been “reuealed to him in his sleepe.” (195)  And it is only after the receipt of this largesse that he finally begins to come into his own to remember, and even to brag, about his triumphs. 

In fact, all of his Druid-styled feats are accomplished subsequent to his godmother’s bestowal of these otherworldly fairy accoutrements, and the text is quite specific in its attribution of credit to her.

        . . . and all these things did he performe by vertue that was in the

        guifts which his godmother the Queene of Fairies did bestow vpon

        her godsonne Tom Thumbe: which was his Hat of knowledge, his

        Ring which made him goe inuisible, his Girdle which made him bee

        what he wisht to be either man or beast, & lastly his shooes, which

        being on his feet was on a sudden in any part of the world, & in the

        twinkling of an eye was in King Arthur’s Court againe. (196)

We are struck by an extraordinary “coincidence” of language that occurs in the description of one of the abilities gained from this gift-giving, the telling of which is found almost verbatim in an early 11th century Irish text, the Dindsenchas (‘Lore of Places’), which describes Finn’s attainment of second-sight from the salmon.  The author of The History of Tom Thumbe records that when Tom “first tooke the Hat & put it vpon his head . . . he was presently inspired with the knowl-edge of al things in the world; and at that very instant knew, what was done in K. Arthurs Court, and what the King himself was a doing.” (197)  The author of the Irish text records that the eating of the knowledge-bestowing salmon provided Finn with the highly coveted ability of “‘seeing all that was happening in the High Courts of Tara.’” (198)  If one should argue that The History of Tom Thumbe is not based on the initiation of Finn mac Cumhail, then this would be a truly remarkable occur-rence, indeed. 

Our little initiate has received the gifts of Druidic wizardry from Titania, but our story-teller makes it clear that Tom himself has matured, that he has mastered certain of the Druidic skills, which he executes flawlessly without having to resort to these magical aids.  Among these skills, we may number one of the finest ex-amples in his very Druid-like encounter with another deposed giant, the gigantic Gargantua (‘Giant Stone Being’), son of the great god Belen who was worshipped by the Druids of Gaul two thousand years before the birth of Christ. (199)  In a prototypically bardic exchange, Master Thumbe engages this overwhelmingly large man in a back-and-forth of I Am speeches.  Garagantua, as he is called in this story, declares himself to be the onely wonder of the world, the terror of the people, and the tamer of man and beast.” (200)  To this claim, Tom counters with, I am to be wondred at as much as thy selfe any waies can bee: for I am not only feared, but also loued: I cannot onely tame men and beastes, but I also can tame thy selfe.” (201) 

Well, as the text tells us, upon hearing this great braggadocious exclamation, Garagantua, like the rest of us, “fell into such a laughter that the whole earth where hee stood shooke which made Tom Thumbe in all hast to ride away.” (202)  But Garagantua was sorry to have affrighted him and truly “desired him to stay, . . . [so] they would talke familiarly, who was the better man, and could doe the most wonders.” (203)  And so he stayed, and “they began to dispute dialogue,” (204) and back-and-forth they went until the gargantuan man had had just about enough proof that Tom Thumbe was, indeed, the better man.  “Hereat Garagantua was madde and would with his foote haue kicked downe the whole wood, and so haue buried Tom Thumbe.” (205)  But, lo and behold, out of his Druidic bag of tricks does Master Thumbe pull the most amazingly typical act of Celtic fith-fath wizardry to bind the raging giant.  To wit: “with his skill [he] so inchanted him that he was not able to stur, but so stood still with one leg vp, till Tom Thumbe was at his lodging: Hereat Garagantua was much vexed, but knew not how to helpe himselfe.” (206)

At long last has Tom Thumbe reached the pinnacle of his training in the Druidic arts.  And what does he do?  He lets all the secrets out of the bag (not that anyone noticed) by leaving the man in the very position employed in the enunciation of the fith-fath spell itself.  And with this final gesture does the author reveal his own secret, too, (not that anyone noticed) – that the teller of this tale is himself a learned Druid poet, finally setting to paper what has been an ages-old oral tradition.  It must be so.  For, knowing what he knows of the hidden meanings of things – things that are normally concealed from the view of the uninitiated, but which he has enfolded like a mystical riddle into this 17th century story for all the world to see – it cannot be otherwise.  Our story-teller’s biting humor bespeaks a full knowledge of Druidic practice, a trace of which he has so kindly left for all the ages to remember.  And we are most grateful.





1. “Tom Thumbe astride his mouse steed.” Illustration by Jemima Blackburn (1823-1909) for "Title Page" from: The History of the Life and Death of the Good Knight Sir Thomas Thumb. Edinburgh: Thomas Constable and Co., 1855.

<http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/images/JBTitle1.htm> An extraordinary compilation of Tom Thumb material collected and published on the web by Susan Bauer for The Camelot Project, The University of Rochester at <http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/TTMenu.htm>

2. “The Red Cow swallows up Tom Thumbe.” Illustration by Jemima Blackburn (1823-1909) for "'Here, mother, in the red cow's mouth'" from: Yonge, Charlotte Mary. The History of the Life and Death of the Good Knight Sir Thomas Thumb. Edinburgh: Thomas Constable and Co., 1855. <http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/images/JB29.htm> Collected and published on the web by Susan Bauer for The Camelot Project, The University of Rochester. Ibid.


1. Iona and Peter Opie, “The History of Tom Thumb” in The Classic Fairy Tales. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974, Reissued 1992), p. 30, in which the entire tale published by Richard Johnson as The History of Tom Thumbe  . . . , of which only one copy has survived, is reproduced on pp. 33-46.

2. Ibid., p. 30.

3. Ibid.

  1. 4.Susan Bauer, “The History of Tom Thumb”, Essay, p. 1 at The Camelot Project, The University of Rochester, at <http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/TTMenu.htm> 

5. Alfred Nutt, The Fairy Mythology of Shakespeare, in A Fairy Tale Reader: A Collection of Story, Lore and Vision. John & Caitlin Matthews, Eds. (London: Aquarian/Thorsens, 1993, Excerpted from Alfred Nutt, The Fairy Mythology of Shakespeare. (London: David Nutt, 1900), p. 173.

6. Ibid., p. 178.

7. Ibid., pp. 177-78.

8. Ibid., p. 177.

9. Ibid., p. 178; pp. 177-78 passim.

10. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain. (Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 1999 unabridged republication of 1945 edition), p. 50; See also: Alwyn and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1961), pp. 140-41 for a detailed description of the various Druid castes.

11. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 41.

12. Ibid., p. 51, quot. Eleanor Hull, Folklore of the British Isles, pp. 291-93.

13. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 40.

14. A Greek-English Lexicon, Compiled by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott. (Oxford: Oxford University press, 9th ed., with a 1968 Supplement, 1983), “drus”, p. 451.

15. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974; 7th Printing of Amended and Enlarged Edition of 1966), p. 23.

16. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe, in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 33.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid., p. 36.

19. Ibid., p. 33.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., p. 34.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Lewis Spence, The Fairy Tradition in Britain. (Kessinger Publishing, n.d., reprint of original Rider & Co., 1948 edition), p. 114.

25. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 34.

26. William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, I.iv.54.

27. Ibid., I.iv.55-95.

28. See: Miranda J. Green, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. (London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd., 1992), “Medb”, p. 147.

29. Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1981), “Maeve, Meave, Mebhdh”, p. 188.

30. Ibid.

31. Jean Markale, Women of the Celts. A. Mygind, C. Hauch, and P. Henry, Trans. (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions International, Ltd., 1986), p. 164.

32. Ibid., p. 165.

33. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 34.

34. Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines, op. cit., “Aine”, p. 7.

35. Caitlin & John Matthews, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman’s Source Book. (Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element, 1994), p. 284.

36. Katherine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976), “Titania”, p. 401, citing the Sloane Manuscript of 1727 in the British Museum.

37. Ovid, Metamorphoses, III.173; See also: Tracy Boyd, “I Am Baubo, The Acorn Fool”, and Appendix at <www.sacredthreads.net

38. Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIV.382,438.

39. Tracy Boyd, “Circe’s Circle of Oaks At the Edge of the World” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

40. Rev. T. F. Thiselton Dyer, Folk-Lore of Shakespeare. (Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 1966 unabridged and unaltered republication of 1883 Edition), p. 4, quot. Keightley, Fairy Mythology, 1878, p. 325.

41. Katherine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, op. cit., “Titania”, p. 401.

42. Ibid., “Oberon”, p. 314.

43. William Shakespeare, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, II.i.81.

44. Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s-Morris and The Boundaries Between Worlds” under the heading: “The Realm of Faerie” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

45. William Shakespeare, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, II.i.82-117.

46. Ibid., II.i.43.

47. Ibid., II.i.21-27.

48. Ibid., II.i.121-22 . . . 135-38.

49. Ibid., II.i.143.

50. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 35.

51. Ibid.

52. Ibid., pp. 34-35.

53. Iona and Peter Opie, “The History of Tom Thumb” in The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 31.

54. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 108.

55. Ibid.

56. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe, in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 33.

57. Ibid., p. 36.

58. Ibid.

59. Ibid.

60. Ibid.

61. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 61.

62. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. College Edition. (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Co., 1959), “fey”, p. 538. This dictionary is used throughout this article.

63. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 36.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Ibid.

67. Lewis Spence, The Encyclopedia of the Occult. (London: Bracken Books, 1994), “Shelta Thari”, p. 367.

68. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, op. cit., “tinker”, p. 1527.

69. See: Ibid., “tinker’s damn”, p. 1527.

70. Lewis Spence, The Encyclopedia of the Occult, op. cit., “Shelta Thari”, p. 366.

71. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 36.

72. Bonnie Blackburn & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year: An Exploration of Calendar Customs and Time-reckoning. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), “21 December”, p. 506.

73. W. Hazlitt Carew, Faiths and Folklore of the British Isles. Two Volumes. (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965 reprint of 1905 Edition), “Gooding on St. Thomas’s Day”, Vol. I, p. 283.

74. Ibid.

75. Bonnie Blackburn & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year: An Exploration of Calendar Customs and Time-reckoning, op. cit., “21 December”, p. 506.

76. The Gospel According To Saint Luke  1:7. King James Version.

77. Ibid., 1:13.

78. Ibid., 1:36-37.

79. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 63, quot. Sir Walter Scott, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, II, p. 278.

80. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, F. L. Cross, Ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), “John the Baptist, St.”, pp. 733-34.

81. William Shakespeare, Twelfth-Night; or, What You Will, III.iv.54.

82. See: Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. (London:Thames and Hudson, 1961), pp. 345-46 for a general discussion of these states of “betwixts-and-betweens.”

83. Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s-Morris and The Boundaries Between Worlds” under the heading: “The Boundaries Between Worlds” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

84. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 37.

85. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 176.

86. Ibid., p. 179.

87. Ibid., p. 180.

88. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. J. R. R. Tolkien, Trans. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1975), stanza 7, line 19 . . . stanza 7, line 20 . . . stanza 8, line 1, p. 28.

89. Ibid., Stanza 10, line 4; stanza 10, line 6, p. 30.

90. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 179.

91. Ibid., p. 180.

92. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 37.

93. Ibid., p. 38.

94. Ibid.

95. Ibid.

96. Ibid.

97. Ibid.

98. Roy Vickery, Oxford Dictionary of Plant Lore. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), “Thistle”, p. 370.

99. Ibid., p. 369.

100. Ibid., “Dock”, p. 108.

101. Lewis Spence, The Fairy Tradition in Britain, op. cit., p. 179.

102. J. C. Cooper, Symbolic and Mythological Animals. (London: The Aquarian Press/HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), “Cow”, p. 62.

103. Ibid.

104. Lewis Spence, The Fairy Tradition in Britain, op. cit., p. 215.

105. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 38, note 1.

106. Sean Donnelly, “An Irish Dance in Tudor and Stuart England” Part I, at <www.setdance.com/journal/trenchmore.html>.  Sean Donnelly’s long and thoroughly erudite article is well worth an entire read.

107. W. Hazlitt Carew, Faiths and Folklore of the British Isles, op. cit., “Trenchmore”, Vol. II, p. 598.

108. E. Cobham Brewer, The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: Giving the Derivation, Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions and Words that Have a Tale to Tell. (New York: Avenel Books, 1978), “Trenchmore”, p. 1244, quot. ‘Taylor, the Water-Poet’, see: “Taylor”, p. 1210.

109. Sean Donnelly, “An Irish Dance in Tudor and Stuart England”, op. cit., quot. Will Kemp, nine daies wonder: performed in a Morris Daunce from London to Norwich. (London, c. 1600), ed. Alexander Dyce (London, 1839), p. 1.

110. See: Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s-Morris and The Boundaries Between Worlds” under the heading: “Etymologies of Morris” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

111. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 38.

112. Ibid.

113. Ibid.

114. Ibid.

115. Ibid., p. 39.

116. J. C. Cooper, Symbolic and Mythological Animals, op. cit., “Raven”, p. 191.

117. See: W. B. Lockwood, The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 9; “Raven”, p. 125; “Crow”, p. 49.

118. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 39.

119. Ibid.

120. Ibid.

121. Ibid.

122. Ibid.

123. Ibid.

124. Ibid.

125. Ibid., p. 40.

126. Ibid., pp. 39-40.

127. Iona and Peter Opie, “The History of Tom Thumb” in The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 31.

128. Ibid., p. 63.

129. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 59.

130. Ibid., p. 60, quot. Dr. Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, pagination not cited.

131. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 61.

132. Ibid., p. 59.

133. Lewis Spence, The Encyclopedia of the Occult, op. cit., “Celts”, p. 97.

134. See: Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 108.

135. Ibid.

136. Ibid., p. 60, quot. George Henderson, Norse Influence in Celtic Scotland, p. 73.   

137. Ibid., pp. 59-60.

138. Ibid., p. 60.

139. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., pp. 60-61.

140. Ibid., p. 61.

141. Ibid.

142. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 33.

143. Ibid., p. 40.

144. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 59.

145. Lewis Spence, The Encyclopedia of the Occult, op. cit., “Celts”, p. 97.

146. Ibid.

147. Alliterative Morte Arthure, in King Arthur's Death. Brian Stone, Trans. (London: Penguin Books, 1988), line 1096, p. 67.

148. Ibid., note 1, p. 64.

149. Ibid., line 1003, p. 64.

150. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 40.

151. Ibid., pp. 40-41.

152. Ibid., p. 41.

153. Ibid.

154. John Matthews, Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman. (Rochester, VT.: Inner Traditions, 1991, 2002), p. 240.

155. Iona and Peter Opie, “The History of Tom Thumb” in The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 31.

156. Charles Squire, Celtic Myth and Legend Poetry and Romance. (USA: Newcastle Publishing Co., Inc., 1975/first published 1905), p. 211.

157. John Matthews, Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman, op. cit., p. 31.

158. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 75.

159. John Matthews, Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman, op. cit., p. 22; and pp. 11-34 passim.

160. Ibid., p. 4.

161. Joseph Campbell & Henry Morton Robinson, A Skeleton Key To Finnegans Wake. (New York, The Viking Press, 1944; Viking Compass Edition, 1961, 6th Printing, 1968), p. 4. See also: Tracy Boyd, “A ‘Whisper of Running Streams”: Memories of pastpresentfuture”, especially under the headings “Dreaming the World” and “Shame’s Choice: About Time, Too!” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

162. Charles Squire, Celtic Myth and Legend Poetry and Romance, op. cit., p. 55.  The author notes that the ancient sacred well is “now called Trinity Well.”, p. 55, note 2.

163. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 64.

164. Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, op. cit., p. 250.

165. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 64.

166. Charles Squire, Celtic Myth and Legend Poetry and Romance, op. cit., p. 211.

167. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 64.

168. Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, op. cit., p. 250.

169. Lewis Spence, The History and Origins of Druidism. (Van Nuys, CA: Newcastle Publishing, 1995; Originally published: London: Rider and Company, 1947), p. 151.

170. John Matthews, Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman, op. cit., p. 190.

171. William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, I.iv.55-95.

172. The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1944; 1972), pp. 121-28.

173. Charles Perrault, Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper in The Blue Fairy Book. Andrew Lang, Ed. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1965 unabridged and unaltered republication of Longmans, Green, and Co. circa 1889), pp. 64-71.

174. Jacqueline Memory Paterson, Tree Wisdom: The Definitive Guidebook to the Myth, Folklore and Healing Power of Trees. (London: Thorsons, 1996), p. 68.

175. Lewis Spence, The History and Origins of Druidism, op. cit., pp. 147-48.

176. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., pp. 181-82.

177. See: Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s-Morris and The Boundaries Between Worlds” under the heading: “Fire Rites” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

178. Jeremiah Curtain, Myths and Folk Tales of Ireland. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1975, unabridged republication of Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1890), p. 135, note 1.

179. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., p. 182.

180. Lewis Spence, The Fairy Tradition in Britain, op. cit., p. 92.

181. Ibid.

182. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 35.

183. Ibid., p. 43.

184. Ibid., p. 42.

185. Ibid., p. 44.

186. For examples, see: Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., passim; and John Matthews, Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman, op. cit., passim.

187. John Matthews, Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman, op. cit., p. 51, and pp. 51-53 passim.

188. Lewis Spence, The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, op. cit., p. 16.

189. Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, op. cit., pp. 207-08.

190. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 43.

191. Ibid.

192. Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, op. cit., “Time in Fairyland”, p. 400.

193. Ibid.

194. Ibid.

195. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 43.

196. Ibid., p. 46.

197. Ibid., p. 43.

  1. 198.Jacqueline Memory Paterson, Tree Wisdom: The Definitive Guidebook to the Myth, Folklore and Healing Power of Trees, op. cit., p. 67, quot. Dinnshenchas [Dindshenchas] text, lines not cited.

  2. 199.Louis Charpentier, The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral. English translation by Sir Ronald Fraser in collaboration with Janette Jackson. (London: Research Into Lost Knowledge Organisation, 1972-75; Originally published and translated into English by Robert Laffont (Paris: 6 place Saint-Sulpice, 1966), pp. 22-23. Charpentier’s very informative discussion of Belen, and of the numerous place-names derived from his name in the areas surrounding Chartres, is a must-read. The subject of the giant stones of Druidic Gaul, the birthplace of  Master Thumbe’s Garagantua, and the megaliths from which he gets his name, is taken up in another context in some detail in the article: Tracy Boyd, “Finding the Light At Our Lady of Chartres” under the heading: “Seeing the Light” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

200. Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 44.

201. Ibid.

202. Ibid.

203. Ibid., pp. 44-45.

204. Ibid., p. 45.

205. Ibid., p. 46.  We are reminded by Louis Charpentier in his The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral, op. cit., p. 23, of a similar scene in Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel that was published nearly one hundred years before the The History of Tom Thumbe appeared in written form.  The scene is that in which Gargantua is riding to Paris astride his huge great mare who, annoyed by the flying things that plague horses, swished her enormous tail, and with one swoop, “razed the oak forests” that extended themselves over the entire length and breadth of Beauce.  These are the famed oak woods at the spiritual center of Gaul where the Druids congregated en masse and upon which now sits the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres.  Clearly there is something to these stories in terms of the history of the place.  See: Tracy Boyd, “Finding the Light At Our Lady of Chartres” at <www.sacredthreads.net>

  1. 206.Richard Johnson, The History of Tom Thumbe in Iona and Peter Opie, The Classic Fairy Tales, op. cit., p. 46.