Initiatory Faery Ballad: Tam Lin

Tam Lin by Kay Nielsen

Traditional [^words from the research carried out by Abigail Acland – please visit her website for much more information about this song and its background – http://tam-lin.org/ Child ballad #39A The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882-1898 by Francis James C.^]

Tam Lin is a powerful Faery ballad from Scotland. If it is followed step by step, the keys to the Faery Kingdom, its rites and purposes, are revealed. In a ballad as old as this, nothing is glossed over or prettified. The Faery must have sexual sacrifice to insure the fertility of the land, as well as the protection of the their doors and roads.

The color of Faery is green. That Janet is ‘green as any glass’ and wears a green mantle shows her allegiance to the Faery. What could the back story be? Why does she prefer an elfin knight to a human one? Why does she court the Faery?

She meets her love, Tam Lin, at the well. Wells, those tunnels that penetrate deep into the earth, are legendary portals into Faery. In order to summon Tam Lin, Janet breaks two roses that grow by the well. Roses have a magical heritage. They have often been thought to have been created by the Faery. Breaking the roses, traditionally one red and one white signifying sexual duality, is a violation of the sanctity of Faery property, so up starts Tam Lin to defend them. When he sees it is his true love Janet, that changes. They make love and the child conceived by Janet is a powerful link between human and Faery, Tam Lin and the mortal world that he longs to return to.

Janet threatens to abort the child unless Tam Lin explains his origins. He tells the tale of how he was abducted into Faeryland when he fell from horse on a hunting trip. Though he likes the Faeryland, the Tithe to Hell is due and he is afraid that he will be sacrificed to Lucifer as he is so full of life force.

Tam Lin and Janet plot to rescue him from Faeryland on Halloween Eve, night of the Wild Ride. He tells Janet he will shape shift into many dangerous and frightening forms but she must hold on. She succeeds and Tam Lin is freed. The Faery Queen is very angry…

Now enjoy Tam Lin, a fine Faery ballad, full of striking images to be meditated upon, for every image is a doorway to the the Otherworld for one with the Witchblood…

If you would like to hear the melody, check out

www.tam-lin.org/music. Four samples and notations are there.

Tam Lin

  1. O I forbid you, maidens a’,

    That wear gowd on your hair,

    To come or gae by Carterhaugh,

    For young Tam Lin is there.

  2. There’s nane that gaes by Carterhaugh

    But they leave him a wad,

    Either their rings, or green mantles,

    Or else their maidenhead.

  3. Janet has kilted her green kirtle

    A little aboon her knee,

    And she has broded her yellow hair

    A little aboon her bree,

  4. And she’s awa to Carterhaugh

    As fast as she can hie.

    When she came to carterhaugh

    Tam Lin was at the well,

  5. And there she fand his steed standing,

    But away was himsel.

    She had na pu’d a double rose,

    A rose but only twa,

  6. Till upon then started young Tam Lin,

    Says, Lady, thou’s pu nae mae.

    Why pu’s thou the rose, Janet,

    And why breaks thou the wand?

  7. Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh

    Withoutten my command?

    “Carterhaugh, it is my own,

    My daddy gave it me,

  8. I’ll come and gang by Carterhaugh,

    And ask nae leave at thee.”

    Janet has kilted her green kirtle

    A little aboon her knee,

  9. And she has broded her yellow hair

    A little aboon her bree,

    And she is to her father’s ha,

    As fast as she can hie.

  10. Four and twenty ladies fair

    Were playing at the ba,

    And out then came the fair Janet,

    The flower among them a’.

  11. Four and twenty ladies fair

    Were playing at the chess,

    And out then came the fair Janet,

    As green as onie glass.

  12. Out then spake an auld grey knight,

    Lay oer the castle wa,

    And says, Alas, fair Janet, for thee,

    But we’ll be blamed a’.

  13. “Haud your tongue, ye auld fac’d knight,

    Some ill death may ye die!

    Father my bairn on whom I will,

    I’ll father none on thee.”

  14. Out then spak her father dear,

    And he spak meek and mild,

    “And ever alas, sweet Janet,” he says,

    “I think thou gaest wi child.”

  15. “If that I gae wi child, father,

    Mysel maun bear the blame,

    There’s neer a laird about your ha,

    Shall get the bairn’s name.

  16. “If my love were an earthly knight,

    As he’s an elfin grey,

    I wad na gie my ain true-love

    For nae lord that ye hae.

  17. “The steed that my true love rides on

    Is lighter than the wind,

    Wi siller he is shod before,

    Wi burning gowd behind.”

  18. Janet has kilted her green kirtle

    A little aboon her knee,

    And she has broded her yellow hair

    A little aboon her bree,

  19. And she’s awa to Carterhaugh

    As fast as she can hie.

    When she came to Carterhaugh,

    Tam Lin was at the well,

  20. And there she fand his steed standing,

    But away was himsel.

    She had na pu’d a double rose,

    A rose but only twa,

  21. Till up then started young Tam Lin,

    Says, Lady, thou pu’s nae mae.

    “Why pu’s thou the rose, Janet,

    Amang the groves sae green,

  22. And a’ to kill the bonny babe

    That we gat us between?”

    “O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin,” she says,

    “For’s sake that died on tree,

  23. If eer ye was in holy chapel,

    Or christendom did see?”

    “Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,

    Took me with him to bide

  24. And ance it fell upon a day

    That wae did me betide.

    “And ance it fell upon a day

    A cauld day and a snell,

  25. When we were frae the hunting come,

    That frae my horse I fell,

    The Queen o’ Fairies she caught me,

    In yon green hill do dwell.

  26. “And pleasant is the fairy land,

    But, an eerie tale to tell,

    Ay at the end of seven years,

    We pay a tiend to hell,

  27. I am sae fair and fu o flesh,

    I’m feard it be mysel.

    “But the night is Halloween, lady,

    The morn is Hallowday,

  28. Then win me, win me, an ye will,

    For weel I wat ye may.

    “Just at the mirk and midnight hour

    The fairy folk will ride,

  29. And they that wad their true-love win,

    At Miles Cross they maun bide.”

    “But how shall I thee ken, Tam Lin,

    Or how my true-love know,

  30. Amang sa mony unco knights,

    The like I never saw?”

    “O first let pass the black, lady,

    And syne let pass the brown,

  31. But quickly run to the milk-white steed,

    Pu ye his rider down.

    “For I’ll ride on the milk-white steed,

    And ay nearest the town,

  32. Because I was an earthly knight

    They gie me that renown.

    “My right hand will be gloved, lady,

    My left hand will be bare,

  33. Cockt up shall my bonnet be,

    And kaimed down shall my hair,

    And thae’s the takens I gie thee,

    Nae doubt I will be there.

  34. “They’ll turn me in your arms, lady,

    Into an esk and adder,

    But hold me fast, and fear me not,

    I am your bairn’s father.

  35. “They’ll turn me to a bear sae grim,

    And then a lion bold,

    But hold me fast, and fear me not,

    And ye shall love your child.

  36. “Again they’ll turn me in your arms

    To a red het gand of airn,

    But hold me fast, and fear me not,

    I’ll do you nae harm.

  37. “And last they’ll turn me in your arms

    Into the burning gleed,

    Then throw me into well water,

    O throw me in with speed.

  38. “And then I’ll be your ain true-love,

    I’ll turn a naked knight,

    Then cover me wi your green mantle,

    And hide me out o sight.”

  39. Gloomy, gloomy was the night,

    And eerie was the way,

    As fair Jenny in her green mantle

    To Miles Cross she did gae.

  40. At the mirk and midnight hour

    She heard the bridles sing,

    She was as glad at that

    As any earthly thing.

  41. First she let the black pass by,

    And syne she let the brown,

    But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed,

    And pu’d the rider down.

  42. Sae weel she minded what he did say,

    And young Tam Lin did win,

    Syne covered him wi her green mantle,

    As blythe’s a bird in spring

  43. Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,

    Out of a bush o broom,

    “Them that has gotten young Tam Lin

    Has gotten a stately-groom.”

  44. Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,

    And an angry woman was she,

    “Shame betide her ill-far’d face,

    And an ill death may she die,

  45. For she’s taen awa the bonniest knight

    In a’ my companie.

    “But had I kend, Tam Lin,” said she,

    “What now this night I see,

  46. I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een,

    And put in twa een o tree.”

Miles Cross by Amanda Joanne Sanow

Miles Cross by Amanda Joanne Sanow

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