Habetrot is a lowland Scots fairy and the patroness of spinning. It is believed that a shirt woven by her is efficacious against any ill. She appears in a story that has elements of similarity with the tales of Tom Tit Tot, Rumpelstiltskin, and a host of others around the world:
Once upon a time, there was a lazy young girl who hated spinning. At every possible opportunity, she would abandon her work to go and pick flowers. At last, her exasperated mother shut her up in her bedroom with her spinning wheel and five skeins of flax, saying that she wouldn’t let her out until she had spun them. The girl picked up her spindle but soon made her fingers and lips sore with her bungled attempts. Bursting into tears she climbed through the bedroom window and fled into the fields
Wandering disconsolately near the stream she found a self holed stone, through which- as everyone knows- one can see fairies. Peering through the cleft the girl was amazed to see into a fairy mound where a strange little woman sat spinning, pulling out the thread with a huge, long lip.
‘Why have you got such a long lip?’ asked the girl, somewhat impolitely.
‘From pulling out the thread, lassie’ replied the old woman, who was none other than the fairy Habetrot. The girl was soon chatting away to the old fairy, complaining that she couldn’t spin and explaining the task her mother had set her. Habetrot told the wee lassie to bring the five skeins of flax to her, and the fairies would do the job. No sooner said than done. The yarn was fetched and the fairies, all with long lips and hunched backs from sitting so long over their spinning wheels, set to and span the thread.
‘Tis finished Scantlie Mab!’ cried Habetrot to one of the other fairies, ‘Though the wee lassie little kens that my name is Habetrot!’ She returned the thread to the girl, and advised her not to tell her mother who really span the thread.
The mother was delighted with the smooth thread, and ran back and forth boasting how her daughter had spun so well. A passing laird thought what a good wife the girl would make, and married her, bragging of all the spinning she would do after the wedding. He presented his bride with a new spinning wheel and plenty of fresh flax.
The unhappy girl went down to the holed stone and called on Habetrot. The kindly fairy considered the problem and advised the girl to bring her husband to visit the fairy spinners. The couple was shown into the mound and the laird was horrified at the deformed backs and lips of the women.
‘Yes, we were all bonnie once, until we took up the spinning’ Habetrot said ‘Yon girl will soon be the same after pulling out the thread with her sweet red lips and bending her lovely young back over the wheel!’
‘She will not!’ exclaimed the laird, horrified at the prospect of his lovely young bride losing her looks. He took his wife home and forbade her to do any spinning, passing it all on to the fairies instead. So all worked out well in the end.
Anna Franklin, The Fairy Ring Oracle, Llewellyn, 2003
Illustration Paul Mason