“Curious creatures, neither man nor beast. They would come unbidden – whence, no one knew; and when they would take their departure, it was unknown where they went.” (The Book of Arran vol.II)
On further inspection I discovered their name referred to their predilection for moaning, weeping and general lamenting. Not happy bunnies for sure. They’re related to the English Brownies and Dobbies and are often attached to a particular house or family. It was the riddle at the end of the Arran story that caught my attention:
A family at the south end of Arran had a bleater with them for a long time. It came in and out with the cattle and slept in the cow byre. Every night the woman of the house would leave a handful of meal out and every morning the iron plate would be licked clean. One winter the son of the house married and brought his new wife back to live with them.
One day, there were snow drifts against the doors. On clearing them, the young wife saw the bleater shivering and threw him a coat to keep him warm. He caught it, looked up at her with the saddest eyes and began weeping. He turned and ran away from the house, wailing loudly. He was never seen again.
It’s a well-known fact that if bleaters or brownies are given an item of clothing they have to leave the home. J.K. Rowling brilliantly used this idea when Harry Potter tricks Lucius Malfoy into ‘giving’ a sock to his house elf, Dobby, who is then free to leave and start a new life at Hogwarts. Somehow I don’t think the Arran Bleater had such a great future to look forward to!
When the young woman told her mother-in-law what had happened the older woman replied:
“ I don’t care that he’s gone as long as he doesn’t tell anyone two things: What virtue is in the root of the burr, and what substance in the sweat of an egg.”
?If anyone can enlighten me please comment!
With thanks to "The Big Study" Arran Enigma for image of the Bleater.