What is a Wag-at-the-Wa?

They’re a very special Brownie, or rather, a Scottish version of the Brownie called the Wag-at-the-Wa. The most cheerful of the Brownies, his favorite place was swinging away on an empty pot hook. If it were to be seen swinging afore a pot were put in place, you could be sure that it had recently been abandoned.  If there were no pot hook available, it was possible to run afoul of this usually well-dispositioned fairy. A horse-shoe could provide a nice swing in place of a pothook if one were not readily available. For certainly, something was better than nothing. It never does to get on the bad side of a Brownie.

Iron is obviously not a deterrent to this fairy, but if the sign of the cross were to be etched into the pot hook, which at one time was becoming a common practice to ward against witches, it would also drive away the Brownie. If you’re more curious about attracting a Wag-at-the-Wa to you, William Henderson also tells us that swinging the pot hook is a temptation they are hard pressed to resist. 

Their Typical Appearance 

Wag-at-the-Wa laughing

William Henderson gifted us with a tidy description of this fairy in his Notes on the folk-lore of the northern countries of England and the borders” Written in (1879). In it, he tell us,

“His general appearance was that of a grisly old man, with short, crooked legs, while a long tail assisted him in keeping his seat on the crook. Sometimes he appeared in a grey mantle, with the remains of an old ‘pirnicap’ (night-cap) on his head, drawn down over that side of the face which was troubled with toothache, a constant grievance of his; but he commonly wore a red coat and blue breeches, both garments being made of ‘familie woo’."

Brownie that he was, he’d help out around the home. He was also much loved by children for he was very fond of them and could be found entertaining the wee ones. His laugh will ring out over a crowded home, loud and full of merriment, but he can also be quick to anger. Nothing stronger than household ale should touch your lips or you’ll soon hear an angry cough in objection. He was also dreaded by the help.  The maids of a household walked a thin line with this fairy. If the Wag-at-the-Wa weighed and found a maid lacking in their efforts, they would find themselves tormented most grievously. All Brownies have this mischievous streak, indispensably helpful on the one hand, and completely intolerable on the other.