The Tiddy Mun
The Tiddy Mun was a legendary bog spirit in Lincolnshire, England, who was believed to have the ability to control the waters and mists of The Fens of South Lincolnshire and The Carrs of North Lincolnshire. He was described as being no bigger than a three-year-old child, but looking like an old man with long, tangled white hair and a matted white beard. He is said to have worn a grey gown so that at dusk he was difficult to see. His laughter was said to resemble the call of the peewit.
The Tiddy Mun was both feared and respected by the people of the Fens. He was said to be able to cause floods and droughts, and to punish those who angered him. However, he was also said to be helpful to those who showed him respect. For example, he was said to help farmers with their crops and to protect travelers from getting lost in the mist.
The Tiddy Mun is a popular figure in Lincolnshire folklore, and there are many stories and legends about him. He is often depicted as a mischievous and playful character, but he is also said to be a powerful and dangerous spirit.
One popular story about the Tiddy Mun tells of how he was once angered by the draining of the Fens by the Dutch. He is said to have caused a great flood to punish the people, and only after the villagers made an offering to him did the waters recede.
The Tiddy Mun is a reminder of the wild and untamed nature of the Fens. He is a symbol of the power of nature and the importance of respecting the land.
M. C. Balfour, Folk-Lore 2(1891), 149–56
Tiddy Mun Tale in Modern English
The original tale as reported by Marie Balfour can be difficult to read, as it has been written in a Lincolnshire dialect. This is a modern rendition of the story
Long ago, before the dikes were built and the riverbed was changed, when the Cars were nothing but boglands full of water holes, they were teeming with boggarts, will-o’-the-wisps, and such like; voices of dead people and hands without arms that came in the darkness, moaning and crying and beckoning all night long; toads dancing on the tussocks and witches riding on the great black snags, which turned into snakes and raced around with them in the water. My word! It was a strange and evil place to be in, come evening.
People were very scared of it and would not go near him without a charm of some sort, such as a witch’s pink or a Bible-ball. I’ll tell you about them another time. They shook with fear, I tell you, when they found themselves in the Cars in the darkness. For certain, they were mostly shaking in those times, for the ague and fever were terrible, and there were poor weak infants, fit for nothing but to sup gin and eat opium. In my young days, we all had the ague; the women by the fire, the men out in the yard, even the babies had the shakes regularly. Yes, maybe you’re better off now, but I don’t know, I don’t know. You’ve lost the Tiddy Mun. Well, well. You knew fine that the fever and ague came from the bogs, but as soon as people heard tell that the marshes must be drained, they were very discontented, for they were used to them, and their fathers before them, and they thought, as the saying is, bad is bad, but meddling is worse.
They were told fine tales that the mists would lift, the bogs would come to the molds, and there would be no more ague; but they disliked change and were very angry with the Dutchmen who came across the seas to dig. The people would not give the Dutchmen food, bedding, or fair words; none would let them cross the doorsill; and they said to each other that it would be bad days for the Cars and the poor Car-folk if the bog-holes were disturbed and “Tiddy Mun” was unhappy.
You know that Tiddy Mun lived in the water holes deep in the green still water, and he only came out at night, when the mists rose. Then he would creep out in the darkness, limping and tottering like a dear little old grandfather, with long white hair and a long white beard, all matted and tangled together. He would come with a sound of running water and a sigh of wind, laughing like the cry of the curlew.
People were not as afraid of Tiddy Mun as they were of boggarts and other such things. He was not wicked and spiteful like the water sprites, and he was not white and creepy like the Dead Hands. But nevertheless, it was a bit eerie when sitting around the fire to hear his screeching laugh outside the door, passing by in a flurry of wind and water. But people would only huddle a bit closer together and whisper over their shoulders, “Listen to Tiddy Mun!”
The old man never hurt anyone, in fact, he was very kind to them sometimes. When the year was very wet and the water rose in the marshes, creeping up to the doorsill and covering the paths, on the first New Moon, the father, mother, and all the children would go out into the darkness and look over the bog, calling out together, although perhaps a bit scared and trembling:
Tiddy Mun, without a name, the water’s rough.
And all holding on to each other and trembling, they would stand shaking and shivering, while they heard the curlew screech across the swamp; it was the old man’s call! And in the morning, sure enough, the water would be down and the paths dry. Tiddy Mun had done the job for them.
What’s that? I call him Tiddy Mun, because he was no bigger than a three-year-old child, but he didn’t really have a name. He never had one. I’ll tell you how that came about someday.
Anyway, Tiddy Mun lived in the water holes, and now the Dutchmen were emptying them out, so he was as dry as a two-year-old Mothering cake, and you won’t get much of that. Have you heard the old rhyme that says:
“Tiddy Mun, without a name,
White hair, walking lame,
While the water teems the fen,
Tiddy Mun’ll harm none.”
And this was the trouble! For the water holes were mostly dry, and the water was drawn off into big dykes, so that the bog was turning into firm molds. Where would Tiddy Mun be then? Everyone said that bad times were coming for the Cars.
But there was no help for it. The Dutchmen dug, and the Dutchmen drew the water off, and the dykes got longer and longer, and deeper and deeper. The water ran away, down to the river, and the black soft bog-lands would soon be turned into green fields.
But although the work got done, it was not without trouble. At the Inn at night, on the great settle, in the yards, and in the kitchens at home, people whispered strange and queer tales, oh dear me, strange and queer, but ‘true as death’ as the old folks said, wagging their heads, and the young ones wagging their tongues, and some thought, and others said:
“Ay, and for sure, it’s bad luck to cross Tiddy Mun!”
For mark my words! It was first one, then another of the Dutchmen who went missing, completely spirited away! Not a sign of them anywhere! The people searched for them and searched for them, but not a shadow of them was ever seen again. And the Car-folk knew well that they would never find them, no, not even if they searched until the golden Beasts of Judgment came roaring and raging over the land to fetch the sinners. Tiddy Mun had taken them away and drowned them in the mud holes where they had not drawn off all the water!
The car-folk nodded and said, “Yes, that came of crossing Tiddy Mun!”
But they brought more Dutchmen for the work, and although Tiddy Mun was furious, the work got on nevertheless, and there was no help for it.
And soon the poor car-folk knew that the old Mun was very angry with everyone.
For soon everything went wrong: the cows pined away, the pigs starved, and the ponies went lame; the children fell ill, the lambs dwindled, the meal burnt itself, and the new milk curdled; the thatch fell in, the walls burst out, and everything went topsy-turvy.
At first, the car-folk could not believe that the old Mun would torment his own people so much. They thought that perhaps it was the witches or the tod-lowries who were causing the trouble.
So the lads stoned the wall-eyed witch up to Gorby out of the Market-Place, and Sally to Wadham with the Evil Eye, she who had charmed the dead men out of their graves in the churchyard. They ducked her in the horse pond until she was almost dead, and they all said “Our Father” backwards and spat to the east to keep away the tod-lowries’ pranks. But it was no use, for Tiddy Mun himself was angered, and he was visiting his wrath on his poor car-folk. And what could they do?
The babies fell ill in their mothers’ arms, and their poor white faces never brightened up again. The fathers sat and smoked, while the mothers cried over the tiny innocent babies lying there so white and smiling and peaceful. It was like a frost that comes and kills the most beautiful flowers.
But the people’s hearts were sore, and their stomachs empty, with all this sickness and bad harvest and so on. Something had to be done, or the Car-folk would soon all be dead and gone.
Finally, someone remembered that, when the waters rose in the marshes before the draining, the people would call out to Tiddy Mun, and he would hear them and do as he was asked.
So they thought that if they called out to him again, to show him that the Car-folk wished him well, and that they would give him back the water if they only could, maybe he would undo the bad spell and forgive them again.
So they agreed to meet together at the next New Moon, down by the cross dyke near John Ratton’s garden.
It was a large gathering, with old Tom o’ the Hatch and his sister’s son, Willem, from Priestrigg; and crooked Fred Lidgitt, and Brock o’ Hell-gate, and Ted Badley, who were my father’s brothers; and many more, with women and children. I won’t say that I wasn’t there myself, you know!
They came in groups of three and four, jumping at every sound of the wind and screaming at every snag, but they didn’t need to, for the poor old Boggarts and Jack o’ Lanterns were all gone. Maybe there are still boggarts and bogles, and witches and things, I don’t say; but those good old times are gone in the marshes, and the poor swamp-bogles must have fled with the water, and I’ve seen them go myself.
But, however, as I was saying, they came, everyone with a jug of fresh water in their hand. And when it darkened, they stood all together, whispering and flustered, looking over their shoulders at the shadows, and listening nervously to the screeching of the wind and the lapping of the running water.
When the darkness finally came, they all stood at the edge of the dyke and, looking across to the new River, they called out together, strangely and loudly:
“Tiddy Mun, without a name,
here is water for you, take back your spell!”
And they poured the water out of the jugs into the dyke with a splash!
It was quite scary, standing there holding on to each other in the stillness. They listened with all their might to hear if Tiddy Mun would answer them, but there was nothing but unnatural stillness. And then, just when they thought it was no good, there broke out the most awful wailing and whimpering all around them. It came from all sides, like a lot of little crying babies weeping as if to break their hearts, with no one to comfort them. It sobbed and sobbed itself almost quiet, and then began again louder than ever, wailing and moaning until it made your heart ache to hear it.
And all at once the mothers cried out that it was their dead babies, calling on Tiddy Mun to take back the spell and let the children live and grow strong. And the poor innocents, flying above them in the darkness, moaned and whimpered softly, as if they knew their mothers’ voices and were trying to reach their bosoms. And there were women who said that tiny hands had touched them, and cold lips kissed them, and soft wings fluttered around them that night, as they stood waiting and listening to the woeful crying.
Then all at once, there was stillness again, and they could hear the water lapping at their feet, and the dog barking in the garden. But then came, soft and fond-like from the river itself, the old curlew’s cry, once and again it came, and truly, it was the old man’s holler. And they knew he had taken back the spell, for it was so kind and brooding and sorry-like as never was.
Oh dear! How they laughed and cried together, running and jumping about like a pack of children coming out of school, as they set off home with light hearts and never a thought for the boggarts. Only the mothers thought of their dead babies, and their arms felt empty and their hearts lonesome and wearying for the cold kiss and the flutter of the tiny fingers, and they cried as they thought of their poor little bodies drifting about in the sighing of the night wind.
But from that day on, mark my words! things were strange and thriving in the Cars. The sick children got well, the cattle thrived, and the bacon-pigs fattened. The menfolk earned good wages, and bread was plentiful, for Tiddy Mun had taken back the bad spell.
But every New Moon, out they went in the darkness, to the edge of the dyke, father and mother and children; and they poured the water into the dyke crying,
“Tiddy Mun, wi-out a name,
Here’s watter for thee!”
And the curlew’s cry would come back, soft and tender and pleased. But for certain-sure, if one of them did not go out, unless they were sick, Tiddy Mun would miss them and be angered by them, and would lay the spell on them harder than ever. If they went with the others on the next New Moon to ask for the spell to be undone, Tiddy Mun would be pleased. And when the children were bad, the people would tell them that Tiddy Mun would fetch them away, and they would be good as gold at once, for they knew that he would do it.
But those days are gone by, and people now know nothing about him. Yes, by faith, it is true for all that. I have seen him myself, limping by in the fog, all grey and white and screeching like the curlew. But it is a long time since then, and I have poured the water out of the jug too, but I am too old now, you see, and I cannot walk, since years ago. But I guess Tiddy Mun has been frightened away with all the new ways and machines, for people do not know him anymore, and I never hear it said now, as we used to say when I was young, and someone was having a lot of trouble and misfortune and bad luck:
“Ah, you haven’t been out in the New Moon lately, and for certain-sure, it’s bad to cross Tiddy Mun without a name!”