The belief in Tiddy Mun was first documented in June 1891 in an article by M. C. Balfour in the Folklore Society journal Folk-Lore. In the article she recalls a story, collected in the Ancholme Valley, told to her by an older person who spoke of a curse of pestilence that had been cast upon his village by the Tiddy Mun, who was angered at the draining of the Fens by the Dutch, led by Cornelius Vermuyden, in the seventeenth century. According to the story the Tiddy Mun was eventually placated after the villagers gathered at twilight at the time of the new moon, poured buckets of water into the dyke and apologised for the damage caused.
He was not exclusively malevolent; if the Fens flooded and the waters reached the villages, people would go out at night and call Tiddy Mun wi'out a name, tha watters thruff! ("Tiddy Mun without a name, the water's through!") until they heard the cry of a peewit, and the next morning the waters would have receded.
In his 1987 Folklore paper "Tiddy Mun's Curse and the Ecological Consequences of Land Reclamation", Darwin Horn argues that all but one of Tiddy Mun's specific curses may be connected to misfortune and disease brought about by the effect of draining the fenland.
The Tiddy Mun was described, by folklorist M.C. Balfour in 1891, 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 people
Writing in 1955, folklorist E. H. Rudkin also records another Ancholme Valley belief of an imp-like race of beings who were generally considered mischievous but benevolent. They were 'called the Tiddy people', but also the Strangers, Greencoaties and Yarthin. The 'Tiddy' name related to their size and Rudkin quotes a source describing them: 'They be tiddy critturs, no more than a span high, wi' arms an' legs as thin as thread, but great big feet an' hands, an' heads rollin' aboot on their shoulders'.
The Tiddy people would dance, by moonlight, on large flat stones, known as Strangers Stones, found in the area. Rudkin records a local tradition of smearing the stones with blood and lighting fires on them, but was unable to determine a meaning, or specific belief, behind the practice. The first of the crops would also be left on the Strangers Stones, as well as bread and salt, to keep the Tiddy people happy and ensure a good harvest.
References in popular culture
- In Caliban and the Fen Demons of Lincolnshire: The Englishness of Shakespeare's Tempest, Dr Todd Andrew Borlik identifies Tiddy Mun as a possible inspiration for Caliban in William Shakespeare's The Tempest.
- Tiddy Mun appears in the story "Yarrow" by the fantasy author Charles de Lint.
- Tiddy Mun also features in the song "Cursed Cornelius" by Norcsalordie, a song about the draining of the Lincolnshire wetlands.
- Tiddy Mun is the subject of a poem "Tiddy Mun is Gone" by Patricia Monaghan in Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 10.2 (Summer 2003).
- Peacock, E (1889) A Glossary of Words used in the Wapentakes of Manley and Corringham, Lincolnshire. English Dialect Society: Trubner page 562
- Balfour, M. C. (June 1891). "Legends Of The Cars". Folk-Lore. Folklore Enterprises, Ltd. 2 (2): 145–170. JSTOR 1253522. doi:10.1080/0015587x.1891.9720054.
- Horn, Darwin (1987). "Tiddy Mun's Curse and the Ecological Consequences of Land Reclamation". Folklore. 98 (1): 11–15. JSTOR 1259396. doi:10.1080/0015587x.1987.9716391.
- Rudkin, E.H. (1955). "Folklore of Lincolnshire: Especially the Low-Lying Areas of Lindsey". Folklore. 66 (4): 393–395. JSTOR 1258804.
- Borlik, Todd (2013). "Caliban and the Fen Demons of Lincolnshire: The Englishness of Shakespeare's Tempest". Shakespeare: Journal of the British Shakespeare Association. 9 (1): 21–51. doi:10.1080/17450918.2012.705882. Retrieved 2014-12-14.
- "BBC - Leicester - Entertainment - Norcsalordie". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
- "Cursed Cornelius at Black Horse Festival at Telham". YouTube. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
- "Stone Telling: The Magazine of Boundary-crossing Poetry". stonetelling.com. Retrieved 14 December 2014.