A sort of brownie, who presided of the kitchen, where he acted family monitor, but was a torment to the servants, especially the kitchen maid. His seat was by the hearth, or on the crook or bar of iron, terminating in a large hook, which may be seen in old houses hanging by a swivel from a beam in the chimney to hold pots and kettles. Whenever the crook was empty, Wag-at-the-wa' would take possession of it, and swing there with great complacency, only absenting himself when there was a death in the family. He was fond of children and of household mirth, and hence his attachment to the ingle. When droll stories were told his laugh might be heard distinctly; but if he heard of any liquor being drunk, except home-brewed ale, he would cough and be displeased.
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" 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."
Altogether there is something uncanny about this ancient sprite, and the mode of his disappearance (for he has passed away from the Scottish ingle) does not speak well for him. A deep cut is now invariably made in the iron of the crook in the form of a cross, and is called the witches' mark, because it warns witches from the fire. This sign also scares away auld Wag-at- the-wa', and keeps him from touching the crook. Still it is deemed wrong and foolish ever to wag the crook, since it is a sort of invitation to the sprite to return.
- Henderson, W. (1879). Notes on the folk-lore of the northern countries of England and the borders. Covent Garden: W. Satchell, Peyton and Co., pp. 256-7.
This article incorporates text from Notes on the folk-lore of the northern countries of England and the borders (1879) by William Henderson, which is in the public domain.