Friday, 21 October 2016

By The Power of my Elf Belt, Begone Small Foes!!

We love the old church minutes, you know we do. There is always much chat about 'fornication' and 'syne' and people being 'compeared' before the church elders to be 'rebuked and chastised.' There is some of that in today's archive, a book of presbytery minutes dating 1639 to 1646.

William Leith the younger and Janet Smith were said to have 'relapsed into adultery' which suggests they had been told off at least once already.

'The brethren think in respect of their obstinance in syne, that there was no way to prevent their falls, except they were put in sundrie yles (isles.)'

'...the forsaid Wm Leyth adulterer should not come in companie heirafter in any place with Janet Smith nor reside in any one yle where she resideth, or shall reside heirafter, under the paine of ANE HUNDRETH POUND.'

To put this into perspective, one hundred pounds was worth about the same in cash today as Fifteen thousand, five hundred and twenty pounds. FIFTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS!!

So far, so usual, but we had never read about an 'Elfbelt' which in April 1644 was ordered by the church to be melted down and for the silver to be returned to it's owner. "In respect it had been a monument of superstition"

According to Smith's The Church In Orkney, the belts were silver and 'worn for a protection against the supposed attacks of their imaginary foes, the elfs or fairies.' AMAZING.

We also spent a long time thinking that people were being called 'flanderers' and wondered (and indeed hoped) if this had anything to do with flans. We then realised that it was 'slander' written with a funny, long medieval 's'.



Orkney Archive reference OCR/4/1 - Presbytery Minutes of Orkney, 1639-1646
The Church in Orkney by John Smith, pub. 1907
An Orkney Anthology by Ernest Walker Marwick, pub. 1991. p269


  1. Elfbelts! Wow! In a Presbyterian church, no less. Who knew? Funny, about the Flanderers. And interesting about the fine imposed for on-going adultery. No further comment, but boy, thoughts are churning around in my head.


  2. Thank you for a fascinating post. So the Elf belt was melted and the owner paid out of the (kirk) box for the "famyne"? Was there one? Or "sarwyne"? (No idea if that's even a word).

  3. The word is actually 'samyne' which meant 'same'. So, 'payment was given out of the box unto the owner for the same', meaning that the elfbelt was melted down but the owner was reimbursed for the silver.

  4. Another fascinating aspect of life in The Orkneys.

    1. Thanks, we like sharing the unusual stories we find in our Archive collections.


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