The following description of Korrigan’s as a type of water sprite was published in ‘Pictures & Legends From Normandy & Bittany by Thomas and Katharine MacQuoid (1881)’ while they were referring to the fountains of Brittany.
‘A great interest is attached to these fountains from the superstitious fears with which they are regarded. Formerly the Korrigans had unbounded power over these secluded spots, and they are supposed by the peasants to have created the fountains, as the dwarfs or Poulpicans are believed to have built the Dolmens.
But in these days a crucifix, or else that which the Korrigan detests even more, the image of the Blessed Virgin, is almost always to be found on the fountain, and although the fairy still visits the place at evening-tide, and combs her long yellow hair, mirrored in the water, she is no longer seen by day as a little old white-haired witch, with red eyes and wrinkled face. The Korrigan is tiny, like the rest of her sisterhood, and by night she appears under an exquisitely beautiful form, clad only in a long white veil wrapped closely round her. This fairy has a wonderful knowledge of the healing art, and gives charms, it is said, to those who believe in her. Every year, at the first burst of spring, she holds high festival beside her special fountain. There, on a cloth of dazzling whiteness, are spread ethereal dainties, and in the centre is a cup filled with a liquor of which, so says tradition, a single drop gives omnipotent wisdom; but at the sound of a human footstep all vanishes into space, and only the bent grass blades tell of the festival. The sight of a priest, above all, puts the sprites to immediate flight; but woe to the unlucky mortal who comes suddenly on a Korrigan when she is either counting the hoards she stores in the Dolmens, or as she lies combing her hair on the soft grass beside her fountain. Woe, too, to the youth or maiden who flings a stone in the water in which the Korrigan has hidden herself, especially if it be on a Saturday; on that day, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, the Korrigan is especially spiteful.
This fairy greatly covets newly born children and is skilful at exchanging for one of these her own hideous little Poulpican or dwarf. Souvestre and other Breton writers tell the story of one of these changelings:
A Breton mother, named Catherine Cloar, went out thoughtlessly one morning, leaving her newly born infant, a boy, in its cradle near the open cottage door, without making the sign of the cross over it, or commending it to God’s protection. A Korrigan happening to pass by, heard the baby crowing to itself. She looked in and saw a lovely, fair, blue-eyed child, and at once she coveted it. She snatched it up, and placed in the cradle her own little son, who was black and more spiteful than a cat.
Catherine Cloar came home, but, owing to the glamour thrown over it by the fairy, she did not at first see any change in her baby. After a time she began to wonder that the child did not grow, and was so full of spite and mischief. As soon as it was old enough, it was sent to mind the cows, and it used to fasten thorn branches under the poor beasts’ tails, and then to laugh heartily when they ran wildly about.
The poor mother was in despair; she could not understand why her son should be so small of stature and so great in mischief. Sometimes she would say to her husband as they sat together beside the hearth, “May Saint Anne defend us, but that child cannot be our son; he has too small a body, and his wits are too sharp.”
But Cloar only stretched out his huge hands to warm at the fire, took his pipe out of his mouth, shook his long hair out of his eyes, and finally spat on the embers, grumbling something in his beard; it was his way of answering his wife, and it drove her past bearing.
It happened one night that the child was left alone in the cottage; there was a storm of wind and rain, and all at once someone tapped at the window, and a gruff voice said, “Have you any beasts to sell?”
It was the butcher of Vannes, and spite of the storm, he wanted to see if he could make a bargain. He was entirely wrapped in a huge blue cloak which covered him and his horse and also the calf that he had with him tied by the legs in front of him. The Poulpican peeped through the window, and all at once he saw the three heads the man’s, the horse’s, and the calf s which seemed all to grow out of one body.
He shut the window in a great fright, saying, “I saw the acorn before I saw the oak, but I never saw the like of this.”
The butcher went away astonished at such words from a child, and when he next met Catherine Cloar he told her what he had heard.
Her suspicions had by this time grown so strong that she resolved to make them a certainty. She went at once, while the child was out in the fields, and bought a hundred eggs; she broke them all, and ranged the half shells in front of the hearth in a long straight row, till they looked like a procession of surpliced priests at the Ette Dieu. She had just finished when she heard the voice of the strange child singing quietly to himself, and she hid behind the door.
He came in, and when he saw the egg-shells he muttered “I saw the acorn before I saw the oak, but the like of this I never saw.”
Catherine had no longer any doubt, and as soon as her husband came in, she took him apart and told him the story, and they both decided that the little one was a demon and must be killed. They went in and seized the little creature, and were going to execute their project, when the Korrigan, whose power made her aware of what they were doing, suddenly appeared leading a fine grown boy by the hand.
“Take your son,” she said to the parents. ” I have fed him in the Dolmen of Tir-Tarden on roots and cinders see how healthy and bright he is and now give me back my Poulpican.”
“The belief of the peasants,” says Monsieur de la Villemarque, “is that the Korrigans are the spirits of native Celtic princesses who, having refused to embrace Christianity when it was first preached in Armorica, incurred the Divine displeasure.”