"Fairies" redirects here. For other uses, see Fairy (disambiguation).
"Fay" redirects here. For other uses, see Fay (disambiguation).
"Feary" redirects here. For the surname, see Feary (surname).
A fairy (also fata, fay, fey, fae, fair folk; from faery, faerie, "realm of the fays") is a type of mythical being or legendary creature in European folklore, a form of spirit, often described as metaphysical, supernatural, or preternatural.
According to Thomas Keightley, the word "fairy" derives from the Latin fata, and is from the Old French form faerie, describing "enchantment". Other forms are the Italianfata, and the Provençal "fada". In old French romance, "fee" was a woman skilled in magic, and who knew the power and virtue of words, of stones, and of herbs.
Faie became Modern English fay. Faierie became fairy, but with that spelling now almost exclusively referring to one of the legendary people, with the same meaning as fay. The word "fairy" was used to represent an illusion, or enchantment; the land of the Faes; collectively the inhabitants thereof; or an individual such as a fairy knight.
To the word faie was added the suffix -erie (Modern English-(e)ry), used to express either a place where something is found (fishery, nunnery) or a trade or typical activity engaged in (cookery, thievery). In later usage it generally applied to any kind of quality or activity associated with a particular type of person, as in English knavery, roguery, wizardry. In the sense "land where fairies dwell", the distinctive and archaic spellings Faery and Faerie are often used.
The latinate fay is not to be confused with the unrelated (Germanic) fey, meaning "fated to die". However, some dictionaries do list "fey" as a kind of fairy.
Various folkloristic traditions refer to them euphemistically, by names such as wee folk, good folk, people of peace, fair folk (Welsh tylwyth teg), etc.
Sometimes the term fairy is used to describe any magical creature, including goblins or gnomes: at other times, the term describes only a specific type of more ethereal creature or sprite. The concept of "fairy" in the narrow sense is unique to English folklore, conflating Germanic elves with influences from Celtic and Romance (French) folklores, and later made "diminutive" according to the tastes of Victorian era "fairy tales" for children.
Fairies have their historical origin in the conflation of Celtic (Breton, Welsh) traditions in the Middle Frenchmedieval romances. Fairie was in origin used adjectivally, meaning "enchanted" (as in fairie knight, fairie queene), but was used as a name for "enchanted" creatures from as early as the Late Middle English period. In English literature of the Elizabethan era, elves became conflated with the fairies of Romance culture, so that the two terms began to be used interchangeably.
The Victorian and Edwardian eras saw an increase in interest in fairies. The Celtic Revival viewed them as part of Ireland's cultural heritage. Carole Silvers and others suggest that the fascination of English antiquarians arose from a reaction to greater industrialization, and loss of folkways.
Fairies are generally described as human in appearance and having magical powers. Diminutive fairies of one kind or another have been recorded for centuries, but occur alongside the human-sized beings; these have been depicted as ranging in size from very tiny up to the size of a human child. Even with these small fairies, however, their small size may be magically assumed rather than constant. Some fairies though normally quite small were able to dilate their figures to imitate humans. On Orkney they were described as short in stature, dressed in dark grey, and sometimes seen in armour.
Wings, while common in Victorian and later artwork of fairies, are very rare in the folklore; even very small fairies flew with magic, sometimes flying on ragwort stems or the backs of birds. Nowadays, fairies are often depicted with ordinary insect wings or butterfly wings. In some folklore, fairies have green eyes. Some depictions of fairies depict them wearing some sort of footwear and other depictions of fairies are always barefoot.
The early modern fairies do not have any single origin, representing a conflation of disparate elements of folk belief, influenced by literature and speculation. Their origins are less clear in the folklore, being variously dead, or some form of demon, or a species completely independent of humans or angels. The folkloristic or mythological elements combine Celtic, Germanic and Greco-Roman elements. Folklorists have suggested that their actual origin lies in religious beliefs that lost currency with the advent of Christianity. These explanations are not necessarily incompatible, and they may be traceable to multiple sources.
According to King James in his dissertation Daemonologie, the term "faries" was used to describe illusory spirits (demonic entities) that prophesy, consort, and transport individuals they served. In medieval times, it was believed that a witch or sorcerer who had a compact with a familiar spirit to serve them could receive these types of revelations or use them to perform various tasks.
One other Christian belief held that fairies were a class of "demoted" angels. One popular story described how, when the angels revolted, God ordered the gates of heaven shut: those still in heaven remained angels, those in hell became demons, and those caught in between became fairies. Others suggested that the fairies, not being good enough, had been thrown out of heaven, but they were not evil enough for hell. This may explain the tradition that they had to pay a "teind" or tithe to hell: as fallen angels, though not quite devils, they could be seen as subjects of the devil. For a similar concept in Persian mythology, see Peri.
Demoted pagan deities
Another, perhaps incorrect, theory is that some fairies were originally worshiped as minor deities, such as nymphs or tree spirits, but with the coming of Christianity, they lived on, in a dwindled state of power, in folk belief. In this particular time, fairies were reputed by the church as being 'evil' beings. Many beings who are described as deities in older tales are described as "fairies" in invented Victorian writings. Victorian inventions of mythology, which accounted for all gods as metaphors for natural events that had come to be taken literally, explained them as metaphors for the night sky and stars. This entire Victorian view has been debunked and refuted and is now considered by scholars an antiquated and incorrect view.
Yet another belief was that the fairies were demons entirely. This belief became much more popular with the growth of Puritanism. The hobgoblin, once a friendly household spirit, became a wicked goblin. Dealing with fairies was in some cases considered a form of witchcraft and punished as such in this era. Disassociating himself from such evils may be why Oberon, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, carefully observed that neither he nor his court feared the church bells.
Spirits of the dead
One popular belief was that they were the dead. This noted that many common points of belief, such as the same legends being told of ghosts and fairies, the sídhe in actuality being burial mounds, it being dangerous to eat food in both Fairyland and Hades, and both the dead and fairies living underground.Diane Purkiss observes an equating of fairies with the untimely dead who left "unfinished lives". One tale recounted a man caught by the fairies, who found that whenever he looked steadily at one, the fairy was a dead neighbor of his. This was among the most common beliefs expressed by those who believed in fairies, although many of the informants would express the belief with some doubts.
A hidden people
At one time it was a common belief that fairy folklore evolved from folk memories of a prehistoric race. It was suggested that newcomers drove out the original inhabitants, and the memories of this defeated, hidden people developed into the fairy beliefs we have today. Proponents of this theory claimed to find support in the tradition of cold iron as a charm against the fairies, which was viewed as a cultural memory of invaders with iron weapons displacing inhabitants who had only flint and were therefore easily defeated. Some 19th-century archaeologists thought they had found underground rooms in the Orkney islands resembling the Elfland in Childe Rowland. However the idea of a fallen vanquished race in hiding has fallen out of favour with scholars.
In popular folklore, flint arrowheads from the Stone Age were attributed to the fairies as "elf-shot". Their green clothing and underground homes were credited to their need to hide and camouflage themselves from hostile humans, and their use of magic a necessary skill for combating those with superior weaponry. In Victorian beliefs of evolution, cannibalism among "ogres" was attributed to memories of more savage races, still practicing it alongside "superior" races that had abandoned it.
Another belief is that the fairies were an intelligent species, distinct from humans and angels. In alchemy in particular they were regarded as elementals, such as gnomes and sylphs, as described by Paracelsus. This is uncommon in folklore, but accounts describing the fairies as "spirits of the air" have been found. The belief in their angelic nature was common in Theosophist circles.
Much of the folklore about fairies revolves around protection from their malice, by such means as cold iron or charms of rowan and herbs, or avoiding offense by shunning locations known to be theirs. Some pranks ascribed to them, such as tangling the hair of sleepers into "Elf-locks", stealing small items or leading a traveler astray, are generally harmless. But far more dangerous behaviors were also attributed to fairies. Any form of sudden death might stem from a fairy kidnapping, with the apparent corpse being a wooden stand-in with the appearance of the kidnapped person. Consumption (tuberculosis) was sometimes blamed on the fairies forcing young men and women to dance at revels every night, causing them to waste away from lack of rest.Rowan trees are considered sacred to the fairies.
Main article: Classifications of fairies
In Scottish folklore, fairies are divided into the Seelie Court, the more beneficently inclined (but still dangerous) fairies, and the Unseelie Court, the malicious fairies. While the fairies from the Seelie court enjoyed playing pranks on humans they were usually harmless affairs, compared to the Unseelie court that enjoyed bringing harm to humans as entertainment.
Trooping fairies refer to fairies who appear in groups and might form settlements. In this definition, fairy is usually understood in a wider sense, as the term can also include various kinds of mythical creatures mainly of Celtic origin; however, the term might also be used for similar beings such as dwarves or elves from Germanic folklore. These are opposed to solitary fairies, who do not live or associate with others of their kind.
Main article: Changeling
A considerable amount of lore about fairies revolves around changelings, fairy children left in the place of stolen human babies. In particular, folklore describes how to prevent the fairies from stealing babies and substituting changelings, and abducting older people as well. The theme of the swapped child is common in medieval literature and reflects concern over infants thought to be afflicted with unexplained diseases, disorders, or developmental disabilities. In pre-industrial Europe, a peasant family's subsistence frequently depended upon the productive labor of each member, and a person who was a permanent drain on the family's scarce resources could pose a threat to the survival of the entire family.
In terms of protective charms, wearing clothing inside out, church bells, St. John's wort, and four-leaf clovers are regarded as effective. In Newfoundland folklore, the most popular type of fairy protection is bread, varying from stale bread to hard tack or a slice of fresh home-made bread. Bread is associated with the home and the hearth, as well as with industry and the taming of nature, and as such, seems to be disliked by some types of fairies. On the other hand, in much of the Celtic folklore, baked goods are a traditional offering to the folk, as are cream and butter. “The prototype of food, and therefore a symbol of life, bread was one of the commonest protections against fairies. Before going out into a fairy-haunted place, it was customary to put a piece of dry bread in one’s pocket.” In County Wexford, Ireland, in 1882, it was reported that “if an infant is carried out after dark a piece of bread is wrapped in its bib or dress, and this protects it from any witchcraft or evil.”
Bells also have an ambiguous role; while they protect against fairies, the fairies riding on horseback — such as the fairy queen — often have bells on their harness. This may be a distinguishing trait between the Seelie Court from the Unseelie Court, such that fairies use them to protect themselves from more wicked members of their race. Another ambiguous piece of folklore revolves about poultry: a cock's crow drove away fairies, but other tales recount fairies keeping poultry.
While many fairies will confuse travelers on the path, the will o' the wisp can be avoided by not following it. Certain locations, known to be haunts of fairies, are to be avoided; C. S. Lewis reported hearing of a cottage more feared for its reported fairies than its reported ghost. In particular, digging in fairy hills was unwise. Paths that the fairies travel are also wise to avoid. Home-owners have knocked corners from houses because the corner blocked the fairy path, and cottages have been built with the front and back doors in line, so that the owners could, in need, leave them both open and let the fairies troop through all night. Locations such as fairy forts were left undisturbed; even cutting brush on fairy forts was reputed to be the death of those who performed the act. Fairy trees, such as thorn trees, were dangerous to chop down; one such tree was left alone in Scotland, though it prevented a road being widened for seventy years.
Other actions were believed to offend fairies. Brownies were known to be driven off by being given clothing, though some folktales recounted that they were offended by inferior quality of the garments given, and others merely stated it, some even recounting that the brownie was delighted with the gift and left with it. Other brownies left households or farms because they heard a complaint, or a compliment. People who saw the fairies were advised not to look closely, because they resented infringements on their privacy. The need to not offend them could lead to problems: one farmer found that fairies threshed his corn, but the threshing continued after all his corn was gone, and he concluded that they were stealing from his neighbors, leaving him the choice between offending them, dangerous in itself, and profiting by the theft.
Millers were thought by the Scots to be "no canny", owing to their ability to control the forces of nature, such as fire in the kiln, water in the burn, and for being able to set machinery a-whirring. Superstitious communities sometimes believed that the miller must be in league with the fairies. In Scotland, fairies were often mischievous and to be feared. No one dared to set foot in the mill or kiln at night, as it was known that the fairies brought their corn to be milled after dark. So long as the locals believed this, the miller could sleep secure in the knowledge that his stores were not being robbed. John Fraser, the miller of Whitehill, claimed to have hidden and watched the fairies trying unsuccessfully to work the mill. He said he decided to come out of hiding and help them, upon which one of the fairy women gave him a gowpen (double handful of meal) and told him to put it in his empty girnal (store), saying that the store would remain full for a long time, no matter how much he took out.
It is also believed that to know the name of a particular fairy could summon it to you and force it to do your bidding. The name could be used as an insult towards the fairy in question, but it could also rather contradictorily be used to grant powers and gifts to the user.
Before the advent of modern medicine, many physiological conditions were untreatable and when children were born with abnormalities, it was common to blame the fairies.
Sometimes fairies are described as assuming the guise of an animal. In Scotland it was peculiar to the fairy women to assume the shape of deer; while witches became mice, hares, cats, gulls, or black sheep. In "The Legend of Knocksheogowna", in order to frighten a farmer who pastured his herd on fairy ground, a fairy queen took on the appearance of a great horse, with the wings of an eagle, and a tail like a dragon, hissing loud and spitting fire. Then she would change into a little man lame of a leg, with a bull's head, and a lambent flame playing round it.
In the 19th-century child ballad "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight", the elf-knight is a Bluebeard figure, and Isabel must trick and kill him to preserve her life. Child ballad "Tam Lin" reveals that the title character, though living among the fairies and having fairy powers, was in fact an "earthly knight" and though his life was pleasant now, he feared that the fairies would pay him as their teind (tithe) to hell.
"Sir Orfeo" tells how Sir Orfeo's wife was kidnapped by the King of Faerie and only by trickery and excellent harping ability was he able to win her back. "Sir Degare" narrates the tale of a woman overcome by her fairy lover, who in later versions of the story is unmasked as a mortal. "Thomas the Rhymer" shows Thomas escaping with less difficulty, but he spends seven years in Elfland.Oisín is harmed not by his stay in Faerie but by his return; when he dismounts, the three centuries that have passed catch up with him, reducing him to an aged man. King Herla (O.E. "Herla cyning"), originally a guise of Woden but later Christianised as a king in a tale by Walter Map, was said, by Map, to have visited a dwarf's underground mansion and returned three centuries later; although only some of his men crumbled to dust on dismounting, Herla and his men who did not dismount were trapped on horseback, this being one account of the origin of the Wild Hunt of European folklore.
A common feature of the fairies is the use of magic to disguise appearance. Fairy gold is notoriously unreliable, appearing as gold when paid but soon thereafter revealing itself to be leaves, gorse blossoms, gingerbread cakes, or a variety of other comparatively worthless things.
These illusions are also implicit in the tales of fairy ointment. Many tales from Northern Europe tell of a mortal woman summoned to attend a fairy birth — sometimes attending a mortal, kidnapped woman's childbed. Invariably, the woman is given something for the child's eyes, usually an ointment; through mischance, or sometimes curiosity, she uses it on one or both of her own eyes. At that point, she sees where she is; one midwife realizes that she was not attending a great lady in a fine house but her own runaway maid-servant in a wretched cave. She escapes without making her ability known but sooner or later betrays that she can see the fairies. She is invariably blinded in that eye or in both if she used the ointment on both.
There have been claims by people in the past, like William Blake, to have seen fairy funerals. Allan Cunningham in his Lives of Eminent British Painters records that William Blake claimed to have seen a fairy funeral. "'Did you ever see a fairy's funeral, madam?' said Blake to a lady who happened to sit next to him. 'Never, sir!' said the lady. 'I have,' said Blake, 'but not before last night.' And he went on to tell how, in his garden, he had seen 'a procession of creatures of the size and colour of green and grey grasshoppers, bearing a body laid out on a rose-leaf, which they buried with songs, and then disappeared." They are believed to be an omen of death.
Tuatha Dé Danann
Main article: Tuatha Dé Danann
The Tuath(a) Dé Danann are a race of supernaturally-gifted people in Irish mythology. They are thought to represent the main deities of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland. Many of the Irish tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann refer to these beings as fairies, though in more ancient times they were regarded as goddesses and gods. The Tuatha Dé Danann were spoken of as having come from islands in the north of the world or, in other sources, from the sky. After being defeated in a series of battles with other otherworldly beings, and then by the ancestors of the current Irish people, they were said to have withdrawn to the sídhe (fairy mounds), where they lived on in popular imagination as "fairies."
They are associated with several Otherworld realms including Mag Mell (the Pleasant Plain), Emain Ablach (the Fortress of Apples or the Land of Promise or the Isle of Women), and Tir na nÓg (the Land of Youth).
Main article: Aos Si
The aos sí is the Irish term for a supernatural race in Irish and Scottish, comparable to the fairies or elves. They are variously said to be ancestors, the spirits of nature, or goddesses and gods. A common theme found among the Celtic nations describes a race of diminutive people who had been driven into hiding by invading humans. In old Celtic fairy lore the Aos Sí (fairy folk) are immortals living in the ancient barrows and cairns. The Irish banshee (Irish Gaelicbean sí or Scottish Gaelicbean shìth, which both mean "woman of the fairy mound") is sometimes described as a ghost.
In the 1691 The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, Reverend Robert Kirk, minister of the Parish of Aberfoyle, Stirling, Scotland, wrote:
These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People...are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (lyke those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the sublety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure
The word "fairy" was used to describe an individual inhabitant of Faerie before the time of Chaucer.
Fairies appeared in medieval romances as one of the beings that a knight errant might encounter. A fairy lady appeared to Sir Launfal and demanded his love; like the fairy bride of ordinary folklore, she imposed a prohibition on him that in time he violated. Sir Orfeo's wife was carried off by the King of Faerie. Huon of Bordeaux is aided by King Oberon. These fairy characters dwindled in number as the medieval era progressed; the figures became wizards and enchantresses.
The oldest fairies on record in England were first described by the historian Gervase of Tilbury in the 13th century.
Morgan le Fay, whose connection to the realm of Faerie is implied in her name, in Le Morte d'Arthur is a woman whose magic powers stem from study. While somewhat diminished with time, fairies never completely vanished from the tradition. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late tale, but the Green Knight himself is an otherworldly being.Edmund Spenser featured fairies in The Faerie Queene. In many works of fiction, fairies are freely mixed with the nymphs and satyrs of classical tradition, while in others (e.g., Lamia), they were seen as displacing the Classical beings. 15th-century poet and monk John Lydgate wrote that King Arthur was crowned in "the land of the fairy" and taken in his death by four fairy queens, to Avalon, where he lies under a "fairy hill", until he is needed again.
Fairies appear as significant characters in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream, which is set simultaneously in the woodland and in the realm of Fairyland, under the light of the moon and in which a disturbance of nature caused by a fairy dispute creates tension underlying the plot and informing the actions of the characters. According to Maurice Hunt, Chair of the English Department at Baylor University, the blurring of the identities of fantasy and reality makes possible “that pleasing, narcotic dreaminess associated with the fairies of the play”.
Shakespeare's contemporary Michael Drayton features fairies in his Nimphidia; from these stem Alexander Pope's sylphs of The Rape of the Lock, and in the mid-17th century, précieuses took up the oral tradition of such tales to write fairy tales; Madame d'Aulnoy invented the term contes de fée ("fairy tale"). While the tales told by the précieuses included many fairies, they were less common in other countries' tales; indeed, the Brothers Grimm included fairies in their first edition but decided this was not authentically German and altered the language in later editions, changing each Fee ("fairy") to an enchantress or wise woman.J. R. R. Tolkien described these tales as taking place in the land of Faerie. Additionally, not all folktales that feature fairies are generally categorized as fairy tales.
The modern depiction of fairies was shaped in the literature of Romanticism during the Victorian era. Writers such as Walter Scott and James Hogg were inspired by folklore which featured fairies, such as the Border ballads. This era saw an increase in the popularity of collecting of fairy folklore and an increase in the creation of original works with fairy characters. In Rudyard Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, Puck holds to scorn the moralizing fairies of other Victorian works. The period also saw a revival of older themes in fantasy literature, such as C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, which, while featuring many such classical beings as fauns and dryads, mingles them freely with hags, giants, and other creatures of the folkloric fairy tradition. Victorian flower fairies were popularized in part by Queen Mary’s keen interest in fairy art and by British illustrator and poet Cicely Mary Barker's series of eight books published in 1923 through 1948. Imagery of fairies in literature became prettier and smaller as time progressed.Andrew Lang, complaining of "the fairies of polyanthuses and gardenias and apple blossoms" in the introduction to The Lilac Fairy Book, observed that "These fairies try to be funny, and fail; or they try to preach, and succeed."
A story of the origin of fairies appears in a chapter about Peter Pan in J. M. Barrie's 1902 novel The Little White Bird, and was incorporated into his later works about the character. Barrie wrote, "When the first baby laughed for the first time, his laugh broke into a million pieces, and they all went skipping about. That was the beginning of fairies." Fairies are seen in Neverland, in Peter and Wendy, the novel version of J. M. Barrie's famous Peter Pan stories, published in 1911, and its character Tinker Bell has become a pop culture icon. When Peter Pan is guarding Wendy from pirates, the story says, "After a time he fell asleep, and some unsteady fairies had to climb over him on their way home from an orgy. Any of the other boys obstructing the fairy path at night they would have mischiefed, but they just tweaked Peter's nose and passed on."
See also: Fairy painting
Images of fairies have appeared as illustrations, often in books of fairy tales, as well as in photographic-based media and sculpture. Some artists known for their depictions of fairies include Cicely Mary Barker, Arthur Rackham, Brian Froud, Alan Lee, Amy Brown, David Delamare, Meredith Dillman, Jasmine Becket-Griffith, Warwick Goble, Kylie InGold, Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, Myrea Pettit, Florence Harrison, Suza Scalora,Nene Thomas, Gustave Doré, Rebecca Guay and Greta James.
The Fairy Doors of Ann Arbor, MI are small doors installed into local buildings. Local children believe these are the front doors of fairy houses, and in some cases, small furniture, dishes, and various other things can be seen beyond the doors.
The Victorian era was particularly noted for fairy paintings. The Victorian painter Richard Dadd created paintings of fairy-folk with a sinister and malign tone. Other Victorian artists who depicted fairies include John Atkinson Grimshaw, Joseph Noel Paton, John Anster Fitzgerald and Daniel Maclise. Interest in fairy-themed art enjoyed a brief renaissance following the publication of the Cottingley Fairiesphotographs in 1917 and a number of artists turned to painting fairy themes.
Main article: Cottingley Fairies
The Cottingley Fairiesphotographs in 1917 (revealed by the "photographers" in 1981 to have been faked) were originally publicized by Theosophists, many of whom believed them to be real. In the teachings of Theosophy, Devas, the equivalent of angels, are believed to help to guide the operation of the processes of nature such as the process of evolution and the growth of plants. Smaller, less important, evolutionarily undeveloped minor angels are called nature spirits, elementals, and fairies.
E. L. Gardner likened fairies to butterflies, but whose function was to provide an essential link between the energy of the sun and plants in order to stimulate growth. "That growth of a plant which we regard as the customary and inevitable result of associating the three factors of sun, seed, and soil would never take place if the fairy builders were absent." He described them as having "...no clean-cut shape normally, and one can only describe them as small, hazy, and somewhat luminous clouds of colour with a brighter spark-like nucleus."
- Popular culture
- D. L. Ashliman, Fairy Lore: A Handbook (Greenwood, 2006)
- Brian Froud and Alan Lee, Faeries, (Peacock Press/Bantam, New York, 1978)
- Ronan Coghlan Handbook of Fairies (Capall Bann, 2002)
- Lizanne Henderson and Edward J. Cowan, Scottish Fairy Belief: A History (Edinburgh, 2001; 2007)
- C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1964)
- Harmonia Saille "Walking the Faery Pathway", (O Books, London, 2010)
- Patricia Lysaght, The Banshee: the Irish Supernatural Death Messenger (Glendale Press, Dublin, 1986)
- Peter Narvaez, The Good People, New Fairylore Essays (Garland, New York, 1991)
- Eva Pocs, Fairies and Witches at the boundary of south-eastern and central Europe FFC no 243 (Helsinki, 1989)
- Joseph Ritson, Fairy Tales, Now First Collected: To which are prefixed two dissertations: 1. On Pygmies. 2. On Fairies, London, 1831
- Diane Purkiss, Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories (Allen Lane, 2000)
- Tomkinson, John L. Haunted Greece: Nymphs, Vampires and other Exotika, (Anagnosis, 2004) ISBN 960-88087-0-7
- ^"Dictionary.com". Definition of "fey".
- ^ abcKready, Laura. A Study of Fairy Tales, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1916
- ^"Online Etymology Dictionary".
- ^"Dictionary.com". Definition of "fey".
- ^Briggs, Katharine Mary (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies. New York, Pantheon Books. "Euphemistic names for fairies" p. 127 ISBN 0-394-73467-X.
- ^Briggs (1976) – The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature p. xi.
- ^ abcSilver, Carole B. (1999) Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness. Oxford University Press. p. 47 ISBN 0-19-512199-6.
- ^Briggs (1976) p. 98.
- ^Yeats (1988) p. 2.
- ^William Godwin (1876). "Lives of the Necromancers". p. 20.
- ^"Orkneyjar – Descriptions of the Fairy Folk".
- ^Briggs (1976) p. 148.
- ^Lewis, C. S. (1994 (reprint)) The Discarded File: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. p. 122 ISBN 0-521-47735-2.
- ^ abYeats, W. B. (1988) "Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry", in A Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend, and Folklore. Gramercy. p.1 ISBN 0-517-48904-X
- ^King James (1597). Daemonologie.
- ^Lewis (1994) pp. 135–6.
- ^Briggs (1976) p. 319.
- ^Yeats (1988) pp. 9–10.
- ^Briggs (1967) p. 9.
- ^"Trees in Mythology". Mythencyclopedia.com. 2007-02-19. Retrieved 2014-05-11.
- ^Silver (1999) p. 44.
- ^Hutton, Ronald. "Triumph of the Moon: The History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft". Amazon.
Abducted by AliensEdited by
D. L. Ashliman
The aliens in the legends that follow are not those from outer space, but rather underground people from our own earth: fairies, trolls, elves, and the like.
- The Recovered Bride (Ireland).
- Taken by the Good People (Ireland).
- Twenty Years with the Good People (Ireland).
- Jamie Freel and the Young Lady (Ireland).
- Ethna the Bride (Ireland).
- Ned the Jockey (Wales).
- The Old Man and the Fairies (Wales).
- A Visit to Fairyland (Wales).
- Four Years in Faery (Isle of Man).
- The Lost Wife of Ballaleece (Isle of Man).
- On Fairies (England).
- The Lost Child (England).
- The Fairies' Hill (Scotland).
- The Stolen Lady (Scotland).
- Touching the Elements (Shetland Islands).
- The Aged Bride (Denmark).
- A Smith Rescues a Captured Woman from a Troll (Denmark).
- The Sea Nymph (Sweden).
- Link to another collection of legends about humans who are spirited away by underground people: Midwife (or Godparent, or Nurse) for the Elves.
- Changelings. Links to sites dealing with fairy children substituted for abducted human babies.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
The Recovered Bride
There was a marriage in the townland of Curragraigue. After the usual festivities, and when the guests were left to themselves, and were drinking to the prosperity of the bride and bridegroom, they were startled by the appearance of the man himself rushing into the room with anguish in his looks.
"Oh!" cried he, "Margaret is carried away by the fairies, I'm sure. The girls were not left the room for half a minute when I went in, and there is no more sign of her there than if she never was born."
Great consternation prevailed, great search was made, but no Margaret was to be found. After a night and day spent in misery, the poor bridegroom laid down to take some rest. In a while he seemed to himself to awake from a troubled dream, and look out into the room. The moon was shining in through the window, and in the middle of the slanting rays stood Margaret in her white bridal clothes. He thought to speak and leap out of the bed, but his tongue was without utterance, and his limbs unable to move.
"Do not be disturbed, dear husband," said the appearance; "I am now in the power of the fairies, but if you only have courage and prudence we may be soon happy with each other again. Next Friday will be May-eve, and the whole court will ride out of the old fort after midnight. I must be there along with the rest. Sprinkle a circle with holy water, and have a black-hafted knife with you. If you have courage to pull me off the horse, and draw me into the ring, all they can do will be useless. You must have some food for me every night on the dresser, for if I taste one mouthful with them, I will be lost to you forever. The fairies got power over me because I was only thinking of you, and did not prepare myself as I ought for the sacrament. I made a bad confession, and now I am suffering for it. Don't forget what I have said."
"Oh, no, my darling," cried he, recovering his speech, but by the time he had slipped out of bed, there was no living soul in the room but himself.
Till Friday night the poor young husband spent a desolate time. The food was left on the dresser over night, and it rejoiced all hearts to find it vanished by morning. A little before midnight he was at the entrance of the old rath. He formed the circle, took his station within it, and kept the black-hafted knife ready for service. At times he was nervously afraid of losing his dear wife, and at others burning with impatience for the struggle.
At last the old fort with its dark high bushy fences cutting against the sky, was in a moment replaced by a palace and its court. A thousand lights flashed from the windows and lofty hall entrance; numerous torches were brandished by attendants stationed round the courtyard; and a numerous cavalcade of richly attired ladies and gentlemen was moving in the direction of the gate where he found himself standing.
As they rode by him laughing and jesting, he could not tell whether they were aware of his presence or not. He looked intent at each countenance as it approached, but it was some time before he caught sight of the dear face and figure borne along on a milk-white steed. She recognized him well enough, and her features now broke into a smile -- now expressed deep anxiety.
She was unable for the throng to guide the animal close to the ring of power; so he suddenly rushed out of his bounds, seized her in his arms, and lifted her off. Cries of rage and fury arose on every side; they were hemmed in, and weapons were directed at his head and breast to terrify him. He seemed to be inspired with superhuman courage and force, and wielding the powerful knife he soon cleared a space round him, all seeming dismayed by the sight of the weapon. He lost no time, but drew his wife within the ring, within which none of the myriads round dared to enter. Shouts of derision and defiance continued to fill the air for some time, but the expedition could not be delayed.
As the end of the procession filed past the gate and the circle within which the mortal pair held each other determinedly clasped, darkness and silence fell on the old rath and the fields round it, and the rescued bride and her lover breathed freely. We will not detain the sensitive reader on the happy walk home, on the joy that hailed their arrival, and on all the eager gossip that occupied the townland and the five that surround it for a month after the happy rescue.
- Source: Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, collected and narrated by Patrick Kennedy (London: Macmillan and Company, 1866), pp. 111-113.
- Patrick Kennedy's explanation of the word rath: The remains of the earthen fort of one of the small chiefs of old days. They are erroneously called "Danes' forts." (p. 100)
- Return to the table of contents.
Taken by the Good People
IrelandI was serving my time to the cattle trade, with a man the name of Lynch -- God be good to him! I suppose I was no more than twelve years of age at the time. 'Twas a very out of the way place and mountainy.
Well, not far from my master's house there was a family of the Brogans. 'Twas the will of God that Mrs. Brogan took sick, and there was a baby born, but the poor woman died. Well, the sister, a younger girl than the woman that died, came to nurse the child. After some time she began to look very delicate and uneasy. The naghbours were beginning to talk amongs themselves about her, and it came to Brogan's ears, and, begor, it made him vexed. So he asked the sister what was up with her.
"Well, John," says she, "I did not like to tell you, but Ellie" -- that was the name of the dead woman -- "comes every night, and takes the baby and nurses it, and goes away without a word."
"By my word," says John, "she is not dead at all, but taken, and I will watch her to-night."
Good enough, he remained up, and about 12 o'clock in she came, and he put his arms around her, but as he said, felt no substance.
"You can't keep me now," says she, "for I'm married agin; but if you come to the Bottle Hill field to-morrow night, there will be about 40 of us goin' t'words Blarney, and we will all be on horses, with our husbands. All the horses will be white, and I and my man will be last. Bring a hazel stick woud [with] you and strike the horse on the right side, and I will fall off. Just as I fall, ketch me with all your might. You will know my man, for he is the only one of them that has a red head."
Well, he went, and he must have a great heart, for on they come, gallopin' like mad. Just as the man with the red head's horse came he stood one-side and struck. She fell and he gripped her like iron. Well, such a hullabaloo as there was, was never heard, and all the other men makin' game of the red-headed man.
Well, he brought her home, and they lived for years after, and had a good family, and were the happiest people around the place. I often see some of her children; of course they are all married now, and gone here and there, but that's as true as my name is Tim Brosnan.
- Source: "Folk-Tales from County Limerick collected by Miss D. Knox," Folk-Lore: A Quarterly Review of Myth, Tradition, Institution, & Custom (London: Folk-Lore Society, 1917), v. 28, pp. 218-219.
- Knox's source: Told by Tim Brosnan, Dungeagan, County Kerry.
- I have retained Knox's spelling.
- Return to the table of contents.
Twenty Years with the Good People
IrelandI had a gran'uncle, he was a shoemaker; he was only about 3 or 4 months married. I'm up to fourscore now. Well, God rest all their souls, for they are all gone, I hope to a better world!
Well, sir, he says to his wife, and a purty girl she was, as I hear um say, -- the fortune wasn't very big but 'twould buy him a good bit of leather, and I might tell you, 'twas all brogues that was worn at the time, and faith, you should be big before you would get them same.
Howisever, he started one day for Limerick would [with] and ass and car, to bring home leather and other little things he wanted. He did not return that night or the next, nor the next. Begor, the wife and some frinds went to Limerick next day, but no trace of the husband could be found. I forgot to tell you that the third morning after he was gone the wife rose very early, and there at the dure [door] was the ass and car. The whole country was searched, up high and low down, but no trace. Weeks, monts and years came and went, but he never turned up.
Now the wife kept on a little business, sellin' nick-nacks to support herself, and a son, that grew to be a fine strapping man, as I hear um say, the picture of his father.
Now, sir, the boy was in or about twenty, when one day, himself and his mother were atin' their dinner, whin in comes a man and says, "God save ye!"
"And you too," says the mother. "Will you ate a spud, sir?" says she.
He rached for the spud, and in doin' so the sleeve of his coat shortned as he reached out his hand. He had a mole on his wrist and she see it, and her husband had one in the same spot.
"Good God!" says she, "are you John M'Namara?" -- for that was his name.
"I am," says he, "and your husband, and that's my son, but I can't tell you for some time where I was since I left you. But some time I might have the power, but not now."
Well, lo and behold you, in a week's time he started to work, and the boots he made were a surprise to the whole country round, and I believe he lived for nine or ten years ater that, but he never tould her or any one where he was, but of course everbody knew that 'twas wood [with] the good people.
- Source: "Folk-Tales from County Limerick collected by Miss D. Knox," Folk-Lore: A Quarterly Review of Myth, Tradition, Institution, & Custom (London: Folk-Lore Society, 1917), v. 28, pp. 215-216.
- Knox's source: Told by John Kelly, Cooraclare?, County Clare.
- I have retained Knox's spelling.
- Return to the table of contents.
Jamie Freel and the Young Lady: A Donegal Tale
IrelandDown in Fannet, in times gone by, lived Jamie Freel and his mother. Jamie was the widow's sole support; his strong arm worked for her untiringly, and as each Saturday night came round, he poured his wages into her lap, thanking her dutifully for the halfpence which she returned him for tobacco.
He was extolled by his neighbours as the best son ever known or heard of. But he had neighbours, of whose opinion he was ignorant�neighbours who lived pretty close to him, whom he had never seen, who are, indeed, rarely seen by mortals, except on May eves and Halloweens.
An old ruined castle, about a quarter of a mile from his cabin, was said to be the abode of the "wee folk." Every Halloween were the ancient windows lighted up, and passers-by saw little figures flitting to and fro inside the building, while they heard the music of pipes and flutes.
It was well known that fairy revels took place; but nobody had the courage to intrude on them.
Jamie had often watched the little figures from a distance, and listened to the charming music, wondering what the inside of the castle was like; but one Halloween he got up and took his cap, saying to his mother, "I'm awa' to the castle to seek my fortune."
"What!" cried she, "would you venture there? you that's the poor widow's one son! Dinna be sae venturesome an' foolitch, Jamie! They'll kill you, an' then what'll come o' me?"
"Never fear, mother; nae harm 'ill happen me, but I maun gae."
He set out, and as he crossed the potato field, came in sight of the castle, whose windows were ablaze with light, that seemed to turn the russet leaves, still clinging to the crab tree branches, into gold.
Halting in the grove at one side of the ruin, he listened to the elfin revelry, and the laughter and singing made him all the more determined to proceed.
Numbers of little people, the largest about the size of a child of five years old, were dancing to the music of flutes and fiddles, while others drank and feasted.
"Welcome, Jamie Freel! welcome, welcome, Jamie!" cried the company, perceiving their visitor. The word "Welcome" was caught up and repeated by every voice in the castle.
Time flew, and Jamie was enjoying himself very much, when his hosts said, "We're going to ride to Dublin tonight to steal a young lady. Will you come too, Jamie Freel?"
"Ay, that will I!" cried the rash youth, thirsting for adventure.
A troop of horses stood at the door. Jamie mounted, and his steed rose with him into the air. He was presently flying over his mother's cottage, surrounded by the elfin troop, and on and on they went, over bold mountains, over little hills, over the deep Lough Swilley, over towns and cottages, when people were burning nuts, and eating apples, and keeping merry Halloween. It seemed to Jamie that they flew all round Ireland before they got to Dublin.
"This is Derry," said the fairies, flying over the cathedral spire; and what was said by one voice was repeated by all the rest, till fifty little voices were crying out, "Deny! Derry! Derry!"
In like manner was Jamie informed as they passed over each town on the rout, and at length he heard the silvery voices cry, "Dublin! Dublin!"
It was no mean dwelling that was to be honoured by the fairy visit, but one of the finest houses in Stephen's Green.
The troop dismounted near a window, and Jamie saw a beautiful face, on a pillow in a splendid bed. He saw the young lady lifted and carried away, while the stick which was dropped in her place on the bed took her exact form.
The lady was placed before one rider and carried a short way, then given another, and the names of the towns were cried out as before.
They were approaching home. Jamie heard "Rathmullan," "Milford," "Tamney," and then he knew they were near his own house.
"You've all had your turn at carrying the young lady," said he. "Why wouldn't I get her for a wee piece?"
"Ay, Jamie," replied they, pleasantly, "you may take your turn at carrying her, to be sure."
Holding his prize very tightly, he dropped down near his mother's door.
"Jamie Freel, Jamie Freel! is that the way you treat us?" cried they, and they too dropped down near the door.
Jamie held fast, though he knew not what he was holding, for the little folk turned the lady into all sorts of strange shapes. At one moment she was a black dog, barking and trying to bite; at another, a glowing bar of iron, which yet had no heat; then, again, a sack of wool.
But still Jamie held her, and the baffled elves were turning away, when a tiny woman, the smallest of the party, exclaimed, "Jamie Freel has her awa' frae us, but he sall hae nae gude o' her, for I'll mak' her deaf and dumb," and she threw something over the young girl.
While they rode off disappointed, Jamie lifted the latch and went in.
"Jamie, man!" cried "his mother, "you've been awa' all night; what have they done on you?"
"Naething bad, mother; I ha' the very best of gude luck. Here's a beautiful young lady I ha' brought you for company.
"Bless us an' save us!" exclaimed the mother, and for some minutes she was so astonished that she could not think of anything else to say.
Jamie told his story of the night's adventure, ending, by saying, "Surely you wouldna have allowed me to let her gang with them to be lost forever?"
"But a lady, Jamie! How can a lady eat we'er poor diet, and live in we'er poor way? I ax you that, you foolitch fellow?"
"Weel, mother, sure it's better for her to be here nor over yonder," and he pointed in the direction of the castle.
Meanwhile, the deaf and dumb girl shivered in her light clothing, stepping close to the humble turf fire.
"Poor crathur, she's quare and handsome! Nae wonder they set their hearts on her," said the old woman, gazing at her guest with pity and admiration. "We maun dress her first; but what, in the name o' fortune, hae I fit for the likes o' her to wear?"
She went to her press in "the room," and took out her Sunday gown of brown drugget; she then opened a drawer, and drew forth a pair of white stockings, a long snowy garment of fine linen, and a cap, her "dead dress," as she called it.
These articles of attire had long been ready for a certain triste ceremony, in which she would some day fill the chief part, and only saw the light occasionally, when they were hung out to air; but she was willing to give even these to the fair trembling visitor, who was turning in dumb sorrow and wonder from her to Jamie, and from Jamie back to her.
The poor girl suffered herself to be dressed, and then sat down on a "creepie" in the chimney corner, and buried her face in her hands.
"What'll we do to keep up a lady like thou?" cried the old woman.
"I'll work for you both, mother," replied the son.
"An' how could a lady live on we'er poor diet?" she repeated.
"I'll work for her," was all Jamie's answer.
He kept his word. The young lady was very sad for a long time, and tears stole down her cheeks many an evening while the old woman spun by the fire, and Jamie made salmon nets, an accomplishment lately acquired by him, in hopes of adding to the comfort of his guest.
But she was always gentle, and tried to smile when she perceived them looking at her; and by degrees she adapted herself to their ways and mode of life. It was not very long before she began to feed the pig, mash potatoes and meal for the fowls, and knit blue worsted socks.
So a year passed, and Halloween came round again. "Mother," said Jamie, taking down his cap, "I'm off to the ould castle to seek my fortune."
"Are you mad, Jamie?" cried his mother, in terror; "sure they'll kill you this time for what you done on them last year."
Jamie made light of her fears and went his way.
As he reached the crab tree grove, he saw bright lights in the castle windows as before, and heard loud talking. Creeping under the window, he heard the wee folk say, "That was a poor trick Jamie Freel played us this night last year, when he stole the nice young lady from us."
"Ay," said the tiny woman, "an' I punished him for it, for there she sits, a dumb image by his hearth; but he does na' know that three drops out o' this glass I hold in my hand wad gie her her hearing and her speeches back again."
Jamie's heart beat fast as he entered the hall. Again he was greeted by a chorus of welcomes from the company: "Here comes Jamie Freel! welcome, welcome, Jamie!"
As soon as the tumult subsided, the little woman said, "You be to drink our health, Jamie, out o' this glass in my hand."
Jamie snatched the glass from her and darted to the door. He never knew how he reached his cabin, but he arrived there breathless, and sank on a stove by the fire.
"You're kilt surely this time, my poor boy," said his mother.
"No, indeed, better luck than ever this time!" and he gave the lady three drops of the liquid that still remained at the bottom of the glass, notwithstanding his mad race over the potato field.
The lady began to speak, and her first words were words of thanks to Jamie.
The three inmates of the cabin had so much to say to one another, that long after cock-crow, when the fairy music had quite ceased, they were talking round the fire.
"Jamie," said the lady, "be pleased to get me paper and pen and ink, that I may write to my father, and tell him what has become of me."
She wrote, but weeks passed, and she received no answer. Again and again she wrote, and still no answer.
At length she said, "You must come with me to Dublin, Jamie, to find my father."
"I ha' no money to hire a car for you," he replied, "an' how can you travel to Dublin on your foot?"
But she implored him so much that he consented to set out with her, and walk all the way from Fannet to Dublin. It was not as easy as the fairy journey; but at last they rang the bell at the door of the house in Stephen's Green.
"Tell my father that his daughter is here," said she to the servant who opened the door.
"The gentleman that lives here has no daughter, my girl. He had one, but she died better nor a year ago."
"Do you not know me, Sullivan?"
"No, poor girl, I do not."
"Let me see the gentleman. I only ask to see him."
"Well, that's not much to ax; we'll see what can be done."
In a few moments the lady's father came to the door.
"Dear father," said she, "don't you know me?"
"How dare you call me your father?" cried the old gentleman, angrily. "You are an impostor. I have no daughter."
"Look in my face, father, and surely you'll remember me."
"My daughter is dead and buried. She died a long, long time ago." The old gentleman's voice changed from anger to sorrow. "You can go," he concluded.
"Stop, dear father, till you look at this ring on my finger. Look at your name and mine engraved on it."
"It certainly is my daughter's ring; but I do not know how you came by it. I fear in no honest way."
"Call my mother, she will be sure to know me," said the poor girl, who, by this time, was crying bitterly.
"My poor wife is beginning to forget her sorrow. She seldom speaks of her daughter now. Why should I renew her grief by reminding her of her loss?"
But the young lady persevered, till at last the mother was sent for.
"Mother," she began, when the old lady came to the door, "don't you know your daughter?"
"I have no daughter; my daughter died and was buried a long, long time ago."
"Only look in my face, and surely you'll know me."
The old lady shook her head. "You have all forgotten me; but look at this mole on my neck. Surely, mother, you know me now?"
"Yes, yes," said the mother, " my Gracie had a mole on her neck like that; but then I saw her in her coffin, and saw the lid shut down upon her."
It became Jamie's turn to speak, and he gave the history of the fairy journey, of the theft of the young lady, of the figure he had seen laid in its place, of her life with his mother in Fannet, of last Halloween, and of the three drops that had released her from her enchantment.
She took up the story when he paused, and told how kind the mother and son had been to her.
The parents could not make enough of Jamie. They treated him with every distinction, and when he expressed his wish to return to Fannet, said they did not know what to do to show their gratitude.
But an awkward complication arose. The daughter would not let him go without her. "If Jamie goes, I'll go too," she said. "He saved me from the fairies, and has worked for me ever since. If it had not been for him, dear father and mother, you would never have seen me again. If he goes, I'll go too."
This being her resolution, the old gentleman said that Jamie should become his son-in-law. The mother was brought from Fannet in a coach and four, and there was a splendid wedding.
They all lived together in the grand Dublin house, and Jamie was heir to untold wealth at his father-in-law's death.
Ethna the Bride
IrelandThe fairies, as we know, are greatly attracted by the beauty of mortal women, and Finvarra the king employs his numerous sprites to find out and carry off when possible the prettiest girls and brides in the country. These are spirited away by enchantment to his fairy palace at Knockma in Tuam, where they remain under a fairy spell, forgetting all about the earthly life and soothed to passive enjoyment, as in a sweet dream, by the soft low melody of the fairy music, which has the power to lull the hearer into a trance of ecstasy.
There was once a great lord in that part of the country who had a beautiful wife called Ethna, the loveliest bride in all the land. And her husband was so proud of her that day after day he had festivals in her honour; and from morning till night his castle was filled with lords and ladies, and nothing but music and dancing and feasting and hunting and pleasure was thought of.
One evening while the feast was merriest, and Ethna floated through the dance in her robe of silver gossamer clasped with jewels, more bright and beautiful than the stars in heaven, she suddenly let go the hand of her partner and sank to the floor in a faint.
They carried her to her room, where she lay long quite insensible; but towards the morning she woke up and declared that she had passed the night in a beautiful palace, and was so happy that she longed to sleep again and go there in her dreams. And they watched by her all day, but when the shades of evening fell dark on the castle, low music was heard at her window, and Ethna again fell into a deep trance from which nothing could rouse her.
Then her old nurse was set to watch her; but the woman grew weary in the silence and fell asleep, and never awoke till the sun had risen. And when she looked towards the bed, she saw to her horror that the young bride had disappeared. The whole household was roused up at once, and search made everywhere, but no trace of her could be found in all the castle, nor in the gardens, nor in the park. Her husband sent messengers in every direction, but to no purpose -- no one had seen her; no sign of her could be found, living or dead.
Then the young lord mounted his swiftest steed and galloped right off to Knockma, to question Finvarra, the fairy king, if he could give any tidings of the bride, or direct him where to search for her; for he and Finvarra were friends, and many a good keg of Spanish wine had been left outside the window of the castle at night for the fairies to carry away, by order of the young lord. But he little dreamed now that Finvarra himself was the traitor; so he galloped on like mad till he reached Knockma, the hill of the fairies.
And as he stopped to rest his horse by the fairy rath, he heard voices in the air above him, and one said, "Right glad is Finvarra now, for he has the beautiful bride in his palace at last; and never more will she see her husband's face."
"Yet," answered another, "if he dig down through the hill to the centre of the earth, he would find his bride; but the work is hard and the way is difficult, and Finvarra has more power than any mortal man."
"That is yet to be seen," exclaimed the young lord. "Neither fairy, nor devil, nor Finvarra himself shall stand between me and my fair young wife;" and on the instant he sent word by his servants to gather together all the workmen and labourers of the country round with their spades and pickaxes, to dig through the hill till they came to the fairy palace.
And the workmen came, a great crowd of them, and they dug through the hill all that day till a great deep trench was made down to the very centre. Then at sunset they left off for the night; but next morning when they assembled again to continue their work, behold, all the clay was put back again into the trench, and the hill looked as if never a spade had touched it -- for so Finvarra had ordered; and he was powerful over earth and air and sea.
But the young lord had a brave heart, and he made the men go on with the work; and the trench was dug again, wide and deep into the centre of the hill. And this went on for three days, but always with the same result, for the clay was put back again each night and the hill looked the same as before, and they were no nearer to the fairy palace.
Then the young lord was ready to die for rage and grief, but suddenly he heard a voice near him like a whisper in the air, and the words it said were these: "Sprinkle the earth you have dug up with salt, and your work will be safe."
On this new life came into his heart, and lie sent word through all the country to gather salt from the people; and the clay was sprinkled with it that night, when the men had left off their work at the hill.
Next morning they all rose up early in great anxiety to see what had happened, and there to their great joy was the trench all safe, just as they had left it, and all the earth round it was untouched.
Then the young lord knew he had power over Finvarra, and he bade the men work on with a good heart, for they would soon reach the fairy palace now in the centre of the hill. So by the next day a great glen was cut right through deep down to the middle of the earth, and they could hear the fairy music if they put their ear close to the ground, and voices were heard round them in the air.
"See now," said one, "Finvarra is sad, for if one of those mortal men strike a blow on the fairy palace with their spades, it will crumble to dust, and fade away like the mist."
"Then let Finvarra give up the bride," said another, "and we shall be safe."
On which the voice of Finvarra himself was heard, clear like the note of a silver bugle through the hill. "Stop your work," he said. "Oh, men of earth, lay down your spades, and at sunset the bride shall be given back to her husband. I, Finvarra, have spoken."
Then the young lord bade them stop the work, and lay down their spades till the sun went down. And at sunset he mounted his great chestnut steed and rode to the head of the glen, and watched and waited; and just as the red light flushed all the sky, lie saw his wife coming along the path in her robe of silver gossamer, more beautiful than ever; and he sprang from the saddle and lifted her up before him, and rode away like the storm wind back to the castle. And there they laid Ethna on her bed; but she closed her eyes and spake no word. So day after day passed, and still she never spake or smiled, but seemed like one in a trance.
And great sorrow fell upon every one, for they feared she had eaten of the fairy food, and that the enchantment would never be btoken. So her husband was very miserable. But one evening as he was riding home late, he heard voices in the air, and one of them said, "It is now a year and a day since the young lord brought home his beautiful wife from Finvarra; but what good is she to him? She is speechless and like one dead; for her spirit is with the fairies though her form is there beside him."
Then another voice answered, "And so she will remain unless the spell is broken. He must unloose the girdle from her waist that is fastened with an enchanted pin, and burn the girdle with fire, and throw the ashes before the door, and bury the enchanted pin in the earth; then will her spirit come back from Fairyland, and she will once more speak and have true life."
Hearing this the young lord at once set spurs to his horse, and on reaching the castle hastened to the room where Ethna lay on her couch silent and beautiful like a waxen figure. Then, being determined to test the truth of the spirit voices, he untied the girdle, and after much difficulty extracted the enchanted pin from the folds. But still Ethna spoke no word; then he took the girdle and burned it with fire, and strewed the ashes before the door, and he buried the enchanted pin in a deep hole in the earth, under a fairy thorn, that no hand might disturb the spot. After which he returned to his young wife, who smiled as she looked at him, aud held forth her hand. Great was his joy to see the soul coming back to the beautiful form, and he raised her up and kissed her; and speech and memory came back to her at that moment, and all her former life, just as if it had never been broken or interrupted; but the year that her spirit had passed in Fairyland seemed to her but as a dream of the night, from which she had just awoke.
After this Finvarra made no further efforts to carry her off; but the deep cut in the hill remains to this day, and is called "The Fairy's Glen." So no one can doubt the truth of the story as here narrated.
Ned the Jockey
WalesOne Edward Jones, or "Ned the Jockey", as he was familiarly called, resided, within the memory of the writer, in one of the roadside cottages a short distance from Llanidloes, on the Newtown Road.
While returning home late one evening, it was his fate to fall in with a troop of fairies, who were not pleased to have their gambols disturbed by a mortal. Requesting him to depart, they politely offered him the choice of three means of locomotion, viz., being carried off by a "high wind, middle wind, or low wind." The jockey soon made up his mind, and elected to make his trip through the air by the assistance of a high wind.
No sooner had he given his decision, than he found himself whisked high up into the air, and his senses completely bewildered by the rapidity of his flight; he did not recover himself again till he came in contact with the earth, being suddenly dropped in the middle of a garden near Ty Gough, on the Bryndu Road, many miles distant from the spot whence he started on his aerial journey.
Ned, when relating this story, would vouch for its genuineness in the most solemn manner, and the person who narrated it to the writer brought forward, as a proof of its truth, "that there was not the slightest trace of any person going into the garden while Ned was found in the middle of it."
The ultimate fate of the hero of the above incident was extremely melancholy. Returning home inebriated one night, he appears to have mistaken his road, and walked into the Severn, just below the Long Bridge, where his body was found next morning.
The Old Man and the Fairies
WalesMany years ago the Welsh mountains were full of fairies. People used to go by moonlight to see them dancing, for they knew where they would dance by seeing green rings in the grass.
There was an old man living in those days who used to frequent the fairs that were held across the mountains. One day he was crossing the mountains to a fair, and when he got to a lonely valley he sat down, for he was tired, and he dropped off to sleep, and his bag fell down by his side. When he was sound asleep the fairies came and carried him off, bag and all, and took him under the earth, and when he awoke he found himself in a great palace of gold, full of fairies dancing and singing. And they took him and showed him everything, the splendid gold room and gardens, and they kept dancing round him until he fell asleep.
When he was asleep they carried him back to the same spot where they had found him, and when he awoke he thought he had been dreaming, so he looked for his bag, and got hold of it, but he could hardly lift it. When he opened it he found it was nearly filled with gold.
He managed to pick it up, and turning round, he went home.
When he got home, his wife Kaddy said, "What's to do, why haven't you been to the fair?"
"I've got something here," he said, and showed his wife the gold.
"Why, where did you get that?"
But he wouldn't tell her. Since she was curious, like all women, she kept worrying him all night -- for he'd put the money in a box under the bed -- so he told her about the fairies.
Next morning, when he awoke, he thought he'd go to the fair and buy a lot of things, and he went to the box to get some of the gold, but found it full of cockle-shells.
A Visit to Fairyland
WalesOne bright moonlight night, while on his way to Clogwyn y Gwin to see his sweetheart, one of the sons of Llwyn On, in Nant y Bettws, saw a group of fairies carousing and dancing to their heart's content, on a field by Llyn Cawellyn. He went and stood not far from them, and by degrees he was drawn, by the charming sweetness of their music, and by the nimble and lively manner of their sport, until he was right within their circle. Soon there fell upon him a certain charm, which made everything around him strange to him, and he found himself in one of the most beautiful countries he had ever seen, where everyone spent his time in nothing but joy and mirth. He had been there for seven years, and yet everything was but as a dream of the night; but he remembered the message on which he had set out, and his heart longed for his sweetheart. He therefore asked permission to return home, which was given him together with a whole host of companions to lead to his own country; and all of a sudden he found himself, as if awaking out of a dream, on the meadow on which the fairies were carrying on their sport.
He then turned his face homeward, but when he reached there all was changed: his parents were dead, his brothers and sisters could not recognize him, and his sweetheart was married to another. At the thought of such changes he broke his heart, and died in less than a week after his return.
Four Years in Faery
Isle of ManLike the Welsh fairies, the Manx ones take men away with them and detain them for years. Thus a Kirk Andreas man was absent from his people for four years, which he spent with the fairies. He could not tell how he returned, but it seemed as if, having been unconscious, he woke up at last in this world. The other world, however, in which he was for the four years was not far away, as he could see what his brothers and the rest of the family were doing every day, although they could not see him.
To prove this, he mentioned to them how they were occupied on such and such a day, and, among other things, how they took their corn on a particular day to Ramsey. He reminded them also of their having heard a sudden sharp crack as they were passing by a thorn bush he named, and how they were so startled that one of them would have run back home. He asked them if they remembered that, and they said they did, only too well. He then explained to them the meaning of the noise, namely, that one of the fairies with whom he had been galloping the whole time was about to let fly an arrow at his brothers, but that as he was going to do this, he (the missing brother) raised a plate and intercepted the arrow: that was the sharp noise they had heard.
Such was the account he had to give of his sojourn in Faery.
The Lost Wife of Ballaleece
Isle of ManOne time the Farmer of Ballaleece married a beautiful young wife, and they were thinking the world of one another. But before long she disappeared. Some persons said that she was dead and others that she was taken by the Little People. Ballaleece mourned for her with a heavy heart and looked for her from Point of Ayr to the Calf; but in the end, not finding her, he married another wife. This one was not beautiful, but there was some money at her.
Soon after the marriage his first wife appeared to Ballaleece one night, and said to him, "My man, my man, I was taken away by the Little People, and I live with them near to you. I can be set free if you will but do what I tell you."
"Tell me quick," said Ballaleece.
"We'll be riding through Ballaleece barn at midnight on Friday," said she. "We'll be going in on one door and out on another. I'll be riding behind one of the men on horseback. You'll sweep the barn clean, and mind there is not one straw left on the floor. Catch hold of my bridle rein, hold it fast, and I shall be free."
When the night came Ballaleece took a besom and swept the barn floor so clean that not one speck was left on it. Then he waited in the dark.
At midnight the barn doors opened wide, sweet music was heard, and in through the open door came a fine company of Little People, in green jackets and red caps, riding fine horses. On the last horse, sitting behind a Little Fellow, Ballaleece saw his first wife as pretty as a picture, and as young as when she left him. He seized hold of her bridle rein, but he was shaken from side to side like a leaf on a tree, and he was not able to hold her.
As she went out through the door she stretched out her right hand and pointed to a bushel in the corner of the barn, and called out in a sad voice, "There's been a straw put under the bushel for that reason you couldn't hold me, and you've done with me for ever!"
The second wife had heard what had passed and had hidden the straw, and turned the bushel upside down so that it would not be seen.
The young wife was never heard of any more.
EnglandAnother Part of this Conversation generally turns upon Fairies. These, they tell you, have frequently been heard and seen, nay that there are some still living who were stolen away by them, and confined seven Years. According to the Description they give of them, who pretend to have seen them, they are in the Shape of Men, exceeding little: They are always clad in Green, and frequent the Woods and Fields; when they make Cakes (which is a Work they have been often heard at) they are very noisy; and when they have done, they are full of Mirth and Pastime. But generally they dance in Moon-Light when Mortals are asleep, and not capable of seeing them, as may be observed on the following Morn; their dancing Places being very distinguishable. For as they dance Hand in Hand, and so make a Circle in their Dance, so next Day there will be seen Rings and Circles on the Grass.
Now in all this there is really nothing, but an old fabulous Story, which has been handed down even to our Days from the Times of Heathenism, of a certain Sort of Beings called Lamiæ, which were esteemed so mischievous and cruel, as to take away young Children and slay them. These, together with the the Fauns, the Gods of the Woods, seem to have formed the Notion of Fairies.
The Lost Child
EnglandIn the little hamlet of Treonike, in the parish of St. Allen, has long lingered the story of a lost child, who was subsequently found. All the stories agree in referring the abduction of the child to supernatural agency, and in some cases it is referred to the "Small People or Piskies," -- in others to less amiable spiritual creatures.
Mr. Hals [See Davies Gilbert's Parochial History of Cornwall] has given one version of this story, which differs in some respects from the tale as I heard it, from an old woman some thirty years since, who then lived in this parish. Her tale was to the following effect.
It was a lovely evening, and the little boy was gathering flowers in the fields, near a wood. The child was charmed by hearing some beautiful music, which he at first mistook for the song of birds; but, being a sharp boy, he was not long deceived, and he went towards the wood to ascertain from whence the melodious sounds came. When he reached the verge of the wood, the music was of so exquisite a character, that he was compelled to follow the sound, which appeared to travel before him. Lured in this way, the boy penetrated to the dark center of the grove, and here, meeting with some difficulties, owing to the thick growth of underwood, he paused, and began to think of returning. The music, however, became more ravishing than before, and some invisible being appeared to crush down all the low and tangled plants, thus forming for him a passage, over which he passed without any difficulty.
At length he found himself on the edge of a small lake, and, greatly to his astonishment, the darkness of night was around him, but the heavens were thick with stars. The music ceased, and, wearied with his wanderings, the boy fell asleep on a bed of ferns.
He related, on his restoration to his parents, that he was taken by a beautiful lady through palaces of the most gorgeous description. Pillars of glass supported arches which glistened with every color, and these were hung with crystals far exceeding anything which were ever seen in the caverns of a Cornish mine. It is, however, stated that many days passed away before the child was found by his friends, and that at length he was discovered one lovely morning sleeping on the bed of ferns, on which he was supposed to have fallen asleep on the first adventurous evening.
There was no reason given by the narrator why the boy was "spirited away" in the first instance, or why he was returned. Her impression was, that some sprites, pleased with the child's innocence and beauty, had entranced him. That when asleep he had been carried through the waters to the fairy abodes beneath them; and she felt assured that a child so treated would be kept under the especial guardianship of the sprites for ever afterwards. Of this, however, tradition leaves us in ignorance.
The Fairies' Hill
There is a green hill above Kintraw, known as the Fairies' Hill, of which the following story is told.
Many years ago, the wife of the farmer at Kintraw fell ill and died, leaving two or three young children. The Sunday after the funeral the farmer and his servants went to church, leaving the children at home in charge of the eldest, a girl of about ten years of age. On the farmer's return the children told him their mother had been to see them, and had combed their hair and dressed them. As they still persisted in their statement after being remonstrated with, they were punished for telling what was not true.
The following Sunday the same thing occurred again. The father now told the children, if their mother came again, they were in inquire of her why she came. Next Sunday, when she reappeared, the eldest child put her father's question to her, when the mother told them she had been carried off by the "Good People" (Daione Sìth), and could only get away for an hour or two on Sundays, and should her coffin be opened it would be found to contain only a withered leaf.
The farmer, much perplexed, went to the minister for advice, who scoffed at the idea of any supernatural connection with the children's story, ridiculed the existence of "Good People," and would not allow the coffin to be opened. The matter was therefore allowed to rest. But, some little time after, the minister, who had gone to Lochgilphead for the day, was found lying dead near the Fairies' Hill, a victim, many people thought, to the indignation of the Fairy world he had laughed at.
The Stolen Lady
John Roy, who lived in Glenbroun, in the parish of Abernethy, being out one night on the hills in search of his cattle, met a troop of fairies, who seemed to have got a prize of some sort or other. Recollecting that the fairies are obliged to exchange whatever they may have with any one who offers them anything, however low in value, for it, he flung his bonnet to them, crying Shuis slo slumus sheen (i.e., mine is yours and yours is mine). The fairies dropped their booty, which proved to be a Sassenach (English) lady whom the dwellers of Shian of Coir-laggac had carried away from her own country, leaving a stock in her place which, of course, died and was buried.
John brought her home, and she lived for many years in his house.
"It happened, however, in the course of time," said the Gaelic narrator, "that the new king found it necessary to make the great roads through these countries by means of soldiers, for the purpose of letting coaches and carriages pass to the northern cities; and those soldiers had officers and commanders in the same way as our fighting army have now. Those soldiers were never great favorites in these countries, particularly during the time that our kings were alive; and consequently it was no easy matter for them, either officers or men, to procure for themselves comfortable quarters."
But John Roy would not keep up the national animosity to the cottan dearg (red-coats), and he offered a residence in his house to a Saxon captain and his son. When there they could not take their eyes off the English lady, and the son remarked to his father what a strong likeness she bore to his deceased mother.
The father replied that he too had been struck with the resemblance, and said he could almost fancy she was his wife. He then mentioned her name and those of some persons connected with them. The lady by these words at once recognized her husband and son, and honest John Roy had the satisfaction of reuniting the long-separated husband and wife, and receiving their most grateful acknowledgments.
Touching the Elements
Shetland IslandsA fiddler belonging to Yell was waylaid and carried off by the trows while on his way to supply music to a Halloween gathering that was being held in a neighboring district. After playing for some considerable time he was allowed to depart, and immediately proceeded homewards. When he came to his house, however, he saw with amazement that the roof was off, the walls decayed and crumbling into ruins, and the floor grown over with rank grass. He questioned the neighbors, but they were utter strangers to him and could cast no glimmer of light on the remarkable situation. The place had been in that ruinous condition all their time, they said. He sought out the oldest inhabitant, but even he had no recollection of anyone staying in the place, but he did remember hearing a tale to the effect that at one time the guidman [master] of that house had mysteriously disappeared, and never returned. It was commonly supposed that the hill-folk had taken him.
The fiddler, of course, knew no one, and had nowhere to go, and when the old man asked him to spend the night at his house, he very gladly accepted the invitation. It so happened that the following day was Sacrament Sunday, and they both went to church. The fiddler asked to be permitted to communicate. This request was granted, but no sooner did he touch the "elements" [bread and wine of the Eucharist] than he crumbled into dust.
- Source: John Nicolson, Some Folk-Tales and Legends of Shetland (Edinburgh: Thomas Allan and Sons, 1920), p. 14.
- Yell is one of the Shetland Islands, just north of Mainland, the largest island in the chain.
- Return to the table of contents.
The Aged Bride
DenmarkAt a marriage at Nörre-Broby near Odense, the bride during a dance left the apartment and walked without reflection towards a mount in the adjacent field, where at the same time there were dancing and merriment among the elf-folk. On reaching the mount, she saw that it was standing on red pillars, and at the same moment an elf came and presented to her a cup of wine. She took the cup, and having emptied it, suffered herself to join in a dance.
When the dance was ended she bethought herself of her husband and hastened home. Here it appeared to her that everything in and about the place was changed, and on entering the village, she recognized neither house nor farm, and heard nothing of the noisy mirth of the wedding. At length she found herself standing before her husband's dwelling, but on entering saw no one whom she knew, and no one who knew her.
One old woman only, on hearing the bride's lamentation, exclaimed, "Is it then you, who a hundred years ago disappeared at my grandfather's brother's wedding?"
At these words the aged bride fell down and instantly expired.
A Smith Rescues a Captured Woman from a Troll
As a smith was at work in his forge late one evening, he heard great wailing out on the road, and by the light of the red-hot iron that he was hammering, he saw a woman whom a troll was driving along, bawling at her "A little more! A little more!" He ran out, put the red-hot iron between them, and thus delivered her from the power of the troll.
He led her into his house and that night she was delivered of twins.
In the morning he waited on [went to] her husband, who he supposed must be in great affliction at the loss of his wife. But to his surprise he saw there, in bed, a woman the very image of her he had saved from the troll. Knowing at once what she must be, he raised an axe he had in his hand, and cleft her skull.
The matter was soon explained to the satisfaction of the husband, who gladly received his real wife and her twins.
The Sea Nymph
One night a number of fishermen quartered themselves in a hut by a fishing village on the northwest shores of an island. After they had gone to bed, and while they were yet awake, they saw a white, dew-besprinkled woman's hand reaching in through the door. They well understood that their visitor was a sea nymph, who sought their destruction, and feigned unconsciousness of her presence.
The following day their number was added to by the coming of a young, courageous and newly married man from Kinnar, in Lummelund. When they related to him their adventure of the night before, he made fun of their being afraid to take a beautiful woman by the hand, and boasted that if he had been present he would not have neglected to grasp the proffered hand.
That evening when they laid themselves down in the same room, the late arrival with them, the door opened again, and a plump, white woman's arm, with a most beautiful hand, reached in over the sleepers.
The young man arose from his bed, approached the door and seized the outstretched hand, impelled, perhaps, more by the fear of his comrades scoffing at his boasted bravery, than by any desire for a closer acquaintance with the strange visitor.
Immediately his comrades witnessed him drawn noiselessly out through the door, which closed softly after him. They thought he would return soon, but when morning approached and he did not appear, they set out in search of him. Far and near the search was pursued, but without success. His disappearance was complete.
Three years passed and nothing had been heard of the missing man. His young wife, who had mourned him all this time as dead, was finally persuaded to marry another. On the evening of the wedding day, while the mirth was at its highest, a stranger entered the cottage. Upon closer observation some of the guests thought they recognized the bride's former husband.
The utmost surprise and commotion followed.
In answer to the inquiries of those present as to where he came from and where he had been, he related that it was a sea nymph whose hand he had taken that night when he left the fisherman's hut; and that he was dragged by her down into the sea. In her pearly halls he forgot his wife, parents, and all that was loved by him until the morning of that day, when the sea nymph exclaimed, "There will be a dusting out in Kinnar this evening."
Then his senses immediately returned, and, with anxiety, he asked, "Then it is my wife who is to be the bride?"
The sea nymph replied in the affirmative.
At his urgent request, she allowed him to come up to see his wife as a bride, stipulating that when he arrived at the house he should not enter. When he came and saw her adorned with garland and crown he could, nevertheless, not resist the desire to enter. Then came a tempest and took away half the roof of the house, whereupon the man fell sick and three days later died.
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Revised March 27, 2013.