37. Miller, Mary and Karl Taube. An Illustrated Dictionary of The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. London: Thames and Hudson 1993, 82.
38. Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. London: J.M. Dent 1987, 14.
39. Bierhorst, John. The Mythology of Mexico and Central America. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1990, 8.
40. Spence, Lewis. Legends and Romances of Brittany. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc. 1997, 50. A reprint of an undated edition published by Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York.
A race of dwarves called Inuarugligarsuit by the Netsilik Eskimo reportedly live in the mountains where they live like the Eskimo even to the extent of hunting tiny game animals. When these tiny people are seen by the Eskimo, they are said to "have the peculiar ability to grow in size up to the height of ordinary human beings."41
In the mythology of other Central American tribes, the original inhabitants of the world were tiny hunter-gatherers and the Yaqui tell of an ancient people called the surem who are described as "a diminutive, gentle folk who could not stand noise or conflict."42
Like other descriptions of Little People given in Native American lore, these dwarves of Mesoamerica were said to be very old but looked like young boys.
The Little People of the Cherokee were said to live in rock caves on the sides of mountains, the Immortals were said to live in "townhouses" under mounds of earth and the Little Tsawa'si live in "grassy patches" on hillsides — presumably mounds. The Rock Babies of the Great Basin actually lived within rock surfaces and could transport themselves easily between the two worlds.
Likewise folklore of the Finno-Ugric peoples indicate that a race of small, black creatures called Chudes live in dark underground areas, holes in the earth and in abandoned houses, cellars and the woods. These Little People would often throw stones and coal at humans wandering through their land. Reportedly the Chudes rebelled against the tall humans arriving near their homes, hid themselves in their holes and were regarded as demonic by the humans.43
Fairies in Corsica are not considered benevolent by any means. They are believed to be "wild creatures" and "water sprites" which live in caves near water and, although they are described as being beautiful, they are "dangerous to mortal man."44
In Britain, many of the Fairies are reported to live in the ancient mega-lithic monuments; dolmen, stone circles and burrows. In fact, many native peoples of the Isles believe that these ancient stone structures were built by the Fairy or used them as homes.45 Porteous, however, wrote, "forests were their favorite resorts, and on clear moonlight nights they and the Elves were believed to dance hand in hand around the trees, and the grass being trodden down by their aerial feet, grew up with renewed vigour, and formed green circles known as Fairy rings."46 Similar tales exist of Fairy in Estonia that,
41. Balikci, Asen. The Netsilik Eskimo. Garden City: The Natural History Press 1970, 205.
43. Lintrop, Aado. "On the Udmurt Water Spirit and the Formation of the Concept 'Holy" Among Permian Peoples" in Folklore, Vol. 26, April 2004, 16. Published by the Folk Belief & Media Group of the Estonian Literary Museum, Tartu.
44. Carrington, Dorothy. The Dream Hunters of Corsica. London: Phoenix 1995, 48.
like their British and American cousins, dance and sing at night, play tricks on humans and steal children, leaving changelings in their place.47
The Fairy people of New Zealand dwell in the mountains while those that reside on the Island of Mangaia are said to be from the underworld and, like the California Rock Babies, are able to travel through special apertures in the rock.
Elves in Nordic areas reportedly live in groups and families and are led by Freyr and Freyja, two of the most important deities.
Children & Childbirth
The dangers of childbirth to both the mother and the newborn were extreme up to recent times. In fact they still are in many parts of the world where modern medicine is kept apart from the common people. It is no wonder that rituals were created to combat those dangers — either real or imagined. The loss of children through illness and accident was a tremendous hardship. Children also simply disappeared after accidentally wandering away from their homes. Many of these tragedies were explained as deeds of the Fairy.
Contemporary folklore recorded in the United States during the 1960s indicates that ancient beliefs still survive in our "advanced" state. "If you dress boys in skirts," a belief recorded in Ohio said, "the fairies won't steal them." This practice evidently had been brought to the United States by Irish immigrants. Evans noted in his book, Irish Folk Ways: "The old custom of dressing boys in girls' clothes, in long frocks, until they were ten or eleven years of age has been explained as a means of deceiving the fairies, who were always on the lookout for healthy young boys whom they could replace by feeble 'changelings'".48 This practice was still in use in the 1960s in parts of Ireland and Messenger noted that boys up to the age of 18 were sometimes dressed in petticoats to confuse the Fairy.49
Other extreme measures included laying a pair of shears in the baby's cradle to protect the child from being stolen by Fairies. This practice evidently was known from Canada to Salt Lake City in the 1950s and '60s. It is unknown how many babies may have been injured with this protective measure! Scottish folklore recorded during the 1970s stipulated that to keep your baby safe from the Fairies, "someone must walk around your house seven times sun wise to create an invisible barrier which the fairies cannot pass."50 Such "perambulation" is an ancient ritual still used in Britain at holy wells. It probably originated in ancient magical rituals far older.
Protective measures taken to keep newborn children safe were sometimes complicated, sometimes expensive and sometimes bizarre. Among the
48. Evans, E. Estyn. Irish Folk Ways. Mineola: Dover Publications Inc. 2000, 289. A reprint of the 1957 edition published by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., London.
50. University of California Los Angeles Folklore Archives, record # 2_6107.
Gypsies of Transylvania, it was believed that the placenta must be burned after birth, "otherwise wicked fairies could turn them into vampires who would attack the child."51 In Germany, herbs were loaded in the newborn's cradle the first eight days after its birth to keep the child from being stolen by Fairies. These first eight days were regarded as the most dangerous time for a newborn, in fact the most dangerous time in the child's life. After christening, however, it was no longer in danger of such calamity, indicating the partial success of the Church in interrupting if not eradicating such beliefs.
According to Celtic scholar Anne Ross, a Scottish Highland custom practiced to protect newborns from the Fairies "was to make the baby swallow a large quantity of fresh butter after birth...before baptism it must be protected against this dangerous race of beings, and other supernatural creatures."52
Another protective practice observed in 19th century Devon was reported in the December 14, 1850 edition of Notes and Queries:
The country people in their neighborhood sometimes put a prayer-book under a child's pillow as a charm to keep away the piskies. I am told that a poor woman near Launceston was fully persuaded that one of her children was taken away and a piskey substituted, the disaster being caused by the absence of the prayer-book on one particular night.
Folklore recorded in Ohio during the 1930s called for the placing of a newborn in a "light place" for the first forty days following birth, "or the fairies will give him bad luck." Good luck, on the other hand, was also available from the Fairies. In California and Ohio, it was said that gold or a golden object should be placed inside a newborn's clothing in the first three days of its life. It was believed that during these three days the baby would "be visited by the fairies who decide what kind of life he will have. If there is gold there, the fairies will be pleased and grant a good life."53
While many beliefs center on the bad side of the Fairy, and how individuals can protect themselves from the Fairies' evil deeds,54 there are other stories that lend a different aspect to the relationship between humans and Fairies. During the 19th century, it was a belief in Derbyshire, England that a Fairy midwife would suddenly arrive during a difficult pregnancy. Sidney Addy noted "the fairies come, nobody knows how, bringing with them a little fairy woman, called a midwife, whose eyes are covered with a hood. In
51. Long, E. Croft. "The Placenta in Lore and Legend", in Bulletin of the Medical Library Association #51 (1963), 236.
52. Ross, Anne. FolkloreoftheScottishHighlands. Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing Ltd. 2000, 119.
53. Puckett, Newbell Niles. Popular Beliefs and Superstitions: A Compendium of American Folklore from the Ohio Collection of Newbell Niles Puckett. Edited by Wayland D. Hand. Boston 1981, 136 and UCLA Folklore Archives Record # 3_6107.
54. Such as the Scottish Highland belief that nails driven in the front of the bed will ward off elves while the woman is in "child-bed".
the same mysterious manner as the fairies bring the midwife, they fetch her away, after she has assisted the woman in labor."55
The opposite occurred in Estonian folklore. In this Baltic country, a human midwife was summoned to care for a Fairy woman during her delivery. Not only Fairies but also Dwarves and Water Spirits would contract with a human midwife who would be paid in gold — which promptly turned into coals or leaves.56
Likewise, a bit of folklore from Ohio recorded in the mid-1920s appears to indicate that parents, at times, do things to increase the likelihood of contact between a child and the Fairy. According to Puckett, "green ribbons on a christening robe make a child see fairies."57 It was said in 1960s California, "babies who smile while sleeping are dreaming of fairies."58
Some lore indicates that babies are created by Fairy elves "who bring them to people who want them very much." According to this tale, "the mother pays the elves for her baby by giving them carrots (sic)."59 What a deal! Again the dichotomy between the good, beneficent Fairy and the wicked, vengeful creature is striking.
Fairies & Illness
Other than stealing children, Fairies are also feared for their ability to bring illness and death to humans. Wide varieties of protective measures were developed over time to combat this danger — including bribery. Dr. Max Kahn noted in an article he wrote in the Popular Science Monthly in 1913 that in northern Europe the Fairies "were vested with the dreaded power of inflicting disease. Fairies were supposed to be evil spirits which might be propitiated by giving them a gracious appellation."60
Another way to combat an illness already received was to obtain soil from a churchyard while the minister is still in the pulpit preaching and to place it on the afflicted part. 61 In Norway, it was believed that sores were caused by "black elves of the underworld" and could only be treated by placing a special stone, called a Jorelo in milk and rubbing the milk over the sores.
In southern Slavic countries during the 19th century, incantations were performed with water and burning coals to determine the origins of sickness. Supposedly, the "doctor" was able to determine if God, the Devil, Fairies or witches caused the illness. It is assumed that only in those cases where God caused sickness were extreme remedies not employed.
55. Addy, Sidney Oldall. Household Tales with Other Traditional Remains Collected in the Counties of York, Lincoln, Derby, and Nottingham. London: 1895, 134.
58. UCLA Folklore Archives Record # 23_6106.
59. UCLA Folklore Archives, Record Number 11-5775.
60. Kahn, Max. "Vulgar Specifics and Therapeutic Superstitions" in Popular Science Monthly, #83 (1913), 86.
61. Storaker, Joh. Th. "Sygdom og Forgjo/relse i den Norske Folketro", in Norske Folkeminnelag #20, Oslo 1932, 25.
Even into the 20th century people connected illness and death with spirits of the otherworld. It is easier to believe that some supernatural force is responsible for such tragedy rather than it being a natural occurrence. In New York it was said that "those who have tuberculosis are eventually taken by the fairies."62
In the Philippines, it could be more deadly to say that one had actually seen a Fairy than to be stricken by disease. According to Francisco Demetrio y Radaza, such individuals were often whipped by a priest wielding a cord and could be subject to an exorcism.63
While the Fairy are often blamed for sickness they are also sources for healing knowledge. "Fairy doctors," usually older women, were believed to have received their knowledge from Fairies who, Lady Wilde said, "impart to them the mystical secrets of herbs and where to find them."64 The Fairies secrets were well kept however. They were only divulged on the death-bed and only given to the eldest member of the Fairy doctor's family. These Fairy doctors were well respected in the community, as illnesses were believed to be unable to withstand their medicines. Wilde noted that these Fairy doctors were young girls who had been kidnapped by the Fairies and kept for seven years; "when the girls grow old and ugly," she wrote, "they send them back to their kindred, giving them, however, as compensation, a knowledge of herbs and philters and secret spells, by which they can kill or cure".65
Reportedly these Fairy Doctors mixed their strong potions on May Eve and the potions were such that "no sickness can resist."66
Fairies & Adult Humans
Obviously, children were especially believed to be vulnerable to the powers of the Fairy. However many of the same fears were contained in the minds of adults as well. Human babies were protected from the Fairies, who were believed to steal them; so too were brides. Lady Wilde noted, "a new-married couple should retire to rest at the same time, for if the bride were left alone, the fairies would come and steal her away for the sake of her fine clothes."67 Similar prohibitions protecting adults from the evil ways of the Fairy were also common in the United States in the mid-twentieth century. New-bell Puckett recorded in Cleveland, Ohio the warning "if you walk through the woods at night, and if you see fairies dancing, you'll surely die."68 Another similar bit of folklore from the same area warned people not to build
62. Jones, Louis C. "The Little People" in New York Folklore Quarterly, #18 (1962), 258.
63. Demetrio y Radaza, Francisco. Dictionary of Philippine Folk Beliefs and Customs, vol.2. Philippines: 1970, 370.
64. Wild, Lady. Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions. New York: Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. 1991, 100.
66. Wild, Lady. Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland. London: Chatto and Windus 1919, 104.
their houses on Fairy rings, "because this is where the fairies dance. If you do, all your children will die."69 In Ireland, deliberate precautions were taken to avoid this danger. According to E. Estyn Evans: ".it was at all costs necessary to avoid giving offence to the fairies by building across one of their 'pads'. In Tyrone it is said that 'no man would build a house till he had stuck a new spade into the earth'. If the fairies had not removed it overnight the site was safe."70
These precautions are a sign of a healthy respect for the Fairy. The Irish appear to take the approach of "request and approval" prior to any possible incursion into Fairy territory. Only a few years ago a new road scheduled to be constructed in Ireland was detoured to afford protection of a hawthorn tree said to be sacred to the Fairy. An article in the Irish Times reported, "One of the State's best known folklorists and story tellers...had warned that the destruction of the fairy thorn bush or 'sceach' at Latoon outside Newmarket-on-Fergus to facilitate the bypass plans could result in misfortune and in some cases death for those traveling the proposed new road."71 According to the folklorist, the fairy thorn was a marker for the Kerry fairies to rendezvous in a battle with a group of Connacht fairies and he stressed that sacred land cannot revert to being a normal place simply because men have said it is so.
"Fairies disregard human beings most of the time," relates Messenger, "but they can harm those who disregard or speak ill of them, as well as play 'fairy pranks' out of sheer capriciousness."72
Swan relates one Irish tale of the doings of malevolent Fairies:
"A girl had her face twisted through their influence, and had to go to the priest to be cured. 'He was.one of the old sort, who could work miracles, of whom there are not many nowadays'."73
Sacrifices to elves were common in Nordic countries well after their supposed Christianization had begun. In Norway annual feasts called alfablot, which means "sacrifice to the elves," was held to appease their sometimes-wicked ways.74 Similar sacrifices were annually held in Sweden during the autumn.
Fairies are very protective of their privacy and of the land they reside on. A 19th century folklorist wrote, "Whosoever has muddied the waters of their spring, or caught them combing their hair, or counting their treasures beside their dolmen...almost inevitably dies."75 And, of all days not to chance
71. Deegan, Gordon. "Fairy bush survives the motorway planners" in The Irish Times, Saturday, May 29, 1999.
74. Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press 1988, 40.
upon the fairy, Saturday's are especially bad, "which day, holy to the Virgin mother, is inauspicious for their kind."76
Fairies have had a long association with vegetation and crops in particular. Like other nature spirits, the Fairy may cause plants to grow in abundance or make them wither and die — should they be slighted by the human farmer in some manner. Even the Great Potato Famine of 1846-47 in Ireland was said to be caused by the Fairy. "At the time," wrote W.Y. Evans-Wentz, "the country people in these parts attributed the famine to disturbed conditions in the fairy world."77
Messenger noted that on Inis Beag small whirlwinds are a sign of fairies passing by. Any farmer failing to say "God bless them" when seeing a whirlwind was likely to have his entire crop blown away.
The color green has become synonymous with Fairies in almost every culture. In Estonia, the word for Fairy is vozo, which according to folklorist Aado Lintrop, "means green, verdure, unripe".78 This Udmurt word is perhaps the most telling about the perceived dual nature of the Fairy. Vozo not only means "green" but it is also the basis for the words "sacred," "holy," "evil," and "anger." Green is symbolic of both life and death.
Green has been known for untold ages as the color of the Fairy. Green was so universally recognized as the color of the Fairy that many in Scotland refused to wear it as to do so would be to invite the anger of the Fairy folk. "Greenies" and "greencoaties" were common euphemisms used in Britain for the Fairy. Green was a color shunned by many as being associated with evil fairies and witches.
But why green? Green is associated with nature, with ripening life and with fertility, paganism and the supernatural — things that the Church could not control. Perhaps more importantly green symbolized not only enchantment but also divine beings. Green is also a sacred color of many religious traditions. David Catherine wrote, "much like Sufism, which associates the colour green to a realization of Wholeness/god, Tibetan culture sees the colour green as a container for all other colours."79
During the formation of Christianity, nature was seen to exist for the pleasure and consumption of man. Man was regarded as supreme over na
77. Evans-Wentz, W.Y. The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. Mineola: Dover Publications Inc. 2002, 43. A reprint of the 1911 edition published by Henry Frowde, London.
79. Catherine, David. "The Green Fingerprint: Exploring a critical signature in the quest for the authentic Self". Unpublished paper copyright 2004 by Ufudu Medicinal Arts, South Africa, 8.
ture. That nature should exist as an entity unto herself, with powers beyond those of man, was a thought that put fear into many. Later, nature was viewed as evil and anything associated with nature was seen in a similar way. "By imitative magic," wrote Barbara G. Walker, "wearing green was supposed to encourage mother earth to clothe herself in the green of abundant crops."80 That green represented the power and fertile life of nature slowly came to be associated with evil, and thus pagan, forms bent on the torment of humanity. To the Christian church green was associated with the dead, witches and sexual promiscuity. Thus Fairies, who were mischievous entities of the underworld, part of the Old Race which inhabited many parts of the world prior to man's arrival, became, if not outright evil, close relatives of evil. Green became, over time, associated with bad luck. This is well illustrated by the 19th century writer Patrick Graham. Graham wrote of the Fairy, which he called "the men of peace," that inhabited the Scottish Highlands: "The men of peace, are believed to be always dressed in green; and are supposed to take offence, when any of mortal race presume to wear their favourite colour. The celebrated viscount of Dundee, was dressed in green, when he commanded at the Battle of Killicrankie; and to this circumstance the Highlanders ascribe the disastrous event of that day. It is still accounted peculiarly ominous to any person of his name, to assume this sacred colour."81 Graham also notes that the color green "was probably the appropriate dress of the Druidical Order...in the Battle with the Fingallians, which, according to tradition, finally decided the fortunes of the Druidical Order, their Standard was Green."82 The Radford's note "the colour green is so allied throughout Europe with luck and protection from the tree spirits, that it is...strange to find it regarded at all as an unlucky colour."83 This bit of propaganda was so entrenched in the minds of Europeans in the early 20th century that one "cultured man" was heard to say that the pre-World War I troubles in England all stemmed from the introduction of a green halfpenny stamp.84 Popular superstitions about the color green were abundant in the 19th century. The December 28, 1850 issue of the English periodical Notes and Queries reported, "In a parish adjoining Dartmoor is a green Fairy ring of considerable size, within which a black hen and chickens are occasionally seen at nightfall." Black hens were often considered as embodiments of evil. To wear green was ill advised as green clothes put oneself in the power of the Fairy folk who, in theory, owned the color as their own.
Green as a color has been associated as well with the symbolism of new growth and greenness and it is this association which the Fairy have their
80. Walker, Barbara G. The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Edison: Castle Books 1983, 355.
81. Graham, Patrick. SketchesDescriptiveofthePicturesqueScenery ofPerthshire. Edinburgh 1810, 107-108.
83. Radford, Edwin and Mona A. Encyclopaedia of Superstitions. New York: The Philosophical Library 1949, 137.
link. However, it is also this link that humankind has lost over the centuries that has been reestablished through the Green Man, the Wild Huntsman and the other legends and images of the super-natural. Green is, according to the Doel's, an "extension to the natural world — and the supernatural in both its 'Otherworld' and afterlife elements."85
Brian Stone, a Reader in English Literature at the Open University, most succinctly defines the importance of the color green, "it surprises me that no critic has picked up one very important medieval theological reference to green as the colour of truth...evergreen...is the colour assigned to ever-living and eternal truth."86
We are only capable of guessing about the origins of these tales and if, in fact, the folklore of Fairy is based on some event or people that, while not really representing a mythic race of supernatural beings, did strongly alter oral traditions. Such mythic tales may have spread rapidly through trade and cultural interactions. H.R. Ellis Davidson, historian and former president of the British Folklore Society, summarized the difficulty in her book, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: "The idea of the fairies as a former race who remained hidden from men has been explained as memories of an earlier culture displaced by more powerful invaders, but it might also be based on traditions of the land-spirits, who, as in uninhabited Iceland, possessed the land before settlers came to live there."87
85. Doel, Fran & Geoff. The Green Man in Britain. Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing Ltd. 2001, 25.
86. Stone, Brian. "The Common Enemy of Man", in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. by Brian Stone. London: Penguin Books 1974, 123.
87. Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press 1988, 112.
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