Tonight is our last night of Fae Awareness for 2011. We’ll have a summary post up sometime this weekend with indexed information and films, of course, but we wanted to end it on a helpful note. We are, after all, raising awareness. To that end, we’ve convinced author Meghan Brunner to return and leave us with…
A Final Word of Caution (aka Play Nice And Don’t Piss Them Off)
People are by nature control freaks. They do not like things they can’t understand; just look at all the stories about the origin of humans, or a rainbow, or any number of naturally occurring things. Likewise, they don’t like it when something is beyond their influence, so there’s nothing like a superstition to point out a culture’s nagging worries.
People scoff at superstitions. They’re okay for primitives and children, sure, but what rational adult thinks that stepping on a crack will ACTUALLY break their mother’s back? Still, horror movies love to capitalize on those little nuggets, a healthy portion of the population still thinks twice before picking up a tails-up penny, and most tall buildings don’t have an elevator button for the thirteenth floor.
Better to be safe than sorry, after all.
And so the superstitions continue through generations, little precautions designed to ward off the otherwise uncontrollable: injury, death, misfortune, bad luck… and, frequently, the Fae.
These are not fluffy tea-party pixies flitting about Victorian gardens giggling and dressing themselves in flower petals. They’re capricious, powerful, and not to be trifled with. They might fix your shoes – but they might also curdle your milk or steal your children. (Heck, it’s well known that even Santa Claus, that “Jolly Old Elf”, might leave you coal!) Given that, it’s not surprising the host of folk wisdom on how to appease them or divert their attention from one’s self and loved ones. In Ireland, especially, the code of rules on how to interact with the Fae has developed almost into an art form… and anyone who doesn’t think that the Fae still have a vibrant presence in that culture has obviously not noticed that leprechauns seem to be the mascot of St. Patrick’s Day, second only to the shamrock.
The advice starts with the most basic: what to call them, and a lot of it involves buttering them up. Some call them Folk Under The Hill or Wee Folk, but as not all of them are small or live under hills, this could prove a bit limiting. Some believe that even calling them “fairies” (or anything similar) will invoke their ire, and instead use They, Themselves, or Them That’s In It. When in doubt, Fair Family, Good People, Good Neighbors, and Kindly Ones are good appellations. After all, the Fae are always near and listen without being seen, so it behooves a person to speak well of them.
The next most important tip for staying on their good side: don’t get in their way. If they’re at work, don’t bother them. Never throw out water after dark without giving warning lest some land on an unsuspecting Fae’s head, and especially don’t build on a fairy mound or a fairy trod. The mounds are usually well identified in local legends, but staying clear of spontaneously occurring mushroom rings is a good idea as well. Fairy trods are the roads between the mounds and are seen as lines that are a different shade of green in the fields. Any structure erected on a trod is said to be “in the way” and often burns down. If the structure does survive, those in it (be they human or livestock) usually die shortly after taking up residence.
Of far more immediate concern (after all, how often is a house or barn built?) is fairy abduction. The Fae love all that is beautiful and don’t take rejection well; for this reason they often simply cart off with those things and people that catch their fancy. This is even more of a hazard on Fridays, as the Fae have special power on that day. Singing alone by a lake is flat-out tempting fate, as the Fae are tremendously fond of music and are even more likely to take an interest. It’s also important for no door to be left open after sunset on May eve, and young people should not go alone on the hills lest they be taken. Newlyweds must retire to bed at the same time so that the Fae do not steal the bride out of covetousness for her fine clothes. To protect infants, salt is tied in their dress or a branch over their cradle – alder for a boy and mountain ash for a girl. And for those who find themselves in Faerie must remember that eating or drinking anything offered will guarantee they can never return home. (That or they’ll have the second sight for the rest of their life… but who wants to take that gamble?)
This is not to say, of course, that the Fae have no redeeming qualities from a mortal’s perspective. Those Fae that attach themselves to a household are especially welcomed, as they help with the chores after everyone has gone to sleep. They’ve been known to mend shoes, churn butter, spin, bake, mend, and any other number of other tasks. Again, it’s important not to interrupt them at their work. Keep in mind, too, that they’re not servants or employees. Never leave wages for them. However, they appreciate kindnesses paid in turn and welcome fire in the grate and any food that is left out. Although they detest salt, they’re known to be partial to cakes, wine, apples, nuts, berries, honey, corn, flour, whiskey, butter, and milk. Such is their love for dairy that when a child spills milk it’s customary to simply say “That is to Themselves, leave it to Them and welcome” and never scold the child, for fear of invoking the Fae’s ire. Indeed, some farmers will refrain from milking one cow of their herd, leaving it for the Fae’s pleasure. (Other cows often get primroses tied onto their tails to discourage the Fae from raiding the rest of the herd as well.)
Most Fae have a weakness for pretty things, and sometimes they can’t help themselves from helping themselves to any lovely trinkets around the house. In most cases it’s wisest to take this as a compliment on one’s taste and let them have what they’ve taken. Often they’ll tire of it and return it in an unlikely spot when they’re finished. However, sometimes it’s imperative to have an item returned in a timely fashion. The Fae aren’t unreasonable, and a polite request and a trade will go a long way towards the reappearance of the missing object. Leaving out food they like is a good start, but faster results come if another sparkly (especially silver, moonstone, pearl, or quartz) is offered as well.
Ultimately, if you want them to be Good Neighbors, be a good neighbor in turn. It’s common sense that when the Fae cannot be avoided, it’s a good idea to play nice with them. They’re old, they have nearly infinite lifespans, and if you piss them off, they often have nothing better to do with the next couple centuries than harass the following seven generations of your bloodline.
Carry some iron for protection in emergencies, and don’t forget to check for buried power lines and fairy trods before digging.
Barry, Sheila Anne. Irish Cures, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions. New York: Sterling Pub., 1991. Print.
Knight, Sirona. Celtic Traditions: Druids, Faeries, and Wiccan Rituals. New York: Citadel/Kensington Pub., 2000. Print.