To all those celebrating Litha today, check out Jodi Lee’s wonderful post from last year: “Litha — Night of the Fae“.
Midsummer love to all. And on a more secular note…
20 Jun 2012 1 Comment
To all those celebrating Litha today, check out Jodi Lee’s wonderful post from last year: “Litha — Night of the Fae“.
Midsummer love to all. And on a more secular note…
30 Jun 2011 1 Comment
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…
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.
21 Jun 2011 2 Comments
With excerpts from Creating New Pagan Family Traditions
by Jodi Lee
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
Also known as Midsummer, Summer Solstice or Alban Hefin, Litha generally falls in the third week of June, usually between the 17 and 23 of the month. It is the time of the longest day of the year; after this, each day becomes progressively shorter until Yule, the longest night of the year.
While May 1 is generally regarded as the time when our world is closest to that of the Fae, on this the shortest night of the year, the fae come out to play their tricks, revel in the very energies of life itself, and occasionally lure the odd human into their world.
In Celtic mythology, where the Fae have become the deities and heroes we pay homage to, we see this represented as a battle between the dark and the light – Goronwy going to great lengths to murder Lugh and steal away the love of the flower-bride, Blodeuwedd; the Oak King passing in favor of the Holly King; Mordred murdering his father/uncle, King Arthur, and Camelot fading into shadowy legend.
Traditionally, this is a great time to harvest wild or cultivated young herbs to stock your herbal (magickal) pantry. Young plants have a great energy, and are far more likely to recover quickly from a small harvesting. Pagan folk follow the rules of nature, where one must request the permission of the spirit of the plant itself. Taking gentle hold of the plant or branch, politely ask if the spirit will share its bounty. You’ll know if you receive permission, a tingle of energy will enter your hand, just a small one. Take no more than a third of the plant as any more may kill the herb and insult the Goddess. You should also always leave a gift, such as a coin or a pebble to catch the eye of guardian Fae, who may want to follow you home.
If you wish to see the Fae, gather a sprig of wild fern and rub it gently over your eyelids. Don’t forget to put some garden rue in your pockets though, or you’ll be missing the next morning! Of course, if you wish to see the Fae and be taken to their world, you’ll better your chances if you step inside a Faery Ring. Stories differ as to what makes a ring, but according to the lore passed down in my family, a ring of mushrooms was the entrance to the earth sprites and brownies realm, a ring of flowers was that which led to the pixies and leprechauns, and a ring of beautiful, thick green grass led you to the elves and elder Fae. It is within these rings that the Fae and other assorted nature-spirits hold their Litha celebrations.
Sometimes, if we’re lucky, the Fae will join our own Midsummer parties. If the weather holds fair, solstice night is the perfect evening to have a meal with friends, build a fire and roast marshmallows, have a quiet drink or a sing-a-long. Should you hear the cracking of a branch or the sound of a bird’s twitter in the dark – it could be an otherworldly visitor come to share the fire. Always leave a bit of the meal, wine or spirits, and definitely a marshmallow or two just outside the light given off by the fire, away from prying eyes. This will please the Fae and lessen the chances of their playing their merry will against you.
Our grove has a traditional meal that we share either at Beltaine or Litha, depending on the weather and availability of the particular meat – lamb. In years past, when it has been unavailable, we’ve made do with an out and out barbeque. For the vegetarian and vegan folks, we’ve had tofu burgers and dogs, and the rest of us have a cache of pot-luck meats, often including steak, chicken, burgers, sausage and hot dogs. There have been those occasions where we’ve had ALL of the above, spread out over a full afternoon and evening. It is my belief that those of the Faery realms do enjoy a wide variety of foods and drink, including meat and alcohol. We always leave out a generous portion of both to please the local courts.
Does it really matter if it is wild animals, or the local house cat that nibbles at the offerings? Not really. This is the time to be fanciful, to break with the drudgery of daily life and simply believe.
My suggestion to all who wish to see, speak to or dance with the Fae this coming Midsummer – plan a small get together, have a barbeque with plenty of greens, fresh vegetables and fruits. Strawberries are usually starting to become available, and those served with cream or whipped cream would truly delight the Fae who may stop by to celebrate with you.
There are still a few hours to enter to win Jodi’s first “Creating New Pagan Family Traditions” chapbook: Litha. See last night’s post for the idea!
20 Jun 2011 2 Comments
Tonight, to accompany the strange and often beautiful No Such Thing, we were lucky to snag photographer (also, editor and author) Jen St. Louis to talk about her family experience with Icelandic fae. How cool is that? If there are links to images in the post, click on them for a serious treat, and you can find the rest of Jen’s work at Jen St. Louis Photogprahy.
And definitely watch the elf sex video, too. (You’ll see what I mean. It’s brilliant.)
By Jen St. Louis
Ah, Iceland. What’s not to love about a country of glaciers, volcanoes, and sulphur-spewing geysers… and whose capital city has its very own Elf School?
My great-grandparents were called West Icelanders, having come from a farm northwest of Reykjavik. They emigrated to Canada in the early 1900s with their two small children; a few years later, in 1915, my grandmother became the second of their children born outside of Iceland. My grandmother – Amma in Icelandic – and my great aunt, the only two from that side who had a significant influence on my life, held onto their Icelandic heritage with a ferocity that would have made their Viking ancestors proud.
They spoke Icelandic to each other, like it was their own private language (which it was, since my grandfather didn’t speak a word of it, nor did my mom or her siblings… though apparently my mom spoke it fluently with her Amma, despite having absolutely no memory of ever understanding the language now); they had paintings of Icelandic landscapes hanging on the walls, and a woven tapestry of a typical volcanic countryside above the living room couch; I admired runic symbols on jewellery or engraved on polished lava; I have pictures of myself wearing beautiful, hand-knit Icelandic sweaters from the time I could walk (don’t ask me how many I have in my closet right now… it’s rather shameful for someone to have that many sweaters, I realize, but I love them). My mom was subjected to strange Icelandic foods from which, fortunately, I was mostly spared. I don’t remember hearing too many folk stories, but I do have vivid memories of knowing about the Norse god Thor from a very early age, and trolls. I was actually quite terrified of some of the troll figurines my great aunt had in her living room; they just creeped me out.
But I don’t ever remember any talk of fairies, and neither does my mom. Which is why I was so surprised, when looking at my mom’s pictures from her first trip to Iceland a few years back, to see pictures of tiny little houses in someone’s yard. When she told me they were fairy houses, I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t. At all.
I finally got to Iceland for the first (but definitely not last) time last year, on a mother-daughter trip. Our first day in Reykjavik, we took a walk through a nature reserve near our hotel, just on the outskirts of the main city. As we walked through the woods, I noticed neat piles of berries and nuts sitting on a tree stump. It struck me as odd, and when I commented on it, my mom informed me that it was an offering to the huldufólk (hidden folk) – apparently it’s not uncommon for Icelanders to set out food in areas where these magical beings are thought to be.
According to folklore, Iceland is absolutely lousy with huldufólk, a group that includes dwarfs, gnomes, fairies, trolls, and elves (though some consider elves to be a unique group, called the álfar). According to which resource you choose to believe, anywhere between 50% and 80% of Icelanders believe in the existence of huldufólk, and as many as 90% “take notice” of them.
(Now, when I asked my cousin Helga – who works for the Icelandic tourist board, incidentally – she played down the claims that so many Icelanders eagerly believe in magical creatures. “The statistics are not that crazy,” she insisted. Hmmm. Methinks I smell a cover up.)
So, what does it mean to “take notice” of the huldufólk? Well, in this case, it means that the belief in even the possibility of the huldufólk existing is so strong that engineers regularly re-route the construction of new roads or the laying of pipelines or cables to avoid sites that are supposed to be of some importance to huldufólk. There are actually mediums who are brought in to consult on construction projects that experience greater than normal delays and problems – presumably, because the huldufólk are unhappy with the plans.
Want to learn more about the huldufólk? Well, good news! Simply enrol for an afternoon of learning at the Icelandic Elf School in Reykjavik. You can also find more than a few tours throughout the island that cater to the mythology of the huldufólk; in many a town, you can find maps pinpointing out known spots allegedly occupied by huldufólk – sort of a fae version of the map to the stars’ homes in Beverly Hills. A good bet for a map or a guided elf-finding tour is in the town of Hafnarfjordur, just south of Reykjavik; it’s known as one of the most huldufólk –populated places in the country.
When you look at Iceland, with its dramatic and stark-yet-stunningly-beautiful landscapes, it’s easy to see why stories about huldufólk became so common. It’s so otherworldly that I strongly believe Lord of the Rings should’ve been filmed there rather than in New Zealand. The landscape, often described as lunar in areas where the lava flows have taken over, just lends itself so well to this kind of fantastical mythology. When you look at them long enough, the rockscapes often take on humanoid forms. There are spots throughout the country where strange rock formations are tied to legends of trolls being caught in the sun and turned into stone. One of the most famous such is the beach at Vik, on the southern-most tip of the island, where the stunning sea stack rock formations are said to be the remains of trolls who were caught outside at sunrise.
Two hours north of Reykjavik lies the Snæfellsnes peninsula, purported to be the most magical (literally) region in Iceland. Driving along the winding road, craggy volcanic mountains line the way, with water seeping through small cracks in the lava form countless waterfalls that seem to appear out of nowhere. It’s truly stunning, and it’s not hard to imagine the hillsides housing a healthy population of huldufólk.
One of the main attractions on the peninsula is the Snæfellsjökull glacier, which lies on top of a dormant volcano. This is the precise spot which, according to Jules Verne’s writings, is the entrance to the centre of the Earth. Many Icelanders claim the area is a source of other-worldly energy – in fact, they claim it’s one of the Earth’s seven energy sources. What that means, exactly, I’m not sure, but it seems to be important. Every summer, visitors from around the world congregate at the glacier for several days to mediate and absorb this mysterious energy. (Better hurry if you want to see the glacier, though – thanks to global warming, all of Iceland’s glaciers are shrinking at alarming rates. Some scientist believe the glaciers will all but disappear in 100 years; the estimates for Snæfellsjökull fall around as little as 50 years.)
Iceland is a study in contrasts, besides the glaciers and volcanoes that shape the country. It boasts a 99.9% literacy rates and consistently ranks in the top 10 countries in the world for quality of life, yet their Road Authority has an elf medium on speed dial. Clearly, some Icelanders take the huldufólk more seriously than others. Like the 150 people who, in 1982, visited the NATO base in Keflavik to determine whether or not the US jets were a danger to the elves in the area.
I’ll leave you now with the journalist who wrote a book on how to have sex with Icelandic elves. No, really. There are even stick-figure illustrations, and she claims to be speaking from experience. And she seems shockingly normal, all things considered. Don’t believe me? Watch the video. It’s actually pretty awesome.
09 Jun 2011 1 Comment
Today, Alexandra Seidel on Japanese Fae–or something very like them, anyhow.
By Alexandra Seidel
Suppose your average Fae creature were to emigrate, where would they go? This is, of course, a rhetorical question. I will be assuming here that they packed their bags and went for Japan, more or less straight. (With China being so big and perfectly in the way, some decided to take a shortcut. Possibly those same Fae wouldn’t ask for directions and settled somewhere in Wudang or what have you, thus forming Fae outposts in China; this will not be a topic here.)
But Japan, why would there be anything Fae-like in Japan?
Japan is traditionally the home to many deities, gods that were worshipped locally or by certain clans. This is commonly labeled Shinto and considered Japan’s indigenous religion. However, when Buddhism came to the islands in the first millennium A.D., it soon molded together with the old, becoming inseparable and thus practiced almost everywhere alongside Shinto.
The thing that reeks of Fae in all this are the creatures that are neither gods nor ghosts but something other, strange, something in this world but not of it, something quite apart from it. The Japanese term that is mostly used here is youkai (妖怪). It is translated sometimes as monster or demon or devil, but all of the above contain certain Western preconceptions of morals and values that are not quite applicable, so throughout this texts, when speaking of the Others, I will be using youkai instead.
Japan is traditionally the home to many gods. It is not surprising that the varieties of youkai one might run into when out on a stroll should be multifarious as well. I will be looking at a few examples of creatures that share similarities with ‘our’ Fae.
1) The kappa (河童)
The kappa is a popular creature that is documented since medieval times. The name literally means river child. This creature lives in bodies of water all over Japan. A kappa is about the size of a ten-year-old child, but nowhere near as nice. Granted, some ten-year-olds are not exactly nice either, but they wouldn’t drag anyone into their lake to drown them, would they? Kappas are known to drown people, cattle and horses to drain their blood, to steal vegetables from fields, and obviously they enjoy a game of sumou with passersby every now and then. Kappa don’t look nice either. Descriptions vary, but most agree that they are hairy, have webbed fingers and toes and a darkish green complexion. On its head, the kappa carries water from its home in a sort of bowl. This water is the source of its considerable strength, and if you want to win a sumou match against the kappa, you bow to it. According to Japanese custom the bow has to be returned, making the water spill and the kappa weak, sometimes even to the point of immobility. Aren’t you glad that there are manners such as these?
Cucumbers are another issue with the kappa. They love them. In Japan, you really should not eat cucumbers before you go swimming in a kappa infested lake; you know, the kappa might just mistake you for a cucumber. Or it might consider you a nice wrapping for the cucumber, thinking along the lines of exotic sushi. However, feeding the kappa cucumbers with your name carved in it seems to appease it, at least for a time, and you are free to cross rivers without the fear of being drowned by some tiny, monkey like creature that smells like dead fish.
While the kappa is not a pretty horse, the creature does share some traits with the kelpie, of course. The similarity might just tell us how people have always venerated bodies of water to the point of thinking them holy that they could be feared, but thinking in terms of Fae migration just sounds more interesting.
2) The tengu (天狗)
Tengu are mountain dwelling creatures, arrogant and vicious, wild and powerful. They are frequently depicted as bird or crow-like creatures with claws, elongated noses or beaks and red faces, red being the color commonly symbolizing youkai. Probably associated with their ominous bird nature is their command of winds and storms as well as their ability to appear anywhere at will. If a tengu happens to be killed or gravely wounded, they will turn into a bird, often a kestrel or a crow. In some pictures they are also depicted as monk-like creatures, possibly because they have been said to have taught monks and prominent fighters in the ways of martial arts or asceticism.
Like many other youkai, tengu are shape shifters and creators of illusions so powerful that they will cloud the senses of all but the most devout. To play out their pranks, tengu don’t mind getting all close and personal; they will often take on the form of humans to do any sort of mischief. As such, they seem almost harmless, annoying tricksters perhaps, but not that dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Among the youkai, tengu have a reputation for abducting people to their mountain abodes, often children, and holding them for weeks at a time. If the victims are released, they have been found wandering in the mountains, their minds blown to smithereens.
Later in history, tengu would actually help parents find lost children. Along with the idea of them as teachers to warriors and ascetics, tengu were thus not just evil and arrogant, but could show a merciful side, a tendency often found in other Japanese divinities and something that may have come with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan.
The tengu is also known in China, and it may have come to Japan from there.
3) Yuki-onna (雪女)
Yuki-onna is a snow maiden (or literally, snow woman). She is a real beauty, impossibly tall, white haired with skin pale as snow almost to the point of being transparent. She is known to wear a white kimono while she is out wandering in the cold.
Just like the tengu, this lady abducts children to her realm where she keeps them as her own. As if that were not enough, yuki-onna is known to kill travelers (often men) or lead them astray if she feels scorned or for no reason at all. Home invasion that results in turning the inhabitants into icicles is not unheard of either. She may also appear as a woman holding a child that she asks travelers to hold. If they do, the child rapidly grows in size until it crushes the person, or it turns them into frozen corpses. Parents who are looking for their children out in the cold are especially susceptible to this ruse, possibly a way for yuki-onna to ensure that nobody will ever bother her about the children she took.
4) Hyakkiyagyou (百鬼夜行)
This is not one youkai, but many. A hyakkiyagyou is a procession of a hundred demons through the night-time city streets. This was said to happen about once a month on certain dates, which scholars would calculate and note on calendars so people could avoid being out and caught unawares. Alone the sight of a hyakkiyagyou could kill. If not, demons might blind (or do something worse to) a human onlooker for disturbing their festivities, their gathering. Stumbling into this other-world, into this world apart from ours was obviously considered a taboo that had severe consequences.
Of course there are many other youkai, and many of them like the kitsune or the tanuki play tricks on humans or even possess them. Sometimes those same youkai fall in love with a human and take on human form to be with them. The examples above, the kappa with all its similarities to kelpies, the tengu and yuki-onna who abduct people to their realm and create illusions, and then the hyakkiyagyou, a demon parade which is reminiscent of the Wild Hunt or Fae gatherings in general, are the ones that show most closely how Fae and youkai connect in how they interact with the unwary human.
Youkai are not Fae, but they are alike, emigrants or not. So if you are in Japan, don’t be a Yeats, and always be home before dark. And if you want to go for a swim, remember, no cucumbers!
Michael Dylan Foster, Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai, University of California Press 2009
Royall Tyler, Japanese Tales, Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library, 1987
The Obakemono Project, http://www.obakemono.com/
[All images link to their source at wikimedia]
Alexandra has never made any acquaintances whatsoever with Fae or youkai or anything the like…unless you count gong fu masters. She writes of the strange though: her poems and stories can be found at
Strange Horizons, The Red Penny Papers, Cabinet des Fées and others and regular reviews of the strange and beautiful want to be read at http://www.fantastique-unfettered.com/. Alexandra is a poetry editor for Fantastique Unfettered and Niteblade, and in between all that, she manages to keep that blog with claws: http://www.tigerinthematchstickbox.blogspot.com
04 Jun 2011 1 Comment
My commentary on the next five chapters of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will show up tomorrow night, rather than tonight, due to a scheduling somethingorother. Wrong kind of leaves on the track… we wanted oak, ash, and thorn, but got oleander, acacia, and thistles instead.