Bridging gaps between science and leprechauns.
Bridging gaps between science and leprechauns.
Today, June 24th is International Fairy Day! Yes — we have a day for everything – from black cats, to goths, to grandparents, so it should not surprise us that fairies also get their due!
Whether you think of them as dryads, sprites, red caps or the tall stately race of Sidhe, today is a day to honor them – and possibly lift the veils that separate our world from theirs. Fairies are a topic close to my heart, so I thought I’d do some sleuthing to give you some weird, scary and thought provoking facts.
A (Very Brief ) History of the Fae
The word “fairy” derives from the Latin fata, meaning “goddess of fate” and from the Old French faerie, meaning “enchantment”. Hence, a fairy tale is a tale of enchantment, not necessarily about fairies. Fairy folklore has been explored in just about every culture known to humankind.
The earliest recorded mention of fairies comes from 1000 BC in The Iliad, where Greek poet Homer wrote “watery fairies dance in mazy rings”. The next oldest recordings come from 12th century England, by historian Gervase of Tilbury. He wrote of small fairies called ‘portunes’, and a fairy hill where a knight could call for a stallion at midnight, then challenge a fairy to a duel. Gervase also wrote about fairy lovers — troops of naked men and women who appeared at night, and mentioned the idea of human virgins being given ‘Second Sight’. Geoffrey Chaucer, circa 1380, also alluded to fairies in The Wife of Bath’s Tale from Canterbury Tales.
How did fairies come to be? There are several legends that explain the origins of fairies. One belief is that when Lucifer was cast out of heaven, some of the angels followed him. Most of them ended up in hell, but some got stuck in a type of earthly realm, or interdimensional earth. This was the realm of fae, where they remained.
Another belief holds that fairies are simply nature spirits, ever present in the elements. They always have been and they always will be — sylphs of the air, nereids of the water, gnomes of the earth and salamanders of the fire.
Another theory states that fairies are spirits of the dead, changed to a supernatural form. This theory became popular during Victorian times, when ‘death cults’ were a large part of society.
Although fairies are always in vogue, they seemed to have had their literature and publicity heydays particularly in the 16th – 18th centuries. Some folklorists claim that during these simpler, more naturalistic times, fairies were visible and even lived side by side with humans.
However, as our world became more industrialized, fairies, being allergic to metal and machinery, had to hide deeper within their realms. Eventually human beings could scarcely see them at all.
Shakespeare & the Changelings
Of course, Shakespeare famously wrote of fairies in his play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and also in ‘The Tempest’. During Shakespeare’s childhood years in Stratford, most folk had a very real belief in fairies. Fairies were more than just ethereal and transient beings, but part and parcel of the culture. One theme of Midsummer Night’s Dream is the changeling child that fairy queen Titania tries to protect.
Country folk in Shakespeare’s time had a deep fear of changeling encounters. They thought fairies would come at night and kidnap their babies – leaving a replacement called a ‘changeling’ which was often a sick or weak fairy.
Fairies were particularly eager to kidnap human boys, and for this reason, boys were dressed in girl’s clothes. Their hair would be let to grow long – thus fooling the fairies into thinking the boy was a girl, and therefore saving him from being kidnapped. When the little boy was seven years old, he could finally be ‘breeched’ – that is, put in his first pair of britches rather than a girl’s gown – and his hair could finally be cut.
The Unusual Case of Brigid Cleary
One horrific, real life fairy encounter happened in 1895 Ireland, when Michael Cleary, a Tipperary farmer, threw his wife Brigid in the fire because he believed she was a changeling.
Sounds bizarre, right? Especially since it occurred at the relatively late date of 1895.
Brigid, reportedly a hot, 26 year old girl-about-town, either got caught up with the wrong group of fairies, or took ill, depending on how you look at it.
One court transcript of the case states: “Michael Cleary claimed that his wife Brigid had been taken by fairies and they had left a changeling in her place. On the 15th of March, 1895, Michael Cleary, having spent three days in various rituals intended to force the changeling to leave and bring his wife back, set fire to her.”
And Michael was not working alone! He and nine other relatives of Brigid were put on trial for her death. In the end, Michael and two other men were convicted and served time.
Fairies and Witches
Of course, the fairies aren’t all bad; they also teach us things, give clairvoyance and grant magical powers. Fairies have a longstanding symbiotic relationship with witches. There are several historical documents which attest to this.
A 1566 pamphlet printed in London detailed the interrogation of the ‘Cunning Man’ (aka witch) John Walsh, who claimed to have midnight meetings with the Fey court on various mounds and barrows in Dorset.
In 16th century Wales, historian Giraldus Cambrensis wrote an account of a boy named Elidorus who was led to an underground realm where he met “an honorable and devout fairy race” who taught him their language.
A Scottish woman named Elspeth Reoch was accused of witchcraft and tried in Kirkwall on March 12, 1616. At her trial, Elspeth claimed she had received instructions on how to acquire magical powers when she was twelve years old, staying with an aunt in Lochaber. There she saw “two fairy men” by a loch. After taking her a little way away from her relatives’ home, one of the men offered to teach her how to gain the second sight:
“And she being desirous to knaw said how could she ken that. And he said tak an eg and rost it. And tak the sweit of it thre Sondais and with onwashid handis wash her eyes quhairby she sould sei and knaw any thing she desyrit.”
(My best translation – she boils an egg and uses the water to wash her eyes for three consecutive Sundays. She is then given clairvoyant powers.)
Elspeth also professed to being able to cure illness by reciting chants while plucking petals from the melefour herb. She was a vagabond wanderer and a ‘loose woman’ — having had many sexual encounters with men, both human and fairy. She gave birth to several children who may or may not have been entirely human…
Elspeth was found guilty of witchcraft and executed by strangulation.
Andro Mann, who was put on trial for witchcraft at Aberdeen in 1598, spoke of his many encounters with the Queen of Elphame (queen of elves realm.)
“The Quene of Elphen, promesit ot the, that thow suld knaw all thingis, and suld help and cuir all sorts of seikness, except stand deid… and thow confessis that thow can heal the falling seikness [epilepsy], bairnes, bed and all sort of vther seikness…”
(My best translation – the fairy queen teaches him to cure all sorts of sickness, but not to raise the dead. He cures epilepsy, helps babies, and cures many other things…)
Mann also confessed that on the Holy Rood Day, the Queen of Elphame and her court appeared out of the snow, riding white horses. She and her companions had human shapes, “yet were as shadows”, and that they were “playing and dancing whenever they pleased.” Andro also stated the Queen was a shape shifter and “she can be old or young as she pleases”.
Marion Grant, of the same coven as Andro Mann, claimed to witness the queen as a “fine woman, clad in a white walicot.” Similarly, accused witch Isobel Gowdie’s confession described the “Qwein of Fearrie” as handsomely (“brawlie”) clothed in white linen and in white and brown clothes, and providing more food than Isobel could eat.
Dead Man Talkin’
Bessie Dunlop, who was accused of witchcraft in 1576, confessed that she had contact with the spirit of a dead man named Thom Reid. Thom was one of “the good neighbours or brownies, who dwelt at the Court of Faery and gude wychtis that wynnitin the Court of Elfame.”
** I should note that the ‘good neighbors’ are a general term for fairies, and ‘brownies’ are a certain type of house fairy who may inhabit your home to do some cooking and cleaning. (I know! I want one!)
Bessie stated the fairy court had come to take her away, but she refused to go. This angered Thom. Thom then took Bessie by the apron and “wald haif had hir gangand with him to Elfame.” (Thom forced her into going with him to elves’ realm.)
Bessie was told that the queen had secretly visited her before, and according to Thom, when Bessie lay in bed in child-birth, it was the “Quene of Elfame” who in the guise of a stout woman, had offered her a drink and prophesied her child’s death which came to pass.
** It is helpful to remember that all these people were under oath and on trial for their lives. This leads me to wonder – if the stories of Elphame were NOT true — why would they volunteer such detailed and elaborate lies? They had to know they would definitely anger the authorities, thus ensuring their own deaths. Hmmm…
Fairies and UFOs
Now the fun part!
The 20th and 21st centuries have seen a plethora of recorded data on people who claim to have been kidnapped by aliens. However, many of these encounters have astonishing similarities to changeling stories and fairy encounters of old.
Some UFO investigators believe that so called ‘extra terrestrials’ are actually beings of planet earth. They have been living here the whole time, but hidden in other dimensions. These are called ‘Ultra terrestrials’.
Consider some astounding similarities of alien encounters and fairy encounters:
1) Both are kidnappers! Fairies are well known for kidnapping people. UFO aliens are also known to kidnap people, abduction being the most common recorded encounter.
2) Time is different. Those who are abducted by aliens report incidents of missing time, a phenomenon very similar to time lapses reported by people taken to and returned from “fairyland”. (One day in fairy land might equal a whole year in human time. )
3) They look alike! Fairies, like modern aliens, are usually slim creatures with large magical eyes, high cheekbones and pointed ears.
4) They both use magical devices. Many reports of alien abduction include “power rods” used to paralyze abductees — just as fairies wield “magic wands”.
5) Both are obsessed with human fertility and stealing babies. A large part of modern UFO literature involves aliens abducting women, impregnating them, and later abducting them again to take the unborn baby right out of the womb. Abductees also report of eggs and sperm being taken. Besides the changeling phenomenon, fairy encounters often tell of men and women becoming sterile or barren after their visit.
6) Fairies are closely associated with nature, just as modern aliens also display a certain obsession with environmental issues. One common alien abduction scenario involves aliens showing ‘movies’ that depict environmental degradation, then giving their victims lectures on caring for the earth before they release them.
Beam Me Up, Scottie!
Quantum physicists tell us that many additional dimensions of reality actually do exist. There are, reportedly, eleven different dimensions that can be mathematically proven on a quantum level. In these added dimensions, it is possible to move through time and space with ease, be two places at once, and do other cool Star -Trekkie type things. This too is the stuff of fairyland. Besides, everybody knows that Spock is actually a fairy 🙂
If Extra/ Ultra Terrestrials can exist “above” or “beyond” our normal time-space reality, that means they can easily see us, trick us, manipulate us and meddle in our affairs. Which is what fairies have been doing for years! We, on the other hand (usually) can’t see them at all.
Seeing and Attracting Fairies
Fairies are known to cross the veils mostly during the Sabbats – especially Beltane, Midsummer and Samhain. However, International Fairy Day — although a modern creation — must be an excellent time to attract them as well!
If you would like to encounter fairies, it is best to keep yourself attuned with nature and tapped into meditative states. Also, they often appear in dreams.
The best places to see them are: river banks, seashores, beaches, intersections of roads, foothills, thresholds, stairwells, landings and hallways. (In short, where one thing turns into another — water turning into earth, rooms connecting, etc )
The best times to see them are daybreak, noon, sunset and midnight, (This too is when one time turns in to another — day to night, AM to PM.)
Legend has it that they are partial to sweets and milk – so if you want to attract them, it is best to leave some sweets on your table or in your garden.
Also, they like bells! Hang a wind chime in your window, and let it ring out in the open breeze, and one of them just may come through your window…
But be careful. Fairies are known to be kinky, provocative, sexually aggressive and mischievous! If you end up in fairyland you will be changed forever 🙂
Happy Fairy Day!
There is an incline in the forest where bluebells blossom, dense as grapes, heady as lilac. I stretch out on my back. Green stems, like octopus tendrils, tangle my hair. The land shifts perpendicular. Down, down I slide, damp earth brushing my elbows. I land with a soft jolt onto ripe grass. The smell is beetroot, radish and earthworm.
Underground rogues, fey and trolls
guard hidden treasure
beneath marbled walls. They keep
secrets, bargain dark wishes.
From a fog, metallic as pyrite, they emerge. Blue skin, sapphire eyes that stare still as stone. One of them hands me a violin. Aged from wear and tear, its wood is warped, strings stretched. With a rickety bow, I play. Joyful noise spills from my fingers.
And yet. I do not know a single note.
Happy Summer Solstice! “Always go with fairies.”
My child was not frail at birth. Oh no! He was strong, fit and robust. I named him Gideon the Tanner’s Son. My husband, you see, worked in the trade of leather. Gideon was my first child. The first to survive, anyway. Before that I had borne three.
My first baby died in my arms, umbilical cord wrapped round her neck. Poor thing never cried, never gasped a first breath, never even had a chance at life. My second, a girl as well, became riddled with the sweating sickness and passed before her first year. And my third, a boy, was born with no hands. He had only tiny withered stumps that protruded from his wrists like small quivering worms.
“Mathilde!” my husband shrieked at me, as if this malformation were somehow my fault. “What have you wrought? What have you brought forth? A demon child! Lack of hands, lack to make a living!” My husband then snatched the baby from me and threw him in the fire.
Flames leaped and ash sizzled as the baby’s flesh burnt like a crust of over-baked bread. My heart wrenched. I could not bear to watch it. I fled from the cottage, even in my feeble condition. I carried the afterbirth in my arms, for I knew it should be buried in the forest as a gift to the fair folk. I did not want my husband to destroy that as well! It was then I came upon the blue fairy.
This was not so strange a meeting as one might assume. Fairies were a-plenty in our forest, if one only had Sight to see. The blue fairy was tall with skin the color of turquoise and blue tangled hair that matted like seaweed across her face.
She did not ask what vexed me, for she already knew. “Fret not Mathilde,” she told me. “Soon you are to deliver another boy child. He shall be hale and healthy, and live to full adulthood. He shall wed and bear many children of his own.”
I was overjoyed at this news, so much so that tears poured down my cheeks. The blue fairy smiled and dried my eyes with her long hair. “Be aware, though, my lady,” she cautioned. “The survival of your son depends upon one condition.”
Oh, the fairies! They were sneaky, evil things! Although they promised much they always asked much in return.
“Be not suspicious, my lady,” she told me.
The blue fairy had read my mind, knew my thoughts before I uttered them. This was a bothersome problem when dealing with the fair folk! One must monitor one’s thoughts, keep them secret. This, of course, was quite impossible.
“Alright,” I sighed. “What then is the condition?”
“You must let this son do as he pleases. He shall be free to take any occupation, wed any lass he so chooses, live his life in a manner he himself sees fit. Do not impose restrictions upon him, for if you do, the consequences will be vile.”
Exactly nine months after the blue fairy’s promise, I delivered Gideon into the world.
My son grew sturdy and tall, a child of the earth and sun. He loved animals and all things in nature. He also loved to draw. With chalks and inks he drew the likeness of everything he saw; the forest and trees, the flowers, the cows, my own countenance and even, upon occasion, that of my husband.
When Gideon reached his seventh name day, my husband attempted to teach him the trade of tanning hides.
Gideon, however, could not abide this. He wept at the very thought of skinning an animal for profit. The cows, he claimed, were his family as much as my husband and myself. He immediately ran to the garden with his chalks and began drawing the flowers.
“That is pish and nonsense!” my husband scowled. “Doodles and scribbles! What profit could possibly come of it?” With this he took all Gideon’s creations, his paints, his inks, and threw them in the river.
My poor son cried all night. I tried to comfort him, but it was for naught.
“There will be no artistry in this family,” my husband insisted. “Gideon, come the morrow you will go with me to the barnyard. There I will teach you the trade of tanning. You will use chemicals and treat leather hides which we shall sell at the market.”
The next morning I went to awaken my son. Upon drawing the curtains from his bed, I was astonished at what I saw. Gideon was pale and frail, a tiny wraith of a thing! He was no longer the picture of health that I had raised for the past seven years. He looked at me with wide, placid eyes. In a stuttering gasp he coughed and spewed, blood and mucous spouting from his mouth.
“Gideon!” I exclaimed. “What has happened?”
But I knew only too well. The blue fairy’s warning came back to me, her voice a ringing bell in my head. “He shall be FREE to take any occupation… live his life in a manner he HIMSELF sees fit. Do not impose restrictions upon him, for if you do, the consequences will be vile.”
Of course. The blue fairy had taken Gideon and left in his place a changeling! The creature that now sat before me could barely lift his own head. Upon rousing the bed sheets I looked closer. Oh no! This was worse than I thought! The changeling flung his legs across the mattress, rolled wearily on the bed and I saw that he had no penis. This was no boy child but a female! I tried to speak to her, but she only stared, vacant faced. The changeling did not even have a command of the human language.
Just then my husband pounded upon the door. “Gideon!” he yelled. “Get up lad, for there is work to be done!”
I panicked. What to do? If my husband saw our ‘son’ in this condition he would surely be outraged. He had already thrown one child in the fire. I put no act of violence past him! I crept to the door, cracking it open to see my husband’s ruddy face, knife and ax clutched in his hands. I peered through the slivered doorway.
“The child is – ill, my dear. I fear he may have the plague.”
My husband arched his eyebrows in horror. “The plague? The deadly plague?”
“Yes, yes,” I continued, for once I began to spin a lie, I could be quite good at it. “Get you gone from this room my dear,” I pleaded. “For I have already been exposed, but you have not. Go to your duties. I will tend to the child.”
“God’s blood!” My husband backed away in terror, quickly leaving our cottage.
I then led the changeling back to the woods where the blue fairy again appeared to me. She crossed her arms, eyed me sideways as though I were some disobedient child. “You are a foolish woman Mathilde,” she said. “I had warned you of Gideon’s upbringing, had I not?”
“Yes, but it was not my doing! It is my husband who imposes the trade upon the boy.”
“And you stand by and watch? What kind of mother are you?”
“What am I to do?” I rung my hands. The changeling coughed, spewed more blood that trickled down her chin. She was but a whey faced imp, yet I felt a kindness, a tenderness for her, as much as I did for the three babes I had lost. If only there were some way to nurse this changeling back to health…
“Very well then,” they blue fairy said. “You shall have them both. The changeling and your son. But on one condition.”
I sighed. Here it came again! The fairy’s impossible ‘condition’!
“Oh, Mathilde.” The blue fairy crouched her tall, towering frame close to mine. “It will not be as bad as you think! Now listen. You must leave your husband, never to return again.”
I cringed. Leave my husband? How would I survive? A woman alone in this world, no trade of my own, with a frail changeling in my care?
The blue fairy shook her head. “Mathilde! For a clever human you are not very resourceful. Now listen. I will give you a key to a cottage in the next village. In this cottage you will find a lavender cake. Feed it to this changeling. Then wait three days. During these three days you must have no contact with the human world at all.”
I did as she asked. In my web of lies I convinced my husband that I was to take Gideon to an apothecary, many miles away. There he would be treated with the best of care. I fed the lavender cake to the changeling and sure enough she flourished, cheeks pink with health. I named her Rose for she so reminded me of a thriving flower.
After three days Gideon returned. I raised both children in the new cottage. I started a business for myself, selling the lavender cakes that the blue fairy soon taught me how to bake. These cakes contained medicinal properties that cured many illnesses. In the village I was known as Mathilde the Cake Baker.
Gideon became an exquisite painter, commissioned to make portraits of the royal family. He soon obtained a status of gentleman and purchased a coat of arms for our family. We then moved to a large estate where we raised animals of every species.
When Rose came of age, Gideon took her as his bride, for she had now grown to a beautiful woman. Gideon and Rose gave me many grandchildren, all healthy and beautiful, and all – strangely enough – able to read my mind.
My husband? I never heard from him again. The blue fairy told me he came upon an unfortunate accident. It seems a stampede of angry cows overtook him, administering injuries so violent that he fell dead on the spot.
This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Frail