There are many tales about fairies, but how do we deal with them? Over the years, customs and behaviours have been developed so that your encounter with a fairy can be a positive one. Pollyanna gives us her top eight tips on how to keep on a fairy’s good side.
Jade Westerman, Exhibitions Assistant at Palace Green Library
Fairies have been both loved and feared throughout the ages. With supernatural powers, they are described in folklore and fairy tales as being able to both gift and curse, or at least cause mischief to humans. Items going missing, a spate of breakages of household items, sickness in animals, and periods of bad luck were suspected to follow an instance of upsetting the fairies. As a result, various superstitions and customs developed on establishing healthy relationships with the Good Folk to avoid displeasing them.
It would seem that fairies dislike discord within their host’s homes. Bad language and arguments are bound to cause upset; seemingly these magical folk enjoy their peace and quiet. Offerings of milk and honey could be left to appease the fairies should they have been upset by their human companions.
Circles of mushrooms known as fairy rings were described as being left behind by fairy footfalls after a night of dancing under the moon. It is considered very bad luck to break a fairy ring, causing seven years of bad luck to fall upon anyone who damages them. Some people avoid walking inside them entirely, believing them to be portals to the fairy realm.
Anything shiny is supposed to attract the fairies, and you may find that these items go missing only to appear in the most unexpected places once the fairies are bored with their newly found toy. A more recent phenomena is that of placing “fairy nests” or fairy doors in the garden in the hopes that the fey will make such a place their home, helping a garden to thrive. This is a very recent idea, following on from the Victorian concept of flower fairies, and romanticism and taming of these folk.
The elder tree is believed to be associated with the fairies, and bad luck or seven years in fairyland awaits anyone who would pick flowers from this plant on Midsummer’s eve.
Not all fairies are benevolent! Should you find yourself out walking alone at night, and hear the whickering of a horse or see a strange light up ahead, do not follow, for you may find yourself waylaid and Puck led. Survivors of such experiences often awoke in a muddy ditch, fooled by fairy lights into straying off their path and into disaster.
For those fearful of fairies dwelling in their homes, yellow flowering broom plants outside the house are thought to act as a deterrent. As are any items crafted from iron.
Whilst invisible to most humans, there were ways in which one could obtain the enchanted eye. One would be to wash their eyelids with the dew collected on May Day’s eve. Another is to gaze through a hole within a hagstone: a stone with a naturally formed hole within it.
There are ways to know when a fairy is present nearby, without the aid of a hagstone. The bobbing of a head of bog cotton, when the air is still, laughter heard without an apparent source, or a sudden swirl of leaves crossing the road marks the passing through of one of these magical beings. It is courteous to nod your head or tip your hat to acknowledge them if you are to be known as a friend to the fey. Be warned though, once you are noticed, this can never be undone!
Pollyanna Jones’s published work includes articles for The Celtic Guide magazine, Mythology Magazine, and internet sites, including The Spooky Isles and Radio Rivendell. Pollyanna has written a chapter on Worcestershire’s Pixies and Pixy Rocks for Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies (Gibson Square Books Ltd, 2018), and is awaiting the publication of Legends & Folklore: London (Bradwell Books). She tackles various projects – from interviews to reviews, magazine articles to non-fiction publications – focusing on the magical world of folklore.