Thursday, April 07, 2016

A-Z Blog Challenge: F is for Fairies

If you know any little girls you've probably been dragged into the experience of fairydom complete with special dresses (usually filmy, ruffled and sugary pink), small, delicate looking wings that sit between the shoulder blades and are often speckled with glitter, and of course, the wand - also usually glittery and with a star at the business end. There may be a crown of some sort, too. It looks something like the iconic photos of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. Yes, I know she's a witch not a fairy, but I'm only talking appearance here.

The thing is viewing fairies like this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Back before the Victorians prettified them, fairies and the rest of the fey were something quite different. They were 'other' in very disturbing and alien ways and, if you were wise, you tried very hard not to draw their attention to you. It was best not to name them at all if you could avoid it but, if you had to, you could call them 'the Shining Ones', the 'Fair' or the 'Fair Folk'. That way they might be flattered and leave you alone or even do you a favour - although their idea of a favour might not be what you would think of as one. If, for instance, you're a fiddler asked to play for a party of the fey on your way home from the market and you're well paid for your trouble, you may find once the party is over that fifty years have passed.

The fey came in many shapes and sizes ranging from human sized and like to quite tiny creatures, all of whom could fly by magic - no delicate insect-like wings needed. Some lived in Faerie or Fairyland but others, like the English brownies, might live in your house or barn and do small tasks for you as long as you didn't offend them. You would be wise to leave them some sort of small offering of food or milk. Otherwise your milk might curdle or your butter fail.

Unlike brownies, some of the Fair were downright malicious so it was better not to put yourself in their way at all if possible, because you could never tell which was which and even those who were friendly were easily offended and might take revenge on you. They might exchange your baby for one of their own and carry it off to Faerie or put an evil spell on you, for instance. Remember what happened in Sleeping Beauty? And if one fell in love with you and carried you off, you would never be seen again.

There were things you could do to protect yourself. Everyone knew fairies couldn't stand cold iron so an iron or steel object was a handy thing to have with you. If you didn't have that, you could try keeping a piece of dry bread or a four-leafed clover in your pocket and, if you had to go somewhere fairies might see you, putting your clothes on inside out to confuse them and/or carrying a bell with you might help. Some of these superstitions lasted up to as recently as the 1920s so not as long ago as you might imagine.

Want to know more? Well, you could have a look here.


Jo said...

Very dangerous breed the Fae. It is amazing how many books actually feature the older version of fairies. I certainly wouldn't want to cross one. Have you ever read the Dresden Chronicles by Jim Butcher? There are small fairies who have become an army for Dresden because he pays them in pizza!!! Love it.

Helen V. said...

I guess the reason they are popular in novels is that they are so mysterious and alien. I haven't read the Dresden Chronicles - so that's another lot of reading to add to my already long list of books to get around to.