jump to navigation
  • Fairy Human Relations: Dangerous Reflections October 29, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern , trackback

    fairy mirror

    ***Dedicated to Chris with question marks***

    There is a modern idea that fairies are the spirit of vegetation, the spirits of the land. Human beings, meanwhile, are their polluting, urbanizing neighbours. The two represent, respectively, the forces of life and entropy and are on a permanent collision course.

    Traditional views of European fairies were rather different. There certainly seems to have been the idea that fairies had some relation to the world of vegetation: whether it is fairies causing the Irish potato famine or fairy anger causing storms (for an earlier view). But there is also the idea that fairylife is tangled up with human life: and that neither species can separate themselves or do without the other; they are, to use a ghastly Latinate word, ‘symbiotic’.

    Fairies need human midwifes to bring their babies into the world; they need human players/warriors to win their sports games/battles; they need human babies for… (Beach has never really understood why they steal human babies but they must have their reasons); they sometimes need human helpers to make things; they like to be left food by human beings.

    Humans on the other hand need fairy good will to prosper; they need fairies to make the land work; and their ‘shamans’ (cunning men, witches etc) need fairies to heal and to curse.

    Yet the dance between the two sides is dangerous. Humans can easily anger fairies unknowingly: build a house on a fairy path and half your family will die. Fairies, too, suffer from the withdrawal of human interest and human favour: this is not just Peter Pan (every time a child says he doesn’t believe in fairies a fairy dies), it is there in the fairy demand for acknowledgement and respect from human neighbours.

    Then there are the tragic moments when human and fairy affairs collide: best told in those awful love stories where a fairy woman and a human man attempt marriage (a marriage that never lasts because of an obscure fairy taboo and ends with all the cattle dying).

    What does this mean? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Beach hasn’t the least idea but he is struck by the mirror like quality of fairy-human relations. Fairies take food from humans; humans take fertility from fairies. Fairies steal human babies; humans find fairy babies etc etc.

    A final thought. In early Irish sources there is the hint that different Irish kingdoms (tuath very small rural conglomerations of clans) had their own matching fairy tribe. Did even geo-politics have, then, a fairy reflex? Were fairies the subconscious/ the dreaming of the tribe? What does that even mean?

    30 Nov 2015: Ruth writes in: I thought I had read that fairies stole human babies to use as servants or for amusement, or to replace their sick babies, and also the reason humans were drawn into fairy circles. Though their time is different than ours and the human would be old when they left the fairies and all his family would be dead. There is some thought that the Tuatha de Danaan, the tall and terrible fairies of Scotland and Ireland (not your little Tinkerbell types) were possibly from Greece. There was a group of Greek sea people called the Danan (spelling?) who disappeared. Maybe they went over the sea?

    I [Beach] can’t answer to the Danan of Greece, but my experience reading about changeling babies is that it is never explained in fairy sources.It is often alleged by folklorists that these babies are carried off to help the fairies, but I don’t think that they are ever actually seen in the folk descriptions of fairyworld; whereas adult changelings are seen. All very mysterious! Another post perhaps…

    Chris S: I have a science fictional take on the fairies, but I’m not going to invoke the hoary old “Greys are just the modern Gentry”.

    The gentry, if they are true physical beings, live in a different timeframe than humans. For example, silly humans who are enticed to wander ’round Arcadia, believe they’ve been away for years but upon return the sun’s not even up yet. Being in the presence of the good folk muddles up mortal timestreams and metabolisms, pushing the clock forward whereupon cattle suddenly die and folks wither away to nothingness in an eyeblink.

    Why do the good folk need humans? Being immortal, barring cold/pig iron, they need a cultural touchstone to remind themselves of the meaning of life. It’s the argument of if there is no death, how can one appreciate life? Everything about the good folk is centered on everything that lives, from a hat made out of a tulip, a home in a mushroom, strawberry plants bringing forth new gentry to play and frolick in those sunset lands. They are enamored, if not envious, of our mortality. And knowing what life is, and its meaning, they put off their daydreams of dying to another day.