Fairies in mythology have always been associated with both magic and ambivalent behaviour towards humans. A significant part of their culture centres on music and the power of rhymes and songs. This blog post explores how fairies have used the magical property of their songs to both enthrall and save humans by cursing them or bestowing their blessings upon them.
A siren, J W Waterhouse
The special status of song in fairy culture is demonstrated extremely well in a story from Highland Scotland. Angus Mór of Tomnahurich was a shepherd. He heard music coming from a fairy knoll, accompanied by the voice of his wife-to-be singing. Approaching the knoll, he peeped in but couldn’t see her. A fairy woman happened to be passing by so he seized her with his iron-tipped crook and demanded to know what was happening. She told him that he would only be able to save his intended if, at the end of that week, he could tell the fairy queen’s secret on the Bridge of Easan Dubh (the Black Falls). Seven days later Angus…
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Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story The Child that Went with the Fairies narrates the tale of a poor widow and her four children living in a sublime Irish landscape. While the three youngest are outside playing and the sister and mother are busy doing their tasks, the youngest of all the siblings, Billy, is taken away by the ”Good People” as the fair folk are called in the story. Little Billy returns to his family from time to time until one day he vanishes altogether, never to reappear, and is considered dead.
On the surface, The Child that Went with the Fairies, resembles a typical, supernatural tale where a child is kidnapped by some otherwordly folks under mysterious circumstances and is forever torn apart from his loved ones. But Le Fanu is an astute writer who knows how to add layers upon layers of meaning, rendering his work…
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James Herbert MacNair, Tamlaine, 1905
I return to a subject that has an abiding fashion for many visitors to the blog- and apparently me too: fairy sexuality and sensuality.
From the very earliest times, it seems, the idea of Faery was synonymous with irresistible beauty. Elf-women were called ‘shining’ by the Anglo-Saxons (aelfsceone) and this idea by no means ended with the arrival of the Normans and of the fairy women of romance. English writer Layamon in his history of Britain, The Brut, described the queen of Avalon, Argante, as the fairest of all maidens, “alven swithe sceone” (an elf most fair). The concept of radiant beauty persisted: the fairy queen who met Thomas the Rhymer at Huntlie bank was “a ladye bright” and, as late as Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, the faes’ royal lady is still “radiant” (Act V, scene 5).
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This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on November 29, 2018, titled British Legends: Morgan le Fay – Magical Healer or Renegade Witch? written by zteve t evans
In Arthurian tradition, the elusive sorceress Morgan le Fay becomes one of King Arthur’s most dangerous foes, breaking traditional family bonds and working to undermine and bring down the strict patriarchal system and chivalric order of the Arthurian world. Morgan is an enigma: despite attempting to kill King Arthur and usurp his kingdom, she takes him into her care after he is severely wounded by Mordred in the battle of Camlann, which brings an end to his kingdom. This work draws mostly from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, and Historia regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain) and Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, with influences…
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J. M. Waterhouse, A naiad, or Hylas and the nymph, 1893
Welsh born writer Arthur Machen (1863-1947) is best known for his Gothic horror novels, but beyond this he believed that the humdrum visible world conceals a more mysterious and strange reality. Fairylore was just one element of his wide reading that he combined into this vision.
In his second volume of autobiography, Things Near and Far, published in 1923, Machen acknowledged the rational explanations for fairy belief and for the origins of fairies (later set out in detail by Lewis Spence in British Fairy Origins of 1946):
“I am well aware, of course, of the various explanations of the fairy mythology; the fairies are the gods of the heathen come down into the world: Diana becomes Titania. Or the fairies are a fantasy on the small dark people who dwelt in the land before the coming of the…
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