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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Christian Symbols to Protect from Fairies

The relationship between the Good People and the sacred objects and words of Christianity are complex. Some fairies are utterly unbothered by the symbols and ritual actions of the new religion, some are very concerned about their own place within Christian cosmology, while others seem to violently abhor anything relating to the 'new' religion. Those who show an aversion to these symbols and prayers can naturally be warded off using them.

 Some examples:
-Redcaps were known to fear very little, but some of the few things that could ward against them included Christian sacred objects and prayers, specifically the sign of the cross or the sound of bible verse being read aloud.
- In the ballad of Alice Brand the Elf King wants to be rid of two trespassers to his wood but because they are Christians he cannot act against them, so he must send someone under his sway who is not affected by such things.
- A brownie who was well known in a particular area was driven off forever when a well-meaning priest attempted to baptize him. The moment the holy water struck the brownie's flesh the fairy shrieked and fled never to be seen again (Briggs, 1976). In another anecdote a brownie was upset by the homeowner reading the Bible (Wilby, 2005).
- In one area of Scotland fisherman at sea would never say the words "church or manse or minister" to avoid offending the spirits and possibly endangering themselves (Wilby, 2005).
- In some versions of the ballad of Tam Lin, Tam Lin advises Janet to make a compass [circle] around herself with holy water while she waits for the Fairy Rade on Halloween; this renders her invisible to their sight and senses until she moves out of the circle.
- Signing a cross three times over a fairy captive or human-turned-fairy would release them from Fairy or break any magic holding them
- Baptism was a common protection for infants against fairy abduction, and Robert Kirk notes that it was a regular practice in Lowland Scotland for a Bible to be kept in the room of a woman in childbirth to ward against fairy intrusion.

Wilby suggest in her book that this avoidance of Christian symbols and prayers - which is not universal even in the Celtic countries - is likely rooted in the animosity that the Church itself created with its attempts to demonize the Fair Folk. Briggs, for her part, suggests that the cross is actually an older symbol, predating Christianity, that represents the liminal space of the crossroads where the fairies have less power and could be used either as a physical object or as a motion to ward them off. In either case the equal armed cross has been noted to be efficacious against Themselves in some circumstances, and would often times be combined with the use of iron by crossing two nails or opening a pair of scissors and hanging them up. Christian prayers, the sounds of church bells, and holy water are also mentioned as protections or things that will frighten off some fairies, although we should emphasize some.

Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Acland, A., (1998) Alice Brand
Wilby, E., (2005) Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits
Kirk, R., (1893) The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Fairy Taboo - #3 Names

Another taboo that we see among many of the Good People relates to names. Names have power and we find in many cases both an aversion to saying the names of certain types of the Daoine Maithe as well as an avoidance of personal names. Even nicknames have power and when we look at anecdotal evidence we find that often rather than giving a name to a fairy that a person might have regular encounters with a person or group might call them by their description.

First let's look at the wider taboo involving euphemisms. In this case the name in question is a collective one, for the entire group. There is a longstanding belief that to speak of them may draw their attention* and that it is always better to get positive attention than negative. Certain terms have been known to anger or annoy them, although which terms exactly aren't agreed on: at various points it was taboo to say aos sí or daoine sí or fairies, although at present fairies is the most often avoided. Euphemisms have been used since at least the 16th century to avoid the more direct terms, and these euphemisms were intended to be pleasing if they drew the fairies attention. So instead of fairies, elves, or goblins (interchangeable terms until recently) which all could raise their ire a person would say, for example, Fair Folk, Other Crowd, Mother's Blessing, or Seelie Wichts [Blessed Beings].

Beyond that we have an avoidance of personal names. Names have power, and using a being's name gives you power of them - or them power over you if they know and use your name. Because of this in folklore we rarely see any fairy willingly giving its name unless its in repayment for a debt of some sort or a deeper relationship is involved. Invoking a fairy's name, or even giving one a nickname, is often enough to drive one off as we see in stories like Tom Tit Tot or Rumplestiltskin. Finding out a fairy's name or intentionally giving one a nickname is one method of banishing a being who is causing problems are endangering people. Keep in mind however that this method of getting rid of a troublesome fairy also angers them and that can later come back to haunt the person.

When we see discussions of fairies who were known to interact regularly with people in anecdotes or stories, often that being is known not by a name but by a descriptive term based on what they look like or where they are associated with. Yeats related an anecdote of a woman whose mother had a friend among the Good People, who they simply called 'the Wee Woman' (although she was human sized) and Brownies are usually identified by the area they occupied, such as the Brownie of Cranshaws. A Scottish clan had a bodach attached to them which acted much like a Bean Sí in foretelling death and was known as the Bodach Glas, or 'Grey Man' (Briggs, 1976). In some cases we do have more well-known fairies whose names we do know, like Jenny Greenteeth or Meg Mullach [top/summit], but these tend to be the exception rather than the rule and they seem to still involve aspects of description or places.

Generally it is best to use euphemisms when talking about the Good People, so that if you get their attention they won't be offended by how you are speaking of them. You'll rarely know a fairy being's name, and if you do by chance it's better not to use it often, but descriptive names based on physical appearance or place are acceptable. One of the quickest way to offend the Daoine Uaisle is violating the taboo they have around the use of names so it is good to keep this in mind.

*one wonders if writing about them has the same effect. If it's true that they took rev. Kirk for his book Secret Commonwealth then perhaps we should all be more careful in what we put down on paper or screen as well. 

Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies