Recently for Patheos I did a post based on having people ask me questions on social media about the Morrigan which I answered in a Q&A format in a blog
. Afterwards I had several people ask me to do one based around the Fair Folk and this is the result. As always I'll point out that this is based on my personal knowledge and experience with Themselves and also that I use the term fairies as a generic catch-all term for a variety of beings who are Otherworldly in nature.
Eric asks about credible modern sources for sightings?
My answer - there's a site called Fairyist that has a collection of sightings
, both from folklore and more modern examples. There's also a book by Marjorie Johnson called 'Seeing Fairies' that is a collection of modern sightings.
Eric also asks if I have a personal favorite encounter story?
My answer - Hard to say I have a favorite. Probably the white fairy hound was one of the ones that has stuck with me the most. That was back around '99. I was working for an ambulance company and besides emergencies we also did routine medical transfers. It was around 430 am on a february morning and we were parked next to a large grassy lot that was fenced off for construction. My partner stayed in the ambulance reading while we waited to go do our pick up at a local nursing home but I got out to stretch my legs. Standing near the fence looking into the darkness I noticed a white shape coming towards me across the field. It was large and obviously dog shaped, maybe the size of a German Shepherd, but all white. I thought maybe it was someone letting their dog run in the field, but I couldn't see any people anywhere. And it just kept running straight at me, like with a purpose. And that started to make me nervous, and then I noticed something seemed off with its gait. Like it was running with this oddly hitching movement. So it gets about 2/3rds or so across the field to where I can see it more clearly in the dark and I realize it looks like a large greyhound, but a bit heavier, and it only has one front leg kind of centered in its chest.
I have never moved so fast in my life as I did getting back in that ambulance. I scared my partner, who wanted to know what my problem was, and I said there was a dog - except when we looked out there was no dog. Nothing. Just darkness. And mind you it was impossible for it to have run anywhere in the amount of time between when I jumped in the rig and when we looked out, and the whole area was surrounded by a chainlink fence. It was just gone.
Ruth asks whether it's better to leave offerings indoors or outdoors?
My answer - there's two ways to look at this, one is that inside offerings invite them in so it can be safer to leave things outside. The other is that in a lot of folklore offerings were left in specific places inside, so it is okay to do.
I tend to favor the idea that its really the consistency that matters so, either leave things in both places or stick to one.
Benni asks whether it's true that bells drive away fairies, or if it's okay to use them in fairy related rituals?
My answer - the bells go both ways - folklore says bells, particularly church bells, drive away fairies. However bells are also strongly associated with them, including with the fairy Rade.
I was told that the sound of bells drives away negative entities, but draw in goodly inclined ones
Anita asks of the Fair Folk have human descendants?
My answer - I get asked this question a lot, and folklore is pretty clear that the answer is yes. Many Irish families trace their ancestry back to members of the Tuatha De Danann or to Fairy Kings or Queens.
Kelly asks about the effect of tuning into the Fey through cultural lenses, local folklore, and ancestral folklore?
My answer - I think all of these play a role. When we have a very strong cultural filter in place, like in any other area, it will color our perceptions. We see what we expect to see or at least give familiar names to things - I often tell a story about an each usige (water horse) in a local lake, which may or may not actually be a Celtic water horse but that name is the best I know to describe the being that is there.
That said though local spirits will always also be present and have their own tone and energy. I always recommend people look into the local folklore and fairylore of their area as much as possible.
Ancestral ties/cultural heritage can also have an effect if fey beings from that background seek us out or are drawn to us.
So like with so many things its really a matter of 'all of the above'
Ellen asks if the term Fair Folk is strictly Celtic or applies to other culture?
My answer - 'Fair Folk' as such would be a specifically Irish term for the beings who live in the fairy mounds; it can be used in a more general way or as a more specific descriptor for beings that are human-like in appearance and magically powerful (think roughly like Tolkien's elves). Other Celtic cultures have similar terms which are roughly analogous to the Irish Fair Folk, like the Welsh Tylwyth Teg [Fair Family] or Scottish Daoine Sith [People of Peace].
However the concept of fairies, as a more general term for Otherworldly beings, can be applied to beings outside Celtic cultures. If we are using the word fairy in its older sense as simply meaning 'from Fairyland'. Caution is needed here though to realize that each culture will have its own understanding of and unique beings within this wider concept.
Sara asks about the difference in experiences with Themselves, in my experience, between Europe and America
My answer - In my personal experience they are much more directly engaged and present in Europe. And yes I am including experiences in america with native fey beings. I have found that the spirits native to America that I would label as 'fairies' are more reclusive and less willing to seek engagement than ones in Europe, although I will add that I couldn't say that was something that would be true for everyone, as opposed to just my own experiences.
Brian asks who is nicer the Daoine Sidhe or the Alfar?
My answer - hands down the Alfar are nicer by any definition of the term.
Aleja asks if I think the Court system or concept of Fairy Kings and Queens occurs in America the way it does in Europe?
My answer - I have found the native fey to have a different system that is less monarchy based. But I would say that the ones who migrated over with the human populations did bring with them their social structures, including Kings and Queens and courts. How strong those are in each area will depend on different things, I think, including what sorts of Fey have strongly ingrained themselves there.
Aleja also asks about urban fey, and whether some Fey actually like iron, steel, and concrete?
My answer - there are definitely urban Fey, and have been for as long as there have been urban areas. There are also some fairies who do like iron and artificial materials. Mine fairies, for example, aren't bothered by metals and definitely don't mind being around human enterprise and construction. Gremlins are another type of fey being that are particularly connected to modern construction and metal.
Branwen asks what my experience has been in differentiating between European fairies and American ones.
My answer - well, in all honesty being able to see them probably helps me here. Sometimes just looking at a being can help differentiate what it is and what it's origins are - the local Fey here for example are small people whose skin looks like rock, and who have black hair and eyes, which is pretty distinctive from anything else ime. Otherwise though I think its like trying to figure out what specific kind of fairy it is in any context, which is about looking at where it is, what it's doing, what it seems to want, what annoys it or pleases it, and so on. It can certainly get tricky around here trying to be sure whether a fox-looking fey is something native, a húli jīng, or something Celtic that shapeshifts.
River asks what I think about human interactions with the fey relating to categories like worship, friendship, propitiation, and avoidance?
My answer - I think there's many layers to how anyone can choose to interact with them. Avoidance/propitiation is generally the safest and the most traditional. I usually recommend most people stick with that to be safe, unless they want to take on the responsibility that comes with stepping it up to another level. I think there's a place for establishing friendships/alliances especially for practicing witches, but there's risk to it, and that has to be considered. I'm not sure a true peer to peer concept is functional, but they certainly will barter and make deals. Worshiping them gets really tricky because then we have to start looking at the individuals instead of the generalities. Some fairies were Gods, or are strongly connected to Gods, and they deserve worship as much as any other pagan deity (take that as you will).
Mara asks how to handle connecting to or honouring the fairies when you have children.
My answer - All of my children have been warded very carefully until they were older. This has included iron in their rooms, as well as broom (the herb), rowan, and saint Brighid's crosses. I also teach them from a very young age how to behave and how to stay safe. In traditional cultures children would be taught from birth what to do and what not to do relating to fairies and that's an approach we honestly need to keep up today in paganism.
Vyviane asks in cases where Christian prayers are effective protections against them why do they work? Would pagan prayers work the same way?
My answer - I suspect that Christian prayers work in many cases because they are designed to be magical charms as much as prayers. I also suspect they may drive off some fairies who are offended by them, rather than that they have any actual power over the fairies. In my experience pagan prayers substituted for Christian ones generally don't work, although called on a specific deity associated with the fey that they may be cautious of can be effective. In the Irish this can be any of the Tuatha De Danann because they all have connections to the sí. In the Norse this might include Freyr or Odin, and in the Germanic more generally you might call on Berchta, Perchta, or Frau Holle.
Jonathan asks what do I think most contributed to the shift from fairies as fearsome beings deserving respect to the modern concept of Disney-fied Tinkerbells?
My answer - I blame the Victorians. Mostly.
Cathi asks how do pets usually act around fairies?
My answer - it will vary by pet. In my experience dogs don't seem to be bothered by them. Cats are either co-conspirators in mischief or else tormented by them. I have personally found that when dogs stare at empty space its usually ghosts, while when cats do it its usually fairies.
Cathi also asks can you escape a fairy by crossing running water?
My answer - depends on the fairy. It's said that if you cross running water you'd be safe from a kelpie pursuing you, for example, but there is also a story of a man who fled to America to get away from a Leannán Sí and she followed him anyway proving that the ocean was no barrier. And the Slua Sí are regularly said to cross water. For those that the answer is yes I suspect that its less that the water itself stops them and more that they are territorial by nature and won't chase you beyond their territory.
Diana asks if we should give traditional offerings like bread, milk, or whiskey or should instead offer things we like to eat now.
My answer - The traditional offerings have a lot of symbolic meaning beyond their actual value, for example both bread and milk are symbols of life and vitality and the name for whiskey in irish is literally 'water of life' [uisce beatha]. they also have the power that comes with multiple hundreds of years of tradition. I've found that cream and bread (or cake) is well received as are other traditional offerings like water or whiskey. I have also found that sharing anything that we are currently eating - literally sharing a meal - is also well received.
The only things I would personally caution against offering are heavily processed or preserved foods or meats. I avoid offering meat, generally, because it will draw the sort of fairy that prefers meat and that may not be a good idea. And it's generally understood in folklore that fairies don't consume the physical item but its essence - variously referred to as the toradh, quintessence, or foyson - which is most abundant in fresh foods and least present in heavily preserved foods.
Morrigan asks if the Fey are loyal and if so how do they show loyalty?
My answer - Yeats once wrote that the fairies have 'unmixed emotions' and I have found this to be true. If they consider you one of theirs in some way they are very loyal - the flip side of that though is they take any perceived betrayal very very badly. they reward those who are loyal to them with prosperity and good luck. they punish those who betray them with ill-luck and madness. We see this in stories where a person who proves true is rewarded over a lifetime, but someone who betrays their trust in some way (often by talking too much or bragging) not only loses whatever blessings they've gotten but is often punished harshly. For example one girl who had a fairy lover told her secret to her sister, who in turn told others; her fairy lover left her in retaliation and the girl went mad.
I guess the answer then is that loyalty goes both ways and has consequences.
Lauren asks how do They appear to me?
My answer - There's a lot of diversity here depending on how the question is intended. If we mean how do They appear as in, in what way, then I would say they appear in dreams, Journeys, and the waking world. If we mean how do they look (appear) to me then that depends entirely on what kind of being we are talking about, but I've seen everything from hounds and horses to people the size of moths to human-sized people, from things with wings to things that could pass as human if they tried.
Amanda asks if the Unseelie can ever behave in helpful or useful ways?
My answer - yes, they can. In my experience and in folklore there are examples of beings within the Unseelie Court who can interact positively with humans. The difference between them and the Seelie Court though is that whereas the Seelie would be more inclined to help any human who acts well the Unseelie would only do this for a particular individual, usually for a reason. What that reason is will depend on a lot of things, from a favor owed to just plain liking that person for their own reasons.
Caution is always required with the Unseelie simply because they are most likely to do humans harm without reason and to take offense over things.
Anna asks if elementals and fairies are the same?
My answer - I do realize that many people today lump elementals in with fairies - thank you alchemy! - but I don't. I see them as distinctly different types of beings and while I appreciate that some people find it easier to divide fairies up by elemental association its never been a system that works for me. I tend to stick to the older ideas of trooping or solitary, Seelie or Unseelie, or to group them by location, ie mountain fairies, lake fairies, mound fairies, etc.,.
So that covers all the questions I had received on social media. I hope people find those answers helpful, or at least interesting. I'll repeat that this is my own experience and opinion and other people may agree or disagree. Also I tend to use the term fairy as a catch-all for any Otherworldly being, but I acknowledge that there are a wide array of specific beings and many differences within the wider category.