Search This Blog

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fairy Taboos - # 1 Saying Thank You

I'd like to do a series focusing on specific geasa, or taboos, that relate to how humans interact with fairies. These are things that you either should do or should never do when dealing with the fey folk. I'm hoping that doing this as a series of shorter posts might be more engaging for readers and make the points easier to remember than having a wall of information thrown at you.

I thought it would make sense to start with one of the ones that I tend to mention almost everytime I teach anything relating to the Good People - never say thank you. This is also one of the hardest ones for many people to get used to, especially if you have had it ingrained in you to always say thank you.

I have to be honest, I don't remember where I learned this one. I have wracked my brain but I can't remember where I may have read it or who might have told me about it originally. As far back as I can remember it has just been a rule I lived by: you speak politely and you never say thank you. When I initially tried to track down where I'd heard it and came up empty I started to wonder if I'd made it up, however further research did provide some validation.

Anecdotally I have met a variety of people across demographics who share this prohibition, not only with strictly Celtic fairies but also with less clearly culturally defined one. I also found a reference in Katherine Briggs Dictionary of Fairies to this taboo. This is something that we can see directly with some specific fairies like brownies and pixies who will become enraged if thanked verbally.

Why is this a taboo? It is hard to say as folklore offers no clear explanation, but we can offer a few suggestions. One school of thought is that saying thank you implies that the Daoine Uaisle are in some way lesser than you and serving you, which offends them - and is why they react with anger. Another thought is that saying 'thank you' is seen as acknowledging a debt owed, and it is never a good idea to owe an unspecified debt to any of the Good People. It is also possible that saying thank you, or overtly acknowledging what They have done for you, is problematic because they prefer not to have that sort of attention or focus on themselves.

What then is one to do if one feels the Other Crowd have done something helpful or kind? Briggs suggests that, "no fault can be found with a bow or curtsy" (Briggs, 1976, p196). I have found that a gift returned for a gift works well, as does a general expression of gratitude for the event or item itself (not the giver). Saying things like 'I am so glad that this worked out this way' or 'I am so happy that this is here' for example.

Briggs, K (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies


  1. Thanks for this. As I was reading it, knowing very little about relationship with the Good Folk, I found myself bowing my head in a gesture of gratitude and acknowledgement. Got a sense of the importance of a mutual understanding and even a neutral response was where I was at with my beginning (in this lifetime) connection with them. I went to Ireland last June for the first time and probably did a lot of ignorant things, including thanking them, not knowing what I did not know, however, I'm working through it all on the inner.

  2. I am very much enjoying your articles about Fairy taboos and just finished your book "Fairies: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk" as recommended by John Beckett on his Patheos blog.The book was likewise very informative.

    This one reminds me of a neighbor met within the past year: I moved to a small country town near the Appalachian Trail and an older neighbor who loves gardening brought over some plants from her garden to help with my yard. When I said "thank you," she advised me not to say that, as it "gives your luck away." She recommended using "I appreciate it" instead. Very interesting overlap with fairy taboos.

    1. Appalachian culture descends from Irish culture.

  3. I found out about this through trial and error. Growing up w/ natural interactions...often forced on their part...left me woefully unprepared.
    They definitely will react negatively, but luckily they forgave my little slip ups. So now I just say fuck a thank you and keep it moving. Great post!

  4. Not remotely Irish but even I knew this one. It's widely known in popular fanasty coulture.

  5. I've had a lifetime of interaction with the fae being playful and hiding things and I've always thanked them for returning items and I've never had a negative reaction from them.

  6. A simple "thank you" could come across as overly formal and dismissive, and not nearly as heartfelt as it should be. Sikes (p. 123) recounts a tale about a man who expressed his gratitude to the fairies by saying "Good luck to you, may you never be hungry or penniless" and he was rewarded with money. Of course, this gift was taken back from him when he revealed the source of it to his wife, so it stresses the importance of learning the rules of fairy etiquette and not breaking taboos