Several years ago I had done a few posts seeking to clarify confusion around popular things on social media relating to specific pagan holidays including Yule, Samhain, and 'Ostara'. I've never done one for Bealtaine mostly because I haven't seen a huge amount of misinformation about it being shared around. That is starting to change, at least a bit, so today I thought I'd tackle a couple of things I've seen recently that need some clarification.
People are free to believe what they will from the memes and such that go around, of course, but I think its important to be clear on what the sources are, especially when they are being presented in deceptive or inaccurate ways. Or put another way you believe whatever you want to but be honest about the origins.
|fireplace, Gleann Garbh, Ireland 1 May 2018|
There's a couple memes going around claiming that folklore or legend says on Beltane the queen of fairies rides around on a white horse and if you sit quietly under a tree you may see her. If you look away she'll pass by, if you look at her she may take you into Fairy for 7 years. This meme usually includes an appropriately mystic looking image.
Alright. So. The quote with the memes is an excerpt from a much longer article, circa 2000, written by Christina Aubin, titled 'Beltane'* which was originally posted on the now defunct witchvox site. This portion seems to be a mashup of some actual folklore, the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, and pure wish fulfillment. Let's take this a piece at a time then:
Folklore: Yes the fairies are out and about on and around Bealtaine. Yes this time of year you may see a fairy Rade or otherwise encounter Themselves.
The fairy queen (generic) is often but not always said to ride a white horse, when she rides out, which occurs at many different times of year (the most common associated with the white horse is probably Samhain).
The Ballad: in one specific ballad, Thomas the Rhymer, the human protagonist is lying under a tree when the fairy queen comes by and compels him into her service for 7 years. There's no date or time of year specified. Thomas seems to have been specifically chosen, is returned after 7 years and then taken again when he is much older, led by a deer who he believed was sent by the fairy queen (according to folklore).
Wish Fulfillment: there's no Irish or Scottish folklore suggesting that sitting under a tree on Bealtaine will let you see fairies. There's also no support to the idea that looking away will make them ignore you or that looking at them will grant the possibility of being taken by them for 7 years. You cannot influence the fairy queen into this.
Folklore (again): whether or not you see the Good Neighbors coming has zero direct affect on what they might do to you, in fact passing invisibly to human sight is a hallmark of fairies in folklore. It is true that its advised to pretend you don't see them if you stumble on a group engaged in an activity but that's because in many accounts if they know you see them they react violently. Which brings us to point 2, making it clear you are looking at them ends really badly as often as not.
They take humans they choose to take and while yes a percentage return after 7 years or are taught valuable things, many become base servants (think no pay, cleaning stables, drudgery), breeding stock (exactly what it sounds like), or entertainment (fun for them not you). There's a reason that we have massive amounts of material about protecting against fairies and escaping from them or rescuing people from them, because in many stories the human is taken against their will and their fate may not be pleasant.
Yes you can safely engage with fairies. But. But caution is always advised. Would you hang out in a park and trust any random human who wandered by and started giving you orders? Fairies are not universally benevolent any more than humans are. And very few of us could qualify as a modern day Thomas the Rhymer.
Secondly you don't give the Daoine Uaisle leftovers. Its not done, because the belief is that they deserve and want the best you have to give not the dregs. The top of a still of alcohol is theirs, as is the best of the harvested crops and milk (see MacNeill's 'Festival of Lughnasa'). So while food offerings of various kinds are traditional, giving leftovers from your own meal or food wouldn't be.
*I will note that the article has multiple factual errors or inherent assumptions beyond this particular section.
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