Fae is a term for the long and varied list of beings who belong to fairy kind, but did you know Fae is also an adjective? It can mean strange, wild, unusual, odd; and that is just the definition of fairy kind. Fairies won’t be classified easily, as that is against their untamable nature, but there are certain attributes that link their kind, characteristics that we, as humans, find odd indeed. In celebration of the new Fae Anthology (now open for submissions!) from World Weaver Press, I’ve put together a list of some of the more interesting attributes of fairy kind. I hope this list will inspire you to delve into the rich realm of fairy lore, as you never know when you may find yourself lost in their world, whether for work or play, and you’ll want to know a thing or two to avoid any misfortunes.
1. Spectral Sprites So who are the fairies, anyway? There are several theories on the origins of fairy kind, including the idea that fairies are diminished gods and goddesses of old or the personified powers of nature. Others claim that they are a race of spirits existing somewhere between angels and demons, being trapped in a world outside of heaven and hell, yet very close to the borders of our own. One legend claims that fairies are the children Eve didn’t have time to bathe and so hid from the face of God. Also prevalent is the theory that fairies are actually ghosts. Ever thought of the connection between fairy mounds and burial grounds, or wondered about their grayish or greenish complexions? Read a few fairy legends from Ireland and you’ll be stunned by the obvious connection, with so many stories of people taken to the fairy realm to later find they danced all night with their dead relations or had their eyes opened to the ghastly sight of ghoulish fairies playing instruments made of human bones. In fact, many tales use the word “haunt” to describe fairy activities.
2. Fairy Formalities Though well known for their thievery and pranks, fairy kind abhor bad manners, dishonesty, and especially laziness in humans, and will leap at the chance to punish any such miscreants. Those who are subject to living in a house where household spirits abide know well of the help they can be, but also fear them with good reason. Many a maid or servant has been cruelly punished for forgetting to leave out a bowl of milk in offering or becoming lazy or dishonest on the job. In A Tale of Two Brothers, for example, the brother who took care to consider others was greatly rewarded by the Fae, who appeared as nature spirits he encountered during his journey. When the second brother was stirred by greed to imitate his brother’s trip, his true nature was shown as he abused the land and creatures and was unkind to everything about him. His reward was a hideous appearance to suit his heart.
3. Fairy Speak Another type of formality is the way in which many fairies demand you conduct your speech. They may not answer unless you speak in rhyme or riddles, or are able to answer their riddles. Another challenge in speaking to the Fae is to always get in the last word, which is especially important when talking with bogles and other wicked spirits, according to Katharine Briggs’ Encyclopedia of Fairies.
4. Dress for the Occasion Fairies have some strange issues with clothes. For one thing, many household fairies (Brownies and other Hobs) will promptly leave if offered a set of clothing. Apparently, while offerings of food are acceptable, clothing is offensive to the birthday-suited wildlings. J. K. Rowling gave this legend a twist when the tricked offering of a sock meant freedom from slavery for little Dobby. Clothing is also used by people as a means to keep Fae away, either by wearing something inside out, or by wearing the color red, which a fairy-pestered girl uses to make herself invisible to the fairies in 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison. However, when fairies attempt to feign humanity, they often appear dressed in odd or old fashioned clothes, giving themselves away as someone unusual, at the very least.
5. Wings are Optional Despite our overly ingrained ideal of tiny winged beings, the Fae of folklore almost never have wings, though many are able to fly, and even able to levitate humans to accompany them. How do they do this? Some use bundled grass or herbs like a witch’s broom, a few ride on the backs of birds, and others use magic phrases or incantations. But many are simply able to move about as they please in the spirit realm, being unaffected by earth’s gravity (see 1. above for the connection between Fae and ghosts).
6. Secrets and Bindings and Oaths, Oh My! Should you have a fairy lover, you must never boast of them, else they will leave you for good. The same goes for any fairy gifts you may have been given, which will shrivel to wasted leaves and rotted acorns the moment you open your mouth to brag. Should you witness a fairy procession without invitation, you’d do best to keep your peace, and if you make a promise to a fairy, it better be one you can keep! The Fae are dangerous folk, sometimes responsible for blights and illness, insanity, kidnapping and worse. Let this legend from Goblin Tales of Lancashire be your warning: There was an older man and a younger man who once happened upon a fairy funeral. They were, at first, wise enough to hide behind a tree, but as the deceased was brought by on a bier, their curiosity got the better of them and they stole a look. To their horror, they recognized the body as that of the younger man.
7. The Power in Numbers (specifically seven) The seven pointed star is considered by some to be the Fairy Star, because seven is a number associated with the fairy realm. In fact, the number seven is sacred to numerous religions and is claimed to be the most influential number in magic, perhaps because the earliest astronomers identified seven heavenly bodies in space (the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). Travel outside of the Western hemisphere, and the power of seven is far from diminished. In China, for example, during the 7th month (July), it is said that the spirit world connects with our world. This sacred number is not to be taken lightly in the realm of Fae; as Tam Lin clearly tells us, even the Fairy Queen must submit to its power by sacrificing one of her people to Hell every seven years.
And this, of course, is why I chose the number seven for my list. Stop back next week for another list of seven intriguing fairy facts.