#AtoZChallenge, #FolkloreThursday, A-Z Blogging Challenge, Celtic folklore, elfland, Faerie, Faeries, fairyland, folklore, Goblin Market, Iron Fey, James Napier, Lucy Cooper, Modern Faerie Tale, preview of work, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Theresa Bane, W.B. Yeats, Wicked Lovely, Wings, writing
F is for Faerie
No matter what you call it, it’s the home of the Fae.
Faerie in Folklore
“Where is fairyland?
Invisible lands across the sea, hollow hills that raise themselves up on legs at full moon, revealing the twinkling lights of the fairy homes within, underwater palaces and castles in the sky, streams, lakes, mountains, forests, woods, trees, and flowers, under a rock or at the bottom of the garden – fairyland, like fairies themselves, comes in many different guises.”
– The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper. Much more about fairyland can be read in the book.
Many have tried to reach Faerie, as shown in W.B. Yeats’ Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.
HY-BRASAIL–THE ISLE OF THE BLEST
On the ocean that hollows the rocks where ye dwell,
A shadowy land has appeared, as they tell;
Men thought it a region of sunshine and rest,
And they called it Hy-Brasail, the isle of the blest.
From year unto year on the ocean’s blue rim,
The beautiful spectre showed lovely and dim;
The golden clouds curtained the deep where it lay,
And it looked like an Eden, away, far away!
A peasant who heard of the wonderful tale,
In the breeze of the Orient loosened his sail;
From Ara, the holy, he turned to the west,
For though Ara was holy, Hy-Brasail was blest.
He heard not the voices that called from the shore–
He heard not the rising wind’s menacing roar;
Home, kindred, and safety, he left on that day,
And he sped to Hy-Brasail, away, far away!
Morn rose on the deep, and that shadowy isle,
O’er the faint rim of distance, reflected its smile;
Noon burned on the wave, and that shadowy shore
Seemed lovelily distant, and faint as before;
Lone evening came down on the wanderer’s track,
And to Ara again he looked timidly back;
Oh! far on the verge of the ocean it lay,
Yet the isle of the blest was away, far away!
Rash dreamer, return! O, ye winds of the main,
Bear him back to his own peaceful Ara again.
Rash fool! for a vision of fanciful bliss,
To barter thy calm life of labour and peace.
The warning of reason was spoken in vain;
He never revisited Ara again!
Night fell on the deep, amidst tempest and spray,
And he died on the waters, away, far away!
Fairyland is known by many names, including Tír na nÓg.
In Irish mythology and folklore, Tír na nÓg ([tʲiːɾˠ n̪ˠə ˈn̪ˠoːɡ]; “Land of the Young”) or Tír na hÓige (“Land of Youth”) is one of the names for the Otherworld, or perhaps for a part of it. It is depicted as a supernatural realm of everlasting youth, beauty, health, abundance and joy. Its inhabitants are the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods of pre-Christian Ireland. In the echtrae (adventure) and immram (voyage) tales, various Irish mythical heroes visit Tír na nÓg after a voyage or an invitation from one of its residents. They reach it by entering ancient burial mounds or caves, or by going under water or across the sea.
Other Old Irish names for the Otherworld include Tír Tairngire (“Land of Promise/Promised Land”), Tír fo Thuinn (“Land under the Wave”), Mag Mell (“Plain of Delight/Delightful Plain”), Ildathach (“Multicoloured place”), and Emain Ablach (the Isle of Apple Trees).
Another name for Fairyland is Elfland, or Alfheim.
Alfheim (Old Norse: Álfheimr, “Land Of The Elves” or “Elfland”), also called Ljosalfheim (Ljósálf[a]heimr, “home of the light-elves“), is one of the Nine Worlds and home of the Light Elves in Norse mythology.
That which is called Álfheim is one, where dwell the peoples called ljósálfar [Light Elves]; but the dökkálfar [Dark Elves] dwell down in the earth, and they are unlike in appearance, but by far more unlike in nature. The Light-elves are fairer to look upon than the sun, but the Dark-elves are blacker than pitch.
Sometimes, the Faery Queen – ruler of all of Faerie – is seen a little differently.
Queen of Elphame or “Elf-hame” (-hame stem only occurs in conjectural reconstructed orthography), in the folklore belief of Lowland Scotland and Northern England, designates the elfin queen of Faerie, mentioned in Scottish witch trials. She is equivalent to the Queen of Fairy who rules Faërie or Fairyland.
Such a queen also appears in the legend of Thomas the Rhymer, but she is queen of a nameless world in the medieval verse romance. The name “Queen of Elfland” is mentioned for her only in a later ballad (version A). Thomas the Rhymer’s abduction by the queen was not just familiar folklore, but described as a kindred experience by at least one witch (Andro Man). The “Queen of Fairies” in Tam Lin may be the queen of the same world, at least, she too is compelled deliver humans as “tithe to hell” every seven years.
In Scottish popular tradition the Fairy Queen was known as the Gyre-Carling or Nicnevin, In one metrical legend, “The Faeries of Fawdon Hill” is where the Fairy Court is held, presided by Queen Mab.
Fairyland may be referred to simply as “Fairy” or “Faerie,” though that usage is an archaism. It is often the land ruled by the “Queen of Fairy,” and thus anything from fairyland is also sometimes described as being from the “Court of the Queen of Elfame” or from Seelie court in Scottish folklore.
Elfhame or Elfland, is portrayed in a variety of ways in old ballads and stories, most commonly as mystical and benevolent, but also at times as sinister and wicked. The mysteriousness of the land, and its otherworldly powers are a source of scepticism and distrust in many tales. Additional journeys to the realm include the fairy tale “Childe Rowland“, which presents a particularly negative view of the land.
Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane.
And the same information can be found in Encyclopedia of Imaginary and Mythical Places by Theresa Bane.
For a look of what elfland feels like…
Western Scottish Folklore & Superstitions by James Napier.
The faery realm gets named many things, but it doesn’t take away from the general belief that this realm is located on the same planet. In faery lore, that means it is the parallel dimension to Earth. In some derivations, it’s an inaccessible landmass across vast oceans. Many of the older versions believe this world of faery is a mystical island, where immortal and magical beings frolic to hide away from the harshness of mortal life.
There is a distant isle,
Around which sea-horses glisten:
A fair course against the white-swelling surge,–
Four feet uphold it.
– excerpt from “Voyage of Bran, Son of Febal”
In Irish folklore, the world of the Fey is called Tír na nÓg (“Land of the Young”) or Mag Mell, and is thought to be the place in which the Tuatha De Danann live. Many also mention the fact that this island is inhabited by not only faeries, but by gods, demons, spirits, and shades. Namely, all the magical beings not usually found in the human world. The best known depiction of Tír na nÓg would probably be from the stories of Ossian (an Irish poet of great renown), who was spirited to the faery realm for seven years. In the Irish legends, Ossian lived as the consort of the faery queen, and returned to Ireland after seven years. Of course, when he did make it back to his beloved country, he realized that the Feinin (the “Fair Folk” who stayed around in the mortal world) disappeared and became merely old wives’ tales. This was because 300 years had passed since he disappeared from the mortal realms.
A similar world can be found in the Welsh faery land of Annwn or Tylwyth Teg (also the name of the “Fair Folk”). Like Tir Na Nog, Annwn is an island located to the west of Wales (sometimes it is also rumored to be located underground). No mortal creature can reach it save for a dangerous faery path, which can only be traversed with a particular fae guide.
Why do people get sucked into the faerie world? It may seem like a simple question to answer. In fact, many will definitely argue over the apparent beauty found in said faerie worlds. The surrounding forests of the Faery Queen must be abominably beautiful; her court must have a train of the most dazzling creatures ever; her palace a wondrous display of entertainment–of music and dancing and merry-making all until the next morning. The scenes depicted would be so entrancing that mortal eyes could only cower in wonder and admiration. Mortals yearn for this beautiful world because they know in their hearts that nothing in their lifetime could ever be as exquisite as the one run by the Faery Queen and her fae folk.
As far as mortal perception goes, the land is beautiful and deadly. The world of the Fey is rather complex, but many people divide themselves between the belief that a) the faerie realm is beautiful and b) the faerie realm is truly hideous. Nobody would disagree over the Fey’s magical land, because the magic woven through the trees would probably be the major cause of attraction for mortals. Why else would they yearn the touch of faery forests over their own plethora of foliage? Why do people waste away, craving for golden fruits in a tree only seen in their dreams?
Well, I’ll answer that one: have you read the description of Faerie in The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm?
“…they found themselves in a magnificent avenue of trees where all the leaves were made of silver, glittering and glinting.”
“Then they came to an avenue of trees where all the leaves were of gold, and then to a third where they were of pure diamond…”
“…on the far side of the water there stood a splendid, brightly lit castle resounding with the gay music of drums and trumpets.”
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti is a must-read. For all those still thinking of eating what the fair folk offer, go read this poem and reconsider.
“Lie close,” Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”
— excerpt from Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
Then you have the faeries offering their faery-imbued gifts. Such gifts should never really be touched or taken in by mortals. The poem warns the reader about the repercussions of accepting goblin fruits. In Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” it is Laura who succumbs to the goblins’ pleas at buying their fruits. The more logical Lizzie is horrified by the fact that her sister Laura is so enamoured by the fruits that she could think of nothing else, let alone eat anything else. In order to break the spell that the goblins have over Laura, Lizzie challenges them in her own manner, fighting their enticements along the way.
The goblins, of course, can’t help themselves but test Lizzie in much the same fashion as Laura. But once they see that Lizzie will not budge, they grow bored. And the enchantments they cast are broken.
These goblins are certainly “evil” in as far as their temptation and fruits go, but in the end, even they are bound by their natures. Once bored, they break their own spells and allow their mortal captives free. This does not always happen, mind. The Unseelie Court is much less merciful with regard to enchantments.
Faeries love to offer gifts. You know the story of Rumpelstiltskin by the Brothers Grimm.
“When the girl was alone the little man came for a third time and said, ‘What’ll you give me if I spin this straw yet again?’
‘I’ve nothing more to give,’ answered the girl.
‘Then promise me your first child if you get to be queen.’”
So you know that there’s always a price to pay. Even one you never thought you would…
The term Faerie is derived from “Fé erie”, meaning the enchantment of the Fées, while Fé is derived from Fay, which is itself derived from Fatae, or the Fates. The term originally applied to supernatural women who directed the lives of men and attended births. Now it has come to mean any supernatural creature tied to the earth, except monsters and ghosts. In Ireland, the Faeries are called the Aes Sídhe (singular Aes Sídh). Sídhe happens to be the name for the earthen mounds and hills that dot the Irish landscape. Irish mythology, legendry, and folklore claim the Faeries live under these mounds, so the term “sídhe” has come to mean Faerie in general, but it more properly refers to the palaces, courts, halls, and residences of the Faeries.
When discussing the question of Faerie habitation, we must distinguish between where Faeries are found and where they live. Faeries can be found anywhere. Aristocratic Trooping Faeries inhabit mounds, caves, and other underground areas; the sea and large lakes; off-shore islands; above the clouds; and even the air itself. The gentry and the rustics can inhabit under ground or under water, but mostly they tend to inhabit the wilderness just beyond human towns and villages, such as woods, fields, hedgerows, glens, mountains, and rocky clefts. Others inhabit human funerary monuments such as dolmen and tumuli, or rings of standing stones, or mushroom rings. Domesticated Solitary Faeries can be found in or under houses or out-building, in the fields or orchards, or simply within the confines of human-dominated land. Wild Solitary Faeries can be found in any natural habitat, no matter how small or mean, and even inhabit trees and flowers. In all these places, they build for themselves some form of dwelling, which is as opulent or as simple as they need it to be.
And yet, in any real sense of the word, Faeries only live in Faerieland. Those locations in our world where we encounter them are simply the places into which they incur. Their dwellings are pockets of Faerieland that have protruded into our world, and which act as portals to allow Faeries and humans to cross from one to the other. Even so, the vast majority of Faeries and humans are unable to cross at will, but must wait until the barriers between worlds weaken or break down entirely. This happens not infrequently, and the strength of the barriers fluctuates on daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly cycles. However, periods when the barriers are weak enough to permit crossovers are few and far between, and occur at irregular intervals, with two exceptions: the nadir and zenith of the Irish year. At Samhain (November 1st) and Beltene (May 1st), the barriers virtually collapse, allowing beings from either world to cross into the other. But being as Beltene is the festival of light and rebirth, most denizens of Faerieland are repelled by it and so avoid our world at that time. Not so with Samhain — Hallowe’en — when the Faeries travel openly and freely through our world during the three days of the festival.
Though Faerieland is often depicted as a duplicate of Earth, except either more beautiful or more horrific, there is one major difference: time passes at different rates in the two worlds. Though a few legends and folktales tell of visitors to Faerieland spending a year there, only to discover that just an hour passed on Earth, it is usually the other way around. It is not uncommon to hear about someone who has spent an hour dancing inside a Faerie mushroom ring discovering that a year has passed outside; or about a captive held for a week inside a Faerie mound discovering that seven years has passed when he is released; or a hero living with a Faerie maiden on a Faerie island for six months discovering that four hundred years have passed on Earth. And there is no single standard for time conversion; time in Faerieland is as mercurial as the Faeries themselves.
Humans in Faerieland:
Aside from theft and borrowing, there are two other major ways that humans and Faeries interact. The most common is when humans visit Faerieland. It is possible for people to enter and leave Faerieland more or less unscathed, however, this is rather rare. Usually, once someone enters Faerieland, he or she becomes trapped forever. As with other dealings, humans enter Faerieland in one of two ways: having been kidnapped by Faeries, or agreeing to render them a favor. Both demonstrate just how dependent Faeries are on humans.
Faerie in Modern Literature
In the Wicked Lovely book series, only the High Court truly resides within Faerie.
Essentially, the High Court is viewed as holding itself apart from contests that don’t involve themselves or harm to their Court. Their ruler is the High Queen, Sorcha, The Unchanging Queen and Logic.
The High Court is emotionless and/or controlled. Members of the High Court don’t live among mortals, but rather exist in the “otherworld” known as Faerie. They are practical to the extreme.
There’s a book written by Sorcha, On Being: Faery Morality and Mortality. From this, it has been assumed her to be very philosophical. Sorcha sent her likeness to a number of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, particularly The Golden Stairs, from this, it has been assumed she likes art and/or artists.
It is revealed Sorcha and the High Court have a penchant for stealing Half-lings and Sighted Ones, a practice the Dark Court is aware of of. (Irial hides half-lings Ani, Tish & Rabbit from the High Court) It’s not clear if the seasonal courts are unaware of the High Court steals/takes half-lings and/or Sighted Ones; or if they simply don’t have any to hide; or both.
In the Modern Faerie Tale book series, the Fae live in mounds and entrances to Faerie can be found at the bottom of trees…
In the Wings book series, Avalon can be reached through magic gates kept safe by Spring Faeries and they can only opened by Winter Faeries.
In the Iron Fey book series, Faerie is called the Nevernever.
The Nevernever is the world from which faeries come. It is divided into territories, including the Seelie Court, the Unseelie Court, the Wyldwood, and the Iron Court. Travel to and from the Human world is done through trods, or gateways between the worlds. Time runs differently in the Nevernever than in the human world, though it does seem to exist.
Check out Louise’s take on Faerie over on Dragonpire UK.
Perhaps the way I’ve imagined Faerie to be isn’t so different from the writers before me or the way that it’s imagined in folklore.
And that’s not a bad thing at all.
The Fae have whispered stories of their home to all of us, telling some of the burghs in hills and others of islands belonging to different Courts.
Though this isn’t a complete description – the Fae continually whisper of new places – it’s as comprehensive as they’ll allow for now.
Faerie (Origin of the Fae page)
Before the Rift (a millennium or so ago), Faerie was one, whole.
Now there’s the Seelie Realm (Avalon), Borderlands within the human world (though humans are smart enough to stay away from what belongs to the Fae) where Solitary Fae live at a price (a Tithe is paid every seven years to either the Seelie Queen or the Unseelie King), the Unseelie Realm with the Dark King’s castle in the middle of it all, the Wildwood that connects everything and where magic is unpredictable, and the Sea of Discord which divides all realms.
Though Faery Circles and Faery Rings are quite capable of taking the user to where they wish to go within the realms, some still use the old passages between realms (though only the foolish or desperate do so). The old passages were created before the Rift and are no longer uninhabited or reliable.
Balance no longer exists in Faerie. After the Rift, the light no longer tempers the darkness in the Unseelie Fae and the Seelie no longer appreciates the light, for there is no darkness in their world (they no longer realise when they are being cruel or callous).
Some Fae have escaped to magical parts of the human realm – places touched by Faerie during the Rift – and made homes there. Usually this dwelling is disguised as a small hill or something uninteresting and best avoided (like a burial mound).
Though scattered, all Fae are still ruled by the Seelie Queen (Faery Queen) and the Unseelie King (Dark King). Whether that’s by doing the Court’s bidding outside of the seat of power (Seelie Realm/Unseelie Realm) or by paying a Tithe for Court privileges (like living on Court land, under the protection of that Court).
The Fae who choose to have nothing to do with the Courts have a hard life. They either live in the untamed wilderness (the Wildwood or the Sea of Discord) and go mad, or on Court land as prey, or in the Mortal Realm, cut off from their magic. (Only the two Fae monarchs, the Assassin, the King of the Dead and Cù Sìth can command the Mist. Everyone else have to draw and store Glamour from the Mist for their own use – and they can only do that in places where magic is strong.)
Time runs differently in Faerie than in the Mortal Realm. Hours there can be weeks in the human world.
Humans shouldn’t eat food from Faerie: once they do, they belong to the Fae. Only the one who offered the food can break the spell. And usually they don’t: Fae love mortal playthings. Also, Faerie food holds an enchantment that makes food from the Mortal Realm unpalatable to humans, causing an addiction to Faerie food. (You’ve been warned: don’t take sweets/fruits/cakes/drinks or anything else a stranger offers you.)
Making deals with the fair folk from Faerie invariably leads to trouble. Rumpelstiltskin isn’t the only Fae who collects debts, he’s just the most notorious.
Faerie changes to suit the will of the Faery Queen. Her power is strongest in Avalon.
The Dark King prefers to toy with perception and light/dark (illumination or lack thereof) around him.
To enter the land of the Fae (Faerie) is to give up all power of where you are and what you see/hear/feel/smell/taste.
An example would be:
“Jamie nodded and continued to fight. And he fell to the ground. The Assassin went in for the killing blow. And stopped.
Confused, Jamie looked down. Wisteria was sprouting and blooming from his kilt. And it was forming a wall between his warriors and the Seelie Knights.
‘Run,’ the Assassin said and let him pass.
Not needing to be told twice, Jamie caught the attention of his brethren and ran.
They were outmatched and outclassed: the Seelie Knights, much like their counterparts in the Unseelie Court, were trained from birth to be killing machines. The Assassin… well, no-one really knew where he came from or what he really was.
Blood dripped steadily from a shoulder wound. Jamie grimaced at the trail it left. Though the plants were insistent in helping them escape, it wouldn’t take long for the knights to find them.”
– Rumour Has It, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you’ve enjoyed your trip to Faerie. For more information, check out my Pinterest board. Most of my stories involve the Fae and even their home, so feel free to prolong your visit in any of my stories on Wattpad, Writing.com, INK – Skryf in Afrikaans or here on the blog. Any stories about Faerie you’d like to share? Have you been to Faerie?