Fairies in Folklore

woman-1489175_1920Even though we live in a world where belief in fairies is considered quaint at best, they still capture our imaginations. From Disney’s Tinkerbell movies to the elves in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to creatures in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, magical beings still have the ability to draw us in and hold us captive. But what are these elusive creatures so prevalent in our folklore and literature? There is no simple definition.

The word ‘fairy’, or ‘faery’, calls to mind tiny beings with an ambient glow, iridescent wings, and a trail of fairy dust, but the word actually encompasses a much wider range of creatures.

The most well-known body of fairy lore comes from Ireland. Here, the Fair Folk are descendants of the Tuatha de Danann, a race of god-like beings who arrived in a cloud of mist from islands to the west. They had mastered the use of magic, which helped them defeat the Firbolg in the first battle of Mag Tuireadh and the Fomorians in the second battle of the same name. However, while their dealings with the Firbolg were fairly straight-forward, this was not the case with the Fomorians.

The Cath Maige Tuired, The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, speaks of the Tuatha de Danann’s dealings with the Formorians, including trade and interbreeding. When the Tuatha de Danann were later defeated by the Milesians, they moved into underground hills and formed vast kingdoms where they lived peaceably unless harassed by humans.

While Ireland has the largest collection of fairy lore, the Little People are not restricted to the shores of the Emerald Isle; they are found in some form or another in cultures around the world.

In general, fairies are divided into two main groups: the aristocracy and the peasantry. The aristocracy, said to be descended from the Tuatha de Danann in Ireland, are tall and beautiful with power that far outstrips that of humans. Called the Daoine Sidhe and the Seelie Court, among other things, they live in their kingdoms and tend their cattle. When provoked, however, they react violently. Their arrows cause paralysis and death, and their touch can sicken and kill people and animals. They will damage crops and cattle, the same ones they help propagate when left alone.

The peasantry are more solitary and live in the wilds of nature. They are nature spirits who occupy the dark places of the world. One such place is the taiga forest, which stretches for thousands of miles across Russia. This is a cold place filled with wolves that howl in the night and elk who roam the frozen paths. It is also home to the leshy.

Descriptions of the leshy vary. Some accounts say they are tree-like in size and appearance, while others state they are tiny creatures that can scuttle by unnoticed. Like most fairies, they can change their shape at will, though their natural form is said to be human-like in form with leaf-colored hair and the horns and hooves of a goat.

In Zulu culture, there is a tiny creature known as the abatwa. This being is said to be a hunter who is small enough to hide under a blade of grass and live in an ant hill. They are self-conscious about their size, so if one comes across an abatwa while hunting, it is polite to tell him he was spotted from a good distance away. To insult an abatwa is a death sentence, much like insulting the fairies from Ireland.

If we move on to the folklore of Spain, Portugal, South America, and the Philippines, we find the duende. This creature ranges in size from eighteen inches to three to four feet tall and inhabits houses. While they are neither wholly good nor entirely evil, the duende is a trickster who enjoys tormenting humans. They will steal and destroy property when angered, and their tricks are anything but humorous. They will also torment villages when the mood strikes them.

From Native American folklore, we have Coyote, who might be more accurately considered a god. This spirit is seen as a nature spirit among other things and is known for his trickster attitude. While he’s credited with giving man artwork and fire, he is often portrayed in his more malevolent form. In this form, his tricks come close to being evil, and it’s said he caused misery and sickness to come into the world.

In Italy, there is the Monaciello. This creature is said to resemble a tiny monk similar in appearance to a leprechaun. These creatures supposedly guard wine and treasure. While the typical friar’s clothing is brown, the Monaciello’s is bright red. He lives in houses and takes pleasure in pinching the residents and stealing their clothing. Should the human resident take the Monaciello’s hat, he will be able to claim part of the creature’s treasure in exchange for its return.

On the more malevolent end of the spectrum is the Orculli, also from Italy. These creatures are masters at shape-changing and most identifiable by their stench. They are also cannibalistic and stories tell of them grabbing humans for a snack.

The list of fairy species is enough to fill several volumes, and many have been written, but, in general, they are creatures of magic who are very much connected to the natural world. As man has moved into these natural places, the Fair Folk have been pushed away, as they have no love of industrialization and the trappings of modern life. However, they live on in our stories and imaginations and have a special place in our hearts.

 

FURTHER READING

Appenzeller, Tim. The Enchanted World: Dwarfs. Time-Life Books, 1985.

Appenzeller, Tim. The Enchanted World: Fairies and Elves. Time-Life Books, 1985.

Arrowsmith, Nancy, and George Moorse. A Field Guide to the Little People. Simon and Schuster, 1977.

Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Mythology. New York: Dell Publishing, Co., 1959.

Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology. New York: Penguin Compass, 1991.

Cole, Joanna. Best Loved Folktales of the World. New York: Anchor Books, 1982.

Hollander, Lee M, trans. The Poetic Edda. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1962.

 

 

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Golem

Golem JuiceMention the word ‘golem’ and most folks think of the creepy little critter in The Lord of the Rings, but the mythological creature is actually, to me at least, much more terrifying to consider.

The most famous golem in mythology is the Golem of Prague. This creature was created by Rabbi Loeb around 1580 when the Jews were threatened.  This site provides one version of the ritual that brought the creatures to life, but I know there are others.  There are also several versions of the story, and some alternate stories can be found here.

A number of years ago, we won’t say how many, I was doing research into the golem and came across one of the rituals.  I wish I could remember where I found it, but it basically stated that the golem had to be created out of soil that had never known human touch.  There was a period of purification that came before the creation, and the incantation for the ritual took about thirty hours.  If even one mistake was made in the incantation, then it had to be begun again, which could extend the time needed to create the golem.  Now, this isn’t something I’d have the time to undertake, no matter how nice it would be to have a creature that obeyed commands.

Golems do not have the ability to think for themselves.  All they can do is follow the commands of their creators.  This being the case, the creator has to be extremely specific with instructions, for the golem won’t infer from anything said.  It will follow instructions literally.

The book Sefer Yezirah supposedly contains the instructions for creating the golem, but the instructions have to be interpreted, and each Rabbi who has decided to make a golem has interpreted it differently.

Golems are said to be great creatures for manual labor and defense.  However, over time they become unstable and will rampage and possibly harm others.  For this reason, it is important that golems only remain active for a short period of time for a specific purpose before being deactivated.

 

 

 

 

http://www.gods-and-monsters.com/golem.html

Merlin

Coming SoonI’ve been kicking around some ideas of where Ethan can go after he finishes his current quests.  I’ve been thinking about bringing one of the other characters to the fore for a couple of books.  Then there’re my adult works, which deal a lot with magical folks with several characters having some type of innate magical ability outside of the weapons given to them by the gods.  With that in mind, I went back into my stuff on Merlin to see what I could come up with.  It’s been a lot of years since I’ve delved into these works, and I’m finding that I’ve missed them.

One of the most popular wizards in all of mythology is Merlin from the Arthurian legends.  This figure is sometimes seen as a wise man and father-type figure to Arthur, but at other times he’s seen as something a bit more sinister.  His origin is ambiguous at best, and his abilities vary depending on the source.

Merlin first appears in the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth.  Here, he is a youth who never had a father and is brought to the attention of king Vortigern because the king needs the blood of a ‘youth without a father’ to build his tower.  In this passage, Merlin’s mother speaks of a man who appeared and disappeared and got her with child, and the creature is identified as an incubus.  Merlin, not wanting to be killed, informs the king that something else is causing his tower to fall.  The workers dig beneath it and find this to be true.  There was an underground pond and two dragons beneath that.  Vortigern then admired Merlin.

In later years, Merlin is able to identify the king of Britain (Uther, after seeing a comet), and it is Merlin who causes Uther to look like Ygrain’s husband so he can lie with her.  This begins the life of King Arthur, and it is in these legends that we see the most of Merlin.  In most of these tales, the wizard is a wise father figure to the boy who becomes king, and it is Merlin who orchestrates the sword in the stone.  However, if we watch the movie Excaliber (yeah, I know, it’s not mythology), we can see that Merlin here is much more sinister than the kindly wizard of many of the tales.  I always think of Gandalf as just another version of Merlin, but not when compared to the wizard in Excaliber.

There are other legends concerning Merlin.  In these Welsh tales he is called Myrddin and is a prophetic madman in the woods.  Here, he has a wife and a sister, and his prophecies are true, yet laced with madness.  Few of these tales are related to King Arthur in any way, and they’re a fascinating read for those who want a different take on this legendary wizard.

Merlin finally dies because he cannot control his lust for a woman (moral lesson for guys anyone?).  She is called Morgana, Morgan le Fay, and other names, but, in the end, she wants Merlin’s power and isn’t above using her womanly wiles to get it.

Merlin appears in many other works, including the romances of Chretien de Troyes and Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Mallory, and just who he is changes from story to story.  In some stories he’s a wise man, a wizard, someone who has all the answers.  In other stories, he’s a conniving, somewhat morally ambiguous character who manipulates others for his own ends.  There are even times when he’s considered to be a wild man, a madman, and lives deep in the woods.  He’s a bard, a Druid, a failing old man with uncontrollable lust.  He’s both British and Welsh, wise and foolish.  He’s both great and fallible, and he’s one of the most fascinating characters in mythology and legend.

Best wishes.

 

Merlin – Timeless Myths

The Legendary Origins of Merlin

Vita Merlini

Crows Point the Way. Maybe.

wp-1461547632773.jpgIn the world of Grevared there are three towns named after the mysterious crow.  There’s Crowrest in E’ma Thalas, Ravengrace in Corleon, and Crowborough, also in Corleon.  I guess I named the towns the way I did because I’ve always thought crows were interesting birds.  Plus, I see a lot of them.

Well, this morning sort of got me thinking.  I was at my ‘real’ job when two crows landed in the parking lot (I think they were actually after the Cheetos someone had dumped out).  One of them shied away, as expected, and eventually flew off, but the other stayed.  It waddled around a bit and looked me in the eye for several minutes.  Even when a car came through the parking lot, this crow came toward me rather than moving away from me.  A few minutes later the buddy crow came back, and both stood there for a few minutes before flying off.

Of course, being the type of person who’s interested in all things mystical and magical, I had to double check some of the symbolism.

Crows have a vast symbolism across many cultures.  There are, of course, the associations with death and misfortune, but they’re also associated with wisdom, secrets, and good luck.  I had quite a few hours to ponder the situation (and who couldn’t use some good luck?), and I think Ethan may have to go visit one of these places once he’s finished with the ordeal with Cronus (book three to be released in October).  After all, Kayne is from Crowrest, so it would be a good chance for them to see some of his family.  There is also a Shadow Walker from Ravengrace, though the stories about her are still in the writing phases.  So, maybe I need to look at the crows and let them lead the way a little.  After all, what can it hurt?  In the meantime, I’ll hope for the good luck that seeing two crows is supposed to bring.

Best wishes.

Werewolves

SpookyI’ve been working on a short story for the past few weeks that deals with some of my main adult Shadow Walkers about twenty or so years before the ‘story that never ends’ (I actually plan to finish mapping out what will now be book one tomorrow).  I got the idea from one of the scenes in what will become book three (when I get there) and decided to investigate what led up to that scene.  Believe me, I had no idea where this was going when I started, and I surely didn’t intend for it to end up with werewolves as part of the problem.  But it did.  So I’ve been brushing up on some of my werewolf lore.

The most popular book on werewolves is Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Werewolves, and in it he goes through a good deal of mythology somewhat based on the idea of the werewolf.  There’s a lot of other stuff in there that deals with cannibals and serial killers and whatnot, but the actual werewolf stuff is pretty interesting.  He talks about different cultures that used animal skins as part of their wardrobes in battle, etc.

However, none of that was really helping me, so I looked into some of the skinwalker legends in Native American lore.  These, too, are fascinating in the idea that someone can, through ritual, gain the ability to transform into another person or animal.  According to the legends, the person (considered evil) must make a ritual kill in order to gain the power.  However, in more modern sighting stories, the skinwalker’s behavior is more puckish – chasing cars, knocking on windows, etc.

The idea of shapeshifting into another form could go as far back as the cave painting known as ‘the Sorcerer’.  This painting shows both human and animal features, so some scholars have suggested that his position is indicative of the process of transformation.  It’s always looked to me like he was in the middle of a ritual dance of some sort.

Another story that most of us have heard at some point goes back to Ancient Greece.  Here we have the first instance of the transformation of a human into a wolf (though Zeus himself didn’t seem too picky about what form he took).  King Lycaon supposedly cooked up one of his sons and served him for dinner when Zeus was a guest.  Needless to say, Zeus wasn’t too thrilled with this and turned Lycaon into a wolf as punishment.  Most of what I’ve read points to this as the first story about werewolves and the origin of the legend.

Werewolf legends abound in just about every culture in the world, and wolves were not the only animal men transformed into.  I find the concept interesting and often wonder about its origin.  At what point did mankind get the idea of shifting into an animal shape?  And, perhaps more importantly, if ancient people truly possessed this ability, why can’t we do it today?

Best Wishes!