Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Misty Forests: Discover the Secret World of Europe's Oldest Fairyrealm

Mari-El, a land of vast and isolated forests, a land of Europe's oldest Fairy Faiths.

Here in this land it's difficult to tell if you are in the fairy realm in the sky, the underworld, or still in the Middle Realm of Humans and strange spirits. For a person can find themselves in fairyland simply by stepping off the path, or walking out their door at the wrong time.

Mari-el has a dizzying array of spirits, everything and anything you can think of has a spirit. Clean water ways are ruled over the But Aba, the colic of horses is ruled over by a spirit known as Asera. Forests themselves have dozens, if not hundreds of spirits which rule over and divide up the land. For example; there are the Targeldes, which are the spirits of either those who died in the forest (especially murder victims) or still born babies. Appearing as massive headed, giant Cyclopes, they rove the forest near where they were murdered but will occasionally be seen wandering through fields, meadows, and even into town. Mischievous with a cruel streak they are known to shift their form to that of animals, logs, haystacks, they shriek to frighten cattle and laugh at the chaos which results. Similarly they frighten mushroom gatherers, berry pickers, and anyone else who might find themselves in the forest. Worse they also chase people down or lure them into the forest in order to tickle them to death.

From WikiCommons

The forest itself seems to be a Topsy-turvy place in general, for here the obda will appear with their feet on backwards. When they steal a horse to ride about the horse even runs backwards, and typically they face backwards as well. They ride about on a single ski in the winter, or sit in the forest laughing wildly and clapping madly. When they are seen Obda appear as naked, hairy people, with the females having such long breasts that they need to throw them over their shoulders when they run. Like other forest spirits they love to capture and tickle people to death, though they also enjoy using their control over people to make them dance themselves to death. Still most of the time they are more prankish than this and they love to pop out of random places to scream and startle people. In order to escape one can't simply fight them as every drop of their blood which falls to the ground will become another obda. The only real way to defeat them is to keep them away with dogs, which they fear, or to reach inside the holes which are under their armpits for doing so causes the obda to loose it's power. Further it seems that the obda can't run back on its own tracks, so as long as a person runs away from the obda over it's tracks it will be unable to follow them.

Targeldes and Obda also shares the forest with Codra Kugua and Codra Kuba (the old man and old woman of the forest) who are the owners of all the animals in the forest. Any hunter who wishes to have luck in hunting must offer these spirits porridge or else they won't be able to catch game. Worse these spirits might grow angry, causing the forest to shake with their fury. When they demand that the hunter share his food or leave another offering, they'll begin knocking (while invisible) on a nearby tree. Often bored they love games of chance and so are known to gamble with each other, using their animals as the stakes, with the winner getting more animals in their forest, and the looser having less.

As if the woodland weren't crowded enough there are also Keremets (the spirits of people who died badly or heroes that can act as deities and disease bringers) L'esak which are giant forest spirits with a bristly hair like a hay stack and big eyes and a giant head. Which loves to drink liqueur, and howls like a dog or makes sounds like a raven. A weird trickster they will often make dung appear to be bread, or do other similar sorts of things. They are also fore-tellers of tragic events, for those who hear them know that someone they love will soon die (given the nature of the l'esak it may be that they think it’s funny to let someone know something bad is coming so they can watch the person panic and try to prevent it).

From WikiCommons

As human civilization began to grow, it seems that many of these wilderness spirits began to move into human lands. Araptes, a spirit which appears as beautiful three foot tall girls, haunt abandoned bathhouses, though Araptes can also be the spirit of a murderer who haunts a region, or the spirit of a forest which can also be dangerous.

Similarly the Suksendal are feral spirits which lived in the mountains where they would hide under stones. Now, however, they have started to hide under stones in the homestead or in the bathhouse. They appear as short blond men or girls, cause people to have nightmares or rape people in their sleep. They are also known to kidnap babies and commit murder, though one could use sharp iron knifes to keep them away. Further it seems that as they began to live among humans for longer periods of time some of them came to care for the people around them as there are more recent stories about a few of them acting helpfully. One even took a soldier to be an invisible guest at his brothers far away wedding.

Most of the spirits within the household, even the ones that likely came from the wild have similarly become, or always were helpful. Kude Bodez, for example is a deity which lives in the holy corner of the house, where the family continually places fresh twigs for him. Generally friendly the kude will occasionally appear in human form to the family members and bring them good luck and happiness. Still the Kude is a bit like a sensitive child and will become destructive and dangerous if offended, or especially if the people in the house begin to fight with each other. When this happens the kude will begin to act like a poltergeist or bring sickness to the offending family member so that it needs to be calmed with offerings. These offerings are usually of honey, cake, bread, and sacrificed animals (black sheep, duck, hen or hare). After these sacrifices are made the family is expected to share in the kude's feast, eating a family meal of the various offerings, while the head of the household begs the kude for forgiveness and puts a piece of the sacrificed animals organ on the kuda's sacred shelf.

Spirits of Cold and Frost
Poksem Kuguza and Poksem Kuba are the male and female spirits of the cold who live as close knit and mischievous family groups, with their grandfather being the most destructive of them (perhaps because being really really old he's suffering from a bit of Peter Pan syndrome and wants to be childlike again). People sacrifice animals to them, so that they have something to eat, rather than needing to destroy crops.

Justa Kuguza and and Justa Kuba ar ethe male and female spirits of the frost who are much more mischievous and obnoxious than their cold counterparts. They beat on fences, walls and trees while people are trying to sleep. They call for children to come out to play, pinches people's feet and noses, hits people over the head with a mallet so that they become confused from the cold, and will sew the door closed with frost to make it hard for people to get out. They especially love to harass drunk people and will push them about and occasionally go overboard killing people. Occasionally they also climb up into people's rafters, (especially their children Justa Ega and Justa Ebeza (son and daughter respectively)


The vampires of the Mari People they travel about as a shooting star, as a woman with long hair, or a man with a long beard with sparks trailing from their hair as they fly through the air. They can also appear as a bird which pecks at trees killing them.

They fly out of the their grave through small holes to suck the milk out of cows (causing the remaining milk to have blood or dirt in it) or the blood out of people’s mouths by kissing them. Other dangerous activities include eating people and animal’s eyes, or entering women to eat their fetuses and the stomachs of people. They also become especially beautiful people to become a human’s lover so that they can toy with their emotions and drive them insane. Finally they would possess people, causing them to do evil while in a dream like trance.

In order to deal with them people would dig up the body of the person whose spirit they were and beat it with mountain ash branches and burn it. Though sometimes before they could kill it it would escape from the corpse’s mouth in the form of a butterfly and become a buber bird. To prevent this people would put a stone from the craw of a chicken in the corpse’s mouth. Other times it could be reborn from the ashes after it was burned, so killing it was really hard. The only real way to deal with it then was to put a horseshoe at the threshold of a house so that it couldn't enter.

Follow Wandering Folklorist's board mari-el russia on Pinterest.

Souls of the Mari-El

Everyone had three souls known as Sules, Con and Ort. Should the Sules or Con leave the body the person would die almost instantly. The Con would move about within a person’s body, and if the place where it was located was struck the person would also die.

Unlike the other souls the ort regularly leaves  person’ s body when they dream, or when a shaman sends it out in a form of astral projection. Though if it remains outside of the body too long illness and even death will eventually result. As a free flowing soul ort is also able to remain behind when a person dies, sometimes flying about as a butterfly or a bird, or wandering invisible (or visible) through the village. After forty days people would have a feast to say goodbye to this spirit as if it enter the land of the dead at this point it was likely to grow malicious.


Pancakes are an important food in Mari-El Tales. One man who discovers a wishing tree is gathering wood so that he can have pancakes. Indeed they are perhaps the most commonly mentioned food in Fairy Tales.

The Pancakes include those made with Barley Flour, with Rye, With crushed Onions in the batter, Oats, or Various Berries.


Various Grains boiled with Pork, Mutton, and Beef
For example:

2 Cups Oats, 1 Cup Lard, 1/2 Cup Pork, Clove of Garlic, Water, Salt
Boil until the Pork is well cooked.


Dice Apple's and Turnips, Add a little Sugar, Serve with Sour Cream

Chicken Liver
Fry Liver in Butter with Chopped Onion.
When brown add a little hot water, and a tomato. Simmer with Rice until water is evaporated.
Bake the resulting rice in the oven for a while.

Mushroom Dumplings
Mushrooms, onion, pepper, salt for the dumpling mixture.
Serve with butter or sour cream.

Fish Noodles
Boil a large cleaned fish in water salted to taste.
Remove the Fish
Boil Potatoes and Onions in the Broth, remove.
Cook the Noodles in this broth.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

House Fairies

As a general rule I tend to dislike breaking down fairy types by the place they live. After all; cats, bed bugs, mice, and people all live in houses too but that doesn't make us all the same thing.

Never the less there is something to be said for discussing the magical ecology of homes, villages and cities. This, however, is a very complex endeavor as there are many, many, many types of fairies that can live in people's home, not all of which are easy to classify.

To begin to understand house fairies I'd like to use an example of a story I include in my most recent book "From Celtic Fairies to Romanian Vampires."

"There was a Frisian named Harro Harrsen. When he was planning on building a home he saw a hole in a log, he realized that it would make the perfect place for a little Niskepuk to live. So he built a home, and when it was finished he nailed a board as wide as his hand to act as a trim beneath the hole. He put a bowl filled with gruel and plenty of butter on the trim and in a friendly way called, "Come, loving Niskepuk!" He didn't have to wait long for the Niskepuk's came to look over his new home, which they danced through. Only one of them - who was three inces tall - stayed, living in the hole in the piller in Harro Harrsen's home."

At one time people wanted fairies in their homes, a home without a soul was well, soulless, it couldn't thrive and neither could the people who lived within it. Yet like all human fairy relationships this was a complected one.

Types of Fairies In Homes

Wilderness fairies passing through.

A lot of wilderness fairies will pass through people's homes, tumbling down the chimneys, in through cracks in the walls, under the doors, etc. Often the Celts would leave clean water out for passing fairies to bathe in and wash their children. Others would leave food and drink out for the wild fairies. Indeed there was always the fear that if one didn't provide the wild fairies with something to drink they would come looking for human blood to slack their thirst. 

Other wild fairies would enter homes to play with children, to cause mischief, to steal. The (Buffadello) of Italy is one wilderness fairy which lived in nut trees. They would frequently enter homes in hopes of playing with children. They would also cause general havoc around the house. Running up and down the stairs at night, pulling the covers of people, tickling feet, and more. 

In North England Ainsle came down the chimney and played with a boy at night. She seems to have been a bit of an attention seeker as many fairies are. Showing off her magical ability to create illusions and her artistry.

Often times such wilderness fairies were dangerous which is why the Roman's would use brooms to drive them away or the Japanese would use salt to do the same. They could also be clearly helpful, however. Indeed there are many stories in which wilderness fairies will leave coins or bring luck to those who are clean and kind. So

While these fairies usually only pass through the home their are incidences where wilderness fairies will stay in a human home.


There are fairies that live in trees, in rocks, in the earth, etc. Such fairies can become dangerous if humans build on their homes. Often these fairies will act like poltergeists, pinching people in their sleep, breaking things, etc. In some places the spirits of elder trees might were known to drink the blood out of the breasts of people who build a home using their tree.

This then begs the question, 'how do you build a house without offending the fairies?'

There are dozens of answers to this as it seems each region had it's own specific rules. There are, however, some common rules;

Firstly never build on large sets of rocks as these are the fairies homes. Second never build on the borders between two properties, cities, lands, etc. as fairies claim the border lands.

You can spend the night in a place where you are planning on building. If the fairies disturb your camp it's a sign that you shouldn't build there, if they leave your camp undisturbed it often means they are okay with the building.

Offer the fairies reparations for the land. Give them milk, butter, etc. Historically animal sacrifices of various sorts (especially of horses) were common in return for the right to build on the land.

A coin found on the land was also a sign that it was okay to build there. Snakes could also be a good sign as house fairies often took the form of snakes.

As a writer answering questions like this, creating superstitions can add interesting elements to your culture.  


The name puck may come from Nisepuk. In one story a man notices a hole in log and decided to use this to make the center of his home so that a nisepuk could live in it. He then called the little fairies to his home and one decided to stay. Every day he left the little fairy butter and in return the fairy brought him luck, making him extremely wealthy. Some of these fairies become domesticated, a perminant part of households. Because of this nearly any type of fairy can become a house fairy. There's a sealkie who's a house fairy in one place, while former forest kings are fairies in another. This is based on arrangement between the humans and the fairies.

In Japan there is a tengu (a raven headed and winged forest spirit) which became a household god and protected children from getting burns and houses from fires.

Indeed there are likely thousands of stories about wilderness spirits which were invited into people's homes in order to help them with various tasks or provide protection from various dangers.


Some wilderness fairies seem to adopt humans who move into their territory. These fairies are complected as they can be very kind to the people who they've adopted but dangerous to everyone else. In Eastern Europe the lords of the forest were known to adopt certain families, the way a person might adopt a stray kitten. However, while they were kind to their own families they would often put curses on and rob from the neighbors and other people. Thus an old prayer asking for blessings on ones own house spirit, but protection from everyone else's.

In Japan animal spirits, dog spirits, snake spirits, and more might become a part of a family. They would help that family in return for a bit of food. However, they would often possess the neighbors causing illness and other trouble. Thus there were times when families who had fox spirits, etc. were driven out of villages. 

4-Refugees and Outcasts

There are a lot of fairies who have been banished from their homes. Fairy wars and in fighting is common. A king might accuse one of the lesser fairies of having an affair with his wife obliging him to take the form of a cat and hide in a human home. Other times an invading army of fairies will drive the local fairies into hiding in human homes. Most of the time, we never hear exactly why a fairy was banished from the fairy court.

These refugees tend as a general rule to try to be helpful to the family in whose home they have decided to live. Though there are some cases of them taking the form of a cat to live with the family and be cared for them without contributing anything in return.

Any Fairy

The fact that wilderness fairies pass through and often decide to live in the home means that basically any fairy can become a house fairy. This, again, is why I hate to simply create a category of fairies called house fairies. After all, even if both the kobold refugee from the mountains and the fox spirit invited by the family do many of the same things, their emotions, their feelings will be completely different. Especially when writing a book these feelings are what matters.

Attracting and Retaining House Fairies

So how does one attract and retain house fairies?

1-Keep your house clean. House fairies hate mess, they hate untidiness and laziness. Those who fail to work hard and be clean will likely be punished by the wilderness fairies who happen to pass through while those who are clean are likely to be rewarded by them.

2-Never reveal that you have a house fairy. Seriously, they hate it when people talk about them.

3-Leave butter bread and water out for them. Even if there isn't a house fairy such things are a way to get wilderness fairies to pass through regularly and possibly stay.

4-Don't swear and fight in the house. Fairies are extremely emotionally sensitive. If a two year old or an old lady would be upset by it they would as well.

For writers these rules can provide a lot of story fodder. For example, house fairies were what kept vampires out, so if a person was messy, if they didn't have clean water out for the fairies, if they had been cursing recently it meant that vampires could enter their homes...

I will post Part 2 of House Fairies Soon.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Stories of Celtic Fairies - part 1

Fairies don't live in some distant land, instead they exist all around us. Their houses can be right out our back doors as illustrated by the story of "Why the Front Door Was Back". In this story a farmer wonders why his cows keep getting sick.

"I'll tell you," said a voice behind him. It seemed half way between a
squeak and a growl.

He turned round and there he saw a little, angry man. He was dressed
in red, and stood hardly as high as the farmer's knee. The little old
man glared at the big fellow and cried out in a high tone of voice:

"You must change your habits of disposing of your garbage, for other
people have chimneys besides you."

"What has that to do with sickness among my cows?"

"Much indeed. Your family is the cause of your troubles, for they
throw all their slops down my chimney and put out my fire."

The farmer was puzzled beyond the telling, for he owned all the land
within a mile, and knew of no house in sight.

"Put your foot on mine, and then you will have the power of vision, to
see clearly."

The farmer's big boot was at once placed on the little man's slipper,
and when he looked down he almost laughed at the contrast in size.
What was his real surprise, when he saw that the slops thrown out of
his house, did actually fall down; and, besides, the contents of the
full bucket, when emptied, kept on dripping into the chimney of a
house which stood far below, but which he had never seen before.

But as soon as he took his foot off that of the tiny little man, he
saw nothing. Everything like a building vanished as in a dream."

Fairy kingdoms exist within hills, forests, under lakes which we might perceive in small but within the fairies perception these kingdoms can be massive. As the above story illustrates fairyland isn't always so much a place as it is a state of mind.

Fairies and humans in Celtic lore very often lived as symbiotic neighbors. For example, in the story of "The Pixy Threshers" the pixies take it upon themselves to help a farmer thresh his grain. The farmer in the tale understands the fairies well, and so he doesn't disturb them or ever try to look on them. Fairies often hate to be seen by humans (who have the power of the evil eye). He also pays the fairies in a bit of food left out for them.

In other tales fairies would leave coins in people's shoes, in their cupboards, etc. In "Kaddy's Luck" some fairies leave a girl coins, allowing her to become fairly well off.

Indeed many fairies act very much like Santa Claus who isn't based on a single tradition because he was part of many traditions of fairy gift givers. The Apple Tree Man, the Twylyth Teg, and many more all gave coins, luck or other gifts to people.

What's important to understand is that the fairies didn't want to be separate from humanity, their story was in many ways our story. Humans and fairies often lived in a symbiotic relationship with each other. For example in one story;

IANTO LLYWELYN lived by himself in a cottage at Llanfihangel. One night after he had gone to bed he heard a noise outside the door of the house. He opened his window and said, "Who is there? And what do you want?" He was answered by a small silvery voice, "It is room we want to dress our children." lanto went down and opened the door: a dozen small beings entered carrying tiny babies in their arms, and began to search for an earthen pitcher with water; they remained in the cottage for some hours, washing the infants and adorning themselves. Just before the cock crew in the morning they went away, leaving some money on the hearth as a reward for the kindness they had received.

After this lanto used to keep his fire of coal balls burning all night long, leaving a vessel of water on the hearth, and bread with its accompaniments on the table, taking care, also, to remove everything made of iron before going to bed. The fairies often visited his cottage at night, and after each visit he found money left for him on the hearth. lanto gave up working, and lived very comfortably on the money which he received in return for his hospitality from the Fair Family. 

It's true that we often went to war with each other. Indeed the Celtic fairies were banished into their underground world by the human armies and powerful human druids in Irish lore, and there are remnants of this idea in Wales, Cornwall, and Scotland as well. When the fairies kidnapped a farmer's wife he declared war on them and began attacking their hill.

Before continuing perhaps it would be best to explain that as with humans fairies have complex personalities. Just as a human can be both kind and cruel depending on a myriad of circumstances, so too can fairies. The same king who gives alms to poor travelers might over tax his own poor. Thus the same fairies can be both friend and enemy to humanity.

5 Fairy Stories and what they show us about Celtic Fairies

Fitzgerald and Daniel Donohue

A man named Fitzgerald's garden was blighted so he carved a hawthorn stake and went out to call

"on the chief fairy, Daniel O’Donohue, King of Lochlein, and challenging all the fairies of Ulster, and promising, if he couldn’t do for them all himself, he had neighbours who would go with him and help him. “At that time,” said the host, “there wasn’t a man in ten who didn’t believe in the fairies and think that it was they who caused the blight, so they listened to the old man as he went on challenging the fairies of the North, offering his help to Daniel O’Donohue.”

There is only so much fertility to be had in the fields, so in order to gain more some people and fairies would steal it from others.

What's most interesting about this story, however, is the notion that humans and fairies of one region would unite against the humans and fairies of another one.

Poor Fairies Need a Cow

Poor fairies often need to take milk, cattle, bread, etc from humans. In one story a milk keeps getting taken from a man and “One morning, when Hanifin was going to call the herder to drive the cows to be milked he passed near an old fairy fort that was on the road between the house and the pasture, and just as he called to the herder he heard a child crying inside the fort: it was crying for a drink, and the woman said: ‘Be quiet a while; Hanifin’s cows are going home; we’ll soon have milk in plenty’

Rather than grow angry that the fairy is stealing from him Hanifin gives them a cow. Later when he's unable to pay his debts his creditor seeks to seize his cattle the fairies help him...

“The following morning ten policemen and bailiffs went to take Hanifin’s cattle, but when they were driving them up and got as far as the fort they were thrown head over heels, hither and over till they were terribly cut and beaten, and pitched into thorny bushes and holes till they were fools. The cattle, seeing this, took fright, bawled, raised their tails, and ran back to the pasture. The officers were barely able to leave the place. Never again did police or bailiff meddle with Hanifin’s cows. The creditors never collected the money.”

The Midwife and the Fairy

One of the most common stories throughout Europe is of a fairy hiring a midwife to deliver his wives baby. The midwife, however, gets a bit of fairy ointment in her eye and so gains the ability to see the fairies.

Later the fairy attacks someone while indivisible and the midwife saves them. Realizing that she can see him the fairy blinds her.

There are three important takeaways from this story.

1 - The magic of many fairies is based on formulas. They ate special fruit to be immortal, they wore hats to become invisible, they flew with the aid of magical sticks (not wings), etc.

2 - Fairies often need humans to help them with tasks from blacksmithing to midwifery.

3 - Even fairies which needed humans and paid generously could be dangerous under different circumstances.

The Fairies Cowherd

The first part of this tale is about two workers who get food from the fairies. The most interesting part of the story, however, begins with an poor woman who hears of this and goes to the fairies seeking some food as well.

“Well,” replied the fay, “I will give you another loaf. So long as you or your children partake of it it will not grow smaller and will always remain fresh, but if you should give the least morsel to a stranger the loaf will disappear. But as I have helped you, so must you help me. I have four cows, and I wish to send them out to pasture. Promise me that one of your daughters will guard them for me.”

So one of the woman's daughters goes out to take care of the fairies cows. The girl ultimately becomes the godmother to one of the fairy's children and enters fairyland, where she remained for two days. When she'd left her godchild had already grown up.

On returning home she discovered that she had been in fairyland for 10 years.

After she had overcome her surprise the girl resumed her household duties as if nothing particular had happened, and knitted a pair of stockings for her godchild. When they were finished she carried them to the fairy grotto, where, as she thought, she spent the afternoon. But in reality she had been away from home this time for five years. As she was leaving, her godchild gave her a purse, saying: “This purse is full of gold. Whenever you take a piece out another one will come in its place, but if any one else uses it it will lose all its virtue.”


1-Fairies often hire humans to do choirs for them.

2-Time passes differently in fairyland

3-Fairy children tend to grow up quickly or are born wise and ancient from the very beginning.

4-Never reveal fairy help you receive.

The Bwca is Banished

This is the sad story of a house fairy who is very helpful, but people keep playing pranks on him, forcing him to move from one house to another until at last he becomes a bogle (a mischievous/dangerous fairy).

Eventually a cunning (wise man-good witch) catches him by the nose) and banished to the other world.

There are a number of things which can be learned from this story including;

1-The first house the Bwca lives in has a girl who is believed to be part fairy. The two of them get along  well enough, that is until she plays a prank on him (puts urine in his food).

As a general rule half fairies well usually ultimately get into a fight with the fairies. They tend to play pranks on the fairies that get them into trouble, or the compete with the fairies. In either case half-fairies often find themselves not really fitting into human or fairy society.

2-House fairies in Celtic lands tend not to be related to the people in the house. Nor are they even connected to the house. Instead they are often solitary fairies who choose to live among humans for a number of reasons.

3-More than just having different moods fairies can often change form. Thus a kindly bwca can become a dangerous bogle if it's mistreated enough.

Categories of Celtic Fairies

There is no one type of fairy. Indeed, fairies are as diverse as mammals. After all, mermaids, pixies, and cats can all be classified as different types of Celtic fairies, yet these different beings are clearly very different from each other. Further, each fairy will have it's own personality, motivations, and life story which will make them different from other fairies of the same type.

That said there are some general categories of fairies which can be useful for writers and for understanding the general politics of the world of Celtic Fairies. None of these categories of fairies are exclusive, however, as any given fairy can belong to many of them at the same time.


Many fairies live in royal courts which in structure are very similar to the human royal courts. They have kings, queens, various lords, etc. Further they tend to spend their time engaged in frivolity go about hunting, dancing, etc. Often such courts will wage war on each other and make treaties with human kingdoms. Indeed it could be said that there is a second layer of kingdoms and politics within the same lands we occupy.

The tale about the fairies on "The Gump of St. Just" has a fairly long and detailed description of a fairy court in Cornwall;

All was now ablaze with variously-coloured lights. Every blade of grass was hung with lamps, and every furze bush was illuminated with stars Out from the opening in the hill marched a host of spriggans, as if to clear the road. Then came an immense number of musicians playing on every kind of instrument. These were followed by troop after troop of soldiers, each troop bearing aloft their banner, which appeared to spread itself, to display its blazonry, without the assistance of any breeze. All these arranged themselves in order over the ground, some here and some there.

More and more fairies poured from the hill, servants, ladies, everything one would expect from a human court only much more brilliant. Such stories are by no means unique, indeed nearly every region within the UK and Ireland has a story of the fairy court. Many places also have tales about their human kings making treaties or waging war with the fairy court, adding a whole new political dimension to the world.

Keep in mind that these fairies don't live in a distant kingdom. Rather they rule the hills and lakes within the human kingdom. Nor does any region necessarily have a single fairy king, and the different fairy hills within the same kingdom might go to war with each other, causing famine within the region as a whole.


Fairies that choose to live alone for a number of reasons. Some fairies simply prefer to live alone but can still be kind, others are very anti-social and dangerous to both humans and fairies alike.


While there are royal courts of fairies it's important to keep in mind that humanity, and at times other fairy courts have forced many fairies to live as refugees. Often such fairies seem to use illusions to make it seem as if they are living better than they actually are. Others are forced to accept their life as it is.

Scotland, for example, has the Goona;

The Goona is the name given to one class of fairy exiles. A Goona is very kindly and harmless, and goes about at night trying to be of service to mankind. He herds the cattle on the hills, and keeps them away from dangerous places. Often he is seen sitting on the edge of a cliff, and when cattle come near he drives them back. In the summer and autumn seasons he watches the cornfields, and if a cow should try to enter one, he seizes it by a horn and leads it to hill pasture. In winter time, when the cattle are kept in byres, the Goona feels very, lonely, having no work to do. 

Crofters speak kindly of the Goona, and consider themselves lucky when one haunts their countryside. They tell that he is a little fairy man with long golden hair that falls down over his shoulders and back. He is clad in a fox's skin, and in wintry weather he suffers much from cold, for that is part of his punishment. The crofters pity him, and wish that he would come into a house and sit beside a warm fire, but this he is forbidden to do. If a crofter were to offer a Goona any clothing the little lonely fellow would have to go away and he could never return again. The only food the exiled fairy can get are scraps and bones flung away by human beings.

Typically we never learn why exactly these fairies are being punished by the fairy court.

Not all such fairies were solitary, however. Indeed, one could argue that the vast majority of Celtic fairies are refugees of one form or another, for at one time humans conquered their lands and drove them underground. While many fairy courts have escaped the poverty that this caused, others have not. So there are whole kingdoms of fairies which seem impoverished and which must steal from humans for their sustenance.


While most fairies in stories lived close to humanity there were some who lived in distant places. A fairy woman in the "The Voyage of Bran" for example, lived on a distant island of happiness and bliss (although humans could still sail to this land as Bran did).

The description of this land is fairly long, however, one part states that;

Lovely land throughout the world's age,
On which the many blossoms drop.

7. 'An ancient tree there is with blossoms,
On which birds call 2 to the Hours. 
’Tis in harmony it is their wont
To call together every Hour.

8. 'Splendours of every colour glisten
Throughout the gentle-voiced plains.
Joy is known, ranked around music,
In southern Mag Argatnél. 

9. 'Unknown is wailing or treachery 
In the familiar cultivated land,
There is nothing rough or harsh, 
But sweet music striking on the ear.

10. 'Without grief, without sorrow, without death,
Without any sickness, without debility, 


Many fairies are ancestral spirits. Banshees are one of the most interesting of these. Banshees are sweet maidens who continue to care for their families long after their death. They bless babies with gifts, help the heads of families make decisions, and weep when someone they love is about to die.

Other ancestral spirits live within the fairy court. While these are often the spirits of people have died, some people are taken by the fairies without ever dying. Fairies commonly take musicians, poets, blacksmiths, children, and more. While these people sometimes forget about their families they don't always, and  so can plead with the other fairies to aid those they left behind.

6-Fairies of the wilderness.

Many people are surprised to learn that these fairies aren't that common in Celtic lore. Yes, of course fairies view certain natural features as their home, but they live within these features very much like humans live in cities and castles, they aren't specifically nature spirits per say. Glaistigs and the Brown Man of the Muirs are two notable exceptions to this.

Glaistig tended to be the spirits of water ways or occasionally of rocks. They would herd deer the way people might heard cattle and sheep. While the Brown Man of the Muirs was a guardian of the animals of the moor, who in one case cursed some hunters to whither and die from illness.

There are also the spirits of trees, who can become angry ghosts when the tree they dwell in is cut down. These ghosts are often extremely dangerous, stopping people's heart or causing insanity with a touch.

There are also a number of tree fairies including; the apple tree man, the spirit of nut trees, willows, and the like. All of these fairies are important, but there are less stories about them than the other types of fairies.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Fairy Tales for Grown Ups

"Fairy Tales make all real woods feel a little enchanted"
C.S. Lewis

Please sign up to learn when I launch the Kickstarter for my new collection of fairy tales.

I want to put together a collection of fairy tales and short fantasy stories inspired by fairies intended to fire up your imagination, to help you feel the enchantment in the world all around you. From the inky beautifully dark tales of the forest vampires to the fun tales of fairies living like children who can never grow up in an eternal slumber party these are the most wonderful fairy tales you've likely never had the opportunity to read.

In addition, to these fairy tales of encounters with the other world I'm working on short fantasy stories and picture books.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cute Dragon

Dragon forest spirits in the spring time... 

Fully poseable models

From the mountains of Japan to the wild forests of Northern Italy dragons can be nature spirits, spirits of the wild untamed world.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Yakut - People of the Frozen Meadows - .

Be inspired by some of the richest and often least utilized cultures, their mythology, and fairy tales.

This article centers primarily around the Yakut, however, it also includes some information inspired by Steppes and other Siberian cultures where noted.

The translation for the above song begins:

"You showed me the most beautiful Alaas* in the world.
I always keep that quiet evening in my eyes,
where was the moon swimming amongst the clouds."
(Translation courtesy of

This song in continues to describe the wonder of the Alaas and the persons desire to dwell there. The Alaas, (a generally circular meadow surrounded by dark forests which formed as the lake in the center shrank leaving rich, fertile grasslands behind) was the center of Yakut life. Portions of the Yakut population and their language came from the herdsman to the South (near Mongolia), however, thousands of years ago they traveled to the cold forests of Central Siberia, only surviving as pastorals by discovering the many Alaases which doted Lena Valley.

Here in these valleys the Yakut lived in their thick winter homes, protected against the cold and the evil spirits of the forest and underworld by the warm spirit who lived in their fire. The rich grasses of the Alaas having provided hay for the horses and cattle which lived in their barns through the snowy month. With the coming of spring the tiny Winter village of 3 or 4 families would migrate to the larger summer villages of half a dozen or so homes. These summer homes were located in beautiful Alaas where their horses and cattle could feed, and where they could use nearby Alaases to make hay. When fall came this hay was transported to their winter homes which were located closer to the trees sheltered from the cold Siberian wind.


As with all ancient societies people's lives revolved around the food that they ate. Because the Yakut mostly lived off of dairy from horse and cattle they spent their summers and the fall cutting hay, they moved to better pastures in the summer, woke early to milk their animals, lived around herding their animals in the alaas. People move to larger summer villages because it takes more people to gather and make the hay for their animals, and to smaller winter homes because of the necessity of taking care of their animals. Food determined how big their villages were, where they were located, when people woke up, what they did with their days, etc.

Dairy was a defining fact of people's lives. with cheeses and sour milks making up the bulk people people's calories. The wilderness itself also provided a large portion ofpeople's foods, from fish and wild game to roots and Phloem (new pine bark peeled in June and ground into a powder and mixed into milk). Almost all of this was mixed with milk, fish, animals, roots, and more would be mixed into the milk and frozen to store through the winter. Interestingly enough, however, the Yakut were one of the few Siberian people not to eat mushrooms or berries with great frequency.

Because of the meat which hunting and fishing provided much of the Yakut's tales center around this act. More importantly the Yakut's need to go into the dark northern forests gave them ample opportunities to encounter the dark spirits and monsters of their land. It is always an interesting question of how a people will survive in a fantasy world which is potentially filled with.

Perhaps the best way to answer this question of survival in a fantasy world comes from the idea that each region has a spirit, a deity which oversees it. So long as the hunter gives an offering to the spirit of the forest before entering it the spirit of the forest will help keep them safe. However, if the hunter steps off the primary hunting paths they will find themselves in a more dangerous spirit realm, or if the forest king is distracted, sick, or other wise occupied the hunter might encounter something dangerous.

Not all of these spirit lords were tamed, however, for wild feral alaases and forests, once which didn't have people within were home to more dangerous spirits, spirits who were likely to cause illness and even attack those who entered them. In this way it's easy to explain how there can be safe and dangerous regions right next to each other.

Returning to the Yakut's life which often centered around their food each spring began with the foal being weaned away from their mother so that the people could milk the horses, which was then made into Kumiss (a slightly alcoholic beverage made from fermented horses milk.

Soon there after people would be able to leave their winter homes to graze their cattle and catch the spawning fish.

June was known as "Pine Month" when the people would collect the pine to make a sort of flour.

July was the hay making month,

August was the Hay drying and stacking month.

In September people would return to their winter homes, where they could rest a little, living off the stores of food they'd gathered in the summer.

A Few Recipes

Heat sour cream, add cranberries and other sweeteners.

Cook horse meat. Add some cool horse broth and flour, stir this together, serve with raw onions.

Boil milk, stir in flour, sour cream, boil it a bit more before adding butter and salt. Eat while hot.

Boil fish in the cold water, near the end of the cooking add milk, green onions, mustard, pepper, and salt.

Because most of their food came from horse milk and meat the Yakut had many rituals regarding the horse itself. Magical winged horses were the greatest of companions and advisers to heroes, it was more of a sin to beat a horse than it was to beat a person of lesser rank. The bones of the horse were hung in the trees as it was wrong for them to touch the ground.

"The most important festival among the Yakut is connected with the preparation and use of kumiss, and is called ystyax, or kumiss festival. It has both a social and a religious significance. During the summer, in olden times, every rich man arranged a kumiss festival, at which all members of the clan assembled and were entertained. Other people, and frequently whole clans, were invited; and during the festival, defensive and offensive leagues were concluded. Every such festival commenced with sacrifices, and was accompanied with songs, dances, games, horse and foot races, and other contests.
Two kumiss festivals in honor of deities are arranged during the year by the owners of large droves of mares. One of them, in the spring, is consecrated to the Supreme Being and the head of the benevolent deities of the "creators" (ay^), — to Lord Bright-Creator. The first milking of mares in the spring is also consecrated to the Supreme Being. The spring festival is called Ayy. y'syaxa ("kumiss festival in honor of the 'creators'"). Spring, as the period of the revival of nature, appears as the season of happiness and abundance. In the prayers addressed to the "creators," they are implored to bestow their blessing upon the people.
The spring kumiss festival takes place in the open air. In the midst of a large smooth grass meadow a kind of altar is erected. This consists of two posts with a crossbeam, and three young birch-trees with young shoots on them. The altar is hung round with sacrificial horsehair, and on the ground in front of it are placed ornamented birch-bark and ox-hide barrels filled with kumiss. The skin barrels are tied to the altar-frame by long ornamented straps of soft elk-leather. This is done so that the vessels, when softened by the liquid in them, shall not collapse. The ceremony commences by sacrifices to Lord Bright-Creator and to other " creators." Their names are uttered by the steward of the festival, who may be a shaman or an elder member of the clan. The sacrifices consist of libations of kumiss, in the direction of the dawn, to every deity; and formerly horses were often consecrated by being driven to the east.
The plate just referred to represents one act in a spring festival.2 In front of the altar stands the steward, having on one side of him the owner of the drove, and on the other the latter's wife. All three face to the east side of the sky, where the benevolent deities have their abode. On the right side of the altar stand nine innocent youths in a row, and on the left a row of nine pure maidens, with goblets filled with kumiss consecrated to the benevolent deities. The splendid festival attire worn on this occasion by a Yakut girl,

The trimming consists of valuable fur, silver pendants, and other decorations.
The steward addresses a prayer to the "creators," begging for blessings, — increase of horses and cattle, a good harvest of hay, good health for the people and animals, and an abundance of food. Then he takes the kumiss-festival ladle (ysyax xamy.yaha), and makes a libation, in the direction of the dawn, to the benevolent deities. Then, while making a libation to the ground, he addresses the local deity, "the owner of the place" (an doidu iccita), asking him not to harm the inhabitants of the spot and the members of the clan. After that, the steward, with the help of the sacrificial ladle, proceeds to divine. He throws the ladle towards the sky: and if it falls with the front part upwards, it portends the granting by the deities of future abundance; and all the people utter the joyful cry Uruf
Then the boys and girls give the goblets with the sacrificial kumiss, according to the directions of the steward, to the elder and honored members of the clan, both male and female. These, after placing themselves, — the men on the right and the women on the left of the altar, — drink off the kumiss from the goblets, and pass them on to the less important and the younger people. Behind every honored or aged member of the clan, sit or stand his domestics, less esteemed relatives, young men, and laborers. He looks after the welfare of each of these. When the goblet is emptied, it is given back to the steward or the host to be filled.
At the same time, not far from the altar, other stewards are preparing tables, or simply boards on the ground, on which are placed piles of horse and cow flesh, and dishes of melted butter. Every chief of a family or clan receives a large portion of meat and butter, which he divides among his people.
The whole day passes with songs, round dances, games, races and other contests, and shamanistic performances. The poetical choral songs of the young men and girls, in praise of the spring and love, are most interesting. Trostchansky relates, also, that during the kumiss festival the change of winter to spring is personated in a contest between two men. One of them, dressed in white, represents spring, and is called "son of 'creator'" (ayy. uola). The other, clad in black, represents winter, and is called " son of evil spirit" (abasy. uola}.
The autumnal festival is celebrated in honor of the destructive forces, and is therefore called abasy-ysifax. This festival is dedicated to the evil spirits (abasy.lar), the inhabitants of the west and the representatives of darkness and night, in order that they may not interfere with them in winter, the time of the year when starvation, disease, and death are imminent. This festival, also, takes place in the open air, but at night.
The first night of the festival is in honor of Big-Lord (Ulu-Toyon) and the evil spirits of the upper world subordinate to him. The second night is in honor of Axsan Duolai and his subordinates, the evil spirits of the lower world. To all of these evil spirits, in addition to the libations of kumiss made to the benevolent deities, blood sacrifices of cattle and horses are also made. This ceremony, according to Trost chansky, is superintended by nine male and nine female shamans."
("Kumiss Festivals of the Yakut and the Decoration of Kumiss Vessels" by Waldemar Jochelson)

Ichchi - Spirit Masters

Ichchi or master, is a spirit which lives in all things. Each plan or animal, and natural phenomena or topography has an Ichchi. Even objects such as knives or stoves has such a soul. These Ichchi are not necessarily good or bad, but it's important to keep on their good side by feeding and entertaining them. When people walk into a new territory, the forest, a mountain pass, they make an offering to the ichchi. When they get ready to eat they might offer scraps of cloth or food to the stove, and they will leave offerings at sacred trees and the boundaries of their lands. This is called feading the ichchi. The grassland itself had an ichchi which they had to provide for in order to begin gathering hay.

During such feedings people remain quite and respectful. Ichchi could be dangerous, especially if they weren't used to people and such people were loud and disrespectful. When a man moved into a new land there was always the danger that the Ichchi would dislike and curse them, ultimately leaving them to grow sick and die.

The land in which the Yakut lived has one of the harshest winters of any place human's live. The challenges of living in such a brutally cold environment is exemplified in the following folk tale,

"In a village lived an old woman who set out one winter morning to fetch some water. She went to the watering hole in the ice and broke the layer of ice which had frozen that night. She scooped up some buckets of water and began carrying them home. On the way she slipped and fell, spilling the buckets of water onto the hem of her dress so that it froze to the ice, trapping her out in the cold storm...."

At this point the old woman begins negotiating with the sun, clouds, wind, fire, etc. asking each in turn to free her.

Social Structure

The Yakut lived in extended family groups which were part of larger clans that were ruled over by chieftains known as Toyons. When a woman married into another clan she moved to her husbands home, as a result the women of each village, people's mothers had grown up among a neighboring people, so the ideas of the Yakut continued to mix around and spread between clans.

The political system wasn't that much unlike the Feudal wars of Medieval Europe, Japan, but most especially Mongolia, though unlike these societies there was no larger entity such as an Emperor or Pope which brought even a semblance of unity to the Yakut. As a result the Yakut didn't really view themselves as a single society, instead there were nearly a thousand different clans of 400 to 5000 people each, all of which engaged in near constant warfare with each other.

In essence you have the Toyons who ruled over the owners of the Alaases, each of whom paid taxes in dairy goods and meat to their lord and who ruled over a group of slaves, serfs, and lesser workers. Finally there were hunters who lived on the margins, as the poorest of people's often didn't even have cattle of their own, instead living almost entirely by hunting.

In many ways this situation was to be expected because there were a limited number of Alaas's the clans would often go to war with each other, conducting cattle raids or attempting to gain more land to feed their growing numbers. Because of this the "kingdoms" such that there were were always fluid and variable in size. One Chinese source claims that they could muster together 5000 troops, a fairly substantial number in the history of Northern warfare.  Still it's likely that only a few people actually fought in wars as forging iron weapons and raising horses only for fighting would have been expensive. Further, at least in tales, poverty was a near constant problem, and the poorest of people likely never actually fought in war.

As with all societies poverty and starvation were a constant and very real threat, in one tale;

"One year for some unknown reason the hunting went so poorly that a young man and his family had nothing to eat. Despite their starvation, however, they didn't begin to steal from their neighbors or turn to banditry the way many would have. Finally one of the brothers went and sold himself into slavery to a rich man."

Being a fairy tale, however, this is not the end of it, for the wicked rich man revels in the suffering of others and gives the young man an impossible task and flays him alive for failing to complete it. He does this to his slaves one at a time, until finally a young man who is impossibly strong sells himself to the rich man. This young man completes the wealthy man's every request and becomes so popular among the slaves that the wealthy worry that he might stir up a revolt.

Still, despite such poverty the Yakut had managed to find a way to live in parts of the north that were virtually uninhabited by other people's, making them by far the largest Siberian population, with more than ten times as many people as the neighboring Evanki.

Quest Idea - Lead a slave revolt, keeping in mind that the frigid winter is coming when no one will be able to get food.

Winter War - Wars were often waged in winter, a time when even travel by sleigh was dangerous but when people had the free time to engage in war.


As with many people's Shamans began manifesting through serious mental problems, running off into the woods, screaming wildly, and generally behaving in bizarre ways. This was known as the Shaman's sickness, a time when people were overcome by the spirits which sought to force them to become shamans, to work for the spirit world on behalf of the shamans. Given the small size of their communities most of them probably wouldn't have had powerful shamans, so when a serious illness struck someone would have to be dispatched, perhaps across dangerous wilderness to go to the village where the shaman lived.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Shamanism for your RPG

Although there have many books which have included a shaman class in Dungeons and Dragons, and other table top RPGs they all miss one key aspect of shamanism.

Shamanism isn't so much a class as it is a calling, for anyone could become a shaman including the small children of the Alps who Perchta led to battle, or the blacksmiths of the Celts, the blind girls of Northern Japan, and even Robin Hood. The spirits would call on shamans to help them work with the mortal world. Sometimes the local Fairy Queen might call a shaman to help her provide the people of a land with healing, or to rob from the rich to give to the poor. Other spirits would call shamans to help battle the spirits of the underworld which sought to hurt humanity, and sometimes darker spirits would force a person to help them spread illness and evil.

What's important for your RPG is that perhaps you shouldn't treat shamanism as a class, so much as you should treat it as a way of providing your characters with quests. A shaman could be a cleric, a druid, a wizard, a thief, a fighter, etc. All of these might have skills that are useful to the spirits.

There were three primary ways which these shamans would work with the spirits, fairies, and gods.

Many shamans, especially those of Greece and Japan would become possessed by the spirits they worked for. These spirits could then work through them, casing healing spells, providing advice, foretelling the future, etc. There were people who lived in caves in Ancient Greece who would be possessed by nymphs in order to help the nymphs town. Nymphs in Greek lore were often the founder and guardians of cities. More than this they were often the great, great, grandmother of the people in the city. So a nymph would choose a person to possess so they could aid their down. This person gained a companion who had a lot of knowledge and some healing spells, but little else. So in terms of a game a group of adventurers might by chosen by a nymph to protect a town, in return she can provide them with knowledge and information, some divination and healing spells (sort of like if they had a few scrolls and potions) but in truth they would gain very little but a lot of jobs to help protect a city.

In Japan there were villages of Miko (shamanistic figures) who would travel the countryside (often with a body guard). These Miko were in constant danger from bandits, from lecherous samurai, from the spirits of the dead, etc. Often they would be hired by a village to become possessed by the spirits of the dead to gain instructions on how to improve harvests, etc. The Miko might have to battle evil sorcerers who controlled armies of magical shape shifting foxes, travel into the mountains to battle and ultimately calm angry kami and spirits of the dead, or seek out stolen treasures.

The point is that while being possessed by spirits might provide an adventurer with quests it would provide only limited support in battles.

RPG's tend to treat familiar spirits as servants, as a benefit of a specific class, but in truth familiar spirits were very often the lords of the witches who served them, or companions, only the most powerful shamans had familiars who they controlled.

In some cases a familiar spirit was scent by the Fairy Queen, the Sky Gods, the Lord of the Underworld, etc. In order to direct a shaman. In such cases it might be best to treat the familiar spirit as an employer or a companion rather than an only occasionally thought of servant. Indeed you could have a game where one of the characters plays a familiar spirits who serves the Queen of the Fairies and which levels up just like the players do.

Sometimes shamans would serve evil spirits, not always by choice. There are many cases where an evil spirit would kidnap and torture a person until they agreed to serve. Often these people would curse the bride and groom at weddings, steal milk, blight crops, cause illness, spread discord, and evil kill people for their spirit masters. Such people could be anyone the spirits could torture into submission and in lore were often simple farmers, shepherds, etc.

Enter the Spirit World
Perhaps the best known shaman power was their ability to enter the spirit world. This ability, however, provides very little advantage in most circumstances. Granted a shaman can heal the sick by entering the underworld and battling or negotiating with the spirits which caused the illness. They can help the crops grow by battling to steal the fertility of the land from other spirits and shamans. However, both these things are more like quests to achieve a certain goal, rather than a power in and of itself. Often (though not always) the shaman isn't even entering the spirit world on their own, they are doing so with the help of the spirits. So it would be easy to simply say that a group of characters serves the spirits and so the spirits will bring them into the spirit world to complete certain quests.

Again the most important thing to understand about shamanism is that while there might be specific classes surrounding it, most of the shaman's "abilities" have nothing to do with a specific class, rather the shaman is a calling, an opportunity to give the players of your rpg or the characters in your story interesting quests.

Stay tuned for a few more of these quest ideas in future articles.