Monday, March 23, 2015

Fairy Wars

'There is an old abbey on the river, in County Mayo, and people say the fairies had a great battle near it, and that the slaughter was tremendous. At the time, the fairies appeared as swarms of flies coming from every direction to that spot. Some came from Knock Ma, and some from South Ireland, the opinion being that fairies can assume any form they like. The battle lasted a day and a night, and when it was over one could have filled baskets with the dead flies which floated down the river.'

Fairy wars were such bloody and devastating events because were embroiled in Medieval politics long after humans had left it behind. In many ways one can see their fairy courts, their wild parties as being similar to the parties of knights, of soldiers unwinding. They had their own codes of honor which they were willing to kill and die for. Indeed, it can be argued that honor was more important to fairies than it was to nearly any human. Their emotions as a general rule seem to be much stronger than ours do.

Worse still, because fairies were fertility spirits which gave life to the land their wars and deaths would reshape the very land and throw the country off balance. The potato famine in Ireland was that killed millions of people was said to be caused by a fairy war which disrupted nature and the fertility of the land. In this case people could see the fairies flying over the land going to war with each other. Another fairy war left the world awash with so much blood that the moss where the battle took place turned red.

So what do fairies fight wars over? The same things humans fought wars over. Land, food, honor, a desire for power, to kidnap women or men or because their women were kidnapped. Fairies also fight wars to protect and help humanity. "The War of the Trees" was a liminal war between fairy beings in the other world (including Arthur) which was meant to obtain a golden hind and dog for humanity. What purpose these served humans isn't clear given that the poem is a fragment meant to remind people of something they already knew when it was written. Still, what's key is that the fairies lead an army of trees into the underworld in order to win treasure for humans.

One interesting fact about fairy wars for fantasy writers is that fairies often needed humans to help them with their battles. In Japan, for example, Mountain Kami would often ask humans for help with their battles because humans had the ability to defeat certain things they couldn't touch (kami are made weak by the presence of unclean things such as blood, urine, centipedes, etc).

In Wales the fairy lord Arawn asked King Pwyle to help him with his war against Hargan. In this story Pwyle and Arawn switch places for a year, each pretending to be the other. After ruling the fairy realm for a year "the time for the battle in single combat between Powell and Hargan had fully come. The two warriors met in the middle of a river ford, and backed their horses for a charge. Then they rushed furiously at the other. Powell's spear struck Hargan so hard, that he was knocked out of the saddle and hurled, the length of a lance, over and beyond the crupper, or tail strap of his horse. He fell mortally wounded upon the ground."

This story isn't too surprising considering that it was believed that "when the fairy tribes under the various kings and queens have a battle, one side manages to have a living man among them, and he by knocking the fairies about turns the battle in case the side he is on is losing."

Joseph Jacobs has a fairy tale about a man named Paddy O'Kelly who finds himself in fairy land.He was ultimately led by this lesser fairy court to the high fairy court of King Finvara and Queen Nuala here he was greeted warmly with Finvara who tells him "We are going to play a hurling match to-night against the fairy host of Munster, and unless we beat them our fame is gone for ever. The match is to be fought out on Moytura, under Slieve Belgadaun." The story goes on to point out that; "it is necessary for the fairy host to have two live men beside them when they are fighting or at a hurling match, and that was the reason that little Donal took Paddy O'Kelly with him. There was a man they called the "Yellow Stongirya" with the fairy host of Munster, from Ennis, in the County Clare.

They were hurling away, and the pipers playing until Paddy O'Kelly saw the host of Munster getting the strong hand, and he began helping the fairy host of Connacht.

The Stongirya came up and he made at Paddy O'Kelly, but Paddy turned him head over heels. From hurling the two hosts began at fighting, but it was not long until the host of Connacht beat the other host.

Then the host of Munster made flying beetles of themselves, and they began eating every green thing that they came up to. They were destroying the country before them until they came as far as Cong. Then there rose up thousands of doves out of the hole, and they swallowed down the beetles.

That hole has no other name until this day but Pull-na-gullam, the dove's hole.

When the fairy host of Connacht won their battle, they came back to Cnoc Matha joyous enough, and the king Finvara gave Paddy O'Kelly a purse of gold, and the little piper brought him home, and put him into bed beside his wife, and left him sleeping there.

Because of the strong fairy emotions what begins as a sporting event turns into a serious battle in which hundreds if not thousands of fairies die.

The fact that fairies need humans in order to be victorious in battle leads us to one of the most important battles in fairy history, that in which the Sons of Mil (humans) defeated the Tuatha De Danann and drove them underground. Once underground the fairies began to exercise some control over humanity by becoming the gods of fertility and the harvest. They also continue to occasionally wage war with humans. Typically such wars are fought when the humans take some piece of important land from them or the fairies kidnap the wrong woman and so anger a man who has the resources to wage war on them. When going to war with the fairies there are three important points to remember;

1-Human druids, holy men, and wizards are frequently more powerful than the fairies. Indeed it was through the power of the druids that the fairies were defeated in the first place.

2-Iron hurts fairies and can break their magic.

3-Fairies can't repair damage done to their hills and castles if salt is put on these. In this way particularly farmers have been able to successfully wage war on the fairies in return for their wives.

More often fairies attempt to alter the outcome of human wars, choosing the side they want to win and aiding them in victory. Thus treaties with fairies were extremely important if one wished to survive wars with other humans. In this way the fairies were able to rebuild their power base from behind the scenes.

There is a tradition among the Glamorgan peasantry of a fairy battle fought on the mountain between Merthyr and Aberdare, in which the pigmy combatants were on horseback. There appeared to be two armies, one of which was mounted on milk-white steeds, and the other on horses of jet-black. They rode at each other with the utmost fury, and their swords could be seen flashing in the air like so many penknife blades. The army on the white horses won the day, and drove the black-mounted force from the field. The whole scene then disappeared in a light mist.

There is another interesting point about the fairy armies which is that over time they began to include the ranks of human ancestral spirits. It seems that when humans die their souls went into the fairy hills and became, in essence, fairies. They were then under the command of one fairy king or another. This likely means two things; firstly the fairies have grown in strength since their initial defeat. However, at the same time this increased strength comes from the spirits of humans who care about their decedents and hate the kingdoms they were enemies with in life. This in turn likely explains part of the reason why fairies become so involved in local politics.

As always I'd like to leave fantasy writers with a couple of writing prompts;

1-The fairies kidnap a farmers wife, children, or cattle as is common. This time, however, the farmer decides he isn't going to take it and so he declares war on a small hill of fairies leading to a kin based feud similar to the one between the Hatfields and McCoys

2-Fairies from a neighboring distract attempt to steal the fertility of the land in order to make their fields more fertile. The local fairies declare war in order to defend the human farms and seek human help.

3-Tell a story of two fairy clans which declare war on each other as a point of honor which has nothing to do with their desire to preserve a forest. Bonus points if you can make this interesting without involving humans.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fantasy Wring Prompts from MIcro Fantasy Tales

(As context for this. Fairies needed humans to forge metal
to have less sickly children, and do other tasks. On May Day 
boys would be kidnapped to help with these things)

When ice forms on the river the water fairies nested in the trees like squirrels. 
Now the Trees are gone, leaving only attics and rafters.

Christmas carols and the smell of garlic permeate the the streets.
Christmas is the time when vampires come to town.

The lonely servant girl draws a baby dragon up from the well.

Owls hooting, crickets chirping. Someone screams, then the night goes quite.

The river tumbled down the mountain, cooling the dragons burns, cleaning her wounds.

The old ladies cat yowls at the werewolf circling the tree. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

How to Survive an Encounter With the Fairies

Those who've studied fairies know that they can be extremely dangerous. Indeed, many fairies are akin to vampires, seducing them to drain their blood. As Purkiss points out in her book "Fairies and Fairy Stories: A History" most people today wouldn't know how to survive if they actually met a fairy.

Of course Purkiss's concern is only partially true, for many fairies are kind. They give people gifts and knowledge. Indeed, everything from the secret of making cheese to the art of weaving cloth was taught to people by fairies.

So on the one hand you should want to meet the fairies. On the other hand, before you or your characters do you need to understand how to survive such an encounter.

7 major types of encounters

1-Testing Morality

Fairies are the enforcers of morality, so they will often appear to people to test their generosity and kindness. During such encounters they typically disguise themselves as a beggar or other person in need. Those who help them are given blessings, while those who refuse can be punished, sometimes very severely.

Fairies have been known to bury villages in avalanches, drown them in floods, and worse when they are displeased.

2-Seeking to work with a human

Many fairies seek to work with humans. Those who accept the fairies call become shamans, those who refuse are often tormented by the fairies until they are either driven mad or give into the fairies demands.

There are a number of ways this encounter plays out. One of the most common scenarios is for a person to meet a fairy when they are in a desperate time of need. On their death bed, starving, lost in the woods,  after someone they love had died, etc. During this time the fairies come and offer to help the person, though in return the person then works for them ever after.

Other people will encounter the fairy by picking up a rock or some other object which contains the fairy. After this they are bound to the fairy forever after.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that while the fairy might be demanding and hard, it's nearly impossible to get rid of them by normal means so you shouldn't try as attempting to get rid of them will lead to a terrible punishment. There are stories of people beaten, battered, pinched, and ultimately killed by the fairies for refusing to work with them.

Exorcists have been used to get people out of a contract with the fairies the world over, so there is a way out of this relationship if it proves impossible for a person to handle.


Fairies love to cause mischief. One of my favorite stories of fairy mischief comes from Italy where a fairy harassed some sleeping workers. He pulled the blanket off of them, pinched them, ran about laughing, etc. In another story a fairy disguised itself as a lump of gold so that it could yell at an old lady who picked him up.

The first thing to keep in mind with these encounters is that you must be careful not to insult the fairies.

Second, if you aren't in your home you should try moving to a different location. Fairies tend to harass people in specific locations. However, fairies are sometimes attached to specific people, in this case moving will do no good and you must instead figure out some way to deal with the fairy.

Third, you need to figure out what kind of fairy you are dealing with, especially if the fairy causing you trouble is in your home. This is challenging as there are hundreds of different types of fairies. Some of these fairies are pure mischief, they are bothering you merely for fun. Others are upset because your home is in the way of their paths, in which case drilling small holes in the walls or leaving the windows open (or possibly a doggy door) may placate them.

Sometimes the fairy just wants attention. In this case one might deal with them by not acknowledging them. A man in Italy ignored the fairy, pretending everything the fairy did could be explained by something natural. The fairy knocked over his shelves, pulled the blankets off of him, did everything he could to get attention but the man didn't give it. Finally in desperation the fairy appeared to the man and offered a deal in which the man would acknowledge the fairy in return for the fairy bringing him luck.


Some fairies are simply dangerous. They want to drink a persons blood, take them as a slave, hunt them for sport, etc. The best defense in such cases is knowing what fairies you might encounter in a given area so that you can gauge whether the fairy you are encountering is potentially dangerous or not. There are, however, a few rules of thumb;

Iron is one of the most common means of combating fairies, not just in Europe but in Northern Asia and even Japan. Throwing an iron knife before a fairy can cause them to vanish or keep them at pay. Holding iron in your hands can keep many different fairies from taking you away. But iron isn't full proof.

One of humanities many magical powers is our ability to use symbols and objects to break magical power. Horseshoes, rabbits feet, clothing turned inside out, crosses, pictures of the Japanese Emperor, and more have all been effectively used to keep fairies at bay.

Evil Eye
Another power humans have is that of the evil eye. We can hurt some fairies merely by looking at them. Other fairies can't use their magic, so long as we gaze steadily on them without averting our gaze.

Never, ever, ever accept a dangerous fairies hospitality. Indeed, avoid accepting fairy hospitality as a general rule, unless a fairy has attached itself to you as your familiar.

Once you eat a fairies food, begin dancing with them, allow them to comb your hair you are within their power. This means that they can kill or enslave you as they wish. What's more, even if the fairy doesn't try to kill you, accepting their hospitality puts you into the fairy realm. Returning to the human realm after this is difficult. There are many stories of people who are forever caught between the fairy world and the human world. Forced to wander as phantoms, to never again know happiness because they ate fairy food or went to a fairies party.

Again there are exceptions to this rule but most of these involve someone who already has an existing relationship with the fairies, or whom the fairies need help from. If a fairy comes to you and says that they are at war and they need a human to help them fight odds are that you will be able to enter fairy land without negative repercussions (surviving the war is another matter, however).

Be hospitable
Just as accepting a fairies hospitality can put you in their power, you can gain power over them by getting them to accept your hospitality. Getting them to let you comb their hair, for example, is especially effective in North and East Eurasia. Of course, how effective this is depends on the type of fairy, which is why it all comes down to knowing what fairies you are likely to encounter in a given area.

5-Stumble Upon
Some people stumble upon fairies, without the fairies or the person having really planned the encounter. This is when people capture leprechauns or other fairies to try to force them to give up their treasure. How well this works and whether the fairies seek revenge afterwords depends on the individual. One person who robbed the fairies was never able to leave his house afterwords. Others were able to live happily with their ill gotten gains. These stories don't say exactly what the difference is, but it is established that it's very, very difficult to steal a fairies treasure and attempting to do so can get you into a lot of trouble.

6-Needs Help
Some fairies need a humans help. In Germany wood wives might come under attack by The Huntsmen (a deity/fairy/ghost) and so need humans to draw a cross on a tree so that they may hide safely within it. In Japan a water kami (deity/fairy like being) might need a person to help it kill a giant crab. In this case helping the fairy comes with a certain amount of risk. Aka, The Huntsmen or the giant crab might kill the human who helps the fairy. On the other hand, helping the fairy in such cases may simply be the right thing to do and can lead to their gratitude.

Other people find lost fairy children, and helping these is always a good idea.

Finally, fairies sometimes seek to hire people to clean their fields, giving birth, feeding their child, watching their cattle, baking their bread, etc. As a general rule when a fairy offers to hire you for a job you have to accept it, as refusing will incur the fairies wrath. Those who prove themselves hardworking are usually generously rewarded. Though some fairies (Baba Yaga) give people impossible tasks in hopes that they can punish them. In this case you need to seek help from some other fairy like being.

People often encounter fairies when the fairies wish to punish them. Sometimes this punishment is for some immoral behavior on the part of the person, other times its for desecrating their homes.

While it's possible to overcome this fairy with iron or the help of exorcist, the best way to deal with this is avoid doing anything that would lead to the fairies punishing you in the first place.

Before Encountering Fairies
The fairies are always watching us. They live in trees, bushes, and even inside your house so whether you see them or not you are in constant contact with them.

Never say you don't believe in fairies or that you are smarter than they are.
While fairies don't drop dead when someone denies their existence, they are easily offended. There are a number of tales about them punishing people for saying they don't believe in fairies.

Another big no no is saying that you are more clever than the fairies, because they will prove you wrong with a series of tricks that could end in your death or at the very least some form of agony or embarrassment.

Be kind and moral.
Fairies are the enforcers of morality. They particularly hate people who are greedy, lazy, messy, and don't have fun on holidays, etc. You should also try to be culturally appropriate, especially around house fairies who tend to have very strict rules about what's acceptable behavior.

Avoid damaging the fairies home, or entering a place that used to be a fairies home. Sometimes a fairies home was bulldozed in order to build a house or a road for example, and these are best avoided.

In another case a girl broke a twig while walking in a sacred wood and so was possessed by a fox spirit.

Research the fairies of the area you are going to be in to understand them specifically. Of course in the modern day there are Japanese Tengu in the mountains above Seattle. Scottish fairies in Vermont, and French fairies in Georgia, because as people moved the fairies followed them. This means that some places have a complex hodgepodge of fairies, making it difficult to be prepared.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

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 14, 2015

LadyBug - Concept Art

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Japanese Fairy Tales You Should Know

When Miyamoto set out 70 years ago to interview the oldest Japanese villagers he could find he encountered one man who told him;

“People from my grandfather's time interacted with animals and humans in much the same way, and they imparted these feelings to us as well. Until I was eight or nine, I slept in my grandfather's arms. During this time he told me many old tales...”

Japanese fairy tales were very often lessons meant to teach people about the spirit world, the world of kami and yokai which they believed existed all around them. Often it was presumed that their survival depended on understanding these stories. Further, as with nearly all people's they often believed these stories to be a true accounting of people's relationship with the spirit world.

Consider, for example, the tale of "The Bear Guardian" in which an entire village benefits because a lumberjack was kind to a bear. A bear whose spirit later became a kami, a tutelary deity which protected the people from harm. There are also stories of cows whose spirits are enshrined and so cure skin disorders, of dogs who bring luck to their families, of cats, and more.

Consider also the fairy tale of  the "Cat Guardian" in which a magical cat is sent by the kami (deities) to protect a young girl from evil spirits.

It's important to keep in mind that most tales about cats seem to have been much more negative. In the story of the "Vampire Cat" for example, the cat is portrayed as being very much like a classical vampire. It drains people's blood, it hypnotizes people, etc.

There are many, many tales of similarly dangerous cats seeking to kill people.

There are thousands of tales relevant to the nature of animals, however, and humanities relationship with them, but in the interest of time I'll just give you a few more.

Prince Jaschima and the Fox

A samurai battles two hunters in order to save a fox who later becomes his wife. This story, of someone willing to fight to protect an animal, or buy an animal from hunters is perhaps one of the most common in Japan. In one case a young boy fights some bullies who are bothering a sea turtle, in another someone offers to buy a fox from a hunter who is chasing it.


A prince encounters an animal spirit disguised as a girl and kills it.

Can't Outsmart of Fox

A classic tale about a man who thinks he can't outsmart a mischievous fox and is proven wrong.

This story is of interest because it shows the massive extent of the foxes illusion powers, their ability to hypnotize people into thinking entire worlds exist which don't.

There are similar tales about foxes who make people think they live in a castle for years, when in fact they only spend a few days under a shed. Of foxes who lead people into castles that aren't there and more.

A few more tales of interest include

The Snow Woman

Cursed to forever haunt humanity a Snow Women freezes one woodsmen to death but falls in love with the other.

This is a sad fairy tale but it's also very telling about the secret lives of Snow women who see to be someone's prisoner in it, though whose isn't clear.

Jiraiya the Bandit King

Sort of a Robin Hood like tale in which a young prince becomes a bandit in order to get revenge on the man who killed his father.

A tale with magic and war and most important of all, tragedy.

Japanese fairy tales are filled with beautiful tragedies.

The Farmer and the Thunder Kami

When drought strikes an old man and his granddaughter seek help from the kami on the mountain.

Koremotschi and the Oni

An oni uses magic to disguise itself as a woman in order to seduce a samurai.

Read even more "Japanese Fairy Tales"

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Forests in a Fantasy World / Part 1

From Satyrs to Pixies, the forests of our imagination are filled with strange creatures. These are perhaps the most magical of all realms, a place of fear and wonder.

Near at the end of the Paleolithic era forests began expanding across Europe, overtaking the boreal grassland, bringing starvation and desperation in their wake. For humanity had learned to live by hunting large plentiful game in the wide open plains, where mammoths, buffalo, and other herds could live. So well we often view ourselves as destroying forests, there was once a time when the expanding forests destroyed many human tribes. That's when farming began to push into Europe, began to push back against the expanding forests.

Writing Prompt - Most books have humans driving out elves and fairies, but once, it seems that it was the other way around. Tell the story of a human which is being taken over by the forests.
by Witold Pruszkowski

Dark Forests 

For the Tlingit, a Native American tribe of hunter-gatherers, forests were a dark place, the realm of the unclean dead. It was the ocean, the provider of food which they clung to.

Europe was oftentimes very much the same way.

The reason people in Medieval Europe believed that the devil lived in in the forest, and the devil in European lore often looks like the earlier forest spirits, is because there was something devilish about the nature of many forest spirits. Forest spirits loved to lead people astray, loved to torment people. In Eastern Europe the kings of the forest would at times kidnap people and torture them for days, even years at a time. While in Russia they might tickle a person to death. In Japan the Oni and Tengu would spirit people away to devour them.

As I point out in my upcoming book;

Many people will go out into the wild and never return and often no one will ever know what happened to them, they will just be gone. Leaving behind only whispers, rumors of what might have happened..... One Nenets tale for example begins; " At the fork of a river was a chum (teepee) where a woman lived with her two sons. One day the woman went to gather food and never returned. What had become of her no one knew, perhaps a bear and eaten her or she drowned in the river. The only trace of her was her two little sons alone in the chum."

Other tales tell of people coming across empty villages, not knowing what happened to the people who had lived in them, only knowing that the forest is now taking them over.

It makes sense then, that in any culture the forest would be regarded with a certain amount of fear, even when it was sacred.

The Roman ethnographer Tacitus says of one sacred grove;

Every man who enters it must do so bound with a fetter, as a mark of humility and an avowal of the power of the divinity. If he happens to fall down, he may not lift himself up and rise to his feet, but must roll himself out along the ground. This wood is the center of their whole superstition, being looked upon as the cradle of the race, and the god of it as the universal ruler to whom all other things are subject and obedient.

Forest Spirit - The Vörsa

The Vörsa, in Komi folklore, were the personification of the forest and so tobacco or fishcakes had to be left on a tree stump for him if a person sought to use his forest. Those who did not leave him an offering would meet with misfortune.

The Vörsa would most often appear as a bear, though their voice could be heard in the cry of the owls. They could also take the form of a bird in order to fly away from people in a great woosh, or when he was angry he could take the form of a whirlwind. On occasion they would appear as a tall man in a coat made of black wool. They lived in houses deep in the woods, and were typically accompanied by their dog.

Forest Spirit - Cakən (Mari-El)

When someone dies in the forest they can only go free when they kill another so they haunt the forest hoping to do this. They have cloaks which make them invisible and cause humans to get lost so that they may murder them.

Writing Prompt - Tell the story of a person who has become a Cakən

A Place of Freedom

Forests were also a place of freedom and food. The earliest Slavic people depended on the forest for nearly everything, even a large portion of their diet was gathered from it. What's more they used it to protect them from their armies rampaged across the steppes the early Slav villages were sheltered deep in the woods.

In Selkup lore, when a woman was abused by her husband, neglected by her village she might meet a Mul Qip. A satyr like being who would teach her to be a highly skilled hunter, who would teach her what she needed to survive on her own in the forest so that she could at last run away from her village. Japanese lore is also filled with people who flee into the wilderness in order to escape the harshness of their lives, who marry an often dangerous forest spirit.

Robin Hood, and many other peasants throughout European Lore also found freedom in the forest and in the service of the Fairy Queen who lived within it. The fairies often called on people throughout Europe to Rob from the Rich and Give to the poor. To rebel against the nobility... (read my article on this here)

In Japan the forest spirit
Tengu were at times believed to be
 the teachers of stealth, combat, and
 the magic which ninjas used.

Portals to other worlds

In mythology forests were portals to the spirit world. Even in the smallest bit of woodland a person could find themselves in the land of the dead, elfland, or some other strange place.

Indeed you could easily hide your entire kingdom of elves in a city park. You can read my short article on this here.

You can read about Europe's last pagans, one of the most interesting forest people here.

Check out more Writing Prompts Here

List of Fairy Creatures of the Forest

Aghoy (Philippines)
Appearing as beautiful humans they are forest dwellers. They come out of the forests at night to cause mild mischief such as moving things around or occasionally taking food. They are friendly, however, and will guide people to things which the person has lost. Further they will give humans plants with medical properties.

Albasta (Mari-El)
The spirit of the bathhouse, a shape changer it may appear as a man or as a women or as an animal, yet it travels in the form of a shooting star sending. They have a strong relation to the forest spirits living in the swamps and ravines and at times are said to be the same beings. They often attempt to have sexual relations with humans and their kiss is the cause of cold sores. Yet at the same time they punish sexual impurity in women and men by killing or sickening them. 
Its power is in the little finger of it's left hand which if broken causes it to loose all its magical power.

Anjana (Spain)
A female fairy creature which foils evil beings. They live in the forest and rest on sides of banks where they can speak with the water. They also often  help injured animals and plants.

Bayan Ahaa or Bayan Hangai (Mongolia)
A spirit who rules over the forest, and so is the one hunters often pray to for success. Their figures are often carved into the sides of trees, or snowmen are build or from a stick with a human face carved onto it to represent them. People are careful not to throw things into the woods as this might insult the Bayan Ahaa and cause him to curse the person.

Ворса (Komi)
The bopca could appear as a giant (often nude) with shaggy ears though he could also appear as a whirlwind, however, he was a shapeshifter and would often take the form of a cat or other small animals.
They would often attack people or steal from them, unless the hunter made offerings to him (such as tobacco), in return for which the bopca might even tell the hunter where to find game. 
As a joke he would lure people into the woods, and cause them to get lost. Sometimes he would give people riddles which they had to solve to be able to return home. Other times he simply kidnapped them. Those taken by him aged rapidly, thus a child taken might return a few years later as an old man. 
The Bopca were at constant war with the vakula (water spirits), thus it was dangerous for people to come out at noon when these two powerful forces would fight each other.

Diwata (Philippines)
Beautiful and often benevolent nature spirits. Although there are numerous and varied accounts as to what they should look like, a general trend may be observed in that they are normally human in appearance—beautiful and seemingly ageless at that—save for some distinct characteristics. This may take the form of not having a philtrum or having continuously smooth and supple skin that somehow resemble fingernails, without any wrinkled parts in the elbows and knees. They also tend to be fairer than average, as pale skin has been associated with the supernatural even during pre-colonial times (for example, the "white lady" belief is prevalent in the East and Southeast Asian regions).
The Diwata can be called upon ritually for positive crop growth, health, and fortune. However, like most such fairy creatures the Diwata also caused illness or misfortune if not given proper respect. They are said to reside in large trees, such as acacia and balete and are the guardian spirits of nature, casting blessings or curses upon those who bring benefits or harm to the forests and mountains. 

Fata Pădurii (Romania)
'The forest girl,' A beautiful spirit of the forest which tries to lure men into the woods with her. If one refuses her advances she may at times tell them "Stay than, you do not know what you are missing." After this she often turns them into flowers. Though if a man accepts her offer, and doe
s not please her she may turn them into a tree. Other times she might actually attack and rape young men in the forest. 

Hulder (Norway)
A supernatural female being which live underground in the forests. They are young beautiful woman who act as sort of wood or forest nymphs. She can at times have lynx ears, or be hollow in the back like an old tree stump. 

Kapre (Philippines)
Appearing as a nearly eight foot tall hairy man who smokes a big ganja pipe and wears a belt which allows them to become invisable to humans. The Kapre can befriend people, though they often would play pranks on them, typically by causing travelers to loose their way in the mountains or forests. They could cause people to become confused even in familiar surroundings. Thus people affected by the Kapre might forget that they are in their own yard or fields. 
As nature spirits they can cause the trees to rustle, smoke to rise from a tree. They also cause abundant fireflies in forests (which come from the sparks of their pipe). Often those tricked by the kapre will hear laughter but see no source for it.