I loved the beautiful concept art of "Frozen" and as a folklorist I find it fascinating because it shows the continued evolution of stories from one era to the next. Of course, this evolution of stories happens both because our social values change and because people forget the older ideas about fairies and trolls. So my purpose for this article is two fold; first I want to celebrate the wonderful artists who made this beautiful film possible (Check out the book "The Art of Frozen" for more about this), and second I want to share a few interesting facts from fairy lore for those interested in learning them.
Trolls, Trow, and earth spirits.
There were often rock spirits that were extremely emotionally sensitive. In Iceland it was believed that they disliked loud noises, as well as violence and so tended to try to exist in isolation. Those who ended up witnessing violence anyways would change in nature, becoming dangerous poltergeist like spirits. This could also happen if they became too scared, which is why it was illegal to bring ships with dragon heads into port in island, as there were concerns that the rock spirits would be made angry by this.
They were, however, generally helpful, mostly aiding shepherds and goatherds. Often to do this they would appear to these people in their dreams, as again their sensitivity prevented them from appearing to people directly, people having the power of the evil eye thanks to our greed and malice
The Trows of Orkney were mischievous often grotesque in appearance. Trow too would often take human children, raising them in their own world as they did Christof, though it was rare for these human children to be seen again. .They might also take great musicians and other people they loved away with them, leaving behind an empty body. Within the magical realm of the trow such people would often help those they'd left behind, for example, one girls mother was believed to have been taken this way so she was blessed with beauty and luck by the trow.
The Polish Snow Queen
The Snow Queen of Poland (named Miranda) is a heroic figure who saves the world from the undead when they rise up to conquer it. She appeared on a beautiful green island one day, no one knew from where. Her beauty was so splendid that the city and kingdom grew up around her as people traveled to live under her reign.
The lord of the underworld Kosciey decided to invade this kingdom. Princess Miranda lead her army against Kosciey and ultimately defeated them by changing him into a lump of ice. Of course Kosciey escaped and plotted a new attack which lead to a long drawn out battle.
In Japan the Yoki-onna are snow women who would often freeze people to death. Though sometimes they would seek shelter from the storm from humans. Other times they would fall in love with people, but they had to marry the human in secret because if it was revealed what had happened they would be forced to return to the cold. What was forcing them to exist as Yoki-onna is never mentioned so far as I know, and I've read dozens of stories with them.
In one story, when a young man who married a Yoki-onna mentions his previous encounter with her she grows furious and yells;
"Could you not keep your mouth shut after you’ve been silent for so long?” She scolded him. “I could kill you now, with a touch of my mouth you would freeze to death your limbs growing stiff. This would be a just punishment for what you have done for you have destroyed not only your luck mine as well. For behold,” she continued her voice assuming a calm tone, “I spared you in that lodge, because I saw you a thriving handsome young man who looked so scared and helpless before me. I felt sorry for you, but not only sorry for I felt the desire to enjoy the happiness of mankind. This is why I didn’t kill you then, for I loved you. Yes I loved you so I approached you in human form; I married you and enjoyed living with you for many wonderful years. Now you choose to destroy that, and I must return to my kingdom. I remember the happiness that I enjoyed here and my poor children which no parent would want to deprive of a father. So you may continue to live. Be a good father and find some way to atone for your present wrongs.”
If anyone has any thoughts on why the Yoki-onna are forced to live in the cold against their will I'd love to hear them.
The Valley of Lötschental Switzerland remained isolated for thousands of years, with tall mountains surrounding it, and no real roads in or out until 1907. This allowed their traditional festival Tschäggättä to survive into the modern day.
It's difficult to know the exact origins of this festival, however, it's possible that it was a way of scaring evil spirits from a village, an or honoring dark spirits as well in order to convince them to leave the village alone. Both these ideas were fairly common in ancient Europe, though again it's difficult to know the exact function of the masks in Tschäggättä.
This picture comes from "A New Year's Present to the little ones
from five to twelve. Part III." It's the first time a Santa was in a sleigh or had a reindeer. Such a simple picture but it changed the world and helped to inspire "The Night Before Christmas" which turned Christmas into a holiday about family, generosity, and wonder. For this reason this picture and poem, based on folk lore from The Forest Finns, the Dutch, the English, and the Germans has perhaps done more than all the Olympics, Nobel Prizes, etc., to bring peace and happiness to people.
Modern scholars would have hated these poems if they had come out in our time, just as most critics hated "Star Wars," and many folklorists often hate Disney.
The truth, however, is that good stories and art are the ones which change the world, or at least improve someone's life. They give us moments of magic, help us feel better emotionally. It's been shown that the right picture can reduce depression, improve concentration, and more. The right pictures in this case being beautiful pictures of nature, or cute things. The right stories, too can inspire generations of people, and often these works of art and stories are inspired by fairy tales.
However, as I studied cross-cultural psychology focusing on folkloristics I found scholars acknowledging in the intro's and prefaces to their books that folkloristics is the driest field to study something interesting. Yet they then go on to write dry books which study the means of studying folklore.
Yes this is useful for textbooks, but it serves only one real purpose, to help scholars understand scholarship. In order to make these scholarly articles and books relevant for people we have to use them to make books that are interesting as useful for other purposes. Briggs, has done a great job with this in her books on fairies, but such scholarship is limited to England and only goes so far.
I wanted to create something different, something with a purpose, and the purpose I chose was to help writers and artists, because they can change the world. Yes the things that artists and writers say they want such as archetypes are things that scholars hate, but there are lots of books on folklore that are useful for scholars, and hundreds of journal articles published every year as well.
So while I may pour through scholarly articles, books, etc., most of us have to have a different purpose than just writing these articles, we have to apply them to something. I've decided to apply them to help the people who make the world a more beautiful place through stories.
There were many tribes in Ancient Britain, and Genetic studies show that the tribes of Wales are genetically different... to a limited extent. However, the people of Britain are also surprisingly similar. So even after all the invasions by Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Norman and more added their DNA to the mix, the British still remained. So the question is how much of their stories remained?
There are ghosts to whom waterfowl sing, that ask those they meet to feed and take care of the people of their land, and whom sailors ask for protection. There are black dogs which could be guardians to the underworld. It's hard to know what such stories mean, but stories can survive the conquest of other people, for example, the people of Greece were ruled by many outside nations for thousands of years, yet they retained a lot of their stories, to some extent.
In Greek fairy tales gods such as Hades would at times become a Magician from Turkey in order to kidnap the daughter of Demeter who became St. Demetrius. Churon became the lord of the underworld, rather than the boatmen to it, and Zeus became the Christian God, fighting a rebellion of Giants with thunderbolts, then after victory he buried them them under the mountains as Zeus had buried the Titans. We know this because we know the original myths that these fairy tales are based on. What we don't know is the myths that the British tales are based on. Still it seems that just beneath the changes to their stories exists older ideas. We can never truly know these stories, but by mapping them and looking at them in a different light I believe that we can better understand them.
I'm working on a map of Celtic Fairies and a Book to help you interpret Europe's Fairy Tales on Kickstarter.
Looking at a few specific tribal regions we find some interesting facts such as;
The Iceni tribe was always very resistant to change, when the Roman's conquered many of them fled to the fens (Wash) rather than submit to Roman rule and their queen Boudicca lead a revolt that killed thousands of Romans. And we see in this region some of the strongest continuing fairy traditions in South Eastern England. This land still had many fairies meeting, enforcing morality, for long after such traditions had faded. In addition to their good relationship with the fairies, they often had remnants of a sometimes troubled with the fairies, from the typical fairies kidnapping humans to tales of humans kidnapping fairies, for example;
The tale of two green fairy children who were taken in by a human, although the boy died of sorrow the girl slowly became human after eating human food.
Another tiny fairy was captured here, he called to his brother for help, but none came and he too pined away and died.
Corieltauvi Tribe in the Northern Fens includes stories such as;
A Moon Goddess which battles evil spirits on the fen but is captured, buried and must be rescued, after which she banishes away many of the evil spirits which makes the world safer for humanity.
The last deity which protects sailors in the East.
Isolated by vast moors and quick to accept Roman Rule, the Romans allowed them to continue to live as they always had. Interestingly enough they seem to have one of the closest relationships with the fairies in their stories I've ever heard, with the fairies commonly doing farm work, etc, for them. Here too there are also stories of fairy refugees fleeing to hide in their land.
The world is filled with desperate people, but this was even more true in ancient times when women were forced to marry men who often didn't love them in distant villages where they were treated as outsiders by every human around them. Men too, could find themselves leaving home because there wasn't enough food in the village to feed them, then unable to find work they found themselves starving to death, looked down on by everyone around them.
In lore some of these people were lucky, they found a fairy who was willing to help, but not all fairies are helpful. Seeing an opportunity to pump up their ego, to take advantage of a lonely and desperate person many of the less kind fairies would attach themselves to the lost. They would give the lost magical secrets and aid in return for their complete emotional, physical, and often sexual subservience.
The fairies attached to The Lost were aggressive, controlling, and fickle. Acting like an abusive husband they would beat and torment the witch to get their way. The Lost couldn't leave even if they wanted to, for they were trapped in a supernatural relationship, however, they seem to have started to justify their relationship with the fairy, and become proud of it. The Lost had so little control over everything that they reveled in the magical powers they gained, but like children they often bragged about things they shouldn't have. They used their powers to threaten and blackmail the people around them, often trying to gain control over something. Thus many of these witches were found out because they would publicly yell at people that they would curse them to die, or because they would use their powers of divination to find out a powerful persons dark secrets.
Things would get progressively worse for The Lost, until at last the fairy bored of them and left. Grief stricken and relieved The Lost might swear that never again would they find themselves in such a situation, but there were are always more fairies looking to boost their ego through a relationship with a human. And in the end The Lost desires the feeling of power that comes from magic, even if it requires the abuse of something cruel.
Lucky Adventurous Tricksters
Examples: Hermes, "Jack and the Bean Stalk," hero in "Devil and the Three Golden Hairs," Hero in "The Drummer," and many, many more.
Perhaps the most common witch in fairy tales, the Luck Born are some of the most liminal of witches, for in fairy tales the pop in and out of the spirit realm with such ease, and gain spirit allies so readily that people hearing the story often don't even realize they are using magic.
Free loving and free wheeling they are quick to accept any task placed in front of them, and quick to befriend or trick any spirit at will. The hero of "The Drummer," for, pretends to be leading an army in order to force a giant into carrying him to the glass mountain (the other world).
Lucky Born are willing to work hard to accomplish their tasks, but at the same time, they are also willing to just lay down when a task is impossible and assume it will resolve itself, because for them it almost always does with the help of kind fairies. Fairies have always helped them, and always well, because the fairies like the kind free wheeling nature of the Luck Born.
Again going back to The Drummer, he's the only protagonist I know of who ever returned the shift of a fairy when he got a hold of it. Most stories of swan maidens, sky women, sealkie, etc, involve someone stealing these to gain power over the fairy. The Drummer, returned it immediately once he learned it belonged to someone. Then he risked his life to rescue the fairy whom it belonged to, despite knowing very little about her.
The one serious flaw with Luck Born is that since they think everything will always turn out, that the beans are magical, that if they just lay down some fairy will come along and do their work for them, etc. And they love to be helpful, they are quick to give advice, which won't work out very well for anyone else.
There are many childish fairies, playful and curious, they tend to live on a constant roller coaster of emotions, going from extremely rambunctious highs to terrible fit throwing lows very quickly.
Adventurous these fairies love taking risks, love to cause mischief and trouble.
They constantly need to be the center of attention and crave positive feedback from others, which leads them to be show offs.
Ainsel of Northern England is a good example of this. A soot covered fairy who bursts out down chimneys to play with, and show off for, human children.
The Mocachicchio of Italy are also another good example. These fairies love to play with human children, especially games in which they can act the part of the leader. When things don't go their way they can quickly become demanding and rude, and when things really don't go their way they become emotionally overwhelmed and begin weeping.
Filled with powerful and often overwhelming emotions, fate bringers are the most extreme version of the artist archetype. Unlike human artists who are limited to telling stories or painting pictures, fairies manipulate the fate, the story of humanity is their greatest art. The they can create the story of "Sleeping Beauty," rather than having to tell it.
Banshee's are a good example of this fairy. Ancestral spirits who are so in love with their human family that they cry until their eyes turn red when they learn that someone they love is going to die. They do not cause this death, however, instead they bring the gifts of poetry and greatness to their family members.
The fairies of "Sleeping Beauty" were another example of this archetype. Happy to help, but also so easily offended they were willing to curse a baby to die.
Water mothers love purity, beauty and serenity above all else, which makes them extremely important for villages which need a clean source of water. Dwelling in pools they have a naturally caring nature, helping the people of the village almost as they would children. Yet their sensitive nature means that they are easily offended by swearing, by immoral behavior, and most of all filth. The Rusalka, for example, were so offended by immorality that they left their homeland to find a new place to live.
The "But Aba" of the Mari-El are a good example of this fairy. Choosing to adopt a village keep the lake or river clean for the people to drink, most of the time. If they get too upset however they became depressed and listless. In this state they allow the lake to grow filthy, requiring the people to give the gifts (porridge or the blood of a black hen are common though fishermen often give them vodka as well).
She loves to engage the people of her village, so when new wives move to the village they would introduce themselves to the lake and give it a little porridge. Further at various times of the year the village would have a feast by the lake in her honer.