Forces of Nature
At one time when the fishermen of Brittany were faced with fog, they would threaten to cut it in two with a knife. The Irish would battle the waves with axes in order to kill the fairy spirits within them to prevent the tides from rising too high. (Maccullock, 1911) Fairies were found in every force of nature from the wind that blew to the heat and the cold. As shown by the previous examples, the relationship between people and the forces of nature was different from that of other fairies because people were more likely to feel the need to threaten or even do battle with the forces of nature. At the same time, however, people also sought to appease the forces of nature whenever possible.
In England, children would offer Jack Frost a spoonful of kissel as they asked him not to destroy their winter crops. (Keightley, 1870) Such respect does appear to have had an impact on the fairies in many cases. Ded Moroz, the current Russian Santa Claus figure, was at one time a cruel fairy that would freeze people to death. Respect or a change in human opinion of him transformed him into the gentle being he is now. In one Russian Cinderella story, a girl was sent into the woods to freeze to death by her wicked stepmother. As she sat in the cold, Frost leapt from fir tree to fir tree snapping his fingers as he went. Then as he came into sight, he started mocking the girl, but she always responded to his teasing respectfully even calling him “Frost Dearest!” So he ultimately felt sorry for her and wrapped her in warm blankets to keep her alive through the cold before leaving her with gifts that would make her wealthy. Later in the story, Frost freezes the girl’s disrespectful sister-in-law to death for telling him that she’s cold (Ralston, 2004). So while people were willing to threaten the forces of nature when they thought they could get away with it, they also realized that careful respect was important in everything they did. Among one group of people it was considered dangerous to knock icicles down because doing so causes Frost to grow angry.
Baba Yaga, one of the most feared of all fairies in Russian folklore, “appears to be a personification of the spirit of the storm. When she tears her way through the forest, making the trees writhe and howl as she passes and sweeping away the traces of her progress with a broom, she is looked upon as the whirlwind. When as ‘a black cloud’ she chases fugitive heroes, she seems to be the thundercloud which threatens to blot out the light of day.” (Dasent, 1904) Yet at the same time, Baba Yaga helps a prince who acts boldly calling her Grandmother and telling her that his wife has been taken from him. So despite the fact that people often feared the fairies of the wind greatly, the wind also seems to be one of the most helpful fairies within the folklore of Europe.
In the Spanish folktale (Lang, 1897) “A Sprig of Rosemary,” the main character asks Sun for help, but Sun sends her on to Moon, who sends her on to Wind. And it is ultimately Wind, not Sun or Moon, who takes the time to help her. In the “White Bear,” a girl searches for her husband and ends up being carried by the East Wind to help her on her journey then by the West and the South Winds. In the end, none of these can help her so she is forced to seek help from the cantankerous North Wind who at first doesn’t care about her. However, on hearing that she has lost her love, he transforms into a fatherly figure and provides her with the help necessary to regain her husband. (Bunce,1878)
This story shows that the wind and fairies in general can feel fatherly (or motherly) towards humans, perhaps in much the same way as we can feel fatherly towards those in need or will take in stray animals. Indeed, even the grouchiest and perhaps one of the cruelest fairies can still feel kind-hearted emotions under the right set of circumstances.
Beyond such feelings of kindness, the wind also seems to have a great sense of fair play despite its destructive nature; such that if one can seek them out, they will pay off the debts their nature incurs.
In a Norse tale, the wind blows away a boy’s lunch over and over again until at last in frustration he seeks it out and complains at which point the wind provides him with a magical cloth which will never run out of food. (Dasent, 1904) Such swapping of favors was common for forces of nature as shown by another fairy tale in which the sun gives a woman a child when she pleads for it. In return, however, the sun asks that he be allowed to take the child when she reaches womanhood. (Lang, 1900) Because the forces of nature could be destructive and helpful and because there were so many of them, it was important to choose which ones to pay respect to carefully.
In a Russian tale, a man bows to Sun, Frost, and Wind but pays extra respect to the later, causing the other two to grow angry with him. However, Wind is able to blow away Sun’s heat and Frost’s cold so that neither can hurt the man proving that Wind is the most important of the three. (Ralston, 1872) Such stories of choosing which fairy or spirit to pay the most respect to are common within Russian folk tales because by choosing which fairy to pay the most respect to, one could gain special favors from them. Of course, the person making the choice had to be careful to choose the most important fairy or at least the one that could protect them from the wrath of the others.