Tuesday, February 4, 2014

8 Celtic Fairy Tales to Inspire You

Article by Ty Hulse

This is Raven's Shire's guide to short tales of people's encounters with the fairy realm, the other world of Celtic lore. Each of which teaches us something different about the strange world that exists alongside humans. These lessons about the fairy world can be writing prompts for your own tales. Celtic Food and Fairy Tales

The Corpse Watchers
A strangely named story about a girl, who with the help of a fairy, goes on a journey into the land of the dead to bring someone back to life. This little tale has a lot of the most important motifs of the Celtic World of the Dead, making it an interesting read for writers trying to get inspiration for this.

Gulessh Half-Fairy
Important points to keep in mind.

Those in fairy tales who were extremely lazy, who lay by fires were either shamans or half-fairies that lived in dream worlds. In this case I believe Gulessh was a half-fairy because of his constantly black feet (weird feet being a sign of other worldliness)

Half-Fairies often initially got along with regular fairies, but as this tale indicates they wanted the same things as fairies and had no qualms about stealing these things for themselves.

This story also discusses the interesting nature of fairy flights, which are really more like teleportations most of the time.

The Ethna Bride

Fairies have a lot of powers, but so do humans, we just don't realize it most of the time.

This story tells the tale of a king who declares war on the fairies when his wife is kidnapped by them. It was fairly common in Celtic lore for humans to defeat fairies with iron, salt, magical symbols, or druid magic. In fact the humans' ability to defeat the fairies is the reason they were forced to live as refugees despite their many powers.

Ulter Bosence and the Piskys
The greatest competitive fighter in the land is traveling to another match when he encounters fearful snake headed fairies which can breath fire. The fairies take his fighting skills from him, but leave his family better off since he spends more time devoted to them afterwards.

Beyond just the fairy encounter, however, this tale is also interesting because it discusses the life of a competitive wrestler and boxer during the Victorian Era.

A few points to keep in mind.
1-Fairies were often the enforcers of morality, and while it's not explicitly stated in this tale they may have attacked him on the roadside in order to make him a better person.

2-Fairies would often attack those who didn't believe in them, because while they didn't want to be spied upon, they wanted to be believed in.

3-There is some relationship between fairies and dragons, which isn't explicitly stated in this, but the fact that the fairies appear as fire breathing reptiles does indicate this to some extent. There are a number of other tales which show this possible connection, though it's never stated outright in any of them.

The Pixie Led Traveler
A merchant is trying to travel when a fog rises up that only he can see. Fairies it seems, don't create illusions per say, rather they seem to cause hallucinations.

The Fairy Dwelling on Selena Moor
A man is on his own property when he suddenly finds himself in a strange place... It's important to realize that fairy land isn't some distant place, rather it exists in pocket dimensions all around. A grove of trees on someones farm could have the entire elf kingdom inside it. Most of the time a human walking through one of these groves of trees would think of it as only a few dozen feet across, but every once in a while it would expand to be many miles across.

Here in fairy land he finds a girl who has been enslaved by the fairies, but no one knew she was missing, because when she was kidnapped the fairies left a clay figure in her place with illusions cast over it so not even doctors could tell it wasn't her dead body.


Cats in Celtic Lore
Cats are fairies in their own right, with their own trooping courts and strange powers. When one man killed a cat out of anger, it told him that he would suffer for the deed. Later a kitten ripped at his throat with such fierceness that he died from the wound.

In another tale, a man is walking along when he sees a troop of cats holding a funeral. One of the cats tells him to tell his friend's cat that "the King of the Cat's has died." When he does so the cat perks up, declares himself the new King of Cats and runs off. There is a similar story from Denmark in which a young troll is banished from the court of trolls for getting too involved with the King of Trolls wives so he changes into a cat and moves into a home. In this case, of course the friend sees a troop of trolls holding the funeral, one of which tells him to speak to the cat. This story is still interesting because it shows that the same general story among two different cultures can hold different meanings.

In the story I include in this article you'll see that cats have influence over the affairs of the fairy court, and that like fairies, they can be kind to those who show them the slightest bit of kindness.

An old woman was sitting up very late spinning, when a knocking came to the door. "Who is there?" she asked. No answer; but still the knocking went on. "'Who is there?" she asked a second the. No answer; and the knocking continued. "Who is there?" she asked the third time, in a very angry passion.
Then there came a small voice--"Ah, Judy, agrah, let me in,--for I am cold and hungry; open the door, Judy, agrah, and let me sit by the fire, for the night is cold out here. Judy, agrah, let me in, let me in!"
The heart of Judy was touched, for she thought it was some small child that had lost its way, and she rose up from her spinning, and went and opened the door--when in walked a large black cat with a white breast, and two white kittens after her.
They all made over to the fire and began to warm and dry themselves, purring all the time very loudly; but Judy said never a word, only went on spinning.
Then the black cat spoke at last--"Judy, agrah, don't stay up so late again, for the fairies wanted to hold a council here tonight, and to have some supper, but you have prevented them; so they were very angry and determined to kill you, and only for myself and my two daughters here you would be dead by this time. So take my advice, don't interfere with the fairy hours again, for the night is theirs, and they hate to look on the face of a mortal when they are out for pleasure or business. So I ran on to tell you, and now give me a drink of milk, for I must be off."
And after the milk was finished the cat stood up, and called her daughters to come away.
"Good-night, Judy, agrah," she said. "You have been very civil to me, and I'll not forget it to you. Good-night, good night."
With that the black cat and the two kittens whisked up the chimney; but Judy looking down saw something glittering on the hearth, and taking it up she found it was a piece of silver, more than she ever could make in a month by her spinning, and she was glad in her heart, and never again sat up so late to interfere with the fairy hours, but the black cat and her daughters came no more again to the house.

Brownie Morality

Brownies tend to side with the owners of a household rather than with the poor servants. This is in clear contrast to The Queen of the Fairies across Europe who tends to side with the poor and even encourage theft.

ONE of the principal characteristics of the brownie was his anxiety about the moral conduct of the household to which he was attached. He was a spirit very much inclined to prick up his ears at the first appearance of any impropriety in the manners of his fellow-servants. The least delinquency committed either in barn, or cow-house, or larder, he was sure to report to his master, whose interests he seemed to consider paramount to every other thing in this world, and from whom no bribe could induce him to conceal the offences which fell under his notice. The men, therefore, and not less the maids, of the establishment usually regarded him with a mixture of fear, hatred, and respect; and though he might not often find occasion to do his duty as a spy, yet the firm belief that he would be relentless in doing so, provided that he did find occasion, had a salutary effect. A ludicrous instance of his zeal as guardian of the household morals is told in Peeblesshire. Two dairymaids, who were stinted in their food by a too frugal mistress, found themselves one day compelled by hunger to have recourse to the highly improper expedient of stealing a bowl of milk and a bannock, which they proceeded to devour, as they thought, in secret. They sat upon a form, with a space between, whereon they placed the bowl and the bread, and they took bile and sip alternately, each putting down the bowl upon the scat for a moment's space after taking a draught, and the other then taking it up in her hands, and treating herself in the same way. They had no sooner commenced their mess than the brownie came between the two, invisible, and whenever the bowl was set down upon the scat took also a draught; by which means, as he devoured fully as much as both put together, the milk was speedily exhausted. The surprise of the famished girls at finding the bowl so soon empty was extreme, and they began to question each other very sharply upon the subject, with mutual suspicion of unfair play, when the brownie undeceived them by exclaiming, with malicious glee--

"Ha! ha! ha!
Brownie hast a' I"

Ravens Shire is dedicated to helping writers and artists learn about the strange world of fairy tales, so if you have any questions or need any help understanding the fairy realm, please contact us.