Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Domesticated Fairies

Article by Ty Hulse

As humanity encroached on nature the fairies didn't just vanish, instead they began to adapt to civilization. There are thousands of fairy tales and bits of lore from around the world about wilderness spirits who became the spirits of fields, gardens, yards, and even people's homes.

As human civilization has expanded many nature fairies have started to adapt to our farms and our suburbs by living in fields, in trees near our homes, and in our gardens. In one case an obviously wild fairy known as Broonie have started to protect people and their grain, even casting spells on the crops to give a good harvest. In gratitude the people made him some clothes, but Broonie was still feral, so as with so many other stories he was offended that anyone should think he would need clothes and he ran off never to be seen again. (George Fraser Black)

In Croatia there is another forest fairy known as a Vedi, which are as tall as the trees, who live in small villages or cities within the forest. They act as mischievously as anyone would expect a forest spirit to act. Worse they even enjoy suffering such that they will kidnap and torture people, releasing their victims right before they die from the pain and suffering. Yet the Vedi who live near civilization have started to adopt human families, protecting them against natural disasters. Yet even these Vedi are still somewhat feral. For they still harm and cause mischief for the neighbors of those they've adopted.

“This may be illustrated by the expression: "Dear God, let our vedi help us and don't let their vedi harm us"). It was believed that after one pronounced such a prayer, the spirit would come quickly to the person's aid.” (Conrad, 2001)

Domesticated fairies often lived along side humans. The Scrat of Germany, for example, lived in the trees near a persons house, protecting them from evil spirits. Brownie type fairies in Britain were once fairies of groves of trees or pools of water who had moved into people's homes. This meant that even after people left the wilderness maintaining a relationship with the spirit world was important in lore.

In many places people would actively seek to domesticate nature spirits by giving them gifts. In Scotland people would pour milk on the rocks for the spirits within, in parts of Russia they would put oatmeal and vodka in the water for the water mother, in Japan they would give the spirits sake and pray to it.

Celebrations throughout Eurasia were often centered on the idea of building a better relationship with the nature spirits. In Japan people had to lure the spirits of the mountain down to their fields if they wanted a good harvest. Sacred dances, plays such as the ones held in Greece, and festivals were all meant to entertain the nature spirits.

"The Golden Bough” notes the idea of building a relationship with fairies repeatedly in one specific case it mentions that in parts of France the last sheaf would be named the Mother of the Wheat, Mother of the Barley, Mother of the Rye, or Mother of the Oats and would be made into a puppet dressed in clothing and given a crown and a blue or white scarf. In another case he notes that:

“A branch of a tree is stuck in the breast of the puppet which is now called Ceres. At the dance in the evening Ceres is set in the middle of the floor, and the reaper who reaped fastest dances around it with the prettiest girl for his partner. After the dance, a pyre is made. All the girls, each wearing a wreath, strip the puppet, pull it to pieces, and place it on the pyre along with the flowers with which it was adorned. Then the girl who was the first to finish reaping sets fire to the pile, and all pray that Ceres may give a fruitful year” (Frazer, 1922)

In this ritual then, we see a clear continuation of the belief that tree spirits help create a fruitful harvest. In parts of Dumbartonshire, the Maiden of the corn would be dressed in ribbons and hung in the kitchen for the entire year. In Bruck in Styria she would even be dedicated in the Christian Church indicating the longevity of the peoples’ respect for the fairies involved in the harvest, or at least in the tradition.  Here they also took the extra step of making the finest ears of grain into a wreath which were twined with flowers and carried on the head of the prettiest girl in the village. The Slavs also made a wreath from the last sheaf known as the Rye-mother, the Wheat-mother, the Oats-mother, the Barley-mother, and so on which would be placed on a girl’s head and kept until spring when it would be mixed with the seeds the farmers planted. Other people drench with water the last girl who cut it in addition to the sheaf of grain. The fertility of the fairy is considered to be so strong that it is believed that the person who cuts the last sheaf of wheat will be married within a year.

Though it wasn't just through offerings that people domesticated nature spirits, sometimes they would domesticate them by force. In Japan, for example, people waged war on many of the nature kami to force them to help with the harvest. The same is true in Ireland, and Wales. In Germany people would threaten to cut down a tree if it didn't help their crops to thrive.