Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fairies in America

At the time of the American War of Independence, a native of Tiree... wishing to escape from his Fairy love, enlisted and was drafted off to the States. On landing he thanked God he was now where the hag could not reach him. Soon after, however, she met him. "You have given thanks," she said, " for getting rid of me, but it is as easy for me to make my appearance here as in your own country."

(For those of you keeping track this means that a man fought the American's during the Revolutionary War in order to escape a fairy lover - Writing Prompt - Tell the story of someone who is protected by their fairy lover during a war, even as they are trying to get out of the relationship)

There are many Scottish tales of fairy women following men to the America's. Indeed the fairies were so entwined with human civilization that they came to America in droves. This was especially true of house fairies, and ancestral spirits such as banshees, but even the fairies of the mounds came to America. As a resault any given city in America would have whatever fairies existed in Europe, Asia as well as in America before the immigration. This creates an interesting situation for writers in which Russian Domovi might encounter Scottish Brownies, or Saxon elves may have to share hills with Japanese Tengu.

In one case a fiddler returning from a wedding encounters a woman dressed in green, a Scottish fairy, who ultimatly gives him and his decendents the gift of being great musicians. This is very similar to many artists and craftsmen in Scotland who receive their gifts from the people of the hills.

Another Scottish Fairy to come to America was the Bauchan which would constantly wrestle around with a particular mortal like an overly aggresive and rambunxious teenager. At the same time he was clearly attached to the human for he would help him gather wood, or retrieve lost items for him. After the man moved to America he found the Bauchan waiting on shore for him to arrive.

The French Lutins also came to America, Quebec especially is filled with tales of the little fairies tying knots in horses manes, helping out and causing trouble in the barns and homes, just as they did in France. Another Lutin, known as the Nain Rouge is a creature believed to have originated in Normandy France, which now acts as a harbringer of doom in Detroit. Like most Lutin he appears as a tiny child with red fur boots, most often before some sort of disaster.

Death potents are among the most likely spirits to follow anyone. People in America would see grey and black dogs, would hear the crying of banshees, etc.

A banshee followed the O'Gradys to Canada where it was heard crying one night. Next day it so happened that the gentleman and his eldest son went out boating. As they did not return, however, at the usual time for dinner, some alarm was excited, and messengers were sent down to the shore to look for them. But no tidings came until, precisely at the exact hour of the night when the spirit-cry had been heard the previous evening, a crowd of men were seen approaching the house, bearing with them the dead bodies of the father and the son, who had both been drowned by the accidental upsetting of the boat, within sight of land, but not near enough for any help to reach them in time.

For those who study fairy lore it shouldn't come as any surprise that the fairies of people's homelands would find their way to America. Fairies after all have come to build a symbiotic relationship with humans. Humans provide fairies with food, with goods that they struggle to get a hold of, and with many other benefits it's difficult to place our fingers on. Fairies provide humans with luck, with insperation, etc.

Then there are simply the fairies who fell in love with humans. In the French tale of "The Fee and the Sailor" a young man from Plevenon met an ocean fairy while out fishing. She fell in love with him and ultimatly gave him a magic wand when he went off to California to search for gold.

Many of the beings we now think of as house fairies from the Welsh Bwca to the German Puk, and yes even the Scottish Brownie were once wilderness fairies which while often connected to a household instead of a family, will still follow many families from one home to another in many tales. What's more, many fairies were the spirits of the dead or of people who found themselves lured into fairyland. Thus we should expect that these spirits would exist in anyplace where their human descendents can.

A lot of the difference comes down to interpritation. In America ghost activity is detected by objects vanishing or turning up in places that no one would have put them. Sounds of knocking and footsteps. There are also scratches, bite marks, or other physical manifestations of an attack without any apparent attacker. Finally people will catch glimpses of strange figures.

Once upon a time such manifestations would have been interpreted as the munacillo in Southern Italy, as a domovoi in Russia, etc. We've just forgotten so much of our heritage that we started looking for more 'scientific' explinations about two centuries ago. Since then people have stopped believing in ancestral and nature spirits who share our homes and have started beliving in phantams which haunt them. So perhaps what we often think of as ghosts are really fairies, which would mean we are dealing with them all wrong. Instead of trying to get rid of them or help them resolve unfinished business, perhaps one should leave them a bowl of milk and see what happens. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Shocking Things You didn't Know About Pixies

Naked, bedraggled they dwell on the fringes of human society; in the moors and rocky clefts. They hide having been driven to the fringes by people. It was believed by some that pixies were the previous inhabitants of Cornwall and Devon, banished to the moors when humans invaded their lands. Now pixies shrink year by year every time they use their magic and so will eventually vanish completely.

This is a horrifying picture of the fairies that inspired so many stories, and it may explain why pixies act both to harm and help humanity. For on the one hand they are kind, they have come to develop a symbiotic relationship with humans, on the other hand humans have pushed them to the brink of extinction.

Before delving too deep into the negatives of this relationship it's perhaps best to discuss the positives. For the pixies clearly wanted a connection with humanity, which is why they wandered into villages and farms in order to bring gifts to and help people.

One girl who lived on the moor kept her house clean, was constantly working. So like Santa or the Tooth fairy the pixies came in the night and left her a coin, a practices that would have continued if she hadn't made a tragic mistake, she told people about her luck and so the pixies never again left her another reward. Those who have a relationship with the pixies must keep it secret, they must never reveal it to anyone. For pixies are a secretive lot.

Because of their kindness pixies became the focus of people's folk religion, the guardians of their lands and homes. People would leave bread, milk, and other offerings to the pixies in return for good luck. For the pixies controlled people's fate. 

From many such stories it can be presumed that pixies are good, that one should want them to visit (as long as the house is clean). The picture, however, isn't quite so clear as sometimes pixies bring ill luck and cause nothing but trouble. One young dated a pixie changeling and as a result of the bad luck she carried with her his cows died, his food went bad, everything went ill with him after that until the sad end of his days. So in addition to good luck pixies can bring bad luck. 

Just like humans pixies are complex figures in that they each not only have different personalities, they also have differing moods. So rather than try to understand some stereotypical notion of fairy, its perhaps best to try to understand the emotional state of pixies from similar relationships between human groups.

The hunter-gatherers and the agriculturalists

Although pixies are magical beings, we can perhaps learn something of their relationship with humans by looking at the similar human situations around the world.

In the Congo there are groups of hunter-gatherers (collectively nick named Pygmies) who have been driven to the fringes by the agriculturalists. The two people are competition with each other over the remaining jungle, and as the agriculturists expand the hunter-gatherers have less and less land on which to live.

However, the two have formed a symbiotic relationship. It's difficult to find enough food to live in the jungle. So the hunter-gatherers come to help in the fields for part of the year. During other parts they bring meat, spices, and other treasures from the forest to help the agriculturalists survive, thus each needs the other.

Both think of the other as magical. Pygmies think the agricultural people have the power to curse them, just as pixies feared humanities evil eye. At the same time the agriculturalists valued the pygmies ability to heal them and foretell the future.

Finally, its worth noting that the pygmies were known as amazing singers and dancers for a long time. Ancient Egyptian records even mention this.

This relationship between two people's isn't isolated to Africa. It exists in the Philippines and Malaysia and likely many other places as well.

This relationship can explain a lot between the relationship between humans and pixies. For example, why humans believed that while they should pay the pixies a small amount they should to avoid letting the pixies have too much or else they would feel too fine to work. It explains why the pixies and humans can both get along and be antagonistic towards each other at the same time. Especially presuming some pixies are more angry about their relationship with humans than others.

The difference, of course, is that pixies aren't human. On the other hand humans themselves aren't entirely human. In lore humans were just another branch of the fairy family, so there are some similarities between us and them.

In terms of understanding pixies we can see three primary driving forces for their behavior;

1-They are the focus of a fairy faith, a folk religion of the people of Cornwall and Devon

It seems clear that many  of the pixies have come to embrace their place within human folk religion as "the magical others." They are happy to accept offerings of milk, bread, butter, etc. which are left out for them and to give luck in return for these.

Because pixies tend to be obsessed with hard work, with cleanliness and productivity. They can't stand to simply be lazy and so they are prone to helping people with their work, so long as the people are hard working themselves. Their obsession with hard work is extreme enough that they feel the need to punish those who are lazy and reward those who fit with their notions of what's decent and moral. 

In addition to these Santa Like activities they punish those who deny them. In one of their wars with a human who was trying to get rid of them they made it impossible for butter to churn, they ruined wine, they pixie lead people to get lost, pulled people's noses, pinched them, and caused all manner of trouble. 

What's key here, is that despite the fact that the pixies don't like people to see them, they want people to believe in them. It's not entirely certain what they get out of this relationship, other than a bit of food and clean water. However, as a writer you could speculate that they get a certain amount of magical energy from the rituals people perform to them. Or perhaps the pixies are merely obsessed with respect.

2-At the same time some of the pixies retain their wild nature

Pixies are fun loving, wild, and mischievous. They are often seen dancing along the moors and tors, What's more interesting perhaps is their propensity to play pranks on people. They are much more in touch with their own emotions, which can be extreme, than humans are. In addition they are more in touch with the natural world around them, a would which is both wild and beautiful.

One shouldn't be tempted to project some alien behavior on them because of this. Rather, it might be best to think of them as frat boys and sorority girls, bouncing about wildly during their parties, and perhaps a bit antagonistic towards the humans who have fought many wars with them and driven them from their homes. 

In one case a boy was returning home after going to see his sweetheart in a distant village when 

"Suddenly sounds similar to those he had previously heard struck upon his ear, but so plainly as to convince him that he was certainly now labouring under no delusion. Ere he could look around him to discover whence they proceeded the sounds increased tenfold, and it was evident that a very merry party was somewhere close at hand. Instantaneously it flashed into his mind that he had approached a pixy gathering, and stepping at that instant round a huge granite block, he came upon a strange and bewildering sight.

On a small level piece of velvety turf, entirely surrounded by boulders, a throng of little creatures were assembled, dressed in most fantastic costumes. A great number of them had joined hands, and were dancing merrily in a ring, while many were perched upon the rocks around, and all were laughing and shouting with glee. Poor Tom was frightened beyond measure, and knew not whether it was better to proceed or endeavour to retreat. If he could steal away unobserved he might pass on the opposite side of the tor, and this he determined upon doing. But no sooner had he made up his mind to pursue this course, than the little folks observed him, and instantly forming a ring round him, danced more furiously than ever. As they whirled around, Tom was constrained to turn around with them, although, so rapid was their pace. that he was utterly unable to keep up with their frantic movements. Each one, too, was joining in the elfin chorus as loud as his little lungs would enable him, and although they danced and sting with all their might they never seemed to tire. In vain Tom called upon them to stop--his cries only causing the pixies to laugh the merrier--while they seemed to have no intention whatever of discontinuing their antics. Tom's head began to swim round; he put out his arms wildly, his legs felt as if they would give way under him; but yet he could not avoid spinning around in a mad whirl. He would have given worlds to stop, and endeavoured in vain to throw himself on the grass: the mazy gallop still continued, and poor Tom was compelled to take his part in it.

In the height of the din the sun began to rise above the ridge of Hameldon, and at the first sight of the bright orb the noise suddenly ceased, the little folks instantly vanished among the crevices of the rocks, and Turn found himself lying alone on the moor."

As with a lot of folk stories about encounters with fairies there is a lot more going on here than is immediately apparent. First of all it's important to note that most negative encounters with the fairies run something like this. People come across them while they are throwing a wild party and they, in the midst of their marry making, harass the interloper. Other times they lead people astray, cause their milk to spoil, pinch them, etc. Rarely do they ever simply attack a person, however. And even when they do attack people they almost never kill them. 

Again these seem like the pranks of teenagers or college students, not harmless, but they aren't psychotic.

What's important to understand is that pixies can't grow up, they can't mature, not fully. In many ways one can think of Peter Pan as the ultimate pixie. No matter how many chances he had to kill Captain Hook, or what Hook, he preferred to tease him, to play with him. His "childish pranks" such as cutting off Hook's hand weren't harmless, he was a bit devilish at his core, but his attitude was still that of a child.

The wild dance the pixies draw Tom into is also interesting as many early vision quests of witches/shamans run.along similar lines. Over time such behavior caused people to try to avoid becoming witches/shamans and eventually lead to people thinking that the fairies trying to pull them into their world were evil. Whether the pixies were trying to make Tom a shaman/witch or simply playing a prank on him I don't know, but this is still a good example of a witches first experience with the fairies.

Finally, the pixies must flee the coming of the sun. They don't simply vanish, however. Instead they must jump into the little cracks and crevices of the moor. Becoming invisible takes energy, so they aren't invisible all the time and they can't vanish so long as a human is looking at them.

3-They are a neighboring people.

Pixies are people's neighbors, they know this even better than the people who live among them because they see and hear humans constantly. Over time they come to care for good neighbors and hate bad neighbors. The difference is that unlike humans it's often easier for them to get involved in punishing bad neighbors and helping the ones they like. For example, they are more likely to be able to directly get involved in punishing men who abuse their spouses and children, who over drink, etc.

They also help people like they would neighbors, leaving food out for farmers who ask for it, playing with children, etc.

It's worth noticing that of these three forces only one is inherent to the pixies. That is, their wild nature. Their love of song and dance and mischief are inherent to them. The other two, being neighbors with humans and the object of human folk religion isn't something they chose. Indeed, they must always live with the knowledge that humans have forced their world to change. This isn't some distant idea for them, however. Many pixies are immortal so they can remember the time before humans, they can remember the coming of humans, and they may one day yet recall when humans vanished from their world. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Steampunk Fairies

Article by Ty Hulse

I've started thinking a lot about how fairies would have lived in a Steampunk World, and there is a lot of information we could get about this from understanding fairies in the cities of ancient Greece, and fairies in the Victorian and modern world.

Fairies and spirits change with human society.

When discussing ijirait (fairy like spirits in Inuit lore) Nutaraaluk said:

"They can wear the same clothes that you and I wear. They can go to the store, but no matter how many times they shop the stock never depletes. Over time they can buy snowmobiles just like we do. When we had dogteams, they had dogteams. When we no longer used dogteams and we used snowmobiles, they used snowmobiles. I told you earlier that I had seen this snowmobile light and when I went to check it out there was nothing there because it had belonged to an ijiraq. I knew if it had been human I should have been able to see a person there. I was trying to find the tracks everywhere but I couldn’t find any. I knew there was an ijiraq that was trying to communicate with me."
Interviewing Inuit Elders Edited by Bernard Saladin d' Anglure

In Cornwall a Mermaid came out of the water, took human form, and went to sing with the people at church without anyone even knowing who or what she was. While in Germany Nixies came out of the water and went to the market like they always had. Fairies of lore are integrated with human society, and so would inspire and be inspired by the steampunk world just as they are by our own world.

One can easily imagine these fairies and spirits buying computers, or other steampunk based tools (provided such tools don't use too much iron which hurts many fairies)

Think of the Glaistig in Scotland, which was responsible for nearly any skill people had. They made people good blacksmiths, good tailors, ship builders, etc. It's not a stretch to imagine that they would also make people skilled engineers and airship builders as well. This was also true of Nymphs / Muses in Greece which granted people their skills.

Perhaps the most interesting transition from the past to the modern era is to be found in Japan. Here deities of the mountains and rice growing such as Inari Okami became the kami of modern business as well. Kitsune who had previously helped with growing crops helped to forge magical weapons. Anything which was important to human life could have spirits which people would perform rituals for:

"There are another cases of performing a rite to console the spirits of some tools which were made and utilized by men in everyday life such as needles, knives,shoes; or to purify buildings before inaugurating them including even nuclear power stations or factories of computer machines, wishing that all the labour works and productions involved in there would be done properly and safely." 

Original article

The man screams and tries to back peddle away from the oncoming train, his mind is overwhelmed with fear. Even through closed eyes he can see the bright light rushing towards him, then, Bam! something small hits him. He falls to the ground in shock, barely able to process the sound of a laughing kitsune (fox) darting off into the bushes.

The train had been nothing more than an illusion.

Fairies and magical creatures found new ways to take advantage of the rapidly changing world of the Victorian Era (Meiji Era in Japan). In France lutins stole and crashed cars, the fairies of Ireland attacked them, in Italy fairies teased road construction crews. Most of the stories we have of fairies adjusting to the new world, however, come from Japan. Here Tenuki (dogs which look like raccoons) took human form to get drunk in bars, foxes began pretending to be trains and cars in order  to work their mischief, and kami took on new roles to help people adjust to their new lives.

Such changes weren't always so prevalent in the countryside, however. For even as the world's cities went through a series of shocking changes the the countryside remained isolated for a long time. With no rail roads, no electricity it existed apart from the rest of the world, retaining many of their old traditions and ideas about the magical world in which they lived.

For those of you who want to tell the story of steampunk fairies or fairies in a Victorian era world it's easy to imagine a countryside still living what amounts to a Medieval lifestyle, while occasionally  viewing airships flying overhead. Certainly there were villages in Japan that continued to live and work as they always had right up until the early 1960s. The English countryside was filled with places where Cunning (good witches) were still the most important people in the communities right up through WWI.

Indeed, the vast majority of our stories about fairies come after people began using steampower fairly frequently and there are some stories of fairies even inspiring those who made steampowered vehicles.

Even so, with the growth of the cities, a number of things happened. First people in the country without work began, for the first time, to move in mass into the cities to work in factories. The number of people living in the country decreased, the number of farmers decreased. Rather than try to struggle through family farms closed up. This in turn transformed the dynamic of the countryside, and worried the fairies who didn't like to see these changes. Thus in Wales and Cornwall there are stories of fairies aiding people who are about to loose their farms and homes, doing some of their work for them at night so that they won't have to close up and move away.

We see similar stories in tales like "The Elves and the Shoe Maker." In this story, which was prevalent throughout Europe some fairies help a Shoe Maker who was likely struggling because the industrial revolution and it's use of machines to make clothes and destroyed his business.

This leads to a second important change in the countryside. While the decreasing cost of clothes and shoes greatly helped the poorest of families (shoes had been so expensive children often went barefoot even on frozen ground) it greatly changed the dynamic of the countryside. Once traveling tailors had carried stories and ideas of folk religion from village to village in places like Scotland, but these began to decrease as their jobs were replaced by factories.

Despite the  fact that fairies push many of the changes that occur in human society, there are many fairies which are adverse to change. Stories abound of fairies growing angry at people for putting new spices in their food, such as wood wife in Germany who was furious that someone had backed cumin into their bread. They missed the old foods, the old traditions, the old families that they had been neighbors with for generations that had been forced to move on.

In addition houses and farms in the countryside could become abandoned, leaving the family fairies who had lived in these lands for generations alone, without a purpose. In such cases the countryside could quickly become overrun with mischievous boggarts without a home.

Still, despite such changes, life went on much as it always had in the countryside. People retained their old relationship to the fairy world, and even reapplied it in interesting new ways. When the people of Mari-El (in Russia) for example, were called to war in distant lands they would pray and leave offerings to their local Keremet who would in return keep them safe. In one case a Keremet even brought a soldier home for his brothers wedding, before returning him once more to the battlefield. The Japanese had many similar experiences in which local Kami kept them safe during the wars during the Victorian era and helped them defeat Russia during one of the biggest wars of the era.

 So for many, the relationship with the spirit world was only enhanced by the changes in the Victorian world. For when people's children were taken to war in distant lands they'd never heard of, or were used to maintain their countries interests in far away colonies which had once seemed like the 'other world' people needed to turn somewhere.

This meant that the role of the tutelary spirits which people had once turned to for help with farming had to expand and change rapidly.

There was one more change which occurred during the Victorian era that transformed not only the countryside but all of human society. People in the cities began to think about the country and fairies of their nations with a sense of Romanticism.

 From the Grimm Brothers to Yeats, people began to believe that the countryside and it's fairies was what truly defined their culture. Fairies became a human symbol of nationalism, a point of pride for the Celts, among others. In a steampunk fantasy world this would have changed our relationship with the fairies.

So in a steampunk world many leaders and philosophers would be scrambling for the approval of the fairies. Wars would be between not only two human nations but fairy nations united with human nations. As more and more people sought to imitate the fairies of their land.


---Lirio Mors left a wonderful comment about a fairy train in Russia which is well worth reading.