Monday, September 6, 2021

Economy of Fairyland for Writers and Worldbuilders

Survival, desire, and pleasure are the great motivators, and all three are wrapped up in the economy of a people and fairies. For the longest time most of humanities economy centered around the obtainment of food, whether this was through agriculture, pastoralism, or hunting and fishing. Fairies too would farm, fish, raise, cattle, make shoes, and have similar sorts of jobs. 

Yet fairies were often dependent on humans for at least a portion of their food and even mundane objects. For many fairies also had trouble creating mundane items such as ovens, pots, or even fire. Yet at the same time fairies were magical and so could help crops grow, create illusions, etc. In other words, the wealth of the fairies depended in large part on the success of the humans economy, which the fairies could influence. Fairy magic and fairy need meant that fairies could be at once wealthy and poor. 

Briggs (1959) states that "clean water and bread are often left out for fairies at night. Then the fairy ladies would come and wash their babies in the water set ready for them, warm themselves by the fire and eat the bread milk left for them. Then the house would be lucky, and the neat obliging maid would find sixpence in the pail or in her shoe. But if the house was left in disarray, pinching was the best that the maid could expect. Sometimes she might be cursed with lameness."

These fairies needed clean water, a fire, and food from a human, but they had silver in abundance. This, however, didn’t make all, or even most fairies wealthy. For fairies frequently, used illusions to make cheap food appear good, and dank caves appear like beautiful palaces. Such fairies were often poor, but they wished to appear rich. As such, one of their most frequent means of obtaining goods was through theft. In some cases, however, they would repay those they stole from with luck, making people who the fairies stole from prosper more than they otherwise would have. 

Fairies would visit human markets in disguise in German, 

Britain, and other places, often to steal what they needed.

"Strange were the doings of little folk in Ambleside fair 

and market. Dressed as common folk, they would mingle 

with the marketing folk, and then by blowing at women 

at the market stalls, they became invisible, and were 

enabled to steal things from the stalls."

Newman, L., & Wilson, E. (1952). Folklore Survivals in 

the Southern "Lake Counties" and in Essex: A 

Comparison and Contrast. Folklore, 63(2), 91-104. 


Others would disguise themselves and purchase what they needed fairly. Plant Rhys Dwfn visited markets in Cardigan and Fishguard and paid so much they cleared the market and raised the price of grain. 

There are a few tales of fairies hosting their own market; however, these are most commonly found in Somerset.  It's possible that that these markets weren't equipped to deal with money, as there are reports that fairies didn't exchange money at these, but rather emotions and ideas.

Still, fairies often did exchange physical goods for the use of human objects such as kettles, ovens, etc. 

What we see then is that there were five common ways that the fairies people encountered obtained food and other objects they needed.  

The first of these was through banditry, by using their illusions and natural stealth. 

The second was helping humans create objects, grow crops, etc. Some of these fairies such as the pixies would even help with farm work such as threshing, reaping, and mowing the fields. Other fairies would grant humans skills in crafts and other forms of aid in return for offerings of food.

Thirdly fairies would trade with humans or borrow from them. 

Fourthly, fairies could hire or kidnap humans to work for them, providing them with what they needed.

Finally, There were fairies who would raise cattle and farm or hunt. Indeed, there are many stories from Norway and France of people being hired to help watch the fairies cattle for a short period of time or even as a long term job. Other fairies, such as Leprechauns (who made shoes) would make things to sell to their fellow fairies. 

Despite this last means of obtaining food it is interesting that fairies so frequently depended on humans for their food, art and other goods. Indeed, aristocratic would even hire or kidnap humans who could perform music. Fairies of the land would often go to listen to humans joke and tell stories, so even here, humans were an important part of the fairy economy. 

 As I have pointed out many times on this blog and in my books then, there is an interesting push and pull between humans and fairies who need and fear each other for numerous reasons. 


Fantasy Writing Prompts Related to "The Fairy Economy"

Write a story about someone who is hired to care for a fairies cattle. In folklore those hired in this way often became godparents to the fairy's children. 

Write a story about someone encountering a fairy market. 

Write a story about some fairies who can't start fires sneaking into some ones home to use their oven in secret. 

Write the story of someone who exchanges food and mundane goods such as kettles or cups with the fairies in return for magical trinkets and potions.

See more Fantasy Writing Prompts

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