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 My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood

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PostSubject: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Wed 01 Jul 2015, 17:10

On Sunday BBC1 showed the last of their (IMO) brilliant but bonkers adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell; for those unfamiliar with the story (set in an alternate version of Napoleonic England), a central plot point is that the titular Mr Norrell, self-proclaimed as the only (real) magician in England, summons a faerie, known only as the Gentleman, to aid him - with disastrous consequences. The Gentleman proves to be a malevolent being who, though bound to agree to Norrell's demands, twists the deal to his own advantage in a manner which threatens the ruin of all the hapless magician's friends and associates, and ultimately the whole kingdom.
The is one example of how 'the fair folk' have come to be portrayed in recent years. In Terry Pratchett's wonderful Lords and Ladies the Elves are depicted as beautiful, spellbinding psychopaths.
Quote :
Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. The beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No-one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.

What Mr Pratchett hints at in the above quote is that his evil elves, and the Gentleman, are much closer to 'historical' fairies and their relatives. It was once common for them to be portrayed as evil, or at least dangerous spirits. Even the more benign ones were generally not to be trifled with. As with Pratchett's elves, however (who until their sudden return have long since vanished from the Discworld and are remembered only in legends and folklore), over time many of these darker traits have faded. Fairies are sweet tiny people with wings that little girls like to dress up as (although at least Tinkerbell retains a faint shadow of former times in her jealous, spiteful nature). Leprechauns have shed their red jackets for green, their cocked hats for top hats, and become the twee, comical pride of the Irish tourist industry (although I saw a trailer today for Red Clover, a film about a homicidal leprechaun). I think, though, that despite a few novelists and film producers exploring the more sinister side of 'the Gentry', the more positive image will continue to dominate.
So, how - and when - did they get their image make-over?
And do you have any favourites and/or faeries specific to your locality?
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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Wed 01 Jul 2015, 20:00

Very wise words from that mother, dangerous things those faery folk and particularly the women. Especially so if your name happens to be Thomas/Tam and while wandering around in the Borders you encounter the elven queen. That's you away with the faeries and possibly to Auld Nick as the seven yearly deil's tithe. That's why they steal babies you know, to replace one of their own.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch037.htm

http://tam-lin.org/versions/39A.html

There's a recurring theme in many of the old tales of the faeries living in 'hollow hills', which always makes me wonder if those are associated with chambered cairns. That applies to all of the many 'sleeping warriors' as well.

How the faeries became domesticated I don't know, but there's something a wee bit similar happening up here right now. Ask most folk what a kelpie is and they will reply that they are those rather vulgar, huge metal horses heads near Falkirk which allegedly have something to do with horses drawing canal boats. Proper kelpies are, of course, malevolent, shape-shifting water horses with a predilection for drowning humans, children being favoured, eating them and disgorging their entrails.  

Let's have 30 m. high statues of that, I'd go to see them.

Here's a proper kelpie, up to no good.

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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Wed 01 Jul 2015, 21:42

@ferval wrote:

There's a recurring theme in many of the old tales of the faeries living in 'hollow hills', which always makes me wonder if those are associated with chambered cairns. That applies to all of the many 'sleeping warriors' as well.

In Jersey, an old name for a dolmen (of which there are many) is "pouquelay" (other spellings are available), meaning, loosely, "fairy stones". The locals evidently thought that each Neolithic burial site was home to one or more pouque, a mischievous, sometimes malevolent spirit. It's not clear how old the term is, but probably not before the 9th/10th century, when the Vikings started making their presence felt in the Islands (the word "pouque" appears to derive from the same Old Norse root as the English "puck", meaning the same thing).

Interestingly, the largest of the dolmens in Jersey is linked not to a fairy, but to a dragon - or rather, the chap that slew it. But that's another story.

A set of ancient roads in Jersey, mysteriously known as perquages, have also been linked to the Gentry: according to this theory, the "perq" part is a corruption of "pouque", so these were roads haunted by those spirits and should be travelled with care and not at night. Those tedious old historians, however, have boringly decided it's more likely from the 24 foot measurement known as a perque, which is in fact the width of a perquage. That's why it's important to ignore historians and their logical explanations!
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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Wed 01 Jul 2015, 23:31

Not  hint of the fairy folk in my part of Essex - not even on the saltings. However, a similar rhyme - a skipping chant - told us not to play with gypsies in the wood. Of gypsies - and assorted classifications within this ilk there were many tales. We had only Enid Blyton to keep us up to speed on the fairy kingdom.
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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Thu 02 Jul 2015, 00:11

To the question about when fairies had a make-over, those girls who faked the pictures of fairies did so at the beginning of the 20th century, if my memory is correct.  (I should check this out, but haven't much time at the moment.  Supposed to be vacuuming and preparing lunch for visitor.)

The Maori had frightening fairies too. Patupaiarehe lived in forests and were not to be treated lightly. Maori fairies  They were lighter than other Maori, but had human qualities. Not to be crossed. I don't know if there is still a belief in these beings or not - some North Island tribes, especially Tuhoe, still live in isolated forest areas - they themselves are not to be crossed!
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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Thu 02 Jul 2015, 05:39

There are several  fairy/sprite references in Jane Eyre: the most famous is perhaps this odd exchange between Rochester and Jane, just after their first meeting:



"No wonder you have rather the look of another world. I marvelled where you had got that sort of face. When you came upon me in Hay Lane last night, I thought unaccountably of fairy tales, and had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse: I am not sure yet. Who are your parents?"

"I have none."

"Nor ever had, I suppose: do you remember them?"

"No."

"I thought not. And so you were waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?

"For whom, sir?"

"For the men in green: it was a proper moonlight evening for them. Did I break through one of your rings, that you spread that damned ice on the causeway?"

I shook my head. "The men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago," said I, speaking as seriously as he had done. "And not even in Hay Lane or the fields about it could you find a trace of them. I don’t think either summer or harvest, or winter moon, will ever shine on their revels more."



I've never really liked Shakespeare's fairies, although Puck (Robin Goodfellow), "that shrewd and knavish sprite", is presented as simply a master of harmless rustic magic, but was he so harmless? Here's a scary woodcut of him from 1639:



And here's the more decorous Victorian version from 1847! (Collier's edition of The Roxburghe Ballads):





I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon, and make him smile,
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
Neighing in likeness of a filly foal:
And sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her withered dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
And "tailor*" cries, and falls into a cough;
And then the whole quire* hold their hips and laugh,
And waxen in their mirth, and neeze, and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there.



I've always rather liked Tinkerbell, although I hate the twee Disney version of her. I remember back in the early 1980s we were all encouraged to become Tinks rather than be like that Wendy who was a bit wet. Feisty Tinkerbell was held up as a role model in psychologist Dr Dan Kiley's book The Wendy Dilemma:


The rest of Dr. Kiley’s book deals with suggestions for helping a Wendy woman turn into a Tinkerbell, or a woman who is willing to grow up and expect both her mate and herself to interact with each other, at least a majority of the time, in a mature manner.

Riley also wrote a book called The Peter Pan Syndrome: my husband was highly amused that I was reading such stuff. I remember him asking if Kiley was going to do a The Crocodile Complex next.
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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Thu 02 Jul 2015, 08:17

@Temperance wrote:

...... although Puck (Robin Goodfellow), "that shrewd and knavish sprite", is presented as simply a master of harmless rustic magic, but was he so harmless?

Shrewd and knavish does seem to sum up the old-style faerie, certainly not harmless but not usually actually evil, unless crossed. I seem to remember that fairies were unable to tell lies and as a consequence were masters of hidden meanings and were so tricksey in their use of words that one had to treat them like the slyest lawyer and always consider all the small print.

For example the classic device of the offered wishes often provided for a person's undoing if they failed to consider carefully what they wished for. I recall one tale where the avaricious farmer wishes that his purse be always filled with gold, and ker-ching, it is suddenly full of bright gold pieces. But as soon as he takes a coin out to spend it the coin withers to dust in his hand and returns to the purse! In another tale (recorded by Yeats I think) the rustic, having accidentally got a fairy into his power, forces it to reveal where it's treasure is hidden. The fairy cannot do other than his bidding and shows him a vast treasure buried in a field. The rustic immediately fills his pockets and carefully ties his garter around a thistle to mark the place, intending to come back with a cart to transport all the gold away. He returns an hour later only to find that every thistle in the field now sports an identical garter!

The change from the sly, capricious, dangerous fairies of old to the more modern twee little helper seems to have occurred in the early-mid Victorian period when many old traditional stories (not just those comprising tales about the wee folk) were being written down, published, and often subtely altered to become 'Mother Goose' type stories specifically for children. These children's tales often had strongly moralistic themes, in which the ambiguous morals of old faerie had little rôle. I suspect that yet again it was the sensibilities of Victorian christian moralists that are responsible for the fairy make-over. This image shift also coincided with the peak of Pre-Raphaelite art, the whole arts and crafts movement, and the Victorian craze for collecting 'fairy paintings', which almost invariably represented them as innocent little girls with delicate butterfly wings.


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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Thu 02 Jul 2015, 08:25

@Anglo-Norman wrote:
The locals evidently thought that each Neolithic burial site was home to one or more pouque, a mischievous, sometimes malevolent spirit. It's not clear how old the term is, but probably not before the 9th/10th century, when the Vikings started making their presence felt in the Islands (the word "pouque" appears to derive from the same Old Norse root as the English "puck", meaning the same thing).

Interesting. The Irish word púca (prononounced pooka) translates these days as devil (the large reservoir serving the Dublin area is called Poulaphouca - the Púca's Hole). In Ireland we are led to believe the word has very ancient roots indeed, right back to proto-Gaelic, through various Celtic tongues and then on into Indo-European source languages.
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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Thu 02 Jul 2015, 09:52

Not one of my favourite poems I must admit, but some people like it:

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And grey cock's feather!

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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Thu 02 Jul 2015, 10:06

"Up the airy mountain...."

My Dad used to quote that, often when we were walking in the Cheviots... although he always said "Green jacket, red cap,
And and white owl's feather!"

Of course Redcaps, as well as being military police, are, in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, malevolent goblins that lurk in old ruins, especially those with a particularly bloody history, such Castle Hermitage.



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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Thu 02 Jul 2015, 10:09

Well, better being up the airy mountain than up your own backside, I suppose (see Saint Paul).
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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Thu 02 Jul 2015, 10:59

Hermitage Castle is said to be hauted by Redcap Sly who was the familiar of William de Soulis, who held the castle until about 1320 when he forfeited it because of accusations of witchcraft and the attempted regicide of King Robert I of Scotland. Legend has it that William's own aggreived tenants had him boiled to death in a cauldron at a nearby stone circle, Ninestane Rig. (Being a sorcerer it was said that no rope could hold him nor steel harm him, and hence the death by boiling). In actuality he died a prisoner in Dunbarton Castle. Redcap Sly however still lurks around the old abandoned castle.
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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Thu 02 Jul 2015, 11:36

@nordmann wrote:

Interesting. The Irish word púca (prononounced pooka) translates these days as devil (the large reservoir serving the Dublin area is called Poulaphouca - the Púca's Hole). In Ireland we are led to believe the word has very ancient roots indeed, right back to proto-Gaelic, through various Celtic tongues and then on into Indo-European source languages.

I understood that púca was considered a Norse loan-word.  However, it's not impossible that pouque has Celtic roots.  As with its close relative Norman-French, Jèrriais is essentially a Romance language, with some Old Norse thrown in.  However, there are some Celtic influences, including Breton loan words.  Perhaps pouque is one of those words.

Incidentally, there's also a Devil's Hole one the coast in Jersey - however, that seems to have been named after a particularly grotesque figurehead washed up there after a shipwreck in 1851; it's also been suggested that it's from an English mispronunciation/misunderstanding of the original name, Creux de Vis (Spiral Cave). Or maybe it's both.


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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Thu 02 Jul 2015, 11:46

It could still have been Norse. Since learning Norwegian I have got used to encountering words almost identical to their Irish equivalent but with both parties claiming prior usage and both citing Indo_European roots as evidence for their claim. Some day someone with more time on their hands than me will quantify and explain all these overlaps while simultaneously blowing the Celts, the proto-Germans and the Aryans out of the water for once and for all.
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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Wed 22 Jul 2015, 08:44

Americans (and these days probably quite a few Irish) may be aghast to hear that the "Leprechaun" as depicted in such gems of Gaelic cultural heritage as "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" and "Leprechaun: Origins" ...




... are a little off the mark. At least if one is to believe actual recorders of cultural heritage such as David Russell McAnally or indeed the renowned poet William Butler Yeats, both of whom identified belief in leprechauns as sporadic and centered mainly in Ulster, where the leprechaun was identified by his red jacket and cocked hat (upon which he would spin with his legs in the air if spotted by a human being). Somewhere along their way over the Atlantic along with all the other Irish emigrants it seems the "wee folk" had a sartorial change of heart as well as a fundamental change of character, mellowing somewhat from their previously murderous disposition to simple prank playing.

Ironically, a proper bona fide leprechaun is probably best exemplified these days by the (admittedly too tall) members of the Military Knights of Windsor. They favour eight buttons whereas leprechauns settled for seven (according to Yeats) but otherwise the lads pictured below do a rather good impression.

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PostSubject: Re: My mother said I never should play with the fairies in the wood   Wed 22 Jul 2015, 09:26

The Military Knights wear the uniform of an Unattached Officer of the British Army from the 1830s - I wonder if it was designed by an Irishman? (One who couldn't count, perhaps?).

I must admit I've had a few encounters with the Military Knights, but I've never noticed them spinning on their hats with their legs in the air. Mind you, who knows what old soldiers get up to, especially when the after dinner drinks start flowing. Windsor briefly had Naval Knights, too, but they had to be disbanded because of their drunken and rowdy behaviour. I am unable to comment on their resemblance to Faeries.
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