USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘fairies’
Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

The Tooth Fairy

Informant: “When [my children] were growing up and their teeth fell out, we would tell them to put the tooth under their pillow, and during the night the tooth fairy would come and leave a dollar under their pillow and take the tooth.”

Collector: Where did you first hear about the tooth fairy?

Informant: “Well, I first heard it from my mother when I was little. My mom told me to take the tooth and put it in this little pouch with a picture of a tooth on it, and when I woke up there would be a quarter in there. I guess the tooth fairy has upped the amount of money she gives up nowadays [laughs].”

Collector: Do you know why the tooth fairy wanted teeth?

Informant: “Oh that’s actually a really good question, I’m not really sure… Wow, that’s weird, we’ve been doing this for who knows how long, and no one’s ever asked what she does with the teeth. I guess I just never thought to ask because for me it was always just you wake up and ‘ooh! A Quarter!’ and then not really think about it. I’m not even sure if she actually needed the tooth, I remember one time I actually physically lost my tooth, and I was really bummed because I wouldn’t get my quarter, so my mom told me to put a white bean under my pillow instead, and that was supposed to work because the tooth fairy would think it was a tooth or something. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I remember hearing that she used the teeth to string necklaces or make stars or something like that”

Informant is a middle aged mother of three who lives in the suburbs in the Midwestern United States. She identifies as of “American” heritage, which she bases on her admission that she never particularly looked into her family’s European heritage. The informant’s daughter is a recent college graduate.

Collector Analysis: This particular folklore is actually (in the collector’s opinion) fairly widely spread in the United States, and in fact this collector actually heard a similar story growing up. The most curious aspect of this story is that most of the people who have heard of the tooth fairy have little to no idea why this fairy is collecting teeth. Of course, the experience of losing one’s baby teeth as a child is a nearly universal aspect of human life, and it is quite possible that this story originated as a way to encourage children to report their lost teeth to their parents, who of course would be interested in the dental health and developmental progress of their children. It also may have been meant as a way to encourage children to remove their loose teeth, as it is possible that keeping a loose tooth in one’s mouth for too long could potentially cause health and/or hygiene complications.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Protection

“Some Stuff About Fairies”

I. To keep fairies away, you keep iron around—because fairies are “allergic” to iron, which is where putting a horseshoe above a door came from (because fairies can’t come through a door if it’s got iron on it).

II. Rings of mushrooms—those are fairy rings, and at night fairies come out to dance in them and you’re not supposed to walk through them, because if you do the fairies will take you away and leave a changeling in your place…

III. Changelings are like fairy babies put in the human world because fairies want human children so they leave fairy babies, or fey, in their place.

I vaguely remember a story where a girl is a changeling and nobody knows it for a really long time, but eventually they figure it out and the reason there’s a changeling, and the way they figure out she’s a changeling is because she’s allergic to iron.

 

How did you come across this folklore: “I probably got this through family or read these things somewhere, but I’m not sure… possibly my grandmother told me.”

Other information: “these are just some general things I’ve heard about fairies, individually, not necessarily forming a coherent story.”

These are just bits and pieces of existing folk beliefs, supposedly deriving from the Irish tradition/”fairy faith,” but handing them down, even in this fragmented form, keeps them alive and shows the resilience of folk beliefs against mainstream or popular culture, which has trivialized these beliefs into commercial and often comical representations (such as Disney’s Tinkerbell character).

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Material

Clovers

My informant grew up in a town outside of Springfield, Ohio, in a relatively small community.  According to her, there wasn’t much to go out and do, so one of the things she loved to do was pick clovers and knock them into a necklace similar to a Hawaiian lei.  Some of her other friends would also make these necklaces with her.  Also she and her friends use to take these clovers and make them into a sort of potion for the fairies, and in exchange for this potion, they believed that the fairies would grant them three wishes.  My informant says she and her friends used to wish for stuff like having the longest hair of anyone they knew, but later in life they started making their first wish to be for a hundred extra wishes, which made the wishing get out of hand.

While I never made potions for fairies, there were certainly times in my life, especially after watching the movie Aladdin, where the topic of conversation between me and my peers turned into “if you had three wishes, what would they be?”  And almost everyone’s first wish was for a hundred extra wishes, or a million extra wishes, or infinite wishes, or something.  Usually we said stuff like that wasn’t allowed.  We certainly weren’t the wish police or the wish distribution bureau, so we didn’t care about fairness per se, but the point of the game was to see what kinds of things people wanted, so limiting someone to thee wishes was in the interests of a fair personality test.

general
Legends
Narrative

Irish Banshee

The Banshee was another story I was told about, but not by my parents. My brother used to tell me this to scare me. At night we were outside and there was like a howl, or uh, something that I didn’t recognize, and um, he knew what it was but told me it was a banshee, which is . . . like a woman spirit/witch wanders about at night time crying out with high wails when there is going to be, like, a death in the family and whoever hears it, their family will be effected. Needless to say it scared the hell out of me and I was relieved when no one was dead the next morning! Ha, haha!

Legends about fairies and elves are very important in Ireland. “Believing” in the fair folk, whether you actually believe or not, is considered patriotic. Children raised in Ireland are expected to know of and participate in the belief of the fair folk, although, as is the case with my friend, they largely grew out of the belief of these legends as they grew older.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Myths
Narrative

The Gray Man

This is an Icelandic folktale. There was a farmer and his wife who lived out in the countryside. They never locked their door at night. One night an extremely large, gray man appeared. Without saying a word he went to their pantry, sat down and drank their milk. He then left.
The second night he came back, drank the milk and left again without a word.
The third night he came again, drank the milk but as he was about to leave he turned around and addressed the farmer and his wife: You would do well to lock your door, there are a lot worse things out there than me.

This a myth about Iceland’s hidden people. It illustrates the relationship between the people of Iceland and these fairy-like creatures. The farmer and his wife know the spirit keeps returning to their house, but they allow it and see the visits as benign. However the story is also a cautionary tale, and could be a bogeyman-type story to caution or encourage children, or even adults, to keep the doors of the house locked. The myth observes the rule of 3, which is predominant in the West.

general
Legends
Narrative

Irish Fairy Rings

So when I was a kid I lived in the countryside in Ireland. There is a lot of folklore and myths, but the one thing I remember most is, uh, coming across a number of fairy rings in our fields–which is, um, basically a circle of mushrooms or a circle of different color or height grass. I was always told not to walk into these circles, because they are magic fairy forts–which I believed–and that if I disturbed them the faeries would come after me and cause mischief, like putting thorns in my bed, um, or misplacing things on me. Also we were told if we do step into it, to be careful not to take anything from it, or break anything because then the same thing would happen–they would come to get that stick, or, uh, whatever we took, back.

Legends about fairies and elves are very important in Ireland. “Believing” in the fair folk, whether you actually believe or not, is considered patriotic. Children raised in Ireland are expected to know of and participate in the belief of the fair folk, although, as is the case with my friend, they largely grew out of the belief of these legends as they grew older.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Myths

Fairies in Croatia

My informant is from Croatia, and her family goes back generations in a very rural part of Croatia.
In my informant’s grandma’s time, in their village, they didn’t have a doctor but there was always one older woman in village who knew how to handle diseases– this was my informant’s great-grandmother. She was also known as the town witch. She used to tell her daughter–my informant’s grandmother–all about fairies. My informant’s grandmother, great-grandmother, as well as most people in that area of Croatia, staunchly believe in fairies.

From my informant:
“Everybody knew that fairies exist. My grandma told me that with that certainty like she would state that the sky is blue. All the people from those hills who claimed to saw the faries had the exact same description:
– fairies were the most beautiful women. There are no women of such beauty on earth.
– they are always wearing white
– they are always seen near the water (ponds, rivers)
– they want you to dance with them in a circle. You must obey their wishes or you will die
– they are afraid of the fire
– they liked kids very much, and if you left your kid unwashed before bedtime, you would find the baby clean in the morning.”

Her grandma also told her about the father of her great-great grandma, called Andrija. Hewas the best looking guy in the region. He was tall, handsome, strong, very energetic and kind of quarrelsome.
One night when her great-great grandma was a toddler, her father went to close the stables (stables were always far away from house). He was very very late. his wife was worried. And when he finally came back, he was exhausted, soaking wet and angry. He said he came across fairies and they made him dance with them and they threw him in the water. They told him not to tell anyone or he’d die.
He ate his dinner then, went to bed and died in his sleep that night.

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