USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘fairies’
Folk Beliefs
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Legends
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Brian O’Donnell

The following is a story about an Irish legend.  The informant is represented by the letter S, and I am represented by the letter K.

Piece:

K: Tell me more of the Irish folklore you know about.

S: So, uhm, another story I’ve heard is – uh – about a man named Brian O’Donnell and uh, it was Halloween night, which is called Samhain, and that’s when the fairies uhm, move from their winter homes to their summer homes – or uh, their summer homes to their winter homes, sorry.  And uhm, when- when they do this- the trouping fairies- when they do this, they’ll usually take somebody into their fairy fort, so that they can make them dance for them, basically.  They dance and dance until the kind of, fall over and die, I don’t know. So, uh, the story goes that- uhm, Brian O’Donnell was wanting to see the fairies or something and uh- uhm he sees them – No!- he sees the fairy fort and he hears them and he goes in and he sees fairies talking about the night of drinking and dancing they’re gonna have, uhm, after they- they bring this girl back. Uhm, so he knows that he can’t just sit around and wait, so he goes and he waits outside the fairy fort for the fairies to come with the girl and when he does, he grabs- he grabs the girl from the fairies and he holds her and he’s saying, “God bless you! God bless you!” ’cause the fairies won’t come near you if you say “God bless you.” Uhm, but one of the fairies turns and slaps the girl, and uhm, gives her the fairy stroke, so from that point on she couldn’t talk. So she couldn’t tell Brian where she lived or where she came from. So, he took care of her for a year, and then, uhm, he knew that the next Halloween, he would have to do something. So he went back to the fairy fort, and he hears, uhm, the fairies talking and saying, remember that night of drinking and dancing we were gonna have, but that Brian O’Donnell, took that fun away from us. Uhm, but we gave her the old fairy stroke, so she can’t tell him anything anyway. But then, he hears them say, “if she only had three mouthfuls of that food on the table right there, she’d be- she’d be telling him everything.” So, he doesn’t hesitate and he runs, and he grabs the food, and he gets out of there and he takes the food back to his house and uhm, the girl takes a mouthful and she starts laughing. She takes another mouthful, and she’s laughing more.  By the third mouthful, she’s able to fully talk and so, uhm, she starts telling him where she lives and how to get there and so, they set out on foot, they didn’t have any horses. And it was about a 2 day walk to where she lived, and uhm, they knock on the door and her dad answers the door, and he passes out from shock because they thought they lost her, but eventually after, he hears the story, and he says, “Brian O’Donnell, you obviously love my daughter very much and uh, I would like to give your blessing for marriage.” So, they end up getting married and there we go.  The end.

Context:

We were sitting at a dining room table on Easter Sunday.  We had just eaten dinner and celebrated the holiday.  We were sitting around and just talking and sharing stories and folklore that we knew about.  The informant is my friend’s younger sister, so she lives at the home we were at and she was sitting with her friend, with me, her brother, and our other friend sat across from them.

My Thoughts:

This legend acts as a kind of heroic model for children, in my opinion.  In a lot of tales, we see characters being brave and heroic which is meant to inspire kids to grow up as courageous young adults.  I think this legend is similar in idea.  One thing I thought was really interesting, in terms of context, is that when the informant was telling me this story, her brother was sitting nearby and before she told me the legend, he said he didn’t think she should tell me because he thinks it’s a real story.  This made me think of the discussion about how different legends are so much more believable depending on where you come from.  I remember discussing that to a lot of Americans, aliens are 100% real, but in other cultures, they’re a complete myth.  In Irish culture, fairies and leprechauns have a large number of believers, but in America, fairies and leprechauns are mythological creatures.  I thought this was so interesting to witness first hand.  Regardless of whether this legend is real or not, though, I thought it was super interesting and definitely serves to act as a model of bravery with hidden religious undertones, which we see with the “God bless you” acting as a safety technique against fairies.  Another piece of context that actually kind of freaked me out a bit was right before the informant got to the part where she said, “God bless you,” one of the other people sitting at the dining room table sneezed, which was super coincidental, but kind of weird in terms of the context.

general
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Origin of Leprechauns and Fairies

The following is a story about the origin of leprechauns and fairies.  The informant is represented by P and I am represented by K.

Piece: 

P: Have you ever heard about how Leprechauns were born?

K: No.

P: So, many, many, many years ago, there was a great battle in Heaven.  There was the Devil and Michael the Archangel, and it was like at a time, and they were like “you’ve gotta make a choice, you’ve gotta either go with God or you go with the Devil.” So, the Devil, Satan, Beelzebub, whatever you call him, had gathered in his army and Michael the Archangel had gathered his army.  God was sitting in the middle, he was up on the throne, just watching the battle unfold. So… people had to take a choice, what were you gonna do? Were you gonna go fight with Satan? And on a battle against God in Heaven. Or were you gonna go with Michael… the Archangel and fight against Satan, and protect what they had.  So there was a group of people who didn’t go one way or the other.  So, the battle was over, we all know that Michael the Archangel won.  Satan was banished from Heaven forever to go to… the fiery pits of Hell and live a life of gnashing of teeth and gnawing and stuff. Then, there was these people in the middle that were left.  So God said, “heh, you need to get rid of ‘em. They’re gone.” Michael the Archangel pleaded for them.  He said, “Look, we know that they didn’t fight for us, but they’re not bad enough to put with Him and leave ‘em down in Hell.” And God said, “Okay, just get rid of them and let them fall where they are.” So, the Heavens opened, all of them “angels” that didn’t take a side, all fell and they kept falling and kept falling, they landed in Ireland.  They landed in Ireland and they became the leprechauns, they became the fairies, the sheep people… of Ireland. And… they say they have a face, the leprechaun have the face of a shriveled apple.  You know? They’re- they’re one… of the… there’s different types of fairies and leprechauns.. and.. and.. sheep people, but the leprechauns are ones that spend time on their own.  So they like to be on their own. You hear the tap tap tap when they’re making their shoes, they’re supposed to be the shoemakers of the fairy people, so the fairies come and need new shoes and the leprechaun, but you’d never see two leprechauns together.  The fairies, on the other hand, they like to hang out with each other.  They like to play, they like to party.  They’re really good with the music and the singing and the dancing and the- that whole lot. And… you know, years ago, you’d see a will-o-the-wisp or a speck of dust coming across the street, and you’d be like oh, that’s the fairy people, you know. And then, before we had toilets and running water, we used to just open the window and just… throw our… bits… out onto the street.  But the women of the house would always look- they’d always look, in case there was a will-o gone by, and if there was, they’d wait, and if there wasn’t, then they’d just… throw it out, ’cause the chances were if there was a will-o gone by, they’d throw it on the fairies or the leprechauns or the sheep people and you’d be ending up with bad luck because of that.

K: Where’d you hear all this from?

P: These are, you know, they’re all, most of them- most of what we hear are, uh, uh, vocal- oral stories, you know? I mean, there’s a lot written down about it, but you know, you just never know. You’ll just be sitting in the house when we were kids and there’d be, you know, a party going on or there’d just be some neighbors over and somebody would just start talking about that kind of  stuff, and then we- we were taught about it in school, and then we’d go to- you know, when I was a teenager, I didn’t live the typical teenage life, you know.  I wasn’t out, you know… drinking and chasing girls and going to the discos and stuff like that, I was out traveling around the country with a friend of mine and we’d go into these bars and people would tell us stories and- but it was all handed down by story-telling and oral.  But there are a lot of books out there and now with YouTube, there’s a lot of fairy channels and stuff like that, and of course, none of them really tell it the way that I heard it when I was a kid.

Context:

I was at the informant’s house, celebrating Easter.  We had finished all of the Easter festivities and the informant was walking around doing housework.  A group of us had been sitting around talking about folklore and the informant walked by, so I asked him if he knew any Irish legends, tales, or myths.  He told me a lot of those stories are real and then asked if I had heard about where leprechauns came from.  I told him I hadn’t, and he leaned against the kitchen counter and proceeded to tell me the story.

My Thoughts:

I actually thought this piece of folklore was one of the most, if not the most, interesting piece of folklore I collected.  I thought it was a super interesting story that I hadn’t heard before, but I really enjoyed hearing.   I had never heard of the creation of leprechauns or fairies before because that wasn’t ever part of the culture I was brought up in.  This piece, like others, reminded me of the idea that some things that people believe in in our society, other societies don’t believe in at all and vice versa. I also thought the idea that these stories are just constantly told around the country at bars and stuff was super interesting.  I feel like here, these stories aren’t really just told all the time, so it seems really cool that this is a natural part of Irish culture.  I think one of the interesting parts of this story is how it really incorporates religion and how these creatures just weren’t good enough but also weren’t bad enough.  The leprechauns having a shriveled face almost seems like a punishment for not choosing a side during the battle.  Overall, I thought this piece of folklore was super interesting.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Myths
Protection
Tales /märchen

The Fair Folk

Context:

The informant is a 35-year-old Caucasian male of Irish and Polish descent. He will be referred to as DB. The Folklore piece came to him from his father’s side of the family which is his Irish side. The story was shared by his grandmother and is told in his own words:

Main Piece:

The Fair Folk (or Fae) were fairytale creatures that lived “under” Ireland in what was known as a Faery Raft. They loved humans, loved tricking them, and loved marrying them or trapping them. If you fell asleep, you could be lulled into the Faery raft. You NEVER ate or drank in the presence of the Fae. If you ate or drank anything from the Raft, you were trapped there for 100 years. Little kids were usually taken because the fae loved them and loved raising them in the raft, and then letting them go hundreds of years later when they got tired of them as children. They also loved wagers, and could be tricked out of things like magic, gold (leprechauns), and favors if you could best them at things. They loved riddles, they were the reason you would lose mittens or socks or your favorite things, and they were most active under a full moon.

Background:

DB was told this story of the Fair Folk by his grandmother who enjoyed telling him these stories when he was a kid. DB finds the story important because he isn’t connected to his Irish roots and this story is a way to stay connected to them as well as to his grandmother. He doesn’t believe in the Fair Folk however, but he feels the tradition of passing on the story is important, and he believes in that.

Notes:

The story of the Fair Folk seems to be a tale told by parents to their children. Like many other creatures in stories shared from other countries, these fairies are known to be tricky or mischievous. The story seems to be a warning to protect themselves from their tricks. They also serve a purpose as an explanation for missing things. When something in one’s home goes missing, this is a way to explain why. People need to have an explanation for things to put them at ease. When something cannot be explained, it creates more questions, so it seems like these creatures are made to explain what can’t be. Talismans made from steel or iron are used to protect against fairies and their negative magic as they are unable to touch or be near these metals.

 

 

Childhood
Customs
Material

Fairy Houses

1:

Wherever there are open spaces in trees, such as stumps or open knots, a “Fairy House” can be built. Fairy Houses are collections of leaves, rocks, twigs, crystals, beads, and anything else that can be fashioned into things resembling furniture and treasure. The goal of these assemblages is to attract fairyfolk into one’s local park or garden.

2:

While the informant was in elementary school in Pasadena, CA, children would go outside into a playground area for lunch. While outside, children were informed by teachers of the idea of “Fairy Houses” as well as how to build them. When she went home and asked her parents about these structures , they confirmed and reinforced what she had been taught on the playground. While interviewing this informant, one of our mutual friends overheard this story and chimed in to confirm that she had also participated in this tradition in Mississippi. The informant went on to explain that the Fairy Houses would often only last for 1-3 days, her theory was that students from other lunch periods may have gone around dismantling them.

3:

This tradition seems to me to promote creativity as well as exploration in children. As opposed to climbing trees, which could potentially harm the trees, the building of Fairy Houses does not appear to do any harm to the tree or stump. The construction of furniture and collection of enticing objects, like crystals or beads, also feels similar to the way that young girls learn to arrange home decor using doll houses. It instills from an early age that shiny, colorful things are desirable.

general
Myths
Narrative

Banshees

Main piece: It is said that the howling winds of the Irish coast are formed from the screams of women suffering and dying – otherwise known as banshees. Therefore, any time you hear a particularly loud or chilling gust of wind, a woman is in agony somewhere.

Context: The informant (BN) is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. BN originally heard this myth that explains Ireland’s winds from her cousin and godmother, who both reside on the coast of Ireland. As she told me about banshee winds, she visibly sunk in on herself and god chills multiple times. “Those winds will always be branded into my memory, because it’s kind of traumatizing as a child, since they really do sound like screams.” When asked if she believed in the myth in a literal sense, she said that only when she’s in Ireland does she truly believe: “everything in Ireland is just so magical and ancient.”

Personal thoughts: What I find most intriguing about this myth is that it touts the age-old trope of a woman’s suffering becoming immortalized through nature or supernatural occurrences. It is not difficult to realize that you don’t see many folk tales, legends or myths that emphasize male suffering – rather, male-centric stories tend to be about heroism or strife that is overcome through perseverance. Women, however, are historically known for subjugation and suffering, which is perhaps why when people first heard the harsh winds of Ireland, they thought of a dying woman rather than a dying animal, a shrieking child, or even just harsh weather at face value. Additionally, what makes the banshee wind myth of Ireland a myth is that it seeks to explain a very prominent and ancient natural phenomenon in Ireland with a concept we are familiar with: female suffering. For external reference of this myth, see “THE BANSHEE.” The Louisville Daily Journal (1839-1868), Nov 25 1839, p. 2. ProQuest. Web. 18 Apr. 2019 .

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.

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 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.

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