Why would a mortal month be strongly
associated with timeless beings?
And does that make May a time to
celebrate – or to beware?
Some things just go together like sun and fun, peanut butter and jelly, and Watson and Holmes. One pairing that's much, much older is that of faeries and May.
The ancient Celts of the British Isles and much of Europe celebrated Beltane as a spring festival of renewal, fertility, planting and growth. Many people today still observe Beltane. Even more celebrate May Day (May 1st). Just as the spirits of the dead and other supernatural beings are associated with the waning of the light at Samhain or Halloween, the veil between worlds is also believed to be thin during this time of growth and new life. And the creatures to be most afraid of?
While many May rituals were simply happy celebrations, just as many were intended for protection. It’s no coincidence that a portion of the Beltane feast was given as an offering to the fae. Associated with nature spirits, they were considered to be one of the main threats to the success of the growing season and the fruitfulness of both livestock and humans. Faeries were easily offended and quick to anger. Unless appeased, they might cause a crop to wilt or cows to stop producing milk. (Mind you, they might do so anyway out of mischief or sheer spite!)
Pleasant weather often accompanies May but sleeping in the open air was considered dangerous because the faeries were thought to be at their most powerful during this month. Worse, both male and female fae were actively on the prowl for attractive mortals to carry off to their otherworldly realms! There, the captives would become lovers, servants, nursemaids … or simply toys. If the easily-bored fae tired of you, you might eventually be freed. But since time moves differently there, a mere day could be years long and you would not return to the world you knew.
Meeting a faery in broad daylight in May was also perilous. Even the most benign of fae beings could be tricky. Any conversation had to carefully negotiated so you wouldn’t accidentally agree to a bad bargain or be fooled into making a promise you couldn’t fulfill. Ordinary words that humans take for granted could be dangerous. A simple “thank you” was the height of insult!
Small wonder that people sought to protect themselves, their households, and their farms from these powerful and capricious immortals.
Since we're only halfway through this perilous month, I've included the following tips from one of my past posts:
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE FAE
Faeries could vanish at will and remain invisible to mortal eyes for as long as they pleased. Carrying a four-leafed clover would allow you to see and thus avoid them. A Celtic tradition was to sew several of the clovers into a tiny bag to be worn around the neck. You could discern the faeries once for each clover in the bag.
|A rowan tree (mountain ash)|
Traditionally, yeast-risen bread provided protection from the Fae. Carrying bread with you, even just a crust, had a two-fold effect. It would repel some faeries. Other faeries would accept it as an offering and leave you alone.
My Welsh gramma taught me the old tradition of leaving a saucer of milk and a slice of bread or some bread crusts on the back porch for the faeries, so they wouldn’t play pranks on the family, ruin the garden, or trouble the livestock.
Salt is associated with purity, and spreading salt across the threshold and along the windowsills has often been used to keep faeries, demons, and spirits out of houses. If you had to carry food to the farmhands in the fields or tote your lunch to school, sprinkling it with salt was said to keep the faeries from taking it – or from extracting the nourishment from it unseen!
Even humble oatmeal was believed to be a faery repellent. You could carry a handful of dry oatmeal in your pocket or sprinkle it on your clothes.
But the very best protection against faeries? Iron. In any form or shape, legend has it that the metal is like kryptonite to the fae. If you kept an iron nail in your pocket, you couldn’t be carried away by them. Sometimes iron nails were sewn into the hems of children’s clothing for that very reason. A pair of iron shears hung on the wall near a baby’s bed was said to prevent the child from being swapped for a sickly faery baby. Horseshoes were nailed over doorposts, not for “luck” as we sometimes do today, but to repel the fae. Some traditions call for the horseshoe to be placed on its side like the letter “C”, resembling the crescent moon.
Enjoy the rest of the merry month of May – and don't forget to watch out for faeries!
Faeries + Fantasy + Romance
= The Grim Series
= The Grim Series
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