Good day, all! Welcome to another pick of some Highlights from our Twitter Sessions. Yesterday (12/11/22), our optional theme concerned superstitions of THE GOOD FOLK: SPRITES, PIXIES AND FAIRIES and you did not disappoint, as this was one of the busiest #SuperstitionSat Sessions we’ve ever had!
Not only that, but we also revealed some more details about our upcoming project with Signe Maene, founder of Bookworm Saturday and our colleague in this new adventure: a literary ‘thing’ that shall bring your favourite superstitions directly to your door! And it’s going to be called *drumroll* SALT & MIRRORS & CATS!! But announcing it this weekend would never have been possible without your support a few weeks back on Ko-fi, when you helped us reach our goal to commission our new logo in just under six hours! So, thank you all so much, from the bottom of mine and Signe’s heart. We sincerely hope you will enjoy this project and stick with us a while longer. To stay updated on further developments, do check out our brand new Twitter page here, with more to come, very, very, SOON!
Without further ado, let’s have a look at some of the Highlights of yesterday’s fairylore Session—starting with Kerria, host and founder of #BookChatWeekly on Twitter, who told us a tale about the Aos Sí. Also known as Aos Sidhe, this was a group of beings believed to have had supernatural powers, and to have been descended from the mythological founders of Ireland: the Tuatha Dé Danann. According to 17th-century Irish historian Geoffrey Keating, the Tuatha Dé were involved in a fierce battle with the Milesians, also known as Míl Espáine: a group of Celtiberians from the Iberian Peninsula. The Irish poet and lyricist, Thomas Moore, tells us this about the Milesians in his ‘Song of Innisfail’:
“They came from a land beyond the sea,
And now o’er the Western main,
Set sail in their good ships gallantly
From the sunny land of Spain.
‘Oh, where’s the isle we’ve seen in dreams,
Our destined home or grave?’
Thus sang they as, by the morning’s beams,
They swept the Atlantic wave.”
After their defeat against these brave southern Celts, it is said that the Tuatha Dé Danann were so affected that they were forced to retreat into the underground and thus became the Aos Sidhe, meaning “People of The Fairy Mounds”. When mentioning “fairy mounds”, the nickname might well refer to the myriad of burial mounds found in the Emerald Isle, which suggests that the Aos Sidhe might not have been fairies, but rulers of the land of the dead—or both! This is obviously a very extensive topic to discuss in Highlights, so we shall defer to the experts by recommending ‘Pagan Portals – Aos Sidhe: Meeting the Irish Fair Folk’ by author and fairy authority Morgan Daimler, available to preview here; or the free-to-read ‘General History of Ireland’ by Geoffrey Keating, available here. As for the superstition Kerria described, it has been collected in the book ‘Irish Folk Ways’ by E. Estyn Evans, who wrote in this 1957 publication that:
“In Tyrone it is said that ‘no man would build a house till he had stuck a new spade into the earth’. If the fairies had not removed it overnight the site was safe. In Cavan I was told that a small line of stones was first built on the site: if it was intact next morning the fairies were not displeased.”
We move on to our second Highlight with Elsa, who told a popular tale about the creature known as “changeling”: a being that can take on the appearance of a person and replace them—usually a newborn baby, which left parents worried that any kind of unusual behaviour from their offspring (such as excessive crying or a neverending appetite) might have meant that their child had been swapped. The switcheroo was often attributed to the fair folk, who were said to benefit from a fairy youngling being reared by human parents, as they would be given more nourishing food and attention. The same author we described above, E. Estyn Evans, wrote:
“Mothers and babies were thought to be especially liable to be abducted by the fairies, and protective charms were hidden in a baby’s dress or placed in the cradle... The old custom of dressing boys in girls’ clothes, in long frocks, until they were ten or eleven years of age has been explained as a means of deceiving the fairies, who were always on the lookout for healthy young boys whom they could replace by feeble ‘changelings’”.
Other superstitions included, as Elsa described, keeping a scissors near the baby’s cradle, especially if it was made of iron as this material was said to be toxic to fairies. Though, surprinsingly, the lore of changelings was not always related to babies, as even adults were believed to be susceptible to getting swapped. One of the most famous cases of this suspicion is the tale of Bridget Cleary: an Irish woman from County Tipperary who was tragically murdered by her husband, after he began to imagine Bridget was a changeling. To read about this awful example of taking folklore too seriously, see for instance this article at the National Archives Ireland.
With these stories, we witnessed how terrifying the fair folk can be. But consensus is difficult to reach among folklorists and fairy lore fans alike that this is their one and true nature—especially when considering that fairies as they often appear in pop culture (happy and bright) was a concept spread during the Victorian period. Often called the “Good People” as well (as seen in the exhibition launched this weekend by the Centre For Folklore Myth & Magic and author Jeremy Harte in Todmorden), it is said that this nickname served the purpose of avoiding angering these beings who hated the name ‘fairy’. Yet, we cannot dismiss the experience of contemporary fairy sightings, such as the one shared by Rebecca below, who was kind enough to describe an encounter with what she calls “The Gentry”: a pure and benevolent group of beings that helped her on her hike. Well, then: are fairies inherently good or have humans turned them bad? Or the other way around? We’ll let you decide. For more tales of fairy sightings, both good and bad, we recomment the ‘The Modern Fairy Sightings Podcast’ by researcher Jo Hickley-Hall, available to listen for free here.
That was all for today! I hope you enjoyed this difficult selection, as the quality of yesterday’s tweets was incredible, as well as the amount of participations! I shall look forward to seeing next week, although it’s not easy being green, with tales about:
SHRUBBERY! SUPERSTITIONS OF TREES, HERBS AND VEGGIES
Only five more Highlights to go, as after that we shall begin sharing books and articles available for consultation or purchase in our new website section SOURCES, coming soon!
As always, whether you’re old, new or just passing through, your presence is very much appreciated, and I am so grateful to see you stopping by and participating in our #SuperstitionSat Sessions on Twitter.
Until next week,
– Superstition Sam 🐾