On the Fairy Road

An exploration of historic and modern Fairy beliefs, and more generally Irish-American and Celtic folk beliefs, from both an academic and experiential perspective.

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Actions, Consequences, and Fairies

  I tend to write quite a bit about the more dangerous Otherworldly beings and dangers more generally of interacting with the Otherworld. Some people find that off putting and I understand why but I feel its' important to offer a counterbalance to the more widespread view out there, which is decidedly in favour of a kinder, gentler, more helpful view. In a perfect world we would see balance and an understanding that the Other, like anything here in the human world, is about the potential to help or harm based on a huge array of factors; unfortunately that isn't the world we live in. For too many people it is easy to justify ignoring the potential risks in favour of focusing only on the potential advantages. So today I want to talk about some of the factors that are involved in how these interactions go.

Firstly to be clear, yes the Good Folk can be helpful and can take a liking to humans without any clear reason. There are many examples in folklore and modern accounts of encounters with the fey folk that end well or are inexplicably beneficial. I want to start with that up front so there's no confusion that I'm only saying they are dangerous. 

That said, this is the first place where it gets complicated, because it's almost impossible to make any blanket statements about the fairies. This is because although it can be easy to fall into seeing them as one thing or as generally one type of thing the reality in folklore, myth, and anecdotes, is that they are extraordinarily diverse. We see beings that are clearly more benign in nature, like the Asrai, as well as beings that are never portrayed as anything but malicious, like the Nuckelavee, and to understand fairies as a wider group we must understand the depth of this range. To focus exclusively on one end or the other means not only losing the nuances in the discussion but also potentially making serious missteps with both the material and the beings themselves. We might describe the amiability of fairies on a bell curve, with some entirely malicious towards humans, some entirely benevolent, but the majority somewhere in between. 

So then, what affects the ones in that middle distribution to make them either more inclined to help or more inclined to harm? To put it simply, the human in the equation. While there are some fairies who are only ever shown as being predatory towards humans there are many who can be kind to one person and cruel to another based entirely on how each human acts towards them. This is why, I think, we see such an emphasis in folklore on knowing what the behavioural expectations are, as whatever their possible origins* the Fair Folk are not human and do not follow human rules. they have their own etiquette which they expect everyone to follow - and how harsh or lenient they may be in those expectations depends greatly on which beings you are dealing with. 

In my own experience I have found that approaching these beings with a firm grounding in folklore is important, but what is essential is accepting that they have agency and personalities of their own. We cannot simply go into encounters or engage with these beings in any context with the idea that they will mold themselves to our expectations, because while this may sometimes be true or occur (again based on what you are interacting with) it is definitely not the universal standard. Humans do engage with these beings with nothing but positive expectations only to get hurt, mentally or physically, showing that your intention or belief about these beings is not a safeguard. It's essential then to treat these beings, minimally, the way you would other humans, accepting that sometimes they may like you and sometimes they won't - and accepting that sometimes even with the best intentions of either side the result will be unpleasant. 

Actions have consequences, and this is as true when dealing with the Good Neighbours as it is when dealing with other humans. In fact an 1842 poem by Chambers says of the fairies 'If good neighbour you call me; then good neighbour I will be' and while this is explicitly talking about the use of euphemisms it does show that how we approach these interactions very much matters. If you act like a 'good neighbour' to them then the chances are much higher that they will respond the same way. And if they don't then you should back off they way you would with a fellow human who clearly didn't like you or want you around. I m emphasizing approaching them the way you would humans here only because I find such a strong anthropocentrism with most pagans that they has usually been the best way to get across that they shouldn't be treated like beings who exist to serve humanity; it is worth reiterating though that they are, ultimately, not human and will often act in ways that are entirely inscrutable to us. 

Respect is important, politeness is important, and understanding that you are basically dealing with a totally foreign culture is important. If you can approach these beings with this in mind, I think you will be much better off even in the negative encounters. Your actions matter, so act accordingly


*because they are such a diverse group there really isn't any one theory of the origin of fairies that isn't contradicted by others, but folklore does indicate that at least some of Them may once have been human

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Morgan has been a practicing witch since the early 90's with a focus on the Fairy Faith and fairylore. She has written over two dozen non-fiction and fiction books on topics related to Irish mythology, witchcraft, fairy folklore, and related subjects. Morgan has also taught workshops on these same topics across the United States and internationally. In her spare time she likes to study the Irish language in both its modern and historic forms.
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