Monday, October 11, 2010

Halloween: Time of the Fae

So you think Halloween’s all ghosts and witches, goblins and ghouls do you?  It is, I suppose. But what about fairies? This is the time of year they’ll get ye, you know; restless souls aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the thinning veil between here and the Otherworld. Not so long ago people had the wisdom to remember that and kept an especially watchful eye for spritely shenanigans around now. These days, though, the autumnal power of the fae folk tends to get overlooked in favour of imported pumpkins and sugar-coated candy.

Speaking of, what ever happened to carving turnips and bobbing for apples? And I bet no one gives trick-or-treaters monkey nuts and mandarins at the doors anymore. Poor parents nowadays with their buzzed up kids. When I was little we came home with bags of fruit and nuts; you were doing well if you got a couple of chocolate bars or a toffee apple. No one decorated their houses then either, and people told ghost stories instead of partying. It was spookier!

It’s funny to think of the cycle of Halloween as a holiday over the past couple of centuries: first the Irish took it with them on their coffin ships to America. There it was adapted to fit with the harvest of the new land (e.g lots of pumpkins, not so many turnips), as well as being mingled in with similar traditions from other cultures (the Mexican Day of the Dead, for example). Then you Yanks, being the grandmasters of capitalism that you are, sold the whole thing back to us via Mars bars and movies. Don’t get me wrong, this new version of Halloween is as much fun in its own way, probably more so. I just can’t help mourning how many of the Irish traditions we’ve lost even since I was a child in the late 80s. Like the fairy stories! Image source

Yes, I did remember about the fairies. The whole point of this post was to not forget the fairies! They don’t have blogs of their own, you see, and need someone to draw attention to their plight as an underappreciated spirit race at this most important time of year, when their influence on the human world is at its strongest.  After all, the fae can be as scary as any other spooky spectre abroad on a Samhain eve. Just look at the most terrifying vision of them all- the Banshee, whose name is actually only the anglicised form of ‘Ban Sidhe’, literally meaning ‘woman fairy’. You wouldn’t want one of those things showing up at your door on a dark night, believe me. Image by Norma Peters

She gets them a bad press though, in my opinion. Fae come in many forms and not all their influence is to be feared. In fact, most of the time if you do them a good turn they’ll repay you straight back, like in the wee anecdote below. Taken from a lovely little set fairy and ghost stories collected from around my local area by the good people over at, it’s a great example of why we should embrace the little folk and their mischievous ways. And be on the lookout for them this festive season!

To the mind of the older generation the world of spirits was all around. The souls of the dead did their Purgatory in the area in which they lived during life; fairies lived in every hill and dell and were constantly in touch with human beings, and the devil and his assistants were all the time on the watch. In the daytime nothing was visible but at night the whole spirit world became fully active. The lonely road and the empty house were spots to be avoided. Only the rash and the foolhardy went to such places.

Some fairies were good. Donall O Gallchoir and Sean O Gormain of Gortlesk in Ballygorman were making poteen at a wild and lonely spot at the bottom of the Bengorms. It was midnight when the stilling was completed the two men sat quietly sampling the whiskey. Suddenly a small, red-haired woman appeared with a small tin pan in her hand. The two men regarded her, without fear, as a spirit. She asked for some whiskey, which was given to her. As she turned to leave she thanked them in Irish and told them that the police were coming. Then she disappeared.

The men hurriedly hid all the apparatus and, each with a keg of whiskey on his shoulder, went in haste up the bens by a devious route. At the top they secreted themselves for a while. Soon they saw a party of police go directly towards where they had been stilling. The men quietly went their way in safety to Gortlesk.


JJ Beazley said...

Nice one, Roisin. You're right; Halloween used to be spooky rather than glitzy. And wouldn't you think the police would have something better to do than spoil a bit of innocent endeavour? So glad the little redhead was there to save the day, bless her.

Cher' Shots said...

My Grandpa could have used a little Red headed fairy on occasion back in his 'stilling' days. Thanks for sharing.

Jeanne said...

How marvelous! I enjoyed that! :0)

I leave a little something out for the Fae Folk here on Hallowe'en. But that's not to say there aren't a few pranks pulled!

I've enjoyed your blog immensely!

Anthropomorphica said...

Oh Roisin, I LOVE this post with all my heart!! Yes, let's not forget the Fae on the misty moors, the Pooka and Will-O'-The-Wisp when the veil is thinnest and Autumn's magick is at it's height. Nostalgia... I remember toiling to carve a rock hard turnip into something resembling a face and coming up from the water bowl looking like a dressed pig with a rosy apple ;) Then spooky stories, jacket potatoes and toffee apples for supper.

Mickie Mueller Art said...

I raise a toast to you! Thanks so much for this lovely post, many people forget about the fae being an important part of this Sabbat! We must have been on the same page, I just posted my Magical Movie Monday post, also with a Fairy theme for October, my fairy hat is off to you!

Gypsea Tree {Steam Spectre} said...

Posts like this are precisely why I love your blog so much! Wonderful stuff here. I rather regret the absolute commercialism of Halloween. As much as I love this time of year, I don't really do much to celebrate it. It's not that I wouldn't like to, but desirable opportunities rarely present themselves. I sort of wish for a more spiritual to the whole thing if that makes any sense. That being said, one of the best Halloweens in my adult life was a few years ago when we took my guy's nephew trick-or-treating in some neighborhoods near where I live. Lots of huge old houses, a cold night, and foggy streets. Everything I always wished for as a kid, but never had. LOL. OK I guess I have completely contradicted myself...

Anyways, I would love to meet for a cup of tea whenever I get the opportunity to come back to Ireland. Until then: Happy Halloween! ;-)

TheBlakkDuchess said...

You, my dearie, have made sure that the Fae were not forgotten! ^-^
I think it's so important for people who remember customs, stories, etc. that are fading from collective memory to get those things back out there. To tell any & all who will listen. I'm listening & I'll make certain to remember the Fae from now on every Halloween. ^-^

Sorry I disappeared for so long without any explanation... I'm doing better now though (except for this damn cold or whatever it is... >_<) and as soon as Blogger gets the gremlins out of it's gears & lets me post my pics, I'll get them up for all to see! ^-^

Thanks again for this wonderful post. Perhaps I'll try my hand at carving my turnips before I add them to my soup next time... ^_^

Such a Wondrous Place this Faery Space said...

Hi dear dear one! Great and true post! Must never forget the fairies! Thanks for the respite and beauty here! Blessings.

Della said...

Yank that I am, I was a kid in the 70's and Halloween was even great in the States then. We'd get the occasional apple and people decorated their homes only a bit. There was more bobbing for apples and in general, it was all just more rough around the edges. Thanks for posting all these wonderful tidbits about the fae – I also feel their magic at this time of year.

mxtodis123 said...

I enjoyed reading this. I was off line for awhile and am glad you mention this post in your comment. Thank you.

Róisín said...

Aw, glad you all liked it :)And I'm even happier to see I'm not alone in my longing for Halloween's past!

JJ and Cher- Wasn't that little red haired fairy just the best wee thing! Such a pity they don't show themselves more often these days, I think we could all do with a little help from the fae sometimes :)

Jeanne- I'd actually forgotten all about leaving an offering to the fairies! I remember about it at Beltane, but I haven't done it on Halloween for years. Thanks so much for reminding me!

Melanie- And I love your comment with all my heart! You summed up everything I once loved about Halloween so, so perfectly (plus you made me hungry). It's sounds like you were better at bobbing for apples than I was though, I never got a good aul bite at them!

Mickey- On the same page indeed. Loved your post :)

Laura- Aw, thanks missus! What you said about a more spiritual Halloween does make sense. I'm not religious but I do believe in a 'force', for want of a better word, and it really does feel strongest around about now. It's actually a holy day in Ireland, but that's just another one of those examples of how the Celtic Christians robbed all the old pagan ways. I don't actually think there's a holiday they missed out on. Anyway, the trick-or-treating sounded fun! And, after seeing the pics of your neighbourhood, especially lovely. I must see if I can grab myself a child from somewhere this year...

Melanie- Thanks for listening! And don't worry about not blogging for a while, we all do it. I'm just a worrier and when you said you felt ill and then went AWOL... well, let's just say I have an overactive imagination! Glad you're starting to feel better :) Oh, and I would refer you to Melanie's comment with regard turnip carving. It really is hard work compared to a pumpkin. Plus, let's face it, a turnip really isn't as pretty as a pumpkin either. It's just that that's what we used back-in-the-day so I'm a bit nostaligic for them.

Amy- Blessing on you also at this magical time of year! I see you have a new post up, must take a wee run over for my daily dose of faery goodness :)

Della- I'd say Halloween in the States in the 70s would've been wonderful! I now have an image in my head in the form of a polaroid photograph of little kids on the lawn dressed up in homemade costumes and of mothers with pretty aprons cooking toffee apples in the kitchen. Ah, if I could take a holiday to the past I'd go there right now!

Well, thanks for stopping by folks. I don't say it enough, but I really appreciate all your comments!

Róisín said...

mxtodis123- You must have been posting your comment at the same time as I was (I didn't leave you out of my last comment on purpose)! Glad you liked the post. You always do such good work passing on old lore and traditions, so your apprecitation for this post is especially welcome. Thanks again missus!

Róisín said...

Annalee! Sorry, I called you Melanie in that comment reply! Actually, that must've been a wee bit confusing for you too Melanie. Sorry! I really need to start re-reading my comments before posting...

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