The lore of the faery realm has, like the world of humans, traditionally focused on love—both tales of faery lovers and of fey beings who have fallen in love with mortals and sometimes tried to keep them forever in their faery kingdoms. These stories, whether perceived as pure lore or used as a way of explaining past mortal occurrences, tell the tales of true love, of faery temptresses, of lover's quarrels, and more.
Perhaps the most tragic fey love story is that of the Celtic Cliodna of the Golden Hair. The daughter of Manannan mac Lir, who ruled over the sea,
Cliodna was reputed to be the most beautiful woman in the world in mortal form. She loved the young mortal Ciabhan so much she left faeryland to live with him. However, while Ciabhan was hunting, Cliodna's father sent a faery minstrel to enchant her; she was carried back to fairyland in a magical sleep. She is still seen on seashores, either as a huge wave or a seabird, seeking her lost love; she is said to help parted mortal lovers to be reunited.
Below are two methods of invoking Cliodna if you are longing to be reunited with a parted love.
- Name your lost love as you hold matching shells, found on the shore or by a lake, tied together with seaweed or dried grasses. Cast your shells on the ninth wave as it moves into shore. Call your lost love's name nine times.
- If you are landlocked, improvise with matching aquamarine crystals cast into any body of flowing water. Count nine before throwing the crystals into the water together. Call your lost love's name nine times.
Some tales of faery brides who married mortals seem to have earthly verification.
The Gwragedd Annwn are beautiful, Welsh, fair-haired faery women, the same size as humans, living in underwater palaces in lakes close to the Black Mountains. These lake maidens have, on occasion—according to folk lore of the area—taken human husbands, though they rarely stayed with them. Some local families still claim fey heritage.
One Lady of the Lake in Llyn y Fan Fach is, however, said to actually be the fairy ancestor of an unbroken line of Welsh healers and physicians. Even more unusual, this faery legend can be dated. Around 1230, records tell that a young farmer saw three beautiful women dancing on the shore. The most beautiful agreed to be his wife and her father, the king of the lake faeries, came from under the lake to bestow a dowry of fairy cattle. However, the faery king imposed a number of conditions on his daughter staying with her mortal husband. One condition was that she should never be touched with iron, another that she should not be made to go to church, and a third that if her husband struck her three times she and her dowry would return to the lake.
The couple had three sons, but the farmer broke his bargain by striking his faery wife three times (though according to less enlightened male folk tellers, the poor husband only tapped the faery lightly and for good reason). A faery bargain being a faery bargain, off went the cattle and faery maiden, though she did return to teach her sons knowledge of herbs and healing. They became the Physicians of Myddfai, healers to the Welsh kings. When they died, they left a medical treatise, copies of which exist today. I believe there is one in Cardiff Castle Museum.
Brides in Faeryland
Mortal women who married to or were abducted by faeries seem to have had an even less than happy fate.
A woman on her wedding day or night was, according to Celtic myth, considered a great prize by the faeries as she was still a virgin but at peak fertility. For this reason, until medieval times, a woman would be accompanied to the church by identically dressed bridesmaids, so that watching faeries could not identify the true bride.
Some of these faery abductions may have had a less ethereal explanation. In parts of Europe during the Middle Ages, the local lord of the manor was unofficially allowed the use of his serfs' brides on their wedding night. Rape by wealthy landowners and their sons was a real threat for country women even in Victorian times, especially among servants in big houses.
It could be that the story of a traditional return of the abducted bride from the faeries after a year and a day bearing a babe several months old was an acceptable way for a peasant husband not to appear cuckolded by the squire, if the unfortunate bride became pregnant during this abduction. A despoiled bride might have been placed in a distant workhouse during the pregnancy, with the collusion of the husband or a father in the case of an unmarried girl.
A typical bride abduction story made into a ballad was of Colin, a Scot, whose wife was taken by the faeries. His wife, it was said, returned invisibly each day to milk to cows and do the chores; only her singing could be heard. In other versions she returns after a year and a day with a baby. Was Colin keeping his bride locked away because he discovered on the wedding night she was pregnant by someone else, albeit by rape? Or was she truly a bride of the faeries?
Some faery abductions had more serious consequences. A wife who consistently produced sickly boys who did not survive or female offspring for a man who desperately needed an heir, might suddenly disappear; the official and often unquestioned explanation of her disappearance was that she was spirited away forever by the faeries. There are still parts of the world where the value of a woman except as a bearer of sons is low; this is a reminder that it has not that long been otherwise in Westernized society also.
Records from centuries past are obviously sparse, and faery abduction as an excuse for wife murder or beating may sound to be pure speculation. That said, we do know that in Tipperary in Ireland as recently as 1895 Bridget Cleary was tortured and burned to death by her husband Michael. He claimed that his wife had been stolen by the faeries and a changeling substituted. Michael insisted that by destroying the enchanted form of his wife, the true Bridget herself would return on a white horse at midnight. Seven of her neighbors and relatives, including Bridget's father and aunt, were involved and later convicted of the crime. A hundred years later, Angela Bourke, a professor at University College, Dublin and author of The Burning of Bridget Cleary, stated that the case demonstrated the clash between two different world views, two ways of dealing with troublesome people, two ways of accounting for the irrational, at a time of profound social, economic, and cultural change.
Bridget Cleary's crime was that she was economically and socially independent by her own efforts, rather than by birth. Presumably, had the case gone unpunished, her death would have been very profitable for her husband and family, who would have inherited her money.
Fairy Queen Temptresses
As the goddesses were downgraded into faeries, some acquired the role of temptresses and abductors of innocent males. In Scotland, myths tell of the Bean chaol a chot uaine's na gruaige buidhe, "The slender woman with green kirtle and yellow hair"—a fairy queen who had the ability to turn water into red wine and spin the threads of the spiders into tartan. The fairy temptress would, by playing her magical reed pipe, lure young men into her faery hill. Unless they left a piece of iron over the lintel of the entrance, they would be forced to dance and serve the pleasure of the faery queen until she tired of them and sent them home. It is said these young men would find that though it only seemed one night had passed in faeryland, decades might have gone by in the mortal world and the fresh-faced milkmaid sweetheart to whom he had sworn his eternal fidelity was now an aging grandmother.
The most famous young male abductee who seems to have actually gained from his visit to faeryland was Thomas the Rhymer, whose ballad is still performed in folk clubs with Celtic connections. The true Thomas was Thomas of Earlston (Erceldoune), a thirteenth century poet who claimed to have met the Queen of Elfland under a magical elder tree. In return for a kiss he tells how he was forced to go to faeryland with her, though other versions suggest Thomas was more than willing to be seduced. In a few accounts the Queen becomes an ugly hag and the ritual mating of youth with the ancient crone goddess occurred to maintain the cycle of the seasons and ensure the fertility of the land. Thomas remained in faeryland for seven years, though they were only three days in fairy time. He was rewarded with the gifts of poetry, prophecy, and a magical harp.
It has been argued in recent years that Thomas was in fact initiated into a local witch cult and that his visions of faeryland were shamanic.
An Escape from the Faeries
Not all captives were as willing as Thomas, nor the faery queen as willing to part with her mortal lover. One of the most famous tales, recorded by the Scottish poet Robert Burns as well as several other poets, is that of Tam Lin, a Scottish knight who fell from his horse and was captured by the Queen of the Faeries. She bound him with magic and posted him to guard one of the entrances to the world of humans at the well of Carteraugh, close to the borders of Scotland.
Young maidens were warned not to drink at the well, for every time they did and picked one of the roses that overhung it, Tam Lin would appear and demand that either the girl gave him a green mantle or offered up her virginity.
One bold young woman, Janet, decided to see whether the myth was true, and plucked a rose from the well. She and Tam Lin fell in love, and he wanted to escape from the Faery Kingdom to wed Janet.
The next night was Halloween, and Tam Lin explained that there was an opportunity that only occurred every seven years for him to escape. The Faery Ride would take place, when then the faeries moved to their winter quarters (in some versions seen as hell). The faery troop had to ride on horseback along the road. Tam Lin told Janet to wait for him at the crossroads at midnight and to hold on to him, whatever form he took.
As Tam Lin rode by in the faery procession, Janet pulled him from his horse and held tight. Just as he had warned Janet, the Faery Queen turned Tam Lin first into a newt, then a snake, a tiger, a bear, and finally into red hot metal. Janet held fast, and as he became molten metal, she plunged him into the magical well.
The spell was broken. Tam Lin emerged from the water in human form, and he and Janet were soon married.
Faery Marital Quarrels
Faery marriages were frequently as turbulent as earthly ones.
Titania is most famous in literature as the wife of Oberon, King of the faeries, in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. In this play she is depicted as petulant, willing to let the seasons go to rack and ruin while she pursues her vendetta against Oberon, who retaliated by making her fall in love with a peasant with a donkey's head.
Titania was, before she was Christianized and downgraded (like many Pagan goddesses) to faery status, known as Themis the Ancient Greek Titan Goddess of Justice and Order, and the mother of the Fates and the Seasons.
Finvarra or Fin Bheara, who ruled the faeries of the west Of Ireland, was the apparently devoted husband of Queen Oonagh. Oonagh has been described in true Victorian style by Lady Wilde, who collected accounts of faery folk lore in Ireland, as having golden hair sweeping to the ground, clad in silver gossamer glittering as if with diamonds, which were actually dew drops.
In spite of his wife's ethereal beauty, Finvarra was obsessed with mortal women who, overpowered by the music of faeryland, were spirited away to live there with him forever. He was also said to have a second Queen, Nuala. Oonagh was unsurprisingly not welcoming to mortal maidens to the fairy court.
Other maidens seduced by Finvarra's music danced all night with him and in the morning, found themselves on a faery hill, possessing knowledge of love potions and of magic—and sometimes a faery pregnancy.
A Fairy Love Wishes Spell
- Find a faery tree: a hawthorn, elder, ash, willow, or oak, or in the southern hemisphere, a eucalyptus, tea tree, golden wattle, or the bushy manuka.
- Sit beneath or close to its branches on a bright moonlit night during the week of the full moon.
- Best of all is the night of the full moon. Look upwards at the moon and feel the positive energies of the cosmos and the moon mother, associated with faithful love and fertility, flowing into you.
- Watch the moonlight filter through the leaves and make patterns, and you may be aware of living, moving energies within the branches and leaves.
- Touch the trunk of the tree with your hands, and let the life force of the tree spirit flow into you, so that you can feel the pulsating energies of its essence like mild electricity.
- Standing and still touching the tree, press your feet down towards the roots, allowing the Earth mother to offer you her fertility and the power so you will find or live with the right mate forever.
- Now extend your arms upwards, and draw inwards strength and healing from the moon-dappled leaves.
- Move away from the tree and, keeping the moon in view, spiral the tree nine times clockwise (widdershins) in ever decreasing circles, letting your feet guide you. The nine circles of power are an ancient magical device, and if you now stand within the innermost ring, reaching out with just your fingertips to the trunk, you may momentarily make contact with the spirit of the tree.
- Ask the essence within the tree, the earth, and the moon mother to bless your love or to bring to you the person who will make you happy. You can also ask for fertility if you are trying to conceive a child.
- Spend a little longer watching the moonlight filter through the leaves and amplifying the tree energies.
- Bury a silver earring or nine silver-colored coins, the metal of the moon mother, beneath the roots as a token of thanks; whisper your love's name or call out on the air the one who will make you happy to find you.