Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by John T. Kruse, author of the new Faery.
The line in this title comes from Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors (Act I, scene 2). To many people, it may sound like a contradiction in terms: how can faeries be compared to demons? Faeries are gentle and feminine; devils are vicious and cruel.
There was obviously no contradiction for Shakespeare when he wrote the lines, nor should there be any for us today if we examine the folklore evidence for the nature of our Good Neighbours. What the playwright learned from birth is what British fairy-lore has maintained consistently for centuries—both before and since his time. The Good Folk can be generous and kind to us when they choose—but they can also be harsh and unfeeling. It is important to acknowledge this, not only so that we understand Faery better, but for our own protection as well.
How may the faeries be “pitiless and rough?” A few very common illustrations confirm and underline this. It’s pretty well known that the fairies have a habit of abducting human beings, both adults and children, from their homes and families. Very occasionally this is done because an infant is not well-cared for by its parents, but generally people are taken to satisfy the faeries’ needs. They like human babies and they like rearing them as faeries; they need adults to work for them as wet nurses or to perform various menial chores in their homes. Examples of such abductions are found repeatedly in the folklore records. These kidnaps are carried out at the faeries’ convenience; they are almost never concerned with the grief and despair the victim suffers. I can think of only one instance where it’s reported that a child was returned because the mother was so distraught at its taking. Abductees may eventually return—but they may not—and they are often too altered by their time away in Faery to ever really settle again in the mortals’ world.
How about roughness? Shakespeare would have been very familiar with this. Although their own morality may seem quite flexible, faeries have rigid opinions about human behaviour, whether that is in love affairs or in domestic management. They like to enter human homes—to enjoy the warmth, wash themselves and to eat our food—but they expect those homes to be properly prepared for their uninvited visits. Warm water for washing and fresh bread and water to consume ought to be provided and the place should be cleaned. If the faeries find a house does not meet their standards, they will punish the occupants, very often by pinching, possibly by pulling a person bodily from their bed and down the stairs. Once again, the records are full of examples of this behaviour.
A clean and tidy householder might well be rewarded, it’s fair to add, but we cannot expect any such rewards from the faeries—not like we can depend on their punishments!
As I describe in my new book Faery, co-existence with the Good Folk is all about observing their often-contrary needs and maintaining a careful balancing act between respect and contact, between accommodating them and keeping a safe distance.
Our thanks to John for his guest post! For more from John T. Kruse, read his article “Children and Faeries.”