As a gardener, a pagan, and an Irish-American, I am often asked how to lure fairies into the garden. My response is mixed. I usually think, "Why would you want to?" but I usually say, "They are already there!" And both responses are true, at least in the Irish tradition.
Americans tend to think of fairies as Tinker Bell: small, cute, and eager for human applause. But in Irish tradition, fairies are elemental powers, not to be trifled with. According to Irish lore, the fairies are the old gods, the Tuatha Dé Danann, or "people of the goddess Danú," who owned Ireland before the coming of the Milesians, or humans. After many fierce battles, the Milesians won the land from the Dananns, who withdrew into another dimension, a sort of alternate universe that is not quite in our world but not quite entirely out of it.
Fairies still live among humans, unseen and unheard except for those with second sight—or on occasions like Samhain (Nov 1) and Bealtaine (May 1) when the Wild Hunt ranges through the land and anyone unlucky enough to be out and about will encounter fairy beings. I say "unlucky enough" because fairies, in Irish tradition—as well as that of other Celtic lands like Wales, Cornwall, and Scotland—are not pleasant beings, rather like angels but a bit sexier. They are utterly amoral, going their own ways without regard for human wants or needs. They are likely to steal people from earthly life, as happened to Tam Lin in the famous Scottish ballad that bears his name. A sweet-looking woman leads him away, and the next thing he knows he is entrapped in her world, one that is beautiful but utterly alien to our own. Tam Lin was one of the few who got out and lived to tell the tale; others simply vanished, no trace of them ever found.
Fairies have their own paths through the world, and woe betide anyone who puts something in their way. Whatever it is (an extension of a house, a garden shed, a garage) will be plagued with difficulties: leaks, storm damage, you'll never know what. Or someone in the contested space will suddenly disappear, carried away by "the fairy wind." He may wind up across the world—on a London street in his pajamas, for instance—or away in time, somewhere in the future or the past. Sometimes the fairies let the person return eventually, but more often they leave him there, in punishment for encroaching on their fairy paths.
Fairies especially like to steal cute babies, because their own are rather wisened and ugly. Musicians are especially sought-after, to make music for the fairy dances. When they return, they bring back songs of great beauty and poignancy, full of the magic of fairyland. Handsome brides and grooms are very likely to go missing on their wedding nights, only to return many years later, still dressed in ceremonial attire but saddened to find their beloved married for many years to another. Time passes differently in fairyland; what seems like a pleasant evening's party there might be a century, or more, here on earth.
Let me pause for a moment to talk about the way the name of these beings should be spelled. There is a fashion these days to refer to fairies as "faeries," but we're talking about the same folk here, so I use the typical Irish spelling. The term "fay" or "fae" is also used of the fairy folk. But, spelling is a bit irrelevant, because in Ireland, one traditionally did not ever speak the word. Instead, these beings were referred to by euphemisms such as, "the good neighbors," "the gentle people," "the other crowd," or my very favorite: "THAT lot." The idea behind not using the term "fairy" is that you don't want to draw attention to yourself by talking behind their backs. They might not like it!
So why invite such beings into your garden? It's best to assume that some spiritual entities are already there. More than one person has proposed the idea that Celtic fairies accompanied their human neighbors to the New World. But whether that is true or not, elemental powers lived on this side of the pond already. Why not acknowledge and welcome those powers in whatever space you have, whether a small city yard or a spacious country farm?
Your garden—or your yard, or your deck, or your patio—is already a spiritual place, because it receives the energies of earth, air, sun, and water. Nature is the source of much of human spirituality, which you can acknowledge with simple rituals.
Rituals need not be elaborate, staged theater productions. Technically, a ritual is any repeated sequence of actions, done with some religious or spiritual intention. In some cultures, as in Lithuania, the simple morning ritual of bowing to the sun goddess Saule was part of everyone's daily life. Similarly, your garden rituals do not need to be long or complicated—although, if you like, you can make them so! A small, repeated spiritual action, however, has more value than once-a-year staged events.
In the garden, rituals rather easily follow the seasons. You will probably have different rituals in winter than in summer, even if you live in southern California, because different plants will be making their presence felt in different seasons, as well as the weather-deities behaving differently. But, every ritual should have some similar properties: invocation, thanksgiving, petition, and farewell. All four parts need not be in every ritual, but this format is a useful one for designing most rituals.
The invocation means calling forth the powers. Whether you call on the elements themselves (earth, air, fire, water), or provide names from any of the world's cultures for the divinities that live in your garden, invoking the deities should be your first action, to draw their attention to your presence in their space. Then take time to thank these beings for all they have given you. It is so easy to think of what we want, yet how ungracious not to recognize that you have already been given so much. You may then call upon these beings—fairies, gods and goddesses, or elementals—to ask for what you need, whether that be something personal (healing, love, a new job) or something for the garden (more rain, less rain, rain at more regular intervals). Finally, the traditional "hail and farewell" send-off to the spirits is the usual way to conclude any ritual.
Whether you decide to invoke "the good neighbors" or the elements themselves, such rituals will enhance your awareness of the fact that all of nature is sacred and filled with life beyond what we humans can see with our limited senses. Make a habit of ritualizing your garden time, and you and the fairies will be all the happier for it.
One of the leaders of the contemporary earth spirituality movement, Patricia Monaghan (1946 - 2012) had spent more than 20 years researching and writing about alternative visions of the earth. Raised in Alaska, where ...