Exploring with the Fae

"And now the sun shone fiercely down, and the riders passed into a golden haze in which Oisin lost all knowledge of where he was or if a sea or dry land were beneath his horse's hoofs. But strange sights sometimes appeared to them in the mist, for towers and palace gateways loomed up and disappeared, and once a hornless doe bounded by them chased by a white hound with one red ear; and again, they saw a young maid ride by on a brown steed, bearing a golden apple in her hand, and close behind her followed a young horseman on a white steed, a purple cloak floating at this back and a gold-hilted sword in his hand. And Oisin would have asked the Fairy princess who and what these apparitions were, but Niamdh bade him ask nothing nor seem to notice any phantom until they came to the Land of Youth."
— T.W. Rolleston

The Gate within the Hill

Fairy mounds exist in both the human world and the Fairy would at once. In our world they look like green manmade hills, "hollow hills", which sometimes open to provide passage to the Otherworld.

The Elves of legend were thought to have great halls underneath these barrows. These Elven dwellings were collectively called Underhill. Within the hollow hills great Courts of old were held with feasting and revelry.

Mortals are sometimes taken into these underground estates, especially if they were thought to be a great Artist, Poet or Musician. There, these mortals would not age a single day.

The Tale of King Orfeo

The tale of King Orfeo offers and excellent glimpse into the nature of those of Underhill and the Fairy Realms in general. Four days in the year are known for their power to bring the Otherworld and the Mortal world close, thus allowing travel between them: May Day, Beltaine, Beltane (May 1st), Lughnassadh (August 1st), Samhain (Halloween, October 31st) and Brigid, Imbolc (February 2nd).

In this story, all the "Between times" are present: King Orfeo's wife, Meroudys, sleeps under a ymp (or grafted) tree, thus it is neither one tree or another but has parts of two. The King of Underhill take Meroudys for a visit to his Realm at twilight, being neither day nor night. This story incorporates many themes of Fairy: such as the Between Times, the Fairy love for music, and Fairy honor among its "Nobility".

Over the Sea, Under the Lake

Water plays a crucial role in discovering other places of Fairy. Underneath the lakes and the oceans sailors reported vast underwater cities and Kingdoms. In Arthurian Legend, the Lady of the Lake dwelt within the calm waters of a serene and mist-filled lake. Also, upon his fatal wounding, Arthur himself was taken to the mystical isle of Avalon.

Into the Woods

From the crystal palaces and underwater kingdoms we turn toward another favored Fairy haunt; the forest. It is there where travelers often hear the music of the Fairy Round; a ring dance of the common forest-dwelling Folk that is often performed in both their world and our own. "Fairy Rings", dark circles of grass in lighter grass, or rings of mushrooms, are the signs of the wild revelry under the stars. Often mortals are enticed into the dancing for a night to step form the Round to find that a hundred years have passed in their own world.

“And a flute off far lead me on again
And the laughter fell like Silver Rain
Led me through the gray-trunked walls
Whose golden leave did never fall
Not even in Winter deep.”

— Amalthea of the Children of Twilight

Welcome to the Enchanted Wood. It is here, in the tangles of branches and softness of moss where most secretive of the Fairy live.

Many things may lie in the turn of the path. Perhaps a cottage awaits where a wise woman will teach you the secrets of her garden. Or perhaps you will find a maiden enclosed within a coffin of glass, waiting in stillness for the touch of lips upon her own. Or perhaps you will find a castle surrounded by briar.

It is within the forest that many adventures of Fairy begin. The strange mists that filter through the stillness often form into vague shapes of beasts and monsters, confusing and frightening the mortal traveler.

This place is a place of illusions, of voices and sounds and seeings that will try to take the traveler from off her path, lead her into the forest, and make her forever lost within. Perhaps she will remember to gather pebbles to drop behind her as she investigates the strange and beautiful music that floats through the air with the mist.

The Hunt

Hunting is a favored sport of the Fairy Nobility, who will often leave their castles' halls of gold and crystal to hunt in the woods. Sometimes humans will catch a glimpse of the Fairy Hunters' prey.

One of the most magical and coveted beasts within the forest is the Fairy creature known as the White Hart.

The creature has the magical ability to lead all that see it on a chase, no matter what other quest they were on at the time. However, no marksman or huntsman, no matter how clever, could wound the magical beast. The White Hart became an obsession with King Arthur. The stag itself is known for being the King of the forest. This is yet another way for the mortal to step from the path and into the enchanting powers of the Fairy.

The Fairy Dance

By the moon we sport and play
With the night begins our day
As we dance, the dew doth fall
Trip it little urchins all
Lightly as the little Bee
Two by two and three by three
And about go wee, and about go wee.

— William Shakespeare’s Midsummer's Night Dream

Perhaps the one experience that is common to all fairies is the love of dancing. The most common form the dance takes in within a ring or circle. It is the dancing of the fairies which leads to rings of toadstools and dark rings of grass.

If a human steps within the Fairy Round he is compelled to dance with them for as long as the dance lasts. As with any journey into the Land of Fairy, he may not return for many years and find his children grown and his friends unable to recognize him.

Many poor souls spend their time wandering in a listless, half-aware state, searching for ways to return to Fairy where they may drink of the Fairy wine and feel the ecstasy of the Dance once more.

Dance in the Circle

Out in the woods is a band of some fairies
Go singing and dancing at night
They're laughing and drinking
And soon you'll be thinking
That you'd come to join in their rite.
If they see you, know they'll entreat you
To come and join in their small friendly dance.
If you do then your soul will go too
You will lose it with no second chance.

But please come, join, dance in our Circle
Our voices will make your heart yearn
So please come, join, dance in our Circle
But know that you'll never return.

— Meg Davis, Dance in The Circle

Stepping into the Shadows

We have traveled upon the more regal and fanciful paths of the Fairy. The creatures have seemed more of fancy then of nightmare. Yet the Shadows remain within the deepest part of the Forest. There things take on a picture of horror. But as with everything of Fairy, these creatures of terror and death still hold a deep beauty that most of us cannot deny, though it may be our doom.

They are the ones that sing the Song of the Siren, seducing us into an embrace which may be our doom.

We may never pass though the gate into our own world ever again. Look into the Shadows.

Within the Shadows we are forced to look at a very chilling aspect of the Fairy Realms; the Otherworld's association with death. There the certain fairies that are only found when death and chaos are near to be had. These are the fairies that man has come to fear.

More often then not, these beings have been classified as demons rather then Fairy, as Christianity demonizes many of these fairies associated with seduction and death.

If the one that faces them is brave and open enough, she may know an ancient truth; that death is only a part of life.

The Beansidhe

"There we stayed three nights. The first of which I was surprised by being laid in a chamber, when, about one o'clock I heard a voice that wakened me. I drew the curtain, and in the casement of the window, I saw, but the light of the moon, a woman leaning into the window, through the casement, in white, with red hair and pale and ghastly complexion; she screamed thrice, and then, with a sigh more like the wind then breath, she vanished, and to me her body looked more like a thick cloud then substance."
— Memoirs of Lady Fanshawe

Thus is a description of the Beansidhe, or commonly spelled "Banshee". The Beansidhe's keening can be heard by a family at night prior to a death within on of the members. Usually these fairies are attached to a particular family or locale. Their screams are thought to turn blood cold and make hair stand upon end.

The Unseelie Court

The term Unseelie is translated into "unblessed" but more closely should be thought of as "damned". Their forms are ugly, black and twisted, more in the becoming of monsters then of fairies.

The Unseelie fairies are often seen as a massive dark cloud that rides within the night sky. "The Host", as they are known, will snatch up undefended mortals and enslave them.

If one hears their howls on the night wind, it is wise to seek protection from the Court's malevolent nature.

The Leanan Sidhe

Perhaps the one Fairy to evoke both desire and fear is the Leanan Sidhe. To Learn more about her, we must step now into her traditional haunting grounds, the Isle of Man.

Returning to Our Own Land

Having viewed the wonders and terrors of Fairy, it is time now to depart. We have only to find the Gate form which we came, pass through, and rise into our own land once again.

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