Those who had to pass at night through lonely places, such as woods and moors, in the olden time, used to be on the lookout lest they should come upon the fairy folk, or be surprised by them. People regarded these imaginary creatures—who were also called “pixies,” and other names—with some curiosity, and a little fear, too. Indeed, they spoke of them as the “good folk,” though they did not think them always good, but supposed they had rather a liking for doing mischief.
One of the funny things about the fairies was the sudden way in which they appeared or vanished from view, and another was that they could make themselves quite tiny if so inclined— small enough to hide within the bell of a cowslip. To sip the dew of morning or evening was a pleasant refreshment to them, and their fondness for dancing was shown by the fairy rings to be seen in meadows or parks. These rings, however, can be easily explained. They are caused by a peculiar fungus which we in circles after moist weather. No wonder is it that some woodland and wayside flowers came to be linked with the fairies, because they were supposed to haunt these.
People seem never tired of discussing what the name ‘foxglove’ means, for while many think this showy flower of the glades was really so called from some connection between it and the fox, a larger number declare it was the ‘folk’s glove,’ since the bells were thought to serve as a hiding-place for the fays or fairies. Some say the flowers were used by these little creatures as caps, gloves, or as petticoats, perhaps, when they were very small.
According to one old author, the fine films spun by the gossamer spider made mantles for the chiefs among them. The delicate flower of the wood-sorrel is known in Wales as the fairy-bell, from a belief that these beings were called to their nightly gambols by a sound which its petals gave.
In Brittany, also in parts of Ireland, the hawthorn, or May-bush, is called the fairy thorn, and fairies are said to hold meetings under the old and twisted bushes to be seen about some moorlands. Fairies were thought to avoid places in which yellow flowers abounded. White ones attracted them, such as the common stitchwort of our hedgerows and the frail wood anemone, touched with a pinkish tint, which soon loses its blossoms when the rough winds of spring are blowing. Even yet there are boys in Devonshire who will not gather the stitchwort, lest, as a result, they should be ‘pixy-led,’ and in the Isle of Man the St. John’s Wort is held to be sacred to fairies, so the traveller is careful to avoid stepping upon the plant.
Young elves, the Norwegians said, are fond of sheltering themselves under the rosemary or the wild thyme. Likely enough, sometimes when the little brown lizard happened to be seen gliding amid the tufts of heather, people thought that it was a fairy, for it was supposed that they did not always appear in their favourite colour of bright green, but now and then dressed in dark grey or brown. The plants oddly called toadstools have had also the name of ‘pixy-stools,’ or, about North Wales, that of ‘fairy tables.’ That common hedgerow plant, the mallow, which has showy purplish flowers, shows in autumn small round fruits, to which the name of fairy cheeses has been given. But the fairies did not always sport about wild or shady spots. Our ancestors thought that parties of them visited gardens, and played at hide-and-seek amongst the tulips.
J. R.S. C.
Chatterbox, J. Erskine Clarke, M.A., editor, 1903: p. 211
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The 2018 RHS Chelsea Flower Show is drawing to a close. Mrs Daffodil has read about a horticultural trend called “fairy gardens,” where tiny fairy residences and garden accessories are added to wee landscapes. Mrs Daffodil wonders if, like “hummingbird” or “butterfly” gardens, with their carefully chosen, nectar-rich plantings, “fairy gardens” are designed to attract the fae creatures? Perhaps the hints above will suggest plants to include and avoid. And, if any of Mrs Daffodil’s readers’ fairy gardens do entice any of The Gentry to take up residence, Mrs Daffodil suggests installing a “trail cam” to capture the evidence. The Fairy Investigation Society would be most interested.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.