Saturday, July 25, 2009

Medieval Beliefs about Faeries

I recently re-read the section on faeries in The Magical Universe: Everyday Ritual and Magic in Pre-Modern Europe. It is an impressively comprehensive book by Stephen Wilson about the idea that every European before the 18th century believed that magic surrounded and encompassed her daily life. According to Wilson, people once thought that faeries were pre-Christian beings, similar to the nymphs and fauns of ancient Greece. During the medieval and Renaissance eras, there were supposedly two types of faeries -- those associated with the home/farm and those who lived in wild places like the forest. Although wild faeries were generally regarded as dangerous, house and farm faeries were considered benevolent, as long as humans kept their homes tidy and left food and drink out for their faerie “guests”.
People who lived in the Pyrenees mountains had a specific custom about feeding the faeries on New Year’s Eve. Those who set out a good meal for faerie visitors on that night could expect their flocks of sheep and their harvests to flourish in the coming year. Those who neglected the faeries, however, would find that the new year brought them nothing but misery -- including fires, wild animal attacks on their sheep, blights on their crops and unhappy marriages. With such dire consequences hanging over their heads, of course, most everyone remembered the faeries’ meal! At dawn on New Year’s Day, the master of the house would take any bread that the faeries had left over from their supper, dip it in water or wine, and give everyone a piece to eat, including the servants.


1 comment:

  1. I must say, I love reading these articles. I'm Indian/Hindu and my family does the same for our deities. We leave, milk sweetened with honey, many types of fruit and marigolds (which are decorative but also eatable). How could people from all walks of life with little to no contact with one another observe such similar ways of worship?