Interactions between humans and fairies – often occurring by chance or accident – have happened since olden times. While fairy folklore recommends a safe distance, history knows many exceptions to this rule. Fairy doctors, fairy witches, fairy seers – each culture has a name for those who entered fairy partnerships to receive knowledge and prosperity in exchange for service. (Wilby, 2022)
In the past, fairy witches were part of small rural communities, and the local fairy lore formed the basis for their interacting with fairies. Today, people have access to fairy lore from all parts of the world. Easy access to information and traveling faster and farther are the hallmark of this age. Information pools at unprecedented scale and speed, and because of this, similarities and differences that exist between fairies from different cultures quickly weave into new perspectives. Such cross-cultural perspectives are relevant particularly for those seeking connections and partnerships among fairies.
Fairies appear in every culture. Pixies, elves, sidhe, rusalii: just a few types showing fairies to be as diverse as the places they come from. Fairy diversity occurs both cross culturally and within single cultures. For example, Romanian folklore describes two major types of fairies: Sânziene, noted for their benevolence toward humans, and Rusalii, reputed for their hostile streak. (Kligman, 1981; Pócs, 2017; Simina, 2022)
However, fairy-beings are not tied down to places nor are they confined in any way by geography. Fairies can and do travel along with migrating humans. For example, in German communities in Romania and Poland, fairy traditions and the fairy types encountered are the same as in Germany. (Dow, 2006) Fairies have accompanied Irish immigrants to the New World and made their home in North America. (Young, 2017) While in Ireland, I have personally experienced the presence of Norse elves, and considering the 9th-11th centuries Norse influx, elven presence in Ireland is not surprising.
We can assume that due to their mobility, interacting with fairies from various cultures is not limited to in situ experiences. However, seeking partnerships from among their ranks begs the question: is it possible to connect with fairies from other cultures in ways that are non-appropriative and beneficial for all parties involved? I personally believe so.
I grew up apprenticing with my grandmother, a fairy seer and medicine woman. At some point I began to interact with a being that Grandma recognized as a fairy, albeit different from the ones she worked with. It turned out the fairy-being was an elf, and although our first encounters had occurred in Romania, we also met in Ireland and in the United States. I am a fairy witch and my guides, who define themselves as elves, have strong ties to Ireland. They do in fact identify as Norse-Irish or Norse-Gaelic. This means that in building my personal practice around them I must consider the complexity of this multicultural spiritual heritage.
I shall say that I am not interested in reconstructing ad literam practices from long ago because they don’t always fit modern lifestyles. For example, I cannot sacrifice a bull, redden a mound with its blood, and petition the elf dwelling there to heal some ailment, as it had been done in Iceland about a thousand years ago. (Gundarsson, 2007) Therefore, I adapt old practices to fit and feel authentic to who I am because unless I am one hundred percent invested in my words and actions, there is no real power in what I do but mere acting.
It can be difficult to reconcile cultural aspects, regional diversity, old and new ideas. I know it was difficult for me, and because of this I thought to offer some ideas about bolstering a fairy-led practice that unfolds at cultural crossroads.
1.When seeking to engage with fairies from outside your culture, learn their local fairy lore and folklore. Fairy lore and traditions are never divorced from the broader social, historical, and geographical context. Learning the old fairy lore and traditions may seem redundant because fairies are not stuck in time like fossils of a past long gone. Fairies change like everything and everyone else throughout history. But learning about how they showed up in the past helps track how they changed over time, and this may prove itself useful for understanding fairies’ motivations, etiquette, likes and dislikes – important things to know when seeking to make friends.
2.When purchasing items for an altar dedicated to fairy allies, it is a good idea to support local artisans and artisans from regions where your fairy allies come from. The fact that fairies follow humans who settle into new territories shows a strong connection. Your purchases support those people who fairies themselves followed, and your effort will not go unnoticed. This also holds true when you buy books and classes from authors and teachers who create resources that educate on the subject of fairies.
3.Reading fiction that is centered on fairies complements the study of fairy folklore and related traditions. Well-written fairy fiction allows the reader to see how motifs from folklore are adapted into new narratives, how the image of fairies in literature changes overtime, and invites pondering over the implications such changes have for modern fairy witches.
4.Visiting places of special significance is a great way to reinforce the connection with fairy allies. However, lacking the ability to travel shall not deter anyone from pursuing a connection with fairies from remote locations. Pictures of iconic places or other mementos can facilitate connection with specific locations and with the fairies in those areas.
5.The heart and soul of a culture are intimately connected to its language. Learning a few words to use in ritual or whenever addressing fairy allies from another culture can enhance the experience and deepen the connection.
6.If it is not possible to have an altar dedicated exclusively to fairies, then setting a space for them on a shared altar is the next best option. I only have one altar that my Gods and elves share. The elves receive weekly offerings, while other Powers are acknowledged only on specific occasions. This is not a rule set in stone, but rather what works for me.
7.Another good reason to learn the old fairy lore has to do with choosing the right offerings for them. At least to some extent, offerings are culturally specific. Over hundreds of years deities and fairies of one culture get accustomed to receiving certain food items. What is offered to them today may not be identical to what was given long ago, but it is still rooted into how food traditions within culture evolved over time. Start by making offerings which are reasonably close to original traditions surrounding the fairies you connect with. Then, based on feedback, you can modify it.
8.Celebrate fairy holidays. For example, Irish, Romanian, Scandinavian, and Germanic cultures acknowledge Midsummer as a time when fairies are most active and their presence felt strongly in the human world. At Midsummer, magic is performed to propitiate the benevolent fairies and keep out the ill-meaning ones. (Gundarsson, 2007; Simina, 2023) To set up a calendar with fairy holidays, first read culture-specific folklore to find out what holidays relate to fairies and how. Use that as a baseline and include other elements that resonate with you. Your aim is to create a calendar that you can relate with, while also based on traditional ideas. For example, I corroborated my findings about the Norse honoring the elves with what I learned about Irish seasonal festivals, when fairy activity is notably strong. I also realized that stars, especially the Pleiades, are relevant in timing the holidays I hold for the elves, so I am currently working to incorporate that tidbit into my practice.
Fairy magic at cultural crossroads is not an easy, foolproof path. If it calls you though, don’t let distance or anything else stop you. Fairy magic at cultural crossroads is a path that goes steeply uphill: it requires hard work and sometimes un-learning must happen before learning something new. The promise it holds though makes all efforts worthwhile.
Stand in the crossroad.
Open the gates to fairy magic.
Usher in the enchantment this world sorely needs.
Daimler, Morgan, Aos Sidhe: Meeting the Irish Fair Folk, 2022
Dow, James R., German Folklore: A Handbook, 2006
Gundarsson, Kveldulf Elves, Wights, and Trolls, 2007
Kligman, Gail, Cālus: Symbolic Transformation in Romanian Ritual, 1981
Pócs, Éva, Small Gods, Small Demons: Remnants of an Archaic Fairy Cult in Central and South-Estern Europe, 2017
Simina, Daniela Where Fairies Meet: Parallels Between Irish and Romanian Fairy Traditions, 2023
Sturlusson, Snorri, Jesse L. Byock, The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology, 2006
Wilby, Emma Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, 2022
Young, Simon, Magical Folk: A History of British and Irish Fairies, 2017
[Written by Daniela Simina.]