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  • Mother of Mugwort

Folklore Friday: Faerie Folk I

Brian Froud

Art by Brian Froud

One piece of lore that has always stuck with me is faeries. When I was a kid, my best friend and I would watch Jim Henson's Labyrinth almost every day after school. We were mad for it. The idea of living and playing with the fey like Toby, having a faerie love you so deeply and insanely as Jareth loved Sarah--it was all dizzying and magical. It was easy to lose yourself in the dream of it all.

So picture me again--no longer a child in elementary school, but a teenager in high school, and that same best friend introduces me to Holly Black (author of the Spiderwick Chronicles and the Modern Faerie Tale Series). The latter--which includes novels Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside--changed us. Our faeries from childhood had grown with us. They were terrible and beautiful just as we'd remembered, but this time, they were even more tangible.

We had devoured Brian Froud's work as children and now, Holly Black had introduced us to a slew of lore we had never even approached in our years of fascination. She lead us to Red Caps, Kelpies, the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. We were dazzled by it all and grew more and more voracious for information.

So for the next few weeks, I'll be focusing on faeries and the fey folk I love so dearly--especially within Irish and Scottish lore. It's just so detailed and devilishly interesting, and I want to share some of it with all of you.

First off, let's talk about the Cu Sith--a faerie that has deeply interested me since I started researching the lore.

The Cu Sith

The Cu Sith--meaning faery dog and pronounced "coo shee" is a faerie who appears in the form of a large dog with fur so forest green it appears black. Its eyes are a glowing red and it roams the Scottish countryside, seen only by those who are about to die. When he approaches you, he will jump in front of you, turn, and growl. That is how he sends his message. Because of the attachment to death, he can be portrayed as an evil Grim Reaper type. However, some lore records that the Cu Sith gives you fair warning, with three howls, allowing you to escape if you recognize it. If, before the third howl, you manage to get yourself somewhere safe--like a house or other building--you have the chance to live. Some lore says the Cu Sith's message means death in a fortnight, other tales say the dog takes you there and then to Faerieland. I suppose there's only one way to find out, but that's obviously ill-advised.

The Fachan by K. Francis Schales

The Fachan

The Fachan is a Highland faerie who is so oddly formed that he is sometimes portrayed comically, but trust me, this faerie is anything but laughable. The Fachan's body contains only one of every body part--one eye, one ear, one arm, one leg, etc. His body is hairy and covered in feathers and at the top of his head he has one tuft of hair. He carries a spiked club with him at all times and uses it to chase away people from his home on the highest Highland mountains. This faerie has no mercy or empathy for humans so its best to avoid him if possible.

The Kelpie

The Kelpie is a faerie you may have heard of--especially if you're familiar with Holly Black's work. Kelpies are faeries who live near bodies of water (especially the lochs of Scotland) and lure people to their deaths by drowning them. They'll feed on anything but often transform themselves to capture humans. They often take the form of horses or handsome men--but they cannot fully disguise themselves and can be recognized for the seaweed in their hair. As horses, they trick you into riding them. Once you're on their back, it's impossible to get off. They'll dive into the water, drown you, and eat you. As men, they charm you into taking their hand and following them to the water, where they jump in, drown you, and eat you all the same. When they've had their fill, they always mark the kill by leaving the person's entrails by the water's edge. It's said that a Kelpie could be captured by using a halter stamped with the sign of a cross. After that, you could use it to do your bidding as a normal workhorse--though they are much stronger and could carry more weight. However, obviously, that's playing with fire and a dangerous thing to try. In my opinion, if you can get close enough to a Kelpie to get a bridle on it, you're too close. If you need to protect yourself from a Kelpie, some lore says it can be killed by being shot with a silver bullet (yes, like a werewolf). After it's been shot, legend says, it will turn into"turf and a soft mass like jelly-fish."

Keep your eyes peeled for next week! There's more faerie lore to come!

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