Tag Archives: fairies

The First Christmas Tree

The noise from his great hall roused Count Otto from his slumber. He was on his bed rather than in it, lying where he fell, exhausted from the day’s exertions. He had gone out riding with friends but, as is pretty much standard with nobility in folktales, he had become separated from his retinue and wandered lost in the woods until he had a strange experience. Stopping to refresh himself at a spring where the waters burst from a rocky cliff and fell in to a clear pool, he felt soft, delicate hands touch his in the water and the ruby ring he was wearing slipped from his finger. It was Christmas Eve so he made plans to come back on Boxing day with servants to drain the pool and retrieve his jewellery.

The spring, known as The Fairy Well, was a long way from his castle and by the time he got home he was beyond eating. Pulled from blessed oblivion by the sound of a merry throng at… he cast around for some clue of what the time might be and, almost as if on cue, the bells for midnight rang in the tower far above. He was saved from rage at being denied sleep by the hope that his thoughtlessly loud guests might have food. On opening the doors however all thoughts of, well everything, left his mind. It was neither his friends nor his servants carousing. Filling his hall was a host of Faeries, or was it Elves? Possibly Nixies, he shook his head, whatever, they were dressed in fabulous clothes of many bright colours, dancing to the sweetest of music. In the middle of the hall stood a fir tree which held amongst it’s branches all kinds of bejewelled bracelets, silver necklaces, golden handled daggers and diamond encrusted trinkets, sparkling in the light of the candles that stood between them.

As he took all this in, the dance ended, the couples bowed to each other and parted allowing an even more entrancing beauty to walk towards the baffled count, as he stood blinking at the splendour before him. Dressed in satin and velvet of rose and cream, a circlet of silver and sapphires holding her lustrous hair back from a face of exquisite, and lightly amused, attractiveness.
“I am Ernestine, queen of the fair folk” said the vision of loveliness in a voice of silk and well aged whisky, “I have come to return your visit… and something else”. Smiling, she reached in to her cleavage and drew out something that glistened in the light, her eyes staying firmly on his, she held out the ring that had vanished in the water.

Otto and Ernestine danced through the night. He was a handsome fellow, rich and well mannered, a big hit with the ladies of the noble courts, yet he had resisted subtle and blatant advances alike, until now. When the last waltz ended and the fairies, whom he had barely noticed for hours, began to pack up and drift off in to the mists of dawn, he threw himself down on one knee and begged her to marry him. She looked through him with half closed eyes for a moment, laid a hand on his hair and said “On the condition that you never speak the word ‘Death’ in my company.”

Their happiness together began on Boxing Day and lasted many years. One Christmas Eve though, as the Count and his guests prepared to go for their traditional ride in the forest, Ernestine tarried in her chamber. Otto paced the courtyard, the horses nibbled the lawn and the servants handed out a third round of spiced sherry. When the Fairy Queen eventually came down Otto blurted out “At last!”, then trying to make a joke, “You would make a good messenger to send for Death!” She stared at him horrified, the scream on her lips cut short as she disappeared before the startled onlooker’s eyes.

Frantic searches of the castle, Fairy Well and forest brought no joy, neither did their more conscientious repeats over the following weeks. Heartbroken and mirthless, Otto lived on, his threadbare hope driving him to erect a tree filled with light and treasure by the window of his hall every Christmas. As time passed the locals began to copy their Lord. The custom spread through Straβbourg… and eventually the world.


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Of Woodland Glades and Hollow Hills

Whoever we are and however we seek peace, solace or a connection with something beyond the mundane, for the majority of us there is a place where we find something that refreshes our soul, or at least feels closer to doing so than the highways and byways of our everyday life. The spiritually developed person who sees the divine in everything will still regularly be drawn to a certain garden or hilltop. Even the Buddha, refined through many lifetimes to have no attachment to things in the physical world, chose a specific sacred fig tree under which to sit and meditate his way to enlightenment.

Some places just have something about them that resonates with us in a way that other places do not. In an animist culture the assumption would be that a being of some sort lived there, a spirit or spirits specific to that place. If the spirit was friendly and the place popular the spirit might be credited with influence beyond their personal rock, dell or circle of trees, often involving the well-being of plants and animals in the general vicinity.


It seems to me that a good number of the fairy folk started life as spirits of place, particularly the diminutive winged types found in sylvan glades who are clearly connected to the fertility of the forest. Thus they do not posses the power of invisibility, it is their natural state. The power they posses is that of visibility, allowing themselves to be seen by those who are open to their existence.

The link between the small woodland fairies and their human sized namesakes comes about because the Tuatha De Danann and others of their ilk can also be considered as spirits of place. Connected with the hill forts, stone circles or hills they occupied while present in this world or the burial mounds they retreated in to, the large and powerful fairies are a mix of gods and ancestral spirits who attained a wide enough sphere of influence to become autonomous from their place of origin. It is easy to see how a smith of great skill in the early days of metalwork might be buried with great honour in a barrow., then, in a culture where ancestors were revered and their soul contacted and consulted, they would maintain their importance long after their physical presence had moved on.

Though connected at a theoretical level it is still strange that these two kinds of being, with very different appearances and behaviours should share a name and even be found together according to many eye witness reports. My personal opinion is that the small fairies tag along with their larger brethren in much the same way that jackdaws hang around with rooks.

If you want these denizens of the Otherworld to show themselves to you then there are obvious places to start. The good folk are fond of trees and especially thorns. Anywhere with the combination of oak, ash and thorn is likely. Of course, fairy rings indicate a favoured dancing spot and any barrow, burial mound or particularly well rounded hill should be worth a look. The best place however, may be just that place you go to yourself that has something indefinable about it that makes you happy, for the fairies who live there already know you.

If all else fails then you could look in The Tavelling Talesman’s tour dates for “Away With The Fairies” at http://www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk/giglist.shtml

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