What better time to start Folk Tales Corner than May Eve – the date with more stories attached to it than any other in the calendar. Some of the FTCs will be tied to the tales of the time of year, others spun around singular stories. Some introduce us to particular characters but all welcome us to the wonderful world of storytelling.
May Eve tales are traditionally tales of magic and enchantment, more often than not they involve a trip to fairy land, usually an involuntary one. For all that halloween is reputed to be laden with access to the other world and folks from “the other side” visiting us, folk tales tell us that its opposite, May Eve is when we’re most likely to be kidnapped off beyond. Although anyone who ventures abroad is at risk of being abducted by the fey, the highest insurance group would surely be for children and beautiful young maidens, all very likely, if wandering out on April 30th, to find themselves transported or transformed.
Now if just going out is risky, walking into or around stone circles, fairy rings of mushrooms, into woodland or anywhere slightly misty and vaguely unfamiliar, almost guarantees an adventure. Though for Tiernan in The story of Pwyll and Rhiannon even staying at home is troublesome as he loses a new foal every May eve until he sits guard in the stables over it with his sword.
If you do find yourself spirited away remember to be civil to the fairy folk, they make very bad enemies, but do not eat or drink anything whilst there, in many tales this is how you get permanently connected and find it harder to come back (unlike Persephone who got an unusual pro rata deal). If you make a bargain to get home, be very sure you know what you’re promising and be exact in the wording. If you have folks who love you here, and know you well then your chances of getting back are improved: Loved ones can recognise your distinguishing marks (missing fingers or toes are particularly useful), and pick you out of the line-up of fifty other identical maidens, or swans if you have been transformed, that they are presented with. In some cases it requires sheer determination and brute force, holding onto you as you go through weird transformations. All in all you will probably come back wiser, possibly with a debt owed. Broken promises have dire results so do remember to pay back any debt. When you do get back also be prepared for time to have passed oddly, more often than not a short evening passed in fairy is many years in our own world, so often children stolen away come back to find all their friends have grown, and died of old age!
If you’re luck enough to be out and about on May Eve or Morn and aren’t whisked away then take the opportunity to listen well, especially if you are near a gibbet, in several tales it’s the magical moment you can understand the language of the birds, who’s conversation is surprisingly often about the location of buried treasure.
So you survived through to May morn; now is the time to sing, dance, decorate maypoles and wells, welcome in the May, bring meadowsweet, broom and hawthorn, celebrate, and leave a little offering out for the ‘good folk’. But remember don’t bring the may blossom into the house – that just invites the fairies in with you and as the stories tell us that is a whole new host of trouble.
If you are out early, remember Cormac Mac Art who on successive May Morns, first makes a new friend; then looses his son, then his daughter, his wife, and finally a whole army, but after some very bizarre and unsettling experiences has all of them, and some magical gifts, returned to him, all in exchange for…. why in exchange for a story of course!
Here’s to living happily ever after… until the next adventure.