Since my new book 'Fairies: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk' was just released last Friday, I thought today I'd like to share an short excerpt from that work. what follows is from the introduction and is looking at how we can, and why we should, respect places that belong to Themselves:
Respecting Their Places
Many people lump nature spirits in with fairies and that is both true and untrue. Fairies are a broad category of beings and they can and do include both beings of this world and beings from the Otherworld that choose to come here. In the next chapter we will take an in-depth look at the Otherworld but I want to discuss here the importance of showing proper respect to the locations in our own world that are associated with or claimed by the fairies, whether that means true nature spirits or not.
A land spirit or the spirit of a natural feature like a tree or plant is strongly connected to the place it calls home. This is only logical really, as that physical place or object is for them like our body is for our soul – it acts like an anchor for the spirit in this world. If you think of it this way then it’s easier to understand why we should be careful and respectful of places that belong to these spirits. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all natural spaces should be inviolate, life after all is a cycle of growth and death and it can involve destruction, but just like we should show respect to the animals and plants we use for food, we owe respect to the natural places and the spirits that inhabit them. It’s also always good to keep in mind that nature spirits have the ability to influence the mood and atmosphere of a place, so happy nature spirits are always better than angry ones. Generally angry land spirits will express their feelings by making the area they influence unpleasant, causing the atmosphere of the area to be uneasy or unhappy, or cause bad dreams in people living nearby.
Respecting nature spirits is a straightforward proposition: don’t be needlessly destructive, don’t take down trees, move larger rocks, or make any big changes to an area without giving the land spirits a bit of notice (I recommend a couple days), and don’t muck up natural places in your yard or local woods with human junk or refuse. If there is a particular nature spirit, like that of a tree, that you want to connect to you can make offerings to it and talk to it. Offerings are also a good idea if you do have to do major landscaping or tree removal; honey works well, as does planting new growth or working to clean up any human messes.
Besides land spirits which exist as an intrinsic part of the world around us there are also places that belong to the fairies which are spirits of the Otherworld. These are not land spirits and are not tied to the land in these places but they have laid claim to them and feel a strong sense of ownership about them. Folklore and modern anecdotes show that interfering with or damaging places that belong to the fairies is a profoundly bad idea, and that they tend to respond in a fairly direct fashion. In Iceland both road construction and drilling that upsets the Hidden Folk tends to result in machinery breaking, ill luck, and strange happenings until the construction stops or the damage – usually to a boulder which is associated with them – is repaired. In Ireland folklore says that to interfere with a fairy tree or fairy hill can result in bad luck, illness, or even death. They are also not averse to destroying the offending human construction that is on their territory; one recent event in 2007 that made the news in Ireland was a series of telephone poles too close to a fairy hill which kept mysteriously falling down.
Traditionally places that belong to the fairies are best left alone; it is unwise to interfere with them or build on them. There are many stories, not only in Ireland but also in Iceland, of people who damaged or dug into fairy places only to suffer great ill luck, illness, or even death. In some cases even going into a place that belonged to the fairies posed a risk; in one story from Ireland a young man interfered with a well that was known to belong to the Fair Folk and in response they cursed it; when the man next went to drink from it he fell in and drowned (Ballard, 1991). If you choose to visit them it is best to do so during the day and to be careful not to leave behind a mess. It’s also advised not to relieve yourself on the ground in the area, as that is known to offend them as well. Add to that a general suggestion not to say anything in those areas especially that belittle or question their power or influence because they do respond to verbal insults. As long as you are careful not to break things, not to leave behind trash, and not to verbally provoke them you should be alright.