Beatrice Goldsmith, Watching the fairies, 1925
On her blog Living liminally, Morgan has written a useful series of posts giving guidelines to interaction between humans and faery. I encourage readers to have a look at these and also at my own post on fairy temperament. I’ll only offer a few supplementary remarks here.
Morgan’s first fairy taboo is never to say thank you. This isn’t just a matter of avoiding verbal gratitude: gifts to fairies that acknowledged some obligation- or even suggest some reciprocity may exist between our two worlds- are as likely to offend. I have mentioned before the inadvisability of giving clothes to brownies– this can at the very least drive them away, at the worst antagonise them to such a degree that become a blight upon a household.
Morgan’s second post is on the taboo of privacy, something that is clearly closely related to the former. All the evidence confirms that discretion in respect of fairy contact is the only advisable approach: they do not like boasting or talkativeness on the part of humans. Perhaps it suggests that they are taken for granted; it certainly betrays their own secrecy and privacy. As I have alluded to several times, disclosure by a person that they are favourites of the fairies almost invariably results in the termination of that favour.
The proper and respectful use of names is the third taboo Morgan has covered. Fairies’ names are a source of power and must be handled circumspectly. As a rule it is better to avoid references that may draw their attention to you; if the fairies must be mentioned, euphemisms that are complimentary seem to be preferable. As Morgan rightly observes, some of the labels chosen are merely descriptive, whether of the appearance of the supernatural being or of the location in which s/he is found; this neutral approach may well be safest. It’s also worth emphasising, as she does in a separate post on the power of names, that keeping back your own name from the fairies is just as important (something illustrated by the Ainsel series of stories, such as that of Meg Moulach). Fairies withhold their names from us to stop us getting power over them and the reverse is just as true; put simply, if they have a grievance against you, it’s harder for them to find you if they don’t have your name! Nonetheless, I’ve always felt rather uncomfortable about this strand of thought about the fays. On the one hand it seems to suggest that humans are cleverer than their good neighbours and that a bit of cunning can outwit them or can trick them into betraying their names themselves. At the same time, it introduces an element of deceit into the relationship, a want of openness and honesty that runs directly counter to other precepts on promoting good relations with fairies.
Most recently Morgan has discussed food taboos and fairies. This is a complex area: partaking of food (much like joining in a fairy dance) can be a way of succumbing to their magic. At the same time, the faes often seem dependent upon human provisions (whether these are acquired as offerings or stolen). As I’ve debated before, quite whether some of these gifts these represent propitiation or some sort of bargain is never wholly clear. What we can say for certain is that they particularly like to consume dairy produce such as cream.
In a separate post dated May 4th 2017 Morgan makes the interesting suggestion that our past use of fairy as a derogatory term denoting a loose woman or a gay man might be the cause of our Good Neighbours’ dislike for the word. This is certainly a very interesting suggestion; I had tended to see it the other way round: that the sense of unashamed and uninhibited sexuality on the part of the fairies was transferred to human conduct, but became derogatory in the process.
Generally, Morgan places considerable stress upon proper etiquette in our relations with the fair folk. As I’ve repeated myself here and in several other posts, this is eminently good advice. Given that they are a powerful people, mostly hidden from us and working to their own undisclosed agenda, conduct that propitiates or, at the very least, does not antagonise the fae surely is the only sensible course of action.