Mixed Race Faery Families

babies

I have written several times about the sexual allure of fairies and about sexual relationships between fairies and humans.  Inevitably, many of these unions will result in children and in this posting I examine the evidence on mixed race families and the fate of their offspring.

Hybrid Children

Renowned fairy expert Katharine Briggs observed in her book The Fairies in Tradition and Literature that fairies “are apparently near enough in kind to mate with humans- closer in fact than a horse is to an ass, for many human families to claim fairy ancestry” (p.95). Mixed race families are entirely possible and there seems neither doubt nor surprise about this in the folklore.  When we learn about human-faery offspring, it is generally because there has been some problem in the relationship.  Of course, our view of these matters is skewed, as we usually only hear about cases where partnerships went wrong- not those matches where the couple ‘live happily ever after.’  We very occasionally get glimpses of these: human girls are quite often abducted to become fairy brides and every now and then we catch sight of them later on.  For example, in the Welsh story of Eilian, she is met again by the woman she worked for when the latter is called out as midwife to the fairy hill- only to discover that it is her former farm maid who is the mother brought to child bed.

Fairy Family Life

Admitting that we only tend to see the failed matches, what can we say about fairy parenting?  Probably the fairest conclusion is that fairies are just as good, and as bad, as husbands, wives and parents as humans.

Andro Man of Aberdeen was tried for witchcraft in 1598. He disclosed to the court a decades long relationship with the fairy queen.  Over a period of thirty years, he said, he had enjoyed regular sexual contact with her and the couple had had “diverse bairnis” whom he’d since visited in fairyland/ elphame.  These children were brought up by the mother, but at the same time Man was not entirely absent from their lives.

A reversal of this arrangement is seen with Katharine Jonesdochter of Shetland, tried for witchcraft in 1616.  She confessed to a forty-year affair with a fairy man whom she called ‘the bowman.’  He first came to her when she was a teenager (a “young lass” as she described herself) and they had a child together.  A relative recalled that she had seen “ane little creatour in hir awin hus amongst hir awin bairns quhom she callit the bowmanes bairn.”  In this case the child stayed with the (human) mother and the (fairy) father was seen once or twice a year- at Halloween and on Holy Cross Day (September 14th)- when he visited her for sex.

Both these cases seem to say more about gender roles in human and fairy society than they do about defaults or qualities of fairy-kind as mothers and fathers.  There is, of course, no reason to assume that males are any less loving toward their spouses and children than females.  For example, in the ballad Leesom Brand, the eponymous hero’s fairy wife and baby both die during child birth, but he is able to find magical means to revive them.

bowerley mermum and babe
Amelia Bowerley

All the same, an exception may have to be made for merfolk.  The folklore record indicates that they are very often wanting in basic familial instincts and make very poor parents indeed.  In the ballad of the Selkie of Sule Skerry, the selkie father has first of all made a woman pregnant and abandoned her; then he returns grudgingly upon hearing her complaints and gives her gold to ‘buy’ the child from her (what he calls a ‘nurse-fee’)- taking the boy away to raise him as a selkie in the sea.

In many stories, a mermaid is the parent as the result of being captured by a human male on the shore.  He has managed to find, and withhold from her, the seal skin or tail that she has shed temporarily, thereby preventing her from rejoining her people.  The mermaid is forced to become her captor’s wife and children inevitably follow over the succeeding years.  Eventually, one of those infants comes across the seal skin hidden somewhere on the farm and mentions the discovery to the mother- who without hesitation leaves immediately to return to the sea.

Whether male or female, therefore, merfolk generally set a poor example as parents.  The best that can be said for most mermaids is that they were akin to captives and unwilling partners, which may excuse (a little) their readiness to abandon their children.

There are, though, a couple of stories that are happy exceptions to this rather poor record.   The famous mermaid of Zennor took a human husband who (unusually) went to live with her beneath the sea.  We know the marriage appeared to thrive because, several years later, the skipper of a boat was hailed by the mermaid complaining that his anchor was blocking the door to her home, preventing her returning to her husband and their offspring or, in some accounts, preventing her taking her children to church.  From Orkney, we hear of Johnny Croy who managed to secure a mermaid wife by snatching her precious golden comb.  To win it back, she struck a bargain with him- that she would live with him on his farm for seven years and that he would then go with her to visit her family beneath the waves.  They had seven children together, and the entire family disappeared forever under the sea when the initial seven years were up.  The family bonds in these two cases seem strong and lasting, with the human husband prepared to give up his home and society in order to stay with his supernatural wife and children.

The Welsh lake maidens, the gwragedd annwn, also have a reputation for abandoning their husbands and families, although in these cases they would excuse themselves and blame the husbands for what happened.  They are wooed in conventional manner by the human males and consent freely to marriage, but conditions or taboos are always imposed which- just as predictably- are violated in time by their husbands.  These mothers are driven away from their families, therefore, they are not fleeing like the mermaids.

baby & Fs

Fairy Inheritance

As we might expect, having fairy parents or ancestors does have some benefits for the children.

John Rhys quotes in his Celtic Folklore from William Williams’ Observations on the Snowdon Mountains, of 1802, in which he discusses:

“A race of people inhabiting the districts about the foot of Snowdon, were formerly distinguished and known by the nickname of Pellings, which is not yet extinct. There are several persons and even families who are reputed to be descended from these people …. These children and their descendants, they say, were called Pellings, a word corrupted from their [faery] mother’s name, Penelope… there are still living several opulent and respectable people who are known to have sprung from the Pellings. The best blood in my own veins is this fairy’s.” (Rhys, vol.1, p.48, citing Williams pp.37-40)

Rhys also mentions several times people living in the Pennant Valley in North Wales who are noted for their very good looks- flax yellow hair and pale blue eyes- which are said to be derived from a fairy ancestor called Bella (vol.1, pp.96, 106, 108, 220 & 223; vol.2 p.668)

As well as physical charms, fairy parents can bestow significant gifts upon their part-human offspring.  The faery wife of Llyn y Fan Fach is a typical Welsh ‘lake maiden’ who is driven off by her husband’s violation of her taboos.  Nonetheless, she keeps in regular contact with her three sons, teaching them marvellous healing skills so that they become the famous physicians of Myddfai.  In the Tudor Ballad of Robin Goodfellow, Robin is the son of Oberon, fathered upon a maid to whom he took a fancy.  The father provides materially for his son’s upbringing (although he is absent) and, when the boy reaches his teens, Oberon comes to him and reveals his true nature and magical powers:

“King Oberon layes a scrole by him,

that he might understand

Whose sonne he was, and how hee’d grant

whatever he did demand:

To any forme that he did please

himselfe he would translate;

And how one day hee’d send for him

to see his fairy state.”

Finally, the offspring of matches with merfolk are generally readily identifiable.  There are accounts from the Scottish islands of children conceived with human fathers who have webs between their fingers and toes.  One mermaid mother tried to trim these away but they regrew repeatedly until a horny crust developed- a feature that is still be seen amongst some island people today and which can limit the manual tasks they can undertake.

Further Reading

I discuss other aspects of fairy families, childcare and healing in my recently published book, Faery (Llewellyn Worldwide).  See too the discussion in my Faery Lifecycle, a complete study of faery anatomy and physiology.

faery-lifecycle-cover

11 thoughts on “Mixed Race Faery Families

  1. So when these individuals stay in the human world, how do they usually fair? Obviously if there are people descended from mixed race individuals today then they probably didn’t do too poorly for themselves and I know some stories have these kinds of individuals become great healers or magicians. But is there any more we know about the kinds of lives these people led? I ask because I recently saw a video where Morgan Daimler talked about this and mentioned that a lot of half human half faerie people are likely to run for the hills and never come back. Do we have any stories of that exact thing occurring?

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    1. My impression is that, on the whole, they’re pretty well adapted and (from a human point of view) integrate well and are absorbed into the communities where they live. There’s one Welsh story about a part-mermaid family which has a much less happy outcome for most of the siblings, but there are problems with it. One is that the version we have seems to have been messed around with and polished up into literature, so that it’s hard to be confident in the details; secondly, I think the problems faced by part-mermaid children, having to travel between two physical environments, are always going to be much more challenging.

      I haven’t seen Morgan’s video, but my feeling is that the humans who suffer most are those that visit Faery and then come back. They can never settle into the old routine and do end up wandering off. Mixed race children, presumably, are better able to adapt and to cope with the transitions.

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  2. Despite their quirks and whims, fairies in tradition and mythology have been portrayed as diverse in character as humans. So it stands to reason that some of them will make excellent and others very poor parents and spouses.

    As to the offsprings of these mixed pairings, I think in most cases the stories highlight the social/racial bias and prejudice or lack thereof of each society within a specific time frame. Nothing like fantastic racism to showcase the real issues tearing up a community.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I think you’re right to say that fairy accounts can be a mirror of the society that produces them; you’re also correct in observing that there are good and bad faery individuals just as much as there are human. All the same, the merfolk as a type seem to get the worst press.

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  3. I think the subject of Mixed Race Faery Families and Hybrid Children is a very interesting one, but have seen little written about what it might be like to be a hybrid child on Earth and what relations they might have with the pure-bred Fae.

    How I come by the following observations I will leave you to decide, but they would be along the following lines:

    1. the hybrid child has various extra sensory gifts. As likely as not, they might be told by their mother that a particular granny had the ‘sight’. There will be a general acknowledgement that such abilities ‘run in the family’. No matter how much they may wish to deny their gifts of prophecy, second sight, audio-sensory skills etc., they will be reminded throughout their lives that such gifts are theirs

    2. As a child, the hybrid might be interested in all things pertaining to Arthurian Legend, whilst still believing them to be nothing more than fairy tales. Yet, the names of those Fae characters are stored away for reasons it knows not. But one day, in jest, it telepathically asks for proof – perhaps, it is fishing without success in a place which later turns out to be ‘dripping with the Fae’ … The challenge is immediately accepted and the proof delivered – with strings attached (of course!) …

    3. Pure-bred Fae are likely to be drawn to such hybrids because they see part of themselves resident therein. If the hybrid possesses a mind more open than most, the Fae may seek to make contact. This may take several human years to effect. In sleep, the subject is likely to rebuff them initially, but when contact is finally made, the hybrid is likely to find that they can communicate with them (the Fae) as easily as with their fellow humans. Moreover, they seem to view things in a ‘Fairy Way’ while their human half looks on uncomprehending. If they are favoured, they may be taken to the Fairy Realm where they find themselves working with the rest of their Kind – as if born to it. Also, as part of a test to see if they can really ‘cut it’ They may not be able to access this Realm like a pure Fae, but they can be taken there without issue and suffer no ill effects when they leave – their fairy blood sees to that.

    4. As the hybrid lives out its life and, if selected by the Fae, has its consciousness gradually expanded, it learns that it has a foot in both realms or has two selves in the same body. As a human and awake, it is still subject to the pranks played on all humans. The difference is that the Fae in that ‘special way’ that is all their own will make it known to him or her that these things that are happening are not accidental and are at their behest. After a series of such ‘events’, it will not be unusual for the hybrid to fall asleep and be visited that night. Sometimes, when conscious, the hybrid will be allowed to glimpse their ‘special Fae’ in a form he is sure was generated by her; at other times, it can be a lot harder to tell. Telepathy, awake or asleep, is a central plank to their communication. The hybrid may have experienced a sequence of events suggestive of her invisible presence. Perhaps he is travelling somewhere. In consequence of the events that have already happened, his senses are more heightened than usual. A very attractive young lady may enter the carriage he is sitting in. He can’t help looking at her … he can’t help wondering too … On this day of all days, such an attractive lady ‘just happens’ to step into the same carriage … ! It seems a little too coincidental, and that ‘upturned nose’ she just happens to have. Might that not be a giveaway too? He wonders some more …!

    5. Just because the hybrid has some fairy blood, it should not be supposed that the hybrid is immune from falling foul of Fairy Etiquette when conscious. Quite often, the inner fairy voice will warn against taking a certain course of action, but the human part will overrule – and suffer the consequences just like any pure-bred human. Only in the unconscious state does the fairy half have a chance to take over and mingle with the Fae on their terms

    6. The subject of relationships is interesting too. As humans, we have a strict set of conditions to adhere to, while the Fae ‘play by their own rules’ which, to human eyes, seems unfair. However, as a hybrid, it could be a much different picture. You can imagine that a Fae who selects a human mate for other than ‘sport’ has a few prejudices to overcome from his or her side, apart from all the education that has to be undertaken and deciding upon where they are going to live etc. A hybrid comes ‘semi-hardwired’, its fairy brain can quickly assimilate any fairy concepts it does not understand while its human mind looks on askance. A hybrid is much easier to talk to about what happens to any issue from their relationship. The hybrid’s fairy mind easily absorbs all the details and regards them as normal. The hybrid’s ‘fairyness’ needs little selling to the Fae’s kith and kin as the hybrid can mingle with them effortlessly – only when awake does it become clumsy and oafish, which it looks to its Fairy Protector to put right (aside from her love of pranks, that is …!). As the hybrid can travel between the Realms, visitation rights in the Fairy Realm shouldn’t be a problem any more than she had a problem visiting Earth

    7. Hybrids have various ‘gifts’ bestowed upon them by their fairy ancestry, but if they have a special Fae in their lives, they receive additional assistance allowing them to produce things and do things far beyond what they feel they can. They will feel that whatever they did was not entirely their own work, which their other self will confirm. They instinctively know that their ‘Fairy Mentor’ is never far away and likes to work alongside her ‘Chosen One’ just as they do when in the Fairy Realm or out and about ‘with the gang’ …

    8. A human courting a Fairy, what could it be like?

    Check out the official video for Roxy Music’s AVALON – and the accompanying lyrics …

    Brian Ferry, the lead singer, is a fan of Arthurian Legend too, coincidentally.

    Phil

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