The Old Corpse Road Folklore Collective
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The Fairy Rade, or procession, was a matter of great importance. It took place on the coming in of summer, awl the peasantry, by using the precaution of placing a branch of rowan over their door, might safely gaze on the cavalcade, as with music sounding, bridles ringing, and voices mingling, it pursued its way from place to place.
Cross - From the earliest days of Christianity the cross was believed to be a most potent protective symbol against fairies and all evil spirits. It is even possible that cross-roads had a pre-Christian significance, as sacred to the god of limits and a place of sacrifice. The cross in all its forms was protective - the 'saining' or crossing of one's own body or that of another, a cross scratched on the ground or formed by four roads meeting, a cross of wood, stone or metal set up by roadside, a cross worn as a trinket round the neck, all these were believed to give substantial protection against devils, ghosts or fairies. Sometimes this protection was reinforced by carrying a cross of a particular material - of rowan wood, for instance, for this wood was a protection of itself - or for trinkets crosses of coral or amber, both of some potency.
There is an ancient and universal belief inherent in all the native religions of the existence of an invisible realm, a land of youth, happiness and beauty, inhabited by Otherworldly beings. Most of us have from our childhood days heard mention of the Faery Folk, or the 'Good People', as they are known in Ireland and Scotland. Images of small, dainty beings with silk wings flitting through the grass fill the pages of children's story books. Yet these romantic images of diminutive creatures, heavily influenced by the Victorian era, are far removed from the original concept of the Sidhe within native Celtic religion as powerful spirit manifestations of the elemental forces of nature. In their original status they form an integral part of the inner religious life of the Gael, both past and present.
There are many myths that describe the origins of the faeries, and almost all of them are different. Many involve Christianity in some way, these are generally believed to be later myths created by priests to explain the pagan creatures of the wood. Some believers have thought that fairies are a special creation, and that they exist in there own right. Others have said that fairies like ghosts are the spirits of the dead, or of certain types of dead who died before Christianity came to Britain, for instance, or unbatised or stillborn babies. To others fairies were fallen angels, neither wicked enough for Hell nor good enough for Heaven. Here are some concepts ;
When the winter winds blow and the Yule fires are lit, from the north of Scandinavia down to Switzerland, it is best to stay indoors, safely shut away from the dark forest paths and the wild heaths. Those who wander out by themselves during the Yule-nights may hear a sudden rustling through the tops of the trees -- a rustling that might be the wind, though the rest of the wood is still. But then the barking of dogs fills the air, with the hunters behind whooping "Wod! Wod!" a man's voice cries from above, "Midden in dem Weg!" and the host of wild souls sweeps down, fire flashing from the eyes of the black hounds and hooves of the black horses.
Faeries can be found in a wide variety of places, indeed almost anywhere in the world, and several places which aren't. But there are a number of areas and types of places where they can be frequently found. In recent times faeries are often portrayed as living in forests, but in the ancient myths they are creatures of the soil. The 'Hollow Hills' of the Brittish isles are the sacred residences of the wee folk. These hill sofen thought to be the burial mounds of clets, or the remains of Roman or saxon forts or rathes are called Sidhe (Shee). They are the lodgings of Spriggans, Leprachans, the Unsellie Court, and Daoine Sidhe to name but a few. Most faeries would gaurd their homes jealously against any mortal intruder, and the ill-fated man who dug or built upon their hills was in for great misery or even death. Such superstition has lasted even into the 20th century, for in Ireland local workers still refuse to desecrate the Sidhe.
The belief that fairies were elementals - creatures made only of earth, fire, air or water - seems to have been common amongst medieval magicians, who devised complex spells and rituals for raising them and using there powers. One ritual recorded in an early 15th century manuscript now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, involves stripping the bark from three hazel wands, writing the fairies name on the wood, and burying the wands ‘under some hill whereas you suppose fairies haunt’. The fairy will come if she is called on the following Friday, after the wands have been dug up.
Glamor is the word for the magical abilities that are always attributed to faeries. Much of it stems from the faerie's own mutable nature. Although always very small naturally, most faeries can change their form to appear any size or shape. There is usually some clue that lets a careful observer tell that a creature might be a faerie in disguise. For instance a horse might have that spark of intelligence in its eyes that an animal just shouldn't have. Faeries masquerading as humans usually have some exaggerated feature or abnormality, such as pointy ears, a long nose or club feet. A faerie may of course try to hide such features. Certain faeries are known to prefer certain forms, the Hyter sprite for instance, commonly takes the from of a sand martin.
The fairies of Britain vary as much in dress as they do in appearance and size. Most people, asked off-hand about the colour of the fairies' clothes, would answer 'green' without hesitation, and they would not be far astray. Green is generally acknowledged to be the fairy colour, particularly in Celtic countries, and for this reason is so unlucky that many Scotswomen refuse to wear green at all. Fairies believe that they alone have the right to wear green, and are apt to deal harshly with any mortal foolish enough to infringe this right. this lead to the idea that green is an unlucky colour. Red runs green very close, and in Ireland the small trooping fairies, the Daoine Sidh and the Shefro, wear green coats and red caps while the solitary fairies, such as the Leprachauns, the Cluricaun and the Fear Dearg, generally wear red. William Allingham describes Wee folk, good folk, trooping all together, Green jacket, red cap and white owl's feather.This seems to be the typical costume of the small trooping fairies.
Allan Cunningham in his LIVES OF EMINENT BRITISH PAINTERS records that William Blake claimed to have seen a fairy funeral. 'Did you ever see a fairy's funeral, madam? said Blake to a lady who happened to sit next to him. 'Never, Sir!' said the lady. 'I have,' said Blake, 'but not before last night.' And he went on to tell how, in his garden, he had seen 'a procession of creatures of the size and colour of green and grey grashoppers, bearing a body laid out on a rose-leaf, which they buried with songs, and then disappeared'.
Corpse roads provided a practical means of allowing the transport of corpses to cemeteries that had burial rights. In Britain, such routes can also be known by a number of other names: bier road, burial road, coffin road, coffin line, lyke or lych way, funeral road, procession way, etc. Such "church-ways" have developed a great deal of associated folklore regarding wraiths, spirits, ghosts, and such-like.