Time and Age
The passage of time for faeries is clearly not the same as it is for mortal men. Some legends say that faeries are born old and grow younger as they ‘age’, while many others hold that they are ageless and forever young. While in faerie lands, mounds and burrows, time is usually not consistent with the outside world. There are accounts of men entering a faerie residence and sleeping but a night, while 50 years pass outside. If faeries age only a day for 50 years, then they could quite easily appear immortal compared to humans.
The marriage of a human man with a fairy wife seems generally to have been a marriage by capture, except for the Gwrachs of Wales, who generally yielded to wooing. Like the captured brides, however, they imposed a taboo, which was in the end always violated. Wild Edric is an early example of a captured fairy bride, complete with the taboo and the wife’s final return to Fairyland. Many other wives are Selkies or Seal Maidens, captured by the theft of their seal skins. When, after years of married life, they regain their skins, they hurry down to the sea at once. Ralph of Coggeshall’s early tale of the Green Children is an unusual one of fairies captured, for of the pair, the boy pined and died and the girl never went back to her subterranean land, but married and lived on like a mortal, keeping still some of the fairy wantonness. There are scattered tales all over the country of the capture of the small helpless fairies, most of whom escape in the long run. The most famous of these are the Leprachauns. The man who is bold enough to seize one hopes to threaten him into surrendering his pot of gold, for the Leprachaun is a hoarder, but there has been no recorded case of success.
The rule first laid down by Kirk that a fairy can only be seen between two blinks of an eye holds good with him. However fast your grip, you must keep your eye on him through rough and smooth, or he will slip between your fingers like water. Perhaps the same rule held good for the pixy at the Ovkerry, of whom William Crossing wrote in his TALES OF DARTMOOR PIXIES. An old woman who lived on the Moors was going home with an empty basket from the market after selling her goods. When she got near the bridge which spans Blackabrook at the Ockerry a small figure leapt on to the road and began capering in front of her. He was about eighteen inches high, and she recognized him as a pixy. She paused for a moment, wondering if she should turn back for fear of being Pixy-Led; but she remembered that her family would be waiting for her, and pressed steadily on. When she got to the bridge the pixy turned and hopped towards her, and she suddenly stooped down, picked him up, popped him into her empty basket and latched down the lid, for she thought to herself that instead of the pixy leading her she would lead the pixy. The little fellow was too tall to leap about in the basket, but he began to talk and scold in an unknown gibberish, while she hurried proudly home, longing to show her catch to the family. After a time the stream of gabbling stopped, and she thought he might be sullen or asleep. She thought she would take a peep at him, and lifted a corner of the lid very cautiously, but there was no sight or feel of him, he was gone like a piece of dried foam. No harm seems to have come to her, and, in spite of losing him, she felt proud of her exploit.
I Skillywidden and Coleman Gray tell of little fairies who were carried into human houses but got back to their own family in the end. In the sadder tale of BROTHER MIKE the little captive never escaped, but pined and died. Ruth Tongue has a story of a rather rare waterspirit, an ASRAI, who pined and melted away under the heat of the sun like a stranded jelly-fish when a fisherman caught it and tried to bring it home to sell. Most of these fairies, great or small, seem powerless to avenge the wrong offered to them, though other fairies avenge much more trifling injuries with Blights and Illnesses, or even death.
A Cornish example of the Captured Fairies, this is the name of a little Pisky boy who was adopted by a human. It is given by Hunt in POPULAR ROMANCES OF THE WEST OF ENGLAND, from T. Quiller Couch in NOTES AND QUERIES: ‘There is a farmhouse of some antiquity with which my family have a close connection; and it is this circumstance, more than any other, that has rendered this tradition concerning it more interesting to us, and better remembered than many other equally romantic and authentic. Close to
this house, one day, a little miserable-looking bantling was discovered alone, unknown, and incapable of making its wants understood. It was instantly remembered by the finder, that this was the way in which the piskies were accustomed to deal with those infants of their race for whom they sought human protection; and it would have been an awful circumstance if such a one were not received by the individual so visited. The anger of the piskies would be certain, and some direful calamity must be the result;
whereas, a kind of welcome would probably be attended with great good fortune. The miserable plight of this stranger therefore attracted attention and sympathy. The little unconscious one was admitted as of the family. Its health was speedily restored, and its renewed strength, activity, intelligence and good-humour caused it to become a general
favourite. It is true the stranger was often found to indulge in odd freaks; but this was accounted for by a recollection of its pedigree, which was not doubted to be of the piskie order. So the family prospered, and had banished the thought that the foundling would ever leave them. There was to the front door of this house a hatch, meaning a half-door that is kept closed when the whole door behind it is open, and which then serves as a guard against the intrusion of dogs, hogs, and ducks, while air and light
are freely admitted. This little being was one day leaning over the top of this hatch, looking wistfully outward, when a clear voice was heard to proceed from a neighbouring part of the townplace, calling, ‘Coleman Gray, Coleman Gray!’ The piskie immediately started up, and with a sudden laugh, clapped its hands, exclaiming, ‘Aha! my daddy is come!’ It was gone in a moment, never to be seen again.