Text by Lidija Bajuk
FAIRIES (DEKLE, DEVKE, DIKLICE, DJEVICE (MAIDENS), DOBRICE (GOOD MAIDENS), SAMOVILE, UTVICE, VILOZMAJEVI (DRAGON-MAIDENS), ZLATNOKRILKE (GOLDWING FAIRIES), ŽELJEDJEVOJKE (WISH-GIRLS)
They are meteoric, divine creatures and spirits of nature, water and plants. They control the clouds and sometimes they are identified with them. They are sometimes identified with falling stars, too. They make storm clouds together with the black magic students (grabancijas). People call the rain that falls on the fields and makes them fertile ”fairy milk” or ”fairy water”. With the arrival of Christianity it became holy water.
Friday, the fifth day of the week is their day, the fairy day. They are born in spring, in the early morning hours from the juice of the meadow lily, dew and ash-tree flower. According to another source they are daugters of Adam and Eve who were not shown to god out of shame, and therefore are not blessed. Still, by the grace of god, they are young, beautiful, talented, learned, honourable, strong, fast, ingenious, and immortal. A third source says that they are proud young girls whom god damned and turned their feet into hoofs which forced them to hide away. Another legend says that they are, in fact, fallen angels and dead heathens – too good for hell, but not good enough for heaven. They are sentenced to spend eternity in dark middleworlds.
They are tall with blue or green eyes and melodious voice. Their skin is of green and brown hue because they never go out in the sunlight, only when the light is dimmed. They have a white, black, yellow and blue drop of blood in them. They fight lies and deceit. Their strength and life lie in the flower wreath or crown, long golden (sometimes red) hair, veil, a garment such as a scarf, golden belt that they wear around their waist and their wings. If their centre of power is taken away from them, they stop being fairies and become human. If somebody unbraids their hair without breaking one hair, he or she becomes honourable forever. They know how to make a golden net from their hair which they use to catch the goldfish. They use a gold comb to comb their hair and they sometimes make braids. They fly using wings or a veil. They secretly borrow long white or blue dresses from women’s wardrobes, changing their attire every day and using the clothes to hide their donkey, horse or goat hoofs. Their hoofs are remnants of the times when they were identified with these Perun’s animals and when they were said to be racing the clouds.They often decorate their dresses with moss and fallen leaves. They ride a stag or a horse. Their bodies are not constant, their shape, size and colour can change. They can turn into fog, flower, butterfly, snake, swallow, swan, hawk, fox, veasel, mare, goat, sow, cow or donkey.
Fairies braid horse’s mane and it should not and cannot be unbraided. They always shine a twinkling light and smell of mould. They carry poisonous adders, lightning, axes, arrows, whips, swords or sabres as their weapon. The Thundermaker carries the same weapons. They can be visible and invisible at the same time, depending on who is looking at them. They are visible when they are in an ethereal state (thinner than gas) and then only clairvoyant people can see them. When they are invisible, they are in an astral state (thinner than ethereal). They are masters of blending in with the background and they are therefore very difficult to see. The culmination of this mastery is illusion, when they turn dead leaves into precious cloth, honey-biscuits into gold coins, acorn hats into gold cups, etc.
They are most active at noon or midnight, at dusk after the sun goes down or before it rises or on certain days like St. Philip’s day, the night before midsummer day or All Saint’s day. They wash their face on a spring or a well at dawn. They drink from everlasting fairy springs every day at noon, which then go dry. They are mostly vegetarian. They will eat meat prepared from a dead animal they found or if somebody offers them a meat dish from a young animal that has already been prepared. (That is at least what the cattle breeding people say.) In Panonia in Croatia they eat crumbs off the tables that have not been cleaned. The sip nectar or the so called fairy milk from the flower cups, eat honey, butter, lamb, cheese and everything that someone says they have not got when they actually have, but never in the same place. They especially like freshly milked milk. Rocks on which they eat turn green. A mortal will be imprisoned forever in the Fairy Kingdom if he eats any kind of fairy food.
They are playful, noble, but very vengeful. There are herb fairies who know medicinal herbs, cloud fairies (called ”goricke dekle”, ”nagorkinje”, ”planinkinje”, ”zagorkinje” (mountain maidens)), water fairies (”brodarkinje/povodice” (ship maidens), ”jezerkinje” (lake maidens), ”morkinjice” (sea maidens), nymphs, ”potocanke/potocne vile” (brook maidens), ”pustolovice” (adventure maidens), ”rusalke” (river fairies), mermaids, well fairies (”zdencje vile”), wind fairies (”bure/vile vjetrenice”), ice fairies (”vile poledice”), war fairies (”vile ratoborne/bojovnice”), prophetess fairies, night fairies, star fairies (swalows or Vlašici (Pleiades) – seven fairies of the godess of spring and beauty that come and visit us from midsummer day until St.George’s day), fairies that live under or inside holy trees (”drvarice/šumkinje”, forest fairies), fairies that live in the fields (field fairies). Their favourite places to be are near fires, water, ruins and graveyards and in mountains, hills, caves and crags or islands. The proof that a place is a home of a fairy is hidden treasure near it. They will protect the ones who saved them as long as they live. They will also protect merry, kind and warmhearted people. They are stepsisters of great heroes.
People will be fortunate if they greet them, give them presents, adopt them as sisters, protect them from sunlight or save them from trouble. People who find and keep clover with four leaves known as fairy grass, will also be fortunate. The greatest fairy gift is maiden bloom that originates from the morning star. They spin silk or their hair (light clouds) on a gold spindle. Thin threads that float in the air in late summer or in the beginning of autumn are called fairy hair. Girls should not comb their hair after the sun sets or their brothers will die. They also should not sweep after the sun comes out. Fairies help them to spin, weave, embroider and decorate their wedding dress. On every ”old Friday” (when Friday falls on the full moon) they sit under the holy tree and advise and teach women to spin, weave, sew, embroider, sing, heal with ecstatic mute dance, the fairy songs, to make spells, do magic over a bucket of unbroken water, make warm baths with magic herbs and give healing water and wine to sick people who have the fairy diseases (e.g. epilepsy, rheumatism, cramps, tuberculosis, sometimes brought on to people by the fairies for revenge).
Women who acquire that kind of knowledge become like fairies but not completely. They are called ”vilarke”, ”vilašice” or ”vilenice” and they are mediators between people and nature spirits. Fairies also help people to find their true way when they are working in the fields or when they are bu
ilding something. They are considered to be the builders of great buildings like towers, bridges, castles, etc. Everything they do, they do with great haste. They like children, songs, ecstatic dancing and hunting in autumn. Their songs are either exultant or sad and their dance songs always have three beats to the bar, with three beats and one pause. It is the rhythm of the changes of the moon and the seasons. The fourth beat, the time of quietness is the time when they disappear to renew themselves in their eternity. That is the reason they are visible only sometimes.
People who hear their song will feel yearning all their life. Their beautiful voice can turn a girl into a fairy. Their beautiful songs can make people sleep the sleep of forgetfulness. Fairies sometimes curse people or turn them into a tree or a rock, make them take the wrong way, make them lose consciousness, blind them, cause epileptic attacks. Epilepsy was the holy disease, and people who had it were said to be possesed by spirits or fairies. It was believed that when they had convulsions and were unconscious, they could converse with the dead ancestors or supernatural forces. They can also cause any other fairy disease, make an earthquake, cause drowning, tickle you until death, put spells on you or kill with their stare those who anger them with their bragging, scorn, thrift and dishonesty, who sings more beautiful than they do, who does not want to befriend them, who smells fairy flowers (clover, primrose, pansy, wild thyme, blue-bell,etc.), who stirs up fairy water, touches their wild bees honey, builds dams in a stream, spoils their hunt, watches them dance (usually the ten of them), steps on the fairy wheel (”Vrzino kolo”) where they dance on midsummer day or those who do not keep a tidy household.
Those who join them when they are dancing become imprisoned in their kingdom forever or die from fatigue. The unfortunate can be saved from their dance only by a friend who stands outside the circle. Places where the fairies danced peasants call fairy playgrounds or dance halls (”vilinska igrišca/plesališca”). You can protect yourself from their vengeance in several ways. The best way is to use the herb known to the peasants as ”the mad herb” (”ludinjak”). They leave hoof marks in the places where they danced and grass does not grow there or grows in great abundance. Mushrooms also grow there, usually the poisonous toad-stool. If it is raining and the sun is shining at the same time and a rainbow appears, it is said that the fairies are combing their hair and dancing. A fairy’s couple is an elf (”vilac”), but there are fewer elves than fairies. That is why they kidnap young and honourable men, make young unhappily married couples quarrel in order to seduce the husbands. The seduced husbands then become clairvoyant elves. They are called ”caratani” (the magic elves) and ”vidogoje/vjedogonje” (the clairvoyant) and know the fairy knowledge. If they learn to call and charm snakes, they are called ”snake men” (”zmijari”).
All men resist the fairies in the beginning and fight them. Thunder can be heard then and storm or hail can start, so elves are sometimes called ”weather men” (”vrimenjaci”) or ”windmakers” (”sduhaci”). They are similar to magicians (warlocks) then. They marry the fairy unwillingly. That marriage is only temporary and unhappy and the fairies only wait for the day when they will escape with their child. The ones that make them pregnant become mute. But they lack nothing. They have things like treasure, heroism, etc. Fairies only bear female children. The water where they bathe their goldhaired child (or a child with a shiny star on its forehead) is poisonous. If anybody hurts their children, they cannot have a child of their own. If they steal a child, they will replace it with another child (”dijete podmece”). If they raise a stolen child, especially if it is an orphan, it will grow up to be strong, clever and happy. When the day fairies lose their light, they become dark, unpleasant and evil. They become the night fairies, ”nogoods” (”nedobrice”), usually water fairies or even witches.
Black wolves and ravens are their companions. They ruin fields, vineyards, orchards, pastures with wind, incessant rain, pest and diseases. In the evening they bathe in the moonlight luring naive young men and killing them by drowning, only sometimes rejuvenating them. The old Slavic ceremony called ”Rusalije” is connected with them. The word comes from the celtic word ”ros” meaning ”river”. The rituals lasted for a week before midsummer day. It was the ritual of honouring water and forest fairies that were actually the souls of young women who died too soon or drowned. There were twelve fairies, called ”Rusalke”, the daughters of Vodan. They live in water from autumn to spring and in trees or plants near springs, streams, rivers and lakes during the sunniest period of the year. That is why the mythical, holy tree is called the fairy tree, as well as the custom of decorating the tree with ribbons and the houses, gardens, animals and people with flowers and naming female children after fairy herbs like Biljana (herb), Boruta, Cvijeta (flower), Dubravka (oak), Grozdana (grape), Jela (fir), Ružica (Rose), Veronika/Perunika (iris, the Perun’s flower), Višnja (cherry).
They are represented as girls called ”ljelje”, ”kraljice” (the queens) or ”rusalije” (the river fairies). They are disguised as plants, animals or men. They use thread from the spinning wheel or coil to encompass the village, they bury a dead cock, dance lunar and solar dances in circles around ceremonial bonfires. They dance around the village wielding their swords and thus symbolically show the sun’s desire to come out of the night or winter time, become strong and jump high up to the sky again. The ceremonies of ”Rusalije” include ritual baths, drinking live water, decorating themselves with greenery and flowers, telling fortune from flower wreaths and dancing in circles. Croats who live near the river Mura still remember stories of the beautiful ”Mura maidens” who flaot above the water surface and lure charmed young men into water, then catch their feet under water and drag them to the bottom where they drown.
Fairies can be chased away with everyday things like sour milk, the flicking of a whip or holy cross. Thus say the ones who have abandoned the ancient religion and pronounced them to be the devil’s sisters. Fighting fairies (”bojovnice”) help heroes in wars with their prophecies, advice, encouragement, weapons, healing, burial of the dead, revenge. They also help them in their vengeance, for example because of treachery, perjury, etc. Later they transform into the heroic Glory (”Slava”), the godess of honour, heroism, victory and glory. When they are called ”rodjenice” or ”sudjenice” (the prophetess) they tell the fortune of a newborn baby. The fairies disappeared when people let them down, when songs disappeared and tools and musical instruments were replaced by weapons and curse. They swore on one century and will return soon. The psychoanalysts say that the fairies represent the temptation of the dark human instincts. People who succumb to them and fulfill them become outcasts and are marked for life.