by C. Cheek
Call them spirits, call them genii loci, call them lare or fey, the faeries that our ancestors knew and loved and feared are still with us today. Faeries have been courted since time immeasurable to guard the hearth, prevent stillbirths and keep the wolves from the flock. Making offerings to these faeries is an ancient tradition, one at the core of many forms of witchcraft. By learning where these fey gather, we can tap into their power. They are accessible. They are not mortal, but they take an interest in mortal affairs. Not only are they able to help us in our lives — they want to help. The fey can aid us in raising energy for spell work, they have the power to heal, and they make excellent guardians — sometimes attaching themselves to a home or bloodline for centuries. If we gain their favor, they can bring us fortune and prosperity, and, perhaps even more important, they can bring us wisdom and a connection with the divine.
The practice of courting faeries has waned, but the spirits themselves live on, hiding unseen in apartment complexes as they once hid in barns. Tradition says they can be summoned with simple gifts of food. Why not rekindle the friendship that humans and fey once shared? They still have the ability to bless and protect humans, all for the price of a crust of bread, or a dish of milk left out overnight. Make an offering, inviting the fey into your home so you can reap this benefit. It’s just like feeding birds: put out the food, and they will come. Simple, right?
A friend of mine used to live just west of Phoenix, and she liked to put out blocks of seed for quail in her back yard. The quail came, and it delighted her to watch them nibble at the block early in the morning. The doves fluttered around, cooing, and later the sparrows would gather to eat what remained. Then she moved to the piñon forests of central Arizona. Her new home, on the outskirts of Prescott, has even more wildlife than her old home in the suburbs did. Once again, she put out blocks of seed for the birds; only this time, it wasn’t quail that came. Javalinas — huge wild pigs — came down to the house, grunting and snorting and devouring all the seeds. Not only that, but once they associated her with food, they dug through her garbage and chased her when she tried to shoo them away. Quail are cute and harmless, but Javalinas can cause serious damage to both people and property. Her gift was accepted, but not by the recipient she wanted. Why should it be different with the fey?
Many of us, in our attempts to protect our homes, would like a little divine assistance. We’ve heard the tales of the tailor aided by the wee folk, or the milkmaid who got a new gown by sharing her bread with a forest gnome. Perhaps with an invitation, some respect and a few simple offerings, these gentle faeries will take a liking to us and shower us with their blessings. Why not invite them all into our homes, into our lives? If your intentions are good, then only good will come to you, right? Wrong. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Anything that has the power to heal also has the power to harm. The fey are not all benevolent. Remember the tales of children snatched by phookas, or milk soured in the pail. Be careful whom you invite into your home.
But how? First of all, tailor your ritual to specific fey. You wouldn’t print out fliers and distribute them at bikers’ shops if you wanted to have a genteel tea party. Why should it be different for faeries? Even the best families have a few black sheep, and even the nicest neighborhoods have a worn -down house. No matter how thorough your purification spells, a few malevolent spirits may still linger.
Be aware of your surroundings. Has anyone died in or near your home? How about your neighbor’s home, if you live in an apartment building? Imagine the following scenario: You’ve just moved into your new apartment. After purifying it, you wish to welcome the local spirits. Now imagine that, unbeknownst to you, the previous occupant of the apartment above you was murdered by his or her spouse. You could be asking an angry ghost to haunt you. Casting a general summoning near restless spirits is a bad idea.
So, how do you find out who’s around you? Observation. Are there places nearby that seem to always be unlucky? The parking meter that runs out a minute before you get there to put another quarter in. The sunny spot on your balcony that nevertheless kills every single marigold. Does your computer lock up more in this apartment than your old one? Sometimes too many things go wrong at once for coincidence. If you happen to live in a place with trickster faeries then you’ll want to do something about the malevolent beings before trying to summon the good ones.
There are three ways to do this: the passive way, the aggressive way and the middling road. The middling road would be to simply ask the spirit or faerie to leave. This may not work — some houses remain haunted forever, and many towns have bridges that the psychically sensitive refuse to cross late at night. If asking nicely doesn’t work, you can try appeasement. In the old days, they’d offer sacrifices, like paying “insurance” money to the local mafia to avoid getting into “accidents.” This is the passive way, and it is a good choice for the kind of people who let birds eat all the fruit they want rather than putting up nets. The aggressive way would be to cast a banishing — bell, book, candle and all. If you have reason to believe that truly evil spirits haunt the place where you live, this is a good solution, especially if you can’t afford to move.
Now you’ve evicted the troublemakers, and you want the good local spirits to feel welcome. After all, getting in touch with the otherworldly is what being a witch is about, right? How do you issue invitations only to your friends? Chances are, if you’ve lived in a place long enough, meditated often enough, you already know the local fey quite well. Maybe they don’t have names yet, maybe you don’t know what they look like, but you’ve got a nodding acquaintance. Give them names and a shape to wear. That warm protective spirit under the stairs might look like a kindly old man. That especially peaceful bench in the park might be watched over by a tall faerie in a blue gown. How does a stray dog learn its name? You start using it.
But what if it’s too late? What if, in a burst of enthusiasm, you passed out the spiritual fliers, and now you’ve got an out-of-control house party? It’s time for damage control. First, just like you would with a house party, designate some rooms out of bounds. Any room with a baby in it should be securely warded. While the Irish custom of hanging a pair of open scissors above the baby’s crib is a bad idea, there are other charms to protect children from evil. Egyptians use kohl and the sign of the eye. The Irish use rowan or iron, and nearly every culture uses salt. Pregnant women and women who are still recovering from childbirth are also susceptible to faerie attacks. Some books recommend pointing the toes of shoes away from the bed to keep the fey away. Most books about faeries will include some charm for warding, and experience will tell you which ones work.
Second, through meditation and visualization, find out the natures of the spirits living with you. Once you know who they are, you can clothe them in names. If you’re good at drawing, you can make sketches until one feels right. Alternately, you can look through books with pictures of the fey until you find an image that captures the spirits of those in your house. Don’t worry if they’re not exact. Faeries are mutable creatures, often take more than one shape, and if you treat them as benevolent protectors, they are more likely to stay that way. Like a stray dog, they want to know the name by which you call them, even if it’s not their only name.
Third, set aside specific places for them. Some people like to use birdhouses as faerie inns. Whether the faeries actually enter the dwelling or not is inconsequential — it’s sympathetic magic that says, “Here’s a place for you to be.” Leave your offerings in the same location every time — under the footbridge, in the corner of the kitchen, or even on your altar. Chances are, you’ll feel the presence grow stronger there.
Finally, treat your spiritual guests with respect. No one wants to be begged constantly for favors, especially not an immortal being who was once worshipped as a god. You shouldn’t shower them with gratitude, or try too hard to pin them down — both of these things make the fey want to leave. When feeding the birds in my yard, I pour the birdseed, stand back and if the sparrows choose to eat, I simply enjoy their presence. Just like with birds, you have to acknowledge that the fey are wild beings. Strive to live in harmony, neither asking too much nor giving too much, and the fey just might decide to offer blessings of their own free will.
Bonwick, James. Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions. Dorset Press, 1986.
Coven of Silver Light. Faerie Magick. http://members.lycos.co.uk/covensilverlight/faeriemagick.htm, Feb. 15, 2005.
de Grandis, Francesca. Ritual: How to Meet a Faerie. www.feri.com/frand/Wicca5.html, Feb. 19, 2005.
Fabrisia. History of Italian Stregheria. www.fabrisa.com/history.htm Feb. 15, 2005.
Franklin, Anna and Paul Mason. Fairy Lore. Capall Bann Publishing, 1999.
Froud, Brian and Alan Lee. Faeries. New York: Harry N. Abrams. Inc., 1978.