You may have heard of fairies. But faeries?
The two seemed to have a lot of overlap—more in common then they were different, so I never really gave it much thought. The distinctions between the two didn’t become clear to me until recently, when I seemingly had my own initial brush with the fae.
The word “fairy” has kind of been appropriated. It brings to mind these Disney-like, uplifting bedtime folk stories for children-- where your own happily ever after is always just within arms reach if you can just dream big and work hard enough.
Fairies as a concept unto themselves tends to conjure up a specific kind of imagery: little humanoids with iridescent wings who wear pretty pink dresses and tiaras. Tinkerbell types.
The word “faerie” (sometimes “faery”), though, is reserved for a darker, more mischievous kind of creature. Nearly every culture seems to have myths or legends that reference faeries. They’re called a lot of different names: Brownies, Changelings, Sprites, Selkies, Windsingers to name a few.
Depending upon who you ask, faeries are angels or demons, deities or are elementals that have always been here--the precursors to human beings. Some of these creatures are kind-hearted and helpful, while others have more malicious intent. From the stories about them, though, it seems that all fae are tied to the Earth in some way and all are easily offended.
For as long as I can remember I have been enchanted by “fairy gardens” and in 2009, I fell deeply in love with the Ann Arbor Fairy Door Project while I was living there. (Tiny door installations “hidden” throughout the city where children often leave their own little offerings for the fae.) More recently, I as part of my journey into connecting with my own magic and ancestry, I have learned more about the folk traditions practiced by ancient Celtic and Gaelic people.
Earlier this year I “installed” my own fairy door on a tree stump near my apartment. Part of a tiny patch of unkempt Earth that I grew tired of looking at, I cleaned up the area to the best of my ability. I raked the soil to pull out all of the weeds and removed all of the garbage that carpenters had dropped and forgotten years ago: rusted screws and nails, broken glass and pieces of pipe.
I bought some succulents and in the following weeks I began adding little details that I thought might be cute—and in the back of my mind, imagined that little faerie creatures might like. Little windows, some moss, a walkway I constructed from twigs and hot glue and a white picket fence made the tree stump into a fully imagined house. I added a little table and chairs, a tiny tea set, a wagon, watering can and other miniature gardening tools. I even bought them a swing-set. (I recently discovered that my little swing-set went mysteriously missing, though. I think the fae want it back—so holler at me if you know anything about its disappearance.)
But, perhaps most importantly out of all of these gifts, was the offering bowl. A nod to my Irish roots, this was a designated space to leave them little treasures: coins, beads and charms from broken jewelry, doll shoes, forgotten Barbie accessories and game pieces.
Soon, two little neighbor girls, ages 3 and 5, noticed my little garden and everyday after school they were coming over to ask me questions about the faeries. “What kinds of things do the faeries like to eat? What do they like to do for fun? Do they read books?”
I would often remind them that the faeries were fictional and that what we were doing was just pretend, and then would answer their questions with imagination. But, they were quite little, and despite my requests that they not walk INSIDE of the garden, it kept being trampled in their excitement. My little garden was bringing me an unprecedented amount of joy and I found that I was spending more and more time interacting with it. While I was glad that it was making others happy, too, I was also afraid that it was going to end up ruined.
One day it occurred to me that adding more plants would mean the little kiddos wouldn’t be able to walk inside of it—so I headed to the nursery to find some pretty flowers. It took a little longer to pick out what I was looking for and get home again, so I ended up doing my gardening in the dark. My car’s headlamps provided the light I needed while I worked.
I liked the idea of starting from scratch, so I completely disassembled my little scene and set all of the furniture and offerings to the side. When I was finished, I had put in lots of different colorful plants (that I still don’t know the actual names of.) After I had removed all of the furniture and offerings from the garden, I noticed that I was feeling a bit itchy but I didn’t think much of it.
When I finished, I put everything back where I thought it looked nice, cleaned up and called it a night.
The next day, I was wearing shorts and standing in our living room when my husband pointed at me.
“Whoa, what happened to your leg?”
I looked down and saw that I had tons of bruising and welts on both of my legs.
“Something must have bit me while I was gardening,” I responded. “A spider, maybe?”
“Maybe,” he said.
I spent some time googling pictures of different kinds of bites. While posts about “ghost bites” and the supernatural like were plentiful, I didn’t end up finding a definitive answer about any kind of bug that left both bruising and welts on human skin.
A few friends insisted that I go to the urgent care, but since I had been there quite a bit in the previous weeks, I decided to just be a little extra kinder to that part of the body in the shower and apply some bacitracin ointment.
At Club Coven there’s a guy named Carlos who knows a lot about plants and bugs. I showed him a picture of my wounds and mentioned the following facts: a.) it apparently happened while I was gardening b.) That I was wearing long pants at the time and c.) I didn’t feel anything other than a bit of itchiness when it apparently happened, which didn’t really register with me at the time.
“The fae did that to you,” he said without hesitating.
I laughed out loud but quickly realized he was serious. “Oh, wait. You aren’t kidding,” I said.
“What did you do to piss them off?” he said.
I froze, still hung up on the idea that I was attacked by faeries.
“Umm. I planted flowers? I moved their stuff?”
He shook his head. “You can’t do that. They don’t like that.”
I stared at him for another moment.
“Make them a cup of hot milk and honey, leave it for them and apologize,” he said.
I just nodded, still processing that people believed faeries were real?
“I don’t drink real milk,” I said. “Can I use almond milk.”
“No,” he said. “It has to be actual dairy.”
After giving it some thought, I decided it was better to be safe than sorry. I went to Starbucks and requested a few honey packs and a short cup of whole milk. I mixed the concoction at home, put it in the microwave and left it for the faeries with an apology.
“I’m sorry I moved your things without asking first,” I hesitantly said aloud. “I hope you can forgive me.”
Then I went back upstairs and texted my sister: “I’m fucking nuts.”