In our sixth themed episode, we talk about fairy ladies from five out of the six Celtic Nations! We discuss whether or not fairies and humans can ever live together, Christian-influenced morality, and how beliefs in fairies have changed over time. We discuss Margot la Fée from Brittany, Joan the Wad from Cornwall, Nicnevin from Scotland, Aibell from Ireland, and the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach from Wales.
,“Nymphes and faeries”- Renaissance influences upon the ‘national fairy’
Fairy Lore: A Handbook by D.L. Ashliman
Margot la Fée
,Margot la Fée—abookofcreatures.com
Joan the Wad
,The History of Joan the Wad - Queen of the Cornish Piskies
,English Folk-Rhymes,,by G.F. Northall
The Encyclopedia of Spirits by Judika Illes
,Nicnevin: The Scottish Witch Mother | Kelden
The Encyclopedia of Spirits by Judika Illes
Celtic Mythology A to Z by Gienna Matson and Jeremy Roberts
,The Irish Fer-side and Banshee
,Gods and Fighting Men: Part I: Part I Book IV: Aoibhell
,The Midnight Court—translated by Noel Fahey
Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach
,Welsh legends: The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach
Zoe: Hello, and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts.
Lizzie: I'm Lizzie.
Zoe: And I'm Zoe. And today, Lizzie, how are you doing?
Lizzie: Oh, I'm fine. So I'm taking a class right now about constructed languages. So like, you know, fictional languages and all that kind of stuff. And we were talking about Tolkien. And he was talking about, well, he had this idea about constructed languages, which was like that languages have to have a legend behind them. And in order to be like, or like, because he said that Esperanto, for example, was a deader language than Latin because there was no legend behind it. And that's why he like wrote The Lord of the Rings was because he wanted a legend for his fictional languages.
Lizzie: I thought that was interesting, because it's like an interesting idea between like, the connection between language and mythology.
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely.
Lizzie: That not just as language like informed mythology, but also the other way around, and how mythology and like legend are important in making a language like a natural language, sort of like a, you know, something like dead, you know. So that was interesting. Something to think about.
Zoe: Yeah, I think it also like, is a way of thinking about culture, right? Because language is such a huge part of culture. And then also like, the myths and legends of a culture are a huge part of that culture as well. And so like, and those things all come together to, like, create a sense of identity. And so if you don't really have that, then like, no one's going to be interested in speaking that language.
Lizzie: Yeah, exactly. I thought that was like a really interesting way of thinking about mythology and how important it is for like culture. And just the way that we speak. And that was so that was really interesting. I thought, and I'm writing an essay about it. Now.
Zoe: That's awesome. Yeah. Yeah, I've been I think it's— and constructed languages are really cool.
Lizzie: They are, they're interesting. How are you?
Zoe: I'm good. I'm getting vaccinated tomorrow, first shot, very excited. Very nervous, because I don't want to feel really gross afterwards. But if it happens, it happens. So might re-dye my hair today. So that's also exciting.
Lizzie: Oh, what color?
Zoe: Turquoise again.
Lizzie: Ah, okay.
Zoe: Yeah. Yeah, so those are the main things happening in my life right now.
Lizzie: It's very exciting.
Zoe: It's sort of warm out. It snowed earlier this week, but I hope that it will stay spring again, because I like when it's spring out. And yeah, those are the main things. Yeah, so Lizzie, it is our first themed episode and a while. So what are we talking about today?
Lizzie: Okay, so today we're talking about Celtic fairies. So fairies are type of mythical being found throughout European folklore, though there are fairy-like creatures, found in many other parts of the world as well, for example, the Peri from Iranian folklore and the Yaksha from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. However, the conception of the fairy as we know it is a specifically European creature. So the characterization of fairies varies a lot from place to place, but typically, they're thought to be humanlike in appearance, though their size varies from human size to as small as half an inch tall, to as large as a giant, and possessing magical powers.
Lizzie: Modern depictions usually show fairies with butterfly- or dragonfly-like wings, but this is usually not the case in folklore, and only became common from the Victorian Age onward. There are a lot of seemingly contradictory accounts of what fairies look like, often even from the same region or time period, like for example, their sizes and whether they have a solid form, or if they're able to pass through things, or if they can take the shape of animals etc. But these contradictions are usually attributed to fairies' capriciousness, and the fact that they often, like, change their forms. And also sometimes they are thought to be able to magically distort human perception.
Zoe: Hmm, cool!
Lizzie: Something interesting is that fairies are generally understandable by humans. But there are also accounts that say that there is a unique fairy language. In one of the first fairy legends which was recorded by Gerald of Wales in 1188, he said that the fairy language is similar to Greek.
Lizzie: Yeah, I find that interesting, because I mean, it could just be that Greek was supposedly extremely foreign and exotic to an English speaker, but also there's speculation that our view of fairies descended from the nymphs of Greek mythology. In Renaissance writings about fairies; for example, by Michael Drayton in 1612, fairies and nymphs are interchangeable.
Zoe: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
Lizzie: Yeah, I mean, they're very similar. John Kruse, the author of the website British Fairies, says that there are comparisons that can be drawn between British fairies and Greek and Roman deities, as they all likely originated from the same Indo-European source. For example, there was a Roman goddess of fortune and prosperity, Abundantia, who can be linked with the fairy queen Habundia. And there's also Hecate, who, as we know, was a goddess of magic, and she was linked to the fairy queen Mab. Another interesting thing about fairies is the fact that they don't like to be referred to directly. They prefer if instead of calling them fairies you call them something less direct. For example, fair folk, forest folk, children of the twilight, good neighbors, hidden people, invisible people, people of the hills, quiet folk, or the others.
Lizzie: Fairies also tend not to like humans calling them by their personal names as they can often lose their power over humans when the humans know their name. An obvious example of this is Rumpelstiltskin, though there are others. This reflects ancient beliefs about the sanctity of names.
Zoe: Yeah, definitely names. They're huge in fairy mythology and stuff.
Lizzie: Yeah, for sure. It was thought that fairy mythology and Christianity were two competing and mutually antagonistic belief systems. This makes sense as fairies are typically representative of pre-Christian systems of belief. Similar to how Christian iconography can repel vampires, it can also serve as a defense against fairies and elves, which also goes to show you that fairies were often viewed very negatively.
Lizzie: Though there are fairy beliefs in many parts of Europe, today we'll just be focusing on Celtic fairies so as to narrow in on a specific region instead of talking about all of European fairies. And also Celtic fairy lore tends to be pretty unified. So, there are six territories that are considered to be Celtic nations which are Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. We have one example of each of these except for from the Isle of Man.
Zoe: We're very sorry. We don't mean to—
Lizzie: We did try.
Zoe: We couldn't, we couldn't find a good one. I'm sorry. We couldn't find a good lady.
Zoe: Yeah. So, our first lady is going to be from Brittany and known as Margot La Fée. So this is actually not so much a singular lady as a type of fairy. They are, as I said before, native to Brittany, especially the regions of Collinée, Lamballe, Moncontour, and Côtes d’Armour. The name Margot seems to be a diminutive for Morgan or Morgana and taken from Morgan le Fey.
Lizzie: That makes sense.
Zoe: Yeah. Although besides their name, they don't really seem to be super similar to each other. Or like the legends aren't like that similar. They're mainly associated with caves, snakes and megaliths. Because actually beaches are associated with other types of fairies. They can appear as older or younger women or animals such as snakes, which apparently occurs involuntarily at times. And when they're in their snake form, they're apparently their most vulnerable.
Lizzie: Interesting. So like, they turn into snakes, when like, or does it just happen randomly? Or is it like when they're feeling a certain way? Or like?
Zoe: I'm wondering if there's like some sort of, you know, they curse each other, whatever. There's all this sort of like inter-fairy drama going on, and they—
Lizzie: [laughs] True!
Zoe: —cursed to turn into a snake and it's like, "no, not again!" or something like that.
Lizzie: That would be really fun.
Zoe: They have many powers, and they're actually often malevolent. They can swap babies with changelings, they can haunt tombs, and, as you said before, they are repelled by Christian iconography. Sometimes, if they take a shine to a young shepherd boy, they may spirit him away for a while to a cave for their own pleasure.
Zoe: But they can be kind as well. Often, they'll care for the livestock of their neighbors and even feed them if their owners are away. If they're very hungry, they might rip a cow to shreds and devour it completely. But they'll restore it back to life overnight for its owners to consume in the following days.
Lizzie: Wow. That's a pretty fun power.
Zoe: Yeah, they've got- they can like literally manipulate reality. It's pretty wild.
Lizzie: That is pretty cool.
Zoe: They often guard large hoards of treasures and can reward those who treat them kindly with fabulous wealth. But they'll also often punish those who try to trick them or take advantage of their generosity. So some advice if they offer you treasure, you must only take exactly as much as you're told you can take, no more, and follow their instructions exactly. One legend tells of a man who secretly took more than he was told he could take and then the Margot took a son away from him forever as punishment. So like don't mess around. Don't mess around with them.
Lizzie: That's a good rule of thumb for fairies in general.
Zoe: Absolutely. Absolutely. Don't think you can outsmart them, you never can.
Zoe: The Margot also offer more physical gifts besides wealth like loaves of bread that never shrink in size as you eat them.
Lizzie: That's a great gift.
Zoe: Yeah. However, if you offer a slice to someone the fairies have decided to be unworthy, the loaf will no longer be everlasting. And then it'll just be a loaf of bread.
Zoe: So small acts of kindness are well rewarded by the fairies and there are a few stories associated with that. So the first story involved two men who are harvesting wheat when they came across a small grass snake. One of the men wanted to kill it, but the other told him it would be wrong to kill a small harmless animal. It turned out that the grass snake was a fairy in disguise, and her mother appeared to the man thanking him for saving her child's life. She gave him two belts in return, one for him and one for his friend. The belt for him, the one who had saved the snake, was pure gold; and then he took the other belt and put it on a tree, and it withered and died.
Lizzie: [laughs] That's awesome.
Zoe: Yeah, so that's basically the kind of rewards that you get for behavior from the Margot. The second story involves a man who was one day approached by a Margot and asked him for a favor. She told him that if you went to a certain bridge at sunrise and brought a large washtub, he would find a small grass snake. He needed to place the washtub over the grass snake and sit on it all day. If people ask what he was doing, he was to say that he was waiting for the blacksmith to fix the tub. At sundown, he would remove the tub and find a reward for his help. So he did as he was told, and sure enough, he found a grass snake. He placed the tub over the top of it and sat all day despite the taunts from passersby. And at sundown he lifted the tub and found a beautiful maiden underneath. She was the Margot's daughter who got transformed into a snake one day every year, and he had been keeping her safe the entire day. He was rewarded with gold and silver for the rest of his life.
Lizzie: That's great. Very Shrek in a way.
Zoe: No way, yeah! I definitely see that.
Lizzie: Just, just one night a year though.
Zoe: Yeah. It's unclear to me if that like broke the curse or who's just like one day he was helping.
Lizzie: I was thinking it was like one day and then next year they'll find someone else to bestow wealth upon.
Zoe: Interesting, yeah.
Lizzie: Should they succeed.
Zoe: So sometimes Margots would recruit human midwives to help them with childbirth. And so in order to do that, they would grant the midwives a special second sight to see fairies, but they would always make sure to take it away afterwards. Otherwise, if someone was walking around with second sight without their permission, they would sometimes gouge out someone's eyes or blind them so they couldn't see fairies again.
Zoe: And so that's basically the Margot, we see a lot of classic fairy stuff in this one, we've got a lot of rewarding the good and punishing the evil and some sort of demonic implication. We've got this association with snakes, the repulsion by Christian iconography. They're not exactly evil, but they're not exactly good. Basically, treat them well and they'll treat you well. Mistreat them and watch out.
Lizzie: I think they're really fun. I think this reminds me of stuff we were talking about, I think in the Cinderella episode, about how it'll be like the good one gets rewarded and then the bad one like thrown down a well or whatever.
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely. It's very much that idea of you either. . . It's very, like sort of black and white morality, like, either you're good or you're bad. And if you're good, you get rewarded, if you're bad, you get punished and sort of like, in a way the things that happen to you in life are seen as judgments of your character as opposed to just random luck, you know.
Zoe: Which is just a huge theme in like, especially Christian-dominated societies in general.
Lizzie: Definitely, yeah, that makes sense. It's a pretty fun and and very anxiety-inducing way of living.
Zoe: Yeah, it's like, oh, your crops failed? You must have done something wrong, you know, [both laugh] like, as opposed to maybe you just had a bad luck, you know, but yeah.
Lizzie: They sound like a really fun figure.
Zoe: So Lizzie, who are we talking about next?
Lizzie: Okay, so my next lady is Joan the Wad, who is Cornish, and, before I begin, I just want to say that I was having trouble with the pronunciation of her name, because, well you'll see why shortly, but um, I'm just going with Wad [wɑːd] because that's what I thought it was at first, but you'll see what I mean in a second.
Lizzie: So, Joan the Wad is the queen of the pixies in Cornish folklore.
Lizzie: Pixies, who were also sometimes called piskies, are typically nature spirits from Cornwall or Devonshire who are associated with wells, hills, groves, springs and rivers and they're thought to be troublemakers who played tricks on travelers. It's kind of a tongue twister I just said.
Zoe: Yeah, troublemaker tricks on travelers.
Lizzie: [laughs] Yeah. Yeah. Anyway, so the "wad" in Joan the Wad is an archaic word for torch. So her name means Joan the Torch.
Lizzie: Yeah! So, Joan the Wad is thought to be the Cornish version of ignis fatuus or a will o' the wisp, which is an atmospheric ghost light that leads travelers astray, often to their death. They're traditionally thought to be malicious fairies, or else the spirits of children who died before being baptized.
Lizzie: In fact, Joan the Wad's male counterpart, the king of the pixies, is Jack o' Lantern.
Zoe: Yes, I have heard of that guy.
Lizzie: Yeah, the two are considered to be will o' the wisp type characters who were also the subject of this one Cornish folk rhyme which goes, "Jack the lantern, Joan the Wad / that tickled the maid and made her mad / light me home, the weather's bad."
Lizzie: So you see how in this rhyme Joan the Wad rhymes with mad and bad. So you'd think, oh, it's pronounced wad [wæd]. But anyway, moving on. From what I could gather, it seems that Jack o' Lantern was a really malevolent will o' the wisp which I guess is where jack o' lanterns come from, because they're there to ward off evil or scare people. But Joan the Wad was much more benevolent figure who was invoked as a spirit of protection. She was and still is the subject of love charms with her image which supposedly bring healing, romantic happiness, and good luck. She's also the subject of another rhyme, which is, "good fortune will nod if you carry upon you Joan the Wad."
Zoe: I see.
Lizzie: [laughing] You see why I was having an issue? Because in the first one it rhymes with mad, in the second one it rhymes with nod, so like, which is, which is correct? I have no idea.
Zoe: I mean, like maybe they're just like, messing with the pronunciation to make the rhyme work in one of them, you know, like that happens.
Lizzie: Yeah, but I don't know which one. [both laugh] Yeah, so anyway, there are only two pixies known by name, supposedly, who are Joan the Wad, and Jack o' Lantern. The rest of them seem to mainly serve as like nameless will o' the wisp type figures leading travelers astray. And they're distinctive for the sound of their giggling which is where the old Cornish saying "laugh like a pixie" comes from.
Zoe: Oh, that's so freaky, though, because imagine if you're a traveler, and you're traveling at night through like the woods or whatever, and you just hear giggling like, oh my god.
Lizzie: It's very ominous.
Zoe: Terrifying. I love will o' the wisp mythology, I just think it's so interesting
Lizzie: It is.
Zoe: I mean, just the idea of like, I mean, it just reflects, you know, like, the time and like, if you're traveling a lot, and you know, seeing lights and trying to follow the lights and like, the fear of being led astray and lost and the fact that you know, the wilderness is like, I mean, I've told I think I said this in the Pontianak episode, like, I love scary woods stories. [both laugh]
Lizzie: I know!
Zoe: And, you know, it shows like, you know, we've got one narrow path and if you go off the path, something bad is gonna happen and then these spirits try to take you off the path and like, that's—
Lizzie: Exactly. But like, if you saw some like little ghost light, you'd probably follow it.
Lizzie: Right? I mean, unless you're like, no, it's gonna lead me astray. But like, what are you gonna do if you see like a little light in like a dark path? You're probably gonna follow the light.
Zoe: I mean, yeah. And the idea of you know, light lighting the way, dark being bad, you know? I don't know. It's just—
Lizzie: It make sense! If it's like, by accident or something as you lose your path. But then I read in some will o' the wisp thing that now it's explained by spontaneous combustion or whatever? Which is just—
Zoe: Yes, swamp gas.
Lizzie: Yeah, it just loses its whimsy I feel like. Times today are so boring.
Zoe: Mm hmm. I mean, who's to say there isn't, you know, a woman and a man piskie like, carrying lanterns to lead me astray in the woods at night, like, who's to say?
Lizzie: Yeah, exactly. Could be Joan the Wad.
Lizzie: So ,will o' the wisps are typically negative or at best neutral figures, but Joan the Wad is typically more positive it seems. I read in one source like to try to explain this sort of thing where will o' the wisps are negative, but Joan the Wad is positive that mostly she does good deeds, but then her pixie nature is hard to fight, So she seems to be a bit of a troublemaker, so that's why she can be, she is a will o' the wisp but she's also more of like a fortune spirit as well.
Lizzie: Also, pixies are associated with the color green, though, Joan the Wad is usually depicted naked.
Zoe: Huh. Yeah.
Lizzie: Yeah. So, who's next?
Zoe: Alrighty. So next we have Nicnevin, who is the Scottish queen of the fairies.
Zoe: Yeah, so her name comes from the Scottish surname meaning daughter of the little saint, most likely, but despite this holy name, she is primarily associated with actions that most early Scottish Christians would consider rather unholy.
Lizzie: Wow, Okay.
Zoe: Yeah. So she was seen as the mother witch of Scottish mythology and heavily associated with the Goddess Hecate.
Zoe: And she's said to preside over the Festival of the Dead that takes place during Samhain, which is the end of the harvest season festival in Celtic culture and mythology and it's sort of a precursor to our Halloween. The earliest written reference to her is an Alexander Montgomery's poetic duel or Flyting with Patrick Hume of Polwarth, in which Montgomery insults Hume by stating that he was stolen as a baby by Nicnevin and her minions and raised to be a devilish imp. Sick burn.
Lizzie: [laughing] Yeah.
Zoe: She was later described by Sir Walter Scott who called her the mother witch and said that she is a quote, "gigantic and malignant female, the Hecate of this mythology, who rode on the storm and marshalled the rambling host of wanders under her grim banner, this hag (in all respects the reverse of the Mab or Titania of the Celtic creed) was called Nicnevin."
Lizzie: She sounds really great to me.
Zoe: Yeah So she is very much like a fairy queen. But she's also like this dark fairy queen, she's very much like the evil queen. I mean like, again like we sort of have this neutral like, fairies are kind of good kind of bad, depends, but this one she's just all bad.
Lizzie: I think it's interesting that they are comparing her to Hecate, but it's like a negative comparison.
Lizzie: 'Cause Hecate wasn't all bad. Like—
Lizzie: She did a lot like she protected people and stuff, you know?
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely. And Scott also claims that the title of Nicnevin was given to witches of prominent status. And she was said to wear a long gray cloak, have a magic wand that allowed her to turn rocks into water and sea into land.
Lizzie: Ooh, magic wand. That's fun.
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely. And it's interesting because a lot of fairies like don't have wands for the most part. But like in the early fairy folklore and mythology, they don't really, but that in this story, it seems like she does have a wand. Which is cool.
Lizzie: It's fun.
Zoe: Yeah. It's possible the name Nicnevin comes from a real person and real historical events. So in Scott's letters on demonology and witchcraft, he describes a ritual led by a witch named Marion MacIngarach, who he calls the "chief priestess or nicnevin of the company". Then, in the Historie and the Life of King James the Sext, there's a mention of a woman named Nic Neville, who was apparently a notable sorceress that was condemned to death for witchcraft. And then finally in 1643, a man named John Brughe was condemned to death for practicing witchcraft, which apparently he learned from a woman named Noance VcClerich. She was said to be the sister of a woman named Nik Neiving, who was called "that notorious and infamous witch of Monzie".
Lizzie: Very fun.
Zoe: Yes. Regardless of her origins, it is clear that she is now a very powerful figure. And although she seems to be primarily associated with witchcraft, as I said, she is definitely associated with fairies as well. She's also referenced in several pieces of pop culture about fairies as the fairy queen. Perhaps the most notable being Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tale trilogy, in which there is a fairy queen named Nicnevin.
Lizzie: Have you read that?
Zoe: I have not but my sister read them a lot when I was a kid.
Lizzie: Oh, okay.
Zoe: And I was looking at the Wikipedia page for them recently for some reason I was like oh my gosh, Nicnevin, like, there we go. And it seems that, so, overall, as we said, Scotland has a very highly negative view of the fairies compared to other places, which seem to have a more neutral to semi-positive view or like just sort of a more like, it is what it is, like they're there and we just kind of have to deal with them view and my guess is it's probably due to Christian influence, sort of viewing them and their associations with paganism and things that are not Christian and like, you know, pagan holidays like especially because Nicnevin was associated with Samhain, which was a big pagan holiday for the Celtic people, turning them into this really evil and malevolent force in order to like spread Christianity.
Lizzie: Yeah. Yeah, because fairy belief was very like the antithesis of Christianity. Like there was magic. There was like paganism. All that stuff.
Zoe: Powerful women...
Lizzie: True. [laughs] So my next lady is from Ireland, and she's called Aibell. She's also called Aibheall, depends on the spelling. And she's an Irish fairy queen of Northern Munster, in Ireland, and the protector spirit and possibly ancestress of the O'Brien clan. Which is not just anyone named O'Brien. It was like a noble clan, I guess.
Zoe: Yeah, yeah.
Lizzie: She's also the banshee of the O'Brien clan, who appears to herald the death of a family member, except instead of keening, she signals the upcoming death with the sounds of her golden harp.
Zoe: Oh, well, that sounds a lot nicer than a banshee.
Lizzie: Yeah. Although when you associate it with death, it becomes probably a bit negative sounding. The harp is only audible to the person about to die and their family. Her name likely comes from the Irish aoibh meaning beauty or aoibhinn meaning beautiful. She also owns a cloak of darkness that renders its wearer invisible, and her sacred animal is a white cat. And her enemy is Cliodhna.
Lizzie: Who we talked about in the love goddesses episode.
Zoe: Yes! Oh, I was thinking about that, because she's also sort of known as like Queen of the Banshees, and she's associated with a different clan.
Lizzie: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, I couldn't find quite like a reason for their rivalry. It says that their rivalry is such that you shouldn't worship the two of them side by side. And apparently Cliodhna once cast a spell that turned Aibell into a white cat. I couldn't find an actual reason behind the rivalry, though I did find that Cliodhna presides over South Munster while Aibell presides over North Munster.
Zoe: I see.
Lizzie: So maybe it has to do with that.
Zoe: Yeah, interesting. Very interesting.
Lizzie: Yeah. She also appears in a number of works of literature, but her appearances are very different, as you'll see. So she appears and Lady Gregory's Gods and Fighting Men, which was a collection of stories about Irish mythology translated from early Irish in 1902. In Gods and Fighting Men, she appears at the Battle of Clontarf which was a battle that took place in 1014 that was very important in Ireland's history. You know of it? I didn't, I hadn't heard of it.
Zoe: Yes. Well, I just know of it because it's featured in Njál's saga.
Zoe: And the reason why it's featured is it's sort of seen as the end of the Golden Age of Vikings, basically. And like Christianity wins in Ireland and like all sorts of symbolism of Good Friday and Easter and stuff. But like, yeah, that's how I've heard of it. It is a big deal.
Lizzie: Yeah, and Aibell was also there. And in the story, she had fallen in love with a young man called Dubhlaing ua Artigan, who was about to go fight in the battle, and Aibell wanted to stop him so she covered him with the invisibility cloak I mentioned earlier, then he was invisible and he was like, striking down his enemies while concealed, but that gave him like a bit of an unfair advantage, so he ended up throwing the cloak off of himself so people could see him. And in the end, Aibell begged him to quit, but he didn't and ended up dying in battle.
Zoe: Aww. Very noble.
Lizzie: Very. She also appears in Cúirt An Mheán Oíche or The Midnight Court by Brian Merriman, which was a comic poem, written in Irish in 1780, in which she is a prominent character. The poem provides some insight into the marriage conventions of 18th century Ireland through the eyes of the unmarried protagonist who is brought to Queen Aibell's court by a giantess where Aibell chastises him for wasting his manhood while there are so many women who want to be married. The poem revolves around a few people making their cases in front of Aibell as to the fate of marriage in Ireland. Like, there was one old man who was like, "marriage should be outlawed", and there's like a young woman who was like, "men treat women terribly, they should marry more of us" and like, you know.
Zoe: Huh, that's really interesting.
Lizzie: Because I guess at the time not enough young people were getting married.
Zoe: I guess so, yeah.
Lizzie: Yeah. She ends up ruling that all Irish laymen must marry before 21. And if they don't, they will be flogged by Ireland's women.
Zoe: That's fun.
Lizzie: Like she's just giving Irish women permission, or rather encouragement, to flog unmarried men over a certain age.
Lizzie: She also tells women to target the romantically indifferent, homosexuals, and male seducers.
Zoe: Hmm. [both laugh] Okay.
Lizzie: [laughing] Everyone's gonna be like, why are you laughing at that? It's okay we'll cut that out.
Zoe: It's okay.
Lizzie: So we don't appear to be homophobic. [laughs]
Zoe: We're not homophobic, Lizzie.
Lizzie: We're gay.
Zoe: We're gay, it's okay.
Lizzie: However, she also declares that abolishing priestly celibacy isn't her domain and can only be done by the Vatican.
Zoe: Of course.
Lizzie: And she also says that she thinks that the Pope will end up allowing priests to act on their carnal urges.
Zoe: She was wrong about that.
Lizzie: She sure was. And at the end of the poem, the narrator wakes up and it was all a nightmare. It's pretty fun, honestly.
Zoe: That's a really interesting poem. I kind of want to read it now. Like—
Lizzie: You should!
Zoe: There's so much going on there.
Lizzie: I'll have a link in the show notes.
Zoe: Oh, okay. Yeah, absolutely.
Lizzie: I was reading a translation into English. It was pretty fun. I enjoyed it.
Zoe: I really want to know the historical context, because like, what was going on?
Lizzie: Yeah, you have to wonder a little bit. But it's a really interesting poem, because it was like sort of playing on this Irish tale, like poem type called aisling which was like a vision poem where a woman would like appear, and she represented Ireland, kind of, I didn't look that much into it. But I thought it was really interesting because these two appearances of Aibell are really, really different. The first one, she's like this aggrieved woman like over her mortal lover, and she's like, sort of cheating to help him survive the war. And in the second one, she's a queen and she, i thought was interesting that she's a fairy queen, but she's making rules for mortals. She's saying, like, you have to get married otherwise, you'll be flogged and... but I thought it was pretty fun. And it was just like a little fun thing, where it's like, she was encouraging all these women to beat people and being like, it's okay if they die, blah, blah, blah. I don't know. I thought it was pretty fun.
Zoe: Yeah, very girlboss of her.
Lizzie: Very! It was just very comedic. And—
Lizzie: —obviously, it's supposed to be negative, because he wakes up from a nightmare. But.
Lizzie: I think her whole appearance is is very chaotic and enjoyable.
Zoe: Yeah, well, it looks like she's trying to have power over the men in her life. And it just doesn't seem to be working out for her. Like she's trying to have power, or at least some power over the man that she's in love with and be like, don't die, please. And he's like—
Zoe: —I'm gonna sac- I have to be like a noble warrior or whatever. And like, fight fairly and die. And it's like, no, I didn't want that. I just wanted to be with you and that sort of thing.
Lizzie: And then the second one, she's like really looking out for the women because the women are like, they're not marrying us, they're doing all this stuff to us, like really unfair. And then she's like, well, I'm going to make them behave better under threat of flogging.
Lizzie: So that's pretty fun.
Zoe: Absolutely. That's great. Our final woman today is the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach who is the Welsh Lady of the Lake, although she is not the same lady associated with King Arthur that we covered in Episode One. She is just associated with a lake.
Lizzie: They're just both ladies of lakes.
Zoe: They're both ladies who—
Lizzie: Different lakes.
Zoe: Yeah, come out of lakes and that's about where the similarities end. So she is associated with the village of Myddfai in Carmarthenshire, Wales. So the legend of her is that there was a boy who would graze his sheep and cattle around the lake Llyn y Fan Fach and he would spend his days gazing into the waters of the lake and daydreaming. And he spent many years of his life that way until he had grown into the age of marriage. One day, while he was gazing into the water, he saw a beautiful woman take shape and walk out of the water. He was immediately entranced and fell in love with her. She had mystical powers and she showed him that their future would be full of wealth and respect if he married her. And he agreed. However, she had a few conditions to their marriage. First of all, you must never strike her three times.
Lizzie: Fair enough.
Zoe: Yes, absolutely. He couldn't reveal where she came from to anyone else in the village.
Lizzie: That's also pretty fair.
Zoe: Mm hmm. So after their wedding, the man experienced much good fortune. His cows and sheep all grew fat and healthy. He was able to sell them at the market for good prices. He had three sons with her and his wife helped run the household. He gained a reputation as a respectable businessman and farmer far and wide. However, as he grew in his wealth and prestige, he became arrogant at times, sometimes ignoring his friends or going back on promises. And eventually, people began to trust him less and he lost out on business ventures because of this. This caused him to become more angry and wrathful. And unfortunately, he began to take it out on his wife. He struck her once, twice and three times. Each time he apologized and begged her for forgiveness, but it always happened again. The third time, his wife looked him straight in the eye, and returned to the light.
Lizzie: As she should.
Zoe: As she returned to the lake, she called all the animals on their farm, and they followed her into the water below. Her husband and sons were left weeping on the edge of the lake, fruitlessly crying for her forgiveness.
Lizzie: It's sad for her sons. They didn't do anything.
Zoe: Yeah. And that's the story.
Lizzie: I think it's a great story. [Zoe laughs] It's very, like, you know, warning against beating your wife, which is a very good moral.
Zoe: Yeah, it's like she set boundaries, and he broke her boundaries. And she was like, no, and then she left.
Lizzie: Very crane wife. Different, but also—
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely.
Zoe: Yeah. So there are also alternative versions of the story in which the strikes are actually not violent. So the first strike occurs on their wedding night, and it's just him flicking her on the back of the hand. The second strike occurs at their christening, when their wife is crying out of joy, and he taps her on the shoulder to ask what's wrong.
Lizzie: Well, that's not a strike.
Zoe: I mean, it is according to the fairies, okay?
Lizzie: Okay, fair enough. Fairy rules.
Zoe: The final strike happens much later, as he's being a lot more careful than before. But at the funeral of a child, she suddenly laughs out loud. And he taps her on the shoulder in shock and asks her how she could possibly be laughing at such a sad occasion. She tells him that as a fairy, she could see the child was happy and free and the other world, and also that he has struck her for a third time, and now she would return the lake. And as she returned, she summoned all their livestock, and they followed her back. So that's the alternative form of the story.
Lizzie: That's interesting, because it's like, is he not allowed to touch her at all?
Zoe: Yeah, it's very much like it feels a lot more unfair, this version of the story, basically.
Zoe: It's like, what, what is he supposed to do, you know?
Lizzie: Yeah, true.
Zoe: However, there is an epilogue to the story called the Physicians of Myddfai. So the man was devastated and he lived the rest of his life and guilt. His business was in ruins, and he spent his life pining. So his three sons lived with him and looked after him. Sometimes they would go back to the lake to search for their mother. One day, she appeared and taught them the art of medicine and herbalism. She said they would become great healers who would teach all humans the art of medicine, and they did.
Lizzie: That's very noble.
Zoe: So in this epilogue of the story, she doesn't abandon her son, she does come back and give them like a way to make their lives and give them their own sources of well being, which is good.
Lizzie: Mm hmm. Yeah.
Zoe: And so to me, the story shows a more sympathetic view of fairies, but also one that fundamentally divides them from humans. It's clear from the lady and the man's failed marriage that humans and fairies can't live together for a long time. One day, they'll have to return to their own worlds. My thoughts about the second version of the story in which the strikes are not actually violent is that in two of the three strikes, it's showing her not fitting into the human world. Like, she's crying at a christening, she's laughing at a funeral. And both times he's like, what are you doing?
Lizzie: That's true.
Zoe: And so for me, it's sort of showing like she's not fitting into the human world. She's like, not reacting appropriately in those situations. And that's possibly one of the reasons why those strikes are like considered grievances is because he's challenging her or like telling her that she's not acting correctly.
Lizzie: That makes sense. And what I was thinking was that like, she's different from the rest of the fairies because the rest of the fairies are like so separate from the human world but then like what you were saying, like, she's integrated but then she's like, ultimately rejected by human world.
Zoe: Yeah. Like, ultimately, it just doesn't work out. And you know, like, I mean, she says like, clearly she has a very different view of what's happening at the funeral cuz she can see that the child's happy and the other world and that- so she's not sad. And obviously the humans are still sad because they can't see that. But then that just separates her from the humans and it just doesn't work.
Zoe: So I mean, those are my- that's my thought on that story. I think it's a really interesting story.
Lizzie: I agree. I think it's nice.
Zoe: So, overall, like I said, there's a sort of general sense of ambivalence in the relationship between humans and fairies. A lot of times, it's sort of like the humans, and the fairies coexist side by side, and the fairies are much more powerful, humans sometimes will interact with them, and sometimes they can be rewarded or they can be punished. And often, it's basically a punishment for humans messing up or reward for human behavior that we're seeing. And so in some ways, the fairies actually kind of remind me of the medieval view of God.
Lizzie: Oh, interesting.
Zoe: Yeah. So in this view, God is seen as more fickle and someone you need to work really hard to please, if you fail to please them, they'll punish you. Therefore, like I said, before, any misfortunes are not seen as simple bad luck, but a judgment on your character and character and morals determine how well you do in life, and also in, of course, a Christian worldview, how you do and the afterlife as well. So it really reflects the larger trend of black and white medieval Christian worldview, you are either good and will be rewarded or bad and will be punished. There's no really room for a middle ground of like, you got confused, or you really needed some extra gold for your family or something like that, you know, like there's no room for humans to be human and have flaws.
Lizzie: And there's also times when the judgment is a little bit unfair, where it's like, he tapped her on the shoulder, and now she's gone.
Zoe: Yeah. And it's just again, like humans aren't allowed to be humans, they have to be perfect, or else they're evil. And I just think that's interesting.
Lizzie: Yeah. And I think a lot of the stories displayed here are like from times when Christianity was adopted, and it was like simultaneous to Christianity was also having fairy beliefs that probably originated a long time ago. So in that way, it makes sense that these fairies would have some sort of Christian worldview at the same time.
Zoe: Yeah. And then that makes sense that they're, you know, in some ways vilified, because they're, like, seen as the evil ones, or like, ones that are being the evil spirits that lure you away to your death in the swamps, or whatever, you know.
Zoe: Or things like that.
Lizzie: And how, like, in my at least, like modern view of fairies, they're like, pretty nice. Like, they have wings, and they grant wishes and whatever. But in these stories, they're all like, kind of negative or like, at least neutral. So that's pretty interesting.
Zoe: Yeah. I mean, I think that like a lot of the fairy media that I've consumed, there's some that's very much like, oh, there's super nice, they're perfect. And then there's a lot that's like oh they're very fickle, you need to treat them nice, or else they're going to like pinch you or whatever, or like mess up your house and stuff like that.
Lizzie: It is interesting how the ways that we view fairies have changed, but then like fairy views in general have persisted, they've just like really morphed a lot. Because like nowadays, it's like, what do we have fairy godmothers is like—
Lizzie: You know, the dragonfly, butterfly wing type thing they like live in the forest or whatever. But then, like, a couple hundred years ago, it was like, they're like, kind of evil, fickle, like they might lead you to your death.
Zoe: Yeah, like a genuinely terrifying thing of like, if you step in the wrong place in the forest, you get spirited away, and you're never gonna see your family again.
Lizzie: It's also the fact that fairy used to mean like, as an adjective would mean anything referring to like magic. So a lot of it was probably stuff that couldn't really be explained, rather than like full conceptions of like a figure.
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, they were sort of figures you could blame bad luck on in a way as well. So we sort of have the, if something bad happens to you, that's on you. That's your fault. But then we also sort of like if something bad happens to you can be like, oh, it's the fairies' fault. The fairies did this, in a way.
Zoe: And we don't really do that as much anymore, at least. I mean, there are definitely places where people still do that. But it's not as like widespread.
Lizzie: But this was more at a time when a lot of things could not be explained. Like how now we have spontaneous combustion or whatever.
Lizzie: But back then it was like a will o' the wisp.
Zoe: Yeah, it's like, well, what why else would there be lights in the swamp at night if there's no humans there?
Lizzie: Exactly. So thank you for listening to today's episode. Please feel free to listen to our other episodes and subscribe and we will see you again in two weeks.
Zoe: Yeah, thank you so much. Buh bye.
Lizzie: Mytholadies Podcast is produced, researched, and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @Mytholadies, and visit us on our website at mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thanks for listening! See you in two weeks.