The Blue Fairy & Her Celtic Relations
By Teresa Martin
From her first appearance on Once Upon a Time, there was something about the Blue Fairy that made me suspicious. She was inexplicably different from the fairies in the Disney cartoons, yet I could not quite figure out why. My unease grew with the character as the first season progressed. In 'Dreamy' I felt that she was being passive aggressive and conniving with Nova and Grumpy, and in 'The Return,' she confirmed that Rumpelstilskin could reunite with his son through a curse. Would such a powerful being really be so careless as to inadvertently reveal dangerous knowledge to a man like Rumpelstilskin? I could not bring myself to believe that. Then the final straw occurred when this powerful, allegedly good fairy consented so easily to the infamous lie that only one person could enter the tree portal. I concluded that the Blue Fairy was untrustworthy, manipulative, and something of a trickster. Then a friend suggested that of course she is all of those things.
After all, isn't she a fairy?
This point reminded me of my childhood in Ireland where the fairies I knew were derived from the myths and lore of Celtic countries. Stories about these beings would be read in school, and friends told me tales of their antics resulting in more than a few sleepless nights. One particular memory of terror inspired by the fairies was my route home from piano lessons on dark winter afternoons. This bike-ride brought me to a dark clump of bushes and trees. As I passed, I would pedal as hard as I could, determinedly looking away from the dreaded patch, entirely convinced a fairy was waiting for me. More specifically, I dreaded that the Banshee would appear and start shrieking. The bone-chilling keen of this fairy, classified by some to be a ghost, was heard when the death of oneself or a family member was imminent.
More commonly, fairies were known for malignant actions towards humans, even bringing about death. Some would do so by luring people to a precipice or a hole in a bridge resulting in fatal falls. Others would confuse people at night so that they wandered aimlessly through the dangerous countryside to the point of madness. Very disturbing for a young one were the tales of fairies who would steal children away from their families. The livelihoods of peoplewere also in peril from the fairies who would spoil meat, steal portions of milk to prevent butter from being made, scatter cattle, or cause pestilence and sudden death. These creatures were not the friends of humans.
Fairies were credited with leading people to their deaths in the dark and treacherous countryside
But from where did these fairies come, and what motivated them to menace humans? There were many different beliefs about their origins. One version tells how the fairies were part of the epic battle described in the Bible when certain angels rebelled against God. The fairies were spirits who remained neutral, and so were not granted a place in Heaven, but neither were they evil enough to go to Hell. Therefore, God allowed fairies to dwell on the Earth with humans, but apart in secret dwellings. The fairies then came to resent people because of the favored status God gave them, so their antics were inspired by envy. Another theory asserted that fairies were manifestations of demons, the minions of Satan, whose goal was to ruin people’s souls so that they would go to Hell after death. Whatever the specifics about the origins, the beliefs about fairies which were held in common was that they wished people ill, and harsh consequences awaited those who toyed with them.
Hence, the priority of humans was to keep fairies happy to ensure that they would not become targets of these creatures. This could be accomplished simply in feeding the fairies by providing them with milk and water, or leaving crumbs that fell off the table for them. Another way to stay on the fairies’ good side was to avoid fastidiously any disturbance of their dwellings. These were the so called 'fairy-forts,’ that are really the ruins of stone circles, early Christian settlements, or pre-Christians burial mounds. No one would build on them or even venture into these ruins. Violation of this unwritten rule could have dire consequences for the trespasser and the locals. Fortunately, these superstitions had the unintended consequence of preserving these ancient monuments for posterity.
A ‘Fairy Fort’ in Dingle, Ireland
Humans did not only protect themselves from fairy mischief through placation. There were also proactive defenses against any malevolent behavior. For example, to prevent bread from being ruined, the Sign of the Cross was drawn on the dough. Holy Water and prayers would likewise be employed to keep them at bay. To protect the young from abduction, a piece of clothing from the father could be placed over the child at night. Moreover, nobody actually used the word ‘fairy.’ They were most commonly called the ‘Good Folk.’
Yet, as with all creatures, not all were completely hostile. There were some fairies that could be benign, even protective, and attached to certain families. However, these were in the minority and interactions were risky since the benevolence could always turn against those to whom the fairy was connected. Hence, even the most positive associations were fraught with danger.
Surrounded with these cautionary fairy tales of my youth, I have quite a bias against the Blue Fairy and her actions. Many will disagree, perhaps strongly, with my thesis, and assert that the Blue Fairy is not one of ‘those fairies,’ but rather has a maternal love for the humans around her and is doing her best to counteract what the villains are perpetuating. A case could be made that the writers themselves view her in this way, and people with my feelings are reading far more into this character than necessary. However, what a delight would it be if the show delves into the depths of these rich and terrifying fairy tales from the past! Would it not be an intriguing development if the Enchanted Forest fairies are revealed to be true to their Celtic origins and therefore creatures that must be approached with a healthy fear? My wish for Season Two is that flashbacks featuring the Blue Fairy will divulge that Rumpelstilskin is not the only creature with whom dealings come with a price.
Crocker, Thomas Crofton. Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland. Philadelphia:
Lea Blanchard, 1844.
Curran, Bob. A Field Guide to Irish Fairies. Belfast: Apple Tree Press Ltd, 1997.
Curran, Bob. Dark Fairies. Pompton Plains, NJ: New Page Books, 2010.
Lenaghan, Kim. Irish Superstitions and Lore. Belfast: Apple Tree Press Ltd, 2009.