In celtic folklore, there are many stories of fairy lovers. A famous example is the ballad of Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight. Usually in these tales, the human man or woman are lured or approached by the fairy.

Usually, in these tales, the fairy initiates the encounter. For example, Lady Isabel hears a horn and wishes the knight would "lie" with her, and he immediately appears. While it is her wish that brings him to her, it is his horn that evokes her desire. In other tales, girls walking the Scottish highlands are in danger of being raped by fairies (as, for example in, Tam Lin). Again, the contact is originaly unintended by the human.

Are there (celtic) tales in which humans make the first step? For example, a human might decide that they want a fairy lover and take certain steps to aquire one. By what means (according to celtic superstition) can humans summon or invite a fairy lover to them?

  • 1
    I recall that in the Books of Magic, Molly goes to a hilltop and lays out a doll-sized tea set and serves tea to attract a faerie. (It's not for the purposes of seduction, as I recall, but she is successful. Worth noting it does not turn out well for her, which is the norm for humans in human/faerie interactions.)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 18:24
  • That's nice, and thank you, @DukeZhou, alas, the Books of Magic are not folklore, if I understand correctly.
    – user4301
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 18:32
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    Definitely modern literature, but crafted by highly insightful writers. Great question, btw! Hope you find a referent from traditional folklore.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 18:41

1 Answer 1


Not sure if this qualifies, but the Grimms included a text they called “The Hand with the Knife” as #8 in the first ed. of the Kinder und Hausmärchen (KHM). It was translated by Jacob Grimm from the book by Ann Grant, “Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland, London” 1811. vol. 1, 285, 286.

Grant does not specifically state who initates the contact, just that whenever the girl passes, her fairy lover gives her the magical knife.

From Ann Grant’s book: “One of these, which I have heard children at a very early age sing, and which is just to them, the Babes in the Wood, I can never forget. The affecting simplicity of the tune, the strange wild imagery, and the marks of the remote antiquity in the little narrative, gave it the greatest interest to me, who delight in tracing back poetry to its infancy.

A little girl had been innocently beloved by a fairy, who dwelt in a tomham near her mother’s habitation. She had three brothers, who were the favorites of her mother. She herself was treated harshly, and tasked beyond her strength: Her employment was to go every morning and cut a certain quantity of turf from dry heathy ground, for immediate fuel; and this with some uncouth and primitive implement.

As she passed the hillock, which contained her lover, he regularly put out his hand with a very sharp knife, of such power, that it quickly and readily cut through all impediments. She returned cheerfully and early with her load of turf; and, as she passed by the hillock, she struck on it twice, and the fairy stretched out his hand through the surface, and received the knife.

The mother, however, told the brothers, that her daughter must certainly have had some aid to perform the allotted task. They watched her, saw her receive the enchanted knife, and forced it from her. They returned, struck the hillock, as she was wont to do, and when the fairy put out his hand, they cut it off with his own knife. He drew in the bleeding arm, in despair, and supposing this cruelty was the result of treachery on the part of his beloved, never saw her anymore. 

I am very sorry, that the spirit of this most primitive song could not be transfused into English, but it is as volatile as the fragrance of the wild lily, and would, like it, evaporate, when moved from its place.

I shall try, however, how two or three stanzas will look in literal English.
The maiden speaks, and, as is usual in all very old songs, the first verse is repeated as a chorus to the rest.

“I behold yonder the tomhan covered with rowan* `   and holly.
“ Dear to me is the treasure which it contains.
“ Sweet and deep as my slumber
“ On the brink of the lake many salmon.
“ I awoke, and half my bed remained not.
“ I see yonder the tomhan of rowan and holly, &c.

“ I see my brothers afar yonder,
“ Mounted on sleek swift grey steeds:
“ They ride, but my heart goes not with them.
“ I see yonder the tomhan, &c.

“ I see the house of my mother afar off;
“ Not as it were a house, but a place deserted.
“ While sweet slumber falls on others,
“ Green flames shall encompass her feet.
“ I see yonder the tomhan of rowan and holly;
“ Dear to me is the treasure it contains.”

*Rowan, mountain Ash.

The first thing to be observed of this little melancholy ditty, is the picture of the manners which it presents. The brothers are, in no doubt, hunters, and leave the hard task of cutting heathery turf to their little sister. A knife is a thing of rare and highly valued. The hardhearted brothers are persons of no ordinary condition. They are mounted on horses fleet, sleek, and of the favourite colour, when such animals conferred distinction on those who possessed them.

She uses a most expressive figure to denote the misfortune which had overtaken her. While enjoying a sweet refreshing sleep on the banks of the lake of salmon, a phrase meant to express ease and plenty, the water washes under her, and deprives her of half her bed; a metaphor signifying the loss of her future repose. 

What she says of her brothers is highly expressive. The third verse describes her feelings on seeing them pass at a distance. They are mounted on sleek swift steeds: Yet though they move on with all this air of power and consequence, does not accompany them.

The final verse contains something like an imprecation on her mother, which is difficult to reconcile to the impassioned veneration with which parents are mentioned in all reliques on ancient poetry.

Here, too, occurs and expressive figure, consonant to the stile prevalent to this day, in their emphatic language. – “I see the house of my mother, not as if it were a house, but merely a bare place.” There is no longer any thing in the domestic hearth to create an interest. I see the habitation of my mother with as much indifference as if it were a deserted spot.

The green flames which are to surround or consume her mother’s feet, while others slept sweetly, must have been a figure to denote a disturbed mind; or, perhaps, it might be descriptive of some punishment inflicted by the offended fairies. Green flames, or flames edged with green, being often used to express the dubious luster of an ignis fatuus, or other wandering meteor. This fragment is accounted the most ancient extant, and bears the marks of very primitive modes of thinking, and expressing one’s sensations.”

There is also more explanation of the song and the story in the book which is available on-line:

Anne Grant Archive.org Link

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