A recurring theme in Irish stories about the Faerie is that they can be kept away by clothing turned inside-out. This (according to this particular Wikipedia source about Spriggans) is "as effective as holy water or iron in repelling fairies".

Holy water makes sense, as the Irish reconciled their original stories with the Christian mythology by saying that the Good Folk were the angels who had stayed neutral during God's conflict with Lucifer. Not good enough for heaven, not bad enough for hell, they remained on Earth, repelled by Christian symbols.

There are some theories about why iron would repel them, one of them being that this was influenced by the Picts, who apparently had not discovered iron-working and could be defeated by the superior iron weapons.

But turning one's clothing inside-out? Why would such a method repel these beings?

  • 2
    I found this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stray_sod Apparently, wearing a piece of inside-out clothing breaks the stray sod enchantment. Not an answer to you question, but I thought it was worth mentioning :)
    – Alfro
    Apr 28, 2015 at 20:08

2 Answers 2


Turn your cloaks / For fairy folks / Are in old oaks - Old English saying

I couldn't find a definitive explanation of why this legend happens. What I have ascertained is that it turns up absolutely everywhere, not just in Irish stories. I have found a few quotes that begin to offer a reason (although, I have to say, not a hugely satisfying one).

The main reason offered appears to be to confuse the fairies. These sort of beings are depicted as mischeivous, and to counter their mischief, one could do something unexpected, to confuse them. This didn't necessarily repell them, in the same way that iron (which they were generally scared of) or other things might - it was more a last-minute distraction, designed to give you time to escape any enchantments, rather than a lasting effect.

It's largely associated with pixies, as well as spriggans - it is often offered as a solution to being pixie-led:

[Pixies] took a delight in misleading night-bound weary travellers until they became exhausted and lost; this was called being "pixy-led"... The usual manner of disenchanting oneself from this situation was to remove one's jacket and put it back on inside out.

Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns and Goblins, Carol Rose

Humans become lost on the trackless moors of Dartmoor are said to have been "pixie led", or led astray by the pixies. It is said that if travelers feel the onset of the pixie spell, they can turn their coats inside out to confuse the pixies and escape.

An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore, Josepha Sherman (emphasis mine)

One way of avoiding fairies and their magic was to wear one's clothing inside out, which would confound them. Fairies were also reputed to be terrified of iron or steel, so even a single pin could prove effective against them.

The Everything Celtic Wisdom Book, Jennifer Emick (emphasis mine)

This source also offers another alternative:

Actions could break the fairy spell. The most common one was turning one's clothing inside out or wearing it backward, the latter presumably based on the idea that the fairies fail to torment someone who seems to be departing rather than approaching.

The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folkore, Patrician Monaghan (emphasis mine)

Finally, not an official source by any means, but this blog post offered an explanation which seems plausible and takes the idea of confusing the fairies a step further (and which I quite like - emphasis mine):

The presciption, intended to break the binding spell of the fairy otherworld, is a fight fire with fire recommendation; turning your coat inside out corresponds to and counters the inherently contrary nature of Elfland (It is Summer there when it's Winter here; we grow old, they grow young, etc.) ~ thus by doing something irrational within irrationality, one may flip the coin and come out back in the comfortably predictable and thus, safe, world of the mundane.


My mum used to tell me that faeries wore their clothes inside (as they where tricky and contrarian). Wearing your clothes inside out was a way to fool them into leaving you alone.

She also used to say if you put them on inside out by mistake they would be offended and you'd have a bad day.

Two contradictory statements...

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