Spring is upon us, and May Day is almost here, the time of the Fey and a celebration of our Lord and Lady.
But what about the faeries, did they own animals? Yes they did and I am going to devote this article to talking about these wonderful, horrible and sometimes mischievous creatures. Horses that rose from the sea only to be caught in nets, cats as big as dogs that guard faery treasure, and more!
Faery-cats are wild creatures, not the domesticated cats we know today. They are said to be the size of a dog and all black except for a white patch of fur on their breast. They are known to guard faery treasure along with snakes, in folklore it is believed that cats were at one time snakes. This is why they are hard to kill and dangerous to mess around with.
The cows of the faery Underland are just as big as the ones here, there is tell that on Mayday if a cow rises from the sea (a point of entrance to the world of the fey) and walks across a farmers land that it will bring prosperity to the farm. If it turns out to be the Glas Glaiven which is a sacred cow to the faery people, milk white and studded with green spots, wherever she steps on the property the grass will grow and the potatoes will become larger. The other faery cows are speckled with red spots, and have no horns. They are known for leading other cattle into the land of the fey. When one enters a herd of our cattle, our cows will actually become frantic but follow the faery cow wherever it goes, usually into a rock or grassy area to disappear forever.
Red deer are believed to be faery owned. Some actually believe deer to be their only form of cattle while others insist they owned cows as well. In the Highlands it is said that no deer ever dies of old age and when they shed their horns the bits are never found as the fey take them away. Skittish by nature it is believed that deer will not frighten in the presence of faeries. Elves in particular dislike the hunting of the deer and when a successful hunter brings a kill home it is believed that these mischievous creature all pile up on the hunters back so it feels like he is carrying a three ton deer.
Cù Sith is the infamous faery-god of Gaelic Scotland he differs from other faery dogs throughout Celtic mythology as he is a green shaggy dog with paws the size of a man’s hand. In Irish folklore they have their own dog which roams the area of Galway with white rings around its neck. Faeries are always testing the humans and in Welsh folklore there is one particular story that emphasizes the reward for doing a good deed for the faery folk it is simply entitles A Faery Dog:
“Going home from Pentre Voelas Church, the good wife of Hafod y Gareg found a little dog in an exhausted state on the ground. She took it up tenderly and carried it home in her apron. This she did partly from natural kindliness of heart and partly from fear, because she remembered what had happened to her cousin of Bryn Heilyn. She had come across a strange little dog and treated it cruelly. The fairies had come to her as she was taking glasdwr (which is butter-milk diluted with water) to the hayfield. They seized her and enquired whether she would travel above wind, mid wind or below wind. She ought to have selected the middle course, which would have meant a pleasant voyage through the air at a moderate height, equally removed from the clouds and the earth. Above wind is a giddy and terrible passage through the thin ether between the worlds, and it was well that she did not choose it. But the course she made choice of, below wind, was almost as bad, because she was snatched through miry bog and swampy lea, through brambles and briars, until all her clothes were torn off her body, and she was brought back to her home scratched and bleeding all over.
The good wife of Hafod y Gareg had no desire for any such excursions, and she made a nice soft bed for the fairy dog in the pantry, and fed it well. The following day a company of fairies came to the farmhouse to make enquiries about it. She told them it was safe and sound, and that they were welcome to take it away. In gratitude for her kindness, they asked her which she would prefer, a clean or a dirty cowyard. Reflecting that you cannot have a clean cowyard unless your cows are very few in number, she gave the right answer, a dirty cowyard. She found two cows for every one she had possessed before, and their milk made the best butter in the whole neighbourhood.”~The Welsh Fairy Book
The faery’s horses could be matched by none other known to man, they were majestic, speedy and beautiful. Within the Bristish Isles and Ireland they are known to be shapeshifters who can change between human and equine forms. Although as horses they still have full command of their speech and so will often be found talking to a human. They were also believed to be the ones used as a means of transportation between this world and the other world. It is believed that if one tried to ride on the back of these horses they would make a hasty dash for the water and send you to your death by drowning. One account of a faery horse encounter comes from Lady Wilde here is the full story:
“There was a widow woman with one son, who had a nice farm of her own close to a lake, and she took great pains in the cultivation of the land, and her corn was the best in the whole country. But when nearly ripe, and just fit for cutting, she found to her dismay that every night it was trampled down and cruelly damaged; yet no one could tell by what means it was done.
So she set her son to watch. And at midnight he heard a great noise and a rushing of waves on the beach, and up out of the lake came a great troop of horses, who began to graze the corn and trample it down madly with their hoofs.
When he told all this to his mother she bade him watch the next night also, but to take several of the men with him furnished with bridles, and when the horses rose from the lake they were to fling the bridles over as many as they could catch.
Now at midnight there was the same noise heard again, and the rush of the waves, and in an instant all the field was filled with the fairy horses, grazing the corn and trampling it down. The men pursued them, but only succeeded in capturing one, and he was the noblest of the lot. The rest all plunged back into the lake. However, the men brought home the captured horse to the widow, and he was put in the stable and grew big and strong, and never another horse came up out of the lake, nor was the corn touched after that night of his capture. But when a year had passed by the widow said it was a shame to keep so fine a horse idle, and she bade the young man, her son, take him out to the hunt that was held that day by all the great gentry of the country, for it was Whitsuntide.
And, in truth, the horse carried him splendidly at the hunt, and every one admired both the fine young rider and his steed. But as he was returning home, when they came within sight of the lake from which the fairy steed had risen, he began to plunge violently, and finally threw his rider. And the young man’s foot being unfortunately caught in the stirrup, he was dragged along till he was torn limb from limb, while the horse still continued galloping on madly to the water, leaving some fragment of the unhappy lad after him on the road, till they reached the margin of the lake, when the horse shook off the last limb of the dead youth from him, and plunging into the waves disappeared from sight.
The people reverently gathered up the remains of the dead, and erected a monument of stones over the lad in a field by the edge of the lake; and every one that passes by still lays a stone and says a prayer that the spirit of the dead may rest in peace.
The phantom horses were never seen again, but the lake has an evil reputation even to this day amongst the people; and no one would venture a boat on it after sundown at Whitsuntide, or during the time of the ripening of the corn, or when the harvest is ready for the sickle, for strange sounds are heard at night, like the wild galloping of a horse across the meadow, along with the cries as of a man in his death agony.” ~Ancient Legends of Ireland By Lady Wilde
So remember, if you go out on May Day and see a green spotted cow you are in luck, your fields will be plentiful. If you encounter a large black cat with a white spot on its breast, then you are getting close to faery treasure and whatever you do, do not ride a faery horse!