Faeries, Elves, and Other Kin

May Eve:  First Faerie Festival of the Year

To ancient Celts, the first day of May was the first day of summer.  In Irish Gaelic, “Mí Bhealtaine” means “month of May.”  Thus it is that many neo-pagans celebrate Beltane, also known as May Day (among many other names), on May 1st.  However, Beltane may be celebrated on May 11th (“Old May” in Ireland), May 15th (Scotland after the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar) or on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice (which is April 28th in 2010).

May Eve (Beltane) is the first of the three yearly Faerie Realm festivals.  The other two festivals occur on Midsummer’s Eve and November Eve (Samhain).  In ancient Celtics countries, a new day began at sunset, so the “eve” of a day was not “the day before” as we calculate time today.  Thus, “May Eve” and “May Day” occurred on the same “day.”  Ancient Celts also recognized only two seasons of the year:  summer and winter.  As such, Beltane and Samhain are pivotal dates of the calendar year for human folk.

These luminal dates also signal a great change in the Faerie Realm.  From May Eve to November Eve, the Seelie Court reigns supreme.  From November Eve to May Eve, the Unseelie Court holds sway.

The most significant difference between the two Courts is compassion, and the lack thereof.  The Seelie Court exhibits profound compassion for humans, whereas the Unseelie Court is pitiless.  Like the Unseelie Court, however, the Seelie are swift to retaliate for an injury or insult.  They also are not beneath stealing cattle or borrowing whatever they want from humans, which includes using humans for their own purposes (as obscure as those purposes may be).  Even Seelie faeries hold to the saying, “All that’s yours is mine; all that’s mine is my own,” though among themselves stealing is verboten.

As a rule, however, we can rely on Seelie faeries to be helpful and fair in their dealings with us.  Unlike the Unseelie fae, they return the things they borrow, show gratitude for kindnesses we bestow upon them, provide patronage to those who find true love, show delight in music and dancing, and display an appreciation for neatness, order, beauty and fertility.  Since Beltane is a festival of fertility to promote the bountiful crops planted at the beginning of spring, it is entirely appropriate that the Seelie Court emerges on this day to help us celebrate love, lust and life.

As May Eve heralds the reawakening of the Faerie Realm and Seelie Court from winter’s grasp, Midsummer’s Eve celebrates the recovery of their full strength from winter’s travails.  Then on November Eve, the Unseelie Court makes its pass through mortal lands on the Wild Hunt before the hand of winter closes its fist.  As so the wheel of the year turns, even for the fae.

It is on these dates that the veils between the two worlds are at their thinnest, when the two worlds intermingle and unite, and wild magic abounds.  These are the times when the fae are most accessible and visible–look through a sprig of rowan twisted into a ring and seek the fae at dusk to better your chances of getting a peek.  However, be forewarned that neither Seelie nor Unseelie fae like to be watched and may consider this an infringement on their privacy for which you might be rebuked.

This is also a favored time for the Queen of Faerie to ride out on her favorite white horse, seeking one of us to venture away with her to the Summerland.  Sit beneath a tree on May Eve and you may see her or hear the sound of her horse’s bells as she rides through the night.  Should you actually meet with her, hide your face and she will pass you by; look at her, however, and her unearthly beauty will ensnare you.  She may then choose you to journey with her to the Summerland where you must not eat, nor drink nor speak for seven years.  At the end of seven years, you may become a tithe to Hell and lose your life, or perhaps be rescued like Tam Lin.  If you’re very fortunate and the Queen grants you a special dispensation, you may gain your freedom, along with the gift of prophecy, like Thomas the Rhymer.  However, eat, drink or speak, and you will never be allowed to leave.

When the Seelie fae awaken from their winter repose, like any creature released from a dull existence they are carefree and full of mischief.  The two things they’ll be after the most is a piece of your ritual Beltane fire and all your fresh butter.  To protect yourself from faerie pranks, place rowan branches around your windows and doors, and have the youngest member of the family gather primroses on May Eve and throw them at the door of your home.

To receive a Seelie faerie blessing, leave offerings of festival bread and drink on your doorsteps and at crossroads.  Some traditional festival breads include:

  • Celtic:  A sweet dough made with sweetmeat (a candied root, such as ginger or sea holly) and spices.
  • Scotland:  Bonnach Bealtain, heavy, flat cakes of unleavened barley or oatmeal dough formed into a round or oval shape, then cooked on a griddle; i.e., bannock and when cut into wedges, scone.  Made with nine knobs, it is an offering to the fox, the eagle and the “hooded crow” that they should not do harm to the fields and flocks.  The hooded crow is the manifestation of the Cailleach, also known as the Queen of winter.  The cake is glazed with a thin batter of “whipped egg, milk, cream and a little oatmeal.”
  • Wales:  Bara Brith, literally “speckled bread” that can be either a yeast bread enriched with dried fruit (raisins, currants and candied peel) or something more like a fruitcake made with self-rising flour without yeast.
  • Ireland:  Báirín Breac, a yeasted bread with sultanas and raisins added.
  • Brittany:  Morlaix Brioche, a speckled bread like the Bara Brith of Wales.

Prepare the bread on May eve without the use of either steel or iron.  Also, leave any food left over from your Beltane festivities as an offering to the fae, just as we leave crops not harvested by Samhain in the fields as their due.

As you study faeries, myths and folklore, you will find that the number seven is highly significant:

  • Thomas the Rhymer stayed with the Faerie Queen for seven years
  • The Faerie Queen must pay a tithe to Hell every seven years
  • Servitude lasts for seven years
  • The Pleiades is known as the seven sisters
  • The sacrifice of the seven-year King
  • Curses last for seven years
  • The seventh son of a seventh son has the gift of true seeing

Our ancestors believed there were seven planets; the Egyptians had seven original and higher gods; the Phœnicians seven kabiris; the Persians, seven sacred horses of Mithra; the Parsees, seven angels opposed by seven demons, and seven celestial abodes paralleled by seven lower regions. The seven gods were often represented as one seven-headed deity. The whole of heaven was subject to the seven planets; hence, in nearly all the old religious systems we find seven heavens.

It is no great wonder, then, that every seven years on May Eve, the faeries gather to fight among themselves for the rights to our upcoming harvest.  The winning faction takes the best ears of grain for themselves for the next seven years.

Throughout the centuries, the ancient Celts noted which springtime herbs and flowers were attractive to the Good Folk and which afforded protection:


  • Carnation:  Red ones will draw faeries that enjoy healing animals.
  • Clover:  Not only do bees go wild over this diminutive ground cover, faeries love it, too.
  • Cowslip:  Spring faeries will happily come to live in any garden containing this herb.
  • Dandelion:  The fae use the dandelion to make beverages, just as humans do (i.e., dandelion wine).
  • Foxglove*:  A favorite of earth elementals and gives faeries the power of flight.
  • Hawthorn:  Sacred to faeries, especially the Queen of the Seelie Court.  Faeries that may help or hinder often live in hawthorns, so they are best left undisturbed (i.e., uncut and unmoved).  Try tying wishing ribbons to a hawthorn so friendly faeries can help them come true.  Be sure to leave an offering or libation if you do.
  • Heliotrope*:  Enjoyed by fire elementals.
  • Hollyhock*:  A faerie favorite, particularly the pink variety.
  • Lilac:  The gentle scent draws faeries and wards off evil spirits.
  • Lobelia*:  Helps to attract winged faeries.
  • Mushrooms*:  Often used by faeries to mark the boundaries of their sacred circles or portals to the Faerie Realm.
  • Pansy:  Attracts parades of trooping faeries.
  • Primrose:  Although the fae like this flower, it has the power to repel them from human habitations. It may also give faeries their power of invisibility.
  • Sassafras:  Enjoyed by air elementals.
  • Shamrock:  A form of clover adored by all Celtic faeries.


  • Bluebell:  If bluebells ring in your garden, malevolent faeries are near and you need to leave quickly.
  • Dill:  The fresh plant has a scent faeries dislike. In the Mediterranean area, dill weed placed under an infant’s bed will prevent the child being snatched by faeries and replaced with a changeling.
  • Gorse:  Repels virtually all faerie life.
  • Lilac:  The gentle scent draws faeries and wards off evil spirits.
  • Mistletoe*:  Especially good for protecting against and repelling faeries, but can also attract unpleasant tree faeries.
  • Morning Glory*:  Repels unwanted night faeries.
  • Primrose:  Although the fae like this flower, it has the power to repel them from human habitations. It may also give faeries their power of invisibility.
  • Rosemary:  The fresh plant protects from baneful faeries. In Mexico, mothers place this herb under their beds, in baby’s cribs and in windows for protection.  To protect a couple from faeries with bad intentions and ensure happiness in their first year of marriage, the bride and groom should carry this herb during their wedding ceremony.

*These plants are poisonous and are to be cultivated only with great caution.  They should never be grown where children or pets are present.

Here is a simple ritual that anyone can do with a minimum of fuss:

In a woodland clearing or meadow, or any other naturally secluded and preserved spot where you can sense the fae, spread a clean green cloth. On it place small cakes** and flowers, especially primroses, in a circle. In addition to the flowers listed above, other flowers that you may want to consider are roses, violets, apple and orange blossoms, daisies, columbine, jasmine, and daffodils.  Sit quietly until you feel the magic of the fae around you and then ask for a boon or blessing, using your own words or the following:

    The Maid of Spring has busy been
    To coax forth life both lush and green
    As all await the evening when
    Ye ride forth, great Seelie Faerie Queen
    The veil between our two worlds thins
    Our magic mingles, wild and tame
    Tis now that Summer’s bounty begins
    Blessed by thee, and Beltane’s flame
    I ask only one boon of thee
    In doing is the payment worth
    To share our purpose equally
    Protect and nurture Mother Earth
    In celebration of the May
    I leave these offerings for thee
    And fare thee well until the day
    Midsummer Eve it turns to be

    Written by Kat Cranston, 2010

Leave your small cake and floral offerings and walk around the green cloth three times deosil (i.e., clockwise).  Then slowly walk the path back to your home in silence, listening for the sound of laughter and bells.  Return the next day to retrieve your belongings and look for any signs or gifts the Seelie Faerie Queen may have left for you.

**See festival breads above.

Faerie blessings and blessed be.

Bibliography and Works Cited/Recommended Reading:

  • Aubin, C., “Beltane-Holiday Details and History,” WitchVox, April 2000, http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=2765
  • Bennett, Nancy, “A Fairy Spell for Beltane,”Witches’ Spell-A-Day Almanac 2006, Llewellyn Publications, 2005, p. 92
  • Blavatsky, H.P., “The Number Seven,” Theosophical articles: Reprinted from the Theosophist, Lucifer and Other Nineteenth-Century Journals, June 1880, http://www.blavatsky.org/blavatsky/arts/NumberSeven.htm
  • Briggs, Katharine, An Encyclopedia of Faeries, Pantheon Books, 1976
  • Franklin, Anna, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies, Paper Tiger, 2002
  • Franklin, Anna, Working With Fairies: Magick, Spells, Potions & recipes to Attract & See Them, New Page Books, 2005, p. 95
  • McCoy, Edain, A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk: Reclaiming Our Working Relationship with Invisible Helpers, Llewellyn Publications, 2002, p. 72
  • McCoy, Edain, “Flowers, Herbs, and the Faeries of May,” Llewellyn’s 1995 Magical Almanac, Llewellyn Publications, 1994, pp. 88-92
  • McCoy, Edain, Ostara: Customs, Spells & Rituals for the Rites of Spring, Llewellyn Publications, 2002, p. 71
  • McCoy, Edain, Sabbats: A Witch’s Approach to Living the Old Ways, Llewellyn Publications, 2001, p. 126