top of page

The heART of Ritual


Can Fairies Lie According to Irish Lore?

I was interested in a question that Morgan Daimler author posed regarding fairies in Irish lore and whether they are compelled to always tell the truth. The question is one which is contextualized by a person's definition of a fairy, in my own view, but also by morals.

Traditional post-Christian folklore certainly frames fairies as creating all kinds of flummoxing situations which create illusions to trap, word-games to deceive, and a type of chess-playing with temptations which may land a person in a completely different bargain than they anticipated.

Returning to a post-Christianity European view, Katherine Briggs writes not that fairies can't lie but that they don't. Is this a moral imperative, I wonder, if it is true? My own view is that the stories reflect more of a human perspective very much advocating a 'fairies as fallen angels' view where the fairies are aware of this precarious state and the Christian God having their fate in his hands.

I'm not sure how much this idea has to do with how human beings saw fairies before Christianity. Considering how our written records in Ireland are all post Christian conquest, I can't see any way of discovering a provable truth of the matter. However, a gut instinct (which will inevitably change person to person) leads me, personally, to not ascribe any such limitations on fairies, I have to say.

I feel more, as I get older, that there is no difference between fairy-lore and daimon-ology and that the good folk are happy enough for the separation to continue, though. This is bearing in mind that daimon/demon in this context is its original meaning and not an automatic assumption of evil or 'evil-associated'.

I also remembered that some folklore tales speak of how wearing bluebells, a flower strongly associated with fairies, compels a person to only tell the truth. Another belief is that turning the bluebell flower inside out without breaking it would bestow the power of divination regarding the future. This, again, gives an interesting insight to how a person might overcome potential manipulation regarding a bargain or promise.

An interesting separation here is the difference between a fairy lying and a fairy being wrong and, sometimes, outwitted.

In the tale of Rumpelstiltskin the fairy-being proclaims that he will have the first-born child when he is being spied upon. This does not turn out to be true as the maiden discovers his name, so in this case he speaks something which does not come to pass. Does this count as a lie? Not really, in my own opinion, but if someone argues that fairies don't say something which is literally untrue then this undermines that point in some ways.

"Tonight, tonight, my plans I make, tomorrow, tomorrow, the baby I take. The queen will never win the game, for Rumpelstiltskin is my name"

So, can a fairy say something that turns out not to be true? Yes. Is that a lie, though? Hmmm, it might be unfair to frame it that way, but fairies have no qualms about framing sentences to deceive, either, so...

However, having gone through many fairy accounts from the Irish archives, a single story where a fairy tells an outright lie has been elusive.

Looking at what many see as modern fairy encounters, the overlap between fairies and ufology is also impossible to ignore these days and has an interesting relationship to the deception idea. Jacques Vallee and John Keel have written of a cultural update of the exact same effects and motifs which continue to occur.

From abductions, to changelings, from entering brilliantly lit 'mounds' to episodes of missing time, it behoves all of us writing in this area to give equal attention and importance to the changing faces and masks of fairy. With this in mind, many abductees speak of their captors telling them that they are from Venus, Mars, and within the earth itself. Are they telling the truth?

Both Vallee and Keel see no real experiential difference between fairy-lore and UFO encounters although in my own opinion I see Keel as being much more aware of the occult relationships in his writing and research work. Keel is quite forthright in his views of these forms being damaging and deceptive towards humans. I understand that my own view of fairies departs from the conventional idea prevalent in Ireland and Irish folklore. I don't see this as being a matter of one being right and the other wrong, I think its more a case of whether a person is interested enough in the subject to question the reasons why a particular concept might remain unchallenged and accepted for a long period.

In the case of fairies, the lore is repeated over and over through a cultural lens that certainly contains the peripheral strangeness to separate it from the common tropes but these are usually unseen and dismissed as being not relevant or quirks. People did not have the ability to consider traditional animistic views in Catholic Ireland, for example. So, do Irish fairies lie?

I have not come across any example in Irish lore where they outright tell a lie. I'm very interested in hearing from anyone who does have an account where this occurs, though. Then again, when it comes to written accounts of fairies, we may not have one of them lying but we certainly have some where those writing about fairies have been deceptive in the past!

Thomas Knightley included an account of an Irish mermaid entitled "The Soul Cages," in a book of Irish mythology which turned out to be a hoax of sorts. The story was first printed in another anthology, but Keightley came out with a later edition where added a footnote to this tale, proclaiming he "must here make an honest confession," admitted that the encounter was adapted from the German story of "The Peasant and the Waterman". He made up the Irish version. So, here we have an invented fairy myth taken from German sources and placed into an Irish context, for example.

Placing limitations which seem moralistic from a human perspective upon non-human motivations might seem ill-judged and short-sighted to some. All that being said, despite the tricks, the illusions, the games, and the deceptions, as Morgan says, having looked through the lore, there doesn't seem to be examples of Irish fairies lying. (C.) Written by David Halpin


bottom of page