I had a question put to me recently which I found interesting. Do fairies come and go with the seasons, and might one type of fairy be more likely to be encountered in winter than summer, for example? Well, the more I thought about it, the more complicated the answer became.
Initially, I would have been inclined to say no, that earth seasons wouldn't have an effect, but looking at the folklore, I began to realise I was probably wrong about that.
Firstly, as I have documented here, there are indeed certain fairies associated with flowers like daffodils and bluebells, for example. These are flowers which bloom in early and late spring. The question is, are the fairies linked to these flowers also only in our world at these times of the year? Is it a case that the flowers act as doorways into the Otherworld, or are specific fairies tied to these flowers, themselves?
In this Irish account, a girl takes bluebells from a fairy fort and then receives two unusual visitors...
"... under those trees grow clusters of primroses and bluebells. It is said that if you pluck one of those flowers the fairies will be after you. One day a little girl named Kate McDermott went and plucked a bunch of flowers and brought them home to her mother. The next evening she was sitting at the doorstep learning her tasks when two people dressed in white appeared to her and told her to go and leave them back. She at once took them back and the following day she went again to the fort and there were the same two dressed in white sitting beside the flowers. The moment they saw her they fled and she could not see where they went or ever afterwards."
A more infamous example of a seasonal fairy is that of the Amadán. This fairy-being is known to be one of the most dangerous types of fairy a human being can encounter and is said to inflict sickness and madness upon those who encounter it. According to folklore, the Amadán is a fairy who is most encountered in the month of June, so, again, we have a specific time association. Sometimes the Amadán is likened to Pan or even Loki because of his double nature and the dread sometimes associated with his appearance. A person may well argue, though, that all fairies themselves demonstrate this characteristic. As the Amadán can transform his outward appearance, he can often, confusingly, take the form of a beautiful maiden or queen. Who can say, though, whether this might in fact be their authentic form as the trickster-like nature of the Amadán may well be something outside of our comprehension.
In this context, from a magical and occult perspective, the androgyne is often the highest manifestation of a form so maybe there is some connection to the Amadán in this respect, especially when we hear stories of how they lead The Wild Hunt and command the fairy troupe.
We can also look at the ongoing arguments regarding the definition of fairies in the first place. In many instances scholars interchange pagan gods and goddesses with the good people, as well as the ancient dead and ancestor lineages. If this is accepted then we might examine the concept of a seasonal goddess giving way to another as the year goes through its cycle. The Cailleach making way for Brigid, or similar archetypal figures might offer us further demonstration of this. Might this also make sense in relation to fairies moving with the seasons, then?
Also of relevance here is the accepted idea of fairies themselves moving from place to place, mound to mound, during the equinoxes, solstices, and cross-quarter days. This characteristic is found in Ireland and Scotland, as well as in the traditions of the Sami and Ulchi of Siberia. In fact, the concept of non-human forms moving from place to place as the year turns is also recognisable within Australian aboriginal stories according to Elkin in his work, Aboriginal Men of High Degree.
You will notice that this idea of fairies changing with the seasons is very much nature-linked and recognisable through an awareness of seasonal change itself. It might be argued that the less explored nature of urban fairy beings could contradict this idea. When we look at animism from a microscopic and macroscopic perspective there are most likely patterns of change which are outside of our ability to record and examine, so there are further grey areas there.
I suppose, then, the idea of fairies changing with the seasons is something that might be applied to some fairies but not others. As is usual for this subject matter we are often left having to hold yes and no answers at the same time and make do with the ambiguity! (C.) David Halpin.
Artwork by Cicely Mary Barker