Excerpt from the book “The God Of The Witches”, written by Margaret Alice Murray in 1933. Even though Murray’s work has been widely criticized, her books are still a beautiful read. the excerpt you are going to read is about the Fairies’ clothing, spinning and dyeing – I thought you may enjoy it as much as I did.
Winding The Skein, by Lord Frederick Leighton
“There is still a considerable body of evidence as to the appearance and dresses of the fairies. Their garments appear to have varied not only according to the tribe to which the wearers belonged, but also to the rank which they held in their community. Eyewitnesses aver that the fairies spun and wove their own cloth. The fairy women were very notable spinners and could more than hold their own against a “mortal”, but their looms were not so satisfactory, and there are many stories extant of the fairies entering a cottage and weaving their cloth on the cottager’s loom. The yarn used was generally wool and was occasionally undyed (called loughtyn in the Isle of Man), more often it was green or blue. The colours were dark as in the hunting-tartans of the Highlands, and the extremely dark blue gave rise to the belief in the black fairies. As John Walsh (1566) expresses it, “There be three kindes of fairies, the black, the white, and the green, of which the black be the woorst”. A century later Isobel Gowdie volunteered the information that “the queen of Fairy is brawly clothed in white linens, and in white and brown clothes, etc., and the king of Fairy is a braw man, well favoured, and broad-faced, etc.” It is most unfortunate that the recording clerk always put “etc.” when Isobel began to give any real details about the fairies. Possibly he was afraid to record any information about those terrifying people.
The colours of the fairies’ dresses were due to dyes, produced and used like those still employed in country places. The number of indigenous plants from which dyestuffs are obtained is surprisingly large, such plants are to be found in all parts of the British Isles and the dyes cover the whole range of colour. Lichens give very fine dyes, red, yellow and blue; besides these, other plants and trees have been in use from time immemorial and dyes are still made from their roots, bark, leaves and fruit. All combinations of colour and shade can be made by mixing the dyes, but it is perhaps worth noting that there is no record of yellow being worn by the fairies; blue, black, green, and a little red, were the chief colours. Green was the favourite colour, the reason, probably being that the fairies were originally hunters, and green made them less visible to their quarry. Later, when they themselves were hunted, green was the best colour in which to move unobserved in a forest or to lie hidden on a moor. White garments are often recorded; these were probably of linen bleached in the sun. In many stories there are accounts of the fairies spreading their linen on the grass, and the extraordinary whiteness of the material is always the subject of admiration. Isobel Gowdie in the passage quoted above, appears to have been struck with the Fairy Queen’s white garments.
Windswept, by John William Waterhouse
The fairy men of lower rank wore trousers and jackets, the women skirts and bodices. The most characteristic article of attire, however,
for all ranks was the hat, cap, or hood. This was so precious to a fairy that any of them would risk capture or pay any ransom to recover
it if it fell into alien hands. The cap varied in shape and colour according to the district. In the West Highlands the green conical caps of the fairies were like the rush helmets which children made, and like those commonly worn by Swedish Lapps. In Ireland a fairy-man was “like a boy of ten or twelve years old, only more broad and bulky, dressed in a grey little coat, and stockings of the same colour, with an old little black woollen hat.” In the Isle of Man” the fairies were dressed in undyed wool with little pointed red caps. In Wales the male fairies had “red-tripled caps and the ladies a light fantastic headdress which waved in the wind”. The fairies of Upper Brittany wore a kind of cap “like a crown, which seemed to be part of their person.” At Hildesheim the local goblin was dressed like a peasant, but so invariably wore a hood that he was called Hedekin or Hutkin. Even so far away as Eastern Europe a Slav story gives an account of a man who saw “two little demons pulling each other’s hair. By the cut of their short waistcoats, by their tight pantaloons and their three-cornered hats, he knew that they were inhabitants of the nether world.”
Fairies of higher rank were naturally better dressed. The king and queen, when riding in procession, wore rich garments and were always crowned; on less solemn occasions they were dressed like their subjects though in richer materials. When, in a domestic emergency in the Royal Household, the Fairy Queen went herself to borrow a basinful of oatmeal from a cottage woman, she was dressed in the richest green embroidered with gold and wore a small coronet of pearls. Her servant, who returned the oatmeal, is simply recorded as being in green. This was in Kirkcudbrightshire. Fairy ladies of rank wore long flowing dresses which fell to the ground in soft, sweeping folds; these robes were usually white, sometimes green, and occasionally scarlet. The hair was loose over the shoulders, which increased the beauty of the younger ladies, but the long straggling elflocks of the older women are always commented on with horror by the “mortal” beholder. The fairy ladies covered their hair with a veil or hood, and often wore a small coronet of gold. The fairy knights wore gold or silver armour in battle or in solemn processions; for ordinary wear they dressed in green with a hat or cap; and on all occasions they wore green cloaks or mantles, possibly arranged like a plaid.
When going among the villagers the records show that the fairies were dressed like their neighbours, apparently lest they should attract
attention and so be recognised. Bessie Dunlop (1576) did not know till long afterwards that the “stout woman” who visited her was actually the Queen of Elfhame. There are also innumerable stories of “mortals” entering a fairy knowe and thereby becoming acquainted with the appearance of some of the fairies whom they recognised later among the villagers; such recognition invariably met with severe
punishment. The fairy-woman of modern Ireland is described as being like a respectable house-keeper dressed in black; and as it is
impossible to distinguish these terrible and terrifying visitants from ordinary folk by their appearance and dress, it is advisable not to
admit a stranger to the house or to show hospitality to an unknown visitor while any serious domestic work, such as churning, is in
progress, lest the stranger should prove to be one of the Good People.
A little is known of the tools and domestic implements of the fairy folk. They possessed spindles, but a spinningwheel is never mentioned; weaving was practised, but there is no record of looms. Pottery, not metal, must have been generally used for domestic purposes as there are numerous stories of the fairies borrowing metal vessels which were punctually returned, often with a gift as repayment for the loan. In passing it may be noted that the fairies were scrupulous in keeping a promise, in which they were better than the “mortals” who often cheated them. They were also grateful for kindnesses and repaid a debt of money or help generously. In Northumberland the fairies were definitely mortal, for they died and lie buried in Brinkburn under a green mound.”
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