ALL our superstitions, and a great part of our legendary lore, have descended to us from our, pagan ancestors. Aphrodite and Artemis selected lovers from among mortals;--Melusina, Viviana, Morgana, and other beautiful and celebrated fairies, followed their example in enthralling Christian knights. The Lianhan Sighe (Fairy love) still attaches herself to some favoured mortal, who is thenceforward lost to human affection, and becomes what in pagan times would have been called a Nympholept. Juno and the three Fates assisted at the births of mortals--so do the fairies. The inflexible destinies were called the Parcae (merciful);--the timorous cottager propitiates the fairies by addressing them as the Duine Matha, "The Good People." Hephaestion, and his swart Cyclops, forged impregnable armour for favoured heroes;--the dwarf workers in the Northern mines did the same for the terrible sea-kings. In the penetralia, at each side of the fire, were the Lares and Penates to keep blessings about the abode of the master. The Kobolds frequented favoured houses to bless the servants' efforts, or even do their work. Apollo and Hercules got much trouble destroying great hydras;--Fion MacCumhail murdered piasts in nearly every lake in Ireland. Achilles was rendered invulnerable in every part of his body except his heel;--Siegfried, the dragon slayer, could not be wounded except at a portion of his back, the size of a small leaf. The Golden Fleece brought misery to its possessors;--so did the Nibelungen hoard. The three goddesses so reverenced among the Gauls and Germans, and the Druidic priestesses afterwards substituted for them, became at last the fairies or Breton Korigans; and the herbs of Druidic rites still retain their power at All-Hallow Tide, in furnishing truthful visions of their future husbands to superstitious damsels.
The name Fairy has given rise to long disquisitions. The nearest root, in sound at least, is the Persian Peri. Then we have for the correct name, Fay, the Fata, or Destinies, which became Fada in the Provençal, and Hada in the Spanish tongues. The Greek language furnishes Μοίραι (the Fates), and the propitiating title Parcae (merciful), applied to the Destinies, has its representative in the "Good People," applied to the Fays in Ireland. The Gaelic name is Sighe, which is not found out of Ireland and the Highlands, except at La font de Scée, in Poitou. The Breton Korigan may derive from κούρη, young maid, or, perhaps, the Celtic corrig, a hill. The word Fairy, or Faërie, is properly the state or condition of the Fays.
Even as the Parcae or other female divinities assisted at the births of Achilles, Meleager, &c., so, in the romances of the Middle Ages, fairies were present at the births of Holger the Dane, Oberon, Tristrem, &c., and endowed them with valuable gifts, or predicted their future fortunes. Till our own days the Bretons would have a feast laid out in an adjoining room on these occasions for their visitors. Aurora carried away the favoured Tithonus into her glowing palace of the morning. Calypso retained Ulysses in the happy isle of Ogygia. King Arthur was borne to the isle of Avalon by Morgana. Lanval was conducted into the same isle by his fairy love; Ossian was kept in the "Land of Youth" under the Atlantic for a hundred and fifty years, by Nea of the Golden Hair; and the fairies contemporary with our fathers and mothers stole away to their Sighe-mounts as many mortals as they could get into their power. The druidical bowl of inspiration, and the symbolic lance, sought by Peredur in pagan Brittany, became, in the hands of the Christian romancers, the sangraal or bowl used at the last supper, and the spear which pierced our Saviour's side; and Sir Percival went forth in quest of them. Error varies its form, but its essence is indestructible. There is scarcely a legend or article of belief of the Greek or Roman mythology which, in some modification, may not be traced in the fairy systems of all the countries of Europe.
In connecting fairy superstition with paganism once prevailing over Europe, one circumstance remains to be noticed. The progeny of a god or goddess when residing among mortals, was distinguished by superexcellent qualities; any of the fairy race that have abode among men are noticeable for peculiarities the very reverse. They are gluttonous, peevish, ungrateful. and spiteful, and are never found to develop into anything better than rickety children. At the introduction of Christianity, Crom, Odin, Frea, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Bacchus the Intemperate, were obliged to forego adoration and even respect. They lost a good deal of their beauty, and the best part of their amiability, and even frolicsome Pan degenerated into the hoofed and horned devil. Their proceedings towards man became of a capricious, if not baleful character, and their interference in human affairs was deprecated by all right-minded and timorous people. The next legend will illustrate these remarks, Mrs. K., of the Duffrey, being our informant: -