An online dramaturgical casebook.

Seduction by the Fairies

Frank Dicksee's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," based on the John Keats poem.

Fairies are sexual beings and often initiate relationships with humans. Although some intimate affairs between humans and fairies develop into long lasting and mutually satisfying relationships, most end tragically. Folklore is replete with warnings about dangerous liaisons between mortals and supernatural beings. Many of these stories can be interpreted as cautionary tales showing the unhappy consequences of sexual encounters (or even seemingly innocent flirtations) with forbidden partners.

Entire classes of fairies are cast as tempters and seductresses. For example, in Brittany the morgan, a water fairy, is described as a seductress whose passion is never satisfied, and whose embrace kills any man who touches her. In most cases the human’s death comes only if he or she tries to break off the relationship. A Swedish legend “The Sea Nymph” offers an example: One night a number of fishermen saw a woman’s hand reach in through the door of their hut. One of them, a newly-married man, took hold of the hand, only to be pulled into an underwater realm where he lived with his abuctress, a sea nymph. Three years later he learned that his wife was about to remarry. He asked for permission to see the bridal procession, and the nymph agreed, but only under the stipulation that he not enter the house. Back on earth, he could not resist and went inside. Straight away a tempest came up, blowing half the roof off the house. The man immediately fell ill and died three days later.

Not all supernatural temptation comes from females. Mermaids and nixies have their male Counterparts, called variously mermen, water men, or nixes, and these too can lead members of the opposite sex astray. For example, in the German folk ballad “Es freit’ ein wilder Wassermann” (A Wild Water Man Went Courting) a merman wins the love of Dorothee, the queen of England, then takes her to an underwater realm where they live together for seven years and produce seven sons. Homesickness strikes her when she hears the sound of English church bells, and she gains permission to attend church in her native land. Once there, she resists returning beneath the sea with her husband, whereupon he kills her with a sword.

Most tales of seduction and abduction are told from the human partner’s point of view, be it a man or a woman. An important exception is the Scottish folk ballad “Tam Lin,” a narrative told from the perspective of the girl left behind, the jilted lover. This story further distinguishes itself by depicting a successful rescue of a human victim from the clutches of a demonic lover.

Connla and the Fairy Maiden (Ireland)


Connla of the Fiery Hair was son of Conn of the Hundred Fights. One day
as he stood by the side of his father on the height of Usna, he saw a maiden clad in strange attire coming towards him. “Whence comest thou, maiden?”
said Connla.

“I come from the Plains of the Ever Living,” she said, “there where there is neither death nor sin. There we keep holiday always, nor need we help from
any in our joy. And in all our pleasure we have no strife. And because we have our homes in the round green hills, men call us the Hill Folk.”

The king and all with him wondered much to hear a voice when they saw no one. For save Connla alone, none saw the fairy maiden.

“To whom art thou talking, my son?” said Conn the king.

Then the maiden answered, “Connla speaks to a young, fair maid, whom neither death nor old age awaits. I love Connla, and now I call him away
to the Plain of Pleasure, where Boadag is king for aye, nor has there been complaint or sorrow in that land since he has held the kingship. Oh, come with me, Connla of the Fiery Hair, ruddy as the dawn with thy tawny skin.
A fairy crown awaits thee to grace thy comely face and royal form. Come, and never shall thy comeliness fade, nor thy youth, till the last awful day of judgment.”

The king in fear at what the maiden said, which he heard, though he could not see her, called aloud to his druid, Coran by name. “On, Coran of the many spells,” he said, “and of the cunning magic, I call upon thy aid. A task is upon me too great for all my skill and wit, greater than any laid upon me since I seized the kingship. A maiden unseen has met us, and by her power would take from me my dear, my comely son. If thou help not, he will be taken from thy king by woman’s wiles and witchery.”

Then Coran the druid stood forth and chanted his spells towards the spot where the maiden’s voice had been heard. And none heard her voice again, nor could Connla see her longer. Only as she vanished before the druid’s mighty spell, she threw an apple to Connla.

For a whole month from that day Connla would take nothing, either to eat or to drink, save only from that apple. But as he ate, it grew again and always kept whole. And all the while there grew within him a mighty yearning and longing after the maiden he had seen.

But when the last day of the month of waiting came, Connla stood by the side of the king, his father, on the Plain of Arcomin, and again he saw the maiden come towards him, and again she spoke to him.

“‘Tis a glorious place, forsooth, that Connla holds among short-lived mortals
awaiting the day of death. But now the folk of life, the ever-living ones, beg and bid thee come to Moy Mell, the Plain of Pleasure, for they have learnt to know thee, seeing thee in thy home among thy dear ones.”

When Conn the king heard the maiden’s voice he called to his men aloud and said, “Summon swift my druid Coran, for I see she has again this day the power of speech.”

Then the maiden said, “Oh, mighty Conn, fighter of a hundred fights, the druid’s power is little loved; it has little honor in the mighty land, peopled with so many of the upright. When the Law will come, it will do away with the druid’s magic spells that come from the lips of the false black demon.”

Then Conn the king observed that since the maiden came Connla his son spoke to none that spoke to him. So Conn of the Hundred Fights said to him,
“Is it to thy mind what the woman says, my son?”

“‘Tis hard upon me,” then said Connla. “I love my own folk above all things; but yet, but yet a longing seizes me for the maiden.”

When the maiden heard this, she answered and said, “The ocean is not so strong as the waves of thy longing. Come with me in my curragh, the gleaming, straight-gliding crystal canoe. Soon we can reach Boadag’s realm. I see the bright sun sink, yet far as it is, we can reach it before dark. There is, too, another land worthy of thy journey, a land joyous to all that seek it. Only wiv’es and maidens dwell there. If thou wilt, we can seek it and live there alone together in joy.”

When the maiden ceased to speak, Connla of the Fiery Hair rushed away from them and sprang into the curragh, the gleaming, straight-gliding crystal canoe. And then they all, king and court, saw it glide away over the bright sea
towards the setting sun. Away and away, till eye could see it no longer, and Connla and the fairy maiden went their way on the sea, and were no more seen, nor did any know where they came.

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