The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near


The Queen of Faery

At the village fete the May Queen is crowned and so the Queen of Faery is welcomed among us. Sometimes she invites herself as when Rhiannon arrives on a white horse to propose to Pwyll in the Welsh tales in Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi. In the Scots ballad tradition, the story of Thomas the Rhymer tells us that she comes on a white horse to carry off Thomas who mistakes her for The Queen of Heaven:

Oh no, oh no, Thomas, she said
That name does not belong to me
I am the Queen of fair Elfland
That am hither come to visit thee

She tells him he must go with her and she will confer upon him the gift of poetry:

She mounted on her milk white steed
She's taken True Thomas up behind
And aye whenever her bridle rang
The steed flew swifter than the wind


Light down, light down now, true Thomas
And lean you head upon my knee
Abide and rest a little space
And I will show you ferlies three
What are the conditions of such a pact as Thomas enters into with the Queen, or, for that matter, which anyone else might enter into with any other faery? These are often very specific and the consequences for not obeying them can range from a sudden termination of the experience to never being able to return home:

But Thomas, you must hold your tongue
Whatever you may hear or see
For if you speak word in Elfin land
You'll ne'er get back to you ain country

Then they came on to a garden green
And she pulled an apple frae a tree
Take this for thy wages, True Thomas
It will give the tongue that can never lie.
One way or another the sense here is that the recipients of faerie beneficence must surrender up something of themselves in return. If that something is the soul, how might this be understood? In a Christian context the Faustus story links this to damnation, and the stories in black American folklore of e.g. Robert Johnson going to the crossroads at midnight to gain his ability to play the guitar also draw on similar themes. But need it be seen like this? Can it be construed that this is a reciprocal agreement rather than one that is necessarily to the detriment of one party? Who will take the risk for the privilege of visiting the faerie realm?


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