In flower language, bluebells symbolise constancy and everlasting love.
According to folklore, the fairies were called when the bluebell was rung. Others believed that if you heard a bluebell ring, you or someone close to you will die.
It was thought to be unlucky to walk through a field of bluebells, as the spells that fairies have hung on the bluebell flowers will be disturbed.
Bluebells used to be known as “witches thimbles” and it was said the bells of the flowers would peal out at midnight calling to the fairies. Woe betides any poor unfortunate traveller who heard those bells - he would be dead in the morning.
The Latin name for this flower is “Endymion”, for a shepherd boy with whom the Moon goddess, Selene (later identified with Diana) fell in love. Selene put Endymion into an eternal sleep, so she alone could enjoy his beauty.
Bluebells were once used by herbalists to help prevent nightmares, and to cure leprosy, spider-bites and tuberculosis; but in fact, the bluebell is poisonous.
While many people from many walks of life and many cultures may have claimed (in fairy tales and in real life) to have stolen treasure from the supernatural beings of Faerie not all of them were successful. In fact many of them failed quite spectacularly at it and they didn’t generally get to walk away unscathed from the encounter either. The saying about letting sleeping dragons lie (said of course when you see one lying on a gigantic pile of treasure) goes double when dealing with a faerie (or elf, or troll, or witch).
The number one punishment generally given is loss of magical companionship. Many of the thieves in fairy tales were only given the opportunity to access such treasure because they stumbled across a door or were invited down into Faerie. There they enjoy the dance, but not the feast (see Godmother for the Elves for why that is), they play with the fairies if they are children or otherwise enjoy themselves at their magical host’s expense. While there they witness the magic of Faerie and want to take some of it back with them. Sometimes the thief takes something as simple as a flower, sometimes a golden ball, sometimes real gold or silver. In any case the first, and sometimes only, punishment is the immediate loss of Faerie. They find themselves back in the real world, sometimes without their treasure for their trouble, and the magical world they were in is lost to them forever. Sometimes on the heels of this discovery is madness for the thief in question. He or she will lose their wits for the rest of their life for daring to trifle with a magical being.
In Germany there is a fairy tale surrounding the king of the snakes, a large snake himself. He likes to go out and sun on a rock on bright and sunny afternoons and will leave his crown sitting beside him. Many fairy tales talk about attempts by various thieves to steal that crown left lying so temptingly nearby. In one famous example a man on horseback grabs it and rides off with it. He gets home safe and sound, or so he thinks, and is just about to take the crown down from the saddle when a snake that was hidden in his horses’ tail strikes out and bites him with a predictably sad ending after that.
In other fairy tales sometimes the victim will start to cry loud and long because they were robbed and will deafen the thief permanently with their cries. Other times the thief is forced to return the treasure, as we talked about in part one, or they end up having the item stolen back. The number one item stolen by thieves is a cup of some sort (or a flask, or drinking horn, or goblet, or chalice). The thief is offered it by a magical being and they will dump the contents of the drink and run with the valuable container. If they are on horse back wherever the liquid lands on their hose the hair will be singed off of it proving the magical nature of the treasure. In one memorable fairy tale this is also how it is stolen back. The next Christmas a beggar comes to the house and asks for a drink and the ditzy housewife (it’s always a ditzy housewife) offers the fairy cup her husband had stolen the year before, with predictable results as it is no beggar at all but a troll in disguise. It’s called karma.
Aside from being bitten by a snake (and, okay, maybe the madness too) many of these fairy tales have been pretty tame and fair in their retribution. But that was not always the case. Some of the most violent and sinister retributions are also the ones that cross from being a fairy tale to claiming to be true. In a Norse fairy tale a man shoots silver bullets over the heads of some trolls as they were attempting to carry off his bride (see Adult Changelings for more on that type of fairy tale). He grabs her and mounts a horse and rides off. One of the trolls tries to slow him down by offering him a cup of wine to drink on the way. He casts out the wine but keeps the cup and now he has both the girl and a golden cup for his trouble. The trolls then call out, “The red cock shall crow over thy dwelling!” By the way that is apparently troll-speak for arson. On arriving home the thief sees that his entire home has been engulfed in flames.
In a Swedish fairy tale a servant rides out to discover the source of a revelry occurring outside of the house. When there he discovered a group of trolls celebrating and is offered a cup of wine and a pipe to smoke asking him to partake in celebration of the great troll King. The servant grabbed the cup and the pipe and rode away on his horse. Having made his escape he then gave these items to his master. Two days later the horse died and the day after that the thief died as well, the mansion has since burned twice and the family has never prospered. Regardless they at least claim to still have both the cup and the pipe to this day. This is all according to a 100 year old book so I decided to look up how the place has done since then and the town this fairy tale took place in, Ljungby, has since had a large part of the town center burn to the ground in 1953, and the bass player in Metallica died near there in a tragic bus accident in 1986. Still sounds cursed to me.
In Germany the witches like to party just as much as the trolls of Sweden. One poor farmer was having his fields torn to shreds by their shenanigans and wanted the partying to stop, or at least to take place on someone else’s property. Again a servant was sent to shoo the party people away and again this was met with trouble. He was offered drink from a golden horn but was warned by a fellow servant that the witches just wanted to poison him with it. So he cast the drink out and ran home. All the doors and gates were left open so he was easily able to make it through and across the threshold where he was safe. A gentleman turned up the next day and begged for the horn to be returned. If the farmer would return it they would build walls seven feet high around his lands, if he would not his barns would burn down three times and he would face financial ruin. He was given three days to think about this but the farmer still decided that he would no return the horn. At harvest time just as the last of the fields’ bounty were brought into the barn the barn was set alight and burned to the ground with all of his stores in it. The next year this happened again and again the year after that. By the end of the third year he had nothing and only with the help of the King was he able to afford to buy seed for the next year. He started to search for the owner of the horn and sent it around to everywhere he could think of, even as far as Constantinople, to no avail. He never saw the witches again.
In a Danish fairy tale a beautiful young elf maiden offered a drink from a golden drinking horn to a young man on a journey. He didn’t trust the drink and poured it out behind him and took off with the horn on horse back. As with other fairy tales the liquid singed the hairs from the horse’s hide wherever it landed. The elf maiden pursued him but was foiled when the lad managed to cross a stream. The elf maiden begged him to return the horn and promised him the strength of twelve men if he did. The young man accepted the bargain and returned the horn. Unfortunately with the strength of twelve men came the appetite of twelve men, which is why I’m listing this in the epic fail post though he did get what he asked for.
In Germany, Norway and England there are fairy tales concerning punishments for thievery from magical beings that lasted for several generations. In a German tale many generations of a family were punished with disunity for refusing to drink the offered cup and instead casting out the contents and stealing it. In a tale from Norway the thief’s family was punished onto the 9th generation with a bodily blemish. But perhaps one of the most well known generational story comes from England. Again a group of fairies were having a party near a well and the nearby household became curious about the noise and came to check it out. As soon as the people attempted to view them the fairies vanished but left a beautiful cup behind (see the legend of Lady Godiva for more on vanishing fairies in English fairy tales). A voice cried out:
“If this glass do break or fall,
Farewell the luck of Edenhall!”
The luck of Edenhall did hold out for quite some time according to the book I read, but being 100 years out of date I decided to check up on the place and apparently it didn’t last forever. The family loaned the cup to a museum in 1926 and Eden Hall was shortly after demolished in 1934. The cup is currently in possession of the nation of England as of 1958.