Yesterday's Magazette

7 – Where Fairies Danced

Where Fairies Danced

By Madonna Dries Christensen

 

Where are the fairies?

Where can we find them?

We’ve seen the fairy rings,

They leave behind them.

When they’ve danced all night,

Where do they go?

Lark, in the sky above,

Say, do you know?

            — sign in a tea garden, Pretoria, South Africa

*Most of the stones are shaped like Roman or St. Andrew’s crosses.

The Scots-Irish who settled in Patrick County Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains left a legacy of imaginative tales about fairies, Druids and other spirits. Folklore enthusiast William Butler Yeats described faith in fairies as “sent by Providence.” He wrote, “Irish fairies divide themselves into two great classes: the sociable and the solitary. The first are, in the main, kindly, and the second full of uncharitableness.”

Yeats referred to solitary fairies as ganconer, clurican, leprechaun, far darrig, dullahan, leanhaun shee, far gorta, and banshee. The chiefs among these classes often desire a beautiful, mortal wife, so humans must guard their young, pretty daughters against theft. The children of these unions are recognizable by their irresistible beauty, their cleverness and their gift of song, but they’re also reckless, wild and extravagant. Solitary fairies might snatch a baby, leaving a changeling in its place. 

Changelings are ill-behaved, dull, unattractive creatures. In Yeats’s poem, The Stolen Child, he wrote: “Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild. With a faery, hand in hand, for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” Humans can ward off child theft by placing iron nails in the cradle. Solitary fairies are probably best known in regard to fairy rings, described as circular tracks in the grass, trampled by tiny feet. It’s safe for humans to walk around a fairy ring, but stepping inside will bring bad luck, even death.

Among the sociable fairy classes are sheoques and merrows. Legend has it that it was these good fairies who roamed the serene foothills of the Blue Ridge during the time of Christ. Early one morning they were dancing around a cool spring, playing with naiads and wood nymphs. Suddenly the gaiety was broken when an elfin stranger from a faraway land stepped into their midst. The message he brought was that Christ had been crucified. As the fairies wept at the details of Christ’s death, their tears flooded the ground around the spring and the adjacent valley. The melancholy fairies gradually left their enchanted home. In time, the tears they had shed crystallized into untold numbers of small stones shaped like crosses. 

The scientific explanation for these six-sided crosses is, of course, dull by comparison with the mystical legend. Russet in color and ranging in size from one-quarter inch to two inches, they are composed of silica, iron and aluminum, formed as the earth’s crust heated and then cooled during the formation of the Appalachian Mountains. Because the staurolite crystals are harder than surrounding materials, they erode slower and rise to the earth’s surface retaining their original shape. 

Most of the stones are shaped like Roman or St. Andrew’s crosses. The Maltese cross is rare, and the most desired by collectors. Staurolite is also found in Switzerland and in the mountains of North Carolina, but only in this Virginia region are they found in such abundance and in the cross-like formation. 

There, in the Blue Ridge mountains, Fairy Stone Park continues to cast an enchanting spell on visitors by perpetrating the legend of the stone crosses created by fairies’ tears. The park sprang to life in 1936 during one of our country’s darkest periods: the Depression. Junius B. Fishburn, publisher of the Roanoke Times, donated 4,868 acres to be used as one of Virginia’s six state parks, developed by the federal government’s Civilian Conservation Corp. The fairy stones are plentiful enough that visitors are allowed to take a few for personal use, but commercial digging is not permitted.

Many people regard the crosses with superstitious awe, believing that they protect the owner against accidents, illness, witchcraft, or any form of bad luck. The crosses are usually carried on one’s person, but have also become popular as jewelry. Among those said to have carried fairy stones are Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, and many officers and soldiers serving in the European wars. In John Fox Jr.’s book, Trail of the Lonesome Pine, a man gives his sweetheart one of the stone crosses, and good luck follows them.

In a collection called Fairy Poems, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote: Have you seen any fairies lately? I asked the question of a little girl not long ago. “Huh! There’s no such thing as fairies,” she replied. Wilder was surprised by this answer, for she believed that fairies are all around us and that they appear to those with seeing eyes. If you have not seen them, she added, you have at least seen their work.

If you should find yourself in Fairy Stone Park, open your eyes to the possibility of fairies. Select a few fairy stones for yourself and your friends. Pass them out to children to tuck into a pocket, and share the legend and this rhyme with them: 

May the charms of the fairy stone make you blessed,

Through the days of labor and nights of rest,

Wherever you stay, wherever you go,

May the beautiful flowers of the good fairies grow.

                                         — author unknown

*Madonna Dries Christensen, author of Swinging Sisters and Masquerade, has recently compiled the anthologies, “Dolls Remembered” and “Toys Remembered,” available through Amazon and other major bookstores.

Vol. 38 No. 2 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette


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