It’s that time again. Berry pickers across the island are heading to the woods and marshes to harvest those tiny buds of flavour. You might battle with a few stouts, get half eaten by black flies, or if you happen to go a little too far, you might just get taken away by the fairies.
Most are not aware of the province’s fairy folklore. We’ve all heard a ghost story or two, but to most, stories of “the good folk” are seldom heard, especially amongst the younger generations. But our province has a past that was rich in fairy lore, particularly on the predominantly Irish settled , Avalon peninsula.
Stories and beliefs from the homeland followed our ancestors to this rugged island, and there have been numerous self-proclaimed accounts of the Fae and their interactions with family members and friends of the community.
Most stories involving fairies have been collected through interviews throughout the 20th century. Barbara Reiti, folklore PhD and former professor at MUN, is the author of Strange Terrain: The fairy world in Newfoundland. Reiti gathered numerous accounts of Newfoundlanders experiencing encounters with fairies, from tales of horses’ manes being braided nightly, to fairies dancing in a circle and luring travellers through the forest with sweet music.
Conception Bay seems to be a major hotspot, as well as several communities around the Avalon like Avondale, Ferryland, and Witless Bay. They’ve been described as everything from small children sporting red capes, to glowing balls of light.
One of the most abundant settings for tales of the little people is from berry picking adventures. Years ago, berry picking was not only a staple of culture, it was a business to help keep families alive through the winter months.
Stories have told of people being led astray and wandering for days. And if the wind suddenly picked up on an otherwise nice afternoon, it was said to be a “fairy squall.” It’s said that a certain path in Torbay was cut through the woods by lightening, after someone had angered the fairies.
Others have experienced a “fairy blast” if they ticked them off. This is described as a painful hit, causing a wound that eventually exuded strange objects like balls of wool, sticks, and fish bones. Though there are several of these negative accounts, fairies were generally respected and avoided. Only certain times of the year were they known for excessive trickery, especially around solstices and the changing of the season.
The best way for one to avoid being taken or tricked, is said to turn your pockets inside out to confuse them. Another tip is to carry bread along with you. Bread was seen as a religious symbol and sent fairies “running” for the hills.
So when you know someone is going berry picking, make sure you tell them to take these precautions. Just because we don’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not around just waiting for nan to come with her salt beef buckets in over the marsh.
Article by Overcast Intern Kayla Noseworthy
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