The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Birth-spirit Fairies: The Fates
In the famous story Sleeping Beauty, following the birth of a long-awaited royal heir, her parents, the king and queen, hold a banquet for fairies who come to celebrate as well as bestow the baby’s fate. Each fairy bears a blessing as a baby-gift.
Different versions of the fairy tale posit different reasons: sometimes it’s an accidental oversight, other times an intentional omission, but one fairy inevitably is not invited. Sometimes she shows up anyway and is welcomed, but the unprepared parents are unable to provide the same beautiful golden plate engraved with her own name as is given her sister-fairies. The end result is that, angered, she retaliates with a deadly curse for the baby.
This scenario is no mere fairy tale but a description of spiritual rituals long performed throughout Europe, in French, Slavic, Celtic, and other regions as well as among the Romany.
Following a baby’s birth it was customary to lay an offering table for fairies who were expected to arrive and bestow the baby’s fate. Details differ as the specific spirits to whom the ritual is devoted. Most frequently, three spirits are anticipated but sometimes there is only one and sometimes as many as twelve, as in the original version of Sleeping Beauty. Usually the spirits are female but the Romany, for instance, have intermingled male and female birth spirits.
The offering table is the crucial element: this is not necessarily the equivalent of an altar, although it bears resemblance to the ofrendas of the Mexican Days of the Dead (see CALENDAR: Dia De los Muertos). A table is laid as if for a festive meal. Fairies as honored, desired guests are expected to come and dine: food and drink are offered. The table must be beautifully set with individual place settings, napkins, glasses, the works. (Each tradition will specify how many fairies are expected although as in Sleeping Beauty, it’s usually best to be prepared for extra guests.)
Fatit are South Albanian fairies (singular: fati), also known as miren from the Greek Moirae or Fates. The fatit ride butterflies. On the third day following a baby’s birth, three fatit approach the cradle and determine the baby’s destiny.
Oosood are Serbian spirits described as a sub-species of Vila (see page 443), which is interesting because it links Fate Fairies with Nature-spirit Fairies. Oosood arrive on the seventh day following a birth and are visible only to the mother. In addition to food, they appreciate flowers.
“Our Good Mothers” is the Breton euphemism for these Fates who typically appear in groups of three. Their leader is named Béfind. They prefer lavish multi-course meals complete with champagne, whiskey, wine, and pastry, as well as the fruits and nuts more familiarly associated with fairies.
The Seven Hathors may be the earliest clear manifestation of this tradition. Hathor is the primordial Egyptian goddess of love, sex, birth, pleasure, intoxication, music, and death. She is a famed shape-shifter: the Seven Hathors may be aspects or avatars of Hathor although they may also be her daughters or attendant spirits. They appear at births to pronounce the baby’s destiny. It is unknown whether food offerings were given to them, although this was customary in Egyptian tradition. They were, however, offered seven red ribbons, one for each Hathor.
Among the spirits categorized as fairies are a preponderance of what are commonly called “nature spirits.” Folklorists divide these fairies into categories:
Trooping fairies live in sophisticated societies similar to those of humans and often accumulate wealth. “Trooping” indicates that at least once a year, fairies leave their home and travel in processional.
Solitary fairies are not all literally solitary, although some are. Many live in packs. These fairies do not troop: they are wild or feral spirits and are described as solitary because they live a stark, simple existence in the forest or underwater away from civilization.