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Does Scotland Really Have Fairies?

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.”
~ Sir J. M. Barrie, Scottish journalist, writer, and dramatist (1860-1937)

A Fairy Releases a Fish     Woodland Path

One autumn afternoon in Edinburgh, I tiptoed round a centuries-old close—a passageway or courtyard—trying not to infringe on anyone’s privacy as I snapped a few photos of ivy-covered walls.

A small woman of perhaps sixty was busily tending the potted plants outside her door. Her gray hair was caught in a clip on the crown of her head, and her blue eyes shone with an inquisitive gaze.

After we exchanged pleasantries, she wanted to know why I’d come to Scotland.

“Doing research for a novel,” I explained.

Minutes later I walked through the arched door of her two-story dwelling, stunned that a complete stranger would invite me into her home for a cup of tea.

A Circle of Rose Petals

As I took my seat, she gestured toward a circle of pink rose petals on the bare wooden floor. “Had I known you were coming,” she said, “I would have spelled out your name.”

“Ohh,” I sighed, imagining how she might have formed the letter L in her flowery script.

Her nimble hands ever busy, she showed me an intricately patterned sweater she was knitting for a friend, then described how she’d affixed pressed flowers to her mantelpiece using some mysterious process involving glue and a coating of polyurethane.

Pressed Flowers on the Mantelpiece

I confess I began to wonder if she had fairies living at the bottom of her garden. Not that I believe in the wee folk, mind you. But how else to explain this whimsical, charming woman existing in our modern world?

She was kindness itself, offering a plate of shortbread along with a lively show-and-tell of her many creations. We chatted about books and art, about gardens and food, about the Bible and the wisdom it contains.

When I stepped back outside, blinking in the sunlight, her house nearly disappeared behind the greenery. It didn’t look quite like this, but not far from it.

Fairy Door amid the Foliage

Had I sipped tea with a fairy? No. My new friend was delightfully eccentric, but very much of this realm. Still, I was in Scotland, a country brimming with fairy lore.

The farther north into the Highlands you venture, the more likely you are to hear about fairies. You’ll also stumble upon place names like Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye. With its many small lochs and cone-shaped hillocks. the glen looks like an entire landscape done in miniature. Perfect for…aye.

Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

Eve Blantyre Simpson, in her book, Folk Lore in Lowland Scotland (1908), told of a learned gentleman who was asked if he believed in fairies. The Highlander replied as gravely as if his confession of faith had been challenged, “Of course I do.”

Even people with strong religious beliefs embraced the notion of fairies, kelpies, and brownies in centuries past. Scottish fairy lore is rich with descriptions of the creatures and their habits. Fairies, it seems, are mischievous and not to be trusted. Cross a fairy and you may find yourself elf-shot.

Fairy Toadstools      Wishing Well

In my fourth Scottish historical novel, Grace in Thine Eyes, Davina McKie is a young woman of seventeen who has lost the ability to speak, yet finds myriad ways to communicate. Here’s a brief exchange from chapter twelve:

Grace in Thine Eyes by Liz Curtis HiggsDavina held out the page with its single, bold question: Have you ever seen a fairy?

Her mother, Leana, considered Davina’s diminutive height, her fair complexion and luxuriant red hair, her gift for music, her playful nature, and her penchant for green dresses. Aye, and her utter silence. Fairy motion was said to be soundless.

“Have I ever seen a fairy?” Leana traced her daughter’s freckled cheek with maternal affection. “Only when I look at you.”

Whether covered in moss or Scottish bluebells, gardeners of old trod across small clearings with care, lest they disturb the fairies that gathered there to dance. I didn’t spy a single flutter of wings round this promising spot near Eilean Donan Castle in the Highlands.

Field of Scottish Bluebells in May

Does Scotland really have fairies? Davina didn’t think so. Her cousin asked her, “Wherever did you see the wee folk?” Davina winked and pointed to her head. Only in here, lass.

“Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men.”
~William Allingham, Irish poet and editor (1824-1889)

I find the topic of fairies intriguing, if only because it shows us how people over the centuries have yearned for a world beyond the natural one. You can study the fairy lore of old in classic books like Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales by George Douglas, An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales by Theresa Breslin, and The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz.

I’ll close with a sprinkling of fairy-themed poetry and an invitation to leave a comment regarding this question: From the Tooth Fairy to Tinkerbell, did you ever believe in fairies?

A Fairy Amid the Flowers at Cambuskenbeth Abbey“Fairies use flowers for their charactery.”
~ William Shakespeare, English dramatist and poet (1564-1616)

“Be secret and discreet; the fairy favors are lost when not concealed.”
~  John Dryden, English poet and dramatist (1631-1700)

“The dances ended, all the fairy train
For pinks and daisies search’d the flow’ry plain.”
~ Alexander Pope, English poet and critic (1688-1744)

“Did you ever hear
Of the frolic fairies dear?”
~ Frances Sargent Osgood, American poet (1811-1850)

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39 Responses to “Does Scotland Really Have Fairies?”

  1. Becky Jacoby November 9, 2012 4:06 pm #

    I heard the smallest of tinkling bells playing some lost strain of a love song when I read this post. Perhaps a fairy was dancing on my shoulder.

    So lovely, thanks for the picturesque walk through the Scottish hillocks.

    Becky Jacoby

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 10, 2012 7:04 pm #

      Love your lyrical response, Becky. Happy to walk with you round Scotland, anytime!

  2. Sharon McClurg November 9, 2012 4:59 pm #

    As a young girl my sisters and I would often sing songs we learned in 4-H. One of our favorites was:

    White coral bells upon a slender stalk,
    Lilies of the Valley deck my garden walk.
    Oh don’t you wish, that you could hear them ring ?
    That will happen only when the fairies sing !

    🙂 Lovely photos and story Liz – Thanks !

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 10, 2012 7:06 pm #

      LOVE that wee song, Sharon. I can’t remember where I learned it, but the notes came wafting through my head as soon as I read your words. Thanks for sharing!

      • Laurel May 7, 2015 5:45 pm #

        Liz & Sharon, “White Coral Bells” is a song from my childhood, too. How I longed to hear the tinkling of those fragile bells and I wanted so badly to hear the “faeries” sing, I believe I cried in disappointment when it didn’t happen.

        I still believe. And since then, I’ve heard them. I always seem to have one foot in that world anyway. Thank you, Liz, for a magical interlude. I’m brushing a bit of fairy dust off my keyboard as we speak. I so enjoyed it, lass.

  3. Marte November 9, 2012 9:14 pm #

    “Ah, the believing in fairies began as children, goes to sleep after your own children are grown to be awakened when you have grandchildren”…..I have Tinkerbelles and her friends scattered all thru my house, upstairs and down, front yard and back……magical moments!

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 10, 2012 7:09 pm #

      Exactly so, Marte. My friend, Ken Davis, calls his adorable three girls his ‘fairy granddaughters.” Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? Being around children definitely awakens our appreciation for fairy tales and all other flights of fancy.

  4. Mary Kay November 9, 2012 9:24 pm #

    You tell the most amazing stories–even when they’re true! Enchanting, a wee woman who leaves rose petal circles on her floor. Love the stories, and the photos, Liz. Bless your silvery head!

    I have to admit, for a wee bit of time I did believe in the tooth fairy. And I joined in trying to save Tinkerbell–though I don’t remember what we did. Clap, maybe. But I was young when all such frivolous thinking was swept away. Blessing for me, the same was not the case with believing in another I could not see: Jesus!

    Blessings, sweet sis.

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 10, 2012 7:15 pm #

      Sweet words, Mary Kay. Yes, J.M. Barrie asked us to clap to save Tinkerbell (Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp is one of my favorite movies). Bless you for sharing the belief that matters most.

  5. Cherie Kasper November 9, 2012 10:51 pm #

    I loved your blog today. I haven’t been to Scotland, but love to read all about it, history or fiction. Sharon, we too, sang that same song, in rounds a lot. Loved it. Your encounter, Liz, with the wonderful little lady was so moving, it brought tears to my eyes.

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 10, 2012 7:21 pm #

      How dear of you to tell me that, Cherie! Here’s the amazing rest of the story. Three years later I was back in Scotland in that same Edinburgh close, and this wee woman appeared outside her door again! Can you imagine it? She recognized me at once and invited me in, saying, “I just made potato salad. Come have some.” Naturally I took her up on that kind offer, and it was the BEST potato salad I’ve ever eaten. I had to pinch myself, not quite believing I’d had the pleasure of her company twice!

  6. Christy Carton November 10, 2012 6:00 am #

    Thank you for the lovely posting. The pictures are wonderful – brings back many memories of glorious visits to Scotland. The Lord made a beautiful place when He created Scotland.

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 10, 2012 7:17 pm #

      You are so right, Christy: beautiful place, lovely people, amazing history.

  7. Sharon November 10, 2012 12:33 pm #

    Love this. I grew up in the island of Skye in uig less than a mile from the fairy glen and as kids would be too spooked to be near there in twilight but you had to go past the haunted graveyard to get there ;)))) yes we scots are christian with a large dose of superstition
    Never saw a fairy thankfully but still kept my eyes open just in case ;)))
    I think it’s time to read your books again ;))) blessings
    Ceud mil failte

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 11, 2012 11:36 am #

      You grew up on Skye? What an extraordinary isle! My husband and I first visited there on a 10th anniversary trip, I’ve spoken there twice, and I spent two weeks on Skye last May at the White Heather Hotel in Kyleakin http://www.whiteheatherhotel.co.uk/. Your description of “Christian with a large dose of superstition” is exactly what I’ve found to be true as I chat with Scots. Thanks for giving us a wee peek at your world, Sharon!

  8. Bonnie November 11, 2012 12:24 am #

    Have never believed in fairies – but admit to being enchanted by the mystery, mystique, & beauty of the pictures & stories seen & heard concerning them!

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 11, 2012 11:39 am #

      Right there with you, Bonnie. They have intrigued sane and saintly folk for centuries, and especially those of us with a penchant for Story.

  9. Emily Rachelle November 11, 2012 11:57 am #

    I believed in the tooth fairy until I was eight, when Dad gave me a special Black Beauty quarter with a signed note. (He and I were reading Black Beauty together at the time.) I liked the quarter but I wasn’t exactly heppy with him for a few days…

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 11, 2012 4:30 pm #

      It IS rather a sad day when our childhood beliefs are swept aside. Happily, fairies live on in stories, if not in our day-to-day lives, so we can visit them anytime we like. >)

  10. Audrey November 11, 2012 9:33 pm #

    Liz, I remember a poem my momma used to recite to me when I was child…it went something like this:
    I met a little elf one day down where the lillies bloom. I asked why he was so samll and why he didn’t grow? He lookked and with his eyes he searched me through and through. I’m quit as be for me he said, as you are big for you.

    Your blog reminded me of that poem. Thank you for sharing a wee bit of bonnie Scotland in your blog…it’s on my bucket list to go one day. God bless ya!

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 11, 2012 9:54 pm #

      What a fun children’s rhyme, Audrey! Since I love to give credit whenever it’s due, here is the poem and its author:

      I met a little Elf-man once,
      Down where the lilies blow.
      I asked him why he was so small
      And why he didn’t grow.
      He slightly frowned, and with his eye
      He looked me through and through,
      “I’m quite as big for me,” said he,
      “As you are big for you.”
      ~ John Kendrick Bangs

      And yes, you must go to Scotland someday, lass!

  11. Dianne November 11, 2012 10:09 pm #

    When our children were younger, my friend and I would host an annual Fairy Party, complete with fairy appropriate food and romps in her woodland garden, exploring the pathways in search of the elusive wee folk. The children have grown and I think that my friend and I are the ones who miss the gathering the most. Thanks for your blog post and pictures. Maybe next year, the party will be back. 🙂

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 13, 2012 6:58 am #

      A friend of mine in Nashville does much the same thing in her garden, with fairy wings provided for all the little girls in the neighborhood. The pictures are enchanting! I agree, Dianne: next year the party returns!

  12. Sally November 12, 2012 7:34 am #

    My granddaughter lives in Ann Arbor and there is a park there with a fairy section where people have built many different fairy rings, it is magical. The area looks very much like your pictures. She and her mom have built them wherever they lived since she was very small and I find them fascinating although I never knew what one was before that. I loved your story and will pass this page along to her. God bless

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 13, 2012 7:06 am #

      How like the people of Ann Arbor–an artistic, literary, creative place–to have a collection of fairy rings in a town park! You’ll also find a collection of urban fairy doors around Ann Arbor, as well as some fine bookshops. Lovely town.

  13. Laura stryker November 12, 2012 9:45 am #

    Glory be glory be tis a fairy that I see? Upon a rock under a tree round the been it could be!

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 13, 2012 7:07 am #

      I can see you smiling as you type, Laura. Me too.

  14. Virginia November 12, 2012 10:59 am #

    This is a lovely blog! “I do believe in fairies, I do, I do!” Lol. I believe there could be things out there that God can keep hidden from us for reasons we don’t understand. It’s a nice thought to entertain anyway.

    • Liz Curtis Higgs November 13, 2012 7:09 am #

      Thanks for your kind words, Virginia. And it IS a nice thought, especially for those of us with active imaginations and child-like hearts.

  15. Robin November 12, 2012 11:04 am #

    I’ve never believed in fairies, but I’ve always had fun pretending. And my 8yo is right in there with me. a couple spring’s ago, she named my naturalized hyacinths, “fairy skirts”. maybe one summer we’ll build fairy houses. miniature is so cute.

    The idea of fairies does bring up the fascination people have with the mystical. Of course, we know that all good things come from above. what is faith without a bit of magic?

  16. Sarah Elizabeth December 2, 2012 10:25 pm #

    Hi Liz! Just wanted to tell you thank you, for sharing those book links on Scottish myths with us. I am researching for a novel of my own and your book recommendations are sure to help with my writing process.

    P.S. I just found your Scottish novels recently and I am quite looking forward to reading through them soon.

    Many Blessings,
    Sarah Elizabeth

    • Liz Curtis Higgs December 17, 2012 10:39 pm #

      Happy to know those books will be helpful to you, Sarah Elizabeth. I’ll be eager to hear what you think of my Scottish novels, as time permits. Blessings to you!

  17. Ruth Batt January 17, 2013 3:44 pm #

    Love your beautiful photographs! I have always believed in fairies and still do. 🙂 My mom teases me often about it (I’m 33) but it’s something deep inside me. I can’t deny it!

  18. cherilyn January 20, 2013 10:40 pm #

    I love to collect fairy statues and dolls and other things. I have them scattered throughout my house and even hiding in my front yard. there is one statue out front by my gate and my granddaughter had dropped one of her small socks and when she picked it up, put it on the fairy and when I asked her why she said it’s head was cold. that was about 3 or 4 years ago. and it is still there. I do love my fairies but I only collect the sweet looking ones, never the angry or harsh ones.
    by the way I have been reading your books since you did the “encourager” books and videos. keep up the great work.

  19. Elizabeth March 5, 2013 11:48 pm #

    Yes, I believed in fairies. I was as much confused as sad when people told me they did not exist. Somehow they must be wrong! We now live in the woods in MO and there are times when I am sure there must be fairies around. When we built our house here there was a small circle of trees at the front of the house. Some big and tall. some short and kind of gangly. And some ferns and some little bitty flowers. I embarrassed my very practical husband by exclaiming “It’s a fairy circle!” But we kept the workmen out of it and it is one of my fAvorite spots! One spring morning when it was misty and the sun was just up, I went out to find many many spiders had visited and left “spider web tents on the fairy circle floor”. It is always beautiful there.

  20. JUSTINE TORRELLA April 26, 2013 5:46 pm #

    GOD BE WITH YOU LIZ.
    I HAVE READ EVERY BOOK YOU HAVE WRITTEN.
    THEY TRANSPORT ME TO WHEN LIFE WAS SIMPLIER
    AND IT SEEMS WHEN GOD WAS MORE PLEASED WITH US.
    KEEP WRITING PLEASEEEEEEEEEE
    JUSTINE

  21. david bardell April 8, 2015 8:18 am #

    once 40 years ago in argyll scotland I was wild camping in a very quiet area I heard high pitched voices and delicate flute or pan pipe music nearby it stopped as soon as I tried to .wake up my camping buddies? I checked our small radio but the batteries were dead I did not imagine it but cannot explain.

  22. Marie Roach November 13, 2017 3:36 am #

    I live in America and had the pleasure of visiting Scotland five times. It’s is one of my favorite places on Earth and especially The Highlands! On summer 2016 my 8 yr old niece joined our family on my 5th visit. She read about the fairies, the pools and the glen, so we went to Skye . What an enchanting place! I felt and overwhelming peace when walking the hills, breathing the fresh sea side air and sitting on the mossy fields. It was truly a spiritual experience. Im not sure about the fairies, but I know the Spirit of God was in that place. I’ve always like celtic music and for the past few months I’ve been playing Celtic lullabies to my infant grandson. Tonight as we listened to “Dance of the Wild Fairies” I searched the lyrics so I could sing along and found your blog. I will surely read your writings and go back to Scotland soon for a longer visit.

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