Protection against fairies

Friday is the  day of the week in which one should always take special precautions against them. For instance, before telling stories of the fairies, one should prefix one’s tales with: “A blessing attend their departing and travelling! This day is friday and they will not hear us.” This helps to ensure that the fairies’ attention will be drawn away briefly. Also, one should avoid sharpening knives and other iron weapons on this day, for this greatly offends all of the fay race.

Certain locations, known to be haunts of fairies, are to be avoided. In particular, digging in fairy hills was unwise. Paths that the fairies travel are also wise to avoid. Home-owners have knocked corners from houses because the corner blocked the fairy path, and cottages have been built with the front and back doors in line, so that the owners could, in need, leave them both open and let the fairies troop through all night.

Locations such as fairy forts were left undisturbed; even cutting brush on fairy forts was reputed to be the death of those who performed the act. Fairy trees, such as thorn trees, were dangerous to chop down; one such tree was left alone in Scotland, though it prevented a road being widened for seventy years.

Such water spirits as Selkies, Peg Powler and Jenny Greenteeth, prone to drowning people, could be avoided by avoiding the bodies of water they inhabit. 

In Scotland, no one dared to set foot in the mill or kiln at night as it was known that the fairies brought their corn to be milled after dark.

Here is a list of notorious apotropaic objects and materials. ‘Apotropaic’ is a word generally used to mean something that ward off demons, vampires, witches and other evil spirits,


The great protection against the Fairy race is iron, or preferably steel.  The metal can be in any form : a sword, a knight, a pair of scissors, a needle, a nail, a ring, a bar, a fish-hook. On entering a Fairy dwelling, a piece of steel stuck in the door, takes from the Fairies the power of closing it till the intruder comes out again. A knife stuck in a deer carried home at night keeps them from laying their weight on the animal. A knife or nail in one’s pocket prevents his being `lifted’ at night. Nails in the front bench of the bed keep elves from women `in the straw’, and their babes. As additional safe-guards, the smoothing iron should be put below the bed, and the reaping-hook in the window. A nail in the carcass of a bull that fell over a rock was believed to preserve its flesh from them. It should be noted that in the case of vampires’ superstitions that roughly belong to the same period, it was silver that repelled the nosferatu.


Bells were said to be protective; church bells, the bells worn by morris dancers and the bells round the necks of sheeps and oxen. So was whistling and the snapping of clappers. An man who was pixy-led, wandering around and unable to find his way out of the field, would generally turn his coat. This act of turning clothes may have been thought to act as a change of identity, for gamblers often turned their coat to break a run of bad luck.


If chased by evil fairies, one could generally leap to safety across running water, particularly a southward-flowing stream, though there were evil water-spirits such as the kelpie who haunted fresh-water streams.
According to J.G. Campbell, on the islands of Scotland, one could escape the Fairies, if they gave chase, by descending to the shoreline below the high-tide mark. The Fairies were unable to go below that tide mark.


Fire thrown into water in which the feet have been washed takes away the power of the water to admit the Fairies into the house at night; a burning peat put in sowens to hasten their fermenting (greasadh gortachadh) kept the substance in them till ready to boil. Martin says fire was carried round lying-in women, and round about children before they were christened, to keep mother and infant from the power of evil spirits. When the Fairies were seen coming in at the door burning embers thrown towards them drove them away.


In Newfoundland folklore, the most popular type of fairy protection is bread, varying from stale bread to hard tack or a slice of fresh home-made bread. The belief that bread has some sort of special power is an ancient one. Bread is associated with the home and the hearth, as well as with industry and the taming of nature, and as such, seems to be disliked by some types of fairies. On the other hand, in much of the Celtic folklore, baked goods are a traditional offering to the folk, as are cream and butter.

“The prototype of food, and therefore a symbol of life, bread was one of the commonest protections against fairies. Before going out into a fairy-haunted place, it was customary to put a piece of dry bread in one’s pocket. ” – Briggs, Katharine Mary (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies.


Another effective safe-guard against Faeries is oatmeal. When sprinkled on one’s clothes or carried in the pocket no Fairy will venture near, and it was usual with people going on journeys after nightfall to adopt the precaution of taking some with them. Oatmeal, taken out of the house after dark, was sprinkled with salt, and unless this was done, the Fairies might through its instrumentality take the substance out of the farmer’s whole grain. Oakmen are created when a felled oak stump sends up shoots. One should never take food offered by them since it is poisonous.

To keep them from getting the benefit of the meal itself, housewives, when baking oatmeal bannocks, made a little thick cake with the last of the meal and put a hole through it with the forefinger. When given to children, as it usually is, a piece should be broken off it.


Certain plants and herbs were also protective counter-charms. The strongest was the four-leafed clover, which broke fairy glamour, as well as the fairy ointment, which was indeed said by Hunt to be made of four-leafed clovers. St John’s Wort, the herb of Midsummer, was potent against spells and the power of fairies, evil spirits and the Devil. Red verbena was almost equally potent, partly because of its pure and brilliant colour. Daisies, particularly the little field daisies, were protective plants, and a child wearing daisy chains was supposed to be safe from fairy kidnapping.

Red-berried trees were also protective, above them all rowan. A staff made of rowan wood, or a rowan cross or a bunch of ripe berries were all sure protections, and it was customary in the Highlands to plant a rowan-tree outside every house. Where rowans were scarce, ash- An ashen gad was supposed to be protective of cattle.
As the Scottish rhyme goes:

Rowan, lamer [amber] and red threid,
Pits witches to their speed.


Stale urin, or Maistir, when sprinkled on the cattle and on the door-posts and walls of the house, kept the Fairies, and indeed every mischief, at a distance. This spinkling was done regularly on the last eveing of every quarter of the year.

The Bible and holy symbols

Stories representing the Bible as a protection must be of a recent date. It was the result of the Church attempts to “demonize” the old folklores and replace it by its own dogma.

From Katherine Brigg’s Encyclopedia of Fairies:

People walking alone by night, especially through fairy-haunted places, had many ways of protecting themselves. The first might be by sacred symbols, by making the sign of a cross or carrying a cross, particularly one made of iron; by prayers or the chanting of hymns, by holy water, sprinkled or carried, and by carrying and strewing churchyard mould in their path. Bread and salt were also effective, and both were regarded as sacred symbols, one of life and the other of eternity.


Faeries and witches share the secrets of spells and incantations that can bring good fortune but also havoc. They can also be thwarted through the use of spells. Several seventeenth-century magical manuscripts contain spells to obtain power over fairies. Some were to call them up, some to dismiss them from places were treasure was to be found, and some to gain their help and advice.

An excellent way to gett a Fayrie, but for my selfe I call margarett Barrance but this will obtaine any one that is not allready bound.

First gett a broad square christall or Venus glasse in length and breadth 3 inches, then lay that glasse or christall in the bloud of a white henne 3 wednesdayes or 3 fridayes: then take it out and wash it with holy aqua and fumigate it: then take 3 hazle stickes or wands of an yeare groth, pill them fayre and white, and make soe longe as you write the spiritts name, or fayries name, which you call 3 times, on every sticke being made flatt one side, then bury them under some hill whereas you suppose fayries haunt, the wednesday before you call her, and the friday followinge take them uppe and call hir at 8 or 3 or 10 of the clocke which be good plannets and howres for that turne: but when you call, be in cleane Life and turne thy face towards the east, and when you have her bind her to that stone or Glasse.

An Ungt. to annoynt under the Eyelids and upon the Eyelidds evninge and morninge, but especially when you call, or finde your sight not perfect. (That is, an ointment to give sight of the fairies) pt. (precipitate?) sallet oyle and put it into a Viall glasse but first wash it with rose water, and marygold flower water, the flowers be gathered towards the east, wash it til the oyle come white, then put it into the glasse, ut supra. and thou put thereto the budds of holyhocke, the flowers of mary gold; the flowers or toppes of wild time the budds of younge hazle, and the time must be gatherred neare the side of a hill where fayries use to go oft, and the grasse of a fayrie throne, there, all these putt into the oyle, into the glasse, and sett it to dissolve 3 dayes in the sonne, and thou keep it for thy use; ut supra.

The Bodleian Library (MS. Ashmole 1406)


Many devices are employed to thwart Fairy inroads. A burning ember was put into “sowens” and left there till the dish was ready for boiling, about three days after. A sieve should not be allowed out of the house after dark, and no meal unless it be sprinkled with salt. Otherwise, the Fairies may, by means of them, take the substance out of the whole farm prouce. Others hung iron horseshoes from their door tops to prevent and fairies from entering into their home.  A nail driven into a cow, killed by falling over a precipice, was supposed to keep the elves away. It is even said if you pick a four-leaf clover it will protect you from any spells a fairy may use against you, and if you lie very still with the clover in your hand you may even make them appear visible to the human eye.

For babies

A newly-christened child was safe against being carried off by the fairies, but before the baptem the baby was kept safe by his father’s trousers laid over the cradle, or an open pair of scissors hung above it. This last had a double potency as being made of steel and as hanging in the form of a cross, on the same principle that the child’s garments were secured by pins stuck in cross-wise. The house and stock were protected by iron horseshoes above the house and stable doors, and horses were protected from being elf-ridden by self-bored stones hung above the manger.