Folklore by Cecilia Dart-Thornton


Some folk call them “fairies” others call them “wights”. Whatever you name them, it is useful to be armed with knowledge of their ways, if you intend to venture into the countryside of the British Isles or the fantastic world called Aia. Fortunately, over the course of human history this information has been thoroughly catalogued.

Wight Lore:

Seelie wights are those who wish mortals well, and even give them supernatural help, or who merely use them as targets for their harmless mischief. The intent of unseelie wights, however, is to harm humankind.

Although they can prevaricate and trick, wights cannot lie. By the same token, if you make a promise or give your word to a wight you are bound by gramarye to keep it.

Household wights, best exemplified by bruneys (brownies), do not necessarily react adversely to the touch of cold iron. All others do.

Trooping wights wear green coats and red caps, while Solitaries wear red coats.

To steal a swanmaiden, take her cloak of feathers so that she cannot fly. To abduct a mermaid or merrow, take her comb. To kidnap a silkie (selkie), take his or her seal-skin, without which these wights cannot travel underwater. Be aware, it is unkind to do any of these things!

Silkies will not harm you unless you harm them. If you do them a good turn they will return it to you.

Most unseelie and seelie land wights cannot cross running water, especially if it flows south.

The high-tide mark is the boundary between the territories of land wights and sea wights.

An ‘awe band” can be put on mortals to stop them telling what they have seen of wights.

Giving helpful wights a gift or verbal thanks means “goodbye” to them – ie, they have been paid therefore their services are no longer required. Some wights take offence at being thanked in any form, and permanently withdraw their services out of sheer indignation. Therefore, thanking wights is taboo.

Warding off unseelie wights:

Holding Fast, a Steady Look and Silence are three powerful charms against malignant wights.

Conversely (and confusingly), acknowledging their presence by looking at them can be detrimental to them. (Perhaps this is only true outdoors, as The Steady Look has been recorded as being used indoors.)

Having The Last Word is effective in certain cases; also, Rhyme has power over wights.

Many wights are powerless after cock-crow.

To show fear is to give them power over you, to allow them to strike.

The ringing of bells is anathema to them. So is whistling, and wearing your clothes turned inside-out.

Charms against unseelie wights include ash keys, ground-ivy (“athair luss”), amber, red verbena, salt, hypericum, cold iron, ash-wood, rowan and daisies.


Swanmaidens, redcaps, waterhorses, spriggans and urisks are just a few of the interesting creatures belonging to the folklore of the British Isles. Some quotes from THE BITTERBYNDE throw light on three of these entities.


She came in those ephemeral pre-dawn moments on the borders of day and night when the world swings around and odd things may easily occur. They knew her first by a clap of wings and a rush of air. Presently a feminine manifestation emerged out of grey dewdrop stillness, forming as though she gathered shape to herself from the sky, the clouds, the last fading star. The black cloak of feathers dripped from delicate shoulders to her bare feet. Like a wondrous girl she appeared, yet imbued with an inhuman wildness and a strangeness that evoked glimmering meres glimpsed through mist. Afar off she stood – unspeaking, remote.


The stories described many different types of waterhorses haunting the lakes and rivers, the pools and oceans of Erith, but of all of them, the Each Uisge was the most ferocious and dangerous. It was one of the most notorious of all the unseelie creatures that frequented the watery places. Sometimes the Each Uisge appeared as a handsome young man, but usually it took the form of a bonny, dapper horse that virtually invited mortals to ride it. Once on its back, no rider could tear himself off, for its skin was imbued with a supernatural stickiness. If anyone was so foolish as to mount, he was carried with a breakneck rush into the nearest lake and torn to pieces. Only some of his innards would be discarded, to wash up later on the shore.


“But if we must pass through the Twenty-Ninth Keep, beware. For years a redcap was wont to skulk therein, and he maybe lurks there still. If so, then doubtless his cap is by now quite faded. In this unoccupied region it must be a good while since he coloured it with redcaps’ favourite dye and he will welcome the sight of mortals.”

Imrhien had scarcely set foot beside him when a hoarse yell cracked the silence like an egg, and a yolk-yellow brilliance flooded their eye- sockets. When their vision adjusted they made out a short, thickset old goblin with long, prominent teeth. His skinny fingers, armed with talons like eagles, were wrapped around a spitting fire-brand in one hand and a pike-staff in the other. Grisly hair streamed down his shoulders. He glared at the intruders with large eyes, fiery crimson. His feet were clapped into metal boots, his domed head jammed into a dull red cap. They saw, at his back, a sooty fireplace, a chopping-block and an axe. On a stone table, a bantam rooster crouched dismally in a wicker cage.


The folklore of Britain gives us many species of supernatural seducers, male and female, some harmless, others lethal. The latter include water-sirens or drowners, mermaids, the Lhiannan-Shee or Leanan Sidhe (which means “The Fairy Sweetheart”), the baobhan sith and the Ganconer (the Love-Talker).

The Ganconer, whose embrace is fatal, makes a cameo appearance in the pages of THE BITTERBYNDE. In case you have not yet been introduced to him, here he is.

He was clad in bleached linen, buckled over with half-armour in the soft grey tones and pure white highlights of silver; chain mail and plate which lent him the air of a dire machine of metal, or a carapaced insect or a cold-blooded sea-creature, yet within this casing, his excellence was obviously superlative.

Darker than wickedness was his hair, falling unbound past his shoulders. As compelling as forbidden pleasure was his countenance. He stood looking down at her from eyes as black as sloes, eyes as alight with passion as her own – a passion matching in intensity, but very different, had she but known it.

And to her now, any man not possessed of this exact stature, this frame, this hair and skin and eyes, was insufficient. Never had she beheld anything more desirable, and she willed the moment to last for all time, that he might never leave her sight.

“What maiden wanders here?” he said, or sang, and she did not think to ask his name, nor why he cast no shadow. He did not smile; his look was sorrowful, like that of a brilliant poet precociously doomed – a sadness which, if it affected his comeliness at all, enhanced it.

Then he began to speak again. The words of ganconers were enchantment in its true meaning; snares to the senses. Hearkening to the puissance of his syllables, Viviana did not notice the skew of the narrative or its menace, its obscenity. Inside her, a bird sang shrilly, its beak perforating her heart.

“You shall find me,” added this vision of male allure, “Breath-taking.”

He drew closer and she felt a chill like the utter coldness of a marble tombstone. A phantasmal mist rose out of the trees and twined about them, shutting out the world.

“Silken of flesh,” he said, provocatively brushing her cheek with a long finger, “Hazel of eye and rose of mouth.” His fingertip trailed across her lips. She trembled, distracted by his ardency, his nearness. The outline of his face was carved in alabaster against the spilled ink of his hair. Sloe eyes looked into her wide pupils, through her vulnerability to the well-spring of her psyche, and where they looked, a wound opened and began to bleed.

“But why so thirsty -” he concluded softly, drawing away a finger on whose tip stood out a cloudy bead of pear juice, “Beloved?”

He filled her embrace with his passion, her mouth with his kisses, her eyes with his blinding hair, her thought with chaos, her lungs with his breath.

And that breath was as icy as a comet’s heart.

© 2001 Cecilia Dart-Thornton

Copyright© 2002, Time Warner Bookmark, Science Fiction and Fantasy books from Aspect, Warner Books, Inc. and Little Brown and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. This article has been provided by Time Warner Bookmark and printed with their permission.

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