Rather than celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with “Kiss Me” slogans and green beer, I thought it might be fun to share a little insight into a quintessentially Celtic belief: faeries.
In the faerie lore of the United Kingdom, one custom involved leaving offerings on the hearth. At the close of the day, the hearth was carefully swept. A vessel of water was gathered and this was placed on the hearth for the faeries. It was believed that the Little Folk would seek this for their nightly ablutions. If the sound of their steps was heard in the night, this was a good sign, for it meant that they would bring prosperity to the household. A sure way to bring trouble to the home was to attempt to spy on the faeries at their bath. This is in keeping with a great deal of folk wisdom surrounding the fae. Whether the otherworldly beings entered a home to receive offerings or to do work — as was often the case with the class of faerie known as a brownie — the diminutive denizens of the faerie realm took great offense when mortals peeked in on them unawares.
If a curious householder sought to catch sight of the faeries at night, the repercussions could be grave. Not only would the Fair Folk quit the home — taking its luck and prosperity with them — but they were frequently known to dole out dire punishment to the mortal so bold as to break their rules. Thomas Sternberg, in a 1851 collection of folklore, tells of a farmer, overcome with curiosity about his nightly guests, who hid himself away and awaited their visit. The faeries, upon discovering their secrecy had been betrayed were so aggrieved that they struck the farmer blind on the spot.
If you want to read more about the faerie-faith of Celtic Ireland, I highly recommend The Celtic Twilight by Yeats and the collections of folklore by Lady Wilde.