The Faerie Tiend

Study for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania by...

Visiting the Fey

First up for today, it’s another question…

For those of us who have never heard of it could you give us a link to something on the Tiend? I tried a google search and got not much that looked trustworthy. -Burning8Bones

The Faerie Tiend – or Tithe – is a medieval notion.

Once upon a time in folklore, Fairies were terrifying quasi-deific creatures. Even the Seelie Court – the “Good Guys” – were notable for riding their steeds through houses, enchanting passers by, and riding to the wild hunt. The Unseelie “Bad Guys” kidnapped children, drove men mad, and inflicted terrible fates on those who disturbed them. The Faerie became the “Fair Folk” because talking about just how unfair, unreasonable, and downright vicious they could be might offend them. The fey were nature spirits – but nature is often pretty unobliging when it isn’t outright dangerous.

While Christianity was working it’s way into a position as a fundamental explanation of everything in the world in Europe, a lot of older beliefs were given (thoroughly unofficial) quasi-Christian explanations by their believers – and so wound up as folklore.

Christian theology had no real place for the fey (or anyone else) as independent powers – so they wound up being “explained” as angels who hadn’t taken a side in Satan’s rebellion or as wandering souls of the dead who weren’t good enough to achieve heaven or evil enough to be automatically drawn to hell (a fate sometimes seen as a way to let such souls continue to act in the world until they qualified for one or the other). More rarely they were considered a hidden race of men with special magical powers to weave illusions to remain hidden – or even as the descendants of children that Eve had hidden from Yahweh, and who had been cursed by God to remain as soulless creatures trapped between heaven and earth. (That last one was a particularly bad fit with Christian beliefs however, and so isn’t that prominent).

The fact that you could never catch them, or even see them more than briefly, and so on, was simple enough to explain; they had to have powers of trickery and illusion or at least to were protected by such powers!

OK, it might also be that they didn’t actually exist, but we are talking about beliefs here.

Of course, since magical powers of trickery and illusion were not of God, they had to be related to Satan – and to Satan’s ability to grant magical powers and dominion over the physical world. The notion of the Tiend was pretty simple; Satan was demanding a more-or-less token price (depending on how you valued souls) from the fey in exchange for granting them their powers, protecting them with his own powers, or just for leaving them alone. After all, if their powers really were independent of his but similar, they were potential rivals. That tithe might be extracted by blackmail, or (in darker sources) it might be an offering of fealty or payment for Satan’s protective services.

In any case, Satan was already a master of the physical world, commanded vast magical powers, and had limitless wealth – which meant that only souls or services were truly of value to him. Ergo, the Tiend consisted of a periodic offering of faerie (possibly of faerie children) or – preferably (at least from the faerie point of view, and perhaps from Satans) – humans. There aren’t really enough sources on the idea to be sure whether or not the individuals offered in the Tiend ever returned, or whether they were killed, or were held as hostages by Satan for a time (perhaps to keep the Fey from acting against him), or whether it was simply a “you owe me a labor tax” arrangement.

A fair number of sources give “seven years” as the interval, a few imply that each offering consists of seven persons (although more say only one and most do not specify), and a very few say both. Why seven? Well, seven is often seen as a magical number. In many cultures it was the length of an apprenticeship, the time a child might be fostered out, the term for holding a political hostage, the length of a magical cycle, or long enough to declare a person legally dead. It was the length of time of a sojourn in Faerie in the 13’th century ballad of Thomas the Rhymer.

That does bring up the question of what those abductees were doing in Faerie… being adopted? “Dying” to the mortal world to become faerie? Being apprentices?

Oh well. That’s an entirely different topic.

In any case, the Tiend is currently popular in fantasy literature involving fairies since it provides a nicely dark, edgy, threat to hang over the characters. It appears in a lot of versions because it’s folklore (and not especially popular folklore) to start with, and – as folklore is prone to be – was neither consistent from version to version or explained in detail where it did appear.

The earliest formal source (and there aren’t very many) may be the Ballad of Tam Lin (Below, in the oldest extant version I’m aware of). The original ballad, however, goes back to at least 1549, since it’s mentioned in “The Complaynt of Scotland” from that year.

Tam Lin

Child ballad #39A: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882-1898 by Francis James Child

(There’s a version with some translations and notes over HERE).

  1. O I forbid you, maidens a’,
  2. That wear gowd on your hair,
  3. To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
  4. For young Tam Lin is there.
  5. There’s nane that gaes by Carterhaugh
  6. But they leave him a wad,
  7. Either their rings, or green mantles,
  8. Or else their maidenhead.
  9. Janet has kilted her green kirtle
  10. A little aboon her knee,
  11. And she has broded her yellow hair
  12. A little aboon her bree,
  13. And she’s awa to Carterhaugh
  14. As fast as she can hie.
  15. When she came to carterhaugh
  16. Tam Lin was at the well,
  17. And there she fand his steed standing,
  18. But away was himsel.
  19. She had na pu’d a double rose,
  20. A rose but only twa,
  21. Till upon then started young Tam Lin,
  22. Says, Lady, thou’s pu nae mae.
  23. Why pu’s thou the rose, Janet,
  24. And why breaks thou the wand?
  25. Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh
  26. Withoutten my command?
  27. “Carterhaugh, it is my own,
  28. My daddy gave it me,
  29. I’ll come and gang by Carterhaugh,
  30. And ask nae leave at thee.”
  31. Janet has kilted her green kirtle
  32. A little aboon her knee,
  33. And she has broded her yellow hair
  34. A little aboon her bree,
  35. And she is to her father’s ha,
  36. As fast as she can hie.
  37. Four and twenty ladies fair
  38. Were playing at the ba,
  39. And out then came the fair Janet,
  40. The flower among them a’.
  41. Four and twenty ladies fair
  42. Were playing at the chess,
  43. And out then came the fair Janet,
  44. As green as onie glass.
  45. Out then spake an auld grey knight,
  46. Lay oer the castle wa,
  47. And says, Alas, fair Janet, for thee,
  48. But we’ll be blamed a’.
  49. “Haud your tongue, ye auld fac’d knight,
  50. Some ill death may ye die!
  51. Father my bairn on whom I will,
  52. I’ll father none on thee.”
  53. Out then spak her father dear,
  54. And he spak meek and mild,
  55. “And ever alas, sweet Janet,” he says,
  56. “I think thou gaest wi child.”
  57. “If that I gae wi child, father,
  58. Mysel maun bear the blame,
  59. There’s neer a laird about your ha,
  60. Shall get the bairn’s name.
  61. “If my love were an earthly knight,
  62. As he’s an elfin grey,
  63. I wad na gie my ain true-love
  64. For nae lord that ye hae.
  65. “The steed that my true love rides on
  66. Is lighter than the wind,
  67. Wi siller he is shod before,
  68. Wi burning gowd behind.”
  69. Janet has kilted her green kirtle
  70. A little aboon her knee,
  71. And she has broded her yellow hair
  72. A little aboon her bree,
  73. And she’s awa to Carterhaugh
  74. As fast as she can hie.
  75. When she came to Carterhaugh,
  76. Tam Lin was at the well,
  77. And there she fand his steed standing,
  78. But away was himsel.
  79. She had na pu’d a double rose,
  80. A rose but only twa,
  81. Till up then started young Tam Lin,
  82. Says, Lady, thou pu’s nae mae.
  83. “Why pu’s thou the rose, Janet,
  84. Amang the groves sae green,
  85. And a’ to kill the bonny babe
  86. That we gat us between?”
  87. “O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin,” she says,
  88. “For’s sake that died on tree,
  89. If eer ye was in holy chapel,
  90. Or christendom did see?”
  91. “Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,
  92. Took me with him to bide
  93. And ance it fell upon a day
  94. That wae did me betide.
  95. “And ance it fell upon a day
  96. A cauld day and a snell,
  97. When we were frae the hunting come,
  98. That frae my horse I fell,
  99. The Queen o’ Fairies she caught me,
  100. In yon green hill do dwell.
  101. “And pleasant is the fairy land,
  102. But, an eerie tale to tell,
  103. Ay at the end of seven years,
  104. We pay a tiend to hell,
  105. I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
  106. I’m feard it be mysel.
  107. “But the night is Halloween, lady,
  108. The morn is Hallowday,
  109. Then win me, win me, an ye will,
  110. For weel I wat ye may.
  111. “Just at the mirk and midnight hour
  112. The fairy folk will ride,
  113. And they that wad their true-love win,
  114. At Miles Cross they maun bide.”
  115. “But how shall I thee ken, Tam Lin,
  116. Or how my true-love know,
  117. Amang sa mony unco knights,
  118. The like I never saw?”
  119. “O first let pass the black, lady,
  120. And syne let pass the brown,
  121. But quickly run to the milk-white steed,
  122. Pu ye his rider down.
  123. “For I’ll ride on the milk-white steed,
  124. And ay nearest the town,
  125. Because I was an earthly knight
  126. They gie me that renown.
  127. “My right hand will be gloved, lady,
  128. My left hand will be bare,
  129. Cockt up shall my bonnet be,
  130. And kaimed down shall my hair,
  131. And thae’s the takens I gie thee,
  132. Nae doubt I will be there.
  133. “They’ll turn me in your arms, lady,
  134. Into an esk and adder,
  135. But hold me fast, and fear me not,
  136. I am your bairn’s father.
  137. “They’ll turn me to a bear sae grim,
  138. And then a lion bold,
  139. But hold me fast, and fear me not,
  140. And ye shall love your child.
  141. “Again they’ll turn me in your arms
  142. To a red het gand of airn,
  143. But hold me fast, and fear me not,
  144. I’ll do you nae harm.
  145. “And last they’ll turn me in your arms
  146. Into the burning gleed,
  147. Then throw me into well water,
  148. O throw me in with speed.
  149. “And then I’ll be your ain true-love,
  150. I’ll turn a naked knight,
  151. Then cover me wi your green mantle,
  152. And hide me out o sight.”
  153. Gloomy, gloomy was the night,
  154. And eerie was the way,
  155. As fair Jenny in her green mantle
  156. To Miles Cross she did gae.
  157. At the mirk and midnight hour
  158. She heard the bridles sing,
  159. She was as glad at that
  160. As any earthly thing.
  161. First she let the black pass by,
  162. And syne she let the brown,
  163. But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed,
  164. And pu’d the rider down.
  165. Sae weel she minded what he did say,
  166. And young Tam Lin did win,
  167. Syne covered him wi her green mantle,
  168. As blythe’s a bird in spring
  169. Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
  170. Out of a bush o broom,
  171. “Them that has gotten young Tam Lin
  172. Has gotten a stately-groom.”
  173. Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
  174. And an angry woman was she,
  175. “Shame betide her ill-far’d face,
  176. And an ill death may she die,
  177. For she’s taen awa the bonniest knight
  178. In a’ my companie.
  179. “But had I kend, Tam Lin,” said she,
  180. “What now this night I see,
  181. I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een,
  182. And put in twa een o tree.”

Just as a bonus, here’s Thomas the Rhymer (13’th century):

  1. True Thomas lay oer yond grassy bank,
  2. And he beheld a ladie gay,
  3. A ladie that was brisk and bold,
  4. Come riding oer the fernie brae.
  5. Her skirt was of the grass-green silk,
  6. Her mantel of the velvet fine,
  7. At ilka tett of her horse’s mane
  8. Hung fifty silver bells and nine.
  9. True Thomas he took off his hat,
  10. And bowed him low down till his knee:
  11. ‘All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
  12. For your peer on earth I never did see.’
  13. ‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
  14. ‘That name does not belong to me;
  15. I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
  16. And I’m come here for to visit thee.
  17. ‘But ye maun go wi me now, Thomas,
  18. True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
  19. For ye maun serve me seven years,
  20. Thro weel or wae as may chance to be.’
  21. She turned about her milk-white steed,
  22. And took True Thomas up behind,
  23. And aye wheneer her bridle rang,
  24. The steed flew swifter than the wind.
  25. For forty days and forty nights
  26. He wade thro red blude to the knee,
  27. And he saw neither sun nor moon,
  28. But heard the roaring of the sea.
  29. O they rade on, and further on,
  30. Until they came to a garden green:
  31. ‘Light down, light down, ye ladie free,
  32. Some of that fruit let me pull to thee.’
  33. ‘O no, O no, True Thomas,’ she says,
  34. ‘That fruit maun not be touched by thee,
  35. For a’ the plagues that are in hell
  36. Light on the fruit of this countrie.
  37. ‘But I have a loaf here in my lap,
  38. Likewise a bottle of claret wine,
  39. And now ere we go farther on,
  40. We’ll rest a while, and ye may dine.’
  41. When he had eaten and drunk his fill,
  42. ‘Lay down your head upon my knee,’
  43. The lady sayd,  re we climb yon hill,
  44. And I will show you fairlies three.
  45. ‘O see not ye yon narrow road,
  46. So thick beset wi thorns and briers?
  47. That is the path of righteousness,
  48. Tho after it but few enquires.
  49. ‘And see not ye that braid braid road,
  50. That lies across yon lillie leven?
  51. That is the path of wickedness,
  52. Tho some call it the road to heaven.
  53. ‘And see not ye that bonny road,
  54. Which winds about the fernie brae?
  55. That is the road to fair Elfland,
  56. Whe[re] you and I this night maun gae.
  57. ‘But Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
  58. Whatever you may hear or see,
  59. For gin ae word you should chance to speak,
  60. You will neer get back to your ain countrie.’
  61. He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
  62. And a pair of shoes of velvet green,
  63. And till seven years were past and gone
  64. True Thomas on earth was never seen.

Kevin, in this Federation-Apocalypse session log, was simply taking advantage of the fact that – in the Manifold – even minor stories have some power. On the other hand, all the demons who were capable of making it to faerie and were powerful enough not to get tossed out on their ears immediately had much better things to do than to fiddle around with the Fey trying to collect a few temporary servants. Kevin, on the other hand, visited the place a lot – and he could technically claim to be a demon, and thus entitled to collect the Tiend. Ergo, he used the old story to “rescue” a few of the oldest changelings.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting. There are some interesting twists on the motivations of faeries here that I hadn’t heard previously.

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