Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ethna the Bride: and Irish faerie tale

This story is also found in Surlalune's Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales From Around the World. Although I'm not sure it technically qualifies as a Sleeping Beauty tale, I think it's a fascinating tale of faerie lore.

Kay Nielsen

"The fairies, as we know, are greatly attracted by the beauty of mortal women, and Finvarra the king employs his numerous sprites to find out and carry off when possible the prettiest girls and brides in the country. These are spirited away by enchantment to his fairy palace at Knockma in Tuam, where they remain under a fairy spell, forgetting all about the earthly life and soothed to passive enjoyment, as in a sweet dream, by the soft low melody of the fairy music, which has the power to lull the hearer into a trance of ecstasy."

There was a great lord who had a beautiful wife named Ethna, the loveliest bride in the land, who held all sorts of festivals in her honor. One evening while Ethna was dancing she suddenly let go of the hand of her partner and fell down in a faint.

She was carried to her room. In the morning she woke up and said she had had the most beautiful dream, where she was in a palace she longed to go to again. As evening came, Ethna fell into a deep trance. Though her nurse kept watch over her, in the morning she looked over and saw that the bride had disappeared. No one could find any trace of her.

The young lord went to question Finvarra about the whereabouts of his bride. He had no suspicions that Finvarra had taken her, but he was friends with the Fairy King. As he stopped to rest his horse, he heard voices in the air around him talking about how Finvarra was glad of his new beautiful bride, who could only see her husband again if he were to dig a hole through the hill to the center of the earth.

The lord was determined to dig a hole through the hill. He gathered a great crowd of workmen to dig through the hill all day. They made much progress, only to find the hole filled in the next day by Finvarra's power. The same thing happened for three days, and all their work was undone by the fairies.

The young lord heard a voice near him whisper, "sprinkle the earth you have dug up with salt, and your work will be safe." With this knowledge, the lord and his men were able to dig through the hole until they could hear the fairy music from below.
Sir Joseph Noel Paton
Voices in the air told the workers that the fairy kingdom would crumble if the men were to reach it with their spades, and the only way to save it was for Finvarra to give up his bride. Finvarra was willing to give up Ethna in order to save his kingdom. That night Ethna was delivered back to her husband. She was on her bed, lying in a trance as before, and no one could wake her for days on end. Everyone feared she had eaten of the fairy food and was under the fairies' enchantment.

The young lord was very sad, but once again overheard voices in the air by the fairy hill, saying Ethna's spirit was with the fairies though her body was with her husband. She would stay that way until he unloosed the girdle from her waist that was fastened with an enchanted pin, burn the girdle with fire, and throw the ashes before the door, and bury the pin in the earth.

The young lord hurried home to break the spell, and Ethna returned smiling to him, as if the year she had spent in Fairyland were nothing but a dream.

"After this Finvarra made no further efforts to carry her off; but the deep cut in the hill remains to this day, and is called 'The Fairy's Glen.' So no one can doubt the truth of the story here narrated."

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