Fairy lore and beliefs here in the Ozarks has its origin in the folklore and traditions of the Scots-Irish settlers to the Appalachian Mountains. It was in these mountains and hills that the traditional European belief in the “Fair Folk,” “Good Folk,” “Gentry,” “Little People,” etc. mixed with the indigenous belief in the “Little People” called “Yunwi Tsunsdi” in Cherokee, and the “Nunnehi” who were considered immortal animistic spirits of the land. These beliefs fit well together, so well that it’s often hard to tell the origin of a lot of the stories of the Fair Folk and the Little People of the Cherokee. There was and still is a lot of crossover between the two beliefs. The Osage, who were in the Ozarks before settlers came to the area, also had traditional beliefs about spirits of the land called “mi-lo’n-shka” that likely also influenced Ozark beliefs.
Fairy beliefs in the Ozarks gave rise to many traditions and practices. Some beliefs include stories of fairy brides and grooms, mortal men and women who marry (and sometimes have children with) one of the Fair Folk giving rise to many family seers and healers. I’ve also heard stories of healers who got their “gift” from the Fair Folk, hunters who received good or bad luck from pleasing or offending the spirits of the land, and also the many cases of livestock falling victim to certain fairy influenced illnesses.
Here are a few beliefs collected by Mary Parler’s folklore students in the 50’s and published in “Folk Beliefs from Arkansas”:
“If a crowded room becomes deathly quiet at 20 til or 20 after the hour, it means the angels are passing through the room.”
“If you find a circle of toadstools, you can be sure fairies have danced there.”
“If you see a circle of toadstools, you can stand in it and make a wish and it will come true.”
“When I was about eight or nine my mother would have me look for rings of mushrooms (clusters). This ring was supposedly left by a fairy and it was a good luck sign. You stand near the ring, close your eyes, make your wish, then turn away. I always looked for these when playing or visiting my grandparents in the country.”
“…a fairy ring is a ring of grass with no dew on it on a lawn covered in dew. This ring is where the fairies danced the night before. I can remember many mornings when my father pointed ‘fairy rings’ out to me. Have heard this all my life.”
“If logs in a fire burn with blue flame, good fairies are watching you.”
“After dark you never throw out water, sweepings, and etc. for you might accidently hit one of the ‘little people’ and make them angry. My mother told me this; she said she could remember her grandmother saying and practicing this. She came from Ireland.”
There are also stories of fairy brides and grooms, mortal men and women who marry (and sometimes have children with) one of the Fair Folk giving rise to many family seers and healers. I’ve also heard stories of healers who got their “gift” from the Fair Folk.