The mythology behind An Enchantment of Ravens
Exclusive piece by Margaret Rogerson
An Enchantment of Ravens was born from my intense love of fairy folklore. Many of you will probably recognize the basics: glamours, mushroom circles as entrances to fairy paths, the fair folk being unable to lie and having a weakness to iron, and so on. But I thought it would be fun to highlight a few of the less widely known myths I incorporated, or those that I changed from their original form to suit the book’s purposes.
Bread as protection against fairies
As late as the 1880s in Ireland, people still placed bread in their pockets when visiting locations known to be haunted by fairies, or hid it in their children’s clothes to protect them from fairy mischief. Bread was associated with the hearth, humanity, and the taming of nature, making it an oppositional force to the inherently wild fairies. But what if all human creations had the same property? When I asked myself that question, I came up with the idea that the fair folk can’t perform Craft; and if they try, they crumble to dust.
The Alder King
The myth of the Alder King comes from Germany, a direct translation of Der Erlkönig, who is the king of the fairies or elves. Growing up, I was fascinated with the poem by Goethe in which the Elf-King steals a boy’s life as he rides with his father through a dark wood—I was a pretty morbid kid!
Courts by season
Scottish folklore traditionally holds that fairy society is divided into the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. The Seelie Court was also known as the Summer Court, however, opening up the possibility for spring, autumn, and winter courts (winter usually being associated with the Unseelie Court). Other names for the Seelie Court in folklore include the Golden Ones and the Shining Throne.
The Celtic aes sidhe, also referred to as the Fair Folk or Good Neighbors, translates to “people of the mounds,” since they were believed to dwell in barrow mounds and cairns. I didn’t want all my fair folk to live underground—even in the great halls and palaces referenced by Celtic folklore—but I did want to incorporate barrow mounds into the book’s worldbuilding somehow. I decided to make barrow mounds the places from which the fair folk summon fairy beasts, creatures animated by the bones and souls of long-dead mortals. These creatures were also inspired by the tradition of the Wild Hunt, in which fairies were believed to steal away mortal souls to ride with their host.
Rook’s ability to shapeshift into various animals was inspired by Celtic puca/pooka and, to a lesser extent, the water-dwelling kelpie. In some myths the puca is a benevolent entity; in others, it’s dangerous and wicked. It takes the form of a dog, raven, horse, cat, goat, fox, wolf, or hare, but regardless of shape, its fur is nearly always black. In An Enchantment of Ravens Rook is seen to prefer the form of a raven, but can also transform into a black horse, and the fair one Lark reveals that he used to occasionally take the form of a hare. Rook’s ability is unusual, but not completely unique. As you find out early on in the book, Isobel was warned as a child to stay away from strange animals, which may be fair folk in disguise.