Fairies and Snakes
The Wonderful World of Walloon Folklore
I hope you’re all doing well and that very soon we might spot a lone daffodil by the side of the road, go for strolls in bluebell woods and start to see some other signs that spring is coming. Today, we won’t be visiting Flanders, but we will be travelling to the wonderful world that is Walloon Folklore.
Wallonia is the French speaking part of Belgium and because the region is known for its misty forests, enchanting waterfalls, streams crammed with mossy rocks and dark caves, it’s unsurprising that tales about fairies follow you everywhere you tread. The otherworldly beings who call The Ardennes Forest their home are held in very high regard by the locals. Small offerings of bread and butter were often left in front of their dwellings in order to maintain a good relationship with these magical neighbours. If not, bad luck and doom would surely follow. The tale that follows has a very clear message: never insult the fae!
According to the story a powerful fairy was said to dwell in a shadowy cavern hidden deep in the woods together with her son. It isn’t clear whether her son is a fairy himself or a human child she takes care of. While the fairy herself prefers to remain in her dark abode, the son did like to venture outside and converse with farmers who lived in the area and travellers he met on the road. One day, he stumbled against the daughter of a wealthy farmer and it was love at first sight. The two lovebirds wanted to exchange vows but the farmer wasn’t very happy with the prospect of having the son of a fairy as a son-in-law and forced his daughter to end the relationship. She was heartbroken but did as her father had commanded her to do because she loved him just as much.
The boy’s fairy mother was outraged. She decided to punish the farmer for his small-mindedness and the farm was soon invaded by hundreds of snakes. They had been ordered to suck the milk out of the cows and thereby cause the farm to fall to ruin. At first, the farmer wasn’t going to let that fairy intimidate him, but when the snake pest expanded to the neighbouring farms, he had no other option but to take action.
He gave his daughter permission to meet her former lover once more. Not because he had changed his mind and wanted them to be together, but because she might be able to obtain information as to how these pestilent snakes could be vanquished.
When the boy saw his love’s tear-streaked face and how sadness was consuming her, he reluctantly defied his mother and told her how to get rid of the snakes. If they made a huge bonfire, all of the snakes would immediately crawl towards the flames and smoke. Once gathered there, the snakes should be thrown into the fire, but, of course there’s a but, the Queen of Snakes must be spared. He went on to say that it’s impossible not to recognise her, she’s the largest of them all, so large that it almost seems as if she doesn’t belong in this world at all.
The farmer immediately got to work and a big smile appeared on his face when he saw all the snakes crawling towards the fire. Some of them weren’t very willing to be burned alive but stabbing them with a pitchfork and throwing them into the flames wasn’t as hard as he thought it would be and he rather enjoyed himself. Then, the Queen arrived. The farmer hesitated for a moment, but his rage got the better of him. He picked her up with the pitchfork and threw her into the fire. Out of nowhere, a lightening strike appeared and the farm was at the centre of a thunderstorm the like of which no-one had ever seen before. As soon as the dark clouds disappeared, thousands of snakes swamped the farm and hissed a dreadful, melancholic song.
If he hadn’t known it before, the farmer was now certain that his life’s work couldn’t be saved. He settled elsewhere and lived a life of abject poverty. The farm he had loved so much fell in disrepair and from that moment on only bramble bushes would thrive there. The place is believed to be cursed which several passers-by have confirmed by claiming that the only sound to be heard is that of snakes hissing eerily.
It’s unclear what happened to the two lovers and whether they were able to be together after these events transpired, but I’m inclined to think they did since that would have been an extra way to punish this close-minded farmer.
Thank you so much for reading!
"thousands of snakes swamped the farm and hissed a dreadful, melancholic song."
Your words inspire such beautiful imagery. I can just picture it illustrated by the greats, like Rackham <3