The dangers of trying to keep fairies as pets: the Suffolk farmer who tried to give his children a fairy as a present but quickly realised why the fae should be left alone

Any fairy enthusiast will tell you that trying to keep one of the tiny creatures as a plaything in the human world is both pointless and cruel.

Our story today is from the Bury St Edmunds area and the first documented version of it was told in 1877, and sent out a warning to those who believe that fairies can be kept as pets. The tale, featured in Country Folk-Lore collected by Lady Eveline Camilla Gurdon in was written in Suffolk dialect, so our version is translated.

Many years ago, a farmer had a large amount of wheat that he stored in his barn. He realised, over a number of days, that the wheat was beginning to disappear, but he couldn’t see where it could be going: one night, when the moon was full, he hid outside the barn at midnight. As the clock struck, the farmer was amazed to see lots of tiny fairies. They were the size of mice and we wearing outfits of blue and yellow with red caps on their heads that had long tassels. The fairies ran up to the barn door which magically opened as they approached – the small folk ran straight in and headed towards the wheat. As the farmer watched, the fairies danced round and round and then heaved some wheat over their shoulders: all but one, a small fairy who struggled to lift even an ear of wheat.

The tiny fairy hauled the wheat and, as he passed through the door, the farmer was able to grab the creature in his hand and, as he did so, it shrieked. “Brother Mike! Brother Mike!” screeched the fairy, as loud as its tiny voice would allow. Placing the fairy in his hat, the farmer made his way home, delighted with his new plaything for his children. Once there, he tied the fairy to his kitchen window to keep it from escaping. But keeping fairies tethered to a human world is cruel and dooms them to a miserable death and, sure enough, the fairy refused to eat, pined away and eventually died. All we know of Brother Mike is that he was the fairy that the captured creature called out for in his moment of need, but who was either unable or unwilling to help.

If you do want to attract fairies to your house – and if you do, Weird Suffolk makes it clear that you MUST NOT try to catch them – the advise is to create a haven for them that is free from clutter or mess in your garden. They like snacks, especially sweet cakes, honey, cream and butter and they love fragrant flowers, the kind that attract bees: try lavender and violets. Fairies love shiny things such as crystals and jewellery and music, so consider adding wind chimes to your garden and remember to let them know that they are welcome in your garden and that you, unlike the Suffolk farmer in our story, wish them no ill.