I rise in silence, steadfast in the elements
with thought a smoke-blue veil drawn round me.
Seasons clothe me in laurel and bittersweet, in ice
but my heart is constant…
— from Smoky Mountain Woman © Marilou Awiakta,
from her collection, *Abiding Appalachia: Where Mountain and Atom Meet
As the magic of Summer Solstice approaches, the activity of the Faery folk increases and they may often be seen, especially in the twilight hours. The Fae are known by many names in every culture throughout the world. As I wrote Wednesday, the southeastern band of the Cherokee call them the Yunwi Tsunsdi, “The Little People.” They are not the same as the spirit people, who are the Nunnehi.
There are several Clans of the Yunwi Tsunsdi. The Rock Cave Clan is perhaps the least sympathetic to humans. Their credo is “How one treats others is how he will be treated.” As you can guess, this is great in theory, but actually being held accountable to it is not always pleasant for us.
The damage we have caused to their home, the Earth, has strained their relationship with us. They prefer to stay hidden in mountain caves, because of human encroachment and disturbance. They are also the ones who are most likely to steal human children, much like Faery tales about changelings, told by other cultures.
However, the grandmothers reassure us that as long as we are respectful towards them and kind to our Mother Earth, they will do us no harm. In fact, they are the Yunwi Tsunsdi who specialize in medicine plants, which they will bring to honorable humans.
The Laurel Clan also tends to plants and the Green realms. They help gardens to grow, but they may plant “warrior plants” that sting or irritate, around the fields of people who ignore the needs of plants. But their main wish is for us to be happy, always share with others and not take our perceived needs too seriously.
Tree Clan Yunwi Tsunsdi are the protectors of animals and are particularly friendly with snakes. They prefer to live in ancient oak trees. The huge roots of their trees are secret portals to their dwellings. They will create mischief with humans who are not properly respectful of the animal realms, and woe to anyone who is actually cruel to animals.
Those in the Dogwood Clan are the dreamers. They dream up happiness for everyone and everything. Physically and emotionally delicate, the stories tell us that if the petals of the dogwood blossoms fall quickly in the Spring (as they did this year, actually), or all at once, the Dogwood Clan is sad, and crying for the people. But if the blossoms stay on the trees a long time and fall slowly, they are pleased with the people.
Yunwi Amaiyinehi, or Water-dwellers, live in the water, and fishermen pray to them for help. Other friendly spirits live in people’s houses, although no one can see them, and as long as they are there to protect the house, no evil sorcery can befall the family there.
According to some stories, there also was once a special group called “The Little People Who Wore White.” They traveled all over the world and brought stories and news to the tribes. When Europeans first encountered the Cherokee, they found the Cherokee describing small hairy people from far away who lived in trees (monkeys), horses with necks longer that their bodies (giraffe) and some horses that were striped black and white (zebra).
The Cherokee also knew the world was round, were familiar with the pyramids, other seas, other tribal people continents away, and often shared ideas with them. All this knowledge was made possible because of the “Little People Who Wore White.”
The Yunwi Tsunsdi are still frequently encountered. They live in rock shelters, caves in the mountains, laurel thickets, and so on. They are enthusiastic musicians, and enjoy drumming and dancing, and they often help lost children — not just those who are physically lost, but children who are sad, or who are going through the challenges of growing up.
All of the clans can be quite mischievous at times. And like the European Faerie races, even if the Little People are small in appearance, they not to be trifled with. You must exercise great caution if you encounter them, and it is necessary to observe the traditional rules regarding them. They especially don’t like to be disturbed, and they may cause a person who continually bothers them to become ‘puzzled’ throughout life.
Because of this, traditional Cherokees will not investigate or look when they believe they hear Little People. If one of the Little People is accidentally seen, or if he or she chooses to become visible, it is not to be discussed or told of, for at least seven years. Breaking this taboo has been known to be fatal.
It is also a common practice to not speak about the Little People after nightfall. And, similarly to the tales of the European Faeries, everyone knows you should not eat food they offer you, or else you will never return to your family or eat human food again.
I find this all quite interesting, because my roots are mostly Scottish-Irish (no, I am not American Indian, despite the sound of my magical name). So I often encounter the Shining Ones in forms that resemble what my ancestors have described. Evidently human geography has little effect on where the Good People travel.
However, now living near the ancestral lands of the Cherokee, should I not be surprised if I also happen to run into the Yunwi Tsunsdi? Are they in fact different from one another? Or could it be that the Gentry appear in many forms, taking whatever shape may be most familiar and or efficacious to dealing with humans?
What are your thoughts?