When the call for submissions for Bad Ass Fairies : It’s Elemental went out, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, the senior editor, listed on the website suggested fairies for each element. As I perused the list, my eye was caught by the gianes. They were described as female weavers who scryed the future in their spinning wheels. Obtaining a piece of their cloth was supposed to bring good fortune. They are Italian in origin. Perfect.
I should have been suspicious when I heard snickering from the shadows.
Time for research. I immediately find a few references to the gianes. Monstrous.com describes them as “They are female, solitary wood elves who will occasionally aid humans. They are master cloth weavers, but weave for fun rather than for anyone’s benefit. Divination is another one of their talents. Their usual method of divining is to scry into their moving spinning wheels. Their associated element is Earth.” D.J. Conway makes a brief mention of them as diviners in Wicca : the Complete Craft. Edain McCoy also writes briefly about them in A Witch’s Guide to Fairy Folk.
And there the trail abruptly ends.
The snickering in the shadows was now definitely laughter. Darned tricksters.
But I am, if nothing else, persistent. I have a strong academic background and research is one of my loves. I turned to libraries, academic sources, and searched through collections of fairy tales from Italy and all over Europe in search of more information. I came up empty handed for any direct mention of the gianes, though I found tantalizing hints about similar creatures in collections such as Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales. I asked friends with contacts in Italy to make inquiries for me. No one had heard of gianes. I found all this very troubling.
The tricksters in the shadows were now rolling with laughter.
Then I remembered the research being done by Andras Coren Arthen. He is working on tracking down European pre-Christian traditions and stories carried through unbroken family lines. These are typically hidden in small communities or even just a handful of families in remote regions. I suspect the gianes and stories about them might fall into a similar vein; they are remembered by a small group of people in a remote area of Italy or by Italian immigrants to America. How many stories grew up in remote regions only to be lost in the passage of time?
Now the tricksters settled down, waiting to see what story I would spin.
I returned to Calvino’s book and read through the 200+ folktales, searching for clues of how gianes stories might have been told. I savored the flavor and patterns in Italian stories, such as the repeated use of the colors red, white, and black. I examined the elusive nature of elves and under what conditions they would help others. What was the role of divination in these folktales? Did it help or hurt the people who sought such otherworldly assistance?
In “Giricoccola”, the Moon spirit helps a beautiful girl whose sisters plot to kill her. Like “Snow White”, she falls victim to a witch who tempts her with first a pin, then a comb, then a beautiful dress. Each time, she is turned into a statue. The Moon restores her twice, admonishing her to never open the door to a visitor. The third time, she leaves the girl a statue who is later restored by a prince. Divination is used by the witch to determine if Giricoccola is still dead.
In “The North Wind’s Gift”, the spirit of the North Wind gives a magical box that produces food to a farmer whose crops are ruined by the wind’s antics. The tale of “Misfortune” is of a girl whose Fate is a neglected old woman. As soon as the girl finds her and treats her well, her luck changes. In each of these, the magical creatures impact people incidentally then make reparations when informed and when treated with kindness.
Four fairies come to charm a young girl in “Pippina The Serpent”. The parents have ordered special pies for them in order to receive generous charms and blessings but one of the pies was substituted with one filled with cinders and ash by a gluttonous baker’s wife. The first three fairies blessed the child with great riches but the fourth, on cutting into her pie, was insulted and cursed her to turn into a serpent whenever the sun shone on her. The curse is eventually lifted after a series of misadventures involving her brother, a jealous friend, and a king.
Then a story of my own began to emerge. I combined these threads with Roman myths about the Fates and gave it all a modern American twist. What might have replaced the spinning wheel and spindle? I explored the possibility and implications of gianes as weavers of the world wide web, using bits of information as their thread. Who would they assist? Why would they choose to assist them? And three gianes came forward in my imagination, bickering and quipping poetry as they danced across the technological developments of the 20th century; weaving stories of existence in and out of the web of data to entice those with something to offer. The story, “Spin, Weave, and Measure”, will appear in Bad Ass Fairies : It’s Elemental, due out from Dark Quest books in May 2014.
This article originally appeared on Mythical Mondays.