There are several ways to see past a fairy’s shroud of invisibility. Sometimes wearing one’s coat turned inside-out will enable one to see into Fairyland.
Occasionally closing one’s right eye and peering through one’s left is sufficient. Wearing a posy of primroses or carrying a four-leafed clover can also be effective.
There are also certain places where one may stand in order to gain vision of fairies, but these are often dangerous at best. For instance, one may stand inside of a fairy ring, or touch certain standing stones.
People endowed with the “Second Sight” are said to be able to see the fairies, though the fairies are invisible to all others. For instance, the seventh son of a seventh son almost always has such power.
Supposedly people born in the morning have no power to see the fairies, while people born at night can often communicate with spirits of the dead, and see the fairies as they move about (Lady Wilde, p. 204).
The surest means to see invisible fairies is to apply fairy ointment to one or both of one’s eyes.
The earliest mention of this occurs in the 13th-century writings of Gervase of Tilbury.
Usually, the salve, sometimes an oil and sometimes an oinment, is used by the Fairies to help their own children or the human children that were abducted to get a sense of the glamour of Fairyland and see things as they really are. It also penetrates the spells which cause invisibility .
There are also numerous tales about the Midwife to the Fairies that were punished for having use the ointment for their own benefice.
The first version of the tale is told in the 13th century writings of Gervase of Tilbury in the account of the Dracae of Brittany. The cycle of events is almost the same in other stories : the fetching of a human midwife at night to an unknown house, the ointment given her to anoint the eyes of the newborn child and the strange enlightenment that follows her casual use of it on one of her own eyes; and as it followed, as in all the later stories, by the innocent betrayal of her forbidden vision and the blinding of the seeing eye.
In another story, Cherry of Zennor, a country girl seeking service is engaged by a Fairy Widower as nursemaid to his little boy, and one of her duties is to anoint the eyes of her charge every morning. Her master is amorous and friendly and she is very happy with him, until curiosity about the strange things that happen in her new home leads her to use the ointment on her own eyes, when she sees all sorts of things going on around her, her master as amorous with the midget fairies at the bottom of the spring as he ever was with her. Jealousy leads her to betray herself, and her master regretfully dismisses her though he does not injure her sight. It is clear from the story that the fairy master’s first wife was a mortal, which suggests that the ointment was needed only for hybrid fairies, for whole fairies by their own nature could see through the glamour.
In ‘How Joan Lost the Sight of her Eye’’, Joan was merely paying a friendly call on Betty Trenance, reputed to be a witch but actually a fairy. Peeping through the latch-hole before she knocked, she saw Betty anointing her children’s eyes with a green ointment, which she hit carefully away before answering the door. Joan, however, contrived to get hold of the ointment, and touched her eye with it with the usual result. When she betrayed her fairy sight to Betty’s husband, he not only blinded her right eye but tricked her into a ride on a devilish horse who nearly carried her into Toldava fowling pool in the company of the Devil and all his rout.