“No point crying over spilt milk.” While we’ve all heard that cliché, in folklore one shouldn’t waste time in crying over spilled milk because the fairies will lap it up. Fairy lore says that they love milk and are believed to keep magical cattle to quench their constant thirst for it. Other fairies steal milk from the cows of mortal men, sometimes draining them dry.
In Ireland it was considered a good idea to dip a thumb into a pail of milk and make a cross on the cow’s flank as a bane against fairy attack. Some vampires and witches were also believed to drink a cow dry.
Spilled milk being left out for the fairies may be a relic of pouring milk on the ground as a libation for a variety of spirits. It was thought that if these offerings were not made to the fairies, they might even tip over the milk pail. Sometimes it was considered wise to pour milk into rock hollows to feed the wandering fairies and other spirits.
The belief in leaving milk or cream out for house fairies is quite widespread within folklore. Good Irish wives would usually leave some in the churn as an offering. Leaving cookies and milk out for Santa Claus may be related to these beliefs. Occasionally a hot coal was dropped into the churn to keep the greedier fairies from stealing too much milk.
Milk has a long history of being an important food and is an obvious symbol of motherhood. The stars were believed to be milk spilled from the breasts of the cosmic mother. This is the likely source for the name, the Milky Way.
Milk has a clear association with the moon, the moon being either made of green cheese, or even being a great pitcher that waxes and wanes as it fills and then spills its contents. In Russian folklore the spirit of the moon is known as Mieslac or Mesiats; she marries the sun every summer. He abandons her during the winter but returns to her in the spring.