Fairies - you really don't know what you think you know
I know that my article about Druids was in another section of my website, but this has a lot of my photography featured and in all honesty I am still working out what articles should go where. One of these days I'll get it settled.
I would think most people don't think about Fairies anymore at all, nevermind what Disney has done to them. Say the word "Fairy" and immediately Tinkerbell comes to mind and nothing else, for most of us. It's a deep sadness to me that this is the case but there are a few who rally against this unfortunate demise and I've bent my will to illuminate as I can.
I think it's important to remember what Fairies were to us. They are the opposite side of the coin to religion, the answer to the darkness. Our nature denies blank space on a map, the unknown. Where no humans were living, no towns or villages, where the people dwindle into rural farmhouses and then the farms dwindle into just the woods the maps stop. The imagination has filled in - filling the woods with an Otherness than the blank and dismal unknown darkness. Filled it with elves, satyrs, pixies, gnomes, brownies, hobgoblins, nymphs, sylphs and fairies.
They are the gatekeepers to the unknown, the unmapped, the wild earth.
Fairies have many origin stories, but before we can embark on learning about them we have to do a lot of unlearning. These stories feel right emotionally but they are comfortable half-truths, they make sense mythically but ignore evidence and reason.
Fairies are not an ancient race-memory of indigenous British people. This theory was crafted by Margaret Murray, whose wild and high-flown notions of invention created current neo-paganism. This notion also was not aided by Marion Zimmer-Bradley's work The Mists of Avalon. The theory is that Fairies were driven into the hills by the Saxons or Christians, pick your poison and began living in caves and underground, hunting with poison darts. The people who believe this, it explains why Fairies cannot abide Iron, because these were a pre-Iron Age people and that was a symbol of the conquerors. This is a splendid idea because it makes fairies real and living, yanking them out of tales into life, molding them into people - and our favorite kind of people, an oppressed indigenous one.
There are issues with this however, because there is absolutely zero supporting evidence for this in any way, shape or form. Oops. This is so wonderfully convenient because it leaves everyone to wish as they may - those ancient British didn't write anything down and so, we know absolutely nothing and as mentioned before, we love filling in the gaps.
The half-truth in this favorite concoction of a tale is that all British Isles cultures (and some northern European ones as well) associated the Fairies with neolithic sites; stone circles, henge monuments and barrow tombs. People had no idea who had built such things but were smart enough to realize that they must have been very different from themselves. Fairies fit this description in every way possible. In Ireland this became associated with ancestor belief but in England it was about buried treasure and Fairies hoarding it. But I digress.
The second notion that needs to be unlearned is that all fairies are good and twee. They are not tiresome little winged things who grant wishes and fly. The belief of the goodness of fairies has snuck into neopaganism as well, to give it a good name. Actually fairies are an invention that completely lack any moral engagement whatsoever. There are rules in stories with fairies, but they apply to the humans who interact with them and they exist for reasons of self-preservation. Rather than good or bad, fairies are simply and plainly dangerous.
The definition of a fairy-story—what it is, or what it should be—does not, then, depend on
any definition or historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faërie: the
Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. I will not attempt to define
that, nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done. Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories
Erase from your mind the Victorian and Edwardian fancies of fairies being diminutive and fitting inside flowers. This is a wholesale removal of the danger of fairies, the danger of the unknown and hidden. They were compacted and neutralized in those centuries - but this is such a wild unfairness that the world without dangerous fairies is a lesser world. We must remember and keep them alive.
Fairies and their stories are the oldest tales from Britain and Ireland, they were not told in grand writing or lavish epic tales about gods, but were told to each other over firelight, across centuries, to entertain and enchant, but to warn and inform of the darkness beyond. Without that wonder and magic, the imagination resides weakly. We need to remember to enrich our stories.
After the age of expansion where we mapped out the world, where the West became known to us and all the darkness in the forest was lit with enterprise and exploration, the fairies diminished. Belief in fairy stories and fairies declined and it was swept up and sanitized and made safe by Shakespeare, first, but the Victorians and the Edwardians take the prize for the real ruination of the perilous fairy.
But it cannot be kept out. They still rule the dark places deep in the forest and under the barrows and in the hills. The stories last and are still told, grandparent to grandchild, over the fire in the dark of the night. They survive because we need them to, despite all our attempts at banishing them. The dangerous and perilous fairy exists still. Be watchful.
This subject is my own particular interest and I'm leaving out so much - but I cannot sit and write pages and pages. That will come in time. I feel like this is monstrously truncated but everything I have to say will eventually be posted in articles here eventually.