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Encounters with Fairies

Encounters with Fairies

What are they and why do we keep seeing them?

At our last LAPIS meeting we discussed the ongoing phenomena of encounters with fairies, how they have changed over the years and looked at some modern reports. This is a huge subject and one that deserves at in depth look at. I’ve certainly not done that here, this is only a tiny scratch on the surface, but it’s inspired me to get hold of some books and learn some more.

None of the following is my own research. My main sources are an article by Professor Sam George of the University of Hertfordshire which is published online in The Conversation and Jenny Randles’ Supernatural Isle of Man

So first what do fairies look like? We mostly think of pretty little winged creatures flying around flowers. As I child I had some of the Flower Fairies books. First published in 1923 these are very sweet little books with an illustration of a flower along with a childlike, winged fairy associated with that flower.

But fairies, fey or faeries, whatever we want to call them (and it is possible we shouldn’t be calling them anything at all!) haven’t always been sweet little flying things.

In her article referred to above, which was published in October 2021, Sam George points out that fairies “used to drink human blood and kidnap children

She says that: “When most people think about fairies, they perhaps picture the sparkling Tinker Bell from Peter Pan or the other heartwarming and cute fairies and fairy god mothers that populate many Disney movies and children’s cartoons. But these creatures have much darker origins-and were once thought to be more like undead blood-sucking vampires.”

In 1682 Folkloreist Robert Kirk said that fairies were “The dead” and writing in 1887 Lady Jane Wilde saidthat: fairies are the fallen angels who were cast down by the Lord God out of heaven for their sinful pride…and the devil gives to these knowledge and power and sends them on earth where they work much evil.

In folklore they are a demonic or undead force that humans need protection against. Folkloreist Katherine Briggs writes in her Dictionary of Fairies that:

people walking alone by night, especially through fairy-haunted places, had many ways of protecting themselves. The first might be sacred symbols, by making the sign of a cross, or by carrying a cross, particularly one made of iron; by prayers, or the chanting of hymns, by holy water, sprinkled or carried, and by carrying and strewing Churchyard mould in their path. Bread and salt were also effective, and both were regarded as sacred symbols, one of life and the other of eternity.

Fairies of the past had a definite taste for human blood liking them to vampires. Diane Purkiss in her History of Fairies, quotes a Scottish legend which warns that you must bring water into the house at night, so the fairies don’t quench their thirst with your blood. Very old fairies, like vampires, were said to wrinkle and dry up without fresh blood.

So what happened? How did fairies get so cute and harmless?

Sam George suggests that the publication of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan story in the early 1900s may have changed the nature of the fairy. The success of this and the popularity of the character Tinker Bell made the fairy a sweet thing of childhood. Barrie’s origin story for fairies couldn’t be any more different from the earlier version where they are cast out of heaven - his version goes like this; When the first baby laughed…its laugh broke into a thousand pieces…that was the beginning of fairies.

In 1953 Peter Pan was produced by Disney and, again quoting Sam George “The cutesy and youthful fairies of contemporary children’s TV are a result of this Disneyfication. Fairies were stories for children, literally, fairy stories.

The thing is though, people still encounter fairies. The Facebook group Modern Fairy Sightings has plenty of relatively recent reports.

In some places, Iceland, Ireland and the Isle of Man the fairies are still very much around. One continuing tradition is that fairies shouldn’t be directly named. On the Isle of Man they are referred to as the Little Folk or as Themselves. It’s not polite to name them. In fact, as an aside, fairies aren’t the only thing that shouldn’t be named on the Isle of Man. Recently the Boomtown Rats played there but in deference to local superstition as The Boomtown Longtails.

So what are modern sightings like? Some of the sightings are of Tinkerbell like creatures but they aren’t all.

In a study done by Dr. Simon Young and Dr. Ceri Houlbrook for their book, Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies 500 AD to the Present, they found that sightings of fairies vary wildly from the Tinkerbell-type creature many of us are acquainted with. One respondent described witnessing an all-night woodland rave where two female fairies, a dwarf or goblin, and what they described as a “mudman” danced to “tribal drums” till dawn.

And this is a post from the previously mentioned Facebook group Modern Fairy Sightings

During the late 1990s I had a strange encounter in the woods near the Devils Dyke at Brighton, East Sussex. I was with a friend for an evening walk late one summer. We had travelled by foot along the south downs making our way to the hill top pub. As we were walking through a small copse something odd began to happen. A sudden uncanny silence enveloped us. The woods became very still and there was no sound of birds or even a breeze in the tree tops. We remarked on this and carried on through the shadowy trees. However we both began to hear the sound of two people talking. We stopped and saw glints of colours between the trees that gradually turned out to be two people in vivid coloured clothes walking towards us. The two individuals were unusual. One was a raven haired young woman in a long purple dress with a strange medallion around her neck. Her skin was a pale golden tan but her eyes were a transfixing azure. The other was a dwarf with long hair and a beard dressed in earth colours. He had a swarthy complexion, dark hair and glinting jet black wide eyes that seemed almost hypnotic. They walked past chatting and seemingly oblivious of us. As we watched them they stopped a little distance away, turned and looked at us before literally vanishing before our eyes with a mischievous giggle.

One of the many striking things about this report is the odd silence and the lack of birdsong – something many of us will know as the Oz Factor, a term coined by Jenny Randles to describe something that is often associated with UFO sightings.

Anther obvious parallel with current alien lore are the similarities between tales of being taken by fairies and the current accounts of alien abductions. In both someone is forcibly taken by unknown means to another place by small beings. Time may pass differently and in both cases there is often an interest in reproduction. The return to the normal world is again by unknown means and there may be dreamlike element.

Are the fairy sightings of today reported as alien encounters? This is something that Jenny Randles suggests in her book Supernatural Isle of Man and it does seem likely that any meetings with strange, small humanoids, would today be reported as alien encounters.

Jenny did come across one modern fairy account though in which the witness was sure he had seen a fairy. It happened in an area of the Isle Of Man called Glen Rushen which is where the old Manx people believed “Themselves” had retreated and created a fairy city.

It occurred during the hot summer of 1976 which has been much talked about lately. John Salter was visiting from the Wirral to watch the TT races. He’d been riding the course on his own bike and decided to return a different way. He stopped for a picnic at Glen Rushen and then saw something moving in the trees by his side. He sat perfectly still as a figure about 30cm high sauntered across the path and into the woodland. He told Jenny that “it was like a human being but very small. I thought I must be seeing things but I swear it was real. It wore a green jerkin just like you see in Robin Hood films and a hat with a feather in it.

So after all this I’m no nearer to knowing what fairies, the Fey or Themselves are. Are they physical being that somehow live alongside us or something else? Are they one and the same as the aliens we now see? Or are they simply a product of the human mind? And has anyone here seen one? Please share your ideas and experiences with us, I’d love to hear other views on this.

Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies: 500 AD to the Present by Simon Young and Ceri Houldbrook

This is already published in hardback but it seems a little difficult to find, however the paperback version is coming out at the end of October. The Kindle version is available on Amazon.

Supernatural Isle Of Man by Jenny Randles is available on both Amazon and Ebay


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