Signe Pike’s 2010 memoir Faery Tale is subtitled, One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World. It tells of her journey to the countries steeped in a history of fairy belief, in search of something that would convince her, a cynical New Yorker, of their reality. Through her discoveries and experiences, she not only learns about fairies, but also comes to terms with some deep-seated grief. Kirkus Reviews named it a “Best of 2010.”
I didn’t read it before I wrote The Hum and the Shiver, but we were both working from a similar perspective: I was trying to find a way to present the fae in the modern world, and she was searching for traces of their existence in the same place. I found what I was after with the creation of my mythical Tufa; Signe found her answers in the signs, symbols and coincidences encountered on her journey.
Signe: Surprisingly, no, I haven’t second-guessed any of my experiences. On my journey one of the most important things I learned was to trust my intuition, that inner sense of knowing that we all have and yet too often choose to ignore. And the strange occurrences I experienced when researching Faery Tale were all unquestioningly accompanied by that powerful sense of knowing. I learned to trust that. Once you’ve felt it, you can understand how different knowing is from imagining or thinking. It was what my interview subjects had been telling me all along, they’d say, for example, “I just know what I saw wasn’t fireflies,” with a powerful sense of conviction. They didn’t seem crazy, or delusional, they just seemed absolutely certain. It took experiencing the feeling of knowing that seems to accompany brushes with the unseen world myself to understand what it was they’d been trying to say. The tricky thing about this sense of knowing becomes, How do I describe this experience to readers in a way that makes sense to someone who isn’t experiencing it first hand? Taking it further, how could I describe what I experienced to readers in way that wouldn’t leave them feeling isolated and unable to relate to my experience given that they weren’t there to see or feel what had taken place for themselves? The answer was to approach the experiences from as much of a journalistic perspective as possible. I wanted my readers to be able to be able to make up their own minds and interpret what might have taken place for themselves, not try to shove something down their throats. It disturbed me that there didn’t seem to be a “Middle Way” out there for people interested in esoteric subjects. So many of the books on faeries written in recent years were completely inaccessible to the majority of the population. I decided I wanted to create a Middle Way, an exploration for myself and others who weren’t sure what we thought, but were willing to take a risk, be open and see what secrets existence might have in store.
I have, however, come to realize that putting spiritual experiences or encounters into any sort of box is a rather silly thing to do. Wol, one of my favorite people I met on my journey, said to me one night that what I was undertaking was nearly impossible. “You can’t possibly hope to come out of this with concrete answers. What you’re exploring, it could take years. Decades. You can’t put this sort of thing on a deadline.” He was right. Wol wasn’t a believer in faeries, necessarily, but he respected my journey and supported me in my seeking. Matters of existence like “Are there unseen beings around us?” are explorations that deserve the respect of a lifetime. As such, just because the last page of the book has been turned
doesn’t mean my journey has ended. I do continue to find new ways to interpret the “signs and signals” that I encountered while writing the book. I continue to grow, learn, and expand. I put a fair amount of that on the page. I was lucky to be able to share that with readers and I remain glad that I did. But now I rather enjoy being able to keep my experiences and interpretations just for me. They retain their power more for me that way.
What do you feel is the link, if any, between a person’s ability to sense the world of faery, and creativity?
I believe that creativity and the faerie world are linked in that they are both directly connected to this world of “other”—divine source, God, the spirit world, whatever you believe—our creativity burns within us until it presses us to create something, to birth it, bring it out of the ether. We are, in other words, inspired. We feel that if we cannot just write, paint, sing, cook, plant, plan, whatever your creative outpouring must be, we will surely burst. Our egos tell us “I made this.” But really, I believe that yes, while our fingers might have painted the image, and we used our skills to move the brush just so, we received the inspiration to complete the work from some place outside of ourselves, a place rife with enchantment. The more we learn how to be open to that source, the more we acknowledge and are thankful for the inspirations that come our way, and the more we pay attention to the world around us, that I believe is trying to communicate with us at every moment in time, the more easily we’ll be able to experience that world and everything which calls it home, faeries included.
Do you think the faeries understand, or care, about how they’re depicted in art and literature?
I’d have to say it depends on the faery! They are spirit beings, and as such are unique and individualized, and from our very human perspective. I imagine there are some who don’t want to have much to do with humans at all. There are some who think it’s funny. There are some, as Mr. Brian Froud, artist extraordinaire might tell you, that are quite keen to be painted, heard, felt, or otherwise brought into our consciousness. Then there are some who have a strong desire to communicate their existence to people for bigger ends: so that we will extract our heads from our behinds and start taking better care of the planet and living the best lives we can in harmony with the rest of the natural world. No small mission.
Before the book came out, I was nervous that I might not have done the question of faeries justice. I had been gifted some amazing other-worldly experiences—even some that I’d managed to capture on tape and on camera—and I worried that if the book didn’t perform, if it didn’t reach people, I would be letting this unseen world down. A very wise friend of mine said, “These faeries you believe in. You say they’re pretty ancient, right? They’ve been around for quite a while. Older than mankind itself? And they’re very wise, some of them, right?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And do you think you’re the first person to have written about them in the history of human kind?”
“No…” I was beginning to see how ridiculous my line of thinking had been. The whole world of faeries depends on me! Come on. And I couldn’t help but start to laugh.
“Yeah,” he said, “I really don’t think so much depends on you.”
The point is that they reach out and inspire lots of people (as you know first hand, I’m sure, Mr. Bledsoe!) and there is no wrong inspiration. They just want it to resonate with people and hopefully inspire them to change, grow, love more, be more awake, and make a difference. I’m sure the darker side of faerie reaches out too—and there are authors out there who regularly tune into it. I choose not to. It doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t elevate people, it doesn’t inspire them or help them grow. It just makes people weirder.
What’s the most interesting thing a reader’s told you after reading your book?
Oh, wow. One of the things that lights me up most are the letters I receive. The fact that people are willing to share their own deeply personal experiences or unexplainable encounters they’ve had with me is incredibly moving. I’ve heard of magical events that have happened to people everywhere from Ireland to Appalachia, Australia to Brazil, from believers and doubters alike. I get wonderful suggestions about other places around the world to visit where readers believe I might experience faerie activity. Sometimes I get letters from people who take the idea of faeries quite literally – there was a person convinced that a garden gnome was trapped in their backyard shed and they were in quite a panic, wondering what they should do. But the most touching letters are from those who share their stories of loss and a new faith in the enchantment the world has to offer that rose out of their seeking and their sorrow. Or, even more humbling, the people who say my book helped them heal. I don’t think there’s any higher praise, and it’s letters like that that make me so glad I took a chance and shared my story.
Thanks to Signe Pike for talking with me. Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World is available through all the usual outlets, in all the usual formats. You can visit her website here.