This is adapted from a presentation I gave at the 2017 Pagan Unity Festival.
If you’re here reading this, you probably already know that my Tufa novels are about a race of exiled fairy folk in the mountains of east Tennessee. The title of the sixth and final book in the series, The Fairies of Sadieville, explicitly references this connection. And although they’re entirely fictional, they draw on fairy folklore and address some of the fundamental questions about fairy belief.
So, are fairies real? Do they have their own independent existence? It depends on what we think they are.
Are they the dead?
C.S. Lewis, in The Discarded File: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, says, “The identity, or close connection between the fairies and the dead was certainly believed in, for witches confessed to seeing the dead among the fairies.”
There are many ways the beliefs in fairies and the dead coincide.
Carole B. Silver, in Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, points out that it’s dangerous to eat food in both Fairyland and Hades, and both the dead and fairies live underground.
In The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, W.Y. Evans Wentz says, “Ancestral worship must be held to play a very important part in the complex Fairy-Faith as a whole.
“Samain, as we already know, was the great Celtic feast of the dead when offerings or sacrifice of various kinds were made to ancestral spirits, and to the Tuatha De Danann and the spirit-hosts under their control; and Beltane, or the first of May, was another day anciently dedicated to fetes in honour of the dead and fairies.”
Are they supernatural?
C.S. Lewis, again, says, “If we call them ‘supernatural,’ we must be clear what we mean. Their life is, in one sense, more ‘natural’—stronger, more reckless, less inhibited, more triumphantly and impenitently passionate—than ours. They are liberated both from the beast’s perpetual slavery to nutrition, self-protection and procreation, and also from the responsibilities, shames, scruples and melancholy of Man.”
Robert Kirk, in The Secret Common-Wealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, adds, “[They] are of a middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old.”
Are they physical beings, another race or species?
Tuatha de Danaan means “Children of Dana,” also known as “Danu.” According to Charles Squire in Celtic Myths and Legends, Danu is a mother goddess in Celtic mythology, who goes so far back there are no reliable texts or oral traditions about her. She has been compared to the Greek goddess Demeter, and therefore is assumed to have been a mother goddess.
The Tuatha de Danaan came to Ireland, lived for a time, and were finally defeated in battle. In dividing up the land between his victorious forces and the Tuatha de Danaan, the winning side’s king cleverly gave the above-ground to his own people, and the below-ground to the Tuatha de Danaan. Thus they live beneath the fairy mounds.
The discovery of ancient hominids of small stature on the island of Flores, who co-existed with modern humans for a substantial amount of time, makes it possible that the initial impetus for the belief in fairies might have been an actual, physical race.
Many believe that the Picts of Scotland were a physically small race, and their mysteries may have been the origin of the fairies.
Are they aliens?
Thomas Rapsas observes, “There’s a parallel between those who claim to have witnessed angels or the divine, and those who see aliens and fairies. These entities often appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. They defy rationale or scientific explanation. Yet to the people who witness them, they are as real as you and I, and seem to represent first-hand proof that there is more to this world than meets the eye.”
If you accept that all three phenomena are entirely within the mind of the one experiencing them, then it makes sense that they would be conjured out of the society around them.
What do you think?
Coming soon: the nature of fairy life.