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Fairies

Fairies, Faeries, Fay, Little People, Elementals, The Good People, Wee Folk; these are some of the names given to the nature spirits that have been the subject of legends, tales, and stories for thousands of years in one form or another. We often think of the British Isles when we think of fairies, but each culture has its own folklore and names for them. Even the Native American tribes here in the United States had their stories that were used to explain those beings that were considered "half-human" and half spirit or animal.

With all the folklore limelight Fairies have had, it makes one wonder just where these stories may have originated from. Some stories trace them to ancient races that decided to live underground in freedom instead of continuing long battles, as in the tale of the Tuatha de Danan. Other lore considers them to be fallen angels, or the souls of babies that were not baptized. Many ancient texts describe scholars and leaders as consulting with or even bargaining with beings of light and elements that could affect weather, tides, and aspects of the Earth itself. These beings were sometimes called muses, though there was a full hierarchy believed to exist and thrive alongside humans. The fallen angel stories appear to have emerged as Churches attempted to assimilate Pagan cultures into Christianity. Some scholars believe Fairy lore to be the remnants of cults of the Druids, and the Greek/Roman goddess Diana, known for reveling on moonlit nights deep in the forests.

Some fairy legends evolved to explain the unexplainable in those times before scientific theory. It was once believed that the night sounds of migrating geese with their honking and wing beats were the hounds of the devil himself, the common name was "The Devil's Dandy Dogs". Consider that these were times when the moon was the only evening light. Insects and moths in a flurry around a lantern may well have looked like tiny people with wings busying about. Many of the early drawings and other depictions of fairies show tiny people wearing hats with antennae, and moth-like wings. Wives and maids in the British Isles were advised to leave some crumbs and milk out for the fairies to keep them from rummaging through cupboards and contaminating food. A small plate of water was left so that mother fairies could wash their babies. Every member of the household could hear these "fairies" bustling about all night, and saw the remnants of their wee hour dining in the morning. Well, if you've ever had a mouse in the house, you know how much noise these little guys can make, and their habit of pilfering any food they can get their paws on. The homemakers of old had at least found a way to keep rodents from spreading illness (an evil sometimes imposed on fairies) by giving the "wee folk" evening rations.

Many fairy "tales" were designed to frighten impish children into behaving. Some of those stories are pretty gruesome by our standards for children today! I have to admit to staring at Brian Froud's depiction of the feared "Jenny Greenteeth" in his book with Alan Lee, "Faeries" much longer than I should have as a young adult, then being aware of my ankles as I stood along deep streams as I hiked. Jenny Greenteeth was a hideous green hag with long flowing hair and sharp teeth that preyed on children standing too close to river banks, especially along the Yorkshire Rivers of Britain. She was reputed to grab her unsuspecting victims by the ankles and drag them below the water where she devoured them. Unfortunately, beings like "Jenny” was often so widely accepted as real by a superstitious culture, that criminals could act out their madness and blame murders and other heinous acts on beings such as the "Jack in Irons" or "The Red Cap", evil fairies that had a thirst for human blood. In those times of old, many a young woman blamed her illegitimate pregnancy on varying versions of "Tam Lin", a fabled prince of the forest that fell in love with mortal girls.

Today it is widely accepted that fairies are part of a complex network of "Nature Angels" that oversee the operations and healing of every aspect of the natural world, including the physical, instinctual aspect of our human bodies, that part of us that makes us feel hunger pangs and cravings, sometimes even leading us to indulgences, like eating that entire bag of potato chips in one sitting. This may be the excuse my Dad has been looking for! Beings are believed to exist that represent every physical element and they are usually still referred to by their original names from thousands of years ago, when their existence was never questioned. The actual term "fairy" in its many forms has been used to describe the historical caretakers of plants and flowers, assigned to a plant for its entire life, much like our own guardian angels (though they can act collectively on larger issues of their home domain). The fairies are usually classified according to the type of plant they work with, such as a rose, or poppy. Other names such as undines, elves, goblins, gnomes, spriggans, salamanders, and tree spirits, to name just a few, describe other denizens of the elemental kingdom. I'm always surprised that so many modern folks believe openly in Angels, yet consider the idea of elemental beings to be in the realm of child's play. There are more than enough historical references, and my next project is to find some biblical references to these realms, there are already plenty of customs involving nature themes within sects of Christianity and other world religions.

Regardless of our beliefs about them, most people are certainly charmed by stories of these little angels, and fairies are certainly the delight of many a child, just take a walk down any toy isle of a department store or jewelry counter. Fairies are more popular than ever. Perhaps this is their long-awaited comeback! Many believe that children, with all their innocence, are fully capable of physically seeing these beings, and others of the angelic realms. Invisible playmates are very real to children, and parents are often amazed at the detailed conversations and unusual information kids come up with during play. I had an invisible group of playmates as a child that taught me how to make small working bows and arrows from cottonwood branches, right down to the bark bow string. Were they real? Was it childhood imagination? How often do we take the time to remember the whimsy of those make-believe friends that felt so real in our childhood? Were we possibly entertaining fairies? What a delicious question that is, dare we even consider it.
 

Peace of One
Kim Gough
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