“Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness that are entirely different.” WILLIAM JAMES
Physicalism vs Consciousness
What are the faeries? Where do they come from and where do they go when they’re not interacting with their human observers? Folklorists are usually ambivalent about the faeries; they are likely to keep their distance from them, so to speak. Whilst happy to record and discuss the beliefs of people who tell stories and anecdotes about them, most folklorists speak the language (at least in official publications) of the reductionist, materialist worldview that has held sway in Western civilisation for the last few hundred years, and they’ll be nervous about assessing the potential actual reality of metaphysical beings. In the materialist’s world, faeries simply cannot exist. They must be reduced into a categorised cultural belief system, and any discussion of them will usually (but not always, as we shall see) be couched in the accepted language of scientific rationalism. This creates a problem for any folklorist (or anybody else) who wants to look behind the stories and investigate the possibility that the faeries can be incorporated into our consensus reality as a genuine phenomenon. The philosopher Bernardo Kastrup calls this outlook Physicalism, and suggests, in a recent article: The Physicalist Worldview as Neurotic Ego-Defense Mechanism, that it has created a disconnect in our ability to truly understand reality, due to its insistence that consciousness is secondary to matter:
“A worldview is a narrative in terms of which we relate to ourselves and reality at large. It is a kind of cultural operating system that gives us tentative answers to foundational questions such as ‘What are we?’ ‘What is the nature of reality?’ ‘What is the purpose of life?’ and so on. Although many different worldviews vie for dominance today, the academically endorsed physicalist narrative defines the mainstream, despite its many difficulties. This reigning worldview posits that physical entities outside consciousness are the building blocks of reality. Consciousness, in turn, is supposedly an epiphenomenon or emergent property of certain complex arrangements of these entities. As such, under physicalism, consciousness must be reducible to physical arrangements outside and independent of experience.”
Kastrup also suggests this has created a schism and conflict between academics trained in the belief system of Physicalism and large sections of society who have been effectively railroaded into accepting an orthodoxy that denies their intuitive understanding of reality based on consciousness. This orthodoxy is well entrenched, especially when it comes to supernatural entities such as the faeries, but researchers such as Kastrup, Graham Hancock, Rick Strassman and Serena Roney-Dougal have begun to challenge conventions by reinstating consciousness as the primary mover and creator of reality. When this is done, entities such faeries are allowed back into the universe as an authentic phenomenon, and if we start to look in the right places, we begin to find that they are indeed everywhere… we just need to know where to look, or more accurately how to look.
The Electromagnetic Spectrum, Dark Matter and Dark Energy
As David Icke is always reminding us, our normal waking consciousness experiences less than 0.05% of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, with visible light being less than 0.1% of this. If we take into account the current scientific hypothesis that this electromagnetic spectrum itself composes less than 10% of the universe, with the mysterious Dark Matter and Dark Energy taking up the rest, then we are at a good starting point to understand that our version of reality is extremely compromised. We may have the technology to utilise the unseen wavelengths in the spectrum, but they are not accessible to our ordinary consciousness, whilst Dark Matter and Dark Energy (which, remember, supposedly make up over 90% of the universe) are totally inaccessible to our technology, and remain for the moment, nothing more than theory based on the by-product of mathematical equations. We also have to take into account the recent theoretical mind-bender that the universe may actually be a hologram, put in place by (depending on who you listen to) a supreme being, aliens or future versions of humans, the latter option coming from NASA scientist Dr Rich Terrile. With this level of uncertainty about the reality we inhabit, and in order to gain an understanding of the world in which we live (and the unseen entities that may exist alongside us), we might be advised to fall back on the only known certainty allowed us: consciousness.
The Origins of the Faeries in Altered States of Consciousness, from c.35,000 BCE
Our earliest known artistic portrayals of the world, and how human consciousness interacted with it, come in the form of cave paintings from all parts of the globe, starting c.35,000 BCE (see Shamanic Explorations of Supernatural Realms: Cave Art – The Earliest Folklore for a detailed look at cave paintings as folklore). Many of these cave paintings include humanoids and therianthropes, otherworldly entities that have been recorded alongside geometric imagery, stylised animals and landscapes. They are in effect our earliest known folklore. But what state of mind were our Palaeolithic ancestors in when they were painting these strange entities in often difficult to access caves and shelters?
The anthropologist David Lewis-Williams has made the convincing argument that these cave and rock-shelter paintings were produced by shamanic cultures to represent reality as perceived in an altered state of consciousness. Twenty years ago this idea was anathema to anthropologists, but since the work of Lewis-Williams, and many others, the theory has tipped over to become an accepted orthodoxy. There are hundreds of motifs in the cave paintings that correlate with the visionary states of people in an altered state of consciousness, brought about most especially by the ingestion of a psychotropic substance. The basic premise is that the shamans of these Palaeolithic cultures transported themselves into altered states of consciousness and then painted the results of their experiences on the walls of caves and rock shelters — experiences that frequently included therianthropic beings and supernatural humanoids that correlate in many ways with later faerie types.
Lewis-Williams’ research includes collected data from laboratory experiments with people who had taken various psychedelic substances to alter their states of consciousness. The close correlation between the visual imagery recorded during these sessions, and the Palaeolithic cave art convinced him that there was a fundamental link between them,
manifesting through consciousness itself. Most prevalent were the entoptic images, typically experienced during the early stages of a psychedelic episode. These are most often dots, spirals and geometric patterns that appear within the visual range of the tripper, but also include time-lapse imagery, most often termed tracers. Cave paintings are replete with this entoptic imagery, suggesting a universality of neuropsychological experience across time and geographical areas. Lewis-Williams sees this as convincing evidence that our prehistoric ancestors were using psychotropic plants and mushrooms in order to gain a state of consciousness that was fundamentally important to them.
In his 2005 book Supernatural, Graham Hancock makes extensive use of Lewis-Williams work, as well as his own ethnographic studies, to investigate further into the concept of cave art as shamanic recording of different realities through altered states of consciousness. Hancock suggests it was no accident that these cave paintings began to appear when they did, that is between 30-35,000 years ago, just as anatomically and neurologically modern humans asserted their predominance across the Paleolithic world. He goes as far as to propose that the cultures these peoples instigated were fundamentally predicated on an understanding of the world and reality brought about by mind-altering psychedelic plants and mushrooms. A Physicalist view would assert that whilst shamanic cultures may be accessing a subjective hallucinogenic reality, this reality is simply delusional, the result of neurophysiological changes brought about by chemical changes in the brain, as a result of the ingestion of psychotropic compounds. The ‘entities’ portrayed in the cave paintings are all simply conjured up by compromised human minds. But recent research (with Graham Hancock at the forefront) disputes this view. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that much historic folklore can be related intimately to the type of stories being told in cave art by Palaeolithic shamans, with which the descriptions are often remarkably similar. Writers such as Carlo Ginzburg and Emma Wilby have argued that there is a direct link between prehistoric shamanic storytelling and the folklore embodied in classical, medieval and later periods, that often incorporate entities such as nymphs and faeries; supernatural beings that interact with humanity when the conditions are right. Those conditions may well be reliant on the human participants undergoing an altered state of consciousness as a result of the ingestion of psychedelic compounds. There is certainly a preponderance of mushroom imagery associated to historic depictions of faeries, most especially the highly psychedelic red and white Amanita Muscaria (fly agaric) mushroom, and the psilocybin mushroom, both prevalent in Europe and Asia. If these historic folkloric manifestations of interactions with supernatural entities can be linked to the cave art of prehistory and preliterate societies, then we have a continuation of relationship with an alternative reality over a very long period of time.
Historic Faeries from Altered States
Katherine Briggs pointed out in The Fairies in Tradition and Literature, that many of the British faerie motifs repeated in stories and anecdotes through the centuries to the present day were already in place during the medieval period. When folklorists began to collect these stories in earnest from the 19th century onwards, they found a belief in faeries amongst the rural population that was probably very close to the medieval belief and understanding of what faeries were and how they interacted with humanity.
Many of the stories include situations where the protagonist interacts with the faeries in what seems an altered state of consciousness: Faerieland doesn’t comply to Newtonian physics, it is consistently inhabited by strange humanoids and therianthropes (the faeries), and there are mountains of recurring story motifs that are highly suggestive of an autonomous reality being described. But this is not consensus reality, this is the folklore recording stories from people operating outside consensus reality. They may have got there by a variety of means apart from the ingestion of psychotropic plants or mushrooms, many of which are part of the plot device in the stories: dancing in circles, sitting out on cold hillsides, crying emotional tears, becoming panicked whilst lost… there are many ways these stories drop clues as to what’s really going on. The folktales about faeries have been overlain with much allegorical storytelling, but at their root the realities they describe are of people in altered states of consciousness, perhaps not too far from the realities experienced by the cave painters.
When WY Evans-Wentz travelled around the Celtic world at the beginning of the 20th century, collecting stories and anecdotal experiences about the faeries, it was clear that most of his interviewees rated clairvoyance as the best way of altering the conscious state to a position where it could interact with the faeries. Seership or second-sight was the method of entering, or at least viewing, an alternative reality inhabited by a relatively consistent cast of characters. He met one such (un-named) Irish clairvoyant in Rosses Point, County Sligo. This seer talks about various types of faeries that inhabit the landscape of Sligo, “making them sound like a cross between nature spirits and mystical visions.” But Evans-Wentz was just as interested in the mechanics of interacting with the faeries as he was with the stories themselves. How did the seer interface with them?
“I have always made a distinction between pictures seen in the memory of nature and visions of actual beings now existing in the inner world. We can make the same distinction in our world: I may close my eyes and see you as a vivid picture in memory, or I may look at you with my physical eyes and see your actual image. In seeing these beings of which I speak, the physical eyes may be open or closed: mystical beings in their own world and nature are never seen with the physical eyes.”
Evans-Wentz then asked him what sort of state was he in when he saw the faeries…
“I have seen them most frequently after being away from a city or town for a few days. The whole west coast of Ireland from Donegal to Kerry seems charged with a magical power, and I find it easiest to see while I am there. I have always found it comparatively easy to see visions while at ancient monuments like New Grange and Dowth, because I think such places are naturally charged with psychical forces, and were for that reason made use of long ago as sacred places. I usually find it possible to throw myself into the mood of seeing; but sometimes visions have forced themselves upon me.”
The rural people interviewed by Evans-Wentz consistently affirm that clairvoyant alteration of consciousness was the best sure-fire way to see the faeries. By the time Evans-Wentz visited these communities, there was a sense that the number of people gifted with second-sight was dwindling; cutting down on communication with the faeries. But at the same time as these rural communities were feeling the increasing pressures of modernism, The Theosophical Society (first founded in 1875) was reacting against the rise of Physicalism, by attempting to incorporate metaphysics into an understanding of reality. And their prime metaphysical technology was clairvoyance. The Theosophist Rudolf Steiner attempts to explain the mechanics of clairvoyance, when a person must transform their usually passive thought forms into something more dynamic. In normal consciousness thoughts:
“… allow themselves to be connected and separated, to be formed and then dismissed. This life of thought must develop in the elemental world a step further. There a person is not in a position to deal with thoughts that are passive. If someone really succeeds in entering the world with his clairvoyant soul, it seems as though his thoughts were not things over which he has any command; they are living beings… You thrust your consciousness into a place, it seems, where you do not find thoughts that are like those in the physical world, but where they are living beings.” Rudolf Steiner, Perception of the Elemental World (1913).
Steiner goes on to describe the specific elemental animating forces at work in the natural world when perceived clairvoyantly in what he calls the Supersensible World. The elementals in the Supersensible World exist as a range of beings, from devas, which are responsible for entire autonomous landscapes, through to the smaller nature spirits charged with the growth of vegetation. Steiner (basing his epistemology on that originally developed by the 15th-century alchemist Paracelsus) divides these into four main types corresponding to earth (Gnomic), water (Undines), air (Sylphs) and heat/light (Salamanders). This is the faerie realm, existing as a non-material autonomous reality that crosses over with ours, and which can be accessed via a clairvoyant altered state of consciousness. Steiner thought everyone has this innate ability, but they had to be taught how to use it… it had somehow become almost forgotten amongst humanity.
This idea finds common ground with the recent work of biochemist Rupert Sheldrake, who proposes that morphogenetic fields are the formative causation allowing life on earth. Sheldrake’s description of this organising principle behind the natural world is issued in the language of biochemistry, but in effect, what he postulates is the same as Steiner’s vision of nature spirits in action. There are invisible forces that are as essential in ordering life on earth as accepted non-material forces such as gravity. Steiner saw nature spirits as anthropogenic representations of these morphogenetic fields, imposed upon them through the thought forms of the observer, who perceives them clairvoyantly.
Inspired by the Theosophist movement, Marjorie Johnson (acting on behalf of the Fairy Investigation Society) collected over 500 anecdotal descriptions from people who claimed to have seen or interacted with faeries, and compiled them together with her own experiences in the book Seeing Fairies. Some of her correspondents were Theosophists, with an avowed history of clairvoyance. But the majority were not, and their honest appraisals of seeing faeries are usually singular events in their otherwise non-clairvoyant lives. Their subjective anecdotes may be contentious as scientific evidence, but they are a fascinating collection of experience reports. Noticeable is how often the person writing about their experience includes details about their state of mind at the time. This is frequently (though not always) a non-usual state: they were out of breath, sleep deprived, depressed, afraid, ill, etc., before their experience. Muriel Golding, for example, was living in Leeds in 1927 and suffering from insomnia after a bout of flu. Whilst unable to sleep one night: “she saw on her pillow a little creature of goblin type, not more than a foot high. He seemed to be wearing blue and white pantaloons and a little jacket, and he had a curious small, mischievous face. He was laughing at her, but she couldn’t believe that he was really there and shut her eyes. When she opened them, there he was still, and he kicked up the bedclothes, put his face on the pillow, and winked at her. Then he vanished.”
Marjorie’s collection strategy wouldn’t cut the mustard with a modern folklorist, but the anecdotes are examples of human experiences with faeries, many of which have close correlations with altered states of consciousness. The question remains, what are the faeries? If they are metaphysical beings, how does human consciousness interact with them, and where is the meeting place?
The Faeries and DMT
The answer may lie with a substance called N,N-Dimethyltryptamine – DMT. This molecule is one of the main active ingredients in the Amazonian Ayahausca brew, but it is also produced endogenously in everyone’s brain, potentially (but not definitely) in the pineal gland. It’s usually safely dispersed around the brain and body for functional duties, but it seems that under certain circumstances, it can be released in higher quantities, causing an altered state of consciousness. There is some evidence that this can happen during a frontal lobe epileptic seizure. The late and great Terence McKenna was an enthusiastic user of the synthesized form of DMT to access different realities, and coined the term ‘self-transforming machine elves’ for the creatures he regularly found there. He can be heard talking about them here: Terence McKenna and the self-transforming machine elves.
As if to confirm Terence’s assertions, a research study conducted between 1990 and 1995 in the General Clinical Research Center of the University of New Mexico Hospital, by Dr Rick Strassman found that volunteers on the study injected with varying amounts of DMT underwent profound alterations of consciousness. This involved immediate cessation of normal consciousness and transportation to a different realm of reality with divergent physical properties, and inhabited by a range of creatures described as elves, faeries, lizards, reptiles, insects, aliens, clowns (yes, clowns) and various therianthropic entities. One woman even describes a pulsating entity that she described as ‘Tinkerbell-like’. The experiences, especially at higher doses, represented to the participants a parallel reality that was ‘super real’, not an hallucination, not a dream, but a substantial built reality with full sensory interaction + telepathy. Strassman published the results as DMT: The Spirit Molecule, and there is a lucid documentary summarising the study.
The experience reports from the study are irrational, absurd, frightening, illogical and surreal. It’s worth reading the book or watching the documentary to get the full range of what are incredible records of accessing very different realities. There is no question of any of the volunteers physically leaving the hospital bed during their experiences, but for all of them (without exception) the DMT-world was every bit as real as the one their minds left behind. After the injections participants frequently talked about ‘blasting through’ or ‘breaking through a barrier’ after which they found themselves in a realm with its own laws of physical space and movement, and its own inhabitants. Here is an abbreviated version of one of the volunteer’s description of his experience; 50 year old Jeremiah. After hurtling through a void he found himself:
“… in a nursery. A high-tech nursery with a single Gumby, three feet tall, attending me. I felt like an infant. Not a human infant, but an infant relative to the intelligence represented by the Gumby. It was aware of me but not particularly concerned… Then I heard two or three male voices talking. I heard one of them say “he’s arrived.” … I was in a big room… there was one big machine in the center, with round conduits, almost writhing – not like a snake, more in a technical manner. The machine felt as if it were rewiring me, reprogramming me… This is real. It’s totally unexpected, quite constant and objective… an independent, constant reality… I’m lucid and sober.”
There are dozens of recorded experiences from the study and, like Jeremiah, the participants are all engaging in a non-physical reality directly with their consciousness, seemingly separated from their physical selfs. Some of the experiences agree in type to certain aspects of the alien abduction phenomenon, which does indeed hold many similarities to certain faerie motifs (discussed in more detail here: Shamans, Faeries, Aliens and DMT and in David Luke’s article Discarnate entities and dimethyltryptamine (DMT): Psychopharmacology, phenomenology and ontology). But what the research demonstrates is that under the right conditions, human consciousness can operate within a distinct and separate universe inhabited by a range of apparently autonomous entities. These entities may be one and the same as the metaphysical beings recorded in cave art and folklore, by people who were describing the beings encountered during various types of altered states of consciousness. The faeries may change superficially through time, adapting to the expectations of the culture they are part of, but if it is human consciousness they are interacting with, this is no surprise. Underneath the cultural masks, the faeries begin to reveal their true selfs.
Physicalism vs Consciousness II
There are many reasons why folklore about the faeries exists, and it certainly seems that interacting with them during an altered state of consciousness is one of them. Are they real experiences? They are subjectively real, but what is the objective reality? A Theosophist clairvoyant would suggest that we need to override our five senses with a dynamic type of consciousness that commands prominence over the material world. They would probably agree with Aldous Huxley’s description of a universal consciousness being ‘Mind at Large’ and that the brain is a ‘reducing valve transceiver‘, that can be retuned by a variety of methods. Huxley did this with Mescaline and LSD.
The brain certainly gives us a very limited view of what is actually going on around us. Altering the transmission to the brain seems to allow non-material consciousness more of a free rein. As in a dream (though not the same as a dream) an altered consciousness is able to construct metaphysical realities. It is able to communicate with the entities it finds there, and bring back a report. The relative consistency of the inhabitants of this alternative reality may suggest that they live there all the time, non-physical, and only able to interact with our physical world when conditions are right for a consciousness. This is the crux: does consciousness create physical reality, or is consciousness an epiphenomenon of the brain? If the former, then the realities experienced in altered states of consciousness can be accepted as true, with their own autonomous existence. If the latter, then whilst entities such as the faeries may be subjectively real, they do not exist objectively within the electromagnetic spectrum. This is the Physicalist view. Although even Physicalism has to adhere to its own rules and allow for the hypothesis that over 90% of the universe consists of non-physical form: Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Maybe that’s where the faeries are, waiting to be found.