The Connection between Faeries and Prehistoric Sites

The Faeries and Prehistoric Sites in Folklore and Modern Testimonies

There is a deep connection between the faeries and prehistoric sites throughout Britain, Ireland and Western Europe. This connection is recorded in the folkloric record and in modern testimonies, suggesting a metaphysical linkage that may provide a deeper understanding of the faerie phenomenon. The oldest recorded story of human interaction with the faeries at a prehistoric site comes from the 12th-century chronicler William of Newburgh. In his Historia rerum Anglicarum, William chronicles the historical timeline of events during the reigns of Stephen and Henry II, but included in the chronicle are numerous marvels; stories from local folkloric traditions, including the famous tale of The Green Children, and also discursive tangents in to subject matter such as revenants – revived corpses, sometimes described as medieval vampires. One story related by William appears to have been with him since his childhood, and involves a faerie encounter at the late-Neolithic/early-Bronze Age burial mound called Willy Howe in the East Riding of Yorkshire:

In the Yorkshire province, not too far from the place of my birth [Bridlington], a miraculous thing occurred, which I have been familiar with since my childhood. There is a village some miles away from the North Sea, near which famous waters, which are generally known as Gipsey, gush out of the ground in a number of springs… One day a rustic of the village just mentioned, went to visit one of his friends in a neighbouring village, the road to which lay near a tumulus, a road, therefore, which we may easily suppose people would not then willingly choose to pass at night. However, the love of beer, which was then even more powerful than at the present day, kept the rustic visitor until a late hour at night, and when at length he started on his way home he was all the happier for his entertainment. As he approached the tumulus he was astonished to hear merry sounds issuing from it, which betokened that it was occupied by a party who were feasting. Wondering who could have come to that lonely spot to enjoy themselves at such an hour, he approached nearer to the mound, and then, for the first time, he saw a door open in its side. Our rustic friend, who was well mounted, rode boldly up to this door, looked through it, and beheld, inside, a spacious building, brilliantly illuminated, and a large company of men and women seated at a magnificent entertainment. As he stood there staring at the door, one of the cup-bearers, seeing him, approached and offered him the cup to drink. Now it must be remarked that, according to the doctrines of faerie lore (for these were faeries), when a mere mortal approached their assemblies accidentally, the faerie-folk always offered some of the liquor they were drinking, and if it were taken, the consumer immediately lost all power of returning home, and was carried away into faerieland. But the rustic of East Yorkshire was too wise for that, for he poured the contents on the ground, and, grasping firmly the cup, started off at full gallop. The faerie feasters rushed from the tumulus, and gave chase; but the horse of the fugitive was a good and swift one, and almost by miracle he reached his village in safety, and secured his valuable prize. In the end this goblet of unknown material, unusual colour, and unfamiliar shape, was bestowed on King Henry I, and later delivered to David, King of Scotland. It was later returned to King Henry II and has remained in the royal treasury.

Willy Howe was evidently still attracting folkloric resonance in to the 20th century, when the reverend William Smith, in his 1923 publication The Ancient Springs and Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, recounted a tale from the indeterminate past where a man was befriended by a female faerie on the mound and promised a guinea each day if he would meet her there. He was sworn to secrecy about the contract, but eventually told some friends, after which there were no more guineas and he was punished (although Smith gives no details as to what the punishment was) by the faerie occupants (a common folklore motif).

While the Willy Howe story recorded by William of Newburgh may be the earliest correlation of the faeries to prehistoric burial mounds, there are many more examples, which while not collected until the 18th and 19th centuries, had evidently been collating through the oral tradition for many centuries. In his 1976 publication Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, the archaeologist Leslie Grinsell catalogues a considerable number of folkloric faerie encounters at prehistoric sites, most of them Bronze Age burial mounds (barrows). He even produces a distribution map, which demonstrates clusters of stories in Scotland, the Midlands and the North-West and South-West of England.

Much of the folklore recorded by Grinsell is associated with faerie music being heard at the burial mounds, usually including an allegorical lesson being learnt or a gift being given to the person who heard the tunes. For instance, a man who built his house on Mingulay Dun, in Barra, Outer Hebrides, had to move away after being persistently kept awake by the sound of faerie pipes and refrains, but stayed long enough to learn some of the tunes. Bincombe and Whitcombe in Dorset both have Music Barrows, where the sound of faerie fiddles and flutes may be heard at midday – fitting in to the common motif of experiencing the faeries being temporally constrained to a certain time of day. There are also many cautionary tales associated with faeries and barrows, such as the cup taken by a man who encountered a faerie feast on the barrow called Fairy Hill at Orrisdale on the Isle of Man: “A fairy offered the passer-by a drink from a silver cup, but he threw out the contents and the faeries disappeared, leaving the cup in his hand. He sought advice from his priest who persuaded him to present the cup to Kirk Malew Church for use at communion. It was later noticed that whenever the cup was used there, those who drank from it went mad afterwards, and so the use of the cup was abandoned.” But the faeries also have a benevolent role to play in stories surrounding their presence at prehistoric burial mounds. At Pixies’ Mound, Stogursey, Somerset, a ploughman on his way to work noticed a broken peel (a wooden shovel for baking cakes) on the barrow. He mended it and replaced it where he found it. When he returned from work the peel was gone, and in its place was a freshly baked cake, interpreted as a reward from the faeries for repairing their implement.

Grinsell records over sixty folkloric stories of this type in Britain, a number that could be multiplied several times if a modern assessment based on new research were to be carried out (Janet Bord’s 2004 book The Traveller’s Guide to Fairy Sites is the most up to date assessment, which takes the number of sites to about a hundred). The allegorical, motif-ridden overlays of all the folkloric examples should not distract from the very real correlation to an idea of the faeries and their relation to prehistoric sites – the historic tradition evidently made a connection between supernatural entities and ancient burial mounds. The deep association in many traditions of the faeries and the dead (the ancestors) may be one reason for this, and will be discussed below.

In Ireland the association is made explicit; the faeries (aes sídhe) are ‘the people of the mounds’, although many of the legends attached to these sites are more mythologically derived compared to British folklore. Prehistoric burial mounds such as Sidhe Finnachaidh, Sidh-ar-Femhin and Brí Léith are sites utilised within the Mythological Cycle of Irish stories and poetry, which link faerie royalty with prehistoric burial mounds. So, while the Irish stories contain more grand narratives than the British folklore, the point remains that there is an intimate link between the mounds and the faeries in folkloric/mythological narratives throughout Britain and Ireland.

However, Jeremy Harte makes the valid point that faerie hills are not always burial mounds and that perhaps the folkloric prerogative was to house the faeries under any prominent hill or mound for the purposes of a narrative rather than any close correlation between prehistoric burial locations and the faeries. Indeed, two of the most famous faerie hills are natural and not burial mounds. These are Doon Hill at Aberfoyle, where the Rev. Robert Kirk consorted with the faeries and met his death in the late 17th century, and the Faerie Hill of Sithean Moor on Iona, which has a long association with the faeries, and was also the location of the mysterious death of a young occultist by the name of Marie Fornario in 1929. But it remains true that most ‘mounds’ in the folkloric record are Neolithic or Bronze Age barrows, which suggests an intimate link between these sites and the faeries, and also a deep recognition of this among the people who were perpetuating the stories in the historic period.

While burial mounds seem to be the most popular faerie haunts in the folklore, there are also many records of faerie interactions at other prehistoric sites. Stone circles most commonly have the attached folkloric motif of being people petrified into stone for some misdemeanour (most often dancing on the Sabbath), but sometimes there are faerie correlations. Fingal’s Cauldron Seat is a small Neolithic stone circle on Machrie Moor, Isle of Arran, which, in the folklore, the Irish giant Finn set up to hold his cauldron. One of the stones has a perforated hole, of which the 19th-century historian John McArthur notes: “… was probably associated with some old superstition or religious ceremony, now forgotten. The hole is sufficiently large to admit the two fingers, and runs perpendicularly through the side of the column… The perforated column was believed to contain a fairy or brownie, who could only be propitiated by the pouring of milk through the hole bored in the side of the stone.” And at the Rollright stone circle in Oxfordshire there is a persistent folkloric story that the faeries emerge from a hole in a rock in the former quarry close to the King Stone to dance around the stones during full moons. It is interesting that in both these cases it is a hole in the stone that leads down to a faerie space, insinuating that (as with the burial mounds) the faeries are usually to be found underground.

Mitchell’s Fold stone circle in Shropshire is associated with an interesting piece of folklore that has the attributes of ancient oral tradition, even though it only first appears in the record during the 19th century. Leslie Grinsell summarises the legend in his booklet Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle and its Folklore (1980): a local famine was alleviated by a faerie (in some versions faeries), who was able to generate a white cow that gave copious amounts of milk. One night a malicious witch named Mitchell milked the cow through a sieve and the displeased faeries turned her to stone and built the circle around her to prevent her from ever escaping. The folktale is even commemorated in a 19th-century pillar carving in the local church of Middleton-in-Chirbury. This particular legend certainly has the hallmarks of a magical tradition being filtered through later folklore, and may retain a folk-memory of the stone circle being used by its Neolithic builders as an interventional container for whatever negative energies they perceived in the landscape – more of which below.

There are other prehistoric stone circles, which have either been designated as faerie rings, such as Hjaltadans (Shetland), or which have specific stones known as the faerie stone, as at Hordron Edge (Derbyshire), although it is difficult to know how far these designations go back beyond the 19th century. Likewise, in Brittany there appears to be a deep connection between faerie folklore and megalithic sites, which are frequently designated as stones of the corrigans or fée (the usual Breton terms for faeries). Dee Dee Chainey discusses the collections of some of these tales by the 19th-century folklorist Paul Sébillot:

One story was collected by Sébillot in 1881 from a local gardener about a megalith sited between Saint-Didier and Marpiré (Ille-et-Vilaine), and it is shown to have strange origins: ‘The faeries took the biggest stones of the country and carried them in their aprons; then they piled them one on top of the others to build their houses.’ Another dolmen, near the wood of Rocher in Pleudihen, was similarly made by the faeries by carrying rocks in their aprons according to the local people.’ It’s interesting to note that, in contrast to the megaliths as homes for the faeries, a ‘white-haired farmer’ spoke of a menhir (peulvan) called la Pierre Fritte, saying that the fairies erected such things for those souls who had done good in their life, and whose ashes could remain ‘safe from the malice and destruction of time’ where ‘they came at night to talk with the dead.’

Three decades after Sébillot’s collection of stories the American anthropologist WY Evans Wentz also recorded the faerie beliefs of the Bretons in his 1911 publication The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. Many of the stories he collected centred around the extensive landscape of Neolithic stone rows, dolmens and menhirs near the village of Carnac in southern Brittany. One description of the faeries’ activities was given to him by Marie Ezanno (then 60 years old) of Carnac village:

‘The corrigans are little dwarfs who formerly, by moonlight, used to dance in a circle on the prairies [the land containing the megalithic structures]. They sang a song the couplet of which was not understood, but only the refrain, translated in Breton: “Di Lun (Monday), Di Merh (Tuesday), Di Merhier (Wednesday).” ‘They whistled in order to assemble. Where they danced mushrooms grew; and it was necessary to maintain silence so as not to interrupt them in their dance. They were often very brutal towards a man who fell under their power, and if they had a grudge against him they would make him submit to the greatest tortures. The peasants believed strongly in the corrigans, because they thus saw them and heard them. The corrigans dressed in very coarse white linen cloth. They were mischievous spirits (espirits follets), who lived under dolmens.’

Evans-Wentz discovered that the Breton belief in faeries very much correlated them with the dead, much more so than in the other Celtic countries from which he collected testimonies. Carnac was the nexus of this, evidently due to the extensive range of prehistoric megaliths, which, while not properly understood in their archaeological context, were understood to be abodes of the ancestral dead. For the people of southern Brittany at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, the faeries and the dead were one and the same thing.

These folkloric examples demonstrate an innate understanding in traditional communities that the faeries were often to be found inhabiting prehistoric ritual sites. Most frequently they were underneath the mounds and stones, suggesting they were part of an Otherworld marginally disconnected from consensus reality. But the stories are often overlain with allegorical storytelling and motifs, which has allowed them to become somewhat subsumed in to a whimsical past, with limited relevance to any understanding of the metaphysical reality of the connection. However, encounters with faeries at prehistoric sites are not limited to the folklore. Modern experiences are numerous, and usually take the form of straightforward testimonies, without any formulated diegesis. My own experience at West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire in 1996 is described in a previous post: Some Personal Reflections on Interfacing with the Faeries. This is a somewhat similar experience to that described by Jo Hickey-Hall on her Modern Fairy Sightings podcast at the La Pouquelaye de Faldouet Neolithic passage tomb (dolmen) on Jersey. The fascinating aspect of this experience is that it was reprised by another woman at the same site. The faerie entity appeared as a small, gnome-like creature (described as playful and mischievous) that appeared briefly at the dolmen before flickering out of existence. Whilst there was no apparent message or deep interaction from the experience, both Jo and the woman suggest the encounter allowed a turning point in their lives, and that the interface was important in their understanding of the possibilities of the existence of incarnate entities. Unlike the folkloric stories, there is no storytelling overlay – it is simply an experience of a faerie-type entity at a prehistoric site.

There are also several experience reports at prehistoric sites in the Fairy Investigation Society’s census, compiled by Simon Young between 2014-17. The following is worth reproducing in full, as it captures the ethereal quality of many sightings, and the effect on the participants. It happened at the Boskednan Nine Maidens stone circle in Cornwall in the early 2000s, and is report #22 in the census:

My husband and I were having a hike in the area, near Morvah. We had parked the car and walked to the Men-an-Tol, then down to the Men Scryfa which is a standing stone dating from the early medieval period. We were going back to the track to head up to the Nine Maidens stone circle, when we saw a man running down the hill. When I say run, think of those dreams when the land flies beneath you with each step; he was moving like this over the heathy ground. He stopped and looked at us, and my husband waved. He grinned and waved back, then continued to run at this incredible pace in an easterly direction until he was out of sight. He was the same sort of height and build as a slim human, with shoulder-length hair which was the colour of haematite. It was a metallic dark grey. He wore olive green trousers and a long sleeved top, but the cut was very unusual, not like anything that would be commonly bought in a shop. It had a hand-made look to it, with an odd style. I felt a bit spooked by this appearance, and husband and I chatted about how strange he had looked whilst we reached the top of the hill and the Nine Maidens. As we reached the site, the weather began to change; from being a clear sunny day, a strong wind blew up from the west and brought with it a fair deal of cloud and fog. There was a purple/grey hue to this. We explored the circle for a few minutes, and joked about having gone through a portal. As soon as we stepped out of the circle, the wind died down, the clouds cleared, and it was a bright sunny day again. Whilst we walked back towards the car, we were talking about the strange events, and joked that we hoped the car was still there, and that seven years had not passed!

Prehistoric Faeries: Landscape, the Ancestors and Altered States of Consciousness

There is evidently a link between the faeries and prehistoric sites in Britain, Ireland and Europe. In many ways this is a direct correlation between the faeries and death in the form of the ancestors. Most (perhaps all) prehistoric sites were created as memorials for the dead. The burial mounds are the most obvious examples (even though they would have been used for other ritual purposes apart from burial), but megalithic stone circles and rows and individual standing stones were also, in part, memorials for the ancestors. The relationship between these sites and the faerie phenomenon is important, and is based on a blurring of the difference between the faeries and the dead. Evans-Wentz explicitly states that, in the Celtic countries where he collected his information, they were often understood to be one and the same thing: “The animistic character of the Celtic Legend of the Dead is apparent; and the striking likenesses constantly appearing in our evidence between the ordinary apparitional faeries and the ghosts of the dead show that there is often no essential and sometimes no distinguishable difference between these two orders of beings, nor between the world of the dead and faerieland.”

It is perhaps then not surprising that much faerie folklore and modern faerie encounters have gathered around these sites. The folklore that portrays the faeries as inhabiting the land of the dead shows them as representatives of the past and what is gone. In the same way as a memory of someone dead can be conjured up in consciousness before disappearing into the subconscious, so the faeries are able to make appearances in our collective stories (based on experiences) that attempt to understand death and its connection with life. Their somewhat wacky behaviour perhaps exemplifies our fear of the unknown — they live in an undiscovered country, and have their own customs and rules. But it’s a place that can be accessed and brought into our comprehension of reality — physically and metaphysically — so as to come to terms with death, both our own and of others.

Our prehistoric ancestors were evidently intent on marking certain parts of the landscape with megalithic and other structures for a variety of ritualistic reasons, but primarily to interface with the transcendent world of the dead. If the folklore of these sites is resonant with the faerie phenomenon, then perhaps it is a folk-memory of what the prehistoric builders of the sites were attempting to capture. It is possible that the faeries (in all their forms) are remnants of an indigenous belief-system, which have continued to manifest through time, appearing to us not only in folklore, but as a metaphysical component of reality. The prehistoric sites are like lightning rods – retaining a non-material energy of consciousness within their structures that may allow us to tap in to the same experiences as those who built them. This is not the same as the old anthropological model suggested by Evans-Wentz et al., that hypothesised the faeries are the memories of prehistoric ancestors. Rather, it is the idea that the faeries are part of a collective human consciousness, first realised thousands of years ago, and still prevalent, especially at nodal points such as burial mounds or megalithic structures.

This might be taken further by suggesting that faerie entities (whether representatives of the dead or not) exist in their own standalone non-physical reality, and are able to interact with our own physical reality when certain conditions are met. Much of the folkloric record about faerie encounters, as well as modern testimonies, infer that the participant(s) is engaged in the experience during an altered state of consciousness. This consciousness state can be induced by a variety of means, and can vary from slight tweaks in everyday perception through to dramatic changes brought about by psychedelic states. Faerie folklore often includes coded language to suggest this there is an alteration in the reality field, which allows the faeries to interface with human consciousness; likewise in modern testimonies. If this is true in historic folklore and modern encounters, then it is likely to be true for our prehistoric ancestors who were constructing the sites where so many faerie interactions have been recorded.

The shamanic cultures of the Neolithic and Bronze Age were certainly adopting various strategies to alter their state of consciousness for ritual purposes, and while there is no direct archaeological evidence for psychotropic plant/mushroom use in prehistoric Britain and Ireland, a recent study from Es Càrritx, in Menorca, using UHPLC-HRMS to examine hair strands from the Bronze Age detected the alkaloids ephedrine, atropine and scopolamine, confirming the use of psychotropic plants at this time. It is likely that British and Irish contemporaries of these Mediterranean peoples were also making use of various psychotropic plants and mushrooms, which were widely available at this time. But whatever technique was used by prehistoric people to alter their states of consciousness, the state itself is probably an important element of why they spent so much time and effort constructing megalithic structures and barrows in specific landscapes. Whilst these sites were built in reverence to the dead ancestors, it can be suggested that they were also located at nodal points – almost like landscape acupuncture – to induce encounters with representatives of the Otherworld, whether these were the dead, faeries or other forms of intelligent entities, which were not ordinarily part of physical reality. If this were the case, then perhaps the energy of these prehistoric sites resonates through time, and if we are in the appropriate state of consciousness, we too can tap into the same perceptive field, which may manifest as encounters with faerie-type entities. This in turn may alter and inform our understanding of reality and of death, much as it may have done for our prehistoric ancestors.


The cover image is from the television series Children of the Stones (first aired on ITV in 1977). Artist not identified.

The interaction between archaeology and folklore is only touched upon in this article, but Tina Paphitis has written a thoughtful essay titled ‘Folklore and Public Archaeology in the UK’, which investigates the interaction (and lack of interaction).

Dead but Dreaming the novel is available now.

I also have an essay in the new publication Fairy Films: Wee Folk on the Big Screen (ed. Joshua Cutchin), which is a deep-dive into the 1997 film Photographing Fairies.



‘The Otherworld Around Us’ by David Halpin

Deadbutdreaming is delighted to welcome back David Halpin as a guest author. David is an Irish folklorist and author, who writes extensively about the faerie phenomenon from a Fortean perspective, and has produced a large corpus of work, much of which can be found on his excellent Facebook blog Circle Stories. The following triumvirate of articles originally appeared there, and are an investigation in to ‘the Otherworld around us’, looking at how the faeries interact with humanity via the landscape, the air, and through consciousness. Thanks to David for giving permission to republish these insightful articles.

The Otherworld Around Us

Mounds and Ancient Places

Something I have written about previously is the observation that we might interpret the concept of fairy mounds in both archaic and contemporary ways. For example, we once thought fairies emerged from a hole in the earth. Then, as we became more technological we considered the possibility that they might come from a hole in the sky or another dimension. Today, there is a further school of thought which posits that fairies come from the depths of our collective consciousness. Of course, no matter which of these explanations, if any, we might prefer, we still have to account for the consequences of the interaction.

One immediate reason for this is the description of fairy mounds as being both places of the dead and also places of living contact. Claude Lecouteux reminds us that this is an overlooked aspect of the mounds: ancestors, spirits, and the beings we call fairies are affecting forces that impact upon us. From an ancestral healing perspective, by participating in this interaction we also impact upon our own future paths. Within Asian folk-magic, and even formal Tibetan Buddhism, rim-né are the effects of spiritual forces upon the living. This can often result in unexpected physical and psychological interference following a visit to an ancient place. Indigenous Oceanic peoples also take this consideration seriously when visiting ancestral sites and memory in a way that, perhaps, Irish people have to recover again. Obviously, when we interpret these sites through the discipline of archaeology and history we may not have an opportunity to acknowledge the reality of metaphysical considerations, never mind incorporating protection rites from a folk-magic perspective.

This is nothing revelatory: after all, the person we get to fix our cooker is not usually the person we ask to cook a meal with it, as Gordon White once observed! Returning to Lecouteux again, he reminds us that old Norwegian Christian laws (Kristenret) condemned pagans for “believing in land spirits, whether found in groves or mounds or waterfalls.” He goes on to say that this distinction is important because it shows that there was not one particular high pantheon being worshiped, but instead localised “numinous forces” which were more important to the ordinary person and their life. There were also two very interesting expressions used to describe this type of interaction; “to believe in the hills” and “to believe in the mounds”. Writing in Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth, author Mark Williams tells us that in the 8th century Hymn of Fíacc we are told that the Irish used to worship the síde; they did not believe in the godhead of the true trinity. Whether this means they worshipped the beings emerging from the mounds, or the sites themselves, Williams writes, “Thus the original author of the Hymn may have meant that the pagan Irish used to venerate the mounds.” This is interesting when compared to those previous Norwegian expressions.  

Writing about the mounds of The Boyne Valley, Williams also notes that, “Overall, it looks highly plausible, though at present unprovable, that there was a late-Iron Age cult focused on supernatural beings-whether gods, deified ancestors, or the spirits of the dead-associated with the mounds of the Boyne necropolis, and perhaps others as well.” Obviously, many of these sites are much older than Iron Age veneration and go back 5000 years in some cases. These places are still everywhere around Ireland even though so many have also been destroyed. With travel being so limited at the time, we can speculate that this probably means that we had countless local spirits and methods of veneration. Further testament to this might be how even today in societies where such beings and magic practices exist, this is the chaotic localised animism which seems to spontaneously and naturally occur.

An example of this is the Ulchi shamanistic tradition of passing down particular spells, prayers, and magical techniques through families, but there is also the room for new ways of interacting with the spirit-beings and forces, depending upon the practitioner. In this context, entering the supernatural realm from the same place does not mean that the traveller needs to follow the same direction or path once inside. I find it interesting that some see these places as having been communal and open to everyone, whereas throughout the world it seems more evidential that these were sites only open to the few. In this interpretation they are initiatory places, perhaps, and in order to meet with the ‘gods’ a neophyte or priest/priestess needed specific preparation: ceremony and secrets being important in this context. 

Our Irish traditions also warn us continually of how dangerous it is to interact with the beings of the mounds. Inside these places a type of sensory deprivation may have meant that the art that surrounded a person (and, perhaps, entheogenic consumption) aided the transition to the Otherworld. It’s interesting to note some of the similar symbols found in caves said to be used for shamanistic-type journeying and those found at ancient Irish sites. Understanding these sites in this context as entrances to the Otherworld as opposed to farming calendars or tombs surely seems to be a valid argument. 

The 5000 year old Orkney site, Maeshowe, for example, is now believed to have been a place where the Otherworld could be accessed aided by ritualised construction techniques. J van der Reijden of  the University of Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, describes the oppositional nature of the side-chambers within the mound as being where the membrane between the human world and spirit world is breached. Similar claims have been made regarding monuments having consciousness-changing purposes such as the Heb Sed festival of ancient Egypt. This was a way for the king  to renew his land and commune with the gods and goddesses dwelling in the spirit world. By entering the carefully built structures. the king was seen to have left the human world and travelled to the Otherworld. Again, when we consider that many of these places have alignments to equinoxes and solstices we might consider this further evidence for a non-farming purpose.

The stone circles of Gobekli Tepe predate farming by thousands of years and also had a ritual use involving stars, vibration and feasting. Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at The Polytechnic University of Milan proposes that Gobekli Tepe was built to acknowledge Sirius, and possibly the moon. Vincenzo Orofino of the Universita del Salento has demonstrated that Gobekli Tepe also contains an alignment to the cross-quarter between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. In other words, at the astronomical point we know in Ireland, at least today, as Lughnasadh. Again, a pre-farming alignment.

Sensory deprivation was also a hugely important aspect of the Eleusinian mysteries of ancient Greece, where initiates were brought into subterranean temples and caves where they would, following the drinking of a psychedelic brew, discover the meaning of life and death and know that consciousness could never die.  

Although we might want to believe that the effort it took to build these ancient sites and monuments was for communal purposes, let us remember that this wasn’t the case with the Great Pyramid or the temples of Central and South America. We now know through genetic evidence that this most likely wasn’t the case in Ireland, either. Newgrange contained the remains of a dynastic elite who practiced incest much like other hierarchical ruling systems of ancient cultures. The oldest names of Newgrange are Síd in Broga and Brug Mac Ind Óc. These names mean ‘Mansion  of the mound of the Otherworld’ and ‘Mansion of the Young Son’. Both seem to have more in common with a description of rebirth or elevated consciousness than farming.

The Air and Sky

Although many fairy encounters contain incidences of travelling through the air, and from fairy mound to fairy mound, the occasions where the fairies soar into outer space are few and far between. This is an often overlooked, and even misrepresented factor when trying to match fairy abductions to UFO encounters. However, the common links between soul-flight, shamanic journeying, fairy abductions, and, indeed, UFOs, are still tantalising. Writing in their paper, ‘Small Gods, Small Demons: Remnants of an Archaic Fairy Cult in Central and South-Eastern Europe’, Professor Éva Pócs, explains, “The typical fairy communication known from folklore accounts usually takes place in a characteristic space-time structure that is also a form typical of possession by the dead as it appears in this region.” This is an important consideration as a distortion of space-time is often reported by those who have such experiences. In fact, the trooping fairies sighted by many here in Ireland sounds quite similar, with a flow of airborne lights moving from ancient monument and site to another turning up frequently in our folklore

In this example from Co. Wicklow we have a very definite description of airborne fairy travel: “At this Rath in Krishuna it is said the fairies gather on certain nights. They ride on the wings of the wind and retreat at cockcrow to the rath of Mullaghmast in Kildare. The people of this neighbourhood are said to keep a black cock in order to defeat the more evil minded of the fairies and to preserve them from harm.”

This fairy wind seems to have the power to carry a person over the threshold between the fairy Otherworld and our own world. Sometimes people describe being transported in strange carriages and even upon brooms. These are lifted in the air and carried faster than seems possible. The destination, again, is dream-like, often, it seems, deliberately so, as if to mask another reality just below the surface, as in this example from Co. Longford: “Some time ago men were putting up hay in a field in Cam. A fairy wind came and took away the hay. A man threw his hat after it. He said it was lucky to do that – that the fairy wind wouldn’t do any harm, but when the wind settled there was a boy gone with it. One night when the boy’s father was going by Pat Cunningham’s fort, he heard fairy music, he went into the fort and found the boy.”

Robert Kirk, the 17th-century Scottish fairy folklorist, also wrote about such “secret paths” which a person might stumble onto and be then led to seeing the fair folk and maybe being captured for a while. Kirk interestingly describes the movement of fairies as “swimming in the air near the earth” which almost sounds like a travelling river of energetic consciousness, or a separate reality.

In his book, Spirit Paths: An exploration of Otherworldly Routes, Paul Devereaux tells us of an 18th-century witness to the fairy parade. They describe ‘the fairies’ as “…leaping and frisking in the air, making a path in the air.” John Keel, the American journalist and writer who studied strange phenomenon speculated that all otherworldly beings emanated from what he termed the ‘super-spectrum’.  This was the range of the electromagnetic spectrum not usually discernible through ordinary human senses. Keel noticed that many accounts of UFOs, fairies, and demonic beings emerging into our reality were often accompanied by reports of them changing colours before settling on their physical form. This would sometimes take the form of coloured lights in the sky or the beings seeming to fly out from the rainbow itself. As Keel writes in his fascinating work, The Eighth Tower: “When men of ancient Greece and Rome saw what we now term UFOs, they noted that the objects changed colours, conforming to the known colour spectrum. So the word specter was born.”

Asian shamanistic techniques also use a type of rainbow-path to ascend into the upper worlds in order to contact both ancestor spirits and other forms of consciousness. In this account from 1671, from ‘The Troll Labour’ in Thomas Keightley’s, The Fairy Mythology, Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries (1850), a woman describes how a fairy asks for her help in delivering a baby and transports the woman upon the wind: “When she returned, she told me, that when she went with the man out at the gate, it seemed to her as if she was carried for a time along in the wind, and so she came to a room, on one side of which was a little dark chamber, in which his wife lay in bed in great agony. My wife went up to her, and, after a little while, aided her till she brought forth the child after the same manner as other human beings. The man then offered her food, and when she refused it, he thanked her, and accompanied her out, and then she was carried along, in the same way in the wind, and after a while came again to the gate, just at ten o’clock.”

When taken to the Fairy or Spirit Otherworld a person may be chosen to become a healer or communicator between the human and spirit world. One particular way this is achieved is by having magic stones or objects placed inside the persons body. In terms of parallels between medicine men/ women and the Irish bean feasa, this was deemed to bestow an ability to heal the sick, see future events and deal with ancestral spirits. Near Dromkeel stone circle in 1992 a local farmer, John McManus, described how he was taken from his home by four small figures. He awoke in a circular ‘room’ where he was given an electric shock and something was put inside him. He then found himself back in his house where the floor was covered in mud and stones.

Three years later McManus had another experience where he felt compelled to walk to his window and watch lights appearing to drift across the nearby mountains. He felt as if he had been drawn to witness in order to participate. This is a well documented aspect of fairy lore. In many cases it takes the form of fairies playing a hurling match which they cannot begin until a human interacts with them in some way. Staying with McManus, this example of an object being placed inside a person is reported in all indigenous cultures when recounting experiences with fairy-type beings. Sometimes the experience takes the form of a person feeling as if they are being cut into pieces only to be put together again. In other examples the object placed in the body becomes the instigator of new healing knowledge or psychopomp abilities. There is no requirement to deny the physicality of what has taken place except in contemporary Western culture.

Writing in Aboriginal Men of High Degree, A.P. Elkin describes an Australian Aboriginal account of a medicine man taken by ‘spirits’ into the sky world where an operation is performed on him by having quartz crystals inserted into his side. He could henceforth visit the sky and establish communication with the sky spirits and even be summoned by them. The Aboriginal tribes of The Southern Murray region reflect the same beliefs as other Australian indigenous people which they say have been passed down in oral form for over 60,000 years – Aboriginal cave art depicting these encounters with the sky-serpent spirits have been dated to at least 40,000 BCE.

Returning to Ireland, this account recorded in 1926 is interesting, “I was learning to speak Irish at the time. A gang of us would be sent over beyond Lough Gara every week to be taught by the master there. Some of us would go on bicycles and would often cycle home in the dark. We were nervous when we’d cycle by the lake as we would often see three lights skimming across the water. Sometimes the lights would appear in the trees at the lake edge and other times they would submerge beneath the water. Our parents put the lights down to the work of God. ‘Don’t worry about them, they’re only lost souls trying to get into heaven. They’re no harm.’”

The only frame of reference at the time was religion and lost souls, which in most cases was short-hand for fairies. This account from Wentzs’s The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries describes another airborne fairy encounter with multiple possible interpretations: “As they approached Listowel the doctor writes that he witnessed what he thought was the light of a house about a half mile ahead of him. On approach, though, the light began to behave in a very mysterious manner, “Moving up and down, to and fro, diminishing to a spark, then expanding into a yellow, luminous flame.” As they rode on, the doctor and his companion then saw two further lights behaving in a similarly bizarre fashion. The doctor tells us that the lights were six feet high and four feet wide and within each one was, “…a radiant being having human form.” The two lights then glided towards each other until they touched and the beings inside were able to walk between each light as if it was one individual orb.

Many Irish fairy encounters not only describe the fairies moving through the air but an entire fairy mound itself, which is seen to light up and spin, and at other times a parade of lights are seen to emanate from it and take off across the sky. This aspect has been documented at the rath situated near Keadeen, Co. Wicklow. In this example the lights also seem to foretell of a death: “One night about three years ago the Hartnetts who lived in Gardenfield were going to the fair in Drom and they saw a bright light shining over near Mrs. Dowling’s house. They said to themselves that it was very early Mrs. Dowling was up. Mrs. Dowling saw the same light that night moving up around Harnett’s house then it came down and it went into the fort and disappeared. That happened before Mr. Harnett’s death.”


The idea of a connected consciousness from which fairies emerge is but one possible explanation for their origin posited by some thinkers. Within this Otherworld lie infinite possibilities on the one hand, and, an already mapped out fate for all on the other. This factor often draws comparisons to some of the seeming contradictions which quantum mechanics displays. For example, a talent which demonstrates this type of prophecy was that of a seventh child being able to read the stars. In this case it is the foretelling of destiny which was likely consulted but perhaps there is a deeper purpose here in relation to more complex questions such as auspicious dates and conjunctions. These are tentative speculations but we do have folkloric evidence of this purpose in the Irish archives.

However, if fate is mapped out and there is nothing we can do about it, then why are fairies also associated with magic and interventions which might help someone avoid their fate? Also, not everyone can transmute these experiences and encounters into healing, art or writing, and there are many sad tales of people being driven mad or else considered deluded and who often ended up ostracised, shunned and even committed to mental asylums following an Otherworldly experience . Indeed, there are also many cases where the person begins to question their own sanity and they try to avoid the visions and communications. It can seem difficult to fathom why fairies might put a person in contact with such overwhelming consciousness overloads if these are the results. This leaves us with the enigma of fairy intervention (and purpose) to explain: why would the beings of the Otherworld pass on the wisdom in the first place if they know what it will do?

If, as some speculate, fairies are the emissaries of a higher consciousness that we are connected to, do we put their actions down to a deeper wisdom of our subconscious which seems to be triggering us to evolve at certain moments almost like the monolith appearing in the film 2001? However, it is the apparent agency and individuality of fairies which contradicts this way of thinking. Another consideration here is that within Irish fairy lore, for example, fairies often appear in the form of communal fears or concerns such as the association with the dangers of childbirth at a time when infant mortality and that of pregnant women was very high. There is an interesting reversal here, though, in that it is usually the human midwife who helps the supernatural being as opposed to the other way around. Another example of fairies being outside the limitations of human consciousness and time itself is how Irish tales of the Banshee often contain odd details such as the Banshee referring to generations of a family who have not been born yet, as if she is seeing events in the future. Again, does this mean that fate is always changeable or that there are fractal-like outcomes such as the many worlds hypothesis that fairies simply want to to shunt us between? If so, why?

Of course, as human beings, when not imprisoned within our tiny sliver of reception of the electromagnetic spectrum (From where all of our sensory input emerges) we are further restricted by the information our culture confers upon us even in the most subtle, yet restricting ways, such as tradition, rites and nativism. As Claude Lecouteux writes in his book, Demons and Spirits of the Land, “…the syncretic nature of these creatures has conferred upon them specificity so strong it conceals their origin.” So much for ever understanding fairy origins, or even purpose, in that case! The one constant in every explanation and interpretation is us, the experiencers.

So why are we so reluctant to venture inwards when contemplating fairies instead of creating vast and complicated supernatural spaces to accommodate their mysterious and contradictory nature? Or, are these non-physical and physical terrains the same? The ontological consequences of such questions are not detrimental to either human agency nor that of fairies, themselves. Instead we might consider this a symbiotic existence: the consciousness of whatever fairies are using the physicality of human beings to broach occasionally into our own existence and range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Huxley’s ‘Mind at large’ concept is a perfect example. This would also explain the odd encounters where fairies seem to need human beings to observe them before they can perform a specific task. Although many times this ‘task’ is a game or seemingly bizarre feat, perhaps this too is a matter of us simply being unable to process what is actually occurring and is instead broken down into base, recognisable actions.  

The manifestation of an independent consciousness through another also echoes the idea’s of Dr Jeffrey Kripal when he speculated that: “But if we live in a different world where everything is somehow embedded in consciousness, and we’re highly evolved transmitters or receivers of this broader cosmic life, then suddenly the universe is a marvellous place, and we live in a naturally ecstatic, evolving conscious cosmos that is waking up to itself.”  

This triumvirate has looked at some of the explanations and questions around fairies and the Otherworld. I just wanted to draw attention to the different ideas and opinions which emerge as we go deeper down the rabbit hole. In this way we can then approach more contemporary sightings and experiences with further insight. As I explained on a recent podcast, perhaps we should consider that we have arrived at a more sophisticated understanding now, in some ways. At one point we believed that fairies came from beneath the earth, then after the 1950s we began to contemplate the idea of them coming from a hole in space or another dimension. Today, we can at least entertain the idea that perhaps they emerge from a deeper part of consciousness itself, neither physical nor immaterial, and perhaps dare us to attempt to grasp such concepts in order to bring us forward into a higher understanding of ourselves.

Image and text © David Halpin.

Cover image is Boleycarrigeen stone circle, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.


Dead but Dreaming the novel is available now.

‘Were the Gnomes of Wollaton Park Intelligent Light Forms?’ by Mave Calvert

Deadbutdreaming is delighted to welcome guest author Mave Calvert. Mave is an experienced dowser and in this article she turns her attention to the perpetually mysterious case of the Wollaton gnomes. It is an incident that has been covered here in several previous posts, including Faeries, Children and Altered States of Consciousness and Revisiting the Wollaton Gnomes by Dan Green. And in 2022 Simon Young published The Wollaton Gnomes: A Nottingham Fairy Mystery, which includes all the known source material, as well as several articles from researchers. In the following essay Mave takes a dowsing perspective on the event, resulting in some intriguing interpretations as to what may have been happening. Thanks to Mave for giving her permission to publish on deadbutdreaming.


Simon Young’s recently published book The Wollaton Gnomes: A Nottingham Fairy Mystery contains source material and a number of essays from various researchers discussing the sighting of gnomes driving floating cars by children who were trespassing in the grounds of Wollaton Park in Nottingham around dusk on the Autumn Equinox of 1979. My own entanglement in the mystery started in Autumn 2021 when my friend Dan Green, who describes himself as a researcher of high strangeness, persuaded me to investigate the mystery from a dowsing perspective.

The encounter was described in the 2014 book Seeing Fairies by Marjorie Johnson (1911-2011), who lived in Nottingham all her life and collected accounts of faerie sightings, having had encountered the little people herself on many occasions. Although the publicity centred around this one particular encounter in 1979, it became clear from further research that the phenomena had been encountered at various locations around the park on several different occasions including faerie sightings around the lake by adults. There are also prolific accounts of paranormal phenomena associated with Wollaton Hall, the Elizabethan mansion that stands on a sandstone mound in the middle of the 500-acre deer park. Below this mound is underground water that dowsers would describe as a ‘Blind Spring’ where a dome of water rises from deep underground but does not break the surface, with numerous underground water veins seeping away from it through fissures in the rock strata.

Since the book containing essays by myself, Dan Green, Frank Earp, Neil Rushton, Kate Ray et al. was published in January 2022, further dowsing research has been undertaken that appears to link the phenomena to both the underlying piezoelectric sandstone geology of the park and the underground water which, when combined, produce ideal conditions for the production of the self-illuminated conscious plasma orbs that are often associated with so-called paranormal phenomena.

High Strangeness in Yorkshire
I am a member of the Ridings Dowsers and in November 2020 we had a Zoom talk by paranormal researcher Paul Sinclair from Bridlington. He described multiple strange phenomena that take place around the Bempton Cliffs and Flamborough Head areas and the surrounding Yorkshire Wolds. The geology of the area is predominantly chalk, similar to that of Wiltshire where Avebury Henge is located and where high strangeness is also reported. The area is also intersected by the huge geological anomaly known as The Bempton Fault, with faulting and magnetic anomalies extending under the North Sea. Moreover, there are many ancient burial mounds and other earthworks in the area as well as the tallest standing stone in Britain, the Rudston Monolith.

Having taken a great interest in Paul Sinclair’s Zoom talk and read all the books he has written on the subject, I was struck by the similarities in the children’s accounts of the Wollaton Gnomes encounter and what Paul Sinclair calls Intelligent Light Forms (ILFs), which he defines as “Unexplained lights in the sky that move with an awareness that implies intelligence.” Sinclair also tells us that “These things are often seen around ancient earthworks and standing stones, locations renowned for all aspects of the paranormal.”

As the well-known researcher Paul Deveraux commented in his latest book, The Powers of Ancient and Scared Places (2022): “These fractures in the Earth’s crust caused by seismic action not only can be sites of radiation and magnetic anomalies, but around these geological discontinuities are also various other phenomena, such as gaseous emissions, electrical effects associated with mineral enrichment around faulting, and the occasional occurrence of strange lights … The lights are presumably some exotic form of plasma. Plasmas can appear metallic in daylight – somewhat like air bubbles under water – and shine in the dark … Some light balls seem to react to onlookers … Plasmas may possess rudimentary intelligence, often displayed as animal-like curiosity … disappearing then reappearing instantaneously at another location or stopping seemingly without deceleration as if having no mass.” Again, this sounds very similar to the ILFs that Paul Sinclair describes in an area intersected by faulting and ancient sites.

Intelligent Light Forms meet Noddy and Big Ears
The Wollaton children’s comments that reminded me of the East Yorkshire ILFs included: “When we looked up there was a light in the trees”; “You could see them in the dark, they showed up”; “Some up in the trees and some on the ground”; “When we went to the trees, they went back in; when we went away from the trees, they come back out again”; “When they come out, we seen a light in the trees hanging and we could see the faces “; “They kept chasing us”, “Very fast”; “They don’t come out in the light.” Asked how the cars moved, the children said: “They could kind of jump over the logs.” Typical of witness accounts in Paul Sinclair’s books are statements such as: “It seemed to be following the contour of the cliff path and smoothly dipped rose with the land” and “it … moved so smoothly, as if it was on rails….” Some of the children felt threatened while others described the gnomes as friendly and joyful. Paul Sinclair echoes this stating that: “In some cases a wave of fear descends on some who witness the phenomenon, others are left awestruck.” He goes on to say: “I have noted that these light forms seem to be somehow able to tap into human emotions – since at times the observers can either feel extreme fear or extreme excitement. Even the visual experience seems to connect with a person’s beliefs or experience – whether it be religious or alien. These sightings seem to fit with the mind-set of the observer.”

When asked about the headlights on the floating cars the children made comments such as: “Kind of funnyish lights on the cars, triangularish.” In several of the accounts in Paul Sinclair’s books witnesses describe triangular shapes within the ILFs and one witness described an ILF as: “The size and shape of an old Mini car headlamp.”

Dowsing for Gnomes at Wollaton Park
At Dan Green’s request, I visited Wollaton Park in October 2021. I asked my dowsing rods to take me to somewhere where I could learn more about the phenomena. I was taken to the lake in the south of the park. Behind this was a tree-covered mound. When I walked up onto this mound, I felt straight away that I was in a liminal place and instantly experienced an altered state of consciousness. After standing still for a while I felt the presence of plasma orbs around me. They seemed translucent in the dappled sunlight, similar to the soap bubbles blown by children. After a few minutes some of these orbs seemed to me to morph into nature spirits, a phenomenon that I had recently been researching. I began referring to the area as the ‘Fairy mound’. I suspect that if someone else with an interest in extra-terrestrial lifeforms or ILFs had been there perhaps that is exactly what the plasma orbs would have shape-shifted into. It therefore follows that when witnessed by 8 to 10-year-old children brought up in the Noddy and Big Ears era who regularly saw fairground bumper cars set up in Wollaton Park, that these plasma orbs might appear to morph into something like gnomes driving floating cars.

On a subsequent visit I went to the area in the north of the park near the school and marshy area where Frank Earp suggests that the September 1979 encounter took place. My dowsing suggested he was correct. Although I couldn’t enter the marshy area without trespassing as it is fenced off, just as it was in 1979, I found that walking around its perimeter I once again felt I had suddenly entered a liminal space and was in the presence of translucent plasma orbs that morphed into nature spirits, similar to my experience on the ‘fairy mound’ on my previous visit.

After reading Frank Earp’s comments about the faulting in the Wollaton coalfield that extends under Wollaton Park, I decided to investigate the geology of the area using maps on the British Geological Society (BGS) website. The geological maps showed the marshy area to the north of the park area to be where the geology changes from piezoelectric quartz sandstone to coal measures. It also showed that what I was referring to as the ‘fairy mound’ was directly above a geological fault. So, both the areas I had felt to be liminal spaces exhibited ideal conditions for the manifestation of plasma orbs, both being over geological anomalies and one being near a lake and the other a marshy area.

Faeries, Ectoplasm and Plasma Orbs
In the chapter about the Wollaton Gnomes in Seeing Fairies Marjorie Johnson points out that in her experience nature spirits can create something by visualising it out of universal thought-substance. This may be what early mediums referred to as ‘Ectoplasm’ which appears to be a plasma-like substance. She also points out that faerie visions are often coloured by the observer’s personality. From personal experience, Marjorie found the materialised bodies of nature spirits to be self-illuminated, all of which fits in with what we are now coming to understand about plasma orbs and their relationship to the phenomena often termed paranormal.

Several well-known researchers, including Paul Deveraux, Gary Biltcliffe, Andrew Collins, Greg Little and Robert Temple, have recently been paying a lot of attention to self-illuminated intelligent plasma which appears to have its own consciousness that interacts with human consciousness, morphing into the orbs and other forms often associated with paranormal activity. As Greg Little points out: “When the plasma forms it creates an electromagnetic shell or bubble around itself. When one of these forms appears near a human, the electromagnetic bubble surrounds both the plasma and its percipient. The electromagnetic field creates an energy wall forming a consciousness interaction field, meaning that the beliefs and mental state of the human inside the bubble interact with the purposes of the plasma.” This is exactly how I felt in the areas of Wollaton Park where I experienced translucent plasma orbs that seemed to shape-shift into the elemental nature spirits that I had been hoping to encounter.

As ever, the debate will continue as to the nature of so-called paranormal phenomena, and the possible existence of trans-dimensional intelligences. However, it seems rather synchronistic that several well-established researchers in the field have in the last year or so published new books linking the phenomena to that of conscious or intelligent plasma, and that encounters from back in 1979 have suddenly resurfaced for further examination. Perhaps the collective unconscious or the luminous plasma beings themselves are at long last steering us towards a better understanding of these phenomena. We wait and see.

Further Reading:

Collins, Andrew – Lightquest: Your Guide to Seeing and Interacting with UFOs, Mystery Lights, and Plasma Intelligences (2012)

Deveraux, Paul & McCartney, Paul – Earth Lights: Towards and Understanding of the UFO Enigma (1982)

Deveraux, Paul – The Powers of Ancient and Sacred Places (2022)

Johnson, Marjorie – Seeing Fairies (2014)

Little, Greg & Collins Andrew – Origins of the Gods (2022)

Sinclair, Paul – Night People: The Truth that Leaves No Proof (2020)

Sinclair, Paul – Truthproof: The Truth that Leaves No Proof (2016)

Sinclair, Paul – Truthproof 2: Beyond the Thinking Mind (2018)

Sinclair, Paul – Truthproof 3: Bringing Down the Light (2019)

Sinclair, Paul – Truthproof 4: Beyond Reasonable Doubt (2022)

Temple, Robert – A New Science of Heaven: How the New Science of Plasma Physics is shedding light on Spiritual Experience (2022)

Young, Simon – The Wollaton Gnomes, A Nottingham Fairy Mystery (2022)


More details about Mave Calvert and her work can be found here on The Ridings Dowsers website.

The cover image is commissioned artwork by Tracy Vincent.

Kate Ray and Neil Rushton discuss the case of the Wollaton Gnomes on Hare in the Hawthorn


Dead but Dreaming the novel, is available now.

A Review of ‘Ecology of Souls: A New Mythology of Death and the Paranormal’ by Joshua Cutchin

Ecology of Souls: A New Mythology of Death and the Paranormal (2 vols) by Joshua Cutchin (Horse and Barrell Press, 2022). ISBN 978-1-7339808-5-2 & 978-1-7339808-6-9.

Ecology of Souls is a monumental work. Joshua Cutchin has pulled together many strands of traditional and modern folklore, UFOlogy and philosophy to produce a book that digs deep into the mythology of paranormal activity, while always linking it to the common thread of our most pressing concern: death. It is expansive, ranging over nearly 1500 pages in two volumes, with a separate volume of source references, which guide the reader towards a wealth of data on all the subject matters discussed. The first volume is primarily concerned with the faerie phenomenon, explaining why the concept of death is at the heart of so many of the traditional belief systems and how it might inform our modern conceptualisation of what faeries are. The second volume turns towards aliens, and how this particular paranormal subject is linked deeply with the faerie phenomenon, and ultimately with consciousness and death. The book draws heavily on the works of Terence McKenna (the title is taken from McKenna’s description of the entities experienced under the influence of DMT) and Carl Jung, and manages to clarify much of their, sometimes, ambiguous writings into a satisfying, holistic assessment of why death is at the heart of so much paranormal activity, producing a work that is truly a new mythology.

The first volume begins, somewhat surprisingly, with a chapter on the Near Death Experience (NDE). This consists of an overview of what this phenomenon tells us about the link between death and the paranormal, and sets out the stall for the rest of the two-volume book. Cutchin makes clear in this chapter that the NDE is an essential element for understanding the hard problem of consciousness, and that such a numinous experience (usually involving incorporeal entities) has much bearing on how human consciousness interacts with the paranormal subjects of faeries and aliens. For those unfamiliar with the NDE literature, this chapter acts as an excellent primer, with a wealth of references for further reading. Cutchin comes down hard on the reductionist interpretation of NDEs being nothing but an hallucinatory state caused by hypoxia: the ‘Dying Brain Hypotheses’. He quotes Christof Koch from the Scientific American, who, while determined to push the reductionist position is forced to conclude: “Why the mind should experience the struggle to sustain its operations in the face of loss of blood flow and oxygen as positive and blissful rather than as panic-inducing remains mysterious.” Cutchin also calls out reductionist scientists for their special pleading on the subject:

Scientists also appropriate research they otherwise criticize. Many suggest NDEs arise from a pre-mortem dump of endogenous, or internally-generated N,N-Dimethyltrytamine (DMT), a chemical with psychedelic properties. While both DMT and dissociative states can model NDEs, this is a poor scapegoat for their mysterious nature: reductionists assume these factors cause hallucinations, rather than alter perception. Scientists may be mistaking the metaphorical key for the room it unlocks.

The point about hallucinations vs. altered perception is important, especially when extended to paranormal experiences outside the NDE; an issue that is explored throughout the rest of the book. The following two chapters, ‘Psychopomps’ and ‘Soul Traditions’ outline the importance of both the dying process and the entities that may aid it in traditional folkloric belief systems, religious doctrines and shamanism. This leads us in to the meat of the first volume, explored over two chapters: the relation between the faeries and death.

In traditional folklore there was certainly a tight relationship between the faeries and the dead. Cutchin quotes the folklorist Simon Young: “Traditional fairy-believing communities in the nineteenth century tended, if they thought about the meaning of the fairies at all, to associate them with the dead; and it is even possible that fairies were originally born from an attempt to make sense of death.” In WY Evans-Wentz’s study of faerie belief in early 20th-century Celtic communities there is a strong resonance of the faeries being the ancestral dead. This was especially true in Ireland and Brittany, where there was a deep association. Evans-Wentz’s respondents did not usually view the faeries as ghosts, but rather as representatives of the ancestors, changed into a different form; non-corporeal and liable to carry messages, warnings and advice to those who interacted with them. Cutchin explores this relationship throughout the chapter, taking examples from around the world, which suggests a global traditional belief that not only do faeries often correspond with the dead, but that visitors to faerieland, are accessing the same ulterior dimension as those who have died. The descriptions of the NDE reality often transpose smoothly over the details found in folkloric accounts of visits to faerie realms.

Cutchin explores in some detail how folkloric faeries are often associated with places and rituals of the dead. This, of course, includes prehistoric burial sites: “They [The faeries] also favour Neolithic monuments. This distinction might clarify which beings hold nature spirit status and which more closely align with the dead… Many man-made faerie sites are sepulchral places like barrows, burial mounds, passage tombs, grave cairns, cemeteries and graveyards, all clearly connected with internment.” But the ritualised quality of the folklore also connects the faeries, intimately, with death. The association of the colour green with the faeries is especially important:

Green is not only a vegetal colour, but is associated in Celtic lore with the dead… The presence of green NDE meadows reflect the afterlife as a place of fertility and rebirth. In something so simple as the colour of their clothing, faeries reveal their dualistic roles as nature spirits and the dead.

The connection between the faeries taking, or abducting, humans and death is also made explicit. Whether it is the consciousness or the physical body that is, by whatever means, taken to a faerie realm, much folklore clearly signifies that the faeries and the ancestral dead are clearly aligned. Sometimes the folklore directly specifies that the faeries are inhabiting a realm separated from physical reality and reserved for the dead, such as in the Cornish tale of The Fairy Dwelling on Selena Moor (collected by William Bottrell in the 1870s) where a farmer (evidently in some form of altered state of consciousness) finds himself in a world populated by faeries who once lived as humans, as well as his former sweetheart, Grace, who had apparently died three years previously. Grace’s intriguing descriptions (somewhat unusual in folklore collected at this time) certainly confirm them to be inhabiting a land of the dead:

Their mode of life seemed somewhat unnatural to her, for all among them is mere illusion or acting and sham. They have no hearts, she believed, and but little sense or feeling; what serves them, in a way, as such, is merely the remembrance of whatever pleased them when they lived as mortals — maybe thousands of years ago… ‘For you must remember they are not of our religion, but star-worshippers. They don’t always live together like Christians and turtle-doves; considering their long existence such constancy would be tiresome for them.’

The suggestion here that the faeries may be ancestors from thousands of years ago, segues into Cutchin’s discussion of a theory generally dismissed by folklorists, but which may contain some esoteric truths, if the theory is stretched somewhat beyond its original, literal intent. This is The Extinct Race Hypothesis (ERH). This became a popular idea in the 19th century, and posits that the faeries are either survivors of displaced human races, or that they are memories of the same. The first of these ideas is based primarily on the association of faeries with ancient sites, and the connection of artefacts such as flint arrowheads with a living race in traditional folklore. Cutchin quotes Evans-Wentz’s interview with an Irish college professor: “The faeries of any one race are the people of the preceding race – the Fomors for the Fir Bolgs, the Fir Bolgs for the Tuatha Dé Dananns, and the Dannans for us… The old races died. Where did they go? They became spirits – and faeries.” This idea became enmeshed in some racial stereotyping to explain the ERH, an idea that is unacceptable to modern folklorists and anthropologists. But the hypothesis of the faeries as memory is explored in more depth by Cutchin, and he is able to set up subsequent chapters in the book by suggesting that faeries may well be the representation of a collective human memory, manifesting as both ancestral spirits and entities appearing in real time of their own volition.

What could cause this volition? In the chapter ‘Altered States of Consciousness’ Cutchin investigates how altering normal states of consciousness has been responsible for many interactions with faerie-type entities. These states may be induced by meditation, trauma, illness and through dreams. But the most reliable tools for bringing about an altered state of consciousness (ASC) are psychedelic compounds. The wisdom of Terence McKenna is utilised extensively to flesh out the utility of using psychedelics to come to terms with reality and death. McKenna was an enthusiastic user and proponent of the potent psychedelic compound N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and famously described the entities he encountered while using it as self-transforming machine elves. Cutchin quotes the lines that inspired the title of his book: “So the testimony of DMT for me is that there is a nearby dimension teeming with intelligence that, from one perspective seems like an ecology of souls. It seems as though that what the shamans always said they were doing was, in fact, precisely what they were doing.” This appeared to McKenna, to be contacting the dead; the ancestors who had been translated through the lens of human consciousness in to aberrational entities, which are often interpreted as faeries.

Since McKenna wrote and spoke about the DMT experience, there has been a deluge of studies, surveys and clinical trials investigating the phenomenon (described in detail in a previous post: Faerie Entities and DMT). But perhaps the most parsimonious description of why DMT may be so important in getting under the skin of modern faerie encounters is by another enthusiastic proponent of the compound, ‘Zarkov’, quoted by Cutchin: “You give DMT to ten people. They’ve never had DMT before, and you tell them only that they might see something. If nine out of ten of them come back with descriptions of elves, and four of them use the word ‘elves’ unprompted, we think you should investigate the phenomenon of elves seen on DMT.”

Cutchin’s extensive discussion of how altered states of consciousness have a fundamental bearing on the faerie phenomenon is an important addition to our understanding of how and why these particular entities have endured in our cultural tradition for so long. The faeries of traditional and most modern folklore were/are not encountered via DMT (although an endogenous release of DMT may account for some of the episodes), but they do often appear to have been experienced by people in an altered state of consciousness, however induced. And there is an overwhelming connection to death, something that is perpetuated in the most recent iteration of contact with non-human intelligent entities: aliens.

It is difficult to do justice, in such a short review, to the wealth of research into the UFO phenomenon Cutchin has managed to pour into this book. While the last three chapters of volume one tease out some strains, in a discussion of shamanistic ideas of death and the paranormal, volume two is perhaps the most complete assessment of the alien/UFO phenomenon in literature to date. The connection between faerie and alien entities is highlighted throughout, but it is much more than a facile connection between folkloric faeries and modern aliens – the connection is always overlain with the assumption that death is at the heart of both phenomena, and that our understanding of any paranormal activity requires us to adjust our concept of what death is. Cutchin explains that volume one was simply a primer to understanding the fundamentally important role UFOs/aliens have in an explanatory model of humanity: “In short, all roads lead to the UFO. Having finally exhausted other avenues of research, we are at last able to address our primary question: What role do UFOs, and alien abduction in particular, play in what we call death.” He then quotes Whitley Streiber: “In fact, it has to [do] with the next state in the evolution of the species, which involves a leap ahead into a completely new relationship with ourselves, in which mysteries like death take on an entirely new meaning.”

Cutchin spends some time examining what has become known as The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) – the idea that all UFO and ‘alien’ contact is the result of entities visiting Earth from elsewhere in the universe. This remains the pervasive explanation of the phenomenon. Suffice to say, Cutchin is not an adherent, and suggests that the reductionism of the ETH is holding us back from a true understanding of how UFOs can help us understand a deeper reality; in the same way as the faeries may. Both are immaterial entities that somehow interact with our physical reality, while at the same time being fundamentally different from it. He quotes Jenny Randles (a UFO researcher) from her 1994 book Star Children: “I have noticed that researchers in the USA run a mile from paranormal revelation. They seem terrified by the dissipation of their phenomenon through psychic experiences… For them aliens and extrasensory perception just don’t make good bedfellows. What this curiously ignores is the fact that every alien contact is steeped in psychic phenomenon.” This sets the scene for Cutchin to pin down UFOs within a more Jungian context, via luminaries such as John Keel and Jacques Vallée, and suggest that aliens, like faeries, are an intrinsic part of the collective human consciousness – they are within not without.

One of the closest comparisons to faerie experiences and UFO encounters is the alien abduction phenomenon. Cutchin has written about this previously in his 2018 book Thieves in the Night, where supernatural abductions through history are discussed. But the analyses in this second volume take the subject much further, always with the assumption of a link with death, and its precursors: Out of Body Experiences (OBEs) and NDEs. It is clear from the literature assessed by Cutchin that once again, altered states of consciousness predominate in alien abductions and that, while there are many physical aspects to the phenomenon, the main attribute is that of consciousness experiencing something removed from physical, material reality. The experiencers are having an OBE and leaving their bodies behind. This, of course, is a key breaking point in the reductionist paradigm. Here, OBEs are impossible, because consciousness is simply an epiphenomenon of the brain, and cannot operate outside it. If this materialist mindset is incorrect, and consciousness is primary, then OBEs become more credible, along with alien abductions, faerie encounters and a host of other paranormal activity. The evidence that Cutchin surveys over the nine chapters in volume two present a convincing argument for consciousness being non-dependent on physical bodies for its existence, which then makes death, as we call it, a transition rather than an oblivion. This brings us back to the numinous reality of the NDE experience, while linking all paranormal experiences to an inherent ability to escape the physical self. Cutchin, unashamedly, uses the term ‘soul’ to describe how previous societies recognised this ability, and how this may explain encounters with non-human, and non-material intelligent entities: “Our souls have always wandered in the company of such beings, joining witches’ sabbaths, riding among the Wild Hunt, weathering the trials of shamanic initiation, visiting faerieland, and, most importantly, penetrating the border between life and death.”

The intrinsic links between the alien abduction phenomenon and NDEs are explored further, and convincingly, making it clear why Cutchin opened up his book with a discussion of the NDE. The remainder of volume two is comparable to an old-school philosophical text, where thought-experiments are set up and then broken down to see how much credence can be placed in them. The chapters ‘The Soulcraft of UFOs’, ‘Aliens as the Other’ and ‘Aliens as Ourselves’ are deep explorations into how we understand ourselves, and how we comprehend something outside of ourselves, whether that be paranormal entities or the concept of death itself. And throughout the second volume, Cutchin consistently reminds us that while his main concern here is ‘aliens’, this noun can be easily transposed to ‘faeries.’ They appear to be coming from the same place, and that location is inevitably connected with the dead. Our ancestors are communicating with us through multifarious means, and in order to understand what they might be attempting to communicate, we need to expand our awareness and conceptualisation to include an ecology of souls. Joshua Cutchin’s magnum opus certainly helps us on our way to doing this.


Joshua was recently interviewed by Kate Ray and me on Kate’s Hare in the Hawthorn YouTube site, where we talk about the book and all things faerie…


Dead but Dreaming the novel is available now…

Meditation, Psychedelics and Charles Bonnet Syndrome: Some Personal Reflections on Interfacing with the Faeries

Deadbutdreaming usually attempts to interpret the faerie phenomenon from as much of an objective viewpoint as possible. The complexity of the subject matter demands an uninvolved assessment if any sense is to be made of it. But as pointed out in a previous post, the entire substance of both historic faerie folklore and modern faerie experiences is made up of subjective anecdotal testimonies; and the plural of anecdote is data. This data allows analyses. The following article is a personal testimony of my own experiences – a series of data points reliant on my own subjective memory and perception. As such, it does not provide evidence of the reality of the faerie phenomenon, but my own experiences do, I hope, add a small amount of data, which may help in the ongoing exposition of what the faeries are and why they might have been interfacing with humanity for such a long period of time. I have talked and written about some of these experiences before, but thought it might be time to round them up in one place. All my encounters with faerie-type entities have been induced by altered states of consciousness of different types, something which I believe is a strong common denominator in a majority of historic and modern testimonies. The journey begins in a Neolithic long barrow in 1996.

Meditation and the Faerie Code

In the summer of 1996 I had just completed the first year of my BA in Archaeology and History at the University of Southampton. I was using the summer break to travel around Britain and Ireland (sometimes with a good friend, sometimes alone) visiting various archaeological sites. Although I was already beginning to specialise in medieval archaeology/history, I had, for a long time, been interested in prehistory, especially the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The fossilised Neolithic landscape around Avebury, Wiltshire held a special fascination for me, and by 1996 I had already spent much time there. But my interest in such prehistoric places had shifted away from the straight materialistic study of them (as interesting as that was) and towards more esoteric interpretations of what they might represent. I had just read Michael Dames’ books The Silbury Treasure and The Avebury Cycle, and instinctively knew he was on to something, in terms of the deep, spiritual connection to the landscape the Avebury monuments and earthworks represented. So, one evening, about an hour before sunset, I found myself at West Kennet Long Barrow, enjoying the warmth of the fading day and the ambience of this amazing structure. I pitched my tent to one side of it (would I get away with this today? Probably not) and made my way into the chamber with a view to meditate, a practice that I had developed over the course of the previous year to deal with the stresses and strains of university life.

West Kennet Long Barrow is a structure built c.3,500 BCE, and, like all such barrows, was used for burials of human remains already stripped of all flesh and organs. It would also have been used for other, unknown, ritual purposes. It was excavated in the 1950s, and is one of the most complete examples of its type in Britain. It is faced with huge sarsen stones, which lead into a cave-like interior, consisting of small side chambers (where the human remains were excavated) and an end chamber about 3x3m. It’s atmosphere is very distinctive, and the scent of the damp interior stones is sometimes overbearing. I settled in the end chamber and dropped into a meditative state, hoping no other visitors would disturb me. It took me about 20 minutes to get into ‘the zone’ and relax. At this point, there was a low-level buzz, which I had experienced before when meditating. My eyes were open, and I was staring intently down the passage that lead from the entrance. And that is where the faerie appeared. A small character, about two feet tall, strode up the passage towards me, stopped about five feet away and stared at me. There was no sound apart from the continuing buzz. It stayed there for maybe ten seconds and then seemed to back away, disappearing into the light from the entrance. The whole incident lasted for no more than half a minute.

The faerie (as I thought of it then, and still do) resembled an entity illustrated by Brian Froud in his 1978 book with Alan Lee: Faeries. The image below is a close correlation. I had imbued Froud’s illustrations of faeries for several years before this incident, and had been interested in his somewhat ambiguous statements about how he viewed the entities he manifested in his artwork. So, whatever I actually experienced, was I predisposed to see this type of being while in a meditative altered state of consciousness, sitting in an ancient burial chamber? Was the experience coded to my expectations? These are questions I’ve never answered (more on this later), but the sense of presence in the chamber was overwhelming. There was no fear, perhaps due to the meditative state, only a feeling of joy, even amusement, at what I’d experienced. I felt as if the entity had sought me out and was examining me – it was as though it somehow belonged to the barrow, and was simply interested that I had turned up and tuned my consciousness into a place where it could interact with me, however briefly and with no apparent purpose. I sat there for another ten minutes, wondering if it would return, and also assuring myself that I hadn’t fallen asleep and dreamed it. But the special moment had passed. I got up, left the barrow, got into my tent and fell asleep quickly.

An approximation of the entity I experienced in West Kennet Long Barrow, by Brian Froud

This was quite a pivotal moment in my life. Although I had been investigating Fortean and esoteric subject matter for a few years, I had never experienced anything that might be termed supernatural. But this encounter was definitive. It was a gnostic realisation, facilitated by coming face to face with a non-human intelligent entity. The intensity of the moment stayed with me for years afterwards, but I had no further similar experiences, despite spending much time at various prehistoric sites in the hope of a repeat encounter. It was only when I decided to experiment with various psychedelic compounds that I once again experienced faerie-type entities, albeit it in a very different context.

Psychedelic Faeries

Between 2000 and 2012 I took a range of psychedelics. I always did this alone, and my purpose was primarily to look within myself – it was a spiritual investigation. I was always very careful taking these substances; they should never be taken lightly, as without the proper research and understanding of what they can do to consciousness, they can be problematic. I did do my research, and over the course of that decade I took a range of psychedelic substances including LSD, psilocybin, ketamine, Salvia Divinorum, and various phenethylamines and tryptamines. The experiences, while profound, did not usually involve any type of entity encounter such as I’d experienced at West Kennet Long Barrow. Perhaps the closest I got to experiencing faerie-type entities was one night as I was sitting outside my tent while camping at Glastonbury (not the festival, but rather a small campsite just outside the town). I’d taken a rather large dose of 2,5-Dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine (DOI), which is one of the few psychedelic amphetamines. In a very short time, there were small humanoid creatures bustling around in the hedge next to my tent. Once again, my experience may have been coded by having recently watched the film Photographing Fairies, where the faeries are portrayed as diminutive amorphous light-beings, with insect-like buzzing wings. The entities I experienced matched this, and they were definitely diminutive humanoids buzzing around in the hedge. The experience lasted a long time, although DOI is well known for distorting time, so I cannot put a definitive time-frame on the encounter. But once again, as per the West Kennet experience, there seemed no purpose to me seeing these entities. There was no sound or communication, but there was a distinct feeling they were aware of me, and that they viewed me with amusement. At one point, a (seemingly) female faerie jumped up and down on a large leaf as if it were a springboard; apparently just for my edification. But most of the experience consisted of about half a dozen entities simply jumping, dancing, sitting and climbing in the hedge within a few feet of me. Although this experience affected me deeply, I put it aside as an unexplainable anomaly, induced by the psychedelic state. It was numinous and profound, but there seemed no meaning to it. Likewise, the brief episodes of wispy humanoid entities encountered during various other psychedelic trips were not anything I could claim to have been faerie experiences. But there is one psychedelic that is almost guaranteed to invoke an encounter with non-human intelligent entities: N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

DMT has received much attention in recent years, and is currently being used in several clinical trials as a treatment for various mental health issues. The seminal published clinical trial using the compound is Rick Strassman’s study from the 1990s at the University of New Mexico, where sixty volunteers were given intravenous doses and their experiences recorded. The results were published in the book DMT – The Spirit Molecule in 2001. The participants in the study regularly encountered entities, ranging from giant insectoids to faeries, and often within the context of a sci-fi reality very different to our own. There have also been several surveys carried out, which record the experiences of people who have taken DMT. One of these is by the computational physicist Peter Meyer from 2006, where the anecdotal accounts are reported. Many of them include interactions with faerie-type entities, such as this one (#65), which articulates the experience beautifully:

‘This time I saw the ‘elves’ as multidimensional creatures formed by strands of visible language; they were more creaturely than I had ever seen them before. The message was changing from the initial ‘OK, OK, safe, safe… The elves were dancing in and out of the multidimensional visible language matrix, ‘waving’ their ‘arms’ and limbs/hands/fingers? and smiling or laughing, although I saw no faces as such. The elves were telling me (or I was understanding them to say) that I had seen them before, in early childhood. Memories were flooding back of seeing the elves: they looked just like they do now: evershifting, folding, multidimensional, multicolored (what colors!), always laughing, weaving/waving, showing me things, showing me the visible language they are created/creatures of, teaching me to speak and read.’

The most important aspect of the DMT experience is that the person taking it is transported into an alternative reality. This makes it different from most other psychedelics, where, despite the possibility of a radical change in consciousness, the experiencer remains rooted in consensual reality. With DMT consensual reality is simply replaced with another reality, and there are almost always non-human intelligent entities awaiting the participant.

This is what I experienced during the two times I took DMT. Within seconds of taking it, normal reality was closed down and my consciousness entered an entirely different reality, where the geometry of existence was altered. I was in a space similar to a dream, but with a hyper-reality that allowed no doubt as to its absolute substantial authenticity. The experiences were shocking – I was utterly astounded that my normality had been overhauled and replaced by it. The space was filled with metallic cubes and impossible avenues of light, all of which seemed alive with vibrancy. And, sure enough, there were inhabitants here. They were akin to the faeries I’d encountered before, but they matched the environment in being metallic and machine-like. They communicated with me somehow – not in words but in feelings, much as in a dream, overwhelming me with emotions. This communication was neither friendly nor hostile, but rather neutral – they were attempting to convey some information, but it was garbled and I felt as if I were in the presence of intelligences superior to me; who just knew more than me. I couldn’t understand what they were attempting to tell me, and I felt shame at my ineptitude. They knew this and seemed to find it amusing. The DMT experience lasts only about twenty minutes, and I felt as if I were sucked out of it back into my material reality before I’d had a chance to get used to it, or to attempt further communication with the entities I’d experienced within the DMT-space.

I’ve spent many years trying to come to terms with these experiences, and how they might relate to the faerie phenomenon. With the help of other people investigating the phenomenon from a Fortean or esoteric perspective I am starting to make sense of it, as discussed below, but beyond my meditative and psychedelic episodes with the faeries, I have also had a continuing relationship with non-human intelligent entities predicated on my loss of eyesight, which has brought me into regular contact with them.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome and the Faeries

Charle Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) is named after the Swiss naturalist, who first described the condition in 1760. The standard NHS description of CBS is that it is: ‘a condition experienced by people who are losing, or have lost, their sight. It involves seeing things which are not really there (having visual hallucinations). The hallucinations are most marked in low light or when relaxing and are often complicated scenes involving faces, children and wild animals.’ However, this is simply a description from a materialist, reductionist perspective, that assesses anything without material substance as ‘not real’. My own experiences do not feel like hallucinations, and this is a common thread of many people who have CBS visual encounters. They will frequently describe humanoid entities (sometimes cartoon-like) that appear, usually fleetingly, in what remains of their vision. But there is usually interaction with these entities, and a feeling of something real being present, much in the same way as if another person were in the space. The correspondence between these descriptions and folkloric descriptions of the faeries and modern anecdotal testimonies of a variety of supernatural beings (including, but not limited to faeries) is distinct and noticeable.

I lost most of my sight in my left eye through a central retinal occlusion in 2014. In late 2015, after knocking myself unconscious through a fall, my visual cortex was damaged and limited the vision in my right eye as well. Shortly after this the symptoms of CBS began to manifest. I had never heard of CBS, and it was only after a discussion with my then psychiatrist that I was made aware this syndrome might be causing the unusual visuals I was experiencing. I then discussed the issue with my ophthalmologist, who termed the condition Visual Release Hallucinations. An ophthalmologist will not diagnose a person with CBS/VRH as such, but mine did take the time to discuss the condition with me, explaining that it is an uncommon, but well-known symptom of people with my type of optical problems. I have regular annual ophthalmological assessments for my eyesight, and each report now contains a short section describing the continuing symptoms.

The visual entities I experience with CBS usually (though not exclusively) appear in low light, but never in total darkness, and I am always alone when they eventuate. This has happened several times a week since damaging my visual cortex in 2015. Sometimes the visuals are simple lights or smoke-like wisps, and occasionally geometric patterns, which are usually just glimpsed in my peripheral vision, last only a few seconds, and there is only a limited sense that there is something ‘present’. But often the visuals are more substantial, and will manifest as slightly cartoonish humanoid entities, frequently dressed in either archaic clothing or in garb that seems to emit a dull glow. The most fascinating aspect of these visuals is their apparent concrete reality, and even more compelling is the awareness that something is most definitely present. This usually includes a form of telepathic communication, often in the form of a series of phrases, which I never seem to be able to reply to. I can’t stress how real these communications are – as real as if someone were sitting next to me and talking.

These interactions usually last between a few seconds and several minutes. Any attempt to stare at the entities will halt the experience; they do seem to exist only in the periphery of vision. I’ve learnt to not attempt to look straight at the visuals if I want the encounter to continue. A recent example involved a small, mechanical gnome-like entity who materialised on the arm of my sofa and proceeded to communicate the repeated words: ‘Everything will be ok, let go of all anxiety… everything will be ok.’ I do realise that this sounds quite insane, and when these manifestations first began (although I was never frightened by them – they never seem to emit any hostility or malevolence, only empathy), I thought that the trauma of losing so much eyesight was taking me towards a mental breakdown. This is a common feeling of people with CBS. But after a while I just accepted the experiences as part of everyday life. I have to admit that I have come to enjoy the unusual nature of the experiences.

The voices are never present without the visuals, and it is always quite clear they are coming from the same source. Again, when this first started to happen I did a lot of research into the symptoms of schizophrenia, one of which can be hearing disembodied voices, but I quickly satisfied myself that I was not suffering from this disorder. Having spoken with several people with schizophrenia since, I have realised their experiences are very different than mine.

The CBS experiences happen probably twice a week on average, but sometimes they’ll be absent for as long as a fortnight, while other times I’ll experience them more than once a day. There is some type of link to how anxious I am feeling; they are more likely to appear during periods of anxiety. But this is not always the case – they seem to have their own timetable.

In essence, I think that perhaps CBS may be one among many ways of allowing access to non-material phenomenon. If we are willing to accept that consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of the brain (thereby allowing CBS visions to be relegated to brain-generated hallucinations), but rather that consciousness is primary, and the instigator of reality, then these visuals may be allowed to take on an autonomous reality of their own. One way of looking at it is by seeing the brain as a reducing valve of a greater consciousness (à la Aldous Huxley), and that if it becomes damaged or altered in any way, it may allow in aspects of consciousness that are usually filtered out, thereby altering the genuine perception of an ulterior or supernal reality experienced by the person with the damaged/altered brain. CBS seems to be a type of altered state of consciousness. For me, the entities experienced during CBS more often than not take a form that many people would describe as faeries. It seems to me as if a change to the brain can, under certain conditions, allow us to perceive what is usually suppressed in waking reality. Perhaps, as with my experiences with meditation and psychedelics, my long interest in faerie folklore has predisposed me to interpret the appearing entities as faeries (rather than, say, aliens or ghosts) but I cannot emphasise enough the vividness of the experiences and the apparent substantiality of the visions and the communications they impart.

Altered States of Consciousness and the Faeries

The three types of interface that have allowed me to encounter faerie-type entities – meditation, psychedelics and Charles Bonnet Syndrome – have resulted in differing phenomenological experiences. But they have all, in different ways, altered my usual state of consciousness. But why would such an altered state produce the visual and audial experience of interacting with faeries? The previously made point about my long-standing interest in faerie folklore perhaps predisposing me to interpret whatever I am experiencing as faeries is probably cardinal. This does not apply to the DMT experience, as many other users of that substance (who have not necessarily had any interest in, or knowledge of faeries) report contact with faerie-type entities. But the ontological consistency of my experiences does seem to suggest that I am encountering these beings through my own cultural and psychological lens, much as the testimonies of historic folklore were dependent on people believing in the faeries, and having an ingrained idea of what they were, how they acted and what they looked like. I am, however, experiencing something, which is, for want of a better term, supernatural. The faeries I have seen, sometimes heard, but never touched, are not part of consensus reality, and only seem to appear during an altered state of consciousness. This altered state seems to be the key to me accessing them, or for them to access me. But what are they?

In order to part-answer this question I have quoted the following assessment in several previous posts, but it remains the most succinct and viable way I have found of getting close to understanding the phenomenon. It is David Luke’s three-part interpretation (based on Peter Meyer’s original eight-points) for metaphysical entity contact. He used it to assess a study into the otherworldly beings (many of which had faerie-attributes) encountered by people who had altered their states of consciousness with DMT, but it is also a valid tool to evaluate what may be happening to anyone who reports a numinous experience that includes interaction with non-ordinary entities such as the faeries:

  1. They are hallucinations. The entities are subjective hallucinations. Such a position is favoured by those taking a purely (materialist-reductionist) neuropsychological approach to the phenomena.
  2. They are psychological/ transpersonal manifestations. The communicating entities appear alien but are actually unfamiliar aspects of ourselves, be they our reptilian brain or our cells, molecules or sub-atomic particles.
  3. The entities exist in otherworlds and can interact with our physical reality. A numinous experience provides access to a true alternate dimension inhabited by independently existing intelligent entities in a stand-alone reality, which exists co-laterally with ours, and may interact with our world when certain conditions are met. The identity of the entities remains speculative.

Of course, any one of these interpretations could be valid at different times and for various experiences. From my own experiential perspective, I find number 1 incompatible with my contacts and observations. Calling something an hallucination seems to be a reductionist get-out clause, which is the only explanation possible from a materialist perspective. Numbers 2 and 3 are, to my mind, better possible explanations for what may be happening when non-human intelligent entities are encountered, either within our physical reality or (as with DMT) within an apparent exterior reality. This does not, of course, explain what the faeries are (‘the identity of the entities remains speculative’), but it does go someway to giving an explanatory model for how we may be interfacing with forms that are not part of ordinary physical reality. Number 2 suggests the faeries are aspects of ourselves, which might explain why they appear as they do to anyone who has an interest in folklore, manifesting from within cultural and psychological belief systems. Number 3 suggests that our narrow view within the electro-magnetic spectrum is simply locking out unseen worlds and the entities that reside there, and that when our state of consciousness is altered (by whatever means) these otherworlds and entities are allowed temporary access into our physical reality, or that we are allowed access to the otherworlds.

This type of approach to understanding the faerie phenomenon seems promising, and it is something that has been gaining traction over the last decade or so. Previous to this there were very few commentators (I can only think of Patrick Harpur) who were approaching this particular subject matter from the perspective of consciousness and transpersonal studies. Perhaps this approach is the best way for us to attempt to unlock the faerie code in the future. Whatever the case, I feel blessed to have had these gnostic experiences, and I will continue to respect and appreciate the opportunities I have to interact with the faeries that have been a part of my life since that summer day at West Kennet Long Barrow in 1996.


The cover image shows the entrance to West Kennet Long Barrow, constructed c.3500 BCE.

Anthony Peake talks extensively about non-human intelligent entities and Charles Bonnet Syndrome in his 2019 book The Hidden Universe.

Deadbutdreaming makes it in at number 11 on the ‘Top 25 Best Folklore Blogs and Websites in 2022’ by Feedspot. There are some great resources in the list.

Dead but Dreaming the novel is available now…

Anecdote, Perception and Data: Faerie Experiences from Multiple Observers

Any experience of, or encounter with, faerie-type entities will be anecdotal. This holds true for folkloric testimonies and modern reports. The faeries cannot be recorded via modern technology or quantitative methodology. They defy any reductionist, scientific analysis and remain a phenomenon that is wholly reliant on the perception of the observer. This creates a problem for any attempt to assess their metaphysical reality – the phenomenon is predicated entirely upon subjective experience. This should not, objectively, create a problem, as human existence is made up exclusively of subjective experiences, which may be questioned for a variety of reasons, but will most often be accepted as real. When it comes to apparently supernatural events, however, subjectivity has a bright light shone upon it, and the reductionist worldview will tend to create a series of objections to the validity of the experience. These experiences happen, almost exclusively, spontaneously, and the testimonies are then reliant upon the word of the experiencing client; the testimonies are heuristic and liable to a range of issues in memory, morality, honesty, and previous cultural worldviews. But with a large dataset stretching back over centuries (perhaps even millennia), and a continuing sample of experience reports, the anecdotes of interactions with non-human intelligent entities such as the faeries begin to take the form of a quantitative (rather than qualitative) collection. They may not be recordable, but they can be recorded, and their validation, through sheer quantity and the quality of testimony, may suggest the authenticity of the phenomenon. This phenomenon is open to a myriad of interpretations, but it is, in some metaphysical form, real, simply because it has found so many subjective attributes. There are perhaps millions of testimonies of people who have experienced faerie-type entities through history to the present day. Even though the data is entirely made up of subjective reports, it cannot be dismissed due to it not being able to be subjected to the standardised scientific method of proof by repeated experimentation. The faeries have a distinct place in many cultures around the world – they are an elusive but persistent phenomenon. This persistence suggests reality; at least a reality within human consciousness.

The frequently misquoted aphorism of the late political scientist Raymond Wolfinger is that the plural of anecdote is not data. Unfortunately, for those wanting to use the quote to dismiss anecdotal accounts simply because they are not testable quanta, the actual quote is the plural of anecdote ‘is’ data. Wolfinger’s principle becomes increasingly complex when anecdotal encounters are experienced at the same time by more than one person. Experiences of faerie encounters become much more difficult to explain away as hallucinations or as a vagary of perception or memory when there is a plurality of perception, and these examples make a small, but distinct, dataset to suggest the existence of a particular type of non-human intelligent entity, which seems to frequently interact with humanity in a variety of ways.

Multiple Perceptions of Non-Human Intelligent Entities from the Folkloric Record

Although they are in the minority, the folkloric record contains many examples of faerie-type entities experienced by multiple witnesses. As is always the case with folklore, the testimonies are often overlain with moral attributes and the need to tell a story over the top of any genuine experience. And it is also true that most folkloric faerie encounters are from the perspective of an individual. But there are enough multiple witness anecdotes to suggest the people recounting the testimonies accepted the idea that the faeries were real entities, interacting with humans, and which could be experienced contemporaneously by different people.

Perhaps the first account on record of multiple witnesses to a faerie encounter comes from the 12th century in the story of the Green Children of Woolpit (Suffolk), chronicled by Ralph de Coggeshall and William de Newburgh. This is an extremely odd encounter tale (unlike any other in medieval chronicles) and it could be argued it is not a faerie experience at all. But it remains an anomalous tale with the ring of authenticity. It certainly remains within the remit of folkloric faerie encounters. The two green-coloured children emerged from caves near the village, speaking no English, and proceeded to become a part of the community. There are diverse interpretations of the story, but both chroniclers placed the events firmly within the remit of faerie folklore. The folkorist EW Baughman suggests the story is the only example in English folklore of the motif: Inhabitants of lower world visit mortals, and continue to live with them.

In 1452, thirty-four French villagers were questioned by an ecclesiastical commission about a ‘faerie tree’ (arbor fatalism, gallide des fees) in Domrémy, as part of the process of overturning Joan of Arc’s conviction at the hands of the English/Burgundian Gestapo twenty years earlier. In the face of her inquisitors, Joan herself had offset her own belief in the faeries by apportioning it to her godmother, who had apparently seen the faeries gathering at the tree. And, even though the villagers were under no threat from the commission (quite the opposite in fact), none of the thirty-four interviewees would admit to a belief of the faeries, or that they had ever seen them at the tree. Instead, they informed the commissioners that “they had heard that in the old days faeries were said to have been seen there.” As the villagers would have been well aware of the Inquisition’s requirement for questioning of anyone who confessed to a belief in faeries, this was probably understandable. But the fact that there was a ‘faerie tree’ to begin with, suggests that there was an ingrained belief in the faeries and their penchant for gathering at a certain tree, amongst the rural 15th-century French peasantry in Domrémy. Later questioning of the villagers infers they often gathered at the tree in groups to interact with the fees, and that they were all experiencing the same phenomenon.

But it is not until the 18th and 19th centuries that we get more straight anecdotal accounts of multiple-witness faerie encounters. One fascinating encounter took place in 1757, recorded by the prominent Methodist Edward Williams (1750-1813), recalling an incident from childhood. Simon Young describes the rather frightening experience:

It was summer 1757, and about midday. At Lanelwyd House to the south of Bodfari (Wales) four children decided to play outside, as the adults prepared for lunch. The children came from two families. There was Barbara Jones (15) and her sister Ann Jones (11); Edward Williams (7) and his sister, Jane (10). The children climbed over a stile into a nearby field, Cae Caled, and set to their games when one of them noticed a group of small humans dancing about seventy yards away. At this point things began to get very strange, very quickly. The figures were ‘little bigger than we, but of a dwarfish appearance’. They wore red and had red head scarfs polka dotted with yellow. They carried handkerchiefs in their hands as they danced. This seems to have been some kind of frenetic pair dancing: our narrator compared it to Morris Dancing or May Dancing. The figures were dancing so quickly that the children had difficulty in working out how many dancers they were: there was ‘something uncommonly wild in their motions’. The children settled on about sixteen. There seems to have been no music. In fact, no noise of any kind is recorded. At this point one of the dancers broke away from the group and moved towards the children. ‘He came towards us in a slow-running pace, but with long steps for a little one.’ The children ran for the stile as quickly as they could. Edward Williams, as he sprinted off, ‘screamed exceedingly’. Tiny Edward, who recorded the episode, remembered, as an adult, the exact order in which the girls went over the stile: he arrived at the stile last as he was the slowest runner and had to wait. First went Barbara, then Ann, then Edward’s sister, then just as the ‘elf’ was arriving, Edward himself was hauled over by Jane. The dancer apparently said nothing – the silence in the account adds to the terror, at least for me – but he tried to grab Edward then leant over the stile towards the children. He had a ‘swarthy, and grim complexion’ and his skin was ‘copper-coloured’. He ‘looked old rather than young’. Williams described him as a ‘warlike Lilliputian’. The children ‘with palpitating hearts and loud cries’ ran towards Lanelwyd House. The men had already sat down to dinner and rushed out as they heard the tumult. But though the dancers had been just 150 yards from the front door they had all disappeared.

Other multiple-witness accounts from the 19th century range from incidents overlain with a folkloric tenor through to straight-up experience reports from apparently reliable witnesses. One example of the former was collected by the folklorist James Bowker and published in Goblin Tales of Lancashire in 1883. In the story Adam and Robin are walking past Langton church on a moonlit night when they hear the bells peal twenty-six times; the age of Robin. As they approach the avenue of trees leading to the church they see a small, dark figure step out of the churchyard “chanting some mysterious words in a low musical voice as he walked.” They ducked back into the trees and witnessed a faerie funeral procession singing a requiem:

… Adam and Robin saw a marvellous cavalcade pass through the gateway. A number of figures, closely resembling the one to which their attention had first been drawn, walked two by two, and behind them others with their caps in their hands, bore a little black coffin, the lid of which was drawn down so as to leave a portion of the contents uncovered. Behind these again others, walking in pairs, completed the procession. All were singing in inexpressibly mournful tones, pausing at regular intervals to allow the voice of the one in advance to be heard, as it chanted the refrain of the song, and when the last couple had passed into the avenue, the gates closed as noiselessly as they had opened. As the bearers of the burden marched past the two watchers, Adam bent down, and, by the help of a stray gleam of moonlight, saw that there was a little corpse in the coffin. ‘Robin, mi lad,’ said he, in a trembling voice and with a scared look, ‘it’s the picture o’ thee as they have in the coffin!’

Robin reaches out to touch the lead faerie. The procession immediately vanishes, and the two men run back home ashen-faced. Sure enough, one month later, Robin falls from a hay-rick and is fatally wounded. This sounds like a typical morality tale overlaying a potentially real faerie experience witnessed by two people. More prosaic, and more convincing as a straight anecdote, is the testimony (detailed by Janet Bord from an account recorded by Jonathan Ceredig Davies in Folklore of West and Mid-Wales (1911)) from 1862 of two friends, David Evans and Evan Lewis, who stopped on a hillside road in Cwmdwr (Carmarthenshire, Wales) and watched with amazement as about fifty ‘small people’ made their way up the hillside to its top 400 yards away:

The first of those who were climbing up along the winding footpath had reached a small level spot on the top of the hill. The others quickly followed him, and each one in coming to the top gave a jump to dance, and they formed a circle. After dancing for a short time, one of the dancers turned into the middle of the circle, followed by the others, one by one till they appeared like a gimblet screw. Then they disappeared into the ground. After a while one of them reappeared again, and looked about him in every direction as a rat, and the others followed him and did the same. Then they danced fo some time as before, and vanished into the ground as they had done the first time.

This mostly conforms to the common motif of faeries dancing in a circle (Aarne-Thompson Motif Index F. 261.1). Graham Hancock has utilised this folkloric example in his 2005 book Supernatural (republished this year as Visionary: The Mysterious Origins of Human Consciousness) to suggest the faeries can behave with a hive-mind, when forming these dancing circles, to achieve their purpose, even if we do not know what that purpose is. But perhaps a more important element of the anecdote is that both friends confirmed they witnessed the same event and appear to have been reliable testators.

About fifty years later, WY Evans-Wentz collected a story from County Donegal, Ireland, where one Neil Colton described an incident, which had happened during his childhood, also in the mid 19th century:

One day, just before sunset in midsummer, and I a boy then, my brother and cousin and myself were gathering bilberries (whortleberries) up by the rocks at the back of here, when all at once we heard music. We hurried round the rocks, and there we were within a few hundred feet of six or eight of the gentle folk, and they dancing. When they saw us, a little woman dressed all in red came running out from them towards us, and she struck my cousin across the face with what seemed to be a green rush. We ran for home as hard as we could, and when my cousin reached the house she fell dead. Father saddled a horse and went for Father Ryan. When Father Ryan arrived, he put a stole about his neck and began praying over my cousin and reading psalms and striking her with the stole; and in that way brought her back. He said if she had not caught hold of my brother, she would have been taken for ever.

While, once again, there is a tenor of Christian morality infused into the anecdote, the testator was deemed by Evans-Wentz (consistently a good judge of character) to have been relating an honest depiction of something that happened in the past. If the eye-witness account is given credit at face-value, the three children were all evidently experiencing the same entities at the same time. The frightening nature of the encounter, and its aftermath, may also have hardwired it into Colton’s memory in a way that a lesser, more amorphous encounter would not, thereby rendering it a relatively reliable folkloric testimony.

A final example, from the early 20th century, is perhaps the ultimate multiple-witness encounter, where tens of thousands of people observed the same phenomenon. It could be argued that this does not belong in the folkloric record, and is instead a modern Fortean phenomenon. But it does provide a segue between a traditional method of collecting anecdotal data and more modern journalistic forms of reporting potentially supernatural events. David Halpin describes the event at Fatima, Portugal in 1916/17:

In early spring 1916 three local shepherd children, Lúcia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto reported that they were visited by an angel on several occasions. These visits later became known as and attributed to the Roman Catholic title – Our Lady of Fatima, or the Virgin Mary. As word of this spread, thousands of people flocked to the area to visit the children and the location of the event. It was said the visitor had promised a miracle for October 13 the following year. During the Miracle of the Sun event on October 13, 1917, over 80,000 people witnessed an event at Fatima where a bright disc-like object spun through the sky and swooped over the crowds below. The disc radiated coloured lights and is said to have emitted heat before returning to the clouds.

The encounter was appropriated by the Church as a manifestation of the Virgin Mary, but the children’s experiences with non-human intelligent entities leading up to the main event on 13 October suggests they were in contact with something that would fit well within a general framework of faerie encounters, however they were interpreted by the children and those reporting (and appropriating) the series of events. While it may be a stretch to include the encounters and events at Fatima as a multiple-observer faerie experience, it may be legitimate to suggest that the concept of what faeries are should be extended to include a range of anomalous phenomena. This comes into focus when we begin to investigate multiple-witness experiences from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Multiple Perceptions of Non-Human Intelligent Entities in the Modern Period

The well-known story of the Cottingley faeries involved sixteen-year-old Elsie Wright and her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths, who, in July 1917 (a few months before the Fatima incident), claimed to have taken photographs of faeries near a brook in Elsie’s garden. The photographs were proven to have been faked by the girls, but later in life they both insisted they did encounter faeries together, and that the photographs were simply representative of their real experiences. Interestingly, when the Theosophist, and proclaimed clairvoyant, Geoffrey Hodson visited Elsie’s home in 1921, he reported that both he and the two girls observed a range of faerie-type entities in the garden, described by him as gnomes, fairies, elves, nymphs, and goblins. All three, he reported, encountered the beings together as a multiple-witness observation. Later, when the photographs were shown to be fakes, Hodson was criticised for encouraging the girls, but he insisted that what they saw during his stay was a true clairvoyant interaction with the faeries residing in the garden, and that he and the girls were observing the same phenomenon.

Another multiple-observer account, also involving children, took place in Liverpool in 1964. This was a very peculiar incident, which lasted several days and became known as The Liverpool Leprechaun Scare. It is particularly interesting as it involved a potential UFO sighting that became enmeshed in the anecdotal testimonies. Nigel Watson outlines the events in detail in an edition of Magonia Magazine in 1985. Dozens of children described seeing and chasing leprechauns in Jubilee Park to the east of the city. Watson records that: “According to the Liverpool Daily Post dated 2nd July 1964, the leprechauns were first seen on the night of Tuesday 30th June. Nobody knew how the rumour started, but one nine-year-old boy told the Post reporter, Don McKinley that ‘last night I saw little men in white hats throwing stones and mud at each other on the bowling green.'” Numerous testimonies accorded that there were ‘little green men in white hats throwing stones and tiny clods of earth at one another.’

Two weeks later the leprechauns appear to have moved north of the city to Kirkby, which is where UFOs enter the story, as described in the newspaper The Kirkby Reporter:

Flying saucers and leprechauns came to Kirkby last week – at least according to local children. What the connection was the children were not quite sure, but scores of excited youngsters invaded the Reporter offices on Friday, eager to tell they had seen both these things. A “strange object in the sky”, which changed the colour of its lights from red to silver, and was moving slowly at first, then very fast, was their description of the flying saucer. The ‘flying saucer’ faction vied with the ‘leprechaun’ group for colourful descriptions. About eight inches high, with red and green tunics, and knee-breeches, thus the ‘little people were described. And, of course, they spoke with a strong Irish brogue. The origin of the wee folk remains a mystery, but so convinced were the children that hundreds of them plagued the vicar of Kirkby (Rev. J. Lawton) by invading St Chad’s churchyard in search of the little people. At times the numbers were such that the police had to chase the children away.

There do not seem to be any adult testimonies of observing the leprechauns, but several people did report seeing strange, fast-moving lights in the sky at the time. This correlation between UFOs and faeries was first made explicit five years later by Jacques Vallée in his book Passport to Magonia, and so it is interesting that, whatever really happened in Liverpool in 1964, we have an instance of dual UFO/faerie phenomena, experienced by multiple observers several years before any considered connection was made between them.

More traditionally folkloric in tone, but just as strange is the incident of the Wollaton gnomes, which happened at Wollaton Park in Nottingham on 23 September 1979, and again involves children interacting with non-human intelligent entities. It includes various traditional folkloric faerie motifs, but is overlain with some strange and anomalous features, which give it an edge of authenticity, especially as it was reported by a group of seven children between 8-10 years, who stuck rigorously to their story even when separated and questioned by their headmaster. The consistency of their testimonies is particularly impressive, despite some of the aberrant qualities of the account. Their testimonies were recorded on tape by the headmaster a few days after the event, and the transcriptions can be found here, recorded for posterity by Simon Young.

The incident happened during the early evening, at twilight. The children were playing close to a fenced-off marshy area of the park with ponds. Without warning, there appeared about thirty small cars, each containing two gnome-like creatures, that is, with ‘bobbled nightcaps’, beards, wrinkly skin, and dressed in coloured jerkins. One of the older children described them as: ‘about half the size of me and they had long white beards with red at the bottom and they had little white and red cars and they were chasing us.’ The cars were silent and seemed able to defy the laws of physics by floating over logs on the ground. Although the gnomic cars chased the children they were consistently described as being friendly and the whole encounter seemed like a game with the gnomes laughing, although when the two youngest children fell over in the marsh they became frightened. One of the only discrepancies in the testimonies is that five of the children said the gnomes were, apart from laughing, consistently silent throughout, whereas two children described them as talking in some type of foreign language. The cars were described as having triangular lights and some sort of button instead of a steering wheel. After about fifteen minutes, soon after the two youngsters fell in the marsh, the children ran off and the gnomes disappeared back into the trees.

Both the Liverpool and Wollaton incidents might be construed as examples of mass formation psychosis among children. A kernel of an idea, involving varying types of faerie entities, may have generated a collective belief in their reality, shared by groups of children with impressionable minds. But even if there is some veracity in this concept, the testimonies (especially from Wollaton) contain phenomenological details that remain difficult to reconcile when witnessed by multiple observers, even if they were children. And (as with the Cottingley faeries) the trope of children simply having consciousnesses more open than adults to anomalous events and experiences may be an equally valid explanation. And the fact that both incidents were reported straight after the alleged encounters (as opposed to events remembered and recounted in adulthood) is an important component of the testimonies. However, there are also many examples in the modern period of multiple-witness faerie encounters among adults.

Some of these faerie encounters appear to have happened to people with avowed clairvoyant abilities. Many of the anecdotes reported by Marjorie Johnson in her book Seeing Fairies, for example, included those from her Theosophist correspondents, who may have been predisposed to believe in the existence of non-human intelligent entities. The reports were mostly from the mid 20th century. A report from Mrs Strick, for instance, recounted a walk in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, with her thirteen-year-old niece. She describes how they both saw faerie-type entities riding atop tiny horses in a waterfall. The small humanoids: “… waved their arms above their heads as though encouraging one another in the wild game they appeared to be playing. Then they were gone, and one had time to breathe, but only for a few moments. They appeared again and again at the top of the fall, repeated the same actions, and so it went on for, perhaps, half an hour.” She describes the profound emotional effect the experience had on them both. Johnson also recounts the extraordinary testimony of Mr F McGreal, who described an experience with his late father in County Mayo, Ireland the 1930s. They were travelling across marshy ground after leaving a cart track, but they both knew the area well and were confident of traversing the marsh to reach their home in about half an hour. But suddenly the boggy landscape became more solid:

It was very strange, and my father and I tried to get back to the cart track, but we couldn’t see any familiar landmarks… We carried on walking, but we hadn’t a clue where we were going. Father put his fingers to his mouth and gave a sharp blast like a whistle. Immediately, little brick and slate houses sprang up in all directions. Little people came out holding storm lamps and running around. I cannot recall the dress they wore, but they were approximately two feet six inches in height, and there seemed to be eight or twelve little people to each house… We would change our direction to one of the houses, but when we thought we were almost upon it, it would disappear and spring up elsewhere. This went on for some time, and I began to get afraid, but father said they were only having fun and they would not let any harm come to us.

Mr McGreal then includes the common folkloric tropes of his father turning his coat inside out and throwing it on the ground to disperse the faeries, and that the event had taken up hours of time, bringing them home late into the night. These tropes may have been layered over the experience, but the testator swore to the truth of the anecdote, which had been the same for both father and son.

As in Marjorie Johnson’s collection of faerie encounters, the more recent testimonies gathered in the Fairy Investigation Society’s survey between 2014-17 (mostly from experiences in the late 20th century through to the 2010s) by Simon Young only contain a minority of multiple-witness accounts, although there are forty out of just over 500 reports, which represents a significant dataset. Unlike in Seeing Fairies, the survey tends to include experiences from a wide range of people, who were simply responding (anonymously) to questions in the survey, and most did not suggest any clairvoyant or psychic abilities. Report #160 comes from the Isle of Man in the 1970s. The respondent is a male, then in his thirties who was travelling in a taxi across The Fairy Bridge over the Santon Burn, where it is a custom among the Manx people to greet the faeries with a wave as the bridge is crossed. The experience was shared with the taxi driver, and it is an interesting example of possible psychological suggestion, where the cogitation of faeries may have conjured up an actual encounter:

I was in a taxi driving from a farm back to my hotel in Castletown. The driver told me of the story of the Fairy Bridge and gave the greeting as we crossed it. A few minutes later I saw in the headlights and several feet ahead of the car three strange forms going across the road. They were not humanoid in shape but looked as though they were flat rather than 3D and had a jagged outline about eight inches or so high. Strangely they appeared in the headlights to be bright pink! The driver saw this too but couldn’t explain it. They were six to eight inches tall and maybe five inches broad but like a flat sheet of fluorescent pink card with jagged edges. However they moved in a procession of three from the left to the right of the country road. The comments made earlier by the driver suggested fairies but it could have been something else. This memory has lasted clearly for many years. By nature I am sceptical and I have always tried to examine things with a view to finding an explanation. I never have been able to find one for this.

Report #240, from the 2010s, describes the experience of a man in his forties with his girlfriend in a forest area in California. They had both taken a small dose of Psilocybin mushrooms, which, depending on your point of view, may either render the experience an hallucination, or mark it out as an experience facilitated by an altered state of consciousness (the fact they both saw the same being suggests the latter, as discussed below). He describes an interaction with a strange humanoid entity: “naked except for a pair of leather Celtic or pagan shorts (or maybe more like a loincloth?), like you’d see at the Renaissance Faire, and a leather vest (of similar style) that was fully open.” He had pointed ears and exuded a “glamour and repulsiveness” that marked him out as otherworldly to the respondents. Both the man and his girlfriend communicated with the entity before he “skipped away” in an unusual and prehensile way.

Report #57 describes the experience of a man in his fifties, who was walking with a friend and his dog through a woodland clearing near Chilworth in Hampshire, England in 2007. They both saw a tree: “rushing across the fields towards us, and as it crossed the path before us into the next field, I could see there was a friendly, smiling face in the bark. We both had the same experience and described it to each other in the same way. It was about ten feet tall. The dog stopped to look up at it too.” Interestingly, he also described a profound silence before the experience, a loss of a sense of time and a prickling sensation during the experience, which he felt was a display put on especially for him and his friend (and perhaps the dog).

There is also a multiple-witness report from Wollaton Park (#104C), which happened during midsummer, in the same year (1979) as the gnome incident described above. A 50-year-old male (so at the time, a few years older than the children who encountered the gnomes) recounts being with a friend in the park by a dried-out canal, at about nine in the evening:

I looked across the other side of the canal and directly opposite us was a small shiny white humanoid creature about eighteen inches high. You couldn’t see its face because it was too bright and shiny, glowing white like a light bulb but shaped like a small person. I just felt it was looking at us and standing still. my friend was really scared. He had really short hair but I can remember what bit of hair he had was sticking up on his head. I wasn’t so scared and climbed into the dried up canal with the intention of climbing up the other side to get a better look, and my friend followed. The creature then bolted into a small wooded area then out onto the big field. We chased it but it bolted too fast so we just stood there and watched it get further across the field until it disappeared out of sight. It never bothered me but it really affected my friend. He was scared of dolls and ventriloquist dummies, action man toys, anything like that afterwards. He often discussed it with me for years after and told me he could never watch a Chucky movie because dolls terrify him.

Finally, there are several modern multiple-witness accounts of faerie-type entities contained in the excellent series The Modern Fairy Sightings Podcast produced by the folklorist Jo Hickey-Hall. In episode six an Eastern European female psychologist describes how she and her sister encountered a small (c.50cm tall), white, humanoid in her house during one afternoon in 2020. She describes it as having no face, with a lean shape. It quickly passed through a corridor and past a half-open door. Intriguingly, although the encounter lasted only seconds, she felt as if it had lasted longer the entity would have manifested into something more solid. The two sisters corroborated each other’s story. In episode four a male (from an undisclosed UK location) describes seeing lights in the woods during a winter walk with a friend. When they drew closer they saw a person-sized Ent-like, spindly creature (perhaps a similar entity to the encounter in the Fairy Investigation Society’s survey described above) carrying a light and running through the woods. The friend took fright, but the testator continued to watch, and has drawn an image of the entity, which is reproduced in the show notes for the episode. And in episode eleven two females, on the way to a midsummer Wiccan ritual in a parkland near London, encountered what sounds like a classic small gnome-like entity (although the testator described it as a pixie) with pointed hat and beard. They both agreed on what they’d witnessed, but, interestingly, they took the experience in a very matter-of-fact way and simply carried on to their destination. All of these multiple-witness accounts were visual only, with no audial or tactile elements.

The Importance of Multiple-Witness Faerie Encounters

Evidently, there is a difference between folkloric multiple-witness encounters and modern experiences. The former have usually been overlain with the need to tell a story, and often with moral attributes. This does not mean they can be discounted as anecdotal data, but they are, by their nature, more dense and hidden beneath their motifs. Even the modern encounters rest beneath the vagaries of memory recall and are reliant upon the honesty of the testators. But once a large number of experiences are compiled over a long time period the plural of anecdote does become data. This also holds true for encounters from individual testators, but when more than one person observes the same phenomenon there is an increased veracity to the experience, as explanations reliant on individual hallucinations are mostly taken out of the equation. While multiple-witness encounters are in the minority of faerie experiences, they still represent a large dataset, of which, only a small number have been referenced here.

If two or more people have witnessed faerie-type entities at the same moment, then, providing the testimonies are honest, it would suggest that something real is interacting with the consciousnesses of the observers. This might be a good time to reintroduce David Luke’s three-part interpretation (based on Peter Meyer’s original eight-points) for metaphysical entity contact. He used it to assess a study into the otherworldly beings (many of which had faerie-attributes) encountered by people who had altered their states of consciousness with DMT, but it is also a valid tool to evaluate what may be happening to anyone who reports a numinous experience that includes interaction with non-ordinary entities such as the faeries:

  1. They are hallucinations. The entities are subjective hallucinations. Such a position is favoured by those taking a purely (materialist-reductionist) neuropsychological approach to the phenomena.
  2. They are psychological/ transpersonal manifestations. The communicating entities appear alien but are actually unfamiliar aspects of ourselves, be they our reptilian brain or our cells, molecules or sub-atomic particles.
  3. The entities exist in otherworlds and can interact with our physical reality. A numinous experience provides access to a true alternate dimension inhabited by independently existing intelligent entities in a stand-alone reality, which exists co-laterally with ours, and may interact with our world when certain conditions are met. The identity of the entities remains speculative.

With multiple-witness encounters, number one can be discarded. The theory of ‘mass/multiple hallucinations’ of the same phenomenon is derelict. There is no scientific basis for the idea that multiple people could individually generate the same visual imagery and auditory information. Number two is more tenable, especially if we accept that two or more people could plug into a collective unconscious at the same moment. A collective un/consciousness might allow multiple observations of the same phenomenon mediated through a transpersonal experience, where a cloud of consciousness is able to manifest any phenomenon to multiple observers. But number three would appear to answer many of the questions raised by multiple-witness encounters. If faerie entities are able to present themselves to two or more people at the same moment, it suggests they are indeed existing in a stand-alone reality, and are able to interact with humans (and perhaps animals) in our physical reality whenever certain conditions are met. These conditions may involve an altered state of consciousness, as many of the examples above suggest, but, as Luke points out, the identity of the entities remains speculative.

Multiple-witness encounters with faeries are an important part of the dataset of non-human intelligent entity experiences. While, as with all such esoteric subject matter, they need to be subjected to scrutiny and analysis, they also provide us with deep insights into what the faerie phenomenon might mean and how we may be able to get under the skin of the complexities of something that has been integrated with humanity for a very long time. The plural of anecdote is indeed data, especially when the anecdotes and data involve more than one observer.


* Thanks to Jo Hickey-Hall and David Halpin for advice and their expertise in the production of this article.


The cover image is Dancing Faeries By Johan August Malmstrom (1866).


Dead but Dreaming the novel is available now


Talking Faeries on Hare in the Hawthorn – the 2022 Season

Kate Ray and I have just begun a new season of interviews on Hare in the Hawthorn, where we discuss the faerie phenomenon from a range of perspectives. I’ll add a link to each video here as we progress. So far we’ve done a few with just us introducing some themes and ideas, and our first guest this season is Dr Jack Hunter. We have a lot of excellent guests lined up for 2022, so please do go along and subscribe to the YouTube channel and click the bell for notifications whenever a new video is posted. Here are the clickable video links…


Dead but Dreaming the novel is available now.


The cover image is by Brian Froud, whose artwork seems to find its way into all of our discussions. Kate and I are big fans, and his depictions of the faerie world has had an important impact on both of us.

Faeries, Children and Altered States of Consciousness

A new publication by Simon Young, The Wollaton Gnomes: A Nottingham Fairy Mystery maps out the peculiar incident from 1979 when a group of children experienced gnome-like entities in a park in Nottingham. The book includes all the known sources, with a discussion of the data. It also has ten new essays that expound upon the incident and introduce a range of perspectives upon what may have happened. My own essay (adapted to include an introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the incident) is republished below. The discussion is curtailed somewhat, due to the word count for the publication, but there will be more lengthy articles here concerning the faeries and altered states of consciousness in the near future. Thanks to Simon for permission to share the text here at deadbutdreaming.

The Wollaton Park Incident

One of the more bizarre modern faerie encounters happened at Wollaton Park in Nottingham on 23 September 1979. It includes various traditional folkloric faerie motifs, but is overlain with some strange and anomalous features, which give it an edge of authenticity, especially as it was reported by a group of seven children between 8-10 years, who stuck rigorously to their story even when separated and questioned by their headmaster. The consistency of their testimonies is particularly impressive, despite some of the aberrant qualities of the account. Their testimonies were recorded on tape by the headmaster a few days after the event, and the transcriptions can be found here, recorded for posterity by Simon Young.

The incident happened during the early evening, at twilight. The children were playing close to a fenced-off marshy area of the park with ponds. Without warning, there appeared about thirty small cars, each containing two gnome-like creatures, that is, with ‘bobbled nightcaps’, beards, wrinkly skin, and dressed in coloured jerkins. One of the older children described them as: ‘about half the size of me and they had long white beards with red at the bottom and they had little white and red cars and they were chasing us.’ The cars were silent and seemed able to defy the laws of physics by floating over logs on the ground. Although the gnomic cars chased the children they were consistently described as being friendly and the whole encounter seemed like a game with the gnomes laughing, although when the two youngest children fell over in the marsh they became frightened. One of the only discrepancies in the testimonies is that five of the children said the gnomes were, apart from laughing, consistently silent throughout, whereas two children described them as talking in some type of foreign language. The cars were described as having triangular lights and some sort of button instead of a steering wheel. After about fifteen minutes, soon after the two youngsters fell in the marsh, the children ran off and the gnomes disappeared back into the trees.

The Wollaton Park incident is certainly one of the most intriguing modern encounter reports of faerie-type entities. If we consider the gnomes the children reported as part of a taxonomy of faeries, then the testimony joins the ranks of thousands from both folklore and modern experiences. Many experience reports are from childhood, usually (unlike with the Wollaton children) recalled in adulthood. When this is the case, we need to take into account the vagaries of memory, and how any incident is recalled. The plasticity of memory appertaining to any eye-witness event is a well-studied psychological trait. The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus conducted an in-depth study of how people remembered automobile accidents at various times after the event, concluding that: “findings seem to indicate that memory for an event that has been witnessed is highly flexible. If someone is exposed to new information during the interval between witnessing the event and recalling it, this new information may have marked effects on what they recall. The original memory can be modified, changed or supplemented.” This is, of course, unavoidable in any testimony of a past incident. In some ways, a non-ordinary supernatural event may be less prone to plasticity as it is likely to be a special event, detached from the everyday. Its unconventionality may burn it into memory in a more exacting way and its recall be more reliable than for that of a more commonplace occurrence. But potentially numinous incidents, such as encounters with supernatural entities, may also be subject to increased amounts of reconstitution, where the experiencer attempts to make subsequent rationalisations of the event and even suppress aspects of what has happened in order to codify it to accepted social and cultural belief systems.

So, with these caveats in mind, It is worth exploring how such non-human entity encounters may occur, and why there seems to be a relative prevalence of childhood experiences involving faeries. The gnomes in the Wollaton encounter seem to adhere to a fairly traditional folkloric appearance, but, of course, their levitating cars give them some modern cultural coding. If the incident is taken at face-value it could be seen as an updated version of many folklore anecdotes and stories that involve wizened gnomic faeries, behaving in a slightly irrational manner. Their manifestation in woodland and at dusk also locks in with the usual habitat and aphotic preferences of folkloric gnomes. Their materialisation to children is also important. The transcripts clearly demonstrate that the children, whilst startled by the encounter, were able to accept it without the rationalisation that might be expected of an adult. They viewed it as weird, but not unnatural. Perhaps this was simply a case of the children tuning into to the gloaming, woodland atmosphere and experiencing a non-material reality, acculturated for them by their watching (the very hallucinogenic) Big Ears and Noddy on the television. This state of mind of the children, coupled with their relative lack of (adult) cultural coding, is important. It may be contended that children are more easily able to enter an altered state of consciousness and participate in a non-local reality, which may possibly include supranatural entities such as the Wollaton gnomes.

Children and Faeries

Tales about children interacting with faeries in the historic folklore are relatively rare. The 19th- and early 20th-century collectors, such as Hunt, Campbell, Carmichael and Evans-Wentz did not record testimonies or stories from children, and only occasionally recounted remembered anecdotes from adults. But artwork depicting faeries from the same period often showed children interacting with the entities, and JM Barrie’s stage plays and novels in the first decades of the 20th century suggest an intrinsic understanding that there was an immutable link between children and faeries. This was demonstrated most famously in the story of the Cottingley faeries. In 1917, sixteen-year-old Elsie Wright and her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths took photographs of what they claimed to be faeries, located in the grounds of Elsie’s family home in Cottingley, Yorkshire. Four of the five photographs were subsequently shown to be faked by the girls, who used cut-outs from illustrations from Princess Mary’s Gift Book, although the fifth photograph is more ambiguous, and Elsie always claimed it was not manufactured. Perhaps the most interesting part of the Cottingley story is that the girls, while later admitting to faking the images, claimed that they were only attempting to represent what they really saw in the gardens. When the theosophist and proclaimed clairvoyant, Geoffrey Hodson, visited the girls in 1921 he claimed that ‘both he and the girls regularly observed gnomes, fairies, elves, nymphs, and goblins.’ To the end of their lives in the 1980s, both Elsie and Frances insisted they had interacted with faerie entities at Cottingley over the course of five years.

By the mid 20th century, anecdotal experience reports similar to the Cottingley testimony (although without the photographs) were beginning to be collected by organisations such as the Fairy Investigation Society, which had been founded in 1927 (disbanded in 1932 but re-founded after the Second World War). These differed from the folkloric testimonies of earlier periods in that they were rarely overlain with any type of narrative story, but instead consisted of simple encounter reports. One of the most complete collections is that of Marjorie Johnson (secretary of the Fairy Investigation Society from 1950), which was finally published as Seeing Fairies. This included accounts of several hundred faerie encounters, mostly from Britain, and many of them were from children, albeit recalled at a later date. Johnson was a believer in the faerie phenomenon and had many personal experiences, but in Seeing Fairies she mostly recounted the testimonies of people who had written to her with minimal editorial input or interpretation. It is noticeable that many of the childhood recollections referenced gnome-like entities, such as the testimony recounted (in the third-person by Johnson) from Kent, England by Felicity Royds recalling an experience from when she was nine years old:

“Felicity found she had left some object – her coat or a toy – in the rose garden, and was sent back alone to fetch it. The rose garden was surrounded by thick yew hedges, and at the end of it was a cast-iron gate leading into a thicket of rhododendrons. The object, which she had gone to fetch, was on the grass near this gate, and she had just retrieved it and was turning away, fearful of what may come out of the bushes, when she saw coming through the gate a small man leading a light brown horse. The man was shorter than Felicity and appeared to be wearing a blue tunic with something white at the neck. His skin was very brown, browner than his hair. The pony was about the size of a Shetland but very slender. Although she did not feel frightened, Felicity did not look at the man directly, only out of the corner of her eye. He put his hand on her wrist, and his touch was cool, not cool like a fish or a lizard, but much cooler than a human touch. He led her out of the rose garden and onwards until they were within sight of the house, and then stood still while she went in. She said that she was not musical, but while he held her hand she seemed to be aware of a strain of music that was sweet and high but sounded rather unfinished.”

The tactility of this encounter is rare; most experiences are visual and audial only (as per the Wollaton gnomes). But (as elaborated on in the next section) some of Johnson’s correspondents suggest their encounters involved extra-sensory numinous perception, such as Clara Clayton, who recounted experiences throughout her life in Nottinghamshire, including as a child, when one day:

“I found myself in the presence of a little green gnome on a hill. His face was serious, and he looked anxiously from side to side. Then he beckoned to me, and as he went suddenly through the ground like a fish swimming through water, he changed to the colour of earth and he moved easily through soil, rock etc. I followed him with my inner vision until he ceased his downward journey and showed to me his particular place of work.”

The faerie gnome showed her how he fashioned earth and minerals before the experience ended in a sudden blackout.

In the 2014-17 survey by Simon Young of the Fairy Investigation Society there were thirty-four testimonies from adults recounting faerie experiences from when they were under ten, and seventeen from teenage recollections (all anonymised). There is a great divergence of faerie entity types, although several described the entities as gnomes, such as this experience (#18) from a thirteen year-old girl in Cornwall:

“We’d been on holiday in Cornwall before, and had joked about the ‘Little People’ who lived in the tin mines etc… The first proper day of our holiday we went for a walk on a clear sunny day. It was very rural; I remember we were walking down a grassy track with large banks of wild hedges running alongside. It could’ve been somewhere near Polperro. I was walking a few steps ahead of my mum and sisters, excited about having a whole week off, when I saw a gnome sitting by the side of the path. It was so unexpected; I think I remember feeling scared – or wondering if I was seeing things or going mad? I took another couple of steps and I saw his nut brown wizened face in detail. He was cheekily grinning at me. He had a mossy brown beard and dark brown shining eyes; he was wearing a peaked hat (brown) and a shiny jacket and trousers in shades of brown and ochre. I’d say he was about twelve- to fourteen-inches tall. I could not believe my eyes. I was even too amazed to turn around and tell my family to ‘look at the gnome’ by the path. Then the gnome cocked his head (again, cheekily), turned his back on me and kind of changed/melted (transmogrified?) into an old tree stump. This must’ve all happened in a second, just as I found the breath to say ‘Mum! Look…!’ But, of course, there was nothing to see but a tree stump. I felt really stupid then, so I muttered something non-consequential as we walked past. I was almost panicking, trying to make sense of what I had just witnessed. I was quite shaken. It was a breathtaking experience.”

And this testimony (#10) from an undisclosed location in England:

“[I was] walking home in woodland after building den with friends. [I] was nine at the time. I came around a tree and saw two small creatures two-feet high sitting on a stump. [They] appeared to be carrying small canes and dressed in brown cloaks. Watched them for short time, they saw me then vanished. [They were] thin, two-foot tall, longish arms and legs [with] pale faces.”

While the previous caveats of distorted memories must be taken into account, it is important to note that the correspondents not only took the time to reply to the survey, but that many of them described the events as cardinal points in their lives. The survey also asked respondents to report their state of mind at the time of the encounter. In a majority of cases (both adult encounters and adults recalling childhood memory) the experiencers appears to have been in some form of changed mood from their usual, everyday disposition. They seem, in effect, to have been in an altered state of consciousness.

Altered States of Consciousness and Experiencing Faeries

Faerie encounters reported by adults in adulthood, may seem to be potentially more authentic than something recalled from childhood. While the same issues of memory refraction apply, the time depth is not as great, and the anecdotal episodes will perhaps be given more credence. It is also noticeable that many faerie experiences, both in the historic folklore and in modern testimony, suggest the participants have, in some way, altered their states of consciousness and thereby allowed in the entity encounter. The extreme end of consciousness alteration might be seen as using psychedelics. There are thousands of experience reports across a range of platforms and publications, as well a several clinical studies, which describe radically altered states of consciousness brought on by a variety of psychedelic compounds, many of which involve encounters with non-human intelligent entities, which fall within a faerie taxonomy. These reports are fascinating testimony and suggest that whatever the encountered entities are, a fundamental change in consciousness may increase our chances of interacting with them. One of the most dramatic psychedelic experiences can be induced by injecting or smoking N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Probably the most famous promulgator of the DMT experience was the late Terence McKenna, who coined the term self-transforming machine elves for the entities he often encountered during his many DMT trips: “Trying to describe them isn’t easy. On one level I call them self-transforming machine elves; half machine, half elf. They are also like self-dribbling jewelled basketballs, about half that volume, and they move very quickly and change. And they are, somehow, awaiting. When you burst into this space, there’s a cheer!” Since McKenna was experimenting with DMT there have been several experience surveys, which suggest that faerie-type entities (whether hallucinations, part of a transpersonal reality, or from a standalone reality outside our own), are regular characters within a DMT trip.

One of the most comprehensive surveys is from 2006, collated by the computational physicist Peter Meyer. ‘340 DMT Trip Reports’ documents what Meyer describes as, “reports which attest to contact with apparently independently existing intelligent entities within what seems to be an alternate reality.” The 340 (anonymous) reports certainly contain many encounters with faerie-type entities, most often described as elves. Forty-six of the reports describe encountering faeries/elves. One of the most interesting brings us to an important link between an adult altered state of consciousness and a child’s perspective. Respondent no. 65 had taken an unknown dose of DMT:

“This time I saw the ‘elves’ as multidimensional creatures formed by strands of visible language; they were more creaturely than I had ever seen them before. The message was changing from the initial ‘OK, OK, safe, safe… The elves were dancing in and out of the multidimensional visible language matrix, ‘waving’ their ‘arms’ and limbs/hands/fingers? and smiling or laughing, although I saw no faces as such. The elves were telling me (or I was understanding them to say) that I had seen them before, in early childhood. Memories were flooding back of seeing the elves: they looked just like they do now: evershifting, folding, multidimensional, multicolored (what colors!), always laughing, weaving/waving, showing me things, showing me the visible language they are created/creatures of, teaching me to speak and read.”

The statement that the elves were reminding the experiencer of childhood is interesting. The idea that children are less indoctrinated with a materialistic value system, and are therefore more able to experience a supernal reality is a commonplace motif. In this testimony the encounter may be integrating the memory of a suppressed childhood reality, and bringing it into the present via DMT.

But altered states of consciousness come in many forms, most less dramatic than DMT episodes. In the Fairy Investigation Society’s survey respondents were asked about their mood before and during the experience. In those who answered a majority reported a particular consciousness state, such as: content, anxious, carefree, pensive etc. This suggests they deemed their consciousness state during the experience as in some sense different from their usual everyday state. These mild altered states can be akin to daydream states or even hypnagogic episodes, when consciousness begins to let in what is usually filtered out, sometimes involving non-human intelligent entities. Whether these modes of consciousness may be in a hallucinatory state, conducting transpersonal information, or letting in ulterior entities from their own standalone reality, there seems to be a consistency in the experiences of faerie-type entities being witnessed by people in non-ordinary states of consciousness, however that state has been achieved, and however it is defined.

Were the children at Wollaton Park in an altered state of consciousness? It seems possible; the experience took place at dusk in a place that was fenced and off-limits. The twilight effect on consciousness and the sense of subversiveness in their actions might have skewed their usual take on the electro-magnetic spectrum. The cartoon ambience of the episode may have been the children’s cultural overlay on the true nature of the phenomenon. Perhaps children are more prone to slipping into altered states of consciousness and witnessing entities while there, but it is quite clear that most modern reports of faerie encounters are by adults. This might be due to most children’s testimonies being dismissed and unrecorded, and childhood recollections from later in life being written off as false memories. This makes the testimonies from the children who experienced the gnomes in Wollaton Park so important, as they were transcribed shortly after the incident, and seem to be honest reports. This modern folklore from the mouths of children is quite a rarity. Whether the children of Wollaton had their experience because their consciousness had been altered, cannot be conjectured. But many modern testimonies of faerie encounters stress a changed state of mind during the experience important enough to remember and to mention in a survey. An altered state of consciousness may not be the primary cause for all modern faerie encounters, but it may be the reason for the majority of experiences.


The cover image is by Brian Froud from his classic 1978 illustrated collection with Alan Lee, Faeries.

Simon Young’s The Wollaton Gnomes: A Nottingham Fairy Mystery is available now. It is the most comprehensive source for the incident and contains many references to follow up. The ten new essays are written by folklorists, Forteans and fairyists, and provide new insights into how such experiences may help us to understand the faerie phenomenon.


Dead but Dreaming the novel is available now.

A Faerie-Type Encounter on the Icknield Way

Recently, I came across a post on the excellent Facebook page Ridgeways and Ancient Tracks of Britain by an acquaintance of mine, Steve Halton (Steve has agreed for his real name being used here). It is a fascinating experience, which might be construed as a faerie encounter, although, as you will see, there are other interpretations for what may have happened. Steve’s experience joins a growing number of reports of possible interactions with faerie-type entities in recent years, exemplified in The Fairy Investigation Society’s recent survey, as well as in many other sources. Testimonies of faerie encounters may have been common in folkloric motifs, but since the late 20th century they have been among the most taboo of paranormal experiences, garnering ridicule and derision, in a way that, for example, encounters with UFOs or ghosts do not. In the last decade or so this has begun to change, as more people become aligned with the possibility that the faeries (in whatever guise) may represent a coded manifestation of human consciousness made available in certain states of consciousness, or that they are even incorporeal non-human intelligent entities, interacting with our own physical reality when certain conditions are met. However, there is still a strong reductionist instinct to write off such experiences, and many people coming forward with their testimonies wish to remain anonymous (all the respondents to the Fairy Investigation Society’s survey were guaranteed anonymity) for fear of negative reaction. It still takes an amount of fortitude to admit to a belief that a genuine faerie encounter has happened. So, while the following description may or may not be a faerie experience, Steve’s testimony is brave. There were many comments on his Facebook post, most positive and apparently freeing the commentators to recount their own similar stories. But in a small minority there were the inevitable detractors, mocking in tone and sanctimonious in their perceived superiority of knowledge about how our consensus reality works. It made me think that perhaps there is an exponentially larger number of faerie-type encounters than reported in the literature and online, but that many people will simply not want to put their head above the parapet for fear of socio-cultural castigation. Again, I think this attitude is modifying, and if the plural of anecdote is data, then the collation of these experiences may lead to a greater understanding of what the faeries are, and are not. Below is Steve’s testimony, with a commentary afterword.

I am going to talk about an experience I had about twenty years ago (when I was thirty), on the Icknield Way, which is as clear today as it was then. I have only told a couple of close friends and I am genuinely convinced that what I saw was real. I have spent most of my life on the Bedfordshire chalk downlands. I am an ecologist, wildlife artist and writer on wildlife and landscapes. I am also very sensitive and intuitive to nature and landscapes, and I believe that there is still a lot more around us than can be explained by science.

One evening I was walking my dog among a stretch of the Icknield Way between Hitchin (Pirton) and along the crest of Deacon and Pegsdon Hills, following the Bedfordshire/Hertfordshire boundary. I know the area very well and was a volunteer warden on Pegsdon Hills Nature Reserve. It was mid May, warm, still and sunny. Part of the stretch forms a ‘green lane’ about 20ft wide with with thick hedges each side and, one on side was a ditch about 10-12ft feet wide and about 4-5ft deep, overhung with tangled hawthorn, blackthorn, wild clematis and with mature ash trees overhead.

There were no other people around but as I climbed up the hill I could smell and see smoke. I came across several people who were camping in the ditch. I then realised with absolute astonishment that they looked really ‘odd’. They were small in height and size and most appeared very old and wrinkled – as if they had lived outside all their lives. They were weathered looking with dark or grey hair, tied back. There were about ten or twelve of them in total; men and women. At least two of the women were nursing babies, well wrapped up. I did not notice any children. The tents were very small, brown, very old looking and appeared to be of leather. Most of the tents had small fires outside with cooking utensils hanging over the fires.

They all looked really ancient; looks, clothes, apparel, utensils etc. Like someone out of a Robert Holdstock novel such as ‘Myathgo Wood’ or ‘Lavondyss’, if you know his incredible writings. No-one talked but I do remember smiling at a couple of the women and they smiled back to me with gappy grins. I couldn’t believe what I had seen. They were obviously planning to spend the night and, first thing next morning, I went straight back to have a look and there was not a sign; no fires, no signs whatsoever, although the soil under the trees and scrub had been kind of ‘swept’ clear. They were obviously very used to living close to nature.

Who were they? I thought that they were maybe some kind of ‘underground movement’ of people walking and living the old trackways in more modern times but have found no indication that this happens. Did I go through some kind of ‘time slip’ into another time period? Did my sensitive mind ‘pick up’ on some lingering memories of ancient times? I have carried this incredible experience all my life; I now live in north Pembrokeshire and still work both in science and the arts (with degrees in both subjects) but can never, ever forget that astonishing dusk when I saw people from another age right in front of me (and my dog) using a major ancient trackway in a way that it has probably always been used. I know it was real – of that I have no doubt. I swear that I saw and experienced this incident and wanted to genuinely share this because I have no one satisfactory explanation for what I saw that evening. Maybe I should just leave it as a very special experience meant for me alone…?

This encounter is fascinating at many levels. Steve does not relate it as a distinctive faerie encounter, and makes the conjecture of it perhaps being a time-slip. This is a possibility, but even then, the characters have a somewhat non-human element to them, bringing up the mind-bending idea that they were faeries from the past, being witnessed in the present. There is also the issue of memory, and how a recollection of a past event can become malleable. Even the most scrupulously honest recall of an event is still subject to the vagaries of memory. The plasticity of memory appertaining to any eye-witness event is a well-studied psychological trait. The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus conducted an in-depth study of how people remembered automobile accidents at various times after the event, concluding that: “findings seem to indicate that memory for an event that has been witnessed is highly flexible. If someone is exposed to new information during the interval between witnessing the event and recalling it, this new information may have marked effects on what they recall. The original memory can be modified, changed or supplemented.” This is, of course, unavoidable in any testimony of a past incident. In some ways, a non-ordinary supernatural event may be less prone to plasticity as it is likely to be a special event, detached from the everyday. Its unconventionality may burn it into memory in a more exacting way and its recall be more reliable than for that of a more commonplace occurrence. But potentially numinous incidents, such as encounters with supernatural entities, may also be subject to increased amounts of reconstitution, where the experiencer attempts to make subsequent rationalisations of the event and even suppress aspects of what has happened in order to codify it to accepted social and cultural belief systems. This is (and always has been) an unavoidable component of folklore. It does not, however, discredit the experience.

Knowing the author of this encounter, I am convinced he is accurately recalling a numinous experience, made more convincing by his return the next day to check out the site. The ‘swept’ nature of the camp appears to have been manufactured just for him. But how did the experience happen and what was Steve really witnessing? While not deliberately altering his state of consciousness, it seems reasonable that walking a dog at evening time in a relatively isolated part of the countryside may have been enough to produce a meditative, even trance-like state of mind, which can induce an alteration to everyday waking consciousness. Many folkloric and modern faerie encounters are preempted by the participant entering a focussed state of mind different from their usual disposition. Once this is achieved, the ability to tune in to non-normal levels of reality may be allowed. It is noticeable in the Fairy Investigation Society’s survey that in the majority of reports, the respondents described emotional perturbance prior to an experience. This was sometimes negative, as in grief, sadness, depression etc. and at other times more positive feelings of contentment, calmness or relaxation. It might also be noted that many descriptions of alien abductions occur when the witness is either in a sleepy, hypnagogic state or driving along a monotonous highway, possibly inducing a hypnotic state. Steve’s state of mind may not have been altered in such an extreme way, but it may have been tweaked just enough to allow him to witness something beyond the bounds of consensus reality.

What he actually witnessed must remain a mystery. As is usually the case in modern faerie encounters, the experience was visual. There was no tactility and, in this case, no audial interaction. This suggests a fragile communication that is only operating within a limited frame. For instance, while all senses may operate within a dream, it is clear that the dreaming mind is predominantly based on vision and audio (always infused with intangible feeling). This is not to suggest that Steve’s experience was a dream, but rather that it was akin to a dream state, whereby entities not usually allowed into consensus reality can manifest, and make themselves apparent within an individual’s consciousness. His consciousness was altered, however slightly, and it experienced entities that were either removed in time or dimensional locality, or maybe both. Whatever the interpretation, the experience is important and helps lead us down the road to a deeper understanding of consciousness and the potential ways it can interact with ulterior forms of being.


The cover image is The Gnomes’ Soup by Heinrich Schlitt (1849-1923).

Dead but Dreaming, the novel, is available now.

Revisiting The Wollaton Gnomes by Dan Green

Deadbutdreaming has discussed the case of the 1979 Wollaton gnomes incident previously, but I have only recently come to know Dan Green, who has been carrying out further investigations for some time now. Lately, Dan has been involved with a dowsing project at Wollaton, which is discussed in this article. The 1979 episode is a fascinating incident, and clearly there is something numinous happening at this location, which involves manifestations and encounters with faerie entities, from at least the beginning of the 20th century through to the present day. The original article can be found here, and thanks to Dan for allowing it to be republished at deadbutdreaming.

Wollaton Park is a 500-acre park in Nottingham, England, centred on Wollaton Hall, a classic Elizabethan prodigy house. It is additionally famous for the filming there of key scenes in the final movie of the Batman trilogy The Dark Knight Rises in 2011, the Hall being featured as Wayne Manor. Wollaton Park is also known, although not so widely, for one other thing; people keep seeing faeries there, gnomes to be exact…..

Wollaton Hall and Park

On 23rd September 1979, at about 20:15 on the evening of the Autumnal equinox, several young children witnessed a number of gnome-like figures leaping over fallen logs in small cars (with no sound of engines), coming from out of the bushes in a swampy part area south of the lake there. This is the sort of account you would expect children to have made up, but the story eventually made it onto national news in the UK, owing to the fact that when interviewed separately all the children managed to remain consistent in their account in a situation whereby you would expect young fabricators to fall apart under the psychology of intense adult scrutiny.

A gnome and his car drawn by one of the children

Casually and without worthy of a mention, the children had glimpsed the gnomes in the same place six weeks earlier. In the summer of 2021 I tried to locate these children, now adults, to see if they would still stick with their story, or come clean about a hoax. An appeal in the local newspaper in Nottingham and local BBC Radio brought no result. Were they hiding away, or had they moved county? Another Wollaton Park account, chronicled in the excellent 2017 Fairy Census – an attempt to gather, scientifically, details of faerie sightings from the last century through to today – detailed how another young witness had also seen a number of laughing gnomes driving around in little cars that seemed to hover above the ground jumping over logs and fallen trees, the cars making a buzzing humming noise. He had been so scared that he hid up a tree. Yet another account from a contributor witness mentions seeing a ‘small, shiny white humanoid creature about 18 inches tall about half a mile away from the Wollaton Park main gates at a dried out canal.’

The 1979 location

Interestingly enough, two years prior to the 1979 encounter, upon Studham Common in Berkshire, another group of children witnessed, during a school lunch break, what they described as a ‘little blue man about 3 foot tall’ in the low valley of Dell, a place surrounded with bushes and trees. Like the Wollaton affair, the children were taken seriously by their sympathetic school teacher.

Wollaton Park, however, has a history of fairy sightings, as collected in the book Seeing Fairies by Marjorie Johnson, who herself thought that there were an ancient tribe of gnomes in the park. In 1900 a woman, whilst passing by the gates at the park, saw ‘little men, dressed like policemen standing just inside the lodge entrance, height between 2-3’. She also recalled fairies having been seen dancing around the lake.

As rationally-thinking beings, what are we to make of all of this? Are so many individuals years apart and of different ages all simply lying, deluded or somehow being mistaken? In both the Wollaton and Studham accounts involving children there were multiple witnesses, which rules out an individual having a hallucination. Is it, perhaps, a case of where gnomes-like figures play on repeat, similar to what is called ‘Stone Tape Theory’, a recording of an event playing out what the earth has recorded? Are the Wollaton gnomes showing us an event? It is well chronicled that children see faeries and that faerie activity is tied to a spot, or what might be considered their territory.

My investigation inspired a lady member of an assembly of credible dowsers familiar with the area and also sympathetic to faerie attunement, therefore with a degree of psychic ability, to visit the area south of the lake where the 1979 encounter is thought to have taken place, and information arrived at by her methods had this to say: ‘The gnomes are only allowed to play after dark as the Fae regard them as troublesome elementals and have confined them to inside a mound to the south of the lake during the day. They come out of hollows in the base of the trees and whizz down the slope in their little cars into the open area at the edge of the lake.’

Assisted by other members of the group upon a later visit, the consensus is that the whole area may have been a sacred landscape in ancient times. I wondered, imaginatively, if the place name ‘Wollaton’ as it is currently pronounced and enunciated, may have been an age old corruption for HOLLOW-ton, bearing in mind the association with faeries appearing from hollows in trees, or even, perhaps, ‘HOLE-aton’, a crude reference to a ‘hole’ or portal through which the faeries manifest. The hall itself is built on a mound with a huge amount of pure water beneath suggesting it may once have been a holy well. Even earlier, dowsers have reported finding the energy signature of an old church under the eastern corner of the hall with the suspicion that several megaliths may be buried underneath.

The Fairy Mound, and a tree hollow

Does the belief system of a dowser combine with what is lurking in their subconscious and so largely dictate what they dowse? To dowse something you have to first visualise it in your mind, so if you are trying to find water you visualise an underground stream and walk along asking to be shown that until the rods react.

Ghost or UFO encounters are usually given more credibility but when we speak of faeries it is usually treated with absolute scepticism, disregard and laughter, and yet researchers for some time now have shown that whatever phenomenon is at play here, it has slowly, over centuries evolved from angels to faeries and now, Ufonauts and extraterrestrials, in that order. On many occasions the encounters blur between faerie and UFO representation, and are hard to distinguish although small entities are a common denominator. However, and it was to my surprise, faerie sightings now seems to be on the ascension again, or at least more people are daring to report them. It is beginning to look like whatever unknown and beyond the normal senses phenomenon we are dealing with will present itself to an onlooker in the best way they might like to comprehend, expect, resonate or be able to understand in appearance. Historically, faerie folklore was the originator of the ‘shape-shifter’ capability of such otherworldly beings. Interestingly, and perhaps significantly here on a much deeper level than simply gnomes in cars, the Egyptian word ‘Ka’ means ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’.

Enid Blyton’s Noddy – totally fictional or an unconscious representation of the Faeries?

I was intrigued by what is clearly an outrageous account of suddenly appearing gnomes driving what might be their own version of our cars. I know of no known record of faerie folk associated with such a means of transport. Were they mimicking what they had seen from our own society and presenting them for our benefit? One of the child witnesses from 1979 said that the gnomes reminded him of Noddy, reminding me of the work of the inspirational world’s best-selling authoress Enid Blyton who back in 1949 gave us this fictional character and whose best friend, Big Ears, is a gnome. Blyton often wrote about children being transported into magical worlds in which they met with faeries, and in 1923 published a collection of 33 poems entitles ‘Real Fairies’.

One wonders, did the Wollaton children have Noddy and Big Ears and his adventures lodged in their mind prior to their sighting? It is quite feasible that they will have come across his books as even younger children. Noddy drives a car, not unlike the ones described at Wollaton. As I am aware of how often the unconscious mind surfaces in the world of art, literature and even in all of us all of the time, I wondered if perhaps this had happened to Blyton and the source material for her fictional Noddy had been borrowed from an actual realm of faerie without her knowledge. Noddy even has a policeman friend, reminding me of the sighting of ‘small policemen’ near the Park gates (as recorded by Marjorie Johnson from the 1950s). All this then had me then musing about when a Victorian, and often gnome-like Santa and his sleigh also motorised.

19th-century Santa and his cars

As I accept that all things are connected I often like to have fun trying to work out my own involvement in things, and so with Wollaton I came up with the following. David Bowie recorded a novelty song in 1967 called ‘The Laughing Gnome’. I met with Bowie in 1978. His record label up until 1983 happened to be RCA records, RCA easily being rearranged to read ‘Car’. One of David’s closest friends was the musician and singer Marc Bolan (with whom I’ve also had dealings) whose Faerie influence was pervasive; in fact he liked being known as ‘The Boppin’ Elf’. Marc even died in a tragic car crash. He is best remembered for his band’s dinosaur titled T-Rex. When I visited Wollaton Park this summer it was their opening week of displaying an extraordinary exhibition showcasing the first Tyrannosaurus Rex to be displayed in England for over a century! Keeping within the music industry, one of the founder members of the British soul ban Hot Chocolate was bass player Patrick Olive – the same name as one of the Wollaton children – and their record label was another simple anagram of ‘Car’ this time RAK.

A Mithraic Temple under the Hall?

Perhaps this had been my entanglement? I also thought about what deeper circumstance than imagined had drawn the gothic Batman movie to be filmed at Wollaton Hall, and that it had been pointed out to me there is an underground reservoir or well hewn out of sandstone under the Hall. There is no doubt that it at least resembles a Mithraeum, a sanctuary or temple of the god Mithras and the Mithraic mysteries. Although it is always hard to distinguish fact from hearsay, it has been whispered that the infamous 18th-century ‘Hell Fire Club’, exclusive for high society rakes, met at Wollaton Hall.

The Dowser group told me that there are 10-12 ley lines that radiate out from a sundial behind the Hall, one of them going along an avenue of trees to reach the slope where the gnomes came down, its energy flowing fast from the Hall and up onto the faerie mound. Perpendicular to this, is another, running along the bottom of the mound. Where these two energies collide seems to announce where the ‘gnome’ encounter occurred.

Research shows that on 23 September 1979 the Autumn Equinox was at 04:19, sunset at 19:02, dusk at 19:36, and a setting moon at 20:04 (two days after the New Moon) therefore it would have been very dark. My dowser friends surmise as a possibility that combined effects of the Equinox sunset, moonset, marsh gases and fluctuating earth energies may have caused an ‘energetic phenomena’ rationalised by the children with Blyton memories of Noddy, his car and gnome accomplice.The dowsers have also informed me that there is a huge amount of paranormal activity and detrimental energy associated with the Hall, purposely disrupted or manipulated. The Hall apparently, and if so, curiously, has 365 windows and 52 doors. Perhaps it was more than a routine accident that whilst preparing for the filming of the Dark Knight Rising (once operating under the working title of Magnus Rex) a large tractor-trailer crashed into the main entrance of the Hall.

Had some of those troublesome elementals been playing out after all….?


Dan discusses the Wollaton gnome incident with Kate Ray and myself on Kate’s YouTube channel Hare in the Hawthorn.

Simon Young’s transcript of the 1979 incident can be found here.

‘The Sherwood Dowser’ has an excellent piece on the recent investigations: Dowsing for Gnomes in Wollaton Park.

Dead but Dreaming the novel is available now.

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