Charles Bonnet Syndrome and the Faeries

I was recently interviewed by Simon Young for the Fairy Investigation Society. He wanted to explore my experiences brought on by the condition known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome, and how this might relate to an understanding of what the faeries are, and the interfaces between metaphysical entity encounters and consciousness. I usually keep my own persona and experiences out of deadbutdreaming posts, and I have not talked about my acquaintance with the syndrome in any public format before this. But I thought readers might be interested in what this unusual condition entails, and the possible relationship between its symptoms and the faeries. Thanks to Simon for the interview and agreeing for it to be re-posted here.

Neil, thanks so much for agreeing to talk. Many of our readers will know you from one of the most extraordinary blogs on faerie-lore: deadbutdreaming. Can you tell us something about yourself and how you became so interested in faerie-lore?

I have a doctorate in archaeology from the University of Cambridge, and have been practising archaeology since 1992. About two decades ago I became interested in the confluence between various prehistoric archaeological sites and folklore, after reading Leslie Grinsell’s Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain (1976).

A common experience, I think.

Indeed, and since then I’ve written more and more about folklore. My special interest is in the faerie-lore of Britain, as I quickly realised that these entities were deeply embedded in so much of the folklore of these isles, and that the great wealth of lore about them must mean something. I originally approached the subject from a purely traditional folkloric perspective – that is, understanding the faeries as remnants of previous historic belief systems, and perhaps as characters to explain the human condition through Jungian psychology. This changed somewhat during a meditation session at West Kennet Long Barrow in Wiltshire. This is a Neolithic burial chamber (it would have also been used for a variety of other ritual purposes), and while meditating within its confines in 1999 I had a vivid and super-real experience of various faerie creatures – very Froud-like, and evidently as aware of me as I was of them.

Was this your first experience of meditating?

No, I’d been meditating for a few years by this time, but it was my first experience meditating at a prehistoric site. It took me a long time to incorporate this encounter in to my world-view, but since this time I have had many more experiences, and my research into others’ encounters has drawn me to the conclusion that the faeries are some type of real entity. My current tentative interpretation is that they represent some aspect of human consciousness, not usually apparent in consensus reality, but which can interact with us when certain conditions are met. This is slightly simplistic, as the faeries certainly represent many more things than this, but I am convinced that at some level they are agents of a metaphysical reality that can overlap our own. I have been writing about this on my blog site since 2016.

Neil I know that you suffer from Charles Bonnet Syndrome. As many readers will not have heard of Charles Bonnet Syndrome, can you tell us a bit about it and why it is so often associated with faeries and other supernatural experiences?

The syndrome is named after the Swiss naturalist, who first described the condition in 1760. The standard NHS description of Charles Bonnet Syndrome (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 [ed. see below] 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 peripheral 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.

If you don’t mind me asking how did you realise that you had CBS? How long did diagnosis take?

I lost most of my sight in my left eye through a 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 six-month ophthalmological assessments for my eyesight, and each report now contains a short section describing the continuing symptoms.

You talked about your own experiences? Can you give us some examples?

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, 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 always includes a form of telepathic communication, usually 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.

Extraordinary! How long do they last?

Usually between a few seconds and several minutes. Any attempt to look directly 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.

You talked of the sense that the vision is next to you: do you have the sense that the voice is real too?

Very much so. 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.

And how often do you have these visions? Once a week? Once a day?

It does vary – 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!

Would you interpret these as hallucinations then; or are you, somehow, getting privileged sights of a deeper reality?

I think that 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.

But, in as simple a language as possible, how does this work: how is it that a medical condition can lead to this extended vision?

I think CBS is a type of altered state of consciousness. I have taken a variety of psychedelics through my life, and there are definitely similarities in the perception of a non-ordinary presence. For me, these entities more often than not take a form that many people would describe as faeries. There are many thousands of recent reports from people taking the potent psychedelic substance N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which correlate closely with both folkloric descriptions of faeries and also CBS visions. As per the last answer, 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 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.

Neil, fascinating. Thanks so much.

You’re welcome Simon.

The cover image is by the Amsterdam-based digital artist Peter Woko, and is called ‘Monkey King and Psychonaut’. Peter’s artwork can be found here, and his Twitter handle is @wokopsyart . Thanks to Peter for his permission to reproduce this piece on deadbutdreaming.

An Investigation into Irish Faerie-Lore by David Halpin

I’m delighted to welcome my friend and colleague David Halpin as a guest author at deadbutdreaming for an investigation into Irish faerie-lore. David writes extensively about Irish folklore and mythology, always producing insightful and thought-provoking articles based on meticulous research. These three pieces have been taken from his excellent Circle Stories Facebook page, which has become a go-to source for a perceptive understanding of Irish folkloric and mythological traditions. Each article is illustrated with David’s own distinctive photography of Irish sacred sites, some of which are included in this piece. Thanks to David for permission to republish these articles and photos here.

Ancestors, Fairies And The Soul In The Stars

One of the most puzzling omissions when it comes to Irish archaeology is the naming and observation of the ancient Irish shaman. Although there are some different views about who exactly the ancient Irish people were, what we can say for certain is they all came from cultures which allocated a position of the ultimate importance to this tribal role.

And yet… the evidence is there, it’s just that the interpretation is half-seen due to the world view of those who made the early pronouncements about ancient Irish beliefs and veneration. For example, many of the 5,000 year old ‘tombs’ contain ashes and body parts but they also contain art, offerings and reusable passageways and entrances. Looking at the shaman’s role in antiquity we can notice that the preservation of ancestral shrines were not places of mourning. They were places of continual communication and ritual. This task was performed by the shaman.

As the world view of ancient people began to change from the Palaeolithic into the Mesolithic and onto the first farming groups the type of veneration also began to include ancestors. The sun, moon and star cycles were continually observed but now people saw the shaman as someone who might bring back information and healing from the members of the tribe who had passed on. There is no definitive time-frame here; cultures ‘progressed’ in different stages and as the assimilation of various peoples and traditions occurred so too did their practices and beliefs.

One thing is consistent, though, and that is the shamanistic function which took place at ancient sites. This is what is missing from the Irish record. While archaeologists talk about graves and shrines they ignore the living traditions and rituals which these places were used for. Obviously our own view of death has filtered our perception of how ancient people might have behaved. Add in the fact that most early Irish archaeologists grew up with an Abrahamic view of religion and you can see why they might have been both reluctant to and unable to take into account the nuances and complexities of a spirituality that challenged their own.

Perhaps one factor which exemplifies this, and also might shed light on the multifaceted Irish concept of fairies, is the concept of the multiple-soul. This belief recurs in indigenous societies from Austronesia to Europe and is probably one you have heard of at some point before as well. Most likely it was the view shared by ancient Irish people as well. Simply put, this belief understands that the soul is divided into various parts. One part might stay within the body and remain on earth after death, whereas another part might travel in dreams or be the summation of the deeds of a person’s life.

Another part of the soul might remain outside of the body and follow it around, sometimes offering advice. It can get quite complex as the Egyptian example demonstrates with the various souls representing the personality, the cumulative deeds, the shadow, the breath and, indeed, the spiritual essence of a person.

The practice of soul-retrieval is another indigenous ritual common to cultures all around the world from Siberia to Africa and from Australia to North America. Often there is a reincarnation or soul transmigration aspect to this as well which we know was part of the Celtic cosmology. Why the multiple-soul is interesting in relation to fairies is because there has always been a contradiction between the fairies being of the Otherworld as well as being the dead themselves. However, when we view fairies from the perspective of those who believed the soul was multifaceted then these contradictions make sense.

The fairies, ancestors, goddesses and gods might dwell in the constellations but they would also be here, on earth, as the ancestral dead.

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Photo: Standing stone on Tonelagee, Co. Wicklow. © David Halpin

Fairy Paths, Ley-Lines and Mass Paths

Fairy roads or fairy paths are often confused with Ley-Lines and Mass Paths. It is true that over time many have fused with one another through customs and folklore. However, it is also worth separating the more ancient ‘spirit and fairy roads’ from the later walkways from the 17th century and beyond. Also connected with church paths here in Ireland are natural rock formations called ‘mass rocks’ where funerals and masses were held during times of Catholic persecution.

But, back to fairy roads and Ley-Lines. What are the differences between these two often confused concepts? To put it simply, Ley-Lines, as envisioned by Alfred Watkins, author of The Old Straight Track, were tracks connecting ancient landmarks such as standing stones, raths and other prominent natural topographic features. Watkins himself did not see any association with spirit paths or supernatural energies but over time, as his ideas were taken up by other researchers, these attributes were incorporated.

Fairy roads or fairy paths are a different matter. These are said to be routes or invisible paths upon which fairies, the souls of the dead and other less-observed energetic forces travel. It is considered extremely bad luck to build a house on these pathways as well as removing any feature which is considered a marker for the good people on these routes. We have all heard of how farmers will not remove a hawthorn tree from their field without suffering the wrath of these enigmatic spirits, for example.

You can also read many accounts of roads being rerouted in order to avoid certain places or sites considered to be home to elves or fairies. It is worth noting that this is by no means a solely Irish consideration. Across the entire world, from Iceland to Australia, from Costa Rica to Siberia these sacred pathways are acknowledged and in many cases preserved. In the instances where a site has been destroyed or a fairy tree removed there are often reports of extreme bad luck then becoming associated with a particular spot on the road where the landmark once stood.

Because there is such an overlap between fairies and the dead it can be difficult to separate more recent folklore from the remnants of probable oral traditions and beliefs spanning much longer time periods. However, comparative mythology shows that many of the same types of spirits and supernatural forms were associated with ancient sites all around the world. Often their behaviour can be observed to have some similar traits although the motivation for this can only be guessed at.

Certainly, fairies are known to move from stone circles and raths when we reach particular points in the year such as Samhain, Bealtaine or during the zenith of certain constellation or star rises. It would be a nice project to try to determine just how encounters and sightings rise and fall before and during these yearly points. Another factor to consider is that individual hawthorn trees, stone circles and sacred sites often also have their own guardian gods, goddesses and spirits as well being markers and byways for nightly and seasonal parades.

Raths in particular are considered both sacred places in themselves as well as being portals and entrances to the Otherworld. There are many recorded sightings of fairy activity at raths in the various Irish folklore archives including this one from Merginstown, Co. Wicklow. This example from Duchas.ie contains all of the typical motifs of the fairy road: the rath from which they emerge, the fact that other raths are visually linked to the site, and the conclusion that building on a fairy path is a very bad idea! There are also legends that raths can be connected through tunnels in many cases. Some stories describe a treasure buried beneath a mound but there is usually a guardian spirit to appease before it can be reached. Often times the treasure turns out to be an appreciation of being allowed to leave alive!

“There are a number of raths or lisses to be found in Merginstown. These Raths go by the name of Moates. Some of them are formed by a deep round pit oftentimes surrounded by the remains of an old ditch or hedge. It is said that these raths are inhabited by the fairies and no one ever molests them. It is also said that one can see a lot of other raths from the one by which they would be standing. There is said to be a great many large flat stones buried in these raths but what was put under them is not rightly known. I have heard it said that at one time the fairies had a path from one rath to another, and that if anything was put on this path it would be pitched aside by the fairies when they would be passing that night. There is generally a couple of bushes to be found growing near these raths. These bushes are called Lone Bushes. If anyone cuts down one of these bushes a curse will fall on them I have heard of a man who cut down a Lone Bush and within a month’s time three or four cattle had died on him. The following is a story which I have heard in connection with the fairies.

There was once a man who lived near a fairies path. The man wished to build a cowhouse and as there was no room in the farmyard he had to build it in a field nearby. Now this was the field through which the fairies had their path. One morning he was coming in with an armful of hay and found to his amazement that the back wall had been knocked down. It was the fairies who had knocked it down because it was built on their path He built it up again that day but it was knocked down again next morning. He then decided on putting a door in the back wall. This he did and ever since the wall was never knocked down. It is believed that the fairies pass through this house at night on their way from rath to rath.”
Original Link

In this example from Co. Kildare a man finds that taking stones from a rath is just as bad as trying to destroy it. And from Carlow we have a description of ongoing encounters with the ‘little red men’ and a local rath. As an aside, those readers who follow this page will again notice the prevalence of red fairies in this area. In this case they are renowned for stealing cows which might interest UFO researchers but in many other incidents they will take a human for a day or two.

A good example of this type of incident is this account from nearby Kiltegan where a man describes the rath lighting up before he is taken away by small men playing music. And, finally, this encounter is listed as a ghost story which demonstrates the ongoing link between fairies and the dead. In this case the man has built his house on a fairy path and now has to put up with his doors being opened and the sound of people moving through his home every night. 

There are further associations between fairy paths and the original form and philosophy of Feng Shui, which may surprise people, but I will keep that for another post. I would recommend the book Spirit Roads: An Exploration of Otherworldly Routes by Paul Devereux for those who would like to delve more deeply into this subject.

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Photo: A summer evening and the fairy tree at Castleruddery stone circle. © David Halpin

Who are the Fairies?

Yes, I know. This is a question for which you will receive many answers but let’s take a quick look at some of the popular explanations which have been given down through the years and also some of the less well known theories about the good people.

The first thing many are surprised by is that Irish fairies being the banished Tuatha Dé Danann is not as clear-cut as some accounts would have us believe. In fact, in Irish mythology it is implied that the Sí were already here before the Tuatha were said to have retreated into the mounds and fairy forts. This would mean that the fairies were separate from the later Gods of Irish lore. The potential twist here is interesting, though. The Tuatha Dé were said to have arrived in supernatural circumstances themselves, emerging from clouds of mist, so perhaps this could be explained as them arriving from a fairy realm in the first place.

As mentioned in a previous post, there is also a story from the west of Ireland that fairies arrived from a western spiritual realm by travelling on the ragwort plant, also known as ‘fairy-horse’. The fairies, then, might be a memory, or an imagining, of the first Irish by the later settlers. When these people arrived and found complex monuments, stone circles and dolmens how could they not be impressed? And to find them no longer used and seemingly abandoned may have led to the belief that they were the homes and entrance-way’s to an ‘otherworld’.

Fairies are continually linked to nature spirits and supernatural beings connected to particular aspects of landscapes. This is not specific to Ireland, of course. All around the world areas considered sacred or magical are said to be the homes of spirits. From New Zealand to North Africa, from Tibet to Peru, natural features and elaborately constructed and aligned monuments are considered the abode of elementals and supernatural deities. However, this does not mean that they are tied to one place, outside of our own understanding. 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.” (p.133).

After Christianity came to Ireland, the fairies developed a more sinful origin in newer folklore and a spiritual context influenced by a monotheistic point of view. The ambiguity of their actions meant that the good people always occupied a type of neutral space between something that could benefit and something that could harm, but now those outcomes were more simply defined as good and evil. The sidhe, depending on who you asked, might be agents of either side. This notion stemmed from a variety of beliefs which even today makes for interesting conversation.

I suppose the most simple way to put it is that fairies were seen as existing in a type of ‘not quite evil enough for hell, not quite good enough for heaven’ state. Some Christian stories even explained them as fallen angels who had rebelled against god but then regretted their actions.

These stories seem to contain the subtext of an attempt to subjugate pagan gods and spirits into a Christian interpretation of the universe. In his landmark compilation, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, W. Y. Evans Wentz, tried to examine fairies from new anthropological perspectives as well as collecting first-hand accounts of encounters with the good people. One of the most complex areas Wentz questioned was whether or not fairies, ancestors and the dead were the same. Did a person who died become a fairy? Were there specific actions or circumstances that made it so? Or, was it a trick by the good folk and they took the form of dead loved ones in order to influence?

Alas, this area is both thorny and controversial. There are indeed arguments for a crossover at times but in my view, at least, this is linked strongly to the perspective of the person or culture at the time. This trickster capacity will raise its head again in the post but for now this quote from the writer, Morgan Daimler, sums it up quite well, “If one could imagine it as a Venn diagram we would see fairies as one circle, the human dead as another, and the area where the two circles overlapped would represent those who fall into both groups-how small or large that is no one can say for certain.” (p. 41).

Another argument Wentz makes in his book might seem odd to us today, namely that fairies are not to be confused with pygmies. Many people are unaware of the popularity of this explanation but it was an argument prominent enough for Wentz to feel the need to refute it. The 19th-century historian, David MacRitchie, believed the Tuatha De referred to an early Inuit pygmy race who first inhabited Ireland and Northern Europe. His thesis was that this was the basis of the cultural memory of small people.

Today, this idea has become popular again among certain researchers who have drawn parallels to the Twa tribes of Africa and the similarity to the word Tuatha, as well as accounts of dark-skinned Picts in Scotland and Orkney. However, MacRitchie did not believe the pygmy race came from Africa, but from Northern Eurasia. These ideas are not accepted by most scholars, it has to be said.

Although some entrance-ways into mounds and cairns are indeed small, there are also many other sites where the opposite is the case. MacRitchie’s explanation also fails to account for the huge amount of encounters with taller fairies, sometimes known as the gentry. Again, this is a much more complex issue than this short post will be able to cover.

Finally, the explanation for fairies which many contemporary scholars and writers seem to favour is one that fits perfectly with the contradictory nature of these beings. In this view, fairies take on the cultural forms most prevalent to those they appear to. So, the angelic and demonic forms fit the myths and lore of ancient times, for example. Are they aspects of our collective unconscious or even psychological manifestations leading us further into timelessness and non-material aspects of ourselves?

In this view, as we move through the centuries, art, religion and writing begin to influence how these beings are perceived. As we became more and more embedded in technology and urbanization, fairies became aliens and inter-dimensional travellers. Now, if you are unfamiliar with this topic the comparison might seem odd but, in fact, there are many places where striking similarities emerge. Fairies and aliens both kidnapping for midwife purposes is one, changelings replacing human children and spinning bright lights resulting in missing time are others. The writers Jacques Vallée and Terence McKenna have written extensively about this subject, and it’s a topic that receives ongoing attention at deadbutdreaming.

So, as you can see, the concept of who the good people are seems to become more complex as time moves on. But is this really the case? Perhaps fairies have always stayed the same and it is us who change and grow, allowing us to comprehend a little bit more of the whole picture with each new generation. Then again, maybe we will never discover what fairies really are and this is the way it is supposed to be; to hold mystery close to our hearts and to continue to imagine and believe in something other than ourselves.

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Photo: The sun sets behind the fairy tree at Athgreany and between two of the ancient stones. © David Halpin

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A free e-book containing a year’s-worth of Circle Stories can be found here: A Year of Circle Stories: Folklore, Sacred Sites, Mythology and Local History of Ireland’s Ancient East.

David also curates The Occult Book Review, with an associated YouTube channel.

Some Faerie Metaphysics

This article is an amalgamation of some previous posts at deadbutdreaming, a shorter version of which was recently published by New Dawn Magazine. It probably raises more questions than it gives answers, but I wanted to put these ideas in one place before moving on to any further Cosmic interpretations of what the faerie phenomenon might really be about. There has been an upsurge of interest in the potential ontological realities of the faeries in the last couple of years, and it seems as if folklore, Forteana, science, paranormal research and philosophical metaphysics may be beginning to draw together to tease out what has previously been hidden or unimagined. But the faeries remain elusive; always at the periphery of our cultural vision. They are not going to divest their secrets easily – and that’s perhaps as it should be.

What are the faeries? Where do they come from and where do they go when they’re not interacting with their human observers? Faeries have been an important part of the folkloric repertoire for hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of years, and while they are portrayed in the popular imagination through faerietales and have become disneyfied through the 20th century, their main presence is in the myriad of folktales and anecdotes from every part of the globe. They usually (though not always) take a humanoid form, and interact with human societies as amorphous supernatural entities, appearing in our world to both co-operate with people and as general arbiters of mischief, while also living in their own Otherworld, sometimes accessible to humans either through accident or abduction. While the phenomenon is ancient, the belief in these metaphysical beings continues, and there are thousands of encounter reports from all over the world every year, as demonstrated by the recent survey by The Fairy Investigation Society, which includes c.500 testimonies.

But folklorists are usually ambivalent about the faeries; they are likely to keep their distance from them, so to speak. While happy to record and discuss the beliefs of people who tell stories and anecdotes about them, most folklorists speak the language (at least in official publications) of the reductionist, materialist worldview that has held sway in Western civilisation for the last few hundred years, and they’ll often be reticent about assessing the potential actual reality of metaphysical beings. In the materialist’s world, faeries simply cannot exist. They must be reduced into a categorised cultural belief system, and any discussion of them will usually be couched in the accepted language of scientific rationalism. This creates a problem for any folklorist (or anybody else) who wants to look behind the stories and investigate the possibility that the faeries can be incorporated into our consensus reality as a genuine phenomenon.

But the reductionist scientific orthodoxy has been challenged recently by a range of philosophical hypotheses such as Idealism, backed up by quantum mechanical theory and experiment, which reinstates consciousness (not matter) as the primary mover and creator of reality. When this is done, entities such faeries are allowed back into the universe as an authentic phenomenon, and if we start to look in the right places, we begin to find that they are indeed everywhere… we just need to know where to look, or perhaps more accurately, how to look.

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John Anster Fitzgerald, ‘The Intruders’ (c.1870)

The Electromagnetic Spectrum, Dark Matter and Dark Energy

Our normal waking consciousness experiences less than 0.5% of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, with visible light being less than 0.1% of this. If we take into account the current (mainstream) scientific hypothesis that this electromagnetic spectrum itself composes less than 8% of the universe, with the mysterious Dark Matter and Dark Energy taking up the rest, then we are at a good starting point to understand that our version of reality is extremely compromised. We may have the technology to utilise the unseen wavelengths in the spectrum, but they are not accessible to our ordinary consciousness, whilst Dark Matter and Dark Energy are totally inaccessible to our technology, and remain for the moment, nothing more than theory based on the by-product of mathematical equations. We also have to take into account the recent theoretical mind-bender that the universe may actually be a virtual reality hologram, put in place by (depending on who you listen to) a supreme being, aliens or future versions of humans, the latter option coming from NASA scientist Dr Rich Terrile. With this level of uncertainty about the reality we inhabit, and in order to gain an understanding of the world in which we live (and the unseen entities that may exist alongside us), we might be advised to fall back on the only known certainty allowed us: consciousness.

The Origins of the Faeries in Altered States of Consciousness

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Cave painting from Altamira, Spain, c. 20,000 BCE

Our earliest known artistic portrayals of the world, and how human consciousness interacted with it, come in the form of cave paintings from all parts of the globe, starting c.35,000 BCE. Many of these cave paintings include humanoids and therianthropes, otherworldly entities that have been recorded alongside geometric imagery, stylised animals and landscapes. They are in effect our earliest known folklore. But what state of mind were our Palaeolithic ancestors in when they were painting these strange entities in often difficult to access caves and shelters?

The anthropologist David Lewis-Williams has made the convincing argument that these cave and rock-shelter paintings were produced by shamanic cultures to represent reality as perceived in an altered state of consciousness. Twenty years ago this idea was anathema to anthropologists, but since the work of Lewis-Williams, and many others, the theory has tipped over to become an accepted orthodoxy. There are hundreds of motifs in the cave paintings that correlate with the visionary states of people in an altered state of consciousness, brought about most especially by the ingestion of a psychotropic substance. The basic premise is that the shamans of these Palaeolithic cultures transported themselves into altered states of consciousness and then painted the results of their experiences on the walls of caves and rock shelters — experiences that frequently included therianthropic beings and supernatural humanoids that correlate in many ways with later faerie types.

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‘The Mimi’ from prehistoric rock shelters in Kimberley, Australia,c.10,000 BCE

In his 2005 book Supernatural, Graham Hancock vividly utilises Lewis-Williams’ work to discuss the continuity through time of entities experienced in altered states of consciousness, coming to the conclusion that the faeries of our historic period are one and the same as those portrayed in prehistoric caves. And writers such as Carlo Ginzburg and Emma Wilby have argued that there is a direct link between prehistoric shamanic storytelling and the folklore embodied in classical, medieval and later periods, that often incorporate entities such as nymphs and faeries; supernatural beings that interact with humanity when the conditions are right. Those conditions may well be reliant on the human participants undergoing an altered state of consciousness as a result of the ingestion of psychotropic compounds. There is certainly a preponderance of mushroom imagery associated to historic depictions of faeries, most especially the highly psychedelic red and white Amanita Muscaria (fly agaric) mushroom, and the psilocybin mushroom, both prevalent in Europe and Asia. If these historic folkloric manifestations of interactions with supernatural entities can be linked to the cave art of prehistory and preliterate societies, then we have a continuation of relationship with an alternative reality, accessed through altered states of consciousness, over a very long period of time.

NewDawn2
17th-century English woodcut with faeries dancing in a circle, burial mound (hollow hill with door), fly agaric mushroom and the face of a ‘spirit’ in the tree

Many of the European faerie motifs repeated in stories and anecdotes through the centuries to the present day were already in place during the medieval period. When folklorists began to collect these stories in earnest from the 19th century onwards, they found a belief in faeries amongst rural populations that was probably very close to the medieval belief and understanding of what faeries were and how they interacted with humanity. Many of the stories include situations where the protagonist interacts with the faeries in what seems an altered state of consciousness: Faerieland doesn’t comply to Newtonian physics, it is consistently inhabited by strange humanoids and therianthropes (the faeries), and there are lots of recurring story motifs that are highly suggestive of an autonomous reality being described. But this is not consensus reality, this is the folklore recording stories from people operating outside consensus reality. The folktales about faeries have been overlain with much allegorical storytelling, but at their root the realities they describe are of people in altered states of consciousness, perhaps not too far from the realities experienced by the Palaeolithic cave painters and shamanic practitioners.

WY Evans-Wentz, Rudolph Steiner and Metaphysical Nature Spirits

bd80b52e65925932d942df292c27a049When the folklorist WY Evans-Wentz travelled around the Celtic world at the beginning of the 20th century, collecting stories and anecdotal experiences about the faeries, it was clear that most of his interviewees rated clairvoyance as the best way of altering the conscious state to a position where it could interact with the faeries. Seership or second-sight was the method of entering, or at least viewing, an alternative reality inhabited by a relatively consistent cast of characters, usually recognised as the faeries. He met one such (un-named) Irish clairvoyant in Rosses Point, County Sligo. This seer talked about various types of faeries that inhabited the landscape of Sligo, “making them sound like a cross between nature spirits and mystical visions.” But Evans-Wentz was just as interested in the mechanics of interacting with the faeries as he was with the stories themselves. How did the seer interface with them?

“I have always made a distinction between pictures seen in the memory of nature and visions of actual beings now existing in the inner world. We can make the same distinction in our world: I may close my eyes and see you as a vivid picture in memory, or I may look at you with my physical eyes and see your actual image. In seeing these beings of which I speak, the physical eyes may be open or closed: mystical beings in their own world and nature are never seen with the physical eyes.”

The rural people interviewed by Evans-Wentz consistently affirmed that clairvoyant alteration of consciousness was the best sure-fire way to see the faeries. By the time Evans-Wentz visited these communities, there was a sense that the number of people gifted with second-sight was dwindling; cutting down on communication with the faeries. But at the same time as these rural communities were feeling the increasing pressures of modernism there was a reaction by organisations such as The Theosophical Society (first founded in 1875), which attempted to incorporate metaphysics into an understanding of reality. And their prime metaphysical technology was clairvoyance. The Austrian Theosophist Rudolf Steiner attempted to explain the mechanics of clairvoyance, when a person must transform their usually passive thought forms into something more dynamic. In normal consciousness, thoughts:

“… allow themselves to be connected and separated, to be formed and then dismissed. This life of thought must develop in the elemental world a step further. There a person is not in a position to deal with thoughts that are passive. If someone really succeeds in entering the world with his clairvoyant soul, it seems as though his thoughts were not things over which he has any command; they are living beings… You thrust your consciousness into a place, it seems, where you do not find thoughts that are like those in the physical world, but where they are living beings.” Rudolf Steiner, Perception of the Elemental World (1913).

9781855840188Steiner described the specific elemental animating forces at work in the natural world, when perceived clairvoyantly, in what he calls the Supersensible World. For Steiner the elementals in the Supersensible World existed as a range of beings, from devas, which are responsible for entire autonomous landscapes, through to the smaller nature spirits charged with the growth of vegetation. Steiner (basing his epistemology on that originally developed by the 15th-century alchemist Paracelsus) divides these entities into four main types corresponding to earth (Gnomic), water (Undines), air (Sylphs) and heat/light (Salamanders). This is the faerie realm, existing as a non-material autonomous reality that crosses over with ours, and which can be accessed via a clairvoyant altered state of consciousness. Steiner thought everyone has this innate ability, but they had to be taught how to use it… it had somehow become almost forgotten amongst humanity.

This idea finds common ground with the recent work of biochemist Rupert Sheldrake, who proposes that morphogenetic fields are the formative causation allowing life on earth. Sheldrake’s description of this organising principle behind the natural world is issued in the language of biochemistry, but in effect, what he postulates is the same as Steiner’s vision of nature spirits in action. There are invisible forces that are as essential in ordering life on earth as accepted non-material forces such as gravity. Sheldrake calls these morphogenetic fields ‘the memory of nature.’ In effect, Steiner saw nature spirits as anthropogenic representations of these morphogenetic fields, imposed upon them through the thought forms of the observer, who perceives them clairvoyantly.

The Faeries and DMT

But what allows this access to otherworldly realms and the entities that seem to exist there? What allows for clairvoyance, or second-sight? The answer may lie with the substance called N, N-Dimethyltryptamine – DMT. This molecule is one of the main active ingredients in the Ayahuasca brew used by Amazonian shamans, but it is also produced endogenously in everyone’s brain, potentially (but not definitely) in the pineal gland. It’s usually safely dispersed around the brain and body for functional duties, but it seems that under certain circumstances, it can be released in higher quantities, causing an altered state of consciousness. This would require the DMT to be released in conjunction with Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI), which inhibit naturally occurring enzymes in the human body. This inhibition leads to increased levels of chemicals such as the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. By slowing their metabolism, MAOIs can allow a surge of DMT production to have full effect and create radically transformed states of consciousness.

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Illustration of Anne Jefferies, from Robert Hunt’s Popular Romances of the West of England (1865)

There is some evidence that this can happen during a frontal lobe epileptic seizure. This may be the root of the well-documented 17th-century Cornish story of Anne Jefferies’ abduction by diminutive faeries when she suffered a ‘convulsion fit’ and was transported (at least in her mind) to a numinous world inhabited by the faeries. The author Eve LaPlante has used historic and contemporary examples to demonstrate that Temporal Lobe Epilepsy can provide access to an altered state of consciousness where the human mind participates in a reality several steps removed from the consensus material world. This often includes full immersion in alternative landscapes and contact with non-human intelligence.

The late and great Terence McKenna was an enthusiastic user of the synthesised form of DMT to access different realities, and coined the term ‘self-transforming machine elves’ for the creatures he regularly found there. As if to confirm Terence’s assertions, a research study conducted between 1990 and 1995 in the General Clinical Research Center of the University of New Mexico Hospital, by Dr Rick Strassman found that volunteers on the study injected with varying amounts of DMT underwent profound alterations of consciousness. This involved immediate cessation of normal consciousness and transportation to a different realm of reality with divergent physical properties, and inhabited by a range of creatures described as elves, faeries, lizards, reptiles, insects, aliens, clowns (yes, clowns) and various therianthropic entities. One woman even describes a pulsating entity that she called ‘Tinkerbell-like’. The experiences, especially at higher doses, represented to the participants a parallel reality that was ‘super real’, not an hallucination, not a dream, but a substantial built reality with full sensory interaction + telepathy.

boekdmtThe experience reports from the study are irrational, absurd, frightening, illogical and surreal. There is no question of any of the volunteers physically leaving the hospital bed during their experiences, but for all of them (without exception) the DMT-world was every bit as real as the one their minds left behind. After the injections participants frequently talked about ‘blasting through’ or ‘breaking through a barrier’ after which they found themselves in a realm with its own laws of physical space and movement, and its own inhabitants.

There are dozens of recorded experiences from the study, and the participants are all engaging in a non-physical reality directly with their consciousness, seemingly separated from their physical selfs. Some of the experiences agree in type to certain aspects of the faerie phenomenon. But what the research demonstrates is that under the right conditions, human consciousness can operate within a distinct and separate universe inhabited by a range of apparently autonomous entities. These entities may be one and the same as the metaphysical beings recorded in prehistoric cave art and historic folklore, by people who were describing the beings encountered during various types of altered states of consciousness, brought on either actively or passively. The faeries may change superficially through time, adapting to the expectations of the culture they are part of, but if it is human consciousness they are interacting with, this is no surprise. Underneath the cultural masks, the faeries begin to reveal their true selfs.

Materialism vs Consciousness

Image219There are many reasons why folklore about the faeries exists, and it certainly seems that interacting with them during an altered state of consciousness is one of them. Are they real experiences? They are subjectively real, but what is the objective reality? A Theosophist clairvoyant would suggest that we need to override our five senses with a dynamic type of consciousness that commands prominence over the material world. They would probably agree with Aldous Huxley’s description of a universal consciousness being ‘Mind at Large’ and that the brain is a ‘reducing valve transceiver’, that can be retuned by a variety of methods. Huxley did this with Mescaline (and later LSD), describing the experiences in his 1954 book The Doors of Perception.

The brain certainly gives us a very limited view of what is actually going on around us. Altering the transmission to the brain seems to allow non-material consciousness more of a free rein. As in a dream, an altered consciousness is able to construct metaphysical realities. It is able to communicate with the entities it finds there, and bring back a report. The relative consistency of the inhabitants of this alternative reality may suggest that they live there all the time, non-physical, and only able to interact with our physical world when conditions are right for an individual’s consciousness. This is the crux: does consciousness create physical reality, or is consciousness an epiphenomenon of the brain? If the former, then the realities experienced in altered states of consciousness can be accepted as true, with their own autonomous existence. If the latter, then while entities such as the faeries may be subjectively real, they do not exist objectively within the electromagnetic spectrum. This is the materialist/physicalist view. Although even physicalism has to adhere to its own rules and allow for the hypothesis that over 90% of the universe consists of non-physical form: Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Maybe that’s where the faeries are; waiting to be found.

Faeries and Aliens

9780987422484-2But the ontological reality of faeries (in whatever form) has in recent decades become linked to other ‘paranormal’ activity types, primary of which is the intrusion into our consensus reality of entities usually known as aliens. The first person to suggest a definitive link between the the reports of faerie experiences and alien encounters was the astronomer and computer scientist Jacques Vallée. In his 1969 book Passport to Magonia he put forward the theory that the faeries were one and the same as the alien beings who had been purportedly abducting people around the world for a couple of decades by that date. His hypothesis is that there is a commonality to the experiences reported in alien abduction scenarios, and the reports of interactions with faeries in folklore. He suggests the aliens and the faeries are essentially the same phenomenon, tuned through the cultural receptors of the time and then interpreted accordingly. He makes special reference to the regular motifs in faerie-tales of the abduction, by various means, of humans by faeries. There’s a lot of data here – it’s the commonest motif in faerie folklore, and continues to be reported in anecdotal testimonies. For a variety of reasons humans are taken to an alternative faerie reality, either as midwives or nurses for faerie children, as servants to the faeries, for sex, as punishment or reward, or just because the faeries feel like it. These motifs, of course, coincide with many aspects of the consistently strange phenomenon of alien abductions, reports of which have grown at an exponential rate since the early 1950s. Vallée uses a range of evidence to tie-up faerie abductions from folklore and alien abductions from modern reports, and goes as far to state:

“… the modern, global belief in flying saucers and their occupants is identical to an earlier belief in the fairy-faith. The entities described as the pilots of the craft are indistinguishable from the elves, sylphs and lutins of the Middle Ages. Through the observations of unidentified flying objects, we are concerned with an agency our ancestors knew well and regarded with terror: we are prying into the affairs of The Secret Commonwealth.”

md22767447201The Secret Commonwealth was the term coined for the faeries by the Reverend Robert Kirk in a manuscript of 1691, which includes a detailed description of their appearance, habits and exploits, gleaned from both his own experiences and those Scottish Highlanders purporting to have second-sight, or clairvoyance. As Vallée points out, Kirk’s descriptions of the faeries and their modus operandi bear more than a passing resemblance to the alien visitors of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Among their attributes was an ability to float through the air with insubstantial and fluid bodies, that they could make appear and disappear at will. This allowed them to ‘swim’ through the air and carry off mortals, usually to large circular abodes, that Kirk presumed were underground, and which were lit by a dim, unknown illumination. They even had ‘ætheriall vehicles’ to carry them around the sky. Kirk also asserted that the faeries had a nature intermediate between humans and angels. Their habit of abducting humans was usually for the purpose of wet-nursing faerie children or as midwives; a theme that fits in with the deluge of recent alien abduction reports (subsequent to Vallée’s investigations in 1969) that would suggest one of the main reasons for abduction is to obtain both parents and wet-nurses for hybrid human-alien offspring. Vallée quotes the 19th-century folklorist Edwin Hartland’s suggestion that such a programme of hybridisation was a primary reason for faerie abductions:

“The motive assigned to fairies in northern stories is that of preserving and improving their race, on the one had by carrying off human children to be brought up among the elves and to become united with them, and on the other hand by obtaining the milk and fostering care of human mothers for their own offspring.”

In 2005, Graham Hancock followed Vallee’s lead and took the comparison of faerie and alien abduction much further in his book Supernatural (after dealing with the elements of prehistoric shamanic cave-painting depictions of entities, discussed above). He compiled a range of faerie abduction reports from various time periods and geographical locations and set them against modern-day alien abduction events. He pays special attention to the faerie abduction of young women, such as Mrs Sheridan, an Irish woman, who seems to have spent much of the last decade of the 19th century being whisked off by the fairies for wet-nursing duties:

“Where they brought me I don’t know, or how I got there, but I’d be in a very big house, and it was round, the walls far away that you’d hardly see them, and a great many faeries all about… but they wouldn’t speak to me nor I to them.”

These ‘long-faced’ faeries had a definite purpose for kidnapping her and weren’t too concerned with her tearful appeals to release her – she had a job to do, and that was feeding their faerie babies. The correlation between these types of folkloric encounters and the alien abductions of women is striking. Hancock surveys the work of the late Harvard psychiatrist John Mack and the cultural historian David Jacobs, who have made extensive studies of people who claim to have been abducted by aliens, often using hypnotic techniques to extract memories from amnesic events. It’s a minefield subject (mostly due to the vagaries of extracting memories from hypnosis), but John Mack in particular is a convincing advocate of the notion that whatever the experiences represent, they are genuinely real to the participant. The abductee, after being floated or beamed aboard the UFO is taken to a part of the ship where there seem to be drawers or tanks of hybrid alien-human babies, which they are expected to nurse. There is a consistency to these experiences (there are tens of thousands of them) that provides a dataset of testimony that Mack and Jacobs insist must be taken seriously as a phenomenon. For the abductees, the experience is often highly traumatic (Mack states that the best psychiatric diagnosis for many abductees is post-traumatic stress disorder), and no wonder, when they are confronted with alien hybrids often described as more like foetuses than babies. One abductee described to Mack their appearance, which is fairly typical:

“Their bodies were short for their heads. Their heads seemed oversized. They had very blue eyes. They had very thin, wispy hair… I would say they were probably three and a half feet tall, but they all looked the same age. ‘You’re our mother and we need you,’ they said.”

100The evidence presented by Jacques Vallée and Graham Hancock makes a convincing argument for the tight relation between faerie abductions in folklore and alien abductions in the 20th/21st century. It is a relation that has been skilfully investigated by Joshua Cutchin in his 2018 book Thieves in the Night: A Brief History of Supernatural Child Abductions, where he uses a wide range of folkloric, historic and modern testimony data to investigate child abductions by supernatural entities, coming to the conclusion that:

“The parallels between aliens and faeries are remarkable and extend deeply into the lore surrounding paranormal child abduction. The means and motivations behind both phenomena imply a shared ontological reality…”

The experiences are culturally coded to time and place, but the correlations and similarities are intriguing, and suggest the possibility of a common source for the phenomena. But what is that source? Is it purely a metaphysical attribute interacting at the non-material level of consciousness, or is there a physical dimension? Perhaps more importantly, can we make the differentiation between consciousness and material reality?

Ontological Faeries

This brings us back to the ontology of faerie experiences; what are these entities that have been a part of humanity for thousands of years, and where do they come from? They may be adapting to cultural codes, even evolving into new forms, but at what level of reality do they exist?

An answer may be to utilise David Luke’s three-part interpretation 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, all three interpretations may be true at different times and under various circumstances. From a materialist-reductionist standpoint, all faerie experiences could be reduced to hallucinatory events. There is no physical residue as an after-effect of the interactions, and the reports are all limited to visual and audio experiences. While the specific adjuncts allowing for the hallucinations to take place cannot be properly analysed, seeing them all as aberrations of visual and audial fields remains one legitimate interpretation.

This explanatory model is reliant on the theory that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain. The implication is that the brain, for whatever reason, is simply misconstruing sensory input from a physical world where things like faeries simply do not exist. This is the hard and fast materialist-reductionist standpoint, which is deeply embedded in Western culture. But, as discussed above, it is a standpoint that is now challenged at a fundamental level not only by religious and mystical traditions, but also by the recently reinvented philosophy of Kantian Idealism and by a growing number of quantum physicists, who (using a wide range of methodologies) suggest that the brain is a reducer of consciousness, not a creator of it. This model sees consciousness (not matter) as primary; it is everywhere and it is everything, and individual human (and animal) brains are merely conveying it within the remit of what then becomes physical reality. For the most part, this physical reality has a closely defined rule-set, but under certain conditions the usual laws break down and metaphysical events can occur. These supernatural occurrences are thus as legitimate as any natural occurrence. The philosopher Jeffrey Kripal describes this in relation to traumatic episodes that cause apparently non-ordinary experiences in his 2017 book written with Whitley Streiber, The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained:

50241583“The body-brain crafts consciousness into a human form through a vast network of highly evolved biology, neurology, culture, language, family, and social interactions until a more or less stable ego or ‘I’ emerges, rather like the way the software and hardware of your laptop can pick up a Wi-Fi signal and translate the Internet into the specificities of your screen and social media. The analogy is a rough and imperfect one, but it gets the basic point across. Sometimes, however, the reducer is compromised or temporarily suppressed. The filtering or reduction of consciousness does not quite work, and other forms of mind or dimensions of consciousness, perhaps even other species or forms of life, that are normally shut out now ‘pop in.’ In extreme cases, it may seem that the cosmos itself has suddenly come alive and is all there. Perhaps it is.”

While most faerie encounters are not the result of trauma, this helps us to perhaps understand preternatural faerie experiences as something metaphysical being allowed to ‘pop in’ from either a greater, transcendent form of consciousness, or from an alternative reality to which humans do not usually have access. This would fit with either of David Luke’s second and third interpretations for supernatural entity contact. Simply put, a numinous zone has been entered and the participant is able to make contact with what usually resides external to their ordinary consciousness.

Experiences in numinous zones could be extended to a variety preternatural encounters, from ghost apparitions through to Near Death Experiences and UFO abduction scenarios, but it would seem that the faeries, as an ontological taxonomic, remain a consistent, even persistent, form of entity that interact with our consensus reality. While reports of the faeries from history have often been turned into folkloric stories (frequently with a moral lesson inserted into the plot line), modern encounters usually take the form of anecdotal testimony. But the phenomenological types of faeries retain an adherence to their folkloric roots. They can receive an updated appearance, and cultural coding, but they remain recognisable as faeries. Graham Hancock has summed up what may be happening if we allow the faeries some type of metaphysical reality:

“If we are prepared to set aside the automatic scepticism and reductionism of our age, and if we spell out the problem in plain language, then we find that we are contemplating the existence of highly intelligent discarnate entities belonging to an order of creation fundamentally different than our own… it really is almost as though the beings we are dealing with have been changing and developing alongside us for thousands of years, and that they therefore cannot simply be mass delusions, but must have a definite, independent reality outside the human brain.”

Whatever their true nature, it seems that for the faeries to make contact with humanity they require our consciousness to become loosened from the usual restraints, and to enter a numinous zone. If the model of reality affirmed by Idealism is correct, then this zone may be allowing us to access a greater Over-Mind, where exist entities that represent either a stand-alone autonomous class of their own, or perhaps aspects of the human collective consciousness (as explicated by Carl Jung), which is usually filtered out through the reducing valve of the brain. Either way, it appears that the faeries are here to stay, functioning in some nebulous region where any interpretation of them is reliant on us finding a way to incorporate consciousness into physical reality. This is something that has eluded both philosophers and scientists for millennia, and so perhaps it is no surprise that the faeries – whether nature spirits, inter-dimensional beings, aliens, or products of our collective imagination – for the moment, remain an intangible part of our cultural zeitgeist.

The cover image is by the reliably supernal artist Ylenia Viola, whose artwork can be found at Fairytalesneverdie. Thanks to Ylenia for her permission to reproduce this image called ‘This is a Work of Fiction’.

Faeries and Aliens: A Review of ‘Thieves in the Night’ by Joshua Cutchin

THIEVES IN THE NIGHT: A Brief History of Supernatural Child Abductions by Joshua Cutchin (Anomalist Books, 2018) ISBN: 9781938398957

This book comes just at the right time. The debate about the possible connections between the folkloric representations of faeries abducting children and modern alien abductions has reached the point where there seems to be a divide between writers who have been highlighting the connection for decades, and (mostly) folklorists who have been reacting against the proposition, with the view that the phenomena are not related. Likewise, there are UFOlogists who do not want to engage with the possibility that alien intervention into consensus reality has anything to do with the amorphous storytelling about folkloric faeries. Joshua Cutchin approaches the issue in an extremely even-handed manner, made all the more incisive by his ability to speak in the language of folklorists, while still retaining a left field Fortean perspective. Thieves in the Night pins down the folklore of child abduction in great detail before attempting to relay it onto the contemporary phenomenon of alien abductions, giving it an intellectual gravitas that commands attention. Despite chapter forays into the phenomenon of Sasquatch abductions and the recent cases of people going missing in national parks, this is primarily a book about explicating the link between faeries and aliens (in relation to abduction scenarios), which Cutchin does by using a wide range of data from historical sources and modern testimony. Sometimes the data is uncomfortable – we may not want the faeries of our folkloric past to become the invasive aliens of contemporary culture – but when enough evidence begins to accrue, we are obliged to accept the possibility that we might be dealing with a single phenomenon that stretches back thousands of years, and suggests that there are metaphysical entities (from the same source) who consistently intrude into our own physical reality, even extending their remit to the abduction of children. This is not subject matter easy to write about. Apart from the special-interest debate about the ontology of historic/contemporary supernatural child-abductors, there is a difficulty in discussing child abduction in general – it has become (perhaps has always been) a taboo subject, that is only allowed to be approached within certain structured codes. In this book Cutchin skilfully bypasses the taboos and grounds his hypotheses on a wealth of folklore, history and contemporary accounts, which makes a very convincing case for the faeries being one and the same as 20th/21st-century aliens, at least when it comes to abduction cases.

The link between the faeries of folklore and contemporary alien encounters was first made In 1969 by the astronomer and computer scientist Jacques Vallée, in his book Passport to Magonia. He suggested that there is a commonality to the experiences reported in alien abduction scenarios, and the reports of interactions with faeries in folklore, especially in abduction stories and anecdotes. He asserts that the aliens and the faeries are essentially the same phenomenon, tuned through the cultural receptors of the time and then interpreted accordingly. This metaphysical link was investigated further by Graham Hancock in his 2005 book Supernatural, where he details the striking similarities between certain faerie and alien encounters, again concentrating on data concerning human abduction by these entities. Both these works have been highly influential for those writers attempting to get under the skin of these phenomena, but Thieves in the Night is without doubt the most extensive assessment to date, albeit concentrating on a sub-set of the whole: child abduction. Cutchin summarises his remit thus:

“This book marks the first interdisciplinary attempt to compare child abduction from antiquity through the modern era. Predominantly, this means focussing upon Western interpretations of faerie folklore and the pernicious alien abduction phenomenon, particularly the means and motivations behind kidnapping, but multiple detours cover global traditions, Sasquatch abductions, and the recently popularised subject of disappearances in national parks.”

The focus is arranged over twenty-one chapters (profiled at the end of this review), which move first through incidences of child abduction from historic texts and folklore, and then on to the tangled web of alien abduction testimony. Cutchin marshals a vast range of documentary evidence to investigate the faerie abduction phenomenon, although restricting himself to mostly Western texts and sources. This is quite difficult to pull off without the end result being just a strung together collection of folkloric anecdotes. But even though the book does not take a strictly chronological approach, the sub-themes are arranged in such a way that the reader is immersed in the folklore, and is presented with a holistic view of how faerie abductions were understood by the people involved as well as by those reporting on the encounters. Cutchin makes extensive use of some core texts such as WY Evans-Wentz’s 1911 classic The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries and the writings of WB Yeats and Katherine Briggs, but, as the 1,572 endnotes and extensive bibliography suggest, he is mining some deep seams of folklore to present his case. This gives the work an ingrained authority – it’s not a collection of cherry-picked examples to support a hypothesis, but rather an attempt to genuinely convey the richness of the evidence, which demonstrates unequivocally that one of the main activities of folkloric faeries was abducting children.

The predominant method of abducting children by the faeries was through the exchange of a changeling for the human child. The worldwide stories of faerie changelings come under a group of folklore motifs recorded in the Aarne-Thompson Index of Folk Literature as F321: ‘Faerie steals child from cradle and leaves faerie substitute.’ The basic premise of these motifs is that the faeries, through supernatural means, are capable of abducting babies from humans, while replacing them with one of their own, usually a wizened old faerie who would proceed to eat and drink voraciously, and maintain a surly silence. With external advice the parents are usually advised of how to rid themselves of the changeling and restore their own baby from the faeries. The ruse is carried through and (usually) works. Cutchin devotes several chapters to changeling folklore while commenting that “… a remarkable feature of the changeling narrative is its stability… It is not only consistent in its narrative beats but also in its description of changelings.” He also notes that the changeling motif is something of an anomaly in faerie folklore. By its very nature there needs to be a component of physicalism in any changeling story; the faeries seem to be interacting directly in material reality and the changelings appear to be embedded within that reality. This is not often the case with faerie motifs, where stories and anecdotes can often be interpreted as metaphysical encounters, and the faeries seem to be interacting with humanity at the level of consciousness rather than as material entities. This is an important distinction, and also remains vital in any interpretation of alien abductions; are these supernatural beings manifesting themselves in consensus material reality as physical beings, or are they interacting with us within consciousness, leaving no corporeal residue. Cutchin is uncommitted on this point, and allows the folklore to speak for itself without imposing ideological narratives into the text.

The author also rounds up his assessment of the changeling phenomenon with a discussion of it as a folkloric device that attempts to make sense of child illness and disability in pre-modern societies by laying the blame squarely at the door of the faeries. The work of John Lindow, Carole Silver, Susan Eberly and RU Sayce are utilised to give one possible modern perspective on what the changeling stories may be:

“Descriptions of the changeling’s appearance and behaviour pointed to developmental disability and disease long before modern medicine eclipsed superstition. Viewed through contemporary eyes, most changeling stories transform from horrifying to tragic, unsettling tales of an inhuman other reinterpreted as heart-rending stories of abused children in dire need of medical assistance.”

The attempt to explain the injustice of infant sickness through the introduction of a supernatural agency into the folklore may well help us understand the deeper meanings of the stories. People sought and created a certain type of story, with defined motifs that would help to explain why children might be infirm, and the pressures it put on a family, especially in a subsistence economy. Unfortunately, many of the changeling stories include some radical solutions for dispatching the faerie and securing the return of the human baby. This frequently involves throwing them on fires, exposing them on hillsides or drowning. Sometimes the threat of these sanctions is enough to get the desired result, but there is usually some viciousness in the stories, at the expense of the changeling. Cutchin goes into some detail as to the means of dispatching changelings, and in light of the possible interpretation of the stories as justification for infanticide it makes for difficult reading.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the changeling motif was mostly relegated to the folklore of what happened in the past, but which doesn’t happen anymore. Improved hygiene and greater access to medicine, raised life-expectancy in rural populations and lowered child infirmity. At the same time the development of universal education ensured the new scientific view of child infirmity and disease replaced many of the folk beliefs that had previously attempted to explain why children became ill, and what could be done about it. But by the second half of the 20th century new culprits became the perpetrators of supernatural abduction, culturally coded to our technological sensibilities: aliens.

“Stories resembling the changeling narrative persist into the modern era, but they are rarely attributed to anything other than UFOs and extraterrestrials – regardless of how obstinately the faerie-faith bleeds into the case files of modern UFOlogy.”

These case files are derived from extremely diverse sources; unlike faerie folklore, alien abductions are primarily related by the person affected, before being viewed through a variety of interpretative lenses. Once again though, the crux of the phenomenon is whether the alien abductions are physical or metaphysical. Are there real extraterrestrials visiting earth and abducting people for their own agenda, or are these experiences acting out within the minds of the abductees, perhaps due to an altered state of consciousness? UFOlogist heavyweights such as the late Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs present the case for the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), based on many years of research with thousands of abductees, much of which has been derived from hypnotic regression. They suggest that off-world aliens are physically abducting adults and children, with the agenda usually seen as carrying out a programme of hybridisation through a variety of means. This interpretation certainly represents the prevailing view of most abductees and probably most UFOlogists. But Cutchin promptly introduces a note of caution for this hypothesis:

“In reality, the ETH is but one of many possible explanations, and a handful of researchers staunchly propose alternative theories: UFOs could be faeries, time travellers, Jungian archetypes, manifestation of psi effects, unexplained natural phenomena, or even top secret human aircraft. Any one explanation may not even explain the entire phenomenon.”

This is more in line with the work of the late Harvard psychiatrist John Mack, who, from a very large number of case studies, came to see the alien abduction phenomenon as primarily metaphysical. This doesn’t mean that the encounters are not real, but rather that they are operating within consciousness, where the abducting entities are able to interact with humanity at a non-physical level. Cutchin remains cautious about any absolute interpretation on this and relates several cases where the aliens do seem to manifest as material creatures, with physical properties able to interface with humans and the environment. This echoes the current thinking of the most famous alien abductee, Whitley Streiber, who suggests that the aliens are functioning at a non-corporeal level of reality – pure consciousness – but that under certain circumstances their essence ‘leaks through’ to become material reality, leaving genuine material effects. Cutchin suggests this hypothesis may well be a tangible explanation for both aliens and faeries.

Chapters 11-16 go into a detailed assessment of child abductions by aliens. It is quite clear that children are more prone to be abducted than adults, but also that the abductions are rarely one-off events. Many of the adult case-studies derived from hypnotic regression show that the abductions often started in childhood and continued throughout the lives of the people reporting them. But there are also many abduction testimonies direct from children, and Cutchin investigates their legitimacy: Are they false memories? Do they represent various types of trauma transferred to a supernatural event? Or are children’s developing minds simply more malleable and accepting of a metaphysical reality than those of adults, and therefore able to describe what has happened to them without the psycho-cultural restrictions imposed on adults? Children certainly seem more willing to accept faeries as existing in reality, and so why not aliens?

The case studies are well chosen, and routinely raise questions as to what is really happening to these children. There are many ontological consistencies in the abduction reports, such as the recurring theme of being levitated from bed and ‘beamed’ into an alien vehicle, which is highly suggestive that the abductee is caught up in an Out of Body Experience. But (as in adult abductions) there are frequent absurdities within the reports, such as the aliens’ penchant for using old-fashioned surgical procedures, the appearance of dead people alongside the aliens, and their proclivity for playing games with the children, such as in a report from Tynset, Norway in 1985 when “doll-sized entities in helmets allegedly emerged from a UFO to play hide-and-seek with village children for several hours.” The incongruity of many abduction scenarios is summed up by a report from England, which also demonstrates that many of the components of typical abductions were in place well before the phenomenon began to be mainstreamed from the 1970s:

“In July 1953, twelve-year-old Gerry Armstrong blacked out while skipping school in the woods. His next memory was of an angry teacher rousing him. Under hypnosis, Armstrong revealed watching a light descend into the forest, followed by two short, grey, large-eyed figures approaching him. A voice in his head urged him to not be afraid. The beings floated Armstrong to the ladder of a landed craft. After boarding, he felt the craft take off and roamed its bright interior, where he saw a large dome full of children. Armstrong’s experience ended when a woman in red ripped the cross off his necklace, telling him, ‘It’s not right to worship.’ Like the queen of the fae folk, she seemed offended by the icon.”

Thieves in the Night represents the most detailed attempt to date to collate both folklore and contemporary testimony in order to understand the phenomenon of supernatural child abduction, which has been reported as a reality for centuries. Cutchin’s assessment that there is strong evidence to link the historic stories of abductions of children by faeries and modern alien abductions is convincing, primarily due to the quality of the author’s research and ability to marshall the diverse data into interpretations that are free from any ideological agenda. He brings together folklore and UFOlogy with great dexterity, and delivers a book that suggests that while we will probably never get to bottom of the reality of supernatural child abductions, there is a strong thread of commonality running through the phenomena, which may identify the perpetrating entities as coming from the same source. Whether that source is metaphysical, psychological, cultural or a currently unknown aspect of physical reality is still open to question, but Cutchin’s wide-ranging evaluation is a real gift for future researchers into this complex subject. The last word is his:

“The parallels between aliens and faeries are remarkable and extend deeply into the lore surrounding paranormal child abduction. The means and motivations behind both phenomena imply a shared ontological reality…”

Chapter Profile:

1. THIEVES IN THE NIGHT An Introduction
2. TOO BAD FOR HEAVEN & TOO GOOD FOR HELL A Primer on the Fae Folk and Faerie Abduction
3. CHIEF VICTIMS OF THE FAIRY STROKE Risks, Methods of Abduction, & Destinations
4.NOT YOUR CHILD, NOR IS HE A CHILD Changelings
5. FRESH BLOOD AND HUMAN VIGOR Motivations Behind Faerie Abduction
6. MASTERY BEYOND THE LIGHT OF THE CAMPFIRE Preventing and Thwarting Child Faerie Abduction
7. THE ACORN BEFORE THE OAK Changeling Confirmation & Resolution
8. MARVELOUS OR DIRE Restoration or Resignation
9. HORRIFYING TO TRAGIC Medical & Psychological Perspectives on Changelings
10. NOTHING MORE FAMILIAR Paranormal Child Abduction Worldwide
11. GOING BUT NEVER GONE—COMING BUT NEVER HERE Modern Modalities of Paranormal Child Abduction: An Introduction
12. A ‘TAGGED ANIMAL’ Child Alien Abduction
13. CHILDREN OF THE NORTHERN PEOPLES Risks, Methods of Abduction, & Destinations
14. IT’S TIME TO TAKE IT Missing Foetuses
15. WE NEED BABIES Motivation & the Hybridization Theory
16. YOU ARE NOT WANTED HERE! Preventing, Thwarting, Confirming, & Resolving Child Alien Abduction
17. JUST OUT-OF-FRAME UFOlogy, Hybrids, Faeries, & Changelings: An Intersection
18. COME OUT TOWARDS THE WOODS Child Sasquatch Abduction
19. AS A BABY IN MY CRIB The Crib Creepers
20. STORM CHILD Missing 411
21. WE NEED SHAMANS Seeking Answers
Acknowledgements
Endnotes
Bibliography
Index
About the Author

Thieves in the Night official release trailer

The Faerie Changeling Phenomenon

“Come away, O human child.
To the waters and the wild,
With a faerie hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
WB Yeats, The Stolen Child

The Phenomenon

The worldwide stories of faerie changelings come under a group of folklore motifs recorded in the Aarne-Thompson index as F321: ‘Faerie steals child from cradle and leaves faerie substitute.’ The basic premise of these motifs is that the faeries, through supernatural means, are capable of abducting babies from humans, while replacing them with one of their own, usually a wizened old faerie who would proceed to eat and drink voraciously, and maintain a surly silence. With external advice the parents are usually advised of how to rid themselves of the changeling and restore their own baby from the faeries. The ruse is carried through and (usually) works. There are many variations on the story, but the Brother’s Grimm summed up in concise form the main components of a typical changeling story from mid 19th-century Germany:

“A mother had her child taken from the cradle by elves. In its place they laid a changeling with a thick head and staring eyes who would do nothing but eat and drink. In distress she went to a neighbour and asked for advice. The neighbour told her to carry the changeling into the kitchen, set it on the hearth, make a fire, and boil water in two eggshells. That should make the changeling laugh, and if he laughs it will be all over with him. The woman did everything just as her neighbour said. When she placed the eggshells filled with water over the fire, the changeling said:

‘Now I am as old
As the Wester Wood,
But have never seen anyone cooking in shells!’

And he began laughing about it. When he laughed, a band of little elves suddenly appeared. They brought the rightful child, set it on the hearth, and took the changeling away.”

A common variation on this plot would be for the changeling to be threatened with (or sometimes given) a roasting over the fire, which was usually enough for them to reveal themselves and thereby break the spell. This basic story type can be found in folklore throughout the world, suggesting that the culturally embedded motifs represented by the stories had great importance to the people who propagated them. Changelings certainly abound in Scottish folklore. Kim McNamara-Wilson recounts a story collected by JF Campbell and first published in 1862 in his Popular Tales of the West Highlands:

“One story speaks of a smith, father to a healthy and happy thirteen year old boy on the Isle of Islay. One day, the boy mysteriously fell ill and his condition and temperament continued to worsen tenfold each day. Though his appetite increased at the same rate, he was in fact rapidly losing weight. In misery, the father confided in a very wise and respected old man in the town. The old man told him that most likely the boy had been taken by the Daoine Sith, and they had left a Sibhreach in his place. Distraught, the father wondered if he’d ever see his son again. The old man instructed him to take several broken eggshells and fill them with water, then place them carefully around the hearth in the boy’s room. He did so, and within no time, the boy was jumping from his bed in a fit of laughter shouting, “I’ve been alive 800 years and have never seen the likes of this!” Hearing that, the father pushed the Changeling into the fire, and it shot up the chimney. The real boy was spit out from the Faerie mound nearby at that very moment, and the father and son were soon after reunited.”

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‘Changeling’ by Alan Lee

While most of these folkloric changeling stories were first collected and published in the 19th century, the changeling motif extends back into the Middle Ages. In the recent publication Elf Queens and Holy Friars, Richard Green demonstrates that the changeling story was a cultural mainstay by at least the 12th century. In the early 13th century, William of Auvergne goes into some detail describing the ‘ignorant people’s’ belief in faerie changelings: “They say they are skinny and always wailing, and such milk-drinkers that four nurses do not supply a sufficient quantity of milk to feed one. These appeared to have remained with their nurses for many years, and afterwards to have flown away, or rather vanished.” He was not alone, amongst medieval chroniclers, to discuss the phenomenon with the implicit suggestion that the belief was a given reality amongst the rural population. But William, and the literate class of which he was a part, would usually use the changeling stories as demonstrations of the uneducated people’s foolish beliefs, and their need to swap their faerie-tales for the orthodox Christian position, which stated that such malevolent acts were the work of the Devil alone.

But Richard Green delves a bit deeper into the medieval record to find a widespread vernacular tradition of faerie changelings. He focuses on the surviving texts of medieval mystery plays, to show that the language of the changeling motif was fully integrated into the culture, down to the town and village level, where many mystery plays were performed. Many faerie themes found their way into the plays, including stories of changelings. In the Chester Cycle of mystery plays from the 15th century, the character of King Herod is even invoked to call Christ: “That elfe and vile changeling.” The mystery plays were always places where subversive ideas could be expressed in theatrical form against the Church and state. They give us an opportunity to understand how the vernacular population viewed folktale motifs, performed to them as representations of commonly understood beliefs, such as the changeling stories. The inclusion of faerie changelings as a natural part of many of the plays, might suggest that there was a genuine and general belief in them, in direct contradistinction to Church doctrine.

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A demon performing a baby changeling swap from The Legend of St Stephen by Martino di Bartolomeo (15th century).

These beliefs seem to have been maintained as an oral tradition at various levels through time and across geographical area until, by the time they came to be collected and recorded in the 19th century, the changeling stories were told almost exclusively as having happened during previous generations or at an indistinct time in the past. Unlike many folkloric faerie motifs, they have not continued to be incorporated into the setting of contemporary stories beyond the early 20th century. So, on the assumption that the changeling phenomenon was culturally important through the Middle Ages to the 20th century; where did it come from, why was it popularised, and why did the belief end so definitively, whilst other faerie beliefs continued? Maybe even more importantly; what does the phenomenon mean?

The Meaning of the Faerie Changeling Phenomenon

When folklorist/anthropologist WY Evans-Wentz was collecting the faerie folklore of the Celtic countries, at the beginning of the 20th century, he included several changeling stories, which incorporated the usual components of human babies being stolen from their cradles and replaced with grizled old faeries, who were nonetheless human enough to fool the parents. At this time, one of the favourite interpretations for the motif was that it was a folk-memory of an indigenous pre-Celtic race of people, who, once pushed into liminal environmental areas by the incomers, would steal Celtic babies, and perhaps even replace them with their own dead or dying. Time has turned this race into faeries; their exploits remembered only in folklore. Evans-Wentz agreed with this interpretation to an extent, and it does give a physicality to the changeling folktales, which might explain their longevity. But there is no evidence for the stories of this potential historical reality being continued over such a long timespan through folklore. And much of the changeling folklore is very evidently meant to represent the contemporary culture producing the stories.

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Illustration from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by Arthur Rackham (1908)

The general current academic consensus sees the phenomenon as an articulation through folklore of a need to understand infant sickness and death. In pre-industrial societies infant mortality was high, and until you survived through to about five years of age, your life-expectancy remained low. In rural subsistence economies an ill or infirm baby would have been a substantial burden on a family. John Lindow has recently discussed the socio-cultural pressures underlying the changeling phenomenon. He suggests that they were stories that were based around the reality of not having enough food, and trying to integrate a sick or disabled child into the household. He notes, correctly, that the rituals to reverse the changeling swap always involve food and its preparation, drawing the conclusion that: “The changeling was an extra mouth to feed, while at the same time, his illness deprived the household of a worker. In that sense the illness indeed made an exchange: a positive productive worker for an unproductive dependent. Legends of changelings mapped that unarticulated exchange onto the articulated exchange of a supernatural being.”

This attempt to explain the injustice of infant sickness through the introduction of a supernatural element into the folklore may well help us understand the deeper meanings of the stories. The Christian explanation for infant sickness and death was not enough and at the vernacular level, people sought and created a certain type of story, with defined motifs that would help to explain why children might be infirm, and the pressures it put on a family, especially in a subsistence economy. Unfortunately, many of the changeling stories include some radical solutions for dispatching the faerie and securing the return of the human baby. This frequently involves throwing them on fires, exposing them on hillsides or drowning. Sometimes the threat of these sanctions is enough to get the desired result, but there is usually some viciousness in the stories, at the expense of the changeling. And this brings us back to the actual belief in faerie changelings.

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‘Der Wechselbalg’ by Henry Fuseli (1781)

Whatever the merits of the hypotheses of folklore acting as an articulator of social and cultural pressures, it was certainly the case that until the 19th century any distinction between allegory and reality was blurred in the minds of the (mostly) rural populations who told and listened to the stories. And this meant that if a faerie changeling was suspected, then there was a possibility that it might be treated in the same way recommended in the stories. The court records of Gotland, Sweden, for 1690, document one of the rare cases brought to court. A man and woman were placed on trial for having left a ten-year-old changeling — a sickly child who was not growing properly — on a manure pile overnight on Christmas Eve, hoping that the faeries who had made the exchange some years earlier would now return their rightful son. The child died of exposure. This might be seen as the parents being punished for the infanticide of an infirm child, or the trial of an innocent couple who believed fully in the efficacy of what they were doing, based on a wealth of folktales that were told in their communities every day. There are enough further similar cases of parents making real the recommendations of the changeling stories to account for and deal with infirm children, for us to recognise that the consensus reality of rural populations in pre-industrial societies was heavily influenced by the folk tales they told and heard throughout their lives. And allowing the faeries to play the metaphysical villains in changeling stories as well as in real life, offered explanations for child illness and practical options for what could be done about it.

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‘Changeling’ original watercolour by Victoria Grimalkin

By the beginning of the 20th century, the changeling motif was mostly relegated to the folklore of what happened in the past, but which doesn’t happen anymore. Improved hygiene and greater access to medicine, raised life-expectancy in rural populations and lowered child infirmity. At the same time the development of universal education ensured the new scientific view of child infirmity and disease replaced many of the folk beliefs that had previously attempted to explain why children became ill, and what could be done about it. But the deeper meaning of changeling folklore remains. At its roots it offered psychological therapy through storytelling to people who were in difficult situations due to a child’s infirmity. The faeries acted as the supernatural agency to explain traumatic experiences that were otherwise unexplainable. It is this supernatural quality to the changeling stories that allowed their long existence in folklore, and which gives us a vivid insight into the consensus reality of the past.

In many ways, the changeling phenomenon differs from the main body of faerie folklore and anecdotal evidence. As investigated in many posts on this site, the faeries are often encountered as metaphysical entities, frequently when the human interaction is facilitated through some type of altered state of consciousness. Such interactions appear to suggest that the faeries are non-physical, and that immersion into their world involves the human participants operating beyond material reality to interface with them. But faerie changelings are required to be fully embedded into consensus reality. This confluence seems easier to explain via a transpersonal, psychological interpretation, where the concept of the faeries interfering in the material world is used to resolve traumatic circumstances that appear to defy rational explanation. And unlike many manifestations of the faeries, which continue in great number to the present day, the changeling phenomenon has been consigned to the folkloric past. However, like all faerie folklore, the changeling stories do give us an invaluable insight into the modus operandi of these metaphysical beings, who seem to comport themselves at the periphery of consciousness, where their Otherworld can imbricate ours when certain conditions are met.

References

Aarne, Antti and Stith Thompson, Motif-index of folk-literature: a classification of narrative elements in folktales, ballads, myths, fables, mediaeval romances, exempla, fabliaux, jest-books, and local legends, 6 volumes (1955-1958).

Ashliman, DL, ‘Changelings’ (1997).

Briggs, Katherine, An Encyclopaedia of Fairies (1976).

Campbell, JF, Popular Tales of the West Highlands (1862).

Evans-Wentz, WY, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries (1911).

Green, Richard Firth, Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church (2016).

Lindow, John, ‘Changeling, Changing, Re-exchanges: Thoughts on the Relationship between Folk Belief and Legend,’ Legends and Landscapes: Plenary Papers from the 5th Celtic-Nordic-Baltic Folklore Symposium, ed. Terry Gunnell (2008), 215-34.

McNamara-Wilson, ‘Irish Faerie Folk of Yore and Yesterday: The Changeling’ (2012).

Sugg, Richard, ‘Fairy Scapegoats: A History of the Persecution of Changeling Children‘ (2018)

The Wikipedia page on changelings also gives some useful information and links, including the idea that autistic children may have been seen as faerie changelings in pre-industrial societies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Changeling

One of the most recent, and unusual, changeling episodes is the case of Bridget Cleary from Ireland during the last years of the 19th century. Ali Isaac describes the circumstances of this disturbing event in some detail here.

A version of this article appeared originally on the Ancient Origins Premium website.

The cover image is ‘A Changeling Baby’ by PJ Lynch.

Espíritus de la Naturaleza, Animales Y Fauna Feérica by Óscar Robles

Here’s another first on deadbutdreaming – an article in Spanish. It’s by my colleague and faeriecologist Óscar Robles, and takes an introductory look at the relationship between faeries and animals from a Spanish perspective, but with a global remit. Thanks to Óscar for permission to publish.

The images are all by the Victorian artist John Anster Fitzgerald (1819-1906), whose paintings often included animals interacting with the faeries.

En mayor o menor medida se ha hablado de la relación entre los espíritus de la naturaleza y las hadas con las plantas, la flora, los árboles, etc. Vemos obras como las de Richard Ely y Véronique Barrau titulada “Les plantes des feés et autres esprits de la nature” en las que tratan hermosamente estas conexiones, una obra que se encuentra en francés. Vemos también la obra de Elizabeth Andrew titulada “Faerie flora” en inglés, o en castellano las obras de Jesús Callejo como “El alma de las flores” Y “Sabiduría ancestral de las plantas” en la que en esta última dedica un breve capítulo al mundo de las plantas y los espíritus de la naturaleza. Se puede decir que obras monográficas sobre la relación entre hadas y plantas se ha escrito algo sin embargo no sucede lo mismo entre la relación de espíritus de la naturaleza y animales.

Salvo menciones o capítulos dentro de libros que abarcan temas más generales, no hay obra monográfica hasta ahora que trate el mundo feérico y su conexión con el mundo animal. Lo que contrasta con que prácticamente cada elfo, duende, hada, gnomo, troll, etc. Tiene algún tipo de relación y asociación con prácticamente cualquier animal del mundo natural. Dado el vacío de trabajos sobre el asunto, daré unas pinceladas sobre este tema tan interesante que nos ocupa.

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Los tipos de asociación entre el mundo de las hadas con el de los animales se pueden dividir en cuatro tipos:

Metamorfosis: Este tipo de relación consiste en hadas, duendes, elfos o gnomos que se convierten en un determinado animal. En otras palabras, llevan a cabo transformaciones en determinados animales.

Mitad – Hada: Este segundo tipo refleja criaturas del reino feérico que poseen una o varias características de animales sin serlo completamente. Como es el ejemplo de tantas criaturas feéricas que poseen patas de otro animal, o incluso garras u otros atributos.

Relación simbiótica: En este tipo de relación, se da la coyuntura de hadas o gnomos que de una forma u otra se hacen acompañar por animales, ya se para transportarse, como acompañantes, para jugar, protegerlos, para que estos animales les avisen de peligros o para utilizarlos con algún fin como el don de la profecía u otros.

Animales feéricos: En este último grupo estarían aquellos tipos de animales que no existen dentro de la zoología convencional y que corresponderían única y exclusivamente al mundo de las hadas. Ejemplos de algunos serían los dragones, unicornios, kelpies, etc. Este grupo último me interesa menos para este tema, puesto que me centraré más en animales conocidos por la zoología convencional y su ligazón con los seres feéricos.

A continuación, expondré un pequeño repertorio de una serie de animales de distintos continentes y su relación con la ‘gente pequeña’. Los he elegido según mis gustos algunos y otros azarosamente.

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Topos. Este micromamífero perteneciente al orden de los insectívoros es una criatura de cuerpo cilíndrico y pelo negruzco, prácticamente ciego y que pasa gran parte de su vida bajo tierra. Es por ello por lo que tiene una estrecha relación con los duendes subterráneos y también con un tipo de hada llamadas “Fayette” que durante el día se convierten en estas criaturas y arrasan con los huertos.

Musarañas. Este animal es el mamífero más pequeño del mundo. De hocico alargado y confundido a veces con el ratón aunque no son de la misma familia, posee un apetito voraz y goza de una energía arrolladora. Puesto que es uno de los mamíferos más pequeños del planeta, sirve como medio de transporte a los duendes y hadas más pequeños de los bosques y campos, que con su gran rapidez y ferocidad les es de gran ayuda a las criaturas feéricas más pequeñas de la naturaleza.

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Erizos. Este adorable animal, con el cuerpo cubierto de espinas que cuando se siente amenazado se convierte en una pelota, recibe en la Isla de Man el nombre de “Arkan Soney” o también “Erizo de la suerte”. Se dice que es un duende metamorfoseado en este pequeño mamífero y todo aquel que consiga atraparlo tendrá siempre una moneda de plata en su bolsillo.

Conejo. Este tierno animal, conocido por todos, inteligente, vegano y con grandes orejas en algunos casos es el elegido por los duendes, gnomos y hadas domésticos para recorrer las zonas en los campos donde viven.

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Grillo. Este insecto acompaña a los seres feéricos más pequeños en sus paseos por el bosque. Con su canto avisa a los elfos del peligro de seres humanos que se aproximan.

Lagarto. Es considerado como un ser feérico en sí mismo, respetado por todos los seres de este mundo y al que se le considera como un gran guardián de secretos.

Gato. El gato es un animal doméstico que tanto para lo bueno como para lo malo está íntimamente unido al mundo feérico. Algunos duendes o hadas se metamorfosean en este tipo de animal para acercarse a los humanos, especialmente los seres domésticos que quieren ayudar en las labores de la casa.

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Salmón. Un pez muy ligado a los seres feéricos vinculados al agua ya que lo utilizan como ayudante a la hora de hacer una profecía.

Tapir. Este animal de la selva amazónica esta muy vinculado a un tipo de ser feérico llamado “kasonkati” el cual se aparece bajo esta forma y es considerado muy peligroso para el ser humano ya que ataca a toda persona que se encuentre en su camino.

Ningaui. El Ningaui es un tipo de marsupial que habita en Australia. Los nativos Australianos llaman a este animalito Tiwi y para ellos es un tipo de espíritu el cual se alimenta de alimentos crudos al no poder manipular el fuego, son muy activos durante la noche y viven en un lugar llamado Melville Island frente a la costa norte de Australia. Ellos suelen asistir a los ritos de iniciación de la tribu Kuala.

Rana. Este batracio está estrechamente ligado a las hadas acuáticas con las que permanece mientras éstas están en las orillas de los ríos. Avisan a los seres feéricos de la llegada de fuertes lluvias o tormentas.

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Jabalí. Este “cerdo salvaje” es el infatigable compañero de un tipo de duende de la mitología Guaraní llamado “curupira”. Irreductible defensor de la naturaleza salvaje que siempre va a lomos de este animal y con una lanza para atacar a todo aquel que dañe la naturaleza, tale árboles o intente matar a hembras embarazadas.

Zarigüeyas. Este tipo de animal marsupial se dice que es el “animal de compañía” de los Mimis. Al igual que los humanos tenemos gatos o perros como mascotas, los mimis, tipos de duendes o elfos australianos, se hacen acompañar por estos animales. Viven en oquedades de las rocas y son benéficos.

Oso gris. Este tipo de gran mamífero es el acompañante de un duende chino con aspecto de avanzada edad llamado “chang hsien”. Este duende es benévolo.

Focas. Estos animales están muy unidos a seres feéricos acuáticos de frías aguas, especialmente del pueblo inuit de Norteamérica, el cual posee en su mitología un tipo de criatura que las protege y vela porque no las cacen más de la cuenta. Este ser es el “agloolik”.

Tigre. Este tipo de animal es la forma que adopta un miembro del mundo de los seres feéricos de Malasia. Es muy peligroso ya que ataca a los humanos bajo esta forma. Vive en la jungla.

Hormiga. Insecto muy apreciado por las hadas que están vinculadas al elemento tierra. En África hay un tipo de hada llamada abatwa que habita junto a ellas en profundas galerías subterráneas.

Como vemos… la lista podría dar para mucho más, es inabarcable. Cada hada, duende o elfo tiene una especial vinculación con todo elemento del mundo natural ya sea planta, animal, mineral, etc. Es la diversidad feérica tan apasionante como desconocida.

Referencias:

Carmina Gadelica, ed. tr. Alexander Carmichael (1900)

J. Felipe Alonso, Diccionario Espasa de seres fantásticos (2005)

Katherine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies (1976)

Olivier Jean Mickaël Beuve, Les animaux dans les croyances et legendes de Normandie (2001)

https://abookofcreatures.com

Another aspect of faerie fauna is explored in a previous deadbutdreaming article: Faerie Familiars and Zoomorphic Witches.

Talking about the Faeries

I was recently invited on to Charles Christian‘s Weird Tales Radio Show to discuss some aspects of the faeries. The links are below, and the interview begins at 05.14. What did we talk about?

  • Morgan le Fay and Arthuriana
  • The origins of the faeries
  • Altered states of consciousness and the faeries
  • Are they supposed to have wings?
  • Elves vs Faeries
  • Faerie or Fairy?
  • Brian Froud, Alan Lee and The Lord of the Rings film (where I forgot the name of the director Peter Jackson!)
  • The Fairy Investigation Society and modern faerie encounters
  • Syd Barrett

Download at Paranormal UK Radio Network

Stream at Weird Tales Radio Show, episode #15

Stream at Weird Tales Radio Show You Tube channel

Thanks to Charles for inviting me on to the show.

Faery Princess by Brian Froud-2
From Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s “Faeries”