Friday, October 21, 2011

Fairy Theory

Let's get the blatant self-promotion out of the way first: Today, I'm doing an interview at My Bookish Ways. There is a book to be won there. Next weekend, if you're signed up for the Emerald City Writers Conference, I'll be presenting a workshop on Sunday morning called Acting on the Words. That's open only those people registered for the conference. On Saturday, however, the Book Fair is open to everyone - hundreds of authors and their books for your shopping pleasure. If you drop by the Book Fair, come find me. I'd love to say hello. I'll even bring chocolate. (I've noticed that promo works better when there are bribes you mind?)

On to the Fairies. The Fae. The Kindlies. The Little People. The Seelie, the Unseelie. Interesting to note that so many cultures have fairies or their equivalent. Being of stout Northern European stock, I'm most familiar with the Fae who lived in the British Isles, with a smattering of familiarity with the Germanic fae and a passing awareness of the little spirits here in the Americas.

During my first year of college, I was in a program called Movement, Space and Communication. We did a bunch of work in psychology and in mythology. There, I learned that when you begin to see a common thread - like fairies - through so many different cultures, you're following the trail of truth. It's up to you to discover the nature of that truth. Does it mean, in this case, that fairies were or are real? If so, in what aspect? An actual people who had left such an impression upon history that their stories survived countless generations? Or are the Fae a manifestation of the darker aspects of human nature? Or even manifestations of the darker aspects of Mother Nature?

I've seen information out in the world to support each theory. Imagine being driven from your home by famine and desperation. You take to the dark and dangerous sea to find a land that's rumored to be a few day's sail beyond the horizon. Undertaking such a dangerous journey is the only hope for your family's survival. You land, stumble ashore, and find the land already occupied. The natives are wholly alien to your experience - diminuative, dark-haired, possibly painted blue, maybe scarred, and initially, they merely watch while you and your kin build a shelter, then begin scratching the land to plant barley. The animal pens are set up with a few sheep, when the little people attack for seemingly no reason. This happened in the British Isles with each successive wave of invaders/settlers. Sure, this is a dramatized version of how the Picts greeted invaders. The point there is that the tribes coming to the British Isles represented a new kind of society - one based on agriculture. The Picts seemed to be stuck on the cusp between hunter/gatherer and agrarian. And, interestingly, the moral codes of the two societies were vastly different. Ownership is a hugely different issue between the two, for example. So it's easy to see how the surviving culture would tell stories about the inexplicable Little People who'd once peopled their land.

If you're into conspiracy theories, do an internet search. You'll find plenty of information about Fairies having actually been aliens visiting (and manipulating) early humans for their own ends.

If you read Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung at all, you'll find support for the notion of Fairies as projections of humanity's darker, more capricious nature. From a psychological standpoint, few of us wants to own our cruel, manipulative sides. Yet we all have them. Fairies are an archetype - a symbol that transcends ethnicity, culture, language and religion, which makes them an aspect that can be recognized by anyone human. Most of our myths and fairytales are archetypes (the wicked witch, the cruel stepmother, Snow White, Cinderella) that lends easily recognizable snapshots to a discussion of human experience in the world. In that regard, fairies are real. They do still exist, because they are us; sometimes beautiful and kind; sometimes horrifying and deadly. They are everything we are. We are everything fairies are. Given an airplane, we even fly. Somehow I'd hoped it would be more fun.

From a similiar psychological standpoint, the Fae can be talked about as the forces of nature given a familiar shape. Do you ever watch any of the disaster shows on TV? The ones about how the earth might kill us all one day - Mega-Tsunami! or Mega-Quake! I love those shows. The planet is a living construct and depending on your belief system, it either cares very much and is really pissed, or it doesn't give a crap about the puny humans crawling the surface. I challenge you to go back and watch some of the horrifying footage from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It was chilling and terrifying enough for us - we understand seismic activity and what causes it. How would the survivors have viewed those events two thousand years ago, though? Would you want to wander around with the knowledge that the forces of nature were some nameless, shapeless force that not only didn't care whether you lived or died, but didn't even have any sort of awareness at all? Because humans are a social creature, we're conditioned to humanize everything so we can have a relationship to it - even if there isn't actually any consciousness with which to have a relationship. You begin to see how every lake, every river and every tree hid a fairy or a spirit or an elemental. The dangerous, unpredictable nature of the creatures describes very well just how unforgiving nature can be - so are they a stand in
for one another? Different natural processes each named and given a face and a story?

Displaced people? Aliens? Mirrors of ourselves or reflections of a cold and uncaring world? Maybe a combination...okay. Maybe not the aliens. Because really. What interest would we be? We produce some truly crappy reality TV.


  1. I'm a fan of the Campbell/Jung approach...I think the tale of the fairies is a warning that what is attractive and seductive is not necessarily good for us. And sometimes we can be lovely and terrible at the same time.

  2. I just think they're really real. So there.

  3. Great post.
    I'm also a fan of the Campbell/Jung theory I will confess.
    And I dropped by at My Bookish Ways to say hello :-)

  4. I saw you there, Sullivan! Thanks! I waved.

    You know, Jeffe, consensual reality states that when the mass of belief reaches a tipping point, we create those things we accept. I totally buy that the Fae are out there. Coyote is real. Raven is real. I've spotted Unseelie operatives - but they hide in plain sight now unless you get way out in the wilds. Then you can still sometimes watch the fairies dancing in the moonlight.