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An Anthropological Examination of the Evidence

Anthropology is concerned with man and what is in man — humani nihil a se alienum putat.— ANDREW LANG.

The Celtic Fairy-Faith as part of a World-wide Animism — Shaping Influence of Social Psychology — Smallness of Elvish Spirits and Fairies, according to Ethnology, Animism, and Occult Sciences — The Changeling Belief and its explanation according to the Kidnap, Human-Sacrifice, Soul-Wandering, and Demon-Possession Theory — Ancient and Modern Magic and Witchcraft shown to be based on definite psychological laws — Exorcisms—Taboos, of Name, Food, Iron, Place — Taboos among Ancient Celts — Food-Sacrifice — Legend of the Dead—Conclusion: The background of the modern belief in Fairies is animistic.

The Celtic Fairy-faith as Part of a World-wide Animism

We may . . . begin our examination of the living Fairy-Faith of the Celts by comparing it with animistic beliefs among non-Celtic peoples.

Aruntha Beliefs

To the Arunta tribes of Central Australia, let us go first, to examine their doctrine of ancestral Alcheringa beings and of the Iruntarinia, which offers an almost complete parallel to the Celtic belief in fairies.

These Alcheringa beings and Iruniarinia — to ignore the secondary differences between the two — are a spirit race inhabiting an invisible or fairy world. Only certain persons, medicine-men and seers, can see them; and these describe them as thin and shadowy, and, like the Irish Sidhe, as always youthful in appearance. Precisely like their Celtic counterparts in general, these Australian spirits are believed to haunt inanimate objects such as stones and trees; or to frequent totem centres, as in Ireland demons (daemons) are believed to frequent certain places known to have been anciently dedicated to the religious rites of the pre-Christian Celts; and, quite after the manner of the Breton dead and of most fairies, they are said to control human affairs and natural phenomena.

All the Arunta invariably regard themselves as incarnations or reincarnations of these ancestral spirit-beings; and, in accordance with evidence to be set forth in our seventh chapter, ancient and modern Celts have likewise regarded themselves as incarnations or reincarnations of ancestors and of fairy beings.

Also the Arunta think of the Alcheringa beings exactly as Celts think of fairies: as real invisible entities who must be propitiated if men wish to secure their goodwill; and as beneficent and protecting beings when not offended, who may attach themselves to individuals as guardian spirits. (1)

(1) B. Spencer and F. T. Gillen, Nat. Tribes of Cent. Aust. (London, 1899), chapters xi, xv.

Spirits of Native Americans

In the New World, we find in the North American Red Men a race as much given as the Celts are to a belief in various spirits like fairies. They believe that there are spirits in lakes, in rivers and in waterfalls, in rocks and trees, in the earth and in the air; and that these beings produce storms, droughts, good and bad harvests, abundance and scarcity of game, disease, and the varying fortunes of men.

Mr. Leland, who has carefully studied these American beliefs, says that the Un à games-suk, or little spirits inhabiting rocks and streams, play a much more influential part in the social and religious life of the North American Red Men than elves or fairies ever did among the Aryans. . . .

(1) R. H. Codrington, Journ. Anthrop. Inst. x. 261; The Melanesians (Oxford, 1891), pp. 123, 151, etc.; also cf. F. W. Christian, The Caroline Islands (London, 1899), pp. 281 ff., etc.

(2) C. G. Leland, Memoirs (London, 1893), i. 34.


A friend who is a member of Lincoln College, Oxford, Mr. Mohammed Said Loutfy, of Barkein, Lower Egypt, has come into frequent and very intimate contact with animistic beliefs in his country. He tells me that they are common to all classes of almost all races in modern Egypt. The common Egyptian spellings are afreet, in the singular, and afaarect in the plural, for spiritual beings, who are usually described by percipients as of pygmy stature, but as being able to assume various sizes and shapes. The djinns, on the contrary, are described as tall spiritual beings possessing great power.

The Fairy-Folk of Modern Greece

"The nereids are conceived as women half-divine yet not immortal, always young, always beautiful, capricious at best, and at their worst cruel. Their presence is suspected everywhere. I myself had a nereid pointed out to me by my guide, and there certainly was the semblance of a female figure draped in white, and tall beyond human stature, flitting in the dusk between the gnarled and twisted boles of an old olive-yard. What the apparition was, I had no leisure to investigate; for my guide with many signs of the cross and muttered invocations of the Virgin urged my mule to perilous haste along the rough mountain path." (1)

(1) J. C. Lawson, Modern Greek folklore (Cambridge, 1910), pp. 131-7, 139-46,163.

The Lele

Among the Roumain peoples the widespread belief in the lele shows in other ways equally marked parallels with the Fairy-Faith of the Celts. These lele wait at cross-roads and near dwellings, or at village fountains or in fields and woods, where they can best cast on men and women various maladies. Sometimes they fall in love with beautiful young men and women, and have on such occasions even been controlled by their mortal lovers. They are extremely fond of music and dancing, and many a shepherd with his pipes has been favoured by them, though they have their own music and songs too.

The Albanian peoples have evil fairies, no taller than children twelve years old . . . [and] who correspond to the lele. Young people who have been enticed to enter their round dance afterwards waste away and die, apparently becoming one of "those without". These Albanian spirits, like the "good people" and the Breton dead, have their own particular paths and retreats, and whoever violates these is struck and falls ill."

The lele seem nothing more than the nymphs and nereids of classical antiquity transformed under Christian influence into beings who contradict their original good character, as in Celtic lands the fairy-folk have likewise come to be fallen angels and evil spirits. (1)

(1) L. Sainéan, Les Fées méchantes d"apris les croyances du peuple roumain, in Mélusine, x. 217-26, 243-54.

Latin Fays

There is an even closer relationship between the Italian and Celtic fairies. For example, among the Etruscan-Roman people there are now flourishing animistic beliefs almost identical in all details with the Fairy-Faith of the Celts. (1) In a very valuable study on the Neo-Latin Fay, Mr. H. C. Coote writes:

"Who were the Fays — the fate of later Italy, the fées of mediaeval France? For it is perfectly clear that the fatua, fata, and fée are all one and the same word." And he proceeds to show that the race of immortal damsels whom the old natives of Italy called Fatuae gave origin to all the family of fées as these appear in Latin countries, and that the Italians recognized in the Greek nymphs their own Fatuae. (2)

It is quite evident that we have here discovered in Italy, as we discovered in Greece and Roumain lands, fairies very Celtic in character; and should further examination be made of modern European folklore yet other similar fairies would be found, such, for example, as the elves of Germany and of Scandinavia -

In sum: Belief in spirits separable from physical bodies

And in all cases, whether the beliefs examined be Celtic or non-Celtic, Aryan or non-Aryan, from Australia, Polynesia, Africa, America, Asia, or Europe, they are in essence the same, The parallelism of these beliefs is indicated, and considerable. The ground of comparison consists simply in those generic characteristics display. They show belief in spirits that are separable from bodily-physical existence

(1) Cf. C. G. Leland, Etruscan Roman Remains in Pop. Trad. (London, 1892), pp. 162, 165, 223, etc.

(2) H. C. Coote, The Neo-Latin Fay, in folklore Record, ii. 1-18.

Shaping Influence of Social Psychology

having a mind absolutely ethnic individuality in which they live, move, and have their being. On the one hand there is shown, even in the mere handful of non-Celtic parallels, as well as in their Celtic equivalents, a generic element common to all peoples living under primitive conditions of society. The Celtic peoples — their patriotism, their peculiar type of imagination, their costumes, amusements, household life, and social and religious customs we may proceed to examine as manifested Fairy-Faith.

The Smallness of Elvish Spirits and Fairies

Ethnological or Pygmy Theory

The Fairy investigation relates to both and Druids and Mound-Dwellers - The neolithic races of Central Europe were not true pygmies — There could be some sort of folk-memory of Lappish, Pictish, or other small but not true pygmy races - And three are contemporary pygmy races, far removed from Celtic lands.

(1) J.G. Campbell, The Fians (London, 1891), p. 239. An Irish dwarf is minutely described in Silva Gadelica (ii. 116), O'Grady's translation. Again, in Malory's Morte D'Arthur (B. XII. cc. i-ii) a dwarf is mentioned.

Animistic Theory

Leprechauns and similar dwarfish beings are not due to a folk-memory of a real pygmy race, they are spirits like elves, and that the folk-memory of a Lappish-like people (who may have been Picts) evidently was confused with them an other-world tale impossible for us.(4)

(1) Campbell, The Fians, p. 265.

(2) S. H.. O'Grady, Silva Gadelica (Loadon, 1892), ii, 199

(3) Commentary on the Senchas Mér,i. 70-1 Stokes's translation in Rev. Celt., i. 256-7.

(4) Sir John Rhys, Hibbert Lectures (London, 1888), p. 592. Dwarfs supernatural in character also appear in the Mabinogion, and one of them is an attendant on King Arthur. In Béroul's Tristan, Frocin, a dwarf, is skilled in astrology and magic, and in the version by Thomas we find a similar reference.

The Missouri Pygmies

there are very many parallel traditions, both Celtic and non-Celtic, about various classes of spirits, like leprechauns or other small elvish beings, which Dr. Tylor has called nature-spirits; (1) in Celtic lands) there is no proof of there ever having been an actual dwarf race, Lewis and Clark, in their Travels to the Source of the Missouri River, found among the Sioux a tradition that a hill near the Whitestone River, which the Red Men called the 'mountain of Little People" or " Little Spirits", was inhabited by pygmy demons in human form, about eighteen inches tall, armed with sharp arrows, and ever on the alert to kill mortals who should dare to invade their domain. So afraid were all the tribes of Red Men who lived near the mountain of these little spirits that no one of them could be induced to visit it. (2) And we may compare this American spirit-haunted hill with similar natural hills in Scotland said to be fairy knolls: one near the turning of a road from Reay Wick to Safester, Isle of Unst; (3) one the well-known fairy-haunted Tomnahurich, near Inverness; (3) and a third, the hill at Aberfoyle on which the "people of peace" took the Rev. Robert Kirk when he profaned it by walking on it; or we may equate the American bill with the fairy-haunted Slieve Gullion and Ben Bulbin in Ireland.

The Iroquois had a belief that they could summon dwarfs, who were similar nature-spirits, by knocking on a certain large stone. (4)

(1) Tylor, Prim. Cult., i. 385.

(2) Cf. Windle, op. Cit., Intro., p. 57.

(3) Hunt, Anthrop. Mems., ii. 294; cf. Windle, op. cit., Intro., p. 57.

(4) Smith, Myths of the Iroquois, in Amer. Bur. Eth., ii. 65.

With the Hairy Ainu

In Yezo and the Kurile Islands of Japan still survive a few of the hairy Ainu, a Caucasian-like, under-sized race. Their immediate predecessors, whom they exterminated, were a Negrito race, who, according to some traditions, were two to three feet in stature, and, according to other traditions, only one inch in stature. (1) This surviving pygmy race seems independently to have evolved a belief in ghosts and spirits.

(1) A. H. S. Landor, Alone with the Hairy Ainu (London, 1893), p. 251; also Windle, op. cit., Intro., pp. 22-4.

Alchemical and Mystical Theory

spirits of pygmy-like form is the most important in this present discussion. Those inhabiting the air are called Sylphs. These Sylphs, commonly described as little spirits like pygmies in form, correspond to most of the fairies who are not of the Tuatha De Danann or" gentry" type, and who as a race are beautiful and graceful. They are quite like the fairies in Shakespeare's Midsummer-Night's Dream; and especially like the aerials in The Tempest, which, according to Mr. Morton Luce, a commentator on the drama, seem to have been shaped by Shakespeare from his knowledge of Rosicrucian occultism, Those inhabiting the water are called Undines, and correspond exactly to the fairies who live in sacred fountains, lakes, or rivers. And the fourth kind, those inhabiting the fire, are called Salamanders, and seldom appear in the Celtic Fairy-Faith: they are supreme in the elementary hierarchies. All these Elementals, who procreate after the manner of men, are said to have bodies of an elastic half-material essence, which is sufficiently ethereal not to be visible to the physical sight. Mr. W. B. Yeats says: "Do not think the fairies are always little. Everything is capricious about them, even their size. They seem to take what size or shape pleases them." (1)

In The Celtic Twilight Mr. Yeats makes the statement that the "fairies in Ireland are sometimes as big as we are, sometimes bigger, and sometimes, as I have been told, about three feet high." (2)

(1) W. B. Yeats, Irish Fairy and Folk-Tales (London), p. 2.

(2) W. B. Yeats, The Celtic Twilight (London, 1902), p. 92 n.

Mrs. X, a cultured Irishwoman has had visions of fairy beings in Ireland, and she describes them chiefly according to their stature, as follows:

  1. There are the sorrowful Gnomes of the earth. [They live in the earth and usually guard treasure and mines - M-W, Ebu "gnome"]. They have rather round heads and dark thick-set bodies, and in stature were about two and one-half feet.
  2. The Leprechauns are full of mischief. They, too, are small. I followed a leprechaun had a very merry face, and beckoned to me with his finger.
  3. A third class are the Little People, who, unlike the Gnomes and Leprechauns, are quite good-looking; and they are very small.
  4. The Good People are tall beautiful beings, as tall as ourselves. They direct the magnetic currents of the earth.
  5. The Gods are really the Tuatha De Danann, much taller than our race. There may be many other classes of invisible beings which I do not know." (Recorded on October 16, 1910.)


One suggestion is that small-statured races like Lapps and Eskimos (though not necessarily true pygmy races, of whose existence in Europe there is no proof available) did once inhabit lands where there are Celts . . Or, an alternative hypothesis is that the smallness of elves and fairies is due to their own nature, because they actually exist as invisible tribes of non-human beings of pygmy size and form.

Kidnap Theory

Mr. David MacRitchie is supporting his own Pygmy Theory concerning changelings. (2)

(2) David MacRitchie, Druids and Mound Dwellers, in Celtic Review (January 1910); and his Testimony of Tradition.

Human-Sacrifice Theory

Alfred Nutt advanced a theory, which anticipated one part of our own, that "the changeling story is found to be connected with the antique conception of life and sacrifice". And he wrote: "It is at least possible." (1)

We consider it highly probable that the theory helps to explain particular aspects of the complex tradition.

Thus, the Mexicans believed that the souls of all sacrificed children went to live with the god Tialoc in his heaven-world. (2) European belief: Extinguished life in this world is transmitted to the world of the gods, spirits, and the dead.

(1) K. Meyer and A. Nutt, Voyage of Bran (London, 1895—7), ii. 231-2.

(2) Cf. Tylor, Prim. Cult." ii. 61.

Soul-Wandering Theory

When a Motlav child sneezes, the mother will cry, "Let him come back into the world! let him remain." Under similar circumstances in Mota, the cry is, "Live; roll back to us!" The notion is that a ghost is drawing a child's soul away."

If the child falls ill the attempt has succeeded, and a wizard throws himself into a trance and goes to the ghost-world to bring the child's soul back. (1)

Throughout Melanesia sickness is generally attributed to the soul's absence from the body. (2)

(1) Codrington, The Melanesians, pp. 226, 208 - 9.

(2) lb., p. 194. (7) Cf. Crawley, Idea of the Soul, chap. iv.

Demon-Possession Theory

A Manner of Mediumship

Dr. Nevius has observed in China, where the phenomena of possesion with such as change of voice are common, the change of character is in the direction of immorality, frequently in strong contrast with the character of the subject under normal conditions, and is often accompanied by paroxysms and contortions of the body, as I have often been solemnly assured by Celts is the case in a changeling. (See M. Le Scour's account on page 198, of three changelings that he saw in one family in Finistère; and compare what is said about fairy changelings in Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales, and Cornwall.)

(1) For a thorough and scientific discussion of this matter, see J. L. Nevius, Demon Possession (London, 1897)

Changed by Fairies

When a child has been changed by fairies, (a changeling has been made). Watch out, it happens when babe is asleep in its cradle at night, or during the day when it is left alone for a short time. A parallell: The Chinese demon enters into and takes complete possession of the child's body. The Chinese child-soul is then unable to return into its body until some kind of magical ceremony or exorcism expels the possessing demon; and through precisely similar methods, often aided by Christian priests, Celts cure changelings made by fairies, pixies, and corrigans:

"To avert the calamity of nursing a demon, dried banana-skin is burnt to ashes, which are then mixed with water. Into this the mother dips her finger and paints a cross on the sleeping babe's forehead. In a short time the demon soul returns — for the soul wanders from the body during sleep and is free — but, failing to recognize the body thus disguised, flies off. The true soul, which has been waiting for an opportunity, now approaches the dormant body, and, if the mark has been washed off in time, takes possession of it; but if not, it, like the demon, failing to recognize the body, departs, and the child dies in its sleep." (1)

(1) N. G. Mitchell-Innes, Birth, Marriage, and Death Rites of the Chinese, in folklore Journ., v. 225. Very curiously, the pagan Chinese mother uses the sign of the cross against the demon as Celtic mothers use it against fairies; and no exorcism by Catholic or Protestant to cure a fairy changeling or to drive out possessing demons is ever performed without this world-wide and pre-Christian sign of the cross (see pp. 270 – 1).

an old and wizened countenance, there is neither a changed personality nor demon-possession, but simply some abnormal physical or mental condition, in the nature of cretinism, atrophy, marasmus, or arrested development. There is now living a dwarf Breton whom I have photographed and talked with. He once said to me with a kind of pathetic protest, "Did M.— tell you that I am a demon?" h3>Conclusion

In [some variants of] human sacrifice men do voluntarily and for specific religious ends what various kinds of fairies or spirits would do without human intervention and often maliciously.

Celts regard strange maladies in children and in adults as the result of fairy interference. And to no Celt is death in early life a natural thing: if it comes to a child or to a beautiful youth in any way whatsoever, the fairies have taken what they coveted, as the Tuatha De Danann took the great heroes of the ancient Celts to the Otherworld or Avalon. Modern fairies abduct brides and young mothers, and bridegrooms or other attractive young men whom they wish to have with them in Fairyland (see our chapters iv—vi).

The changeling: The soggy idea of fairy exchange is not purely Celtic — there seems to be still another influence apart from human sacrifice, soul-abductions, demon or fairy-possession, and disease; namely, a greatly corrupted Fairy-Faith.

Magic and Witchcraft

Witchcraft is assumed to be a part of magic.

Theories of Modern Anthropologists

it probable that the essence of the magician's supernormal power lies in what Melanesians call mana." (1) Mr. Marett's theory would amount to saying that magicians are able to produce magical effects because they are able to control this 'soul-stuff"; and our evidence would regard all spirits and fairies as portions of such universally diffused mana, 'soul-stuff". Moreover, in essence, such an idea of magic coincides, when carefully examined, with what ancient thinkers like Plato, lamblichus, the Neo-Platonists generally, and mediaeval magicians like Paracelsus and Eliphas Levi, called magic; and agrees with ancient Celtic magic — judging from what Roman historians have recorded concerning it, and from Celtic manuscripts themselves.

(1) R. R. Marett, The Threshold of Religion (London, 1909), p. 58, etc.; p. 67.

Among the Ancients (1)

Among the more cultured Greeks and Romans — and the same can be said of most great nations of antiquity — it was an unquestioned belief that innumerable gods, placed in hierarchies, form part of an unbroken spiritual chain at the lowest end of which stands man, and at the highest the incomprehensible Supreme Deity. These gods, having their abodes throughout the Universe, act as the agents of the Unknown God, directing the operation of His cosmic laws and animating every star and planet. Inferior to these gods, and to man also, the ancients believed there to be innumerable hosts of invisible beings, called by them daemons, who, acting as the servants of the gods, control, and thus in a secondary sense create, all the minor phenomena of inanimate and animate nature, such as tempests, atmospheric disturbances generally, the failure of crops or their abundance, maladies and their cure, good and evil passions in men, wars and peace, and all the blessings and curses which affect the purely human life.

(1) See Apuleius, De Deo Socratis; Cicero, De Natura Deorum (lib. i); lamblichus, Dc Mysteriis Aegypt., Chaldaeor., Assyrior.; Plato, Timaeus, Symposium, Politicus, Republic, ii. iii. x; Plutarch, De Defectu Oraculorum, The Daemon of Socrates, Isis and Osiris; Proclus, Commentarius in Platonis Alcibiadem.

Man, being of the god-race and thus superior to these lower, servile entities, could, like the gods, control them if adept in the magical sciences; for ancient Magic, about which so much has been written and about which so little has been understood by most people in ancient, mediaeval, and modern times, is according to the wisest ancients nothing more than the controlling of daemons, shades, and all sorts of secondary spirits or elementals by men specially trained for that purpose. Sufficient records are extant to make it evident that the fundamental training of Egyptian, Indian, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, and Druid priests was in the magical or occult sciences. Pliny, in his Natural History, says: "And today Britain practises the art [of magic] with religious awe and with so many ceremonies that it might seem to have made the art known to the Persians."(1) Herein, then, is direct evidence that the Celtic Fairy-Faith, considered in its true psychic nature, has been immediately shaped by the ancient Celtic religion; and, as our witness from the Isle of Skye so clearly set forth, that it originated among a cultured class of the Celts more than among the peasants. And, in accordance with this evidence, Professor Georges Dottin, who has made a special study of the historical records concerning Druidism, writes:

"The Druids of Ireland appear to us above all as magicians and prophets. They foretell the future, they interpret the secret will of the fées (fairies), they cast lots."

"Thus, in spite of the popular and Christian reshaping which the belief in fairies has had to endure, its origin is easily enough discerned even in its modern form, covered over though this is with accretions foreign to its primal character.

Magic was the supreme science because it raised its adepts out of the ordinary levels of humanity to a close relationship with the gods and creative powers. Nor was it a science to be had for the asking, "for many were the wand-bearers and few the chosen."

Roman writers tell us that neophytes for the druidic priesthood often spent twenty years in severe study and training before being deemed fit to be called Druids. We need not, however, in this study enter into an exposition of the ordeals and trials of candidates seeking magical training, or else initiation into the Mysteries. There were always two schools to which they could apply, directly opposed in their government and policy—the school of white magic and the school of black magic; the former being a school in which magical powers were used in religious rites and always for good ends, the latter a school in which all magical powers were used for wholly selfish and evil ends. In both schools the preliminary training was the same; that is to say, the first thing taught to the neophyte was self-control. When he proved himself absolutely his own master, when his teachers were certain that he could not be dominated by another will or by any outside or psychic influence, then for the first time he was permitted to exercise his own iron will in controlling daemons, ghosts, and all the elemental hosts of the air—either as a white magician or as a black magician. (2)

(1) Pliny, Natural History, xxx. 14.

(2) Cf. G. Dottin, La Religion des Celtes (Paris, 1904), p. 44. - The neo-platonists generally, including Porphyry, Julian, Iamblichus, and Maximus, being persuaded of man's power to call up and control spirits, called white magic theurgy, or the invoking of good spirits, and the reverse goety, or the calling up and controlling of evil spirits for criminal purposes. Cf. F. Lélut, Du Démon de Socrate (Paris, 1836).

If white magic be correlated with religion as religion is popularly conceived, namely the cult of supernatural powers friendly to man, and black magic be correlated with magic as magic tends to be popularly conceived, namely witchcraft and devil-worship, we have a satisfactory historical and logical basis for making a distinction between religion and magic; religion (including white magic) is a social good, magic (black magic) is a social evil. Such a distinction as Dr. Frazer makes is untenable within the field of true magic.

The magical sciences taught (an idea which still holds its ground, as one can discover in modern India) that by formulas of invocation, by chants, by magic sounds, by music, these invisible beings can be made to obey the will of the magician even as they obey the will of the gods. The calling up of the dead and talking with them is called necromancy; the foretelling through spiritual agency and otherwise of coming events or things hidden, like the outcome of a battle, is called divination; the employment of charms against children so as to prevent their growing is known as fascination; to cause any ill fortune or death to fall on another person by magic is sorcery; to excite the sexual passions of man or woman, magical mixtures called philtres are used. Almost all these definitions apply to the practices of black magic. But the great schools known as the Mysteries were of white magic, in so far as they practised the art; and such men as Pythagoras, Plato, and Aeschylus, who are supposed to have been initiated into them, always held them in the highest reverence, though prohibited from directly communicating anything of their esoteric teachings concerning the origin and destiny of man, the nature of the gods, and the constitution of the universe and its laws.

In Plato's Banquet the power or function of the daemonic element in nature is explained. Socrates asks of the prophetess Diotima what is the power of the daemonic element (personified as Love for the purposes of the argument), and she replies: "He interprets between gods and men, conveying and taking across to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophets and priests, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all prophecy and incantation find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through the daemonic element (or Love) all the intercourse and converse of God with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual." (1)

(1) Cf. B. Jowett, Dialogues of Plato (Oxford, 1892), i. 573.

Among the Ancient Celts

If we turn now directly to Celtic magic in ancient times, we discover that the testimony of Pliny is curiously confirmed by Celtic manuscripts, chiefly Irish ones, and that then, as now, witchcraft and fairy powers over men and women are indistinguishable in their general character. Thus, in the Echtra Condla, "the Adventures of Connla," the fairy woman says of Druidism and magic: "Druidism is not loved, little has it progressed to honour on the Great Strand. When his law shall come it will scatter the charms of Druids from journeying on the lips of black, lying demons " — so characterized by the Christian transcribers. (1) In How Fionn Found his Missing Men, an ancient tale preserved by oral tradition until recorded by Campbell, it is said that" Fionn then went out with Bran (his fairy dog). There were millions of people (apparitions) out before him, called up by some sleight of hand ".(2) In the Leabhar na h-Uidre, or "Book of the Dun Cow" (p. 43 a), compiled from older manuscripts about A. D. 1100, there is a clear example of Irish fetishism based on belief in the power of demons:." . . for their swords used to turn against them (the Ulstermen) when they made a false trophy. Reasonable [was] this; for demons used to speak to them from their arms, so that hence their arms were safeguards." (3)

(1) Cf. Meyer and Nutt, Voyage of Bran (London, 1895 - 7), i. i46. (2) Campbell, The Fians, p. 195. (3) Cf. Stokes's trans. in Rev. Celt., i. 261.

Shape-shifting quite after the fairy fashion is very frequently met with in old Celtic literature. Thus, in the Rennes Dinnshenchas there is this passage showing that spirits or fairies were regarded as necessary for the employment of magic: "Folks were envious of them (Faifne the poet and his sister Aige): so they loosed elves at them who transformed Aige into a fawn" (the form assumed by the fairy mother of Oisin, see p. 299 n.)," and sent her on a circuit all round Ireland, and the fians of Meilge son of Cobthach, king of Ireland, killed her." (1)

A fact which ought to be noted in this connexion is that kings or great heroes, rather than ordinary men and women, are very commonly described as being able to shift their own shape, or that of other people; e. g. " Mongan took on himself the shape of Tibraide, and gave Mac an Daimh the shape of the cleric, with a large tonsure on his head." (2) And when this fact is coupled with another, namely the ancient belief that such kings and great heroes were incarnations and reincarnations of the Tuatha De Danann, who form the supreme fairy hierarchy, we realize that, having such an origin, they were simply exercising in human bodies powers which their divine race exercise over men from the fairy world (see our chapter iv).

In Brythonic literature and mythology, magic and witchcraft with the same animistic character play as great or even a greater role than in Gaelic literature and mythology. This is especially true with respect to the Arthurian Legend, and to the Mabinogion, some of which tales are regarded by scholars as versions of Irish ones. Sir John Rhys and Professor J. Loth, who have been the chief translators of the Mabinogion, consider their chief literary machinery to be magic (see our chapter v).

(2) Cf. Stokes's trans. in Rev. Celt., xv. 307. (2) From the Conception of Mongan, cf. Meyer, Voyage of Bran, i. 77.

So far it ought to be clear that Celtic magic contains much animism in its composition, and that these few illustrations of it, selected from numerous illustrations in the ancient Fairy-Faith, confirm Pliny's independent testimony that in his age the Britons seemed capable of instructing even the Persians themselves in the magical arts.

European and American Witchcraft

In a general way, the history of witchcraft in Europe and in the American colonies is supplementary to what has already been said, seeing that it is an offshoot of mediaeval magic, which in turn is an offshoot of ancient magic. Witchcraft in the West, in probably a majority of cases, is a mere fabric of absurd superstitions and practices — as it is shown to be by the evidence brought out in so many of the horrible legal and ecclesiastical processes conducted against helpless and eccentric old people, and other men and women, including the young, often for the sake of private revenge, and generally on no better foundation than hearsay and false accusations, In the remaining instances it undoubtedly arose, as ancient witchcraft (black magic) seems to have arisen, through the infiltration of occult knowledge into uneducated and often criminally inclined minds, so that what had formerly been secretly guarded among the learned, and generally used for legitimate ends, degenerated in the hands of the unfit into black magic. In our own age, a parallel development, which adequately illustrates our subject of inquiry, has taken place in the United States: fragments of magical lore bequeathed by Mesmer and his immediate predecessors, the alchemists, were practically and honestly applied to the practice of magnetic healing and healing through mental suggestion by a small group of practitioners in Massachusetts, and then with much ingenuity and real genius were applied by Mary Baker Eddy to the interpretation of miraculous healing by Jesus Christ. Hence arose a new religion called Christian Science. But this religious movement did not stop at mental healing: according to published reports, during the years 1908 - 9 the leader of the New York First Church of Christ, Scientist, was deposed, and, with certain of her close associates, was charged with having projected daily against the late Mrs. Eddy's adjutant a current of 'malicious animal magnetism" from New York to Boston, in order to bring about his death. The process is said to have been for the deposed leader and her friends to sit together in a darkened room with their eyes closed. "Then one of them would say:

"You all know Mr. —. You all know that his place is in the darkness from where he came. If his place is six feet under ground, that is where he should be." Then all present would concentrate their minds on the one thought — Mr. — and six feet under ground." And this practice is supposed to have been kept up for days. Mrs. —, who gives this testimony, is a friend of the victim, and she asserts that these evil thought-waves slowly but surely began his effacement, and that had the black magicians down in New York not been discovered in time, Mr. — could not have withstood the forces."

Perhaps so enlightened a country as the United States may in time see history repeat itself, and add a new chapter to witchcraft; for the true witches were not the kind who are popularly supposed to ride on broomsticks and to keep a house full of black cats, and the sooner this is recognized the better.

According to this aspect of Christian Science, 'malicious animal magnetism" (or black magic), an embodied spirit, i.e. a man or woman, possesses and can employ the same magical powers as a disembodied spirit — or, as the Celts would say, the same magical powers as a fairy — casting spells, and producing disease and death in the victim. And this view coincides with ordinary witchcraft theories; for witches have been variously defined as embodied spirits who have ability to act in conjunction with disembodied spirits through the employment of various occult forces, e.g. forces comparable to Mesmer's odic forces, to the Melanesian mana, or to the 'soul-stuff" postulated by William James, or, as Celts think, to forces focused in fairies themselves. So, also, according to Mr. Marett's view, there is a state of rapport between the victim and the magician or witch; and where such a state of rapport exists there is some mana like force passing between the two poles of the magical circuit, whether it be only unconscious mental or electrical force emanating from the operator, or an extraneous force brought under control and concentrated in some such conscious unit as we designate by the term 'spirit", "devil", or " fairy". (1)

(1) Quoted and summarized from Projectors of 'malicious Animal Magnetism", in Literary Digest, xxxix. No. 17, pp. 676—7 (New York and London, October 23, 1909).

In conformity with this psychical or animistic view of witchcraft, in the Capital Code of Connecticut (A. D. 1642) a witch is defined as one who "hath or consorteth with a familiar spirit " (1)

European codes, as illustrated by the sixth chapter of Lord Coke's Third Institute, have parallels to this definition: "A witch is a person which hath conference with the devil; to consult with him to do some act."" And on these theories, not on the broomstick and black-cat conception, were based the trials for witchcraft during the seventeenth century.

The Bible, then so frequently the last court of appeal in such matters, was found to sustain such theories about witches in the classical example of the Witch of Endor and Saul; and the idea of witchcraft in Europe and America came to be based — as it probably always had been in pagan times — on the theory that living persons could control or be controlled by disembodied spirits for evil ends. Hence all black magicians, and what are now known as 'spirit mediums", were made liable by law to the death penalty. (2)

In mediaeval Europe the great difficulty always was, as is shown in the trials of Jeanne d"Arc, to decide whether the invisible agent in magical processes, such as was imputed to the accused, was an angel or a demon. If an angel, then the accused was a saint, and might become a candidate for canonization; but if a demon, the accused was a witch, and liable to a death-sentence. The wisest old doctors of the University of Paris, who sat in judgement (or were consulted) in one of Jeanne's trials, could not fully decide this knotty problem, nor, apparently, the learned churchmen who also tried her; but evidently they all agreed that it was better to waive the question. And, finally, an innocent peasant girl who had heard Divine Voices, and who had thereby miraculously saved her king and her country, was burned at the stake, under the joint direction of English civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and, if not technically, at least practically, with the full approval of the corresponding French authorities, at Rouen, France, May 30, A. D. 1431.(3) In April, A. D. 1909, almost five centuries afterwards, it has been decided with tardy justice that Jeanne's Voices were those of angels and not of demons, and she has been made a saint.

How the case of Jeanne d"Arc bears directly on the Fairy-Faith is self-evident: One of the first questions asked by Jeanne's inquisitors was "if she had any knowledge of those who went to the Sabbath with the fairies? or if she had not assisted at the assemblies held at the fountain of the fairies, near Domremy, around which dance malignant spirits? " And another question exactly as recorded was this:" Inlerroguée s"elle croiet point au devant de aujourduy, que les fees feussent maulvais esperis: respond qu"elle n"en sçavoit rien." (4)

(1) Cf. Nevius, Demon Possession, pp. 300 – 1.

(2) For a fuller discussion of the history of witchcraft see The Superstitions of Witchcraft, by Howard Williams, London, 1865.

(3) Cf. J. Quicherat, Procès (Paris, 1845), passim.

(4) Ib., i. 178.


Finally, we may say that what medicine-men are to American Indians, to Polynesians, Australians, Africans, Eskimos, and many other contemporary races, or what the mightier magicians of modern India are to their people, the " fairy-doctors" and " charmers" of Ireland, Scotland, and Man are to the Gaels, and the "Dynion Hysbys" or "Wise Men" of Wales, the witches of Cornwall, and the seers, sorceresses, and exorcists of Brittany are to the Brythons. These Gaelic and Brythonic magicians and witches, and "fairy mediums", almost invariably claim to derive their power from their ability to see and to communicate with fairies, spirits, and the dead; and they generally say that they are enabled through such spiritual agencies to reveal the past, to foretell the future, to locate lost property, to cast spells on human beings and on animals, to remove such spells, to cure fairy strokes and changelings, to perform exorcisms, and to bring people back from Fairyland.

We arrive at the following conclusion: If, as eminent psychical researchers now postulate (and as many of them believe), there are active and intelligent disembodied beings able to act psychically on embodied men in much the same way that embodied men are known ordinarily to act psychically on one another, then there is every logical and common-sense reason for extending this psychical hypothesis so as to include the ancient, mediaeval, and modern theory of magic and witchcraft, namely, that what embodied men and women can do in magical ways, as for example in hypnotism, disembodied men and women can do. Further, if fairies, in accord with reliable testimony from educated and critical percipients, hypothetically exist (whatever their nature may be), they may be possessed of magical powers of the same sort, and so can cast spells on or possess living human beings as Celts believe and assert. And this hypothesis coincides in most essentials with the one we used as a basis for this discussion, that, in accordance with the Melanesian doctrine of control of ghosts and spirits with their inherent mana, magical acts are possible. (1) This in turn applied to the Celts amounts to a hypothetical confirmation of the ancient druidical doctrine that through control of fairies or demons (daemons) Druids or magicians could control the weather and natural phenomena connected with vegetable and animal processes, could cast spells, could divine the future, could execute all magical acts.

(1) Codrington, The Melananesians, pp. 127, 200, 202-3 ff.


According to the testimony of anthropology, exorcism as a religious practice has always flourished wherever animistic beliefs have furnished it with the necessary environment; and not only has exorcism been a fundamental part of religious practices in past ages, but it is so at the present day. Among Christians, Celtic and non-Celtic, among followers of all the great historical religions, and especially among East Indians, Chinese, American Red Men, Polynesians, and most Africans, the expelling of demons from men and women, from animals, from inanimate objects, and from places, is sanctioned by well-established rituals. Exorcism as applied to the human race is thus defined in the Dictionnaire de Théologie (Roman Catholic) by L"Abbé Bergier: "Exorcism — conjuration, prayer to God, and command given to the demon to depart from the body of persons possessed." The same authority thus logically defends its practice by the Church: "Far from condemning the opinion of the Jews, who attributed to the demon certain maladies, that divine Master confirmed it." (1) And whenever exorcism of this character has been or is now generally practised, the professional exorcist appears as a personage just as necessary to society as the modern doctor, since nearly all diseases were and to some extent are still, both among Christians and non-Christians, very often thought to be the result of demon-possession.

(1) Bergier, Dict. de Théol. (Paris, 1848), ii. 541-2, etc.

When we come to the dawn of the Christian period in Ireland and in Scotland, we see Patrick and Columba, the first and greatest of the Gaelic missionaries, very extensively practising exorcism; and there is every reason to believe (though the data available on this point are somewhat unsatisfactory) that their wide practice of exorcism was quite as much a Christian adaptation of pre-Christian Celtic exorcism, such as the Druids practised, as it was a continuation of New Testament tradition. We may now present certain of the data which tend to verify this supposition, and by means of them we shall be led to realize how fundamentally such an animistic practice as exorcism must have shaped the Fairy-Faith of the Celts, both before and after the coming of Christianity.

"Once on a time," so the tale runs about Patrick, "his foster-mother went to milk the cow. He also went with her to drink a draught of new milk. Then the cow goes mad in the byre and killed five other kine: a demon, namely, entered her. There was great sadness on his foster-mother, and she told him to bring the kine back to life. Then he brought the kine to life, so that they were whole, and he cured the mad one. So God's name and Patrick's were magnified thereby."

On another occasion, when demons came to Ireland in the form of black birds, quite after the manner of the Irish belief that fairies assume the form of crows (see pp. 302 - 5), the Celtic ire of Patrick was so aroused in trying to exorcize them out of the country that he threw his bell at them with such violence that it was cracked, and then he wept: "Now at the end of those forty days and forty nights" [of Patrick's long fast on the summit of Cruachan Aigle or Croagh Patrick, Ireland's Holy Mountain] "the mountain was filled with black birds, so that he knew not heaven or earth. He sang maledictive psalms at them. They left him not because of this. Then his anger grew against them. He strikes his bell at them, so that the men of Ireland heard its voice, and he flung it at them, so that a gap broke out of it, and that [bell] is "Brigit's Gapling ". Then Patrick weeps till his face and his chasuble in front of him were wet. No demon came to the land of Erin after that till the end of seven years and seven months and seven days and seven nights. Then the angel went to console Patrick and cleansed the chasuble, and brought white birds round the Rick, and they used to sing sweet melodies for him." (1)

In Adamnan's Life of S. Columba it is said that "according to custom", which in all probability was established in pagan times by the Druids and then maintained by their Christian descendants, it was usual to exorcize even a milk vessel before milking, and the milk in it afterwards. (2)

(1) W. Stokes, Tripartite Life (London, 1887), pp. 13, 115.

(2) I am personally indebted to Dr. W. J. Watson, of Edinburgh, for having directed my attention to this curious passage, and for having pointed out its probable significance in relation to druidical practices.

Thus Adamnan tells us that one day a youth, Columban by name, when he had finished milking, went to the door of St. Columba's cell carrying the pail full of new milk that, according to custom, the saint might exorcize it.

When the holy man had made the sign of the cross in the air, the air "was greatly agitated, and the bar of the lid, driven through its two holes, was shot away to some distance; the lid fell to the ground, and most of the milk was spilled on the soil."

Then the saint chided the youth, saying: "Thou hast done carelessly in thy work today; for thou hast not cast out the demon that was lurking in the bottom of the empty pail, by tracing on it, before pouring in the milk, the sign of the Lord's cross; and now not enduring, thou seest, the virtue of the sign, he has quickly fled away in terror, while at the same time the whole of the vessel has been violently shaken, and the milk spilled. Bring then the pail nearer to me, that I may bless it."

When the half-empty pail was blessed, in the same moment it was refilled with milk.

At another time, the saint, to destroy the practice of sorcery, commanded Silnan, a peasant sorcerer, to draw a vessel full of milk from a bull; and by his diabolical art Silnan drew the milk.

Then Columba took it and said: "Now it shall be proved that this, which is supposed to be true milk, is not so, but is blood deprived of its colour by the fraud of demons to deceive men; and straightway the milky colour was turned into its own proper quality, that is, into blood."

And it is added that "The bull also, which for the space of one hour was at death's door, wasting and worn by a horrible emaciation, in being sprinkled with water blessed by the Saint, was cured with wonderful rapidity." (1)

(1) Adamnan, Life of S. Columba, B. II, cc. xvi, xvii.

And today, as in the times of Patrick and Columba, exorcism is practised in Ireland and in the Western Hebrides of Scotland by the clergy of the Roman Church against fairies, demons, or evil spirits, when a person is possessed by them — that is to say, "fairy-struck," or when they have entered into some house or place; and on the Scotch mainland individual Protestants have been known to practise it. A haunted house at Balechan, Perthshire, in which certain members of the Psychical Research Society had taken up summer quarters to "investigate", was exorcized by the late Archbishop of Edinburgh, assisted by a priest from the Outer Isles. (1)

Among the nine orders of the Irish ecclesiastical organization of Patrick's time, one was composed of exorcists. (2) The official ceremony for the ordination of an exorcist in the Latin Church was established by the Fourth Council of Carthage, and is indicated in nearly all the ancient rituals. It consists in the bishop giving to the candidate the book of exorcisms and saying as he does so: "Receive and understand this book, and have the power of laying hands on demoniacs, whether they be baptized, or whether they be catechumens." (3) By a decree of the Church Council of Orange, making men possessed of a demon ineligible to enter the priesthood, it would seem that the number of demoniacs must have been very great. (3) As to the efficacy of exorcisms, the church Fathers during the first four centuries, when the Platonic philosophy was most influential in Christianity, are agreed. (3)

(1) For this fact I am personally indebted to Mrs. W. J. Watson, of Edinburgh. (2) Stokes, Tripartite Life, pp. clxxx, 303, 305; from Book of Armagh, fo. 9, A 2, and fo. 9, B 2. (3) Bergier, Dict. de Théol.,ii. 545, 431, 233.

In estimating the shaping influences, designated by us as fundamental, which undoubtedly were exerted on the Fairy-Faith through the practice of exorcism, it is necessary to realize that this animistic practice holds a very important position in the Christian religion which for centuries the Celtic peoples have professed. One of the two chief sacraments of Christianity, that of Baptism, is preceded by a definitely recognized exorcism, as shown in the Roman Ritual, where we can best study it. In the Exhortation preceding the rite the infant is called a slave of the demon, and by baptism is to be set free. The salt which is placed in the mouth of the infant by the priest during the ceremony has first been exorcized by special rites. Then there follows before the entrance to the baptismal font a regular exorcism pronounced over the child: the priest taking some of his own saliva on the thumb of his right hand, touches the child's ears and nostrils, and commands the demon to depart out of the child. After this part of the ceremony is finished, the priest makes on the child's forehead a sign of the cross with holy oil. Finally, in due order, comes the actual baptism. (1) And even after baptismal rites have expelled all possessing demons, precautions are necessary against a repossession: St. Augustine has said that exorcisms of precaution ought to be performed over every Christian daily; and it appears that faithful Roman Catholics who each day employ holy water in making the sign of the cross, and all Protestants who pray "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil", are employing such exorcisms: (2) St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes, "Arm yourself with the sign of the cross which the demons fear, and before which they take their flight " (3); and by the same sign, said St. Athanasius, "All the illusions of the demon are dissipated and all his snares destroyed." (4)

(1) See Instruction sur le Rituel, par l'Eveque de Toulon, iii. 1 - 16. "In the Greek rite (of baptism), the priest breathes thrice on the catechumen's mouth, forehead, and breast, praying that every unclean spirit may be expelled." — W. Bright, Canons of First Four General Councils (Oxford, 1892), p. 122. (2) Cf. Godescard, Vies des Saints (Paris, 1835), xiii. 254 - 66. (3) De Incarnatione Verbi (ed. Ben.), i. 88; cf. Godescard, op. cit., xiii. 254 - 66. (4) Godescard, Vies des Saints, xiii. 263 - 4.

An eminent Catholic theologian asserts that saints who, since the time of Jesus Christ, have been endowed with the power of working miracles, have always made use of the sign of the cross in driving out demons, in curing maladies, and in raising the dead. In the Instruction sur le Ritue, (1) it is said that water which has been blessed is particularly designed to be used against demons; in the Apostolic Constitutions, formulated near the end of the fourth century, holy water is designated as a means of purification from sin and of putting the demon to flight. (2)

(1) Par Joly de Choin, Evéque de Toulon, i. 639.

(2) Bergier, Dict. de Théol., ii. 335.

And nowadays when the priest passes through his congregation casting over them holy water, it is as an exorcism of precaution; or when as in France each mourner at a grave casts holy water over the corpse, it is undoubtedly — whether done consciously as such or not — to protect the soul of the deceased from demons who are held to have as great power over the dead as over the living. Other forms of exorcism, too, are employed. For example, in the Lebar Brecc, it is said of the Holy Scripture that By it the snares of devils and vices are expelled from every faithful one in the Church". (1)

And from all this direct testimony it seems to be clear that many of the chief practices of Christians are exorcisms, so that, like the religion of Zoroaster, the religion founded by Jesus has come to rest, at least in part, on the basic recognition of an eternal warfare between good and bad spirits for the control of Man.

The curing of diseases through Christian exorcism is by no means rare now, and it was common a few centuries ago. Thus in the eighteenth century, beginning with 1752 and till his death, Gassner, a Roman priest of Closterle, diocese of Coire, Switzerland, devoted his life to curing people of possessions, declaring that one third of all maladies are so caused, and fixed his head-quarters at Elwangen, and later at Ratisbon. His fame spread over many countries of Europe, and he is said to have made ten thousand cures solely by exorcism. (2) And not only are human ills overcome by exorcism, but also the maladies of beasts: at Carnac, on September 13, there continues to be celebrated an annual fete in honour of St. Comely, the patron saint of the country and the saint who (as his name seems to suggest) presides over domestic horned animals; and if there is a cow, or even a sheep suffering from some ailment which will not yield to medicine, its owner leads it to the church door beneath the saint's statue, and the priest blesses it, and, as he does so, casts over it the exorcizing holy water. The Church Ritual designates two forms of Benediction for such animals, one form for those who are ordinarily diseased, and another for those suffering from some contagious malady. In each ceremony there comes first the sprinkling of the animal with holy water as it stands before the priest at the church door; and then there follows in Latin a direct invocation to God to bless the animal, "to extinguish in it all diabolical powers," to defend its life, and to restore it to health. (3)

(1) Stokes, Tripartite Life, Intro., p. 262.

(2) J. E. Mirville, Des Esprits (Paris, 1853), i. 475.

(3) Instructions sur le Rituel, par Joly de Choin, iii. 276 – 7.

In 1868, according to Dr. Evans, an old cow-house in North Wales was torn down, and in its walls was found a tin box containing an exorcist's formula. The box and its enclosed manuscript had been hidden there some years previously to ward off all evil spirits and witchcraft, for evidently the cattle had been dying of some strange malady which no doctors could cure, Because of its unique nature, and as an illustration of what Welsh exorcisms must have been like, we quote the contents of the manuscripts both as to spelling and punctuation as checked by Sir John Rhys with the original, except the undecipherable symbols which come after the archangels' names:

† Lignum sanctae crisis defendat me a malis presentibus preateritus & futuris; interioribus & exterioribus †† Daniel Evans †† Omnes spiritus laudet Dominum: Mosen habent & prophetas. Exergat Deus & disipenture inimiciessus † † O Lord Jesus Christ I beseech thee to preserve me Daniel Evans; and all that I possess from the power of all evil men, women; spirits, or wizards, or hardness of heart, and this I will trust thou will do by the same power as thou didst cause the blind to see the lame to walk and they that were possesed with unclean spirits to be in their own minds Amen Amen †††† pater pater pater Noster Noster Noster aia aia aia Jesus † Christus † Messyas † Emmanuel † Soter † Sabaoth † Elohim † on † Adonay † Tetragrammaton † Ag:: † Panthon † … reaton † Agios † Jasper † Melchor † Balthasar Amen ††† ? ? ? ? etc. †† And by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Hevenly Angels being our Redeemer and Saviour from all witchcraft and from assaults of the Devil Amen † O Lord Jesus Christ I beseech thee to preserve me and all that I possess from the power of all evil men; women; spirits; or wizards past, present, or to come inward and outward Amen †† (1)

From India Mr. W. Crooke reports similar exorcisms and charms to cure and to protect cattle. (2) Thus there is employed in Northern India the Ajaypâl jantra, i. e. "the charm of the Invincible Protector," one of "Vishnu's titles, in his character as the earth-god Bhumiya — in Scotland it would be the charm of the Invincible Fairy who presides over the flocks and to whom libations are poured — in order to exorcize diseased cattle or else to prevent cattle from becoming diseased. This Ajaypal jantra is a rope of twisted straw, in which chips of wood are inserted. " In the centre of the rope is suspended an earthen platter, inside which an incantation is inscribed with charcoal, and beside it is hung a bag containing seven kinds of grain." The rope is stretched between two poles at the entrance of a village, and under it the cattle pass to and fro from pasture. The following is the incantation found on one of the earthen saucers:

"O Lord of the Earth on which this cattle-pen stands, protect the cattle from death and disease! I know of none, save thee, who can deliver them."

In the Morbihan, Lower Brittany, we seem to see the same folk-custom, somewhat changed to be sure; for on St. John's Day, the christianized pagan sun-festival in honour of the summer solstice, in which fairies and spirits play so prominent a part in all Celtic countries, just outside a country village a great fire is lit in the centre of the main road and covered over with green branches, in order to produce plenty of smoke, and then on either side of this fire and through the exorcizing smoke are made to pass all the domestic animals in the district as a protection against disease and evil spirits, to secure their fruitful increase, and, in the case of cows, abundant milk supply. Mr. Milne, while making excavations in the Carnac country, discovered the image of a small bronze cow, now in the Carnac Museum, and this would seem to indicate that before Christian times there was in the Morbihan a cult of cattle, preserved even until now, no doubt, in the Christian fete of St. Cornely, just as in St. Cornely's Fountain there is preserved a pagan holy well.

(1) G. Evans, Exorcism in Wales, in folklore, iii. 274 – 7.

(2) W. Crook; in folklore, xiii. 189 – 90.

It ought now to be clear that both pre-Christian and Christian exorcisms among Celts have shaped the Fairy-Faith in a very fundamental manner. And anthropologically the whole subject of exorcism falls in line with the Psychological Theory of the nature and origin of the belief in fairies in Celtic countries.


We find that taboos, or prohibitions of a religious and social character, are as common in the living Fairy-Faith as exorcisms. The chief one is the taboo against naming the fairies, which inevitably results in the use of euphemisms, such as "good people", "gentry", "people of peace", Tylwyth Teg ("Fair Folk"), or bonnes dames ("good ladies"). A like sort of taboo, with its accompanying use of euphemisms, existed among the Ancients, e.g. among the Egyptians and Babylonians, and early Celts as well, in a highly developed form; and it exists now among the native peoples of australia, Polynesia, Central Africa, America, in Indian systems of Yoga, among modern Greeks, and, in fact, almost everywhere where there are vestiges of a primitive culture. (1) And almost always such a taboo is bound up with animistic and magical elements, which seem to form its background, just as it is in our own evidence.

(1) For ancient usages see F. Lenormant, Chaldean Magic (London, 1877), pp. 103 - 4; lamblichus and other Neo-Platonists; and for modern usages see Marett. Threshold of Religion, chap. III.

To discuss name taboo in all its aspects would lead us more deeply into magic and comparative folklore than we have yet gone, and such discussion is unnecessary here. We may therefore briefly state that the root of the matter would seem to be that the name and the dread power named are so closely associated in the very concrete thought of the primitive culture that the one virtually is the other: just as one inevitably calls up the other for the modern thinker, so it is that, in the world of objective fact, for the primitive philosopher the one is equivalent to the other. The primitive man, in short, has projected his subjective associations into reality. As regards euphemisms, the process of development possibly is that first you employ any substitute name, and that secondly you go on to employ such a substitute name as will at the same time be conciliatory. In the latter case, a certain anthropomorphosing of the power behind the taboo would seem to be involved. (1)

Next in prominence comes the food taboo; and to this, also, there are non-Celtic parallels all the world over, now and in ancient times. We may take notice of three very striking modern parallels: A woman visited her dead brother in Panoi, the Polynesian Otherworld, and "he cautioned her to eat nothing there, and she retuined " (2)

A Red Man, Ahaktah, after an apparent death of two days' duration, revived, and declared that he had been to a beautiful land of tall trees and singing-birds, where he met the spirits of his forefathers and uncle. While there, he felt hunger, and seeing in a bark dish some wild rice, wished to eat of it, but his uncle would allow him none. In telling about this psychical adventure, Ahak-tah said: "Had I eaten of the food of spirits, I never should have returned to earth." (3)

Also a New Zealand woman visited the Otherworid in a trance, and her dead father whom she met there ordered her to eat no food in that land, so that she could return to this world to take care of her child. (4)

(1) Cf. Marett, Is Taboo a Negative Magic? in The Threshold of Religion, pp. 85 – 114.

(2) Codrington, The Melanesians, p. 277.

(3) Eastman, Dacotah, p. 177; cf. Tylor, Prim. Cult., ii. 52 n.

(4) Shortland, Trad. of New Zeal., p. 150; cf. Tylor, op. cit., ii. 51 – 2.

All such parallels, like their equivalents in Celtic belief, seem to rest on this psychological and physiological conception in the folk-mind. Human food is what keeps life going in a human body; fairy food is what keeps life going in a fairy body; and since what a man eats makes him what he is physically, so eating the food of Fairyland or of the land of the dead will make the eater partake of the bodily nature of the beings it nourishes. Hence when a man or woman has once entered into such relation or communion with the Otherworid of the dead, or of fairies, by eating their food, his or her physical body (1) by a subtle transformation adjusts itself to the new kind of nourishment, and becomes spiritual like a spirit's or fairy's body, so that the eater cannot re-enter the world of the living. A study of food taboos confirms this conclusion. (2)

A third prominent taboo, the iron taboo, has been explained by exponents of the Pygmy Theory as pointing to a prehistoric race in Celtic lands who did not know iron familiarly, and hence venerated it so that in time it came to be religiously regarded as very efficacious against spirits and fairies. Undoubtedly there may be much reason in this explanation, which gives some ethnological support to the Pygmy Theory. Apparently, however, it is only a partial explanation of iron taboo in general, because, in many cases, iron in ancient religious rites certainly had magical properties attributed to it, which to us are quite unexplainable from this ethnological point of view; (3) and in Melanesia and in Africa, where iron is venerated now, the same explanation through ethnology seems far-fetched. But at present there seem to be no available data to explain adequately this iron taboo, though we have strong reasons for thinking that the philosophy underlying it is based on mystical conceptions of virtues attributed — reasonably or unreasonably — to various metals and precious stones, and that a careful examination of alchemical sciences would probably arrive at an explanation wholly psychological.

(1) Precisely like Celtic peasants, primitive peoples often fail to take into account the fact that the physical body is in reality left behind on entering the trance state of consciousness known to them as the world of the departed and of fairies, because there they seem still to have a body, the ghost body, which to their minds, in such a state, is undistinguishable from the physical body. Therefore they ordinarily believe that the body and soul both are taken.

(2) Frazer, Golden Bough," passim.

(3) Cf. lb., i. 344 ff., 348; iii. 390.

Besides many other miscellaneous taboos noticeable in the evidence, there is a place taboo which is prominent. Thus, if an Irishman cuts a thorn tree growing on a spot sacred to the fairies, or if he violates a fairy preserve of any sort, such as a fairy path, or by accident interferes with a fairy procession, illness and possibly death will come to his cattle or even to himself. In the same way, in Melanesia, violations of sacred spots bring like penalties: "A man planted in the bush near Olevuga some coco-nut and almond trees, and not long after died," the place being a spirit preserve; (1) and a man in the Lepers' Island lost his senses, because, as the natives believed, he had unwittingly trodden on ground sacred to Tagaro, and "the ghost of the man who lately sacrificed there was angry with him ". (2) In this case the wizards were called in and cured the man by exorcisms," as Irishmen, or their cows, are cured by the exorcisms of "fairy-doctors" when "fairy-struck" for some similar violation. The animistic background of place taboos in the Fairy-Faith is in these cases apparent.

(1) Codrington, The Melanesians, pp. 177, 218 – 9.

(2) Cf. Eleanor Hull, Old Irish Tabus or Geasa, in folklore, xii. 41 ff.

Among Ancient Celts

In the evidence soon to be examined from the recorded Fairy-Faith, we shall find taboos of various kinds often more prominent than in the living Fairy-Faith. So essential are they to the character of much of the literary and mythological matter with which we shall have to deal in the following chapters, that at this point some suggestions ought to be made concerning their correct anthropological interpretation.

Almost every ancient Irish taboo is connected with a king or with a great hero like Cuchulainn; and, in Ireland especially, all such kings and heroes were considered of divine origin, and as direct incarnations, or reincarnations of the Tuatha De Danann, the true Fairies, originally inhabitants of the Otherworid. (See our chapter vii.) As Dr. Frazer points out to have been the case among non-Celts, with whom the same theory of incarnated divinities has prevailed, royal taboos are to isolate the king from all sources of danger, especially from all magic and witchcraft, and they act in many cases 'so to say, as electrical insulators" to preserve him or heroes who are equally divine. (2)

The early Celts recognized an intimate relationship between man and nature: unperceived by man, unseen forces — not dissimilar to what Melanesians call Mana— (looked on as animate and intelligent and frequently individual entities) guided every act of human life. It was the special duty of Druids to act as intermediaries between the world of men and the world of the Tuatha De Danann; and, as old Irish literature indicates clearly, it was through the exercise of powers of divination on the part of Druids that these declared what was taboo or what was unfavourable, and also what it was favourable for the divine king or hero to perform. As long as man kept himself in harmony with this unseen fairy-world in the background of nature, all was well; but as soon as a taboo was broken, disharmony in the relationship—which was focused in a king or hero — was set up; and when, as in the case of Cuchulainn, many taboos were violated, death was inevitable and not even the Tuatha De Danann could intercede.

Breaking of a royal or hero taboo not only affects the violator, but his subjects or followers as well: in some cases the king seems to suffer vicariously for his people. Almost every great Gaelic hero—a god or Great Fairy Being incarnate — is overshadowed with an impending fate, which only the strictest observance of taboo can avoid. (2)

Irish taboo, and inferentially all Celtic taboo, dates back to an unknown pagan antiquity. It is imposed at or before birth, or again during life, usually at some critical period, and when broken brings disaster and death to the breaker. Its whole background appears to rest on a supernatural relationship between divine men and the Otherworid of the Tuatha De Danann; and it is very certain that this ancient relationship survives in the living Fairy-Faith as one between ordinary men and the fairy-world. Therefore, almost all taboos surviving among Celts ought to be interpreted psychologically or even psychically, and not as ordinary social regulations.

(1) Cf. Fraser, Golden Bough, i. 233 if., 343.

(2) Cf. E. J. Gwynn, On the Idea of Fate in Irish Literature, in Journ. Ivernian Society (Cork), April 1910.


Food-sacrifice plays a very important role in the modern Fairy-Faith, being still practised, as our evidence shows, in each one of the Celtic countries. Without any doubt it is a survival from pagan times, when, as we shall observe later (in chapter iv. 291, and elsewhere), propitiatory offerings were regularly made to the Tuatha De Danann as gods of the earth, and, apparently, to other orders of spiritual beings. The anthropological significance of such food-sacrifice is unmistakable.

With the same propitiatory ends in view as modern Celts now have in offering food to fairies, ancient peoples, e.g. the Greeks and Romans, maintained a state ritual of sacrifices to the gods, genii, daemons, and to the dead. And such sacrifices, so essential a part of most ancient religions, were based on the belief, as stated by Porphyry in his Treatise Concerning Abstinence, that all the various orders of gods, genii or daemons, enjoy as nourishment the odour of burnt offerings. And like the Fairy-Folk, the daemons of the air live not on the gross substance of food, but on its finer invisible essences, conveyed to them most easily on the altar-fire. (1) Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, and other leading Greeks, as well as the Romans of a like metaphysical school; unite in declaring the fundamental importance to the welfare of the State of regular sacrifices to the gods and to the daemons who control all natural phenomena, since they caused, if not neglected, abundant harvests and national prosperity. For unto the gods is due by right a part of all things which they give to man for his happiness. The relation which the worship of ancestors held to that of the gods above, who are the Olympian Gods, the great Gods, and to the Gods below, who are the Gods of the Dead, and also to the daemons, and heroes or divine ancestors, is thus set forth by Plato in his Laws: "In the first place, we affirm that next after the Olympian Gods, and the Gods of the State, honour should be given to the Gods below.

Next to these Gods, a wise man will do service to the daemons or spirits, and then to the heroes, and after them will follow the sacred places of private and ancestral Gods, having their ritual according to law. Next comes the honour of living parents." (2)

(1) Cf. our evidence, pp. 38, 44; also Kirk's Secret Commonwealth (c. i), where it is said of the "good peoples or fairies that their bodies are so " plyable thorough the Subtilty of the Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear att Pleasure. Some have Bodies or Vehicles so spungious, thin, and delecat, that they are fed by only sucking into some fine spirituous Liquors, that pierce lyke pure Air and Oyl".

(2) Laws, iv; cf. Jowett, Dialogues of Plato, v. 282 – 90.

It is evident from this direct testimony that the same sort of philosophy underlies food-sacrifice among the Celts and other peoples as we discovered underlying human-sacrifice, in our study of the Changeling Belief; and that the Tuatha De Danann in their true mythological nature, and fairies, their modern counterpart, correspond in all essentials to Greek and Roman gods, genii, and daemons, and are often confused with the dead.

The Celtic Legend of the Dead

The animistic character of the Celtic Legend of the Dead is apparent; and the striking likenesses constantly appearing in our evidence between the ordinary apparitional fairies and the ghosts of the dead show that there is often no essential and sometimes no distinguishable difference between these two orders of beings, nor between the world of the dead and fairyland. We reserve for our chapter on Science and Fairies the scientific consideration of the psychology of this relationship, and of the probability that fairies as souls of the dead and as ghosts of the dead actually exist and influence the living.

General Conclusion

The chief anthropological problems connected with the modern Fairy-Faith, as our evidence presents it, have now been examined, at sufficient length, we trust, to explain their essential significance; and problems, to some extent parallel, connected with the ancient Fairy-Faith have likewise been examined. There remain, however, very many minor anthropological problems not yet touched on; but several of the most important of these, e. g. various cults of gods, spirits, fairies, and the dead, and folk-festivals thereto related (see Section III); the circular fairy-dance (see pp. 405 - 6); or the fairy world as the Otherworld (see chap. vi), or as Purgatory (see chap. x), will receive consideration in following chapters, and so will certain very definite psychological problems connected with dreams, and trance-like states, with supernormal lapse of time, and with seership. We may now sum up the results so far attained.

Whether we examine the Fairy-Faith as a whole or whether we examine specialized parts of it like those relating to the smallness of fairies, to changelings, to witchcraft and magic, to exorcisms, to taboos, and to food-sacrifice, in all cases comparative folklore shows that the beliefs composing it find their parallels the world over, and that fairy-like beings are objects of belief now not only in Celtic countries, but in Central Australia, throughout Polynesia, in Africa, among American Red Men, in Asia generally, in Southern, Western, and Northern Europe, and, in fact, wherever civilized and primitive men hold religious beliefs. From a rationalist point of view anthropologists would be inclined to regard the bulk of this widespread belief in spiritual beings as being purely mythical, but for us to do so and stop there would lead to no satisfactory solution: the origin of myth itself needs to be explained, and one of the chief objects of our study throughout the remainder of this book is to make an attempt at such an explanation, especially of Celtic myth.

Again, if we examine all fairy-like beings from a certain superficial point of view, or even from the mythological point of view, it is easy to discern that they are universally credited with precisely the same characters, attributes, actions, or powers as the particular peoples possess who have faith in them; and then the further fact emerges that this anthropomorphosing is due directly to the more immediate social environment: we see merely an anthropomorphically coloured picture of the whole of an age-long social evolution of the tribe, race, or nation who have fostered the particular aspect of this one world-wide folk-religion. But if we look still deeper, we discover as background to the myths and the social psychology a profound animism. This animism appears in its own environment in the shading away of the different fairy-like beings into spirits and ghosts of the departed. Going deeper yet, we find that such animistic beliefs as concern themselves exclusively with the realm of the dead are in many cases apparently so well founded on definite provable psychical experiences on the part of living men and women that the aid of science itself must be called in to explain them, and this will be done in our chapter entitled Science and Fairies.

So far it ought to be clear that already our evidence points to a very respectable residue in the experiences of percipients, which cannot be explained away—as can the larger mass of the evidence — as due to ethnological, anthropomorphic, naturalistic, or sociological influences on the Celtic mind; and for the present this must be designated as the ? or unknown quantity in the Fairy-Faith. In chapter xi this x quantity, augmented by whatever else is to be elicited from further evidence, will be specifically discussed.

These points of view derived from our anthropological examination of the chief parts of the evidence presented by the living Fairy-Faith will be kept constantly before us as we proceed further; and what has been demonstrated anthropologically in this chapter will serve to interpret what is to follow until chapter xi is reached. With this tentative position we pass to Section II of this study, and shall there begin to examine, as we have just done with their modern Fairy-Faith, the ancient Fairy-Faith of the Celts.


From a Preface

What may read like all right periods and paragraphs in fronted introductory matters, could have been singled out and patched by me into author gist, and in rather few places with amplifications. Added comments appear in square brackets.

"A wonder of a land the land of which I speak; no youth there grows to old age.
— The God Midir, in Tochmarc Etaine.

DURING the years 1907—9 this study first took shape. Since then I have re-investigated the whole problem of the Celtic belief in fairies, and have collected very much fresh material.

The scope of my original research,

now it includes all of the Celtic countries.

In the present study . . . the original literary point of view is combined with the broader point of view of anthropology.

Theories, however venturesome they may appear, are put forth in almost every case with the full approval of some reliable, scholarly Celt; and as such they are chiefly intended to make the exposition of the belief in fairies as completely and as truly Celtic as possible.

Those to whom the credit for it really belongs are my many kind friends and helpers in Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany, and many others who are not Celts.

They have given me their best and rarest thoughts.

I am under a special obligation to the following six distinguished Celtic scholars - Dr. Douglas Hyde (Ireland); Dr. Alexander Carmichael (Scotland); Miss Sophia Morrison (Isle of Man); the Right Hon. Sir John Rhys (Wales); Mr. Henry Jenner (Cornwall); Professor Anatole Le Bras (Brittany).

With the deep spirit of reverence which a student feels towards his preceptors, I acknowledge a still greater debt to those among my friends and helpers who have been my Celtic guides and teachers. Here in Oxford University I have run up a long account with the Right Hon. Sir John Rhys, the Professor of Celtic, who has . . . guided me both during the year 1907-8 and ever since in Celtic folk-lore generally. To Mr. Andrew Lang, I am likewise a debtor, . . . with respect to anthropology and to psychical research.

      W.Y. E. W.

Jesus College, Oxford All Saints' Day, 1911.


Stories from Ireland

General Introduction

As soon as the details of folk-lore such as I am presenting are isolated from one another—even though brought together in related groups—they must be rudely torn out of their true and natural environment, and divorced from the psychological atmosphere amidst which they were first presented by the narrator.

A mechanical classification by us is unnecessary.

In most cases, as examination will show, the evidence is so clear that little or no comment is necessary.

Not only do both educated and uneducated Celtic seers so conceive Fairyland, but they go much further, and say that Fairyland actually exists as an invisible world within which the visible world is immersed like an island in an unexplored ocean, and that it is peopled by more species of living beings than this world.

But when we hear legendary tales which have never been recorded save in the minds of unnumbered generations of men, we ought not on that account to undervalue them; for often they are better authorities and more trustworthy than many an ancient and carefully inscribed manuscript in the British Museum.

But the peasant will not be our only teacher, for we shall also hear much of first importance from city folk of the highest intellectual training.

In the evidence about to be presented there has been no selecting in favour of any one theory; it is presented as [ 20] discovered. The only liberty taken with some of the evidence has been to put it into better grammatical form, and sometimes to recast an ambiguous statement when I, as collector, had in my own mind no doubt as to its meaning.

[For] long legends or literary fairy-stories . . . the reader is referred to the many excellent works on Celtic folk-lore.

In no case has testimony been admitted from a person who was known to be unreliable, nor even from a person who was thought to be unreliable.

Nearly every witness is a Celt who has been made acquainted with the belief in fairies through direct contact with people who believe in them, or through having heard fairy-traditions among his own kindred, or through personal psychological experiences.

The ultimate truth . . . may or may not reside in the testimony of sane and thoroughly reliable seer-witnesses.

Old and young, educated and uneducated, peasant and city-bred, testify to the actual existence of the Celtic Fairy-Faith.

The evidence of priests supports that of scholars and scientists, peasant seers have testified to the same kind of visions as highly educated seers; and what poets have said agrees with what is told by business men, engineers, and lawyers. But the best of witnesses, like ourselves, are only human . . . and therefore no claim can be made in any case to infallibility of evidence.

The Fairy-Faith is common to all classes of Celts, we do not state that it is common to all Celts.

. . .

Loading Old Guns

Detail from a painting of willows by Vincent van Gogh

Theories and methods intertwine. Together they form approaches - Not all theories in this work are current, and methods - relating to what clairvoyants say they see - may be questioned and researched further. But the evidence gathered is highly interesting. - TK

1. The Religious Nature of the Fairy-Faith

The wonderful temples in Yucatan, the temple-caves of prehistoric India, Stonehenge in England, the Parthenon, the Acropolis [xxvi] . . . There seems never to have been an uncivilized tribe, a race, or nation of civilized men who have not had some form of belief in an unseen world, peopled by unseen beings. Christianity knows them as angels, saints, demons, and souls of the dead; to un-civilized tribes they are gods, demons, and spirits of ancestors; and the Celts think of them as gods, and as fairies of many kinds.

2. The Interpretation of the Fairy-Faith

By the Celtic Fairy-Faith we mean that specialized form of belief in a spiritual realm inhabited by spiritual beings which has existed from prehistoric times until now in Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, or other parts of the ancient empire of the Celts. In studying this belief, we are concerned directly with living Celtic folk-traditions, and with past Celtic folk-traditions as recorded in literature.

It is our duty to examine the Celtic Fairy Races just as we examine any fact in the visible realm [xxvii]

There is a new set of ideas to work with:

A saint who has known the spiritual condition called ecstasy cannot explain ecstasy to a man who has never known it. It is the same in dealing with fairies, for only a few men and women can assert that they have seen fairies. [xxviii]

We have tried to deal with the rare psychical experiences of Irish, Scotch, Manx, Welsh, or Breton seers, and psychics generally, in the clearest language possible.

3. The Method of Studying the Fairy-Faith

This study . . . is first of all a folk-lore study.

To-day, to the new science of folk-lore — which, as Mr. Andrew Lang says, must be taken to include psychical research or psychical sciences,—archaeology, anthropology, and comparative mythology and religion are indispensable.

4. Divisions of the Study

This study is divided into four sections. [xxix]

I have set forth in the first section in detail and as clearly as possible the testimony communicated to me by living Celts who either believe in fairies, or else say that they have seen fairies; and throughout other sections I have preferred to draw as much as possible of the material from men and women rather than from books.

5. The Collecting of Material

In June, 1908, after a year's preparatory work in things Celtic under the direction of the Oxford Professor of Celtic, Sir John Rhys, I began to travel in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Brittany, and to collect material there at first hand from the people who have shaped and who still keep alive the Fairy-Faith; and during the year 1909-10 fresh folklore expeditions were made into Brittany, Ireland, and Wales, and then, finally, the study of the Fairy-Faith was made pan-Celtic by similar expeditions throughout the Isle of Man, and into Cornwall. Many of the most remote parts of these lands were visited; and often there was no other plan to adopt, or any method better, or more natural, than to walk day after day from one straw-thatched cottage to another, living on the simple wholesome food of the peasants.

Sometimes there was the picturesque mountain-road to climb, sometimes the route lay through marshy peat-lands, or across a rolling grass-covered country; and with each change of landscape came some new thought and some new impression of the Celtic life, or perhaps some new description of a fairy. [xxx]

This immersion in the most striking natural and social environment of the Celtic race, gave me an insight into the mind, the religion, the mysticism, and the very heart of the Celt himself.

I tried to see the world as he does. Thus he revealed to me the source of his highest ideals and inspirations. I daily felt the deep and innate seriousness of his ancestral nature.

I was particularly qualified for such an undertaking: partly Celtic myself by blood and perhaps largely so by temperament, I found it easy to sympathize with the Celt and with his environments. Further, being by birth an American, I was in many places privileged to enter where an Englishman, or a non-Celt of Europe would not be; and my education under the free ideals of a new-world democracy always made it possible for me to view economic, political, religious, and racial questions in Celtic lands apart from the European point of view, and without the European prejudices which are so numerous and so greatly to be regretted.

My sojourn, extending over three years, among the Celts, these various environments shaped my thoughts about fairies and Fairyland.

These experiences of mine lead me to believe that the natural aspects of Celtic countries, much more than those of most non-Celtic countries, impress man and awaken in him some unfamiliar part of himself—call it the Subconscious Self, the Subliminal Self, the Ego, or what you will — which gives him an unusual power to know and to feel invisible, or psychical, influences.

The solitude of those magical environments of Nature which the Celts enjoy and love?

In my travels, when the weather was too wild to venture [xxxi] out by day, or when the more favourable hours of the night had arrived, with fires and candles lit, or even during a roadside chat amid the day's journey, there was gathered together little by little, from one country and another, the mass of testimony which chapter ii contains.

In less than a year afterwards I found myself committed to the Psychological Theory, which I am herein setting forth.

6. Theories of the Fairy-Faith

Four theories:

  • The first of them may be called the Naturalistic Theory. It shows accurately enough that natural phenomena and environment have given direction [xxxii] to the anthropomorphosing of gods, spirits, or fairies, but after explaining this external aspect of the Fairy-Faith it cannot logically go any further.

  • The second theory may be called the Pygmy Theory, which Mr. David MacRitchie, who is definitely committed to it, has so clearly set forth. This theory is that the whole fairy-belief has grown up out of a folk-memory of an actual Pygmy race, probably a Mongolian race, which inhabited the British Islands and many parts of Continental Europe. [xxxiii]. Dr. Windle, in his Introduction to Tyson's Philological Essay concerning the Pygmies of the Ancients, makes these six most destructive criticisms or points against the theory: So far as our present knowledge teaches us, there never was a really Pygmy race inhabiting the northern parts of -Scotland. Little people are not by any means associated entirely with mounds. There are fairies where no pygmies ever were, as, for example, in North America. The evidence of the Fairy-Faith itself gives only a slender and superficial support to the Pygmy Theory. From our point of view, the Pygmy Theory is altogether inadequate, because it overlooks or misinterprets the most essential and prominent elements in the belief which the Celtic peoples hold concerning fairies and Fairyland.

  • The Druid Theory to account for fairies is less widespread. It is that the folk-memory of the Druids and their magical practices is alone responsible for the Fairy-Faith. [xxxiv]. However, Irish and Welsh mythology is full of stories about fairy women coming from the Otherworld. Hence we maintain that the Druid Theory, also, is inadequate.

  • The fourth theory, the Mythological Theory, is of very great importance. It is that fairies are the diminished figures of the old pagan divinities of the early Celts; and many modern authorities on Celtic mythology and folk-lore hold it. To us the theory is acceptable so far as it goes. But it is not adequate in itself nor is it the root theory, because a belief in gods and goddesses must in turn be explained; and in making this explanation we arrive at the Psychological Theory. [xxxv]

7. The Importance of Studying the Fairy-Faith

I have made a very careful personal investigation. I am convinced of the very great value of a serious study of the Fairy-Faith. The Fairy-Faith as the folk-religion of the Celts ought, like all religions, to be studied sympathetically.

The value of studying fairies and Fairyland will be more apparent by considering the following:

Under modern conditions great multitudes of men and women are herded together. Hence there is bound to be an unhealthy psychical [xxxvi] atmosphere never found in the country.

Thus main urban adaptations may inhibit any normal attempts of the Subliminal Self (a well-accredited psychological entity).

Unconsciously city dwellers have thus permitted conventionality and unnaturalness to insulate them.

"The Celtic peasant, who may be their tenant or neighbour, is—if still uncorrupted by them—in direct contrast unconventional and natural. He is normally always responsive to psychical influences." He is "fortunate enough to have escaped being corrupted by what we egotistically, to distinguish ourselves from them, call 'civilization'. If our Celtic peasant has psychical experiences, or if he sees an apparition which he calls one of the ' good people', that is to say a fairy, it is useless to try to persuade him that he is under a delusion: unlike his materialistically-minded lord, he would not attempt nor even desire to make himself believe that what he has seen he has not seen. Not only has he the will to believe, but he has the right to believe; because his belief is not a matter of being educated and reasoning logically, nor a matter of faith and theology—it is a fact of his own individual experiences, as he will tell you." [Emphasis added. TK].

'One does not have to be educated in order to see fairies'. [xxxvii]

The mind of the business man in our great cities tends to be obsessed with business affairs both during his waking and during his dream states, the politician's with politics similarly, the society-leader's with society; and the unwholesome excitement felt by day in the city is apt to be heightened at night through a satisfying of the feeling which it morbidly creates for relaxation and change of stimuli. In the slums, humanity is divorced from Nature under even worse conditions.

In slum and in palace alike there is continually a feverish nerve-tension induced by unrest and worry; there is impure and smoke-impregnated air, a lack of sunshine, a substitution of artificial objects for natural objects, and in place of solitude the eternal din of traffic. Instead of Nature, men in cities (and paradoxically some conventionalized men in the country) have 'civilization ' — and ' culture'.

Are city-dwellers like these, Nature's unnatural children, who grind out their lives in an unceasing struggle for wealth and power, social position, and even for bread, fit to judge Nature's natural children who believe in fairies?

Or is the country-dwelling, the sometimes ' unpractical' and 'unsuccessful', the dreaming, and 'uncivilized' peasant right?

The study of the Fairy-Faith is of vast importance. [xxxviii]

In truth the Celtic empire is greater than it ever was . . . and its citizens have not forgotten the ancient faith of their ancestors in a world invisible.

      W. Y. E. W.



When we shall become at one with nature in a sense profounder even than the poetic imaginings of most of us, we shall understand what now we fail to discern."—FIONA MACLEOD.

We give some attention to the influences and purely natural environment under which the Fairy-Faith has grown up. We shall record a few impressions.

Ireland and Brittany - with old racial life in its simplicity and beauty, with its high ideals, its mystical traditions, and its strong spirituality - this preservation of older manners and traditions does not seem to be due so much to geographical isolation as to subtle forces so strange and mysterious that to know them they must be felt - it cannot be described.

In Ireland

If anyone would know Ireland, let him dare to enter the rings of fairies.

Let him linger beside that mysterious lake which lies embosomed between two prehistoric cairns on the summit of enchanted Slieve Gullion, where yet dwells invisible the mountain's Guardian, a fairy woman.

Men have been told that in the plain beneath this magic mountain of Ireland mighty warfare was once waged on account of a bull, by the hosts of Queen Meave against those of Cuchulainn, the hero of Ulster.

As yet, little has been said concerning the effects of clouds, of natural scenery, of weird and sudden transformations in earth and sky and air, which play their part in shaping the complete Fairy-Faith of the Irish; but what we are about to say concerning Scotland will suggest the same things for Ireland, because the nature of the landscape and the atmospheric changes are much the same in the two countries, both inland and on their rock-bound and storm-swept shores.

In Ireland

By DOUGLAS HYDE, LL.D., D. Litt., M.R.I.A. (An Craoibhin Aoibhinn), President of the Gaelic League; author of A Literary History of Ireland, etc. - Written in September 1910.

. . .

The folk-tale (sean-sgéal) or Märchen . . . is something much more intricate, complicated, and thought-out than the belief. One can quite easily distinguish between the two.

Are these beings of the spirit world real beings, having a veritable existence of their own, in a world of their own, or are they only the creation of the imagination of his informants, and the tradition of bygone centuries?

The spirit creatures cannot be stuffed and put into museums, like rare animals and birds.

Viewing the Irish spirit-world as a whole, we find that it contains, even on Mr. Wentz's showing, quite a number of different orders of beings, of varying shapes, appearances, size, and functions. Are we to believe that all those beings equally exist, and, on the principle that there can be no smoke without a fire, are we to hold that there would be no popular conception of the banshee, the leprechaun, or the Maighdean-mhara (sea-maiden, mermaid), and consequently no tales told about them, if such beings did not exist, and from time to time allow themselves to be seen like the wood-martin and the kingfisher?

Again, although the bean-sidhe (banshee), leprechaun, puca, and the like are the most commonly known and usually seen creatures of the spirit world, yet great quantities of other appearances are believed to have been also sporadically met with. I very well remember sitting one night some four or five years ago in an hotel in Indianapolis, U.S.A., and talking to four Irishmen . . . The talk happened to turn upon spirits . . . a monstrous rabbit as big as an ass, which plunged into the sea (rabbits can swim), and a white heifer which ascended to heaven, were two of them.

I saw a strange horse run round a seven-acre field of ours and change into a woman, who ran even swifter than the horse, and after a couple of courses round the field disappeared into our haggard.

Near my home in a western county (County Roscommon) rises gently a slope . . . The old people called it in Irish Mullach na Sidhe. This name is now practically lost, and it is called Fairymount.

Of all the beings in the Irish mythological world the Sidhe are, however, apparently the oldest and the most distinctive. Beside them in literature and general renown all other beings sink into insignificance. A belief in them formerly dominated the whole of Irish life. The Sidhe or Tuatha De Danann were a people like ourselves who inhabited the hills — not as a rule the highest and most salient eminences, but I think more usually the pleasant undulating slopes or gentle hill-sides . . . All Irish literature, particularly perhaps the "Colloquy of the Ancients" (Agallamh na Senórach) abounds with reference to them.

The tall, handsome fairies of Ben Bulbin and the Sligo district, about whom Mr. Wentz tells us so much interesting matter, might be accounted for as being a continuation of the tradition of the ancient Gaels, or a piece of heredity inherent in the folk-imagination [where] people saw just what they had always been told existed, or, if I may so put it, they saw what they expected to see.

How are we to account for the little red-dressed men and women and the leprechauns?

Different parts of the Irish soil cherish different bodies of supernatural beings. The North of Ireland believes in beings unknown in the South, and North-East Leinster has spirits unknown to the West.

The book, La Légende de la Mort, by M. Anatole Le Braz, in two large volumes, all about the awful appearances of Ankou (Death), who simply dominates the folk-lore of Brittany, . . . I have never met Death figuring as a personality in more than two or three tales, and these mostly of a trivial or humorous description, though the Deaf Coach (Cóiste Bodhar), the belief in which is pretty general, does seem a kind of parallel to the creaking cart in which Ankou rides.

The Sidhe-folk appear to be pre-eminently and distinctively Milesian.

[So, are there] supernatural beings believed in which are unknown outside of their own districts, and of which the rest of Ireland has never heard?

In Scotland

In the moorlands, a region made famous by Sir Walter Scott's Rob Roy, I have seen atmospheric changes so sudden and so contrasted as to appear marvellous. And twilight at midday!

Black clouds discharge their watery burden in wind-driven vertical water-sheets through which the world appears as through an ice-filmed window-pane.

From the east came perfect weather and a flood of brilliant sunshine.

And in the Highlands from Stirling to Inverness what magic, what changing colours and shadows there were on the age-worn treeless hills.

On to the north-west beyond Inverness there is the same kind of a treeless highland country; and then after a few hours of travel one looks out across the water from Kyle and beholds Skye, where Cuchulainn is by some believed to have passed his young manhood learning feats of arms from fairy women, — Skye, dark, mountainous, majestic, with its waterfalls turning to white spray as they tumble from cliff to cliff into the sound, from out the clouds that hide their mountain-summit sources.

In the Outer Hebrides, as in the Aranmore Islands off West Ireland, influences are at work on the Celtic imagination quite different from those in Skye and its neighbouring islands. Mountainous billows which have travelled from afar out of the mysterious watery waste find their first impediment on the west of these isolated Hebridean isles, and they fling themselves like mad things in full fury [COUNSEL: To reduce marring projections matters. Waves don't fling, they are flung. And madness is different. Yes, one is to accept nature naturally to benefit quite naturally - TK] against the wild rocky islets fringing the coast.

The ocean's murmuring sounds set up a responsive vibration in the soul of the peasant [Did it, or was it there? - TK], as he in solitude drives home his flocks amid the weird gloaming at the end of a December day.

In the fitful flickering of a peat fire, he has a mystic consciousness that deep down in his being there is a more divine music.

Maybe there are skin-clad huntsmen with spears and knives of bone and flint and shaggy sleeping dogs, or fearless sea-rovers resting wearily on shields of brilliant bronze, or maybe Celtic warriors fierce and bold.

At other times there is a sparkle of the brightest sunshine on the ocean waves, a fierceness foreign to the more peaceful Highlands.

The story-telling is not likely to end before midnight.

All the women are seated, and most of the men. Girls are crouched between the knees of fathers or brothers or friends. Neighbour wives and neighbour daughters are knitting, sewing, or embroidering.

The one who occupies the chair of honour in the midst of the ceilidh (1) looks around to be sure that everybody is comfortable and ready; and, as his first story begins.

(1) The ceilidh of the Western Hebrides corresponds to the veillée of Lower Brittany (see pp. 221 ff.), and to similar story-telling festivals which formerly flourished among all the Celtic peoples. 'The ceilidh is a literary entertainment where stories and tales, poems, and ballads, are rehearsed and recited, and songs are sung, conundrums are put, proverbs are quoted, and many other literary matters are related and discussed.' —Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, 1, p. xviii.

Young and old bend forward eagerly to hear every word.

Here we have the most Celtic and the most natural environments which the Fairy-Faith enjoys in Scotland.

There are still the Southern Highlands in the country around Oban, and the islands near them;

The holy man Columba [Caramba!] fought with black demons who came to invade his monastery, and saw angelic hosts; and when the angels took his soul at midnight in that little chapel by the sea-shore there was a mystic light which illuminated all the altar like the brightest sunshine. But nowadays the islanders see ghosts and 'good people', and when one of these islanders is taken in death it is not by angels — it is by fairies.

In the Isle of Man

In the midst of the Irish Sea lies the beautiful kingdom of Manx where the golden gorse or purple heather blossoms to a musical hum of bees, and sway gently on breezes made balmy by the tropical warmth of an ocean stream flowing from the far distant Mexican shores of a New World.

There is a ceaseless throbbing of the sea-waves, the flow of brooks, and the voices of the night.

There sometimes broods a deeper silence, which is yet more potent and full of meaning.

The natural beauty without awakens the divine beauty within.

Beauty and harmony in the world are but symbolic.

The Isle of Man has been, in succession, the home of every known race and people who have flourished in Western Europe [Not the Fins (he's overdoing it).];

The island alone of Celtic lands has been strangely empowered to maintain in almost primitive purity its ancient constitution.

And sometimes in the superhuman realm of radiant light, to which since long ago they have oft come and oft returned, he meets face to face the gods and heroes - some are hidden away in the embrace of wild flowers and verdure amid valleys; and in the darker mid-world he sees ghosts.

In Wales

Wales has, it is true, its own peculiar psychic atmosphere. Its people are Brythonic Celts rather than Gaelic Celts.

Those Celtic influences, when they were active, did so much to create the precious Romances of Arthur and his Brotherhood [Norman bards too did that - TK.]

The Welsh believe in the Tylwyth Teg, a fairy race still surviving in a few favoured localities.

Wales was a goal for thousands of pilgrims from many countries of mediaeval Europe. Near Carmarthen, Merlin is said to be asleep in a cave with the fairy-woman Vivian.

The Snowdon Range is seen to loom majestically and clear, and with its sun-kissed bay. There is Mount Snowdon, with its memories of Arthur and Welsh heroes; and sacred Anglesey or Mona.

Modern Wales is poorer in its fairy atmosphere than modern Brittany. The commercialism of the age [ca. 1910] has compelled its ancestral idealism to retire in a state of temporary latency. But the hearts of the Welsh remain uncorrupted.

In Cornwall

In the spring-time the call of the cuckoo is heard.
Nature has been kind to the whole of Cornwall.
Singing-birds -

Nature preserves for a good time its beauty and its sanctity.

There are weird legends of the lost kingdom of Fair Lyonesse beneath the clear salt waves, with all its ancient towns and flowery fields; of witches and of wizards.

There in that most southern and western corner of the Isle of Britain, the Sacred Fires themselves still burn.

But the Cornwall men have lost his ancestral mystic touch with the unseen — until Arthur comes to break the spell and set them free.

In Brittany

A learned priest of the Roman Church told me, when I met him in Galway, that in his opinion those places in Ireland where ancient sacrifices were performed to pagan or Druid gods are still, unless they have been regularly exorcized, under the control of demons (daemons).

That is to say, Druids, Egyptian priests, priestesses in charge of Greek oracles, are said to have foretold the future, interpreted omens, worked all miracles and wonders of magic by the aid of daemons, who were regarded as an order of invisible beings, intermediary between gods and men, and as sometimes including the shades from Hades.

I enter the silence of an ancient underground chamber.

Let a man who wants it, sit for hours musing amid cromlechs and dolmens, and beside menhirs, and at holy wells. Let him marvel at the mightiest of menhirs now broken and prostrate at Locmariaquer, and then let him ponder over the subterranean places near it. Let him try to read the symbolic inscriptions on the rocks in Gavrinis. Let him stand on the Ile de Sein at sunrise and at sunset. Let him penetrate the solitudes of the Forest of Brocéliande, and walk through the Val-Sans-Retour (Vale-Without-Return). And then let him wander in footpaths with the Breton peasant through fields where good dames sit on the sunny side of a bush or wall, knitting stockings, where there are long hedges of furze, golden-yellow with bloom — even in January — and listen to stories about corrigans, and about the dead who mingle here with the living.

Let him enter the peasant's cottage when there is fog over the land and the sea-winds are blowing across the shifting sand-dunes, and hear what he can tell him. Let him observe the depth of their nature, their almost ever-present sense of the seriousness, their dreaminess as they look out across the ocean, their often perfect physique and fine profiles and rosy cheeks, while awaiting the hour when the Ankou (a King of the Dead) shall call each to join their invisible company.

Lords of locales

What Dr. Evans-Wentz goes into by his in part humanised descriptions of different landscapes, may remind of later philosophical thinking of architects and philosophers alike. For example, the Stimmung, mood or feel of a place is reckoned with by some in the wake of Martin Heidegger, who introduced and worked on lofty and difficult conceptualisations alike. [Cf. [Mme 28-50]

Ponderous and comprehensive, but ill-documented assertions of moods and the spirit or "feel" or of places, are treated by Professor Christian Norberg-Schulz in his Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture. [Glta]. The modern concept of the "spirit (literally: begetter) of a place" is related to or inherited from ancient Greeks and Romans. Genius loci were guardians of places - or of persons. Phoenicians reckoned with such hovering influences (called Baals or lords of life and fertility) of towns too. "The Old Testament speaks frequently of the Baal of a given place or refers to Baalim in the plural, suggesting the evidence of local deities, or "lords," of various locales. It is not known to what extent the Canaanites considered those various Baalim identical." [Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. "Genius Loci" and "Baal"]. And Jesus talked to towns, denouncing some of them [Matthew 11:20-24].

[In 1924] Swami [Yogananda] felt every city to be like a big human mind that vibrated differently. New York said, "How much have you got?" Boston said, "How much do you know?" Philadelphia said "Who are you?" One Philadelphian did actually ask this question of Swami . . . - ["History of Swami Yogananda's Work in America." In East West Magazine, November-December, 1925, Vol. 1]

Leaving yogi issues aside for now, it is plain that modern phenomenological studies can look much like notions as those of Dr. Evans-Wentz above, which were in part decades earlier. And maybe we lose important aspects of life in reducing ourselves and staying away from those ill-defined heights. That is in part what Dr. Evans-Wentz says. Besides, exploring these matters may be greater fun against the trivia that surround many than superficial, "herded" and conform mass tourist travels. An example:

The Findhorn Community in north-western Scotland was started by Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean. The latter, who had been working for the British Intelligence during the war, found that she could talk with a garden pea - but it was not a garden pea, it was the angel of the garden peas that communicated messages to her, she announced in her book To Hear the Angels Sing [Th]. She now "took in" data from such as the landscape angel (angels of a place) too in time, it says. "I got a communication like that with God within." The pea deva said this to her the first time they communed: "I can speak to you, human . . . you have come straight to my awareness. . . . While the vegetable kingdom holds no grudge against those it feeds, man takes what he can as a matter of course, giving no thanks, this makes us strangely hostile. . . .

Humans generally seem not to know where they are going or why. . . . I have put across my meaning and bid you farewell."

Then she shared her message with Peter Caddy, who at once gave Dorothy a list of questions she was to ask different vegetable devas (angels). From them she would get straightforward, practical advice and inspiring ideas, she tells, and "God is our deepest core. . . . It's our deepest wholeness."

In another book, The Findhorn Garden [Tfg], much substantial content revolves around nature spirits and devas (angels) of various plants. Throughout the years Findhorn became one of the best known New Age centres along with the Yogananda-centred Ananda Village in Nevada City, California. Many people were attracted, and Findhorn soon developed into areas for arts and crafts, printing and publishing, construction, communications and a college program, The community has 150 residents along with another 500 members who live nearby, and has turned into an eco-village conference centre where most classes now have nothing to do with communicating and co-creating with nature.

From Dorothy Maclean's communications: "Large trees are essential for the well-being of the Earth . . . It is no accident that the Buddha is said to have found enlightenment under a tree." "When the forest stills us to peace, or [we] laugh or dance with joy, we are one with the angels." The Landscape Angel [of Findhorn] once said that the Devas work in mantras, in movements, which produce sound and make a pattern, and work up to a certain pitch. Their movements endow their areas with certain qualities of life. [◦Link]

Dorothy moved from Findhorn and back to the city and tuned in to the City Angel. She found out that it needed human love. She says we can always find something of nature in the city and tune into the highest flow. She started giving workshops and began travelling around. She became aware of a white light pattern specific to each city. She tuned in to the Angel of Milwaukee and experienced a beer-drinking kind of Being . . . Each city angel had its own unique "feeling", she says. [◦Link]

Thus, Findhorn speaks of nature spirits and contacting them and devas through such as practices of personal transformation, including diving within (meditation). About the New Age movement, which should have enriched thousands of lives in our depleted, surface-focused "culture of marionettes": The largest groups got a place in the West's increasingly pluralistic culture. But by the mid-1990s, the goings got tough, "and New Agers in Europe began to speak of the move from "New Age to Next Stage." [Encyclopedia Britanica s.v. "New Age movement."]


Celtic fairy stories, Literature  

Glta: Norberg-Schulz, Christian. Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture. London: Academy, 1980.

Mme: Kearney, Richard. Modern Movements in European Philosophy. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986.

Tff: Evans-Wentz, Walter Yeeling. The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. London: H. Froude, 1911. Online at Sacred-Texts: []

Tfg: Findhorn Community. The Findhorn Garden: Pioneering a New Vision of Humanity and Nature in Cooperation. Forres: The Findhorn Press, 1979.

Th: Maclean, Dorothy. To Hear the Angels Sing: An Odyssey of Co-Creation with the Devic Kingdom. Herndon, VA: Lindisfarne Books, 1980.

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