Today we stand at the threshold of Beltane, the Celtic festival of summer, when the entire green world is charged with new life beneath the growing sun. In Ireland, Beltane (celebrated May 1st) was known as one of the three "spirit nights" of the year—along with Midsummer's Eve and Halloween—a time when the faeries rode out of their dwellings in the Hollow Hills within the Earth into the human world.
Until the 20th century, many people had encounters with faeries and lived side by side with them in quite a natural way. Some of these faery-seers descended from generations of country-dwellers who kept the old beliefs intact; others were visionaries, poets, and artists who refused to be influenced by the modern, materialistic worldview that, in William Blake's words, can only "see with, not thru, the eye."
The Nature of Faeries
But what are faeries and do they still exist today? Many people still think of them as the delightful, gauzy-winged creatures of children’s books—but this was not always so. Those faeries were a product of Victorian literature. Before that, there was a strong recognition throughout Europe of a host of sentient beings who are mostly non-physical entities, although they can be seen with the inner eye. What’s more, they knew that faeries do not dwell in a far-off realm, but live within the subtle dimension of our world, co-existing with us in the cracks of our everyday reality.
Faeries range from tall, beautiful, noble creatures to diminutive imps called "little people," with many shapes and sizes in between. There are solitary faeries, like the household brownie who looks like a small stocky man with a gray beard; leathery gnomes who dwell in forests and caves; "trooping faeries" who dance, sing, and feast together in the faery hills; and tribes of Cornish piskies, with red hair, pointed ears, and turned-up noses. One of the best explanations of what faeries are comes from an unlikely source, a 17th-century minister of the Church of Scotland: The Reverend Robert Kirk called them "a middle nature betwixt man and angel." They are creatures of light and energy, of "force" rather than "form," who can shift their shape as they please, unbound by laws of the physical world.
|The Hawthorn tree, a common faery dwelling. Photo by Susa Morgan-Black |