Frederick Cotman, Spellbound
How does contact with the fairies affect us? I have often mentioned the more negative aspects of meeting fairies on human health- the consequences, both physical and psychological, associated with being ‘elf addled.’
Shock & awe
These adverse outcomes can be real and life changing- here are two further examples from the Isle of Man: a man who spied on fairies dancing in an old kiln was taken ill, and was left unable to walk for the remainder of his life, whilst another who watched fairies dancing through the keyhole of a deserted cottage was blinded for his impertinence. These are the extreme outcomes. Definitely, the common responses are terror, bewilderment and, naturally, surprise. In Marjorie Johnson’s Seeing Fairies we read these not untypical accounts:
“The physical reaction was that Mr X’s wife was so completely unnerved as to be almost hysterical… The boy said he felt ‘weird.'” (p.115)
“He said he was stunned by the sight and one occasion had gone into a kind of swoon… he seemed partially ‘fairy-struck.'” (p.116)
Some people certainly can find fairy encounters very draining and are left ill and exhausted for some time afterwards.
Very understandably, many people will be amazed, awed, entranced and fascinated by what is happening to them. One man wrote in 1973 of a meeting with a gnome which made him “neither disturbed nor excited, just curious to know more about him.” (Janet Bord, Fairies, p.72)
However, in this posting I’m going to focus upon the pleasant and spiritual results of a fairy encounter. Beyond the natural astonishment and shock, there are far more positive responses.
For instance, some men walking along a road on the Isle of Man one night met three huge fairies coming the other way. As they passed them, they felt a curious sensation, ‘as if lifted up.’ This reaction is very far from unique. We find it echoed in Marjorie Johnson’s Seeing Fairies by witnesses who describe their elation, exhilaration and sense of enhanced health. One felt “as light as air” afterwards; another “had a rather exciting feeling like being on a great height, but I was in no way afraid.” (pp.31, 144, 156, 192, 251, 254 & 296)
Hutton Lear, A glimpse of the fairies
Also from Man comes the following experience, recounted by a Mr J H Kelly to Evans Wentz (Fairy Faith p.134). The witness was walking back from Laxey to Douglas one moonlit night when he heard voices and “was conscious of being in the midst of an invisible throng.” The strange feeling continued for the distance of a mile or so “There was no fear or emotion or excitement, but perfect calm on my part” he recalled. Eventually he turned off the main road and “there was a sudden and strange quietness and a sense of isolation came over me, as though the joy and peace of my life had departed with the invisible throng.” He was left convinced of the reality of the fairy folk. In Seeing Fairies several witnesses mentioned the sense of peace or calm they felt.
As in the Laxey case, and as is quite predictable, a fairy encounter will often create a true believer. For example, Dorothy Tompkins saw a flying being in her garden and said to herself:
“This is not a butterfly or anything else, it is a fairy. I am absolutely sure, and nothing and nobody must ever make me doubt it.”
Another of Johnson’s informants described the sighting as an “enlightening experience. I knew something first hand, which I had not known before.” (pp.44, 46, 66, 112, 181 & 318)
Similar was the experience of Cynthia Montefiore, recorded in 1977. She was with her mother in the family garden in Somerset, when they both saw a fairy hovering in a rose bush. “We went back to the house astonished and enriched by our mutual experience…” (Bord p.69)
Even if the witness isn’t changed, the encounter will very often stay with them for the remainder of their lives: “one of the most vivid experiences of my life” said one. Equally, there can be sadness to have seen a fairy and then never to see one again, and a longing to go back to an age when we might have been more open to such visions.
Comfort and joy
Many of the first hand accounts sent to Marjorie Johnson recount the happiness, even joy, that the sightings gave. Often, too, the individuals derived comfort from the encounters. Several had been sad or worried before, but afterwards felt restored and reassured (for example, pp.45, 223 or 254).
These sensations can stay with you, too. Consider for example the words of a Welsh woman who spoke to researcher Robin Gwyndaf (in Narvaez, The Good People, 1997, p.181). She described how her knowledge of the reality of the tylwyth teg made her feel: “it gives you some kind of joy to think about it,” she told him.
A Hampshire woman called Sylvia Pigeon saw a fairy in her garden. She recalled that:
“She felt love and compassion coming from the creature, that ‘it was looking at me with some delight, I would say… I had a feeling of love and friendliness.’” (Bord p.71)
An assurance of friendliness was communicated to several of those who described their fairy encounters to Johnson.
McCubbin, What the little girl saw in the bush
“Like seeing beyond this world”
These sensations of happiness, love and personal development must surely be part of the reason why people so often connect fairy encounters with religious meaning. Not only are they in touch with an otherworld- they feel uplifted and enhanced by it.
The end of the experience may also abruptly terminate the feelings of joy, though. We saw this in the earlier account from the Isle of Man; something similar was felt by two boys who met two fairy youths and their mother on a beach on the island of Muck in about 1910. They spoke to the fairies for some time and even shared their food. After a while the Scottish boys’ sister arrived and spoke to them- “the spell was broken and immediately they became fearful, though before they had felt happy.” It is fascinating how often the intrusion of an external individual is necessary to break the fairy enchantment, although this is usually the welcome release from being pixy-led: for example, a woman unable to find her way out of a field in Cornwall was only rescued when a farm boy came wandering past; an Irish woman being led off by a crowd of fairies could only escape them by calling to her son and a Welsh man who had awoken at night to find fairies dancing and feasting in his bedroom could only find his way out of the room by crying out in panic and awakening the rest of his family (Bord, pp.15, 123 & 128).
A special mention should be made here of the impression caused by hearing fairy music. I have described before the impact the ceol sidhe can have and it’s worth repeating now. The combination of contact with supernatural forces, conveyed in a form that naturally affects the human senses and emotions, can be extremely powerful. For example, one of Johnson’s witnesses said that hearing the high and plaintive sound of undines signing was: “so alluring that I was filled with a strange longing.” Another told her that the sweet, unearthly music “will never be effaced from my memory.” (pp.328 & 329)
I have discussed in several posts the beneficial influence of fairy belief upon human culture; I also examine the broader ‘psychological’ aspects in my books British Fairies (Green Magic, 2017) and Faery (Llewellyn, March 2020).