- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Close Encounters with the World Beyond
"Thomas the Rhymer" from Scottish folklore
A ferlie he spied wi'his ee ...
It happened on a day at the beginning of summer, that time when the sun rises early and lingers late and sweet, dewy nights string the cobwebs with pearls of glowing moonsheen; when the hawthorn blooms alongside the jeweled blue harebell and the flame-red poppy; when the veil between the Seen and the Unseen, thin and sheer at any time, is sometimes drawn aside or even rent-usually without the slightest warning.
It was the season of the Fairy Raid-the time when the folk of the Sidhe walk abroad in the world of men.
At such a time, all unheeding, Thomas the Rhymer, poet of Ercildoune, reclined at ease on Huntlie bank, dreaming dreams and composing pleasant nothings in the twilight. He nibbled at the end of his quill and lay back in the grass, musing. Then he sat up, spread out his parchment, and began to write:
Her shirt was o' the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o' the velvet fyne;
At ilka tett of her horse's mane,
Hung fifty siller bells and nine.
Thomas smiled, pleased with his own versifying. Shifting his pen from hand to hand, he smoothed the parchment and peered into the gathering dusk. All at once his smile faded. He rubbed his eyes and stared.
Could it be? He blinked and stared again. His parchment and quill dropped to the grass. He struggled to his feet.
Such unearthly beauty! From whence had she come? He'd seen no sign of her approach. He'd heard nothing ... nothing at all, until the delicate chiming of the tiny silver bells woke him, as if out of an agelong trance.
"Greetings, Thomas," she said in a soothing, musical voice.
He nodded mutely. The bells, he now saw, hung tinkling from the braided mane of her nimble white horse. She was indescribably fair, in a gown of green velvet, with a garland of summer flowers in her abundant golden hair. Her face shone as if with a brilliance of its own, a light so keen that he was forced to avert his eyes.
Thomas snapped shut his gaping mouth. Impossible! he thought. And yet there she was-the very woman he'd been describing, not half a minute before, in his metrical toying and trifling! Unthinkably, his rhymes had come to life!
He knelt before her, pulled off his cap, and bowed his head.
"Are you ..." He faltered. "Are you the Queen of Heaven?"
"O no, O no, Thomas," she said,
"That name does not belang to me;
I am but the Queen of fair Elfland,
That am hither come to visit thee."
His heart turned to water. His name, his place, his upbringing, and his kin-these things he remembered no more. He could feel her blue-green eyes burning a hole in the top of his head as the tips of her cool satin fingers touched his hand. He looked up into her face. It was clear, shining, and painfully beautiful in the shade of the Eildon-tree. Without thinking, he got to his feet, took a strand of her yellow hair between his fingers, and kissed her red lips.
She laughed-a laugh like the bubbling of a gentle brook-and softly thrust him away. "And now," said she with a smile, "you must come with me, Thomas. You must come with me to the Land of Faerie:"
And ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro' weal or woe as may chance to be.
He stood speechless, gazing at her beauty. Snared, captivated, overruled completely. She reached down and pulled him up into the saddle behind her. Flinging her head back, she whistled to her milk-white steed. Away they flew, swifter than the wind, while the chiming of the bells tided into the folds of the creeping mists beyond Huntlie bank.
It was seven years before anyone saw Thomas in the neighborhood of Berwickshire again.
When he returned, it was as a changed man.
When he returned, it was not as Thomas the Rhymer, but as True Thomas: poet, prophet, and seer.
A ferlie. That, according to the ancient poet, is what Thomas saw beneath the Eildon-tree.
Just what is a ferlie? Good question. Because the phenomenon itself has been forgotten almost as completely as the old Scots word used to describe it.
A ferlie (or fairlie-from the Old English faer, meaning "danger," and faerlic, "unexpected") is a sudden apparition, a sight or experience so strange, so unnerving, and so disarming that words fail to do it justice. It's a portent, a marvel, a wake-up call. A breakthrough from beyond the veil that normally screens the unseen world from human eyes.
That unseen world-the world not only of powers, principalities, angels, and archangels, but of the immortal souls of women and men-exists as surely and as certainly as the invisible air we breathe. According to the story of Thomas, it is a world of terrible beauty. It's also dangerously and unpredictably dynamic-a realm of vibrant, pulsating life that constantly threatens to overflow its boundaries and burst in upon the unwary without the slightest warning. And it is close to us, closer than we can imagine. At any given moment it is no more than a short, unforeseeable step away.
This, according to fairy lore, is the great and fearsome possibility that hangs over the head of each and every mortal during every hour of his or her fleeting existence: the possibility of an instant encounter with the invisible Life that beats at the very heart of the universe. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, that experience lurks around every corner. In the words of poet Francis Thompson:
The angels keep their ancient places;-Turn but a stone, and start a wing! 'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces, That miss the many-splendoured thing.
It's a basic biblical concept, this idea of the ferlie, this notion of a transporting and transforming meeting with the life-shattering reality of the world beyond. "Am I a God near at hand," asks the Lord, "and not a God afar off?" (Jeremiah 23:23). We know the answer. God, as the apostle Paul told the Athenians, "is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27). In fact, He is even nearer than near. The invisible God, like the Fairy Queen in the story "Thomas the Rhymer," has taken the initiative to withdraw the parting veil, to step out of eternity and into the world of time and space. He has burst in upon our drowsy musings like a lightning bolt out of the blue. This is the essence of the Christian gospel.
The prophet Ezekiel knew this. He, too, spied a ferlie while minding his own business beside the riverbank one day. Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind was coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself; and brightness was all around it and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire....
Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.
So when I saw it, I fell on my face. (Ezekiel 1:4,28)
The apostle John saw something similar while serving time on the isle of Patmos:
I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. (Revelation 1:12-17)
I fell at His feet as dead. If we're to believe the testimony of firsthand witnesses, a ferlie invariably affects the beholder in precisely this way. What else should we expect when human darkness comes face to face with the beauty of eternal light? This is a close encounter so wonderful and fearful, so perilous and lovely; that anyone who experiences it must either change or die.
If only we could see it! If only, like the prophet Elisha's servant, the eyes of our hearts might be opened to perceive the reality of our position-to behold the mountains round about us "full of horses and chariots of fire" (2 Kings 6:17). If only, in Thompson's phrase (from stanza one of the poem quoted above), we could see the invisible, touch the intangible, and know the unknowable. Then indeed, we, like Thomas, would find ourselves unalterably changed.
To spy a ferlie like the ones Thomas the Rhymer, Ezekiel the prophet, or John the Revelator perceived is to experience pure, unmerited grace. For the partition between the Seen and the Unseen realms, be it ever so thin and liable to shakings and stirrings, can only be breached from the other side. When this happens, Christians speak of the miracle of divine revelation.
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:18)
The incarnation of Christ-this is the greatest ferlie of them all. For in this once-for-all, never-to-be-repeated historical event, God has torn the separating veil from top to bottom and removed it altogether (Matthew 27:51).
A faint, musical note of trickling water. A passing breath of cool dawn air. A stillness, sudden and arresting as quiet thunder after the night's restless dreams. A silence, gentle but alive with the barely perceptible motion of dappled light among leaves.
Anodos stirred. Dimly he became aware of an odd sensation, as if the outdoors had somehow come inside. Was it raining? Had he left the window open before going to bed? He couldn't tightly remember. With a groan, he pulled the coverlet up over his head and pressed his face into the pillow. Too early, he thought.
There it was again!-that insistent splash, plash, tinkle-like the babble of a rising mountain spring. Was he dreaming still? The sound seemed to be coming from the basin in the corner-the green marble washbasin on the green marble stand, where every morning he rinsed off the residue of the night. Throwing off the blankets, Anodos sat up and looked across the room.
Marvel of marvels! Water was indeed bubbling up over the lip of the green bowl and pouring down in a crystal fountain. It was splashing and spattering off the base of the pedestal, flowing in a tiny rivulet down over the carpet-the carpet he himself had designed on a pattern of daisies and violets and tender young grass.
Anodos blinked and looked closer. Was it his imagination? Or was that actually grass waving to and fro? Yes-there could be no mistaking it now. The tiny blades really were undulating, dancing for joy in the small, clear ripples at the edge of the growing stream. They were fresh and green and very real. The water gurgled past his bed, and he noticed that the ornately carved legs of the black oak dressing table were alive with the climbing tendrils of clematis and ivy.
More stirrings. His glance was drawn upward to the bed's canopy and curtains, which were woven in the likeness of leaves and twining branches. Another puff of the morning breeze, and the branches and leaves began rustling and swaying above his head.
Anodos jumped out of bed. The cool wetness of dewy grass against his bare feet came as a sudden shock. His thoughts were racing. What could it all mean? Then he remembered the vision he'd seen the previous evening. Out of the hidden compartment at the back of the old desk, a tiny, lovely lady had appeared and spoken to him in strange, bewildering words. It all came back to him clearly now. Had it truly been only a dream, as he'd supposed?
By the time he finished dressing, he was standing beneath the lowest boughs of a great oak tree, looking up through layer upon canopied layer of fluttering, glancing leaves that rose heavenward in gilt-edged ranks, high into the blue air and the swelling morning light. To the east, the rays of the rising sun shone like molten gold between the receding pillars of the trunks. Before his feet lay a muddy, mossy track that led away through the dark stems and into the shadowy depths of a dense green forest.
Fear, apprehension, and the thrill of a nameless challenge filled his heart. Squaring his shoulders, he set foot upon the path and followed it into the wood, recalling all the while the tiny lady's parting benediction:
"Tomorrow you shall find the way into Fairy Land."
If you've traveled much in Faerie, you're probably acquainted with the Enchanted Forest. It's a familiar feature of most fantasy landscapes. And not without good reason, for even in the real world, woods and forests have a way of weaving a spell over those who venture beneath their shadowed eaves.
It's difficult to explain this feeling of awe that steals over us when we enter a forested glade. It has about it something of the mystery of a well-told tale, something of the reverential hush of a columned cathedral. Perhaps it's just the solitude, silence, and secrecy that dwell deep in the heart of a tangled dell. Perhaps it's a by-product of the green shadows and flitting sunspots that play so elusively over the feathered ferns. Whatever it is, it certainly flows in some measure from that sense of nameless anticipation that awaits every visitor to the wildwood. After all, one never knows what might be lurking behind that next tree.
For Anodos (whose name comes from a Greek word meaning "upward" or "inland journey"), protagonist of George MacDonald's "Faerie Romance" Phantastes, the forest turns out to be the road to Fairy Land itself: a passageway leading up and out of the dull humdrum of daily doubt and disbelief and straight into the trackless marvels and miracles of a fairer, richer world.
Anodos, like the boy Max in Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, awakes one morning to find that his bedroom has been transformed into a wooded wonderland.
Excerpted from God of the Fairy Tale by Jim Ware Copyright ©2003 by Jim Ware. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted May 8, 2006
This is one of the best works to come out in recent history. The reader is quickly, and effortlessly, taken from one tale to another and shown how we can learn of our God in them. It is not neccesary to leave out fairy tales from our lives, if we are faithful in our approach. Read, and enjoy!
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.