An Introduction to the History and Mystery of Their Magical Realm
Fairies abound in the realms of myth and folklore. They have enchanted humans for centuries--but are these mischievous, ethereal creatures more than just myth?
One could ask for no better guide to the fairy realm than Ralph Harvey, one of England's foremost modern-day witches. In Fairies Plain & Simple he intersperses his own intriguing fairy encounters (among them, a mysterious musical interlude in an Irish valley) with succinct yet interesting introductions to fairy lore.
You will learn why roses have special meaning to fairies and why "elf bolts" are significant as well as how fairies influenced everyone from Henry III to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Harvey even describes the best ways to seek out fairies (hint: aligning your chakras will help) and how to express gratitude for fairy favors.
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The Mystery Begins
Clonegal, Enniscorthy, County Wexford, August 1981
As dawn broke on that momentous day in 1981, I stood on the parapet of Huntington Castle in Clonegal at Enniscorthy in Ireland and watched the gentle mist roll away over the hills, lifting as it went. Above, a strong sun blazed through, heralding a fine day.
I went down the winding dark staircase to an early breakfast and to plan the day's itinerary. Little did I realize that the events of that day in August would forever be etched in my memory and that twenty-five years later they would lead me to write this book. Despite nagging doubts in my own beliefs on the subject of fairies, and memories of my own strange experience that day in Clonegal, I hesitated about writing any more on the subject of fairies. Then I became aware of an ancient law — one that still had not been repealed — making it a capital offense to kill a fairy! The law, which Henry III had passed in 1153, stated that even the wounding or maiming of a fairy could bring about the death penalty, such was the reverence in which these creatures were held!
My wife and I spent five weeks as guests of Lord and Lady Strathloch and the Honorable Olivia Robertson, who founded the internationally respected society of the Fellowship of Isis. It was in the depths of this castle that my wife, Audrey, was initiated into the hidden Egyptian mysteries of Black Isis by Derry (Lord Strathloch) and Olivia, together with a wonderful woman named Grainne, who was ordained as a priestess of Isis that same day as well. This celebration was followed by an agape (ritual) attended by local occultists, witches, Isians, and a number of eminent Druids.
Each morning, we came together for breakfast and talked about where we had been and what we had seen the previous day, and sometimes Olivia would arrange a special outing for us. Sometimes, as happened on this occasion, Olivia and Poppy (Lady Strathloch) would give us a packed lunch and send us off on our own. Our intention had originally been to go trout fishing at a fish farm. Audrey had never attempted trout fishing and was looking forward to the experience. Smiling, Olivia gave us our little parcel of sandwiches and cakes and bade us a great day.
En route, we accidentally took a wrong turn and found ourselves traveling toward a distant mountain range, so we decided to push on, abandoning the idea of going to the fishery. We had no rods and tackle with us anyway, and we were uncertain of whether we would be able to rent them at the trout farm. Deciding that the mountains looked far more exciting than fishing, we changed our plans. Later we stopped at a small kiosk for a couple of bottles of lemonade, and soon afterward we found ourselves at the base of the mountain. The road up was narrow and tortuous, often with a sheer drop to the side. Indeed, driving along it was a hazardous undertaking in itself!
The drive seemed endless, and we felt as though we were entering into the heavens. Above us, low clouds enveloped the summit. Then, near the apex and to our right, we saw a beautiful valley beneath us; while to our left, a small waterfall cascaded into the depths below. We decided to explore the valley and enjoy our picnic there. It was wild and rugged country, but we succeeded in parking our car in a wider area nearby that would allow another car to pass. Climbing over a fence, we could see the overgrown vestiges of a small path, and so we slowly worked our way down.
After what seemed an eternity, we were able to see the valley more clearly, and at the bottom of it, away from where the waterfall entered a pool, a winding stream wound its way through the valley and disappeared into the distance. A somewhat rickety footbridge now came into sight, and we gingerly made our way down to it. The bridge was clearly disused and rotten, and it was with some trepidation that we made our way across it, with our sandwiches and bottles of lemonade stuck in our pockets. We estimated the stream to be no more than a foot or so deep, so if we did end up in the drink, at least we wouldn't have to swim! Safely across the stream, we wended our way to a spot where harebell and lady's glove were growing and where clumps of bluebell leaves could be seen. The stream tinkled away beneath our feet, and we could hear the sound of the waterfall in the distance. It was an idyllic setting.
We sat a while, eating our food and drinking lemonade straight from the bottle, but within a few minutes we became aware of a small rustling sound coming from the grass. Audrey is afraid of snakes, so she asked me to investigate, but there was nothing there. Only afterward did it dawn on me that it would have been a fruitless search, as there are no snakes in Ireland — legend states that they were banished by St. Patrick, no less!
The rustling continued circling around us. As the sound suddenly stopped, ever so gently the strains of some kind of ancient music could be heard. It is impossible to describe the ethereal sound that came from the grassy bank. I can only liken it to 11th-century-style music with harpsichords, lutes, and cymbals; it had a distinct medieval air to it, not unlike the sound of the music to the old Tudor song "Greensleeves."
Our first reaction was to look around for overhead wires or telegraph poles, which, just conceivably, could make a kind of singing sound, but the horizon was clear. The clouds had lifted, and all we could see were rolling meadows and hills. We stayed there at least a full half hour before moving on, all the time being serenaded by this mini-orchestra that continuously circumnavigated us. We both noted that this circling around us was "deosil" (counterclockwise), which, we realized when we looked back on the incident, could well have been a significant factor.
It was an absolutely charming scenario, something completely out of this world. The music continued, yet nothing could be seen. We placed our nearly empty bottles in the paper bag and hid them out of sight, intending to return later and retrieve them, and then together we set off to explore the valley. As we walked, the mini-orchestra fell in behind us and followed, dogging our footsteps. Every now and again, the rhythm altered, so that at one point, the music was to our left, then our right, and suddenly in front, as if leading the way. Dutifully we followed, like the entranced children following the Pied Piper of Hamelin. We climbed over turnstiles and five-bar gates and through old overgrown paths, with the merry band traveling along with us, until we stopped and rested for a while.
We sat on the grass, completely puzzled, while the invisible orchestra continued to circle us once more. Eventually we looked at our watches, and as dusk started to fall, we slowly made our way back. Immediately the process started again, with the invisible musicians this time preceding us. Arriving back at the picnic spot, we drank the last vestiges of our lemonade and set off to the car, carrying the now empty bottles with us. To our surprise, the music trailed us right up to the bridge, and as we carefully traversed our way back over it, our tiny minstrels still followed us. The journey back up the hill took far longer than we thought — after all, going downhill is always easier than going up.
Slowly we climbed back up, and all the time, just behind us, the haunting music continued. At long last we came to the car, and right up to the moment we opened the car door, we were regaled with this ethereal music. Then, ever so slowly, as if having seen us safely back to our car, the music receded into the distance. Growing ever fainter, it descended back down into the valley and into the distance until eventually we could hear it no more.
Silently, we started the engine and made our way back down the mountain, wondering about the reality of what had occurred. We pondered the possibilities. We have never owned a portable radio, and at that time we didn't even have a radio in the car. There were no electric lines or telegraph poles in the area (and subsequent inquiries confirmed this). We were in a wild, untamed area that was part of rural Ireland.
The next morning, we joined Derry, Poppy, and Olivia for breakfast, and as usual they inquired as to whether our day had gone well. Derry, a fish lover, asked whether we had caught any fish, but we explained that we had lost our way and ended up on top of a mountain and had picnicked there. Then Derry asked curiously which mountain we were on, at which point we produced our road map and pointed it out.
Our three companions were strangely silent as we pointed out the road we had taken. We then told them of the little valley and of the unsafe old bridge we had chanced crossing. By this point you could have cut the tension in the room with a knife. Then Olivia gently asked, "Did anything happen while you were there?" Reluctant that we may be disbelieved, we started to recall the events of the day, including a description of the valley, the rustic bridge, and the waterfall. They listened in silence, occasionally throwing knowing glances at each other while we described the phenomenon of the magical music we had heard. When we finished our strange story, all three burst into cries of joy, exclaiming that this was wonderful news. They then said how great it was that the valley and its occupants had clearly accepted us and taken us to their bosom.
Local people called the area "the valley of the sidhe" (pronounced shee). Our friends told us that an occurrence such as ours was very unusual and that no one ever entered the valley for fear of disturbing the "wee ones," or "the little folk." Derry explained that the rows of willow trees that lined the banks of the stream were sacred trees in fairy lore, and apparently spots where willow trees abounded and water tinkled were the most likely places to find fairies. Ponds, lakesides, and riverbanks were also well known fairy haunts, as that was where the little ones often went when they left their burrows. They told us that people had seen fairies beside great oaks and sitting in the branches of rowan and yew trees, all of which were considered magical trees. They also told us that the locals had often heard music in the area around the waterfall that they described as "not of this world" and that the local folk kept away from the area.
When later we went to the shops in the nearby village, we discovered that the story of our encounter had become widely known, and weirdly, no one was surprised at all. The village folk knew the place to be a fairy hideaway, and the only thing that surprised them was the fact that we had emerged at least outwardly unaffected. They said that those who heard the music either became enchanted and were lured into the world of fairy and never seen again, or might be replaced by a changeling. Looking back, I wonder whether they really did accept that we were the same people who had arrived earlier.
That evening, Derry opened a bottle of fine wine to celebrate our fairy acceptance. The event became a talking point over the coming weeks, as Derry regaled us with stories of the Tuatha de Danaan, as the little people were known, or the daoine sidhe. They were the legendary children of Danu, who were also sometimes called Dana's children. To this day, many an initiated witch will take a fairy name as the name that the coven will thenceforth know her by, and Dana ranks high on the witchcraft list of names.
Legend says these Danaan once ruled Ireland, but then Ireland was invaded by a race known as the Milesians, who overcame the Danaan. Whether these invaders were human is not recorded, but one must assume that they were both human and presumably Christian, for the Danaan fairies were driven underground. At this point in history, the Danaan took up residence in ancient tumuli and barrows, but from within these ethereal chambers they still influenced the lives of the locals — even to this day. (It is interesting to note that J. R. R. Tolkien, who was a great investigator of mysteries such as these, chose to house his hobbits underground!)
The fairies are revered in that part of Ireland, and this devotion is encapsulated in many little customs, such as always leaving a little fruit on the trees at harvesttime for the honored little ones. Another local belief is that farmers must always gather in the corn and wheat before November 1, as it would spoil after that day, and fairies hate to see waste.
The following week, Audrey and I left the castle for just a couple of days to stay with the well-known witches Stewart and Janet Farrar. They took us, together with one of their acolytes, named Ginny, to a number of old fairy sites. This journey culminated in a visit to the mystical New Grange. According to local legend, a phantom troupe of ghostly horsemen was known to ride into its interior each full moon. Stewart regaled us with tales of fairy sightings and villagers' experiences relating to the sidhe. That night we were awakened by something knocking on the window, and I sleepily got out of bed to see who it was, only to realize that we were sleeping on the top floor of the building and well out of reach of any human. I peered out the window; then, in great excitement, I called Audrey over. There, flapping its wings against the windowpane, was a large bat! It remained there for quite a while, then turned and flew off silently back into the night.
The whole of our five-week stay in Ireland was filled with phenomena, most of it centered on the castle, which I swear was one of the most haunted I have ever stayed in. I would love to devote a chapter in this book to the castle and its apparitions, including the beautiful "girl on the gate," who combed her tresses and sang, and the phantom monks who traversed the old yew walk. However, this book is devoted to fairies and their kin, and strangely enough, fairies were absent from the castle and its immediate precincts.
It has since been suggested to me that we could have been victims of a fairy prank. Apparently, some fairy tribes love to play tricks with strangers, particularly priests; although I was assured that these tricks were normally reserved for Christian ones and certainly not pagan priests like Audrey and me! The Irish people told us that corrigans inhabited some valleys, and these creatures were renowned for their sweet music, which was frequently combined with trickery. They love to lure strangers on a dance, and when I look back, that is exactly what happened, as we were led on a merry dance "up hill and down dale," so to speak, while we followed the music. Corrigans are reputed to reside around streams and ponds, so this legend seems to tally with our experience. They are said to have a particular affection for waterfalls, unlike their fairy cousins, who live in barrows.
Early the following morning, we bade the Farrars a sad goodbye and drove to Ardmore, then back to Huntingdon Castle the following day with our heads full of fairy tales and legends. Sadly, it was the last time I ever saw Stewart, as he passed to the "Summerlands" some time later. Now, years later, as I put pen to paper to write this book, it is still a source of wonderment to both Audrey and me as we recall a sunny day in a sacred valley where none of the locals ventured. We know for a fact that fairies exist, and they are an integral part of our history.
The Art, Appearance, and History of Fairies
We who are old, old and gay, O so old! Thousands of years, thousands of years, If all were told.
— WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
In distinguishing between fact and fiction and differentiating between popular myth and legend with regard to fairies, we need to abandon the popular idea of what a fairy looks like. Regretfully, the greatest stumbling block in discussing the fairy issue is the popular image of a fairy that was created by our Victorian forebears. They were so entranced by fairies they created the fairy myth that produced the popular image of this ethereal creature that lasts to this day.
Victorian artists illustrated everything from children's books to ornamental cards with beautiful nymphlike young maidens with gossamer butterfly wings in scintillating colors. These figures were clothed in flowing, feminine dresses. Suddenly strict Victorian fathers became keen to read fairy stories to their young broods! A sprinkling of male fairies, usually dressed in little green suits and wearing pointed caps, balance the equation, but the female of the species dominated throughout. The very pretty — and somewhat sexy — image of the fairy entered European consciousness during the 19th century and has remained there right up to the present day.
Excerpted from "Fairies Plain & Simple"
Copyright © 2017 Ralph Harvey.
Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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Table of Contents
Part 1 The Magical Realm of Fairies
An Introduction to Fairies 1
1 The Mystery Begins 9
2 The Art, Appearance, and History of Fairies 21
Part 2 Fairy Lore
3 The Cottingley Mystery 31
4 Encounters of the Fairy Kind 39
5 Finding Fairies 51
6 A True Modern Fairy Story 63
7 A Magical Scene 69
Part 3 Entering the Fairy Realm
8 Fairy Mysteries, Flowers, and Charms 81
9 Fairy Rings and Superstitions 91
10 Dowsing for Fairies 105
11 The Elemental Realm 113
12 Flower Fairy Lore 121