The sleep of reason produces monsters; inversions, caricatures of what we know to be right and sensible. Sometimes the fancies of the night seem more substantial than the sober thoughts of daytime. The dreams of a folklorist are especially subject to this kind of inversion. Consider two magazine pieces published by that Victorian litterateur, Grant Allen of Haslemere. One is a serious contribution to folklore scholarship, while the other is its dark parody. But the night-time version is far more revealing. It says a great deal about the mind of its author; but it also tells us something about a hidden strand in twentieth-century paganism.
Novelist, freethinker and evolutionary theorist, Allen was much in tune with the spirit of his times, and had mastered an easy style which could be turned to most themes. In a piece for the Cornhill Magazine he addressed the subject of fairies. It was very curious that the English peasantry should believe with such tenacity in creatures who did not exist; at least, as far as he was concerned they did not exist. What could have inspired the idea of fairies? They were a little people, who used flint arrowheads and dreaded iron. That suggested Stone Age man, about whom so much had recently been discovered. They were to be met with in grassy hillocks, the ancient burial mounds of that people. So fairies were the ghosts of Neolithic man, dimly remembered and feared by subsequent races. QED, thought Grant Allen, or at least the rational side of him did.
The rest of this article by Jeremy Harte, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1998, can be read on the White Dragon website.
Dark Green – Some Disturbing Thoughts about Faeries
They came for Mary Rowlandson at dawn, a wild host that shrieked and yelled. Strong brown arms plucked her from the farm and took her away to their secret places in the wild country. She lay on a bed of dry leaves, watching the black shapes as they danced and sang; then the next day they set her to work, along with the other mortals who had been abducted. They themselves were too proud to work – they knew nothing of the crafts and skills by which ordinary people order their lives. This is hardly surprising. They were the Narragansett Indians, and Mary Rowlandson was a New England settler who had been taken captive in the wars of the 1670s.
Mary was a Puritan through and through. Her narrative of the eleven weeks spent with the Indians is threaded effortlessly with quotations and exhortations from the Bible, the one book she cared about. Fairy tales, one gathers, were not on the reading list. And yet her history corresponds, point for point, with those stories from the old country which tell how a woman was carried off by the fairies. There is the same capricious violence from the strange people, the same stealthy plundering of food and drink from the lonely farms, the same theft of women and children. Captives might be needed to replace Indian children; they might be set to work, or offered up to the Devil – ‘for aye at every seven years, they pay a teind to Hell’. The religious views of the Narragansett are not known, but Mary feared the worst, especially after they had selected one of her fellow-captives to be stripped naked. ‘And when they had sung and danced around her (in their hellish manner) as long as they pleased, they knockt her on head, and the child in her arms with her’ (Turner 1974: 322)
The rest of this article by Jeremy Harte, published in White Dragon at Lughnasa 1999, can be read on the White Dragon website.
Abducted by the Faeries?