Writing in Fairies, Demons, and Nature Spirits: 'Small Gods' at the Margins of Christendom, Professor Lisa Bitel draws attention to the waning power of the síd as Christianity begins to take hold in Ireland. The blurring of the original identity of the aos sidhe has already taken hold: are these beings god's and goddesses or a supernatural race with limitations, soon to be banished to an Otherworld and reduced in both power and stature?
The shifting perspective of those who wrote about the síd certainly placed a new lens over the animistic interactions which surely took place in Ireland as they did elsewhere in Europe and indeed the world in ancient times. Later, in her chapter, Secrets of the Síd, Bitel draws attention to the line in Tochmarca Étaíne, "We see everyone everywhere/ And no one sees us/ The darkness of Adam's sin/ Prevents us being discerned."
Now, forgetting the clear Christian bias and influence on the last two lines, we are presented with what seems to be an echo of another statement said to have come from the supernatural forms who were to become today's fairies. Specifically, the words of the fairy in the medieval texts, The Knight of Staufenberg, as well as the Lay of Lanval describe how she can move outside the bounds of time, “Where I wish to be, I am.” and “Where I want to be, there I am too.” she tells us. Comparing these texts there is such a deliberate aloofness and cosmological context than a person cannot help but be both humbled and in awe of the fairy perspective.
When the 14th century scholar Petrarch famously climbed Mount Ventoux he discovered a new perspective on his life and environment up to that point. Coincidentally, he then opened up a book by the early Manichaean Gnostic, St. Augustine where it said, “And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.” (3.)
Petrarch had a moment of gnosis which led him to later write, “We look about us for what is to be found only within. [...] How many times, think you, did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit of the mountain which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation.”
When considering the dissection of consciousness we are always at the disadvantage of the current epistemological viewpoint. We may believe that we are manoeuvring ourselves into a fair and unbiased position but this is never, and never can be, true. As biologically limited beings with senses bound by physical reception we are unable to perceive the true and whole reality. Even to speculate and imagine, and, indeed, allow oneself to believe, is not enough to reveal any type of truth.
When not imprisoned within our tiny sliver of reception of the electromagnetic spectrum (from where all of our sensory input emerges) we are further restricted by the information our culture confers upon us even in the most subtle, yet restricting ways, such as tradition, rites and nativism. As Claude Lecouteux writes in his book, Demons and Spirits of the land, “…the syncretic nature of these creatures has conferred upon them specificity so strong it conceals their origin.”
Anthropologists and academics such as Ginzburg and Lecouteux demonstrate that within the minds of those who encounter these supernatural beings it is often a matter of cultural lenses as to whether the account is recorded as folklore, fairy-lore or a ghost story. The one constant in every explanation and interpretation is us, the experiencers.
So why are we so reluctant to venture inwards when contemplating fairies instead of creating vast and complicated supernatural spaces to accommodate their mysterious and contradictory nature? Or, are these non-physical and physical terrains the same? I was discussing this with my eldest daughter, who is both an atheist and disbeliever in fairies and all supernatural creatures, when she wondered whether there might be a connection to entoptic phenomena here.
Entoptic phenomena manifest as dots, squiggles and geometric shapes which occur when a person closes their eyes. What also occurs is the shapes seem to persist and overlay upon the field of visions when our eyes are open again. The shapes, of course, are not really part of the 'outside world' but will appear anywhere we turn or look because they are being generated by ourselves. Entoptic phenomena are also considered directly related to Palaeolithic art in a 'shamanistic' context and usually appear at the beginning as well as throughout an hallucinogenic experience.
Fairies are considered trickster-like, ambiguous, liminal, and confounding because they too appear throughout human history. They may seem to change in form because of the background, the culture, the beliefs, and the expectations of those who encounter them but these too can be explained by the entoptic explanation: that is, they are generated through us, as opposed to being exterior to us. Let me be clear, I am not arguing for a lack of agency or 'reality', I am wondering if we, as filters of consciousness, might be the projectors of fairies into and onto our world.
The contradictory states of fairy capture, physically present but mind gone, versus physically gone but psychically present, in dreams and omens, present us with a dilemma we should not place to one side as unsolvable. It may well instead present us with a paradox as understood by a materialist understanding of reality, but allowing the possibility of humans being the generators of a specific glimpse of fairies raises us, like Petrarch, to a place of higher perception and context.
The ontological consequences are not detrimental to either human agency nor that of fairies, themselves. Instead we might consider this a symbiotic existence: the consciousness of whatever fairies are using the physicality of human beings to broach occasionally into our own existence and range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Huxley's "Mind at large" concept is a perfect example. This would also explain the odd encounters where fairies seem to need human beings to observe them before they can perform a specific task. Although many times this 'task' is a game or seemingly bizarre feat, perhaps this too is a matter of us simply being unable to process what is actually occurring and is instead broken down into base, recognisable actions.
The manifestation of an independent consciousness through another also echoes the idea's of Dr. Jeffrey Kripal when he speculated that, " But if we live in a different world where everything is somehow embedded in consciousness, and we’re highly evolved transmitters or receivers of this broader cosmic life, then suddenly the universe is a marvelous place, and we live in a naturally ecstatic, evolving conscious cosmos that is waking up to itself."
In occult traditions we have examples of specific thought-created beings like egregores which are given agency by human beings. This is not what I mean by entoptic psychological phenomena. Egregores may achieve independence or they may dissipate over time, fairies and the beings we associate with their manifestations, on the other hand, exist independently (it seems) even without humans. Examples of this include dreams, prophecy and indigenous histories of non-physical ancestors. Again, though, in order to affect change in the human world there is often a need to be 'seen' and acknowledged, firstly. The ever changing nature and appearance of fairies as we bring them into our existence field would also contribute to this same diversity as well as the parallel advancements in technological awareness and motifs. A diverse tangent, perhaps, but one, I feel which has at least some merit.
Although usually mentioned in a fairy context only with specific connotations, the concept of our consciousness being manipulated by 'passengers' is not as alien, pardon the pun, as it may initially seem: from possession, to channelling Gods and Goddessess, this phenomena has been an ever-present recorded aspect of our spiritual evolution and will continue to be whether we like it or not. (C.) David Halpin. Images: Andrea de la Dea, Lucy Purrington, Mariusz Lewandowski