Friday, December 7, 2018

The coming of the fairies

“Fairies: Real Encounters with Little People” is a fascinating book by Janet Bord, a British researcher into the paranormal. Together with her husband Colin, Janet Bord set up the Fortean Picture Library. Alongside the Mary Evans Picture Library, the Fortean ditto functioned as an important archive for anomalists. Apparently, the Bord archive was transferred to the Swedish UFO archive AFU in Norrköping some years ago. As for “Fairies”, it´s the best-written book on the subject I´ve read so far, and an excellent popularized introduction to the same.

Until recently, I assumed that supposed encounters with fairies belong to a bygone age, and that nobody (at least not in “modern” nations) sees them anymore. While belief in fairies and other “little people” probably was more widespread 100 or 200 years ago than today, the observations haven´t stopped. Nor have they been discredited by the fake Cottingley fairy photos. Bord´s book contains several chapters on modern fairy sightings from Britain and Ireland. In the latter nations, it still occasionally happens that roads are rerouted in order not to destroy trees believed to be “fairy forts”. Fairy-like creatures are also observed in the rest of the world. Bord concentrates on European and North American cases (both White and Native). There are also intriguing similarities between classical fairy encounters and modern meetings with “aliens” and “UFOs”. Like the fairies, “aliens” are associated with strange lights, are often diminutive in stature, abduct people and/or behave in seemingly bizarre ways. They can also shape-shift at will – compare the idea of fairy glamour. Sometimes, it´s not clear whether an observation should be classified as “fairy”, “ghost” or “alien” – what about the Hopkinsville aliens, for instance?

But what *are* fairies? That´s of course the 10,000 dollar question. In a concluding chapter, Bord discusses various theories, ranging from the skeptical to the paranormal, without really taking sides. However, I think it´s obvious that she favors some kind of paranormal explanation. She positively references Robert Monroe´s books on astral travel when discussing the possibility of other worlds or dimensions existing alongside our own. There is also at least one “natural” explanation which strikes me as even crazier than the paranormal ones: the notion that the Little People really are a Pygmy race or species of humans, somehow hiding from Homo sapiens! Or, at the very least, a dim memory of such a race. (I suppose that´s *somewhat* more believable, after the discovery of the so-called Hobbit fossil at the island of Flores in Indonesia.)

One thing that struck me when reading the book is that Bord plays down the dangerous side of the fairies. While the danger is mentioned, it´s not the main topic of discussion, while a book like “Meeting the Other Crowd” by Irish lore-master Eddie Lenihan constantly emphasizes this particular aspect. I wonder why the difference? Bord has tried to only include first-hand accounts in her book, while Lenihan probably has a broader scope, also retelling traditional lore (which may or may not be based on the teller´s own experiences and hence could be embellished). Are fairies seen as more dangerous in the traditional tales than “IRL”, so to speak? Another striking thing is that many of the witnesses to fairy encounters in Bord´s book are children, something she points out herself, while Lenihan´s tales mostly features adults. Once again, are fairies *really* mostly seen by kids? I suppose a skeptic would use this to his advantage (some of the fairy encounters in Bord´s survey sound like “imaginary friends” of a particularly vivid nature), while a believer might say that children have stronger psychic abilities. Funny detail: like in John Michael Greer´s books on modern Druidry, honing your rusty Welsh pronunciation might be a good idea when reading this book, since Janet Bord live in Wales and many of the fairy haunts described have unimitable Welsh names such as Mynydd Llwydiarth or Craig-y-Ddinas at Pontneddfechan… Gotta love this language!

While “Fairies: Real Encounters with Little People” may not solve the mystery of the fairy, and says very little about the Cottingley photos, it´s nevertheless an indispensable read, certainly if you´re only casually interested in the subject. Apart from the main text, there is also a bibliography, a list of places in the UK where fairies have been observed, and some supposed fairy photographs. Recommended.

PS. This review is based on the paperback edition.

PS 2. Had I read this book during my skeptical period, I would probably have considered it barking mad, thrown it into the wall and pointedly refused to conduct any further Fortean or paranormal studies. Funny how people (the big people) can change…  


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Somewhere on Amazon it was said that the paperback version did not have photos. Is this true? The bound edition has a lot of interesting photos.

  3. PS. I have met fairies in dreams at night but never "IRL". On the other hand - some of the dreams were quite convincing, and in one the fairies said that they showed themselves this nigth becaue i on the evening before i had got the idea that I sholld cease reading about supernatural thimgs and instead reading books about the - Asiatic mode of production! It was true - i relly had that weird thougt the evening before the dream. In the dream they said that they showed temselves just to convince me that they really existerd. And stop my materialist deviations. So do i believe they exist? Well, at least i HOPE they exist. The dreams about them have mainly been very pleasant...

  4. Wow! You had several experiences of this kind and yet you are still a skeptic. I never had any supernatural experiences (as far as I know), but me too, "want to believe", although not necessarily in fairies - much of the Irish fairy lore as retold by Lenihan is scary if true!

    As for Bord´s book, it contains a photo section showing, among other things, one of the Cottingley photos, a Wiccan photo of a nude wiccan and some little people, a photo of a monument for the Green Children, etc.

    The quality of the photos is quite bad, and perhaps this is the difference with the hardback edition? I remember two of these photos from another book (including the Cottingley one) and I think they looked better there.

  5. PS. What if you meet Anubis in a dream and he tells you to read about the Asiatic mode of production? ;-)

    Seriously, I tend towards a more "abstract" (pardon the expression) belief in the spiritual, supernatural, Platonic forms or such. I often think of God as an abstract moralist incapable of controlling the crawling chaos down here below!

    At the same time, I can´t rule out more "concrete" manifestations of the supernatural either - once you abandon materialism, "anything goes".

    The cosmos is vast, and it´s probably a safe bet that there are a lot of things we don´t know, often because materialist science has decided not to look. I don´t even think we know everything about "earthly" things - see the Lost Civilization, or diffusionism, or crypto-zoology!

    There are also borderline phenomena, and its possible that UFOs and fairies are some of those. What if they are hallucinations induced by unknown natural forces? But that simply leads to the next question: why are the hallucinations so consistent, and why so meaningful...?

    I like Bord´s agnostic approach in this little book.

  6. Probably the bound and the parperback version have the same images. In Amazom someone complained that there were no images in the paperback, but that seems wong.

    As for supernatural experiences - well i want to believe, but, to paraphrase David Hume, if one says that s/he have met fairies in a dream - what is the difference from saying... that sh/e had a dream about fairies?

    Well, in many of the dreams - in particular this - i was sure it was not a dream during the dream. I asked myself if it was a dream an came to the conclusion that it was not. Until i wake up.

    Maybe fairies exist in some kind of spiritual world - that is, in a world that seems solely spiritual to us, but also is material in another dimension?

    A Christian fundamentalist may say that i indeed met real entities - demons. And that i therfore is very close to a not so nice place.. This is the worst of all theories, to be sure...

    If you go to my link you can see you commented ont the post.

  7. "but also is material in another dimension"... should be "but also MAY BE material in another dimension"...

  8. Yes, that´s an occult theory - the plane of existence known as "etheric" which is in between the physical and the astral. Etheric creatures are objectively real (in contrast to astral creatures) but they aren´t physical in our sense of the term, although they can manifest in the physical temporarily, taking on suitable forms (usually from our cultural baggage). That´s the speculation at any rate, more or less.