fairies


I’ve been doing research reading on fairies the last couple of weeks for the current WIP. I admit that watching Hellier Season 2 (now available, along with season 1, for free on YouTube and hellier.tv) has inspired me even more, although this post is only tangentially about Hellier. What I say below, certainly, can’t be applied to the Hellier experience, but I can’t help seeing parallels between Faery and aliens. I am far from the first to see these parallels. My first exposure to this idea was in Passport to Magonia by Jacques Vallee back in the 70s. Hellier moves in the same dreamlike terrain, weaving through the twilight world of UFO contactees, abductees, and experiencers, as well as many other strange and wonderful things.

In folklore, things with the fairies (a term you can take throughout this post to apply equally to aliens, goblins, and trickster characters of your choice) can be both true and untrue simultaneously. They can be the human dead, and not the human dead; of this world and not; sinister and friendly. The bodies of humans can remain where they are—in trance or dreams or a death-like state—and their souls can still be off traveling with the fae.

Which, if you think about it, adds a whole ‘nother dimension to the true/not true stories of alien contactees: both the current crop of “alien abductees,” I believe, and the old-fashioned contactee stories of people like Woodrow Derenberger (he of Mothman/Indrid Cold fame) and George Adamski (who claimed to have flown to the Moon and other planets with Nordic aliens). When you combine that true/untrue with the notion held in folklore that fairies often favor humans who transgress human laws and play fast and loose with human truth, it brings even deeper dimension to these accounts.

However, there are two things that the fairies of folklore will not tolerate: people who lie to them, and those who tell too many of their secrets. So a mortal may find great favor with them—may even, one supposes fly with them to Lanulos or the Moon or be shown great secrets and marvels—but the second they transgress those fairy rules, they will be punished. Perhaps the golden medals they received will turn to cheap tin knock-offs; perhaps their lives will become a horrorshow of hounding by the press or (maybe even worse) true believers; perhaps every transgression or tall tale or prejudice or human fallacy will be laid bare before the public and ridiculed. Whom the fairies elevate, they can also cast down without mercy.

Which may explain why so many of these contactees become labeled as hoaxers and con men and end badly. They get so caught up in their stories that they can’t resist spinning them out and out and out into the world, and they forget the basic nature of these experiences and of Faery: that they are the truth that is a lie and lies that are true. Only walking the middle path leads to any chance of survival. And it’s so damned easy to wander off the path.

This post is long and a mixed bag of things. If you’re only interesting in Hellier, you can skip everything past the picture of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies.

I did a marathon watching of all ten hours of Hellier Season 2 on Friday—as after cooking two large meals that week and housecleaning, I wasn’t up for much more than viewing and eating leftovers. It’s currently available for free on Amazon Prime (as is Season 1), and in a couple of weeks will also be available for free on YouTube.

I rather wish I had watched it at a more leisurely pace because I got rather tuckered out there at the end. I’m still trying to process it (and have been rewatching it slowly for the past few days) and I might have processed it better if it had been in smaller chunks. Or maybe not.

I did manage a brief Amazon review:

Season One of Hellier was a perfect little gem of high strangeness, evoking that tumbling feel of falling into a storm of the synchronicities. That storm continues in season 2, tumbling harder and stranger. It has the authentic feel of lived experience rather than staged paranormal TV. We ride along with the participants, feeling their puzzlement and insecurities, their disbelief and belief, and watching as things shift and shift again. If you are looking for pat answers and highly manipulated content, this may not be the series for you. But if you have realized that asking questions is the most important thing, Hellier will give you that thrill of late-night discussions with friends trying to figure out the mysteries of the Universe.

My head’s so full of Major Stuff that I can’t talk about because, spoilers. I may post again in a couple of weeks after people have had a chance to watch. For now, I’ll just say that at the end of episode 9 I used some sweetgrass oil, just in case, and drew a protective sigil on my TV screen before watching episode 10. Also, as soon as those damned tones started I got nauseated. You’ll know the tones I mean if you watch it. The same thing happened with a recent “Haunted Salem Live” sigil experiment done by Greg and Dana Newkirk. So. Mass initiation or suggestibility? I’m still not sure. And that’s in the true spirit of Hellier, I think. Questions are more important than answers.

There are very mild spoilers in the following. Skip to *** if you don’t want even that.

I will say this, and with all due respect to Tyler Strand, I do believe the carving he saw on the tree was not a green man but Odin. Which suggests an entirely different focus of worship in North Carolina than in…that other place. And does nothing, of course, to negate the strangeness he experienced. And speaking as a geezer, if some odd young man showed up at my door going on about strange things in the woods, I might also have called the police. It doesn’t mean abominable practices were going on there, just that whatever or Whoever they worship, they probably figured it was none of his gods damned business.

***Okay, it’s safe now.

After viewing Hellier 2 there were many books I wanted to read and reread. I already had, and had already read, many of the ones they recommend: Passport to Magonia by Jacques Vallee, The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen, Daimonic Reality by Patrick Harpur, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies by the Reverend Robert Kirk (written in the 17th c. and widely referred to in paranormal circles), and others. I thought it might be time to reread Kirk again, since it’s really just a tract, not a long book, and it fit in with some of the research I’ve been doing lately for my current novel. Somewhere in this house I have a 1991 reprint of Kirk edited by RJ Stewart but of course I couldn’t find it. I once had a very neat filing system for my books, but that was before the chaos of the last house move and the caregiving years that followed, alas.

I notice that you can even buy this Andrew Lang edition as a Kindle book now. I love living in the digital age. But since I spent beaucoup $ in the 70s xeroxing this at the UCLA Research Library, I don’t think I’ll spend anymore money on it. I’d forgotten that I’d filled it up with pink highlighter. It was interesting to see that I didn’t find all those passages relevant anymore, although some overlapped.

Back in the ancient days when I was a student at UCLA, they had two original copies of The Secret Commonwealth, the original 1815 imprint from his 17th c. manuscript, and the 1893 Andrew Lang one, in the open stacks of the Research Library—a holdover from the days when Thelma Moss ran a paranormal research program there. Research libraries were the only places you could find these back then.

I’ve thought about those books since and wondered if anyone had the sense to put them in the restricted access area of the library or if, Rev. Kirk-like, they have subsequently been kidnapped by the fairies. Or other beings of more malicious intent. Somebody I know may have mentioned their rarity to one of the librarians, who didn’t seem that interested. Probably thought that someone a pedantic busybody or just another arsehole student trying to tell her what to do. I appreciated having easy access to them, but also know it’s a very sharp 2-edged sword: not even the Library of Congress can protect against theft, individuals deciding their wants are more important than access to that cultural heritage for the rest of us.

Ah well.

Below are some notes and quoted passages from the current reread. Some are relevant to Hellier 2, some relevant to my current research, but I thought someone might find them interesting.

The Rev. Kirk says that females rarely have the second sight. That’s a 17th century male elite conceit, I believe. If women spoke of having second sight back in that day they would likely be burned.

The Scots would have themselves, their crops, and their livestock blessed every 1st Sunday of every quarter of the year because the Fae changed their lodgings then and evil things might befall them, and seers might have terrifying encounters. The Rev got rather shirty over the fact that these same Scots were not seen the rest of the quarter in church.
The Fae often show up as doppelgangers or what Kirk calls co-walkers, "haunting him as his shadow, as is often seen and known among Men (resembling the Originall) both before and after the Originall is dead."
If invited or "earnestly required," the Fae may speak with men. Otherwise, they can’t be arsed. The Rev. Kirk may not have stated it quite that way.
The Fae make "semblance to devour the Meats that it cunningly carried by, and then left the Carcase as if it expired and departed thence by a naturall and common Death." Cattle mutilations? Modern fae must be more clumsy. Or playing a different game, perhaps? Making themselves known as opposed to sneaking around and hiding? As if they need the attention now as much as they need the Meat.
"They speak but little, and that by way of whistling, clear, not rough…. Yet sometimes the Subterraneans speak more distinctly than at other times."
"They live much longer than we; yet die at last, or at least vanish from that state. ‘Tis one of their tenets, that nothing perisheth, but as the sun and year everything goes in a circle, lesser or greater and is renewed and refreshed in its revolutions."
If invoked by magic means "they are ever readiest to go on hurtful errands, but seldom will be the messengers of great good to men."
A seer who invokes them by magic "is not terrified with their sight when he calls them, but seeing them in a surprise frights him extremely…. For the hideous spectacles seen among them; as the torturing of some Wight, earnest ghostly Looks, skirmishes, and the like. They do not all the harm which appearingly they have power to do; nor are they perceived to be in great pain, save that they are usually silent and sullen."
"They are a people invulnerable by our weapons…these people have not a second or so gross a body at all to be pierced; but as Air which when divided unites again; or if they feel pain by a blow they…quickly cure it."
" they are not subject to sore Sicknesses, but dwindle and decay at a certain Period, all about ane Age. Some say their continual Sadness is because of their pendulous State…as uncertain what at the last Revolution will become of them…"
"The extraordinary or second sight can be given them by the ministry of bad as well as good spirits to those that will embrace it."
The Rev goes on to talk a whole bunch of hunting for treasure, Bible stuff, cunning folk magic. Which is interesting, but nothing I need to take notes on for my writing at the moment.

Random quote of the day:

“Do not believe, though, that fairy tales lie. He who tells them lies—but as soon as it is told, the fairy miracle slowly floats up into the air and goes off to live its life, real, truer than the insolence of everyday.”

—Albert Camus, “Melusina’s Book,” (tr. Ellen Conroy Kennedy)

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

torches

The purpose of this post is mostly to call attention to this fascinating and readable academic article by Katharine Luomala from Pacific Studies, 1983. Ms. Luomala does a thorough—and nonjudgmental—investigation of the widely perceived phenomena of Night Marchers, torch-bearing spirit processions which are still being perceived today in the Hawaiian islands. These processions seem to share similarities with the trooping fairies of Ireland, as well as other marching “beings.” There may also be something of the Wild Hunt in this mythology, as well.

The Night Marchers, however, are distinctly Hawaiian, incorporating in their processions the ritual of taboo, where it was on pain of death that ordinary people looked upon the being of sacred chiefs.

As Ms. Luomala explains:

The most sacred chiefs and chiefesses were carried in litters because their feet would taboo the ground. They seldom went out except at night, thus preventing the disruption of daily labor and the chance of a polluting shadow falling on anything or anybody. A taboo-breaker might be killed or seized for a sacrifice at a high chief’s heiau (place of worship). Sometimes the penalty was extended to the violator’s entire family group.

Even in spiritual form, it is widely believed, if you look upon the Night March, you will die—or be kidnapped and forced to march with them for eternity. Whenever you see a line of torches flickering in the distance and dark, folk of the islands say it is best to run as fast in the opposite direction as you can. If flight isn’t possible, hide—but by all means, do not do any curious peeking from your hiding place or you are doomed. If even hiding is not possible, prostrate yourself on your face on the ground and do not look up until you have heard the sound of marching feet pass you by and disappear in the distance.

Here’s the testimony of a limpet picker from 1970:

Suddenly I heard the sound of a conch shell blowing in the distance. Keoki heard it too. I thought it was the wind. Then a little while later we heard it again. This time it was a little louder. It was spooky because we didn’t see anything. Then we heard it again. We looked toward Ka-wai-hae side and then we saw it. It looked like a procession. At first we saw a line of torches in the distance. The procession was moving along the coastline. The conch shell blew again.

I took out my knife and Keoki got the rifle. We went seaward and laid down on the lava rock. We knew about night marchers from other fishermen. We knew you aren’t supposed to look upon the marchers and to lay on the ground face down. We did this. The marchers passed about fifty yards in front of us on the sand path. As they passed we could hear the sound of a drum pounding beat by beat. We didn’t look up until they were farther down the coast. All we could see now was the line of torches, and all we could hear was the far away sound of the conch shell. We didn’t know if they were going to come back that night, but we didn’t want to stick around and see.

Ms. Luomala recounts many such reports—from native islanders, tourists, European explorers—and places them within the context of Hawaiian belief. Like I said, a fascinating article.

I shouldn’t confess this, but I have a terrible addiction to junk TV. I saw a recent episode of Ghost Asylum, one of the stupider ghost hunter shows on the air. They did an investigation of the abandoned Coco Palms resort, reportedly built over one of the well-known pathways of the Night Marchers of Kaua’i. Many locals believe the resort was cursed from the start and is badly haunted. They won’t go there after dark, and say Night Marches are common on the property. It was destroyed by Hurrican Iniki in 1992 and never rebuilt. Some locals say this was a curse visited on them for the sacrilege of building on sacred land. But…developers are currently planning to tear down the Coco Palms and rebuild a new, grander resort. This would bring much needed jobs to the island, but local sentiment is mixed. It’s not for me to say whether development on a sacred site is a wise plan or just more developer hubris, but the investors have pledged to respect the land. They also brought in a shaman to do a blessing, just in case.

trail-984198_960_720

There’s a fascinating book that I would half-recommend: Running With the Fairies: Towards a Transpersonal Anthropology of Religion by Dennis Gaffin. The first half of the book worked quite well for me, but I didn’t think the latter half of personal testimonies from people who believe they are reincarnated fairies or actual fairies in human bodies quite jelled. I support people believing whatever they like—and it harm none—but I had a problem with their adamant insistence that there is no such thing as a dark side to the fairies. All is sweetness and light in their Universe. Which flies in the face of millennia of human folklore and experience which sees the fairies as a tricksy lot, often inimical to humanity. The believers in this book put that down to superstition and ignorance, but I’m not so certain. People in past centuries may have been superstitious and ignorant, but in general were no more clever or no more stupid then we are. And they had a much vaster experience of the dark side of nature than most of us do these days. It’s easier to discount that chthonic world when you have electric lights and indoor plumbing. If there are such things as fairies, there may indeed be good ones, but I suspect most are at best ambivalent towards humans, and some may actually be malevolent.

But anyway, Dennis Gaffin. He’s an academic (a Professor of Anthropology at the State University of New York College at Buffalo) who has done something quite rare: a serious study of contemporary Irish fairy belief. Academics are big on doing serious studies of the folk traditions of Buddhists or South Seas Islanders or Native Americans, et al., but there’s a prejudice against turning that same eye towards Western folk beliefs. It’s an inherently racist stand, I think, that Those People and their Quaint Beliefs are okay to study, but somehow Western belief structures must be dismissed as silly trash. It’s as if the people who are doing the studies have decided that First Worlders are “too good” to have such ideas, that they must be ruthlessly derided and suppressed by Western academia so we can preserve our collective First World reputation.

So Professor Gaffin runs an academic risk here. True, he’s an anthropologist who’s gone native, so to speak, and now perceives fairies his own self. Which further risks his academic reputation, I suppose, but his point of view straddling both worlds is fascinating to me. I feel a kinship to him.
Have I ever seen a fairy? No. Nor heard none, neither. Do I believe in fairies? That’s a thorny question. I believe in another world that cozies up to this one and sometimes leaks through. I suspect that Whatever takes many forms and some people—otherwise rational and solid citizens—see It as fairies. Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, devas, dakinis, djinn, angels, name your poison. It’s all part of the same bag: That Which Leaks Through.

It’s okay. I know you think I’m crazy. When I say I don’t care, I don’t mean it in a snotty or rebellious way. I mean that I made a conscious decision some time ago to share the things of the spirit as they come to me, in case someone else is having similar experiences and wondering if they’re nuts. I can’t answer the question of sanity, but I do know that I am a rational person who occasionally has trans-rational experiences.

When it comes to belief, experience is the core of it, an emotional heart-to-heart with something beyond the narrow confines of personal ego. It’s not a received wisdom, which is why religion often fails to convince. “Belief cannot be transferred,” says Professor Gaffin, “for it is a function of experience.” These things often seem to go hand-in-hand with a closeness to nature. As we move more and more away from the natural world and more into a mechanized, urbanized environment those experiences become more rare.

Scientific education is a great thing and a fundamentally good way of looking at the world. I highly recommend it. But even scientists (well, the rational ones) will admit they don’t have all the answers. There was a time when I was about ninety percent of the way towards atheist. I called myself agnostic, but I’d come to view the Universe as fairly mechanistic. At one point, I finally said, “Okay, I don’t believe there’s anything else.” The Universe decided to call my bet. Almost as soon as I’d uttered that sentence It sent me an extraordinary experience. Followed by another and another until I capitulated, swept up in what to me was irrefutable evidence of there being something else. Generally, I’ve been a great deal happier in my “defeat” than I was in my “victorious” skepticism.

Why me? Why was I sent experiential data? I haven’t a clue. That’s the thing about the Universe. It’s a big freaking mystery with big freaking mysterious ways. We wander down half-formed pathways with thick fog on either side and every once in a while the mists lift to reveal a dazzling view of sheer cliffs and the dramatic crashing of waves far below. Then the clouds return and we proceed on the path—but once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see that amazing sight. You’ve glimpsed the beauty and the peril lying just beyond the verge. You step carefully from that point on.

brownie-sm

Illustration by Jean-Baptiste Monge

There’s always one in every crowd. You know, you’ve got a good thing going and that one guy or gal pushes things too far and ruins it for everyone. This is no less true when dealing with fairies.

I was reading R. Macdonald Robertson’s Selected Highland Folktales and he told the story of “The Fairies of Pennygown.” If any of the townsfolk of Pennygown needed help with a task, they brought the work of an evening to a certain nearby sithean, a lovely green fairy hill. By morning, the task would be nicely completed: spinning, weaving, repair, mending, you name it. One villager, though, kept leaving more and more difficult things, pushing it.

One night he left by their hillock a piece of driftwood which he had picked up on the sea-shore, with instructions that it was to be made into a ship’s mast. When the villagers came next morning to collect the property left overnight, they found none of the tasks executed. This last request had angered the fairies so much that they had left their hillock, in disgust, for good.

Any reasonable being would be put out by such oafish behavior, it’s true. But it’s also true that helpful fairies are a tricky lot. They can have goodwill towards humans, but it can also turn on a dime. If they’re insulted, they can get mischievous and mean. Some say poltergeists are fairies who’ve become insulted by a householder and take it out in spite.

They also have sometimes exacting standards of what constitutes insult. Brownies and hobs, for instance, will gladly help out with the housework, usually at night like the Pennygown folk. However, they don’t want to be seen, and don’t want payment, or even expressions of gratitude. They will, though, accept gifts, mostly in the form of food, especially porridge and honey. If a householder starts taking them for granted, openly thanks them, or considers the food “payment”—or if they try to get a glimpse of them—the brownies will forthwith abandon the house, never to be seen again or lend their help.

There are other European versions of such beings: tomte in Scandanavia, domovoi in Slavic countries, Heinzelmännchen in Germany, Haltija in Finland, many others. Some have even made the trip over the Atlantic to the Americas. But in my (admittedly limited) investigation of helpful fairy folk, I’ve only found one non-European example of work-helpful fairies, the koro-pok-guru of the Ainu people of the Northern Japanese islands.

These beings would hunt and fish for the Ainu in exchange for little gifts, leaving the goods overnight. Like the brownies, they hated being seen. Of course, one Ainu loser couldn’t leave well enough alone and blew the gig for everyone. The young man in question waited by the place where the gifts were left, determined to see a koro-pok-guru, and laid hands on the first one to appear. It was a beautiful koro-pok-guru maiden, but she and her people were so angered at this affrontery that they disappeared, never to help the Ainu or be seen again.

Very strong parallels with the European myths, but that isn’t entirely surprising. Ainu are racially distinct from the Japanese. Recent research suggests Okhotsk origins and there is still a small population of Ainu in Russia. They share that pan-European ancestry, so they share those ancient pan-European stories.

But as I said, I haven’t found anything else like it around the world. Good and bad spirits aplenty, but none who will pitch in to do the work for humans in exchange for small gifts. I am far from an expert on this, so if anyone knows of such a tradition in a non-European context, I would love to hear about it.

For St. Patrick’s Day, here’s the incomparable Eddie Lenihan telling a tale:

rackham_fairy

A Fairy by Arthur Rackham

You don’t have to be crazy to see things that 1) aren’t really there; 2) other people don’t see; 3) are glimpses of an alternate reality; 4) all of the above and maybe a whole lot more.

I was reading an interesting article from DarkLore, Vol. 8, edited by Greg Taylor: “Dreaming While Awake: A History of Sane Hallucinations” by Mike Jay. You can read the entire article here. In it he speaks of a 90-year-old gentleman, Charles Lullin,

whose sight had been progressively failing since a cataract operation five years before [in February of 1758]…[who] began to see considerably more than he had become accustomed to. For the next several months he was visited in his apartment by a silent procession of figures, invisible to everyone but him: young men in magnificent cloaks, perfectly coiffured ladies carrying boxes on their heads, girls dancing in silks and ribbons.

His grandson, Charles Bonnet, wrote about these visions and those of others with failing sight. It became known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

My mother was just shy of 94 when she passed. I thank all the gods that she retained her mind and clarity, her self, until the last three weeks of her life. When she was 91, however, she had a stroke. We were “lucky” because neither her motor skills nor her speech was affected, although her balance permanently disappeared from that point. She couldn’t stand without a walker, not from muscle weakness but because she would tumble over backward without one. For a woman of her vigorous physicality and drive it was quite a frustration. However, the worst of it was that the stroke affected her eyesight: she had alternating bands of vision and blindness in each eye. The brain, confused by the input it received, often took the jumbled bits and assembled them into something that made sense to it.

My mom at first thought these visions were fact until I explained to her that I wasn’t seeing the same thing. She got so she’d say things like, “There probably isn’t a soldier in a red uniform standing in the corner, is there?” And I would allow as how I didn’t see one. I remember one time discussing with her the weird perception of waking up and not knowing where you are, thinking maybe you’re in some place you lived in two or three moves ago. Mom said that sensation had gone a step further for her: she’d wake and although she knew where everything was and everything looked the same, that the neighborhood seemed familiar, she felt as if the house wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Somehow it had moved, she knew not where. I told her, “Maybe we’ve slipped into an alternate reality and you’re the only one who realizes it.” She laughed. “Maybe so.”

She’d wake up and lie in bed watching a parade of showgirls in full Vegas regalia promenade through her bedroom, up a staircase that didn’t exist, and through a nonexistent second story door. These things probably did not actually exist, but Mike Jay wonders, and so do I, what the true nature of hallucinations are, if no visual impairment exists, if one is not taking strong narcotics, if one is a perfectly rational human being. A significant minority of sane people do see and hear (and smell) things, as many as ten percent of the population. As Oliver Sacks says, “Seeing Things? Hearing Things? Many of Us Do” (New York Times, November 3, 2012).

Mike Jay speaks of “Lilliput sight,” where people see things much smaller than they are. And of parades of tiny people marching to and fro about the room, often ignoring or disdainful of attempts by perceivers to communicate with them. A friend of mine who was a paranormal researcher told of a highly proficient office manager and “nice lady,” who told him that every night for a month, little trooping fairies climbed up her bedspread, marched across the bed, then climbed down the other side and disappeared under the bed. She was too afraid to get up and look under the bed. And as suddenly as the phenomena started, it stopped. A temporary brain fugue? Maybe. But it sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it? Like many of the fairy stories of old.

But, although many of the percipients of odd things in such books as Lady Gregory’s Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland or W. Y. Evan-Wentz’s The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries were elders, a significant number were not. Or going blind. Or sots. Or craaaazy. The brain undoubtedly generates chimera, trying to make sense of bits of disjointed experience. These things may exist completely inside a rational mind, conjured up by misfiring synapses, odd perception, or neurological fugue.

Or maybe they aren’t. Maybe the doors to perception do open at random intervals and people catch a glimpse of numinous tides, of What Could Be, or What Is in some universe Over There.

This is CGI, but one of the best of its kind I’ve seen. The payoff is definitely worth the watching.

cottingley-fairies

Frances Griffiths and “fairies”

Is there anyone who is a fan of folklore that hasn’t heard of the Cottingley Fairies, for good or ill? There may be a few, I suppose. I’ll give a brief explanation, by way of introducing a very charming film taken from The BBC Roadshow, featuring Frances Griffiths’s daughter and granddaughter.

Basically, two girls named Frances Griffith and Elsie Wright came home one day in 1917 and told their parents Frances had seen fairies by the brook near their village of Cottingley in Yorkshire. Their parents mocked them, which made them mad, so they set about creating photographic proof. They were so determined to come up with this proof that they cut out pictures of fairies from Edwardian books, mounted them on cardboard, and artfully arranged them in the foliage near the brook so they could interact with them. Everyone was amazed. The local theosophists got ahold of the story and ran with it, then the spiritualists, then (and this is what really condemned the girls to a life of lying) the great spiritualist himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who went so far as to write a book on the subject.

Do I believe in fairies?

Certainly not in cardboard cut out ones. A modern eye isn’t as easily fooled, I don’t think, as Edwardians. (But that could just be early 21st century hubris talking.) We look at these photos and think, “How could anyone be fooled by them?” But people wanted to believe, and in that time when photography was new, many accepted that the camera could not lie—and believed.

Do I believe Frances saw fairies that first day and that childish righteous indignation at being mocked for the truth led her and Elsie to a twisted path of lies?

I believe anything is possible, especially lies hiding a truth, and truths hiding a lie. I believe in the will to believe and the will to persuade. I believe that things unseen are not so easily reproduced upon command and the temptation to give nature a helping hand is sometimes overwhelming. I believe that is almost as tricksy an answer as the Cottingley Fairies themselves, who are often obstreperous and contrary creatures.

And so, the film. I love the little girl in pink standing next to the “expert appraiser.” Her expressions and body language are priceless, swinging between boredom and interest. A child of a different time than Frances and Elsie, to be sure, but no less fascinated.

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