The title to this one is a bit misleading. I thought I was going to be reading a book about the lives of elves, fauns and fairies, or at least about
beliefs and folklore concerning these entities. There is a little of that here, but most of the book is about seers, or people with "second-sight" in the
Scottish-Irish lands. In fact, if fauns or elves were even mentioned it was in passing. Local labels are used, such as siths,
or sleagh maith (the good people) called so because the Irish bless what they fear. The collective term used for them is "Subterranean Inhabitants."
The book is kind of a hodge-podge of tales, stories, sightings, experiences and the like, collected by a minister of the church at Aberfoyle, Robert Kirk, who, like many Irish-Scottish peoples believed in the spirit world along with their Christian religion. Supposedly it was first published in 1691, then later in 1815, but there is no surviving published copy from the earlier date; only the original manuscript remains. The Dover edition is a reprint of the 1933 publications, with the introduction by R. B. Cunninghame Graham, and comments by Andrew Lang, both from an 1893 edition. The commentary by Lang takes up nearly half the book (44 pages). Incidentally, the language is a bit archaic, not to mention steeped with local dialect and terms, which makes comprehension a little more of a challenge. Therefore, I will report, to the best of my ability, my perceptions of the book. A second reading at sometime, combined with additional research would certainly clarify some of the confusion.
Having gotten that bit out of the way, there was much in this book to marvel, especially a person as myself, who always finds it fascinating to read books that communicate and authenticate actual metaphysical experiences people have had. I have said this on many occasions, but I will say it again. We in the "modern" world (which does not necessarily imply progress, in fact, I see our current situation on this planet as catastrophically regressed and getting worse), have lost touch with anything that we can't see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. In other words, people such as myself who easily travel back and forth between physical and non-physical worlds are viewed as a nutter, and had I lived during Kirk's time, may have been burned as a witch. Possibly. In Ireland and Scotland, communing with the spirit world was a little more accepted as part of society. This book not only quotes biblical passages concerning metaphysics, but goes back to the ancients. Cornelius Agrippa is mentioned more than once. Born in 1486, he was known as a practitioner of the occult, an astrologer, and magician. Of course, he was the damning influence in the life of Victor Frankenstein. Even more ancient personalities mentioned include Plato, Pythagoras, and Socrates. My point in this is that early civilization did not find it abnormal to commune with non-physical entities, but modern culture, with all its distractions has lost contact with other, very real worlds, mocking what it does not understand because the modern mind has become numbed by texting and television and a whole realm of useless and destructive technology.
And that is why I appreciate books such as this, because they confirm that what I know to be true, was once an acceptable part of society.
What the book mostly contains is recorded incidents of intrusions from the spirit world into the lives of mortals, sometimes with deadly results. There are as many incidents of premonitions and other paranormal experiences, and visions by seers, which, the argument is made, may be the result of intercepting beings from the fairy world. Or not. As I said, there is a hodge-podge here, mostly for the purpose of having a written account of unearthly occurrences.
So, what I will present with the remainder of the this review is simply some examples from the book.
Read them for entertainment or curiosity, or look a little deeper. . .
And one other short commentary: this edition contains some lovely fairy artworks, that looks as if they may be woodcuts or engravings. Unfortunately none are labeled, nor cited anywhere.
As was mentioned earlier, Kirk collected these stories, and believed them. In fact the story goes that when he died, or in place of death, he was taken by the fairies, and was not able to be rescued, though he requested help. (For all we know, he may still be living in fairyland!) He made the argument that those humans who were able to accomplish extraordinary feats were being aided by fairies or a ghost, and often were burned as a witch. One case is Alison Pearson, who cured Archbishop Adamson of his disease:
"The Bischope keipit his castle lyk a tod in his holl, seik of a disease of grait fetiditie, and oftymes under the cure of a woman suspected of witchcraft, namelie, ane wha confessit hir to haiff learnit medecin of ane callit Mr. Wilyeam Simsone, that apeired divers tymes to hir efter his dead, and gaiff hir a buik. . ."
And, no, the whole book is NOT written in Scottish!
As far as concerning the habits of fairies, it was said they migrated to a new place quarterly, at which time the locals stayed off the roads and went to church, to avoid "terrifying encounters." "Their chameleon-like bodies swim in the air near the earth with bag and baggage." Supposedly they also appear at funerals to help carry the coffin, and eat, too, so there are people who will not touch the food served at funerals for fear of poisoning.
Quite a bit was mentioned of the concept of the co-walker or double—a copy of a person that exists in the spirit world. This is nothing new, and certainly not limited to the Scottish Highlands. In Germany, it is called "doppelganger" and to see oneself peripherally (not as a reflection) was often a harbinger of doom. To Christians, this developed into the concept of a guardian angel, or Socrates' Daemon, who was a guide from the spirit world. In Philip Pullman's modern trilogy His Dark Materials, (source for the movie The Golden Compass), the characters lived in a parallel universe to our earth, and each had an animal daemon which stayed with them through life. When the person died, so did the animal.
The interactions between the fairy world and humanity could range from mischievous to fatal. Brownies were known to enter one's kitchen during the night and tidy up. But sometimes fairies kidnapped a mother who had given birth to suckle their own young, while the shell of the bedded woman shriveled and died. In one case, however, it is claimed, after a couple years a "dead" mother did return, fully alive. Possessions frequently occurred, and often the victims were children. It was thought that putting cold iron in the bed with a potential target would ward off fairy intruders.
It is believed that the fairy people dress in local habits, and cannot be harmed by our weapons, though they may hurt humans. In many cases, however, it is noted that when even heavy objects were hurled at a person, they became light as a feather as they struck, so as not to harm. Fairies, live very long, and have no religion. There are also certain female varieties "of this aerial order which do often tryst with lascivious young men in the quality of succubi or Lightsome paramours and strumpets." One particular man foretold his own death after a romp in the woods with one of these.
I found very interesting the idea that battles and wars are first played out in the aerial world, to portend victory in the physical world. Anyone who is deeply involved in metaphysics, and the current endgame battle between humanity and The Controllers knows that the battle is, in fact, being played out in the physical and non-physical world.
In any case, this book contains some mighty interesting information to those who are practitioners or participants in paranormal, metaphysical, and psychic phenomena. Do give it a read for some fascinating accounts.
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