by Dr.James Maertens, Alferian Gwydion MacLir
Elves and Faerie folk are alive and well in modern culture, especially among the culture of magical folk and those pursuing a nature spirituality, but also most obviously in children's literature. Fictional representations of the Hidden People are drawing more and more on the study of folklore and actual present-day accounts of "meeting the Other Crowd." Rejecting the term "supernatural" and the dichotomy between subjectivity and objectivity, I consider the reality of the Sidhe as something that is part of Nature and part of the human psyche at the same time. Modern Druids must walk a fine line between the study of old folklore and the creation of new folklore. How do we live in a culture of scientific materialism and yet challenge the dominant knowledge paradigm? Looking at both fiction and non-fiction, I suggest a middle way between credulity and skepticism that posits the power of imagination as central to perception, and perceptions of the Faerie realms as manifest in many ways. However we commune with the Faerie realms, we do well to recognize the importance to our Ancestors of magical beings as integral parts of their world.
Before beginning this lecture proper, I must thank OBOD's Chosen Chief, Philip Carr-Gomm for inviting me to write and deliver these thoughts. It is a great honor to be included among the luminaries who have written the previous Mt. Haemus Lectures. This essay into Faerie holds out all the glamour of that hidden world, and so I think it only appropriate that I begin in the dullest way possible by defining some terms. Trained as an English professor and employed in various capacities as a wordsmith, it should come as no surprise that I start with words themselves. Words are the tools we use to craft reality.
The world of our Ancestors was a world in which the realm of Faerie was always just around the bend. Faith and Reason were not in conflict for our Ancestors, but in the past few generations, the tensions have increased between cultural notions of what is rational and a faith in personal experiences with Otherworld beings. Faerie highways and hills still are given respect by those in the know, and folklore materials documenting experiences with Fairies have been collected throughout the twentieth century in Britain, Scotland, Ireland and in North America. Yet, folklorists suggest that the Fairy Faith is a dying belief system, based more in traditional storytelling than in actual experiences. The traditional storytellers and their sessions losing in the competition with television and radio, a culture educated into scientific materialism and positivism can only categorize such stories as "fiction." Belief in Fairies is presumed, by the dominant culture led by orthodox academia, to be a thing of childhood or so-called "primitive" societies operating without the benefit of adult reason or methods of empirical validation. Note in this characterization the central rhetorical trope: Science is adult while belief in spirits is childish.
Despite this view, it is interesting to note that within druid and pagan circles the same time period during which such pre-scientific beliefs are supposed to have diminished has seen an upsurge of books about practices involving the folk of Faerie.
There is a segment of society, druids among them, who openly embrace belief in the realm of Faerie and often claim to have experienced otherwise inexplicable encounters with this "Otherworld." Such adult believers are neither children nor members of a primitive society. Theirs is belief, but not a naïve belief. At least not always. Instead of credulity, we find active imagination.
Druids in orders such as OBOD work intentionally with the beings of Faerie through meditation and inward journeys. There are branches of Wicca and other neopagan paths devoted to such work as well, using the term "Fairy" or not. Devas, nature spirits, the spirit of Dana or the land itself – all point to the same active imagination of a broader sort of Nature (e.g., Findhorn, McEowan, Stepanich). Few, I suspect, among those who believe in Faerie folk would say they believe in supernaturalism. Science has made "supernatural" a dirty word and the expanding mysteries of Nature revealed by physicists and cosmologists leaves the term rather limp. Nature herself is so "super" that one can imagine almost anything circumscribed within the bounds of her being. The idea is not altogether bad, however, because as long as science insists on reducing everything to the explained, "natural" carries connotations that are not well-suited to Faerie. It might be better to consider that Faerie is part of a layered nature, in which different layers operate with different expectations of predictability and even different physical rules.
The Church, for many centuries, insisted on a separate category of phenomena that were "supernatural" mainly because Christianity was philosophically based on a separation of God and Nature, Heaven and Earth. Modern pagan and druidic philosophy and beliefs are, by contrast, based on the Hermetic principle of "as above, so below" which at its heart explodes the dichotomy between "above" and "below." Indeed, it explodes the hierarchical view of the cosmos itself and points towards circles, spirals, or what the physicists call a holographic universe in which every part reflects and contains the whole. This is important because it removes the belief that all beings are either subject to God or the Devil and it removes the notion of the Great Chain of Being, leading from God downwards through angels and Men to lower forms of life.
There are still vestiges of this philosophical idea in modern science which continues to feel the need to describe non-human entities in terms of superiority and inferiority, but this bias is clearly breaking down among zoologists as it is among anthropologists. There are vestiges as well in today's paganism in which the upper, middle, and lower worlds are arranged hierarchically on the World-Tree. However, in the Celtic cosmos, and probably the original Norse cosmos, these three worlds were not considered to be in hierarchic relationship in the sense later Christianity imposed. The Celts represented the worlds as concentric circles and the vertical dimension connecting sky, land, and sea, but did not separate them hierarchically or divide them into "nature" and "the supernatural". The Divine is immanent and omnipresent in nature, and wonders are a part of it.
To reject the artificial division of the cosmos into natural and supernatural parts is to move towards common sense and holistic thought. A similar common-sensical turn in today's Faerie lore is reflected in the expression "working with Faerie folk." The phrase may sound odd to some of you, and the term deserves a moment of scrutiny. In the old tales that have come down to us encounters with the Hidden People were seldom characterized by cooperation and never uncomplicated by strange consequences. Even conversation is often missing. The Secret Commonwealth of Reverend Kirk is one notable exception in which the contact is sustained and informative, not surprising and fleeting. Often the human person encountering persons from the Otherworld was startled or frightened by the experience.
The encounters often involved marriages or love affairs that lead to ultimately bittersweet results, or abductions of either children or adults. The idea of actively seeking out the Fair Folk and trying to learn from them or cooperate with them in magical actions might seem like folly. Most of the traditional stories lay stress on not interfering with the Shee. This new willingness to actively engage with the Hidden People is the mark of how times have changed and how a culture of new pagans have adopted a very proactive and positive view of the Otherworlds. There is a sense of cooperation that has not perhaps been seen since the time of Cuchullain, and much of this is due, I believe, to the stories published by Professor Tolkien and, after his death, by his son Christopher Tolkien. In these tales, we see the Elves and even the Dwarves as allies with mortal humans in the struggles with the forces of evil and destruction.
Reason and Faith, Nature and Supernature: Such oppositions ultimately need to be deconstructed. Definitions help us to understand what we are talking about, but oppositional definitions are not suitable for our time. The deconstructionist philosophers have pointed critically toward the tendency of Western thought to create polarized concepts rather than to look at what is really there. Jungian psychology has further laid the emphasis on the reconciliation of opposites as the fundamental method of individuation or psychic wholeness. We live in a Holistic age.
Two other terms which must inevitably be defined in discussions such as this are the word "Fairies" (spelled variously) and the term "Otherworlds." When addressing an audience of druids, one might take the risk of assuming that everyone understands these terms, but they are, in the broader culture, full of varying connotations. "Fairies" for example (spelled with an "ai" in the middle) has given way to "Faeries" (spelled with an "ae") for much the same reason as magick is often spelled with a "k" at the end. The more archaic spelling is used to indicate that one means serious beings from another world parallel to our own, rather than the tiny winged creatures depicted by Cecily Mary Barker or J. M. Barrie.
According to Carole Silver in her study Strange & Secret Peoples, a major transformation of Faerie lore occurred during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Our great-grandparents saw the emergence of the Golden Age of Children's Literature, in which "fairies" underwent a process of diminution and marginalization – separated from adult life and relegated to the nursery. Says Silver:
“As the elfin peoples became staples of children's literature, the perception grew that they themselves were childish and that interest and belief in them befitted children only. Some of the tales … made the fairies tiny and harmless … fairies were conflated with angels or further miniaturized into toys. In addition, fairies and witches were increasingly polarized: fairies grew purely good and sprouted wings, losing their demonic energy and power.” (187)
J. M. Barrie, in Peter Pan, drew a close association between fairies and children, suggesting that fairies were actually created by the laughter of babies. (Silver 188). Walt Disney solidified these associations and diminutive images in the collective consciousness of the West. Silver notes several dynamics in this historical process. First, the proliferation of fairy-tales for children swamped the genuine, non-literary tales of the Shee and the Hidden Folk. The fairies couldn’t stand under all the attention. Second, the firm association of fairies with childhood made it increasingly difficult for adults to admit to themselves or others that they had experienced contact with the Faerie world. Finally, the process of shrinking the beings of Faeries and giving them wings was part of a growing literalization of them. If they were so elusive, they must be tiny. If they could fly, they must have wings. As odd as it may sound, these modifications of the Faery traditions were an attempt to make them more believable to scientifically influenced minds. The new generation of children educated to accept the scientific view of the world had to have some plausible literal explanation for how fairies could fly or how they could go unseen.
The scientific mentality introduced two other tendencies operating seemingly in opposite directions. One was the tendency to call all manner of beings "fairies" homogenizing them into a single race. The other was the tendency to classify and name them, as if they were literal, actual creatures subject to the sort of binomial nomenclature Carlus Linnaeus applied to organize and subdue the natural world. "Fairies" became a sort of generalized term, a Genus, of which there were many species. However valid such classifications are to the student of folk lore, Silver is right to say that attempts to deal with the Hidden peoples scientifically in the early twentieth century went awry. Central to this historical moment was the well-known episode of the Cottingley fairy photographs and their defence by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whom the public associated with his fictional character, the super-rational Sherlock Holmes. As Silver puts it: "the tendency to render the elfin peoples material and/or scientific inadvertently diminished their importance" (185). The shift we see is simultaneously a shift from the world of adults to that of children, and a shift from the world of legend and myth to a world ruled by science and its premises.
The denizens of Faerie (and here I am using the word spelled with an "ae" to indicate their realm) -- these denizens are indeed multiform, but they are also protean and defy classification. One has only to open Katherine Briggs' Dictionary of Fairies or any number of other such encyclopedic guides to see that there are many different kinds of beings who are all rather lumped together with the term "Fairies." Recent children's books such as the Spiderwyck Chronicles and the Harry Potter books have attempted to create "field guides" to the "magical beasts" and the fairy folk.
It is worth noting that the word "fairy" itself is derogatory and traditionally no one with any sense would address a person from the Otherworld as a "Fairy" spelled in any way. It is a somewhat dismissive abbreviation for Fair Folk, one of the polite euphemisms for people from the Otherworlds who are not one's dead ancestors. That is to say, those beings of Faerie who are not human. It is much as if in more modern English we were to refer to emissaries from a noble court as "Blondies."
For this reason, I prefer to avoid the term "fairy" however convenient, and instead use the more general and respectful, if not as short, "denizens of Faerie" or the Germanic term, the Hidden Folk (Hulderfolk in Swedish). My own experiences are principally connected to various kinds of Elves and Dwarves and while the latter name (Dwarves) is, again, potentially derogatory, it is at least descriptive of relative size, in the same way that "Giants" is. The term "Elves" too carries the unfortunate risk of conjuring images of Santa's little helpers in their toy factories at the North Pole, but perhaps less risk since Professor Tolkien's work has become so well known. I hope that the Good People will not be offended by my generalizing about them with such human terms as a convenience.
Recent authors, not least among them John Matthews, have resorted to the Irish word "Sidhe" but that too is a euphemism and abbreviation of "Shee-folk," meaning the people of the hollow hills, which is the literal meaning of the Irish word "sidhe." It seems to me that what we really need to do is talk to our otherworldly friends and learn a bit of their languages, rather than resort to these traditional vague or derogatory names. That's a tall order, of course, but it is, after all, how we would approach getting to know any foreign people in another land.
With that thought, let me turn to the term "Otherworlds." I often use the plural form, though even when used in the singular it is quite clear from old legends and bardic voyage tales – the immrama – that there are many "worlds" or "lands" included in that realm. Its primary characteristic is that it is described as what we would call today a "parallel universe." It seems to occupy the same space as our universe, or "world," yet is invisible and inaccessible to people in the ordinary way of things. The concept of a parallel universe is quite new and has proved useful to people interested in understanding the phenomenal reality of the Otherworlds. It is another way to distance our discourse from the separation of "natural" and "supernatural" worlds.
David Abram, in his book Spell of the Sensuous, argues that the Otherworld and non-human beings are intimately connected to this world, to the land, trees, plants, and animals around us. Not, he notes, in a vague, general or abstract way, but in a very particular relationship between the storyteller and his or her land. Abram explores the idea that the adoption of literacy, the abstraction of the land into written words printed with an alphabet, marks a shift in perception which disconnects human consciousness from the land, and so from the Otherworld. I find Abram's thesis particularly suggestive when one considers that the ancient druids seem to have deliberately avoided alphabetic writing in favor of an oral culture. Could this be the reason?
Patrick Harpur has explored the concept of "Daimonic Reality" in his study of the same title. He uses the term "daimonic" to refer to a world that exists between our ordinary idea of reality and the Mind of God. The daimons, which is the general term he chooses for the denizens of this liminal space, may appear as "fairies" as angels, or as aliens or UFOs. In all cases, Harpur argues, such beings partake of the world that bridges inner and outer. The Otherworld is at once "in our psyche" and "out there." The categorical distinction between these zones of reality is dissolved. I wonder if this dissolving of categories is what is meant when people speak of "the thinning of the veils" between worlds. It is not strictly an "outer" phenomenon, nor simply "inner" – say the result of the Sight -- rather it is the dissolving of the mental categories that separate our ideas of normal reality and the broader reality of the Anima Mundi, the World-Soul.
Quite a number of individuals have, over many centuries of human storytelling, claimed to cross over a kind of boundary from our world of normal reality to another world in which wonders occur. Among the wonders are encounters with strange cultures of apparently immortal beings, encounters with dead relatives or neighbors, banquets of uncanny sumptuousness, music and dancing with an uncanny quality, and, perhaps most notably, the passage of time in some inexplicable way so that people who enter Faerie and re-emerge into our ordinary world find that time has passed much more quickly here than there. Some, like Oisín, return and step back into the world they left, only to be reduced to old age and death. John Matthews in his firsthand account, The Sidhe, records extensive interviews with one of the denizens of Faerie and comments upon the irregular quality of Time in that realm and the fluidity of inner and outer realities.
Whatever else is going on in this daimonic reality, it seems quite clear that journeys in the Faerie Realm call into question our modern Western notion of Time as a thing in itself that is regular. We have, since the dawn of science and its love of mechanisms, formed our ideas of Time around clocks. It seems to me that this commonly held notion that time "flows" at a steady rate, or "flows" at all is a mistake. Like "outer world" and "inner reality," "Time" is an invented concept. Although the concept has become reified into a "thing" that scientists talk about all the time, it is one of the first of the "mind-forged manacles" that we have to cast off if we are to understand and participate in the Otherworlds and recover the consciousness of our ancient Ancestors.
Physicists have long relied on the idea of Time and it certainly has its uses. But clocks set up an arbitrary, regular measurement of change. Change exists in reality; Time is simply a concept empiricists employ to measure change. And, as we all know today, the physicists of the last century have been increasingly puzzled by the fact that change does not conform to the notion of clock time. The Elves could have told them that long ago, had they bothered to ask.
Now, having said that, I feel I must interrupt myself to say that you are at perfect liberty to regard my own Elvish sources of information with skepticism. I do so myself, but I cannot disregard them altogether. I call my daimons Elves and they take that form, not in a conventional or archetypal way alone, but in considerable personal detail. Harpur tends to emphasize the "impersonal" quality of daimons, by which he means that they are not simply figments of the imagination of an individual person. They partake of some power of collective imagination for their appearances. This is how Harpur argues that UFO aliens are essentially the old fairies and angels of an earlier age in modern dress. My own Elvish friends have shared much of their history and language, their customs and even their biology, so they are not easy for me to reduce to the category of archetypes or even "spirits." Though they have told me they inhabit different planets and stars, and travel among them, they do not employ flying saucers or rockets and their technology is beyond understanding in our current terms. I am encouraged to be this open about my own connections after reading John Matthews’ book laying out his experiences. I found myself nodding my head when reading The Sidhe when the author's unnamed contact described his own existence in much the same terms as our own, but removed in a way that permitted communication only through visionary presence, not the ordinary five senses. This accords with my own experience and what Mr. Matthews’ contact told him rings true with many of the things I have learned from the Elves.
My Elfin sources have explained to me that the Otherworlds alluded to in story and legend are not always a hidden dimension of our own world. The dimension that is hidden can exist in the same landscape but as an alternative reality, often untouched by changes which have occurred in our world. It is hard to translate what this means exactly, but the sense I have is that for every place on Earth normally visible to us, there are, across the doorways of perception, the same lands in different form. For example, the place where I live is an urban neighborhood now, filled with a grid pattern of streets and houses. In another dimension that I have been shown on occasion, there live Elves in this land in a state closer to nature, or at any rate without the large population of houses and apartment buildings that spoil the view of the hills and lakes. That world is essentially the same landscape as my own with different inhabitants and preserved by those inhabitants in a way quite alien to our civilization. It is notable, however, that in the Elvish place and time Native American men and women still live in their traditional ways too, undisturbed by the invasion of Europeans that lies 200 years in the past of my own world. Is this merely "imagination" and wishful thinking? The real question is whether the dichotomizing categories suggested by those terms adequately explain the facts. I would ask you to entertain the idea that imagination and wishful thinking are forms of reality and vision into Otherworld dimensions. Not always, perhaps, but I suspect more often than not.
Alternatively, some of the Otherworlds that are accessible through an awakened perception, are indeed entirely different planets. I have myself been told as much and seen the differences in the stars at night and the different qualities of light, air, gravity, and other astrophysical features of these places. Are they "really" glimpses of actual other planets? Obviously, I have no way of verifying the claim. Such Otherworlds may exist in much the same way in relation to other material planets as they do to ours; which is to say, they are "hidden" by being in a particular other dimension relative to ours, but I believe that the hidden aspect of these Otherworlds is due to their occupying different temporal coordinates, as it were, in relation to an observer, not in their being less material. One of my OBOD tutors, Vivienne Manouge, has published her own firsthand accounts of "fairies" who came from the Moon, that is, our own Luna. If the theory of alternative dimensions to material bodies is accepted this could reconcile the apparent contradiction between the airless, desolate Moon of science and the populated, living, Moon of Faerie. In other words, a wasteland may still be, in the Faerie dimension, a pastoral garden or lush wilderness. What the eye of science perceives as a mere rock in space, may have an atmosphere and life of its own in Faerie, where the laws of physics are regularly disregarded. Next time we send a druid to the Moon we can test that hypothesis.
Which brings me back to the problem of Time and Space and multiple dimensions. Physicists have been trying to explain these aspects of the cosmos through materialist theories but what the Elves make clear is that we also need to explain Cosmos in terms of Consciousness. What is the relationship between the Mind and those realities we describe as Time and Space? It seems clear from human experience of Otherworlds that the Mind exists between the categories of Time and Space, as it were, so that the Mind and imagination afford a doorway into those many worlds. It is also quite clear that we lack the words and concepts with which to accurately express these dimensions and the communication among them.
Carl Jung, the eminent Swiss psychologist, suggested the term "psychic" or psychoid reality as a way of expressing that the psyche is not confined within the boundaries of our material bodies. A psychoid reality appears to be external to us, but is somehow connected to our inner world as well, because its manifestations are not completely objective. Harpur takes Jung a step further suggesting that the phrase Anima Mundi be used to identify this world that is both "inside" and "outside." We are in fact inside the Anima Mundi and all our realities, whether objective, subjective, or psychoid are part of that larger structure. The Anima Mundi is also inside us. Harpur cautions against taking the daimonic reality literally, by which he means that we err if we literally believe and also if we literally disbelieve. Ufologists who insist that UFO's are either literally as real as Oxford University, or else must be debunked as illusions or hallucinations of some sort, are falling into this either-or logical trap. The daimonic Otherworld is a world of both-and. In the end, it is This World.
Let me end my string of definitions by saying a bit more about how I use the term Elf. The particular denizens of the Otherworlds whom I regularly consult, and who regularly interfere in my life, are Elves. The word "elf" comes to us from Old English aelf and Old Norse alfr, which, I have on good authority, is actually a word that the Elves use to describe themselves – or very close to it. The word they use is Alf, the plural of which is Alfer, with an "e" but the question is somewhat academic as the Elves do not, of course, use the Roman alphabet and there are many dialectical variants in vowels. What does "Alfer" mean? Like most names by which peoples call themselves, it simply means "the folk" or perhaps even more simply, "Us." However, it is interesting the linguists have linked aelf and alfr to the Indo-European root albho- from which also springs albus and albino, meaning "white." It seems logical to me that the Fair Folk might refer to themselves this way, or that the word might have evolved from their pale and luminous appearance.
Professor Tolkien, in his tantalizing writings about Elvish languages, tells us that they called themselves by many names. The most general is Eldar, signifying "people of the stars." The Elves of my acquaintance call themselves many names too, among which the most general is Sarithin, which may be literally translated "star-children." The significance of this name is given in terms of a very different legendary history than the one presented by Professor Tolkien for the Eldar. In his collection of legends, The Silmarillion, the Eldar are said to awaken in a dark world without sun or moon, only stars, and it is the light of the stars that they first see beside lake Cuivienen.
The name Sarith has been explained to me in terms of a history of travel through the stars on ships, a history of voyages between worlds. What we call "outer space" is called by the Sarithin Morn-i-Sarion, the Sea of Stars. They are fundamentally Airy people in many ways and they are in a sense more attached to the stars – the distant lights of other worlds – than they are to the earth and soil of a particular single planet, as we understand planets. They perceive planets rather differently than we do because their spiritual and temporal senses are keener. Where we see singularity and isolation in the void of space, they see interconnection and relationships - not separate organs, but systems.
Elves are not immaterial spirits. They are like us, spirits with material bodies, but they are immortal, meaning that the spirit emanates a body quite different from ours and exerts a great deal more control over its matter than human beings typically do. I will not go into more detail here, but my understanding is that the Sarithin change their form as part of their natural biological life-cycle and as they grow older instead of their physical bodies deteriorating as ours do, they become ever more able to transform their shape and take different forms.
So, let us set definitions aside and look at folklore, myth, and legend. The traditional legends of the Norse and Celtic peoples preserve stories of beings called Alfar, Tuatha Dé Danann, Shining Ones, Hulder Folk - all of which designate a particular type of being who are to a degree "hidden." Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, the Scandinavian "Hulder Folk" literally means Hidden People. The name suggests one of the common characteristics of these beings, their ability to appear and disappear to normal human sight. Some traditions suggest that it is only humans with "the Sight" - a particular faculty of seeing the Otherworld dimension - who can see Elves and other denizens of Faerie. However, if this is true, it is evident that some people possess "the Sight" either temporarily or without being particularly aware of it, as encounters with these "invisible" persons or creatures are relatively rare. Thus two characteristics of the denizens of Faerie are (1) that they can appear and disappear in a way that is uncanny to human senses, and (2) their contacts with mortal humans are rare enough to make good stories around the fire.
We have stories from ancestors old and new and from our contemporaries, who have given us accounts of their communication and sightings of the Hidden People. In addition to older legends and romances, scholars have written down many oral accounts over the past two hundred years. Some of these are given as first-person accounts, some secondhand, and some as literary accounts that take the form of mythic or legendary narratives, or as fantasy literature. It is important to note that I do not consider any of these categories to be more true than others. One does not have to label one story true and another false, even if they contradict each other in many points. Nor do I privilege firsthand oral tales over literary creations. They are all stories created through the human imagination and only the authors of those stories can tell to what extent they believe themselves to have been inspired by communication with the denizens of Faerie. I suspect that many who write literary tales of the Otherworlds are in fact inspired by true visions of those worlds, whether they know it or not. The process of Imbas or inspiration is mysterious.
In general, there are at least two kinds of truth – demonstrable truth and imaginal truth. Harpur might call the latter daimonic truth, the truth of contrariness where the world is seen through a strange looking glass. Both kinds of truth are related to belief, which in turn is founded on cognitive frames.
Students of folklore have noted that there is often a kind of layered belief for those who are interviewed and who relate encounters with the denizens of Faerie. Some contemporary storytellers relate encounters and beliefs of a previous generation, and so distance themselves. The belief in little people who can appear and disappear and who can interact with human lives has been stigmatized, first by the demonization of such beings by Christian priests, and later by modern educational systems. Thus informants who recall the old stories and trust the veracity of others who told the stories, nevertheless are sometimes embarrassed to admit that such accounts have truth-value in the stark light of modern cosmology. (See for example: Butler and Bennett).
Academics who study Faerie lore treat it as an artifact of culture: The folklore narrative is accepted as a legitimate object of inquiry only when acknowledged to be not literally true. Put another way, stories of the Hidden Folk are legitimated among scholars, but the folk of Faerie themselves are not accepted as an object of study in themselves because they are presumed to be fictitious. The folk tale or account of strange events is treated only as an artifact that can give us insight into the way people think, not the way the cosmos is constructed. This treatment would be in contrast to the treatment of an eye-witness account of events that fell into the realm of normal experience. In such a case, corroboration would be necessary to label the utterance "true." In the case of Faerie encounters, just as in the case of UFO encounters and other "unexplained" phenomena, corroboration is not enough to cause most academics to deviate from the orthodox view of reality – one that does not include Elves or daimons, and which finds it difficult to give credence to the idea of extraterrestrial visitors. In our culture, led by the attitudes of Academia, there remains a deep-seated bias that scholarship must not be tainted by childishness or by "flights of fancy." It must bear the marks of masculine adulthood – tough, skeptical, hard-headed, rigorous, and penetrating.
Imagination and fancy may be objects of study – especially in a field such as literary study – but they may not intrude on the cool reasoning and argumentation of one's scholarship. If academics do engage in flights of fancy, they keep them private and separate from their scholarly work, or else publish them as works of fiction, as Professor Tolkien did with his Hobbits and Elves. I would venture to state that it is impossible, at present, to receive credence in Western academic circles while claiming to believe in the actual existence of Elves and Faerie races. It is difficult enough to reconcile a belief in God with academic truth. Elves, sylphs, and dragons are right out. The very essence of modern scholarship requires that one must renounce one's faith in such childish things, along with belief in Santa Claus.
Now, the reasons for this attitude are understandable. To accept revelation as evidence of real events opens a whole Pandora's box of problems. Academia is only a scant few generations away from a time when religious doctrines of revealed truth were included in scholarly thought and caused no end of trouble. I do not mean to suggest that revelation be accorded the same value as empirical evidence, only that it be accorded its own truth value as myth. Which is to say, as a different kind of truth, not literal, not empirical or objective, but nevertheless real in its own way.
The problem with the stance of adult, educated thought, is that it asks us to disbelieve in myths and legends as well as individual accounts of unusual experiences that conflict with the dominant cosmology. Logically it asks us to believe that truth cannot be arrived at through fiction, including the fictions of religion and popular culture, which must be reduced to mere objects of study. Indeed, we cannot believe even in the soul, but must make it an object of study for the discipline of psychology. That is to say, the soul must be robbed of its immortal and non-material qualities, reduced instead to something materialism can handle, the mysterious chemistry of the nervous system. Too easily this attitude devolves into mere debunkery and a sterile game of skepticism. Mythos, which in Greek means "story" has been cast aside and equated with falsehood and lies. There is no logic in such a stance – it is mere ideology, a bias that satisfies an emotional need to dominate and secure the moorings of one's reality. Skepticism can be creative, but more often it seems to mask fear of mysteries and a compulsion to keep truth within narrow bounds.
How does a modern druid reconcile experience of the Faerie realms with the prevalent bias against the possibility of such beings or places existing? Of course it is not necessary to talk to Elves to be a druid today. But most druids, one way or another, do talk to non-human beings, which is to say that they engage the daimonic reality whether it be to talk to the Shee, to old Celtic divinities, or to trees. Is there a way to avoid the cognitive dissonance other religions face? We can, at any rate, be glad that belief in the denizens of Faerie does not require one to ignore Darwin's theory of natural selection, or the facts of paleontology. But fairy-faith is so inimical to modern academic-scientific thinking that it remains a problem.
The simplest course is to just discard the dominant ideology as wrong. Let science and academia and school masters go their own way, and head off in the other direction for the Forest Sauvage. Let them call us crackpots and laugh right back. If one's life permits one to embrace Deep Ecology or Paganism and ignore professors and the intelligentsia, that is certainly one way to go. This is, however, essentially to embrace religion at the expense of science and does not resolve the dilemma. For many modern druids such a course is difficult if one has children who attend secular schools where science, mathematics, and rational materialism are privileged not only over "fairy tales" and folklore but over the arts and humanities generally. We must then live a double life, much as the "magical folk" in the Harry Potter novels do.
I myself do not think that magical folk can simply withdraw and lie low, or reject the logic of our culture's scientific mode of thinking. Nor can we, once we are adults and parents very easily straddle the cultural dichotomy between adult belief and child belief. Religious beliefs have, for the past century or so, been bracketed. They are given a separate compartment in the adult consciousness, isolated from the model of reality that governs acceptable adult behavior in most matters. This strange kind of Orwellian Doublethink, where two mutually exclusive beliefs are held simultaneously in different compartments of the mind, is putting a strain on modern Western people. The strain is most notable in religious and political leaders in America, who seem to confuse the truth-claims of myth with the truth-claims of science. Mythic truth is based both on individual experiences and on the deep desire for mystery and magic as the source of being which persists in the human heart.
Even such terms as "paranormal" which have gained some ground, implicitly reinforce the idea that materialist reality is "normal." Perhaps it is, but clearly that is a matter of opinion and agreement among social groups. Any definition of what is "normal" is a cultural definition. Science just happens to be the discourse which the dominant sections of Western culture have used for the past few centuries to attempt to define the norm. Can druids today challenge the norm? Must they withdraw into yet another faith-based sect, a subculture that rejects secular notions of truth in favor of revelation? Or can druids act as a lever to stretch the imagination of our culture?