Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Nov 1st - Nov 7th,  2002

The People of Peace

Columns Archive

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Sunset

Sunset

   A long time ago, before conquering waves of barbarians swept across ancient lands and trampled underfoot the traditions of those in their path, people venerated the call of nature in a way which we can now only glimpse through myths, legends and stale superstitions. For these pastoral folk, there was a single spirit which pervaded everything; from the trees, plants and animals, to the rocks and streams which wound their way through fields and valleys on their journey to the sea. Creation was alive with wonder and meaning, and the individual personalities of each flower and forest had their own particular quality and secret. For those who knew how to listen, their voices could be heard on the wind or in the song of birds.

   Because each of these cultures so identified with the spirit of Mother Nature about them, Her reflections were shaped by their environments. To those who lived by the sea, creation was seen reflected in the fish, tides and storms which would wash ashore confirmation of divinity's obvious power. Desert, mountains, and sky would mold the mythologies and beliefs of those who lived there.

   The fairy folk of the British Isles varied in character, size, and appearance, but they inhabited all kinds of places on the earth and in the waters, living both above the earth and below it. They cared for and were a part of the entourage of Mother Nature, providing for Her as She provided for them.

Flower Fairy

Spirit of the Flowers

   It was believed that Middle Earth, the land located between heaven and hell, was shared by both men and fairies. The little folk, as they were sometimes called, inhabited woods, fields, hedgerows and glens. Sometimes they even chose more inaccessible locales, such as mountains and rocky clefts. They built houses which occasionally might be entered by an unsuspecting man, woman or child. They also lived in stone circles and fairy rings, which were invisible to mortals unless they unwittingly put their foot inside the ring, in which case they were drawn into it and might disappear for a year and a day, or even centuries. Some never returned. Full of mischief and humor, the wee folk enjoyed visiting outdoor markets where they might steal pats of butter or small cakes. Only those whose eyes had been touched with fairy ointment or carried a four leaf clover somewhere about their head were capable of seeing them.

The Little People

The Little People

   One common belief which seemed to pervade the Isles was that fairies change their habitations continually, sometimes coursing over hill and dale, at other times rising up into the air in great troops, journeying to some distant location for fun and frolic, or to steal a mortal's child. They were thought to move about, especially on the Quarter Days: on Imbolc (Feb. 1), Beltane (May 1), Lughnasadh (Aug. 1), and Samhain or Halloween (Nov. 1). Because these cultures used the Moon as there chronometer, the day began the evening before at sundown. Hence, we think of Halloween as falling on October 31st, rather than November 1st.

   Whenever the fairy folk returned from their visits with men, they disdained our ambitions, infidelities and inconstancies. As far as those who had visited them could tell, they had no religious worship, being only, it would seem, strict lovers and reverers of truth and dance.

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