Relation of Fairies to Religion
LITTLE, if anything, remains to be added to the genealogical records of fairies of Indo-European descent. But the comparative mythologist, while he has traced their pedigree, has not told us how belief in them as a class came to be accepted, nor what was the special mission assigned them in the supernatural sphere. These questions are without his province, yet they are of vital importance to all who would study aright the development of man’s conception of the something beyond the world of the senses. Interesting as it is to know that the story of Ogier the Dane and Morgan the Fay is but a late version of the Dawn Myth, and that the legend of the Wild Huntsman and his fairy train is but a new form of tales once told of the god of the winds, it is still more necessary to understand why these were received in their second signification. The object of the present article, therefore, is not to go over ground explored by scholars, but to define the position which fairy mythology holds in the history of religion, — that is, if we accept Herbert Spencer’s definition of religion as an “ a priori theory of the universe.”
The meaning given to the word fairy in the dictionaries is so vague, and the use made of it both by poets and prosewriters so much vaguer, that it is well at the outset to explain what is really meant by it here. The English fairy is derived immediately from the French fée or faerie, and remotely from the Latin fatum, fate, destiny. At first, it sometimes signified illusion, enchantment ; sometimes the land of fairies, or the earthly paradise of the days of romance ; but as a rule it was applied to the Melusinas and Morganas, or mediæval representatives of the classic fates. Later, the name was given to the little elves of Northern mythology, and finally it became a class designation for the hobgoblins, dwarfs, gnomes, kobolds, and all “ such other bugs,” as Reginald Scott, in his scornful skepticism, calls them, who, though born of paganism, long remained rivals of the Christian saints. In its largest and most extended sense, it includes the whole race — no matter in what part of the world its different branches may be found — of minor supernatural beings, who have been ranked as entirely different in nature, substance, and attributes from the supreme spiritual hierarchy, and yet have been placed much higher in the scale of life than man ; being supposed to possess power vastly superior to his, and able, in fact, to exercise a large influence in shaping his destiny. They stand midway between humanity and divinity.
Man must have defined his belief in one supernatural world and in one species of supernatural beings very clearly before he could conceive of two such worlds and two such species. Fairy mythology is really the product of a somewhat advanced stage of religious thought, when the ideal of deity is so high and scientific knowledge so small that the lesser natural phenomena and accidents of daily life cannot be accounted for without the introduction to the unseen sphere of action of a second order of conscious agents. While, then, there are fairy-like creatures in all mythologies, there are genuine fairies only in a few. It is true that it is difficult at first to distinguish Greek dryads from mediæval Elle maidens, or the sirens of Hellenic waters from the Lorelei of German streams. But the latter are as distinct from the former, from whom, however, they are descended, as civilized man is from his cave-dwelling progenitors ; a fact which a brief examination of the subject will make evident.
Spontaneous generation is no more common in the creations of the human mind than it is in those of the physical world. As the existence of the flower implies that of the root and the earth in which it was planted, so the appearance of full-fledged fairies presupposes their origin in the very groundwork of mythology. The Adams and Eves of the fairy race are to be found in primitive animism. That is to say, though individual fairies cannot always be referred to their radical source, they can as a class be traced to their beginning in the first rude explanations man made of the world in which he lives. Like Leibnitz, primitive philosophers believe that nothing can happen without its sufficient reason, but the only cause they can imagine for all events is an immediate personal will. Hence, in their earliest speculations they animate all inanimate things, until the unseen world seems as densely populated as the seen. They discriminate but little, however, between important and insignificant phenomena. If they think there is life like their own in the mighty forest trees, they can see it also in the lowest underbrush. If they attribute conscious energy and personality to the far-distant mountain, so likewise do they to the stone picked up near their dwelling. There is for them a spirit in the gentle summer breeze as in the wild winter tempest, in the tiniest star as in the sun and moon. But just as, during the days of Vedic henotheism, whatever god to whom the Hindu chanced to be praying became for the time being the one god, so to men whose intellect is at a low degree of development each animated object or force becomes the most important as its presence is actively felt. There is no distinction between the greater and smaller creations of their animistic philosophy, but in the latter lie the germs of future fairies. So soon as men, probably prompted thereto by their more firmly established social relations, begin to systematize the ideas they have evolved of supernatural life, they necessarily subordinate local to general phenomena, individual to more universal conceptions. Among almost all existing savages a system of mythology has already replaced the vagueness of primitive animism. Their heroes have become cosmical, like the Maui of New Zealand legendary lore, or the Manobozho of Indian renown. Their chief deities are those which are of equal importance to an entire tribe or people, as, for example, Messukkummik-Okoi, or mother earth, is to the Algonquins, or as Taaroa, the heaven god, is to the Society Islanders. As the office of king requires the existence of subjects, so the recognized superiority of these heroes and deities necessitates the inferiority of the others.
This difference of rank becomes doubly marked in the mythologies of more civilized nations. Thus the little elves in the Scandinavian cosmogony are allotted a separate abode from that of the great gods. The fauns and satju’s, dryads and naiads, of Greece are infinitely beneath the god of Æschylus’ Suppliants, he who is the “ king of kings, happiest of the happy, and of the perfect, perfect in might, — blest Zeus.” The Farvashis and Pairikas of the ZendAvesta are to Ormazd and Ahriman very much what scouts and spies are to the generals of two opposing forces. Nagas and Rakshasas are pigmies compared to the great giant gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. The Maskim and Utuk of the Chaldean demonology are not to be named in the same breath as the mystic triune, Anu, Hea, and Bel. However, in none of these cases is an accurate line drawn between the chief deities and the lesser beings. Frey, one of the principal gods in the Eddaic Pantheon, dwelt in Alfheim with the elves. And indeed, at times, it was doubtful whether the latter, together with the black elves or dwarfs, were not greater than the divinities of Asgard, who were dependent upon them in many ways. What would Frey have done without the ship Skidbladnir, or Odin without his good spear Gungnir, or Thor without Mjölner ? And these they could never have had, had it not been for the dwarfs who made them. While the Greek gods were associated with the elements ; while Zeus was still identified with the heavens, Poseidon with the sea, and Demeter with the earth, the Greeks could hardly suppose the inferior personifications of physical forces and natural phenomena to belong to another race. What essential difference could there be between Pan and his satyrs, Artemis and her nymphs, or Aphrodite and her naiads ? The kinship of the gods to their attendants is shown in the fact that many of the latter were present at the councils of Zeus, and were fed upon the divine ambrosia. Persian dualism, despite its later high moral interpretation, was not founded on ethics, and the enmity between Ormazd and Ahriman accounted for every minute event in the natural world. The innumerable gods, spirits, and devils were enlisted in the ranks of the two chief beings, so that there was no room in this religious system for belief in another supernatural race. Hinduism and Buddhism, notwithstanding the agnosticism of the one and the pantheism of the other, have been so willing to retain old gods and demons, and so ready to admit new ones, and to allow people professing these creeds to add ad libitum to the population of the one spiritual world, that the creation of a second would be equally impossible and superfluous. The pantheism which was the fundamental principle of the later Babylonian religion recognized in all spiritual beings emanations from Ilu, the great source of life; so that the Maskim and Utuk, the Alal and Gigim, and the host of spirits born of Turanian animism differed from the gods of Semitic culture in degree, but not in kind. In this gradation of being the triune occupied the first rank, the protecting genii the last; but there was no break in the chain that united them.
In like manner, the pantheism which underlies the doctrines of mystics, whether they be of the Orient or the Occident, of ancient mediæval or modern times, prevents the spirits of these systems from being classified with fairies.
As primitive men ascribe human life to everything, so mystics have believed all natural objects and forces to be animated with a reasoning faculty. But where the conclusions of the former result from an inability to understand any rule but that of caprice, those of the latter are brought about by the recognition of a perfect harmony reigning throughout the world. The order of the cosmos, they declare, is preserved because all things, having emanated in a gradual progression from one supreme inconceivable source, contain a spark of the universal spirit which enables each to perform its task in the great scheme of the universe. “ It is necessary,” says Cornelius Agrippa, “ that the earth should have the reason of terrene things, and water of watery things ; and so in the rest.” According to such systems, the spirits of earth and water, of fire and air, are no more fairies than the souls of human beings. But the doctrine that men could hold communication with them has often been corrupted by the Wagners of mysticism, and then the undines and gnomes, the salamanders and sylphs, of the Kabbalists have been materialized. In which case they can be included with the nymphs of the uninitiated.
But when the rule of the supreme supernatural powers is recognized to be not in, but over, nature, and when morality is made the mainspring of theiractivity, it is impossible to believe that the elements are immediately animated by deity, or that divinities act from selfinterest. When religious ideals have reached this stage, a god, to seem a god to men, must, in his relations to them, be prompted by his desire for their good, and not from selfish impulses. If the chief spirits be now waited on by attendants, the latter must be inspired by similar motives ; and should they be opposed by a devil, it also logically follows that he must be incited by a counterdetermination to work evil to men. His activity is likewise manifested in the moral sphere. But if, with this advance in abstract reasoning, exact knowledge be not increased, there will be a discrepancy between belief and experience. Men who know nothing of the true laws of the physical world, nor of the interdependence of cause and effect, attribute to every natural phenomenon and extraordinary event a personal interference. The ignorant miner ascribes to a basilisk or a gnome that which the scientist explains as the action of carbonic acid gas. The imprudent man, who understands nothing of his digestive organs, thinks he is visited by a vampire, when the physician knows that a too hearty supper is the occasion of his distress. Now, when this ignorance is general, and not confined to individuals, and when, at the same time, wholly unmoral actions can be referred to neither god nor devil, a belief will inevitably arise in a lower species of supernatural beings, who, while they are powerless to govern the universe or to direct their own fate, hold no insignificant sway over human beings.
This is what has actually occurred in the great monotheisms, Judaism, Mahometanism, and Christianity. The Jews, while they obtained minor spirits from foreign sources, remained faithful to Jehovah, but the people who embraced Christianity and Mahometanism were compelled to sacrifice their chief gods. In Arabia, tribal deities, one after another, perished before the crescent of Islam. In Europe, when the cross of Christ was raised, the bright beautiful Apollos and Aphrodites of the South faded into phantoms or degenerated into devils and the Odins and Balders of the North were hastened to a Ragnarok, from which the only awakening was in fairy-land. But the decree which banished the high gods did not affect the minor beings of paganism. The people, although converted to the new creeds, had always been keenly sensitive to the influence of the genii, of the naiads and dryads, of the alfs and the duergar, who haunted every stream and cavern, every mountain and forest, every city and desert; and these spirits survived as fairies, long after the mythologies to which they properly belonged had been destroyed. It was the same with all the nations won over to Islam and Christianity. In Persia, the divs and peris, who had originally served under Ormazd and Ahriman, were identified with the Mahometan ginns. The compromise which was made by mediæval Europeans between the forsaken cultus and the new one reappears to-day among the Roman Catholic Indians of North America. The latter, just as the former did of old, adore Christ and reverence his mother and the saints, but they cling to the tales and traditions of their forefathers, and have populated a vast fairyland with the spirits and heroes which figured in them.
The theories developed as a raison d’être for the fairies are as significant as they are curious. The rabbis, with that familiar knowledge of the unknown which usually exists in exact proportion to man’s ignorance of the known, declared the schedim to be the offspring of Lilith, the night-walking spectre.
But she was made like a soft, fair woman.”
Having quarreled with Adam, whose first wife she was, because he disputed her equal rights, she, as the rabbis affirm, married Samaël, chief of the fallen angels, by whom she had a large family of imps and hobgoblins. Other rabbis maintained that they were the children Adam had by intercourse with spirits. The Bible says, “ And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness after his image,” and the Talmudists wisely concluded that this meant that until then his sons and daughters were not after his own image, but, according to Rabbi Jeremiah Ben Eliezer, “ in all these years during which Adam was under excommunication he begat spirits, demons, and spectres of the night, as it is written.” Eve, also, it is added, became during that time the parent of a like uncanny brood. One difficulty leads to another. As the Hindus, after they placed the earth on the back of an elephant, had to give that animal a tortoise to stand upon, so, after the schedim had been thus accounted for, the question arose as to whence came the spirits by whom Adam and Eve had produced such monstrosities. The rabbis, however, were always ready with their explanations. These spirits, they asserted, were the last of living beings created by God, and, because daylight had faded away before he had completed his task, he could not give them bodies, as he had originally intended to do. They were therefore not pure spirits, like the angels, but merely imperfect creations, and hence they and all their descendants possess natures semi-spiritual, semi-mortal. “ Six things,” the Talmud teaches, “ are said respecting schedim. In three particulars they are like angels, and in three they resemble men. They have wings, like angels ; like angels, they fly from one end of the world to the other; and they know the future, as angels do, with this difference, that they learn by listening behind the veil what angels have revealed to them within. In three respects they resemble men : they eat and drink, like men; they beget and increase, like men; and, like men, they die.”
Mahometans were not a whit less daunted by the mysteries of the unknown than the Talmudists. Had they been the counselors of Allah when he created the universe, they could not have been more certain of what then took place. The ginns, they declared, were beings created by him before he called man into life, and were made, not of common clay, but of fire, like the angels, from whom, however, they differed in being of a grosser nature. Influenced by the rabbinical philosophy, Mahomet taught that the ginns eat and drink, propagate their kind, and are subject to death. When they were the sole inhabitants of the earth, they paid no attention to the prophets sent to admonish them, and so they were driven by Eblis, or Sheitan, and his hosts, or, according to the Persian legend, by Tahmurath, to Mount Q’af, the mountain-chain that encircles the globe. There they took up their headquarters, but — and in this particular their identification with preMahometan spirits is shown — individuals of the race sought an abode in every corner of the world: in the water and on land, in lonely deserts and in crowded cities, in tombs and in houses. So entire was the faith in them that Mahomet believed that he, as last of the prophets, was sent to convert them as well as men. Nor did he think his mission would be in vain, for once, in a vision, he saw them in multitudes bowing in adoration before him, and listening to the message which had been scornfully rejected by his fellow-beings. This belief is substantiated in the Qur’an, where, in the chapter relating to the ginns, these beings declare of themselves,—
“ And of us are some who are pious, and of us are some who are otherwise ; we are in separate bands.
“And verily of us are some who are Muslims, and of us some are trespassers ; but of us who are Muslims, they strive after right direction, and as for the trespassers, they are fuel for hell.”
Christians had no dogmatic utterance upon the subject in their sacred books, and it therefore became with them, in the words of Postellus, “full of controversie and ambiguitie.” Doctors and theologians, poets and peasants, were all alike at liberty to hold their own views, so long as these did not encroach upon dogma. Those of the former were tainted by oriental mysticism. Athenagoras taught that there are fallen angels whose sin was less grievous than that of the hosts of Satan, and whose nature, after the fall, was therefore less morally perverse. They haunt air, earth, fire, and water, and are unable to rise to heavenly things or to descend to pure evil. Tertullian, too, made a distinction between the rebel angels headed by Satan and those who had committed the much milder offense of loving the daughters of men and of showing them how to dye wool and paint their faces. Justin Martyr referred to the demons or spirits who are the offspring of the amours of transgressing angels with mortal women. Origen, Lactantius, and indeed almost all the earliest authorities, agreed that the spirits who hold this intermediate position are grosser in substance than the heavenly legions, and that they often assume material shape in order to work out their designs, just as the devils were supposed to do. Therefore, while the old gods and goddesses were said to be illusions raised by Satan, fairy-like apparitions were attributed to intermediate spirits. But even among saints and fathers this Maya-like explanation could not always destroy belief in the real presence of the minor beings of the old mythologies. St. Jerome, in his life of the Hermit Paul, gravely relates the meetings of St. Anthony with centaurs and goat-footed, horned dwarfs, with whom he held conversations and exchanged compliments.
To the people whose abjuration of the earlier religions was but nominal the doctrine which reduced nymphs and elves, dwarfs and satyrs, to phantoms and illusions was untenable. They had been for so many years familiar with the habits and customs, the appearance and even the habitations, of these creatures, that they would as soon have questioned their own bodily existence as that of their fairy neighbors. So general was the conviction that the latter had bodies, and that they married, begot children, ate and drank, in the same way as mortals, that most of the popular theories accounting for their origin, differing from those of learned theologians, gave them men for ancestors. They were a branch of the human family, laboring under a curse. Now, they were the descendants of Cain. From him, according to Beowulf,
all sprang forth,
eotens and elves
so likewise the Giants
who against God warr’d
for a long space.
He for that gave them their reward.”
Again, they were children of Adam and Eve, who because they had been hidden from God Almighty on one occasion when he visited their parents were destined by him forever after to live invisible to their brothers and sisters. “ What man hides from God, God will hide from man,” he had said, and at once they had been banished to mounds and hills and rocks. The quaint Icelandic version of this legend treats cleanliness as nearly akin to godliness, for it was because these children were not washed that Eve concealed them. It seems to have occurred sometimes to true believers that these fairy descendants of Adam and Eve, or of Cain, had on the whole not been losers by being so cursed. A life of feasting and revelry, together with much more than mortal power and wealth, far outweighed, when measured in the scales of material pleasure, the pain-laden portion of mankind. It was probably to counterbalance their temporal superiority that, less fortunate than the Mahometan ginns, they were cut off from all hopes of spiritual joys. Christ, it was said, did not include them in his scheme of redemption. By gaining an earthly paradise, they lost heaven. In almost all the theories advanced to account for their origin, the hopelessness of their eternal salvation is prominently set forth. Thus, the Devonshire pixies are the materialized souls of infants who die without baptism ; the fays of romance are beings possessing spirits, but not immortal souls. The inhabitants of the Welsh “ green meadows of the sea” are unbaptized Druids, who of course could not enter heaven, and who were too good to be consigned to hell; and the korrigan of Brittany are the princesses of Armorica, so transformed because they gave a deaf ear to the preachers of Christ’s gospel. The consciousness of their loss is the reason frequently given for the ill-will of the fairy race to mankind, and to it is attributed the special fury which seizes them on Friday, when an encounter with them is dangerous for men and women. For
Sit weeping alone for their hopeless lot,
And the wood-maiden sighs to the moaning wind,
And the mermaiden weeps in her crystal grot;
For this is a day when a deed was done
For which they had neither part nor share :
For the children of clay was salvation wrought,
But not for the forms of earth and air.
And ever the mortal is most forlorn
Who meeteth their race on Friday morn.”
When God and his arch-enemy, the principle of evil, are believed to be governed by a desire for or against the moral welfare of men, the latter are so assured of a regularity in their actions that they know how by certain large means to defend themselves against the one and to conciliate the other. But nothing short of unceasing vigilance can disarm the malice or win the favor of beings whose conduct is without any definite end. Consequently, in the three monotheisms a second creed, with ceremonial and commandments, has flourished side by side with the chief cultus, the latter being sometimes really, if not nominally, subordinate to it. Even when the children of Israel were not straying after foreign gods, or making for themselves golden calves, they constantly turned from Jehovah to the schedim. As it is said in the New Republic, a man who regretfully cancels his faith in the Deity may forget the loss of his God when his portmanteau is mislaid. In like manner, the fear of Jehovah’s displeasure could escape the memory of the Jews in their anxiety not to incur that of Samaël or Lilith. There was but one Jehovah, and he, even in his wrath, was just. But there were innumerable schedim, and since they could bear children, their numbers ever increased, and their malevolence was ruled by caprice. In all his goings-out and comings-in, in his waking and sleeping hours, in disease and in health, man was subject to their persecutions. Because the creator had not given them bodies, they sought to obtain possession of those of their human rivals, to whom they therefore allowed but little peace. In the daytime, they would not permit men and women to go into the street without pressing upon them from either side by hundreds and thousands. They followed them in multitudes to the temple and the synagogues, where, in the struggle, if not for existence, at least for standing-room, they tore their clothes and beat them black and blue. So great were their numbers that Abba Benjamin says, “ If our eyes were permitted to see the malignant sprites that beset us, we could not rest on account of them.” Nor did their malignance cease with daylight. At night man was exposed not only to the attacks of the night-visiting Lilith, but to those of whole armies of demons, — a fact easily proved. For if he strewed ashes about his bedside before going to sleep, the next morning he would find in them countless footmarks, looking like those of fowls. At certain times and places their supremacy was greater than at others. Vigilance against them had to be redoubled from the Passover to Pentecost. Woe to the unwary Jew who ventured beyond his doorsteps after dark on Wednesdays and Saturdays ; for Agrath, daughter of Machloth, and her eighteen myriads of followers were then abroad, all endowed with power to destroy whomsoever they chanced to meet. Children flogged or allowed to go out after four in the afternoon, between June 17th and July 9th, fell victims to the demon Ketef, then let loose, and wandering like a raging lion, seeking whom he might devour. Even if a man’s nose bled, it was the schedim who caused it. It is no wonder that the rites and practices by which the designs of these demons could be frustrated became as important as attendance at the synagogues and the temple. There was scarcely an action or duty of the day in the fulfillment of which the Jew did not bear the schedim in mind. His breakfast was converted into a religious ceremony to free him from them. His family, friends, or servants who lived with him were a protection to him against Lilith, who could do as she chose with mortals sleeping alone in a house. His bedposts were marked with the inscription Et Zelo Chuizlilith, a charm which effectually disarmed her. He would not drink borrowed water or step across that which had been spilt, because he thought by so doing he annoyed the demons. Neither would he drink water by night, for he would then have become the victim of Shaviri, the demon of blindness. The enormous power of the fairy demons which caused them to be such deadly foes made them invaluable as allies. Under rare circumstances, a man could obtain command over them, and then he seemed almost as great as Jehovah. This, therefore, was represented as a most exceptional event, Solomon being the only human being who ever gained full ascendency. The miracles which he performed by the aid of the subjected spirits were no less wonderful than those worked by Jehovah. The swallowing of Jonah by the whale or the ascent of Elias and Enoch to heaven was surpassed by the marvelous journeys through the air made by Solomon and his court on the magic carpet spread by schedim. The fall of the walls of Jericho at the sound of Joshua’s trumpets was equaled by the rise of those of the temple at Jerusalem under the hands of Aschmodai and his legions. It was very natural that after their return from the Captivity the Jews were less prone to relapses into idolatry and polytheism than they had ever been before. It was because of their demonology that their monotheism was in the end triumphant.
It is, however, in connection with Christianity that this minor cultus has gained its greatest magnitude. Nor is it strange that this should have been so. The Hebrews, as has been seen, when they borrowed demons and angels from other creeds did not alter the main principles of their religious belief. Though Mahometanism was much more spiritual than the systems it replaced, its doctrines were still so of the earth, earthy, that they were suited to the comprehension of converts. But Christianity, in supplanting paganism, necessitated a radical change. It not only called for the abandonment of polytheism for a monotheistic worship, but it held up a rigid asceticism and a spiritual code of morals to men who either, as in Greece and Rome, had kept their philosophy and morality distinct from their religion, or else, as in Northern and Central Europe, could not yet appreciate the higher ethics or grasp an abstract idea. While rites and ceremonies, feasts and fasts, once held in honor of Odin and Zeus, of Aphrodite and Freya, could be retained by consecrating them to Christ and the Virgin Mother, it was impossible to ascribe to the latter the physical and sensual qualities of earlier deities. Though the people were baptized and swore allegiance to Christ, they remained pagan at heart. And it was for this reason that they continued so devoted to the fairy family, to whom the chief characteristics of the forsaken gods had been transferred, and to whom, therefore, they could apply for the earthly raptures and the temporal aid which were denied to them by the Christian Deity. Wine, women, and song were the reward of mortals who pledged faith to fairies. Fresh, clean houses and a full larder awaited the friends of nisses and brownies. To obtain their present good-will the far-distant pleasures of heaven were at times forfeited. During the Middle Ages tales of saints and martyrs who scorned the world and the flesh were rivaled by stories of heroes who, like the British King Gavran, departed in search of an earthly paradise. Not a few among true believers would have proclaimed the fate of a King Arthur in the Isle of Avilion happier than that of a St. Peter guarding the gate of heaven. Like a challenge to the doctrine of penance and discipline, of the nothingness of this life and the allimportance of the next, rang out the legends of Tannhäuser happy in the Horselberg, and Ogier the Dane content in fairy-land. The tenderness felt for the fairy folk also revealed itself in the unwillingness of the people to believe in the impossibility of their eternal salvation. Some of the dwarfs and kobolds of folk-lore went to church and sang hymns. Hinzelmann, the famous household sprite, indignantly cried out to the priest who came to exorcise him, “ I am a Christian, like any other man, and I hope to be saved! ” When, in the Scandinavian legend, the priest told the neckan that before he would be redeemed his pilgrim’s staff would bear leaves,
It greened, it branched, it waved ! ”
Even the dwarf met by St. Anthony made profession of faith in Christ the Redeemer, and begged for the prayers of the saint. But the voice of rebellion which thus found utterance was not often heard. As a rule, the pleasures of fairyland are represented as being, like the Elle maidens, fair to look upon, but hollow. Fairy music and dances are entrancing, but he who crosses the elfin ring or listens to the singing of the Lorelei is lost forever. The fairy winecup is seductive, but that upon which its contents fall is consumed as with fire. Beautiful and bewitching beyond man’s power of resistance, the fairy attractions can but bring misery and woe. The dance goes well in the grove, but what of Sir Olaf ? Sweet is the kiss of the fountain fay, but how fares it with the spirit of him she kisses?
But whether friends or foes, all were alike agreed in believing in the existence and immediate neighborhood of fairies. A man could not ride out without risking an eucouuter with a Puck or a will-o’-the-wisp. He could not approach a stream in safety unless he closed his ears to the sirens’ songs and his eyes to the fair form of the mermaid. In the hillside were the dwarfs, in the forest Queen Mab and her court. Brownie ruled over him in his house, and Robin Goodfellow in his walks and wanderings. From the moment a Christian came into the world until his departure therefrom, he was at the mercy of the fairy folk, and his devices to elude them were many. Unhappy was the mother who neglected to lay a pair of scissors or of tongs, a knife or her husband’s breeches, in the cradle of her new-born infant; for if she forgot, then was she sure to receive a changeling in its place. Great was the loss of the child to whose baptism the fairies were not invited, or the bride to whose wedding the nix, or water-spirit, was not bidden. If the inhabitants of Thale did not throw a black cock annually into the Bode, one of them was claimed as his lawful victim by the nickelmann dwelling in that stream. The Russian peasant who failed to present the rusalka. or water-sprite, he met at Whitsuntide with a handkerchief or a piece torn from his or her clothing was doomed to death. Spirits of the four elements, of earth, fire, air, and water, were propitiated throughout Europe by food and drink, and these offerings ranked as not in the least less important than the prayers and ceremonies of legitimite ritual. Brownies, nisses, and damovays were conciliated by a corner left for them in the chimney-place and a bowl of porridge, and attention to their comforts was as important a duty as the recital of morning and evening prayers. In a word, so great was the priority, at one time, of the fairy kingdom that there seemed a probability of the higher supernatural world being reduced to its level. In many mediæval legends Satan degenerates into an easily fooled giant or hungry demon, like those of pagan mythologies. St. Michael and St. George play together at bowls, whence comes the sound of thunder; or else they shake their beds and pluck feathers and down, which in falling to earth turn into snow. St. Collen visits fairy-land and converses with its king, and St. Brandain builds his cathedral on the site pointed out to him by fairies. Pilate, like Barbarossa in the Kyfhäuser, sits in a subterranean cave, and there he reads and re-reads the sentence he passed upon Christ. Charles’s Wain becomes the wagon in which Elias and other saints, and even the Saviour himself, journey to heaven. Prayers are addressed to the beard of the first person of the Trinity. The Virgin Mother disputes supremacy over the hearts of knights with Morgan the Fay, and wears their rings upon her finger ; or else she is found like a hamadryad, dwelling within a tree, as was the case on the Heinzenberg, near Zell. Religion was drawn down to the comprehension of the people. Fortunately for the purity of Christianity, the ever-developing spirit of rationalism made the long continuance of this childlike stage of belief impossible, and Christ, the Virgin, and all the heavenly court were gradually reëstablished in their proper sphere.
Just as individual dwarfs and kobolds departed forever and aye when people became too curious in regard to them, so as men have sought to know more of earth and the living things it contains the spirits have fled from tree and rock, from stream and cavern. Not that the belief in them has been entirely destroyed. In the East ginns are still realities to Mahometans. In the West there are many among the peasantry who place implicit faith in the “ good people.” Savages and barbarous tribes, despite their Christianity, remain true to the Glooskap and the Mikamwess of their forefathers. But these are mere survivals of primitive forms of thought. The whole tendency of modern culture is antagonistic to the animistic conception of nature. Increase in exact knowledge does away with the necessity which brought fairies and spirits of the elements into existence, for positive science demonstrates absolutely that natural phenomena and physical forces act according to law, and are not subject to chance interference from conscious agents. A better understanding of the sequence of cause and effect and the law of continuity has established the fact that even the most extraordinary, or what seems the most accidental, occurrence is the inevitable result of previous events, though these may not always be apparent to man. Before this scientific investigation of nature the beautiful fays and Elle maidens, the thrifty dwarfs and merry Pucks, fade away, even as the old frost and snow covered man in the Chippewa legend melted at the approach of the spring-breathing, rose-garlanded youth. As the voice of Science increases in strength, the horns of Elfland blow ever fainter and fainter.
Elizabeth Robins Pennell.