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The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries By W. Y. Evans-Wentz Characters: 109910

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Anthropology is concerned with man and what is in man-humani nihil a se alienum putat.-Andrew Lang.

The Celtic Fairy-Faith as part of a World-wide Animism-Shaping Influence of Social Psychology-Smallness of Elvish Spirits and Fairies, according to Ethnology, Animism, and Occult Sciences-The Changeling Belief and its explanation according to the Kidnap, Human-Sacrifice, Soul-Wandering, and Demon-Possession Theory-Ancient and Modern Magic and Witchcraft shown to be based on definite psychological laws-Exorcisms-Taboos, of Name, Food, Iron, Place-Taboos among Ancient Celts-Food-Sacrifice-Legend of the Dead-Conclusion: The background of the modern belief in Fairies is animistic.

The Celtic Fairy-Faith as Part of a World-wide Animism

The modern belief in fairies, with which until now we have been specifically concerned, is Celtic only in so far as it reflects Celtic traditions and customs, Celtic myth and religion, and Celtic social and environmental conditions. Otherwise, as will be shown throughout this and succeeding chapters, it is in essence a part of a world-wide animism, which forms the background of all religions in whatever stage of culture religions exist or to which they have attained by evolution, from the barbarism of the Congo black man to the civilization of the Archbishop of Canterbury; and as far back as we can go into human origins there is some corresponding belief in a fairy or spirit realm, as there is to-day among contemporary civilized and uncivilized races of all countries. We may therefore very profitably begin our examination of the living Fairy-Faith of the Celts by comparing it with a few examples, taken almost at random, from the animistic beliefs current among non-Celtic peoples.

To the Arunta tribes of Central Australia, furthest removed in space from the Celts and hence least likely to have been influenced by them, let us go first, in order to examine their doctrine of ancestral Alcheringa beings and of the Iruntarinia, which offers an almost complete parallel to the Celtic belief in fairies. These Alcheringa beings and Iruntarinia-to ignore the secondary differences between the two-are a spirit race inhabiting an invisible or fairy world. Only certain persons, medicine-men and seers, can see them; and these describe them as thin and shadowy, and, like the Irish Sidhe, as always youthful in appearance. Precisely like their Celtic counterparts in general, these Australian spirits are believed to haunt inanimate objects such as stones and trees; or to frequent totem centres, as in Ireland demons (daemons) are believed to frequent certain places known to have been anciently dedicated to the religious rites of the pre-Christian Celts; and, quite after the manner of the Breton dead and of most fairies, they are said to control human affairs and natural phenomena. All the Arunta invariably regard themselves as incarnations or reincarnations of these ancestral spirit-beings; and, in accordance with evidence to be set forth in our seventh chapter, ancient and modern Celts have likewise regarded themselves as incarnations or reincarnations of ancestors and of fairy beings. Also the Arunta think of the Alcheringa beings exactly as Celts think of fairies: as real invisible entities who must be propitiated if men wish to secure their goodwill; and as beneficent and protecting beings when not offended, who may attach themselves to individuals as guardian spirits.[112]

Among the Melanesian peoples there is an equally firm faith in spiritual beings, which they call Vui and Wui, and these beings have very many of the chief attributes of the Alcheringa beings.[113]

In Africa, the Amatongo, or Abapansi of Amazulu belief, have essentially the same motives for action toward men and women, and exhibit the same powers, as the Scotch and Irish peasants assign to the 'good people'. They take the living through death; and people so taken appear afterwards as apparitions, having become Amatongo.[114]

In the New World, we find in the North American Red Men a race as much given as the Celts are to a belief in various spirits like fairies. They believe that there are spirits in lakes, in rivers and in waterfalls, in rocks and trees, in the earth and in the air; and that these beings produce storms, droughts, good and bad harvests, abundance and scarcity of game, disease, and the varying fortunes of men. Mr. Leland, who has carefully studied these American beliefs, says that the Un à games-suk, or little spirits inhabiting rocks and streams, play a much more influential part in the social and religious life of the North American Red Men than elves or fairies ever did among the Aryans.[115]

In Asia there is the well-known and elaborate animistic creed of the Chinese and of the Japanese, to be in part illustrated in subsequent sections. In popular Indian belief, as found in the Panjab, there is no essential difference between various orders of beings endowed with immortality, such as ghosts and spirits on the one hand, and gods, demi-gods, and warriors on the other; for whether in bodies in this world or out of bodies in the invisible world, they equally live and act-quite as fairies do.[116] Throughout the Malay Peninsula, belief in many orders of good and bad spirits, in demon-possession, in exorcism, and in the power of black magicians is very common.[117] But in the Phi races of Siam we discover what is probably the most important and complete parallel to the Celtic Fairy-Faith existing in Asia.

According to the Siamese folk-belief, all the stars and various planets, as well as the ethereal spaces, are the dwelling-places of the Thévadas, gods and goddesses of the old pre-Buddhist mythology, who correspond pretty closely to the Tuatha De Danann of Irish mythology; and this world itself is peopled by legions of minor deities called Phi, who include all the various orders of good and bad spirits continually influencing mankind. Some of these Phi live in forests, in trees, in open spaces; and watercourses are full of them. Others inhabit mountains and high places. A particular order who haunt the sacred trees surrounding the Buddhist temples are known as Phi nang mai; and since nang is the word for female, and mai for tree, they are comparable to tree-dwelling fairies, or Greek wood-nymphs. Still another order called Chao phum phi (gods of the earth) are like house-frequenting brownies, fairies, and pixies, or like certain orders of corrigans who haunt barns, stables, and dwellings; and in many curious details these Chao phum phi correspond to the Penates of ancient Rome. Not only is the worship of this order of Phi widespread in Siam, but to every other order of Phi altars are erected and propitiatory offerings made by all classes of the Siamese people.[118]

Before passing westwards to Europe, in completion of our rapid folk-lore tour of the world, we may observe that the Persians, even those who are well educated, have a firm belief in jinns and afreets, different orders of good and bad spirits with all the chief characteristics of fairies.[119] And modern Arabs and Egyptians and Egyptian Turks hold similar animistic beliefs.[120]

In Europe, the Greek peasant as firmly believes in nymphs or nereids as the Celtic peasant believes in fairies; and nymphs, nereids, and fairies alike are often the survivals of an ancient mythology. Mr. J. C. Lawson, who has very carefully investigated the folk-lore of modern Greece, says: 'The nereids are conceived as women half-divine yet not immortal, always young, always beautiful, capricious at best, and at their worst cruel. Their presence is suspected everywhere. I myself had a nereid pointed out to me by my guide, and there certainly was the semblance of a female figure draped in white, and tall beyond human stature, flitting in the dusk between the gnarled and twisted boles of an old olive-yard. What the apparition was, I had no leisure to investigate; for my guide with many signs of the cross and muttered invocations of the Virgin urged my mule to perilous haste along the rough mountain path.' Like Celtic fairies, these Greek nereids have their queens; they dance all night, disappearing at cock-crow; they can cast spells on animals or maladies on men and women; they can shift their shape; they take children in death and make changelings; and they fall in love with young men.[121]

Among the Roumain peoples the widespread belief in the Iele shows in other ways equally marked parallels with the Fairy-Faith of the Celts. These Iele wait at cross-roads and near dwellings, or at village fountains or in fields and woods, where they can best cast on men and women various maladies. Sometimes they fall in love with beautiful young men and women, and have on such occasions even been controlled by their mortal lovers. They are extremely fond of music and dancing, and many a shepherd with his pipes has been favoured by them, though they have their own music and songs too. The Albanian peoples have evil fairies, no taller than children twelve years old, called in Modern Greek τ? ?ξωτικ?, 'those without,' who correspond to the Iele. Young people who have been enticed to enter their round dance afterwards waste away and die, apparently becoming one of 'those without'. These Albanian spirits, like the 'good people' and the Breton dead, have their own particular paths and retreats, and whoever violates these is struck and falls ill.[122] These parallels from Roumain lands are probably due to the close Aryan relationship between the Roumains, the Greeks, and the Celts. The Iele seem nothing more than the nymphs and nereids of classical antiquity transformed under Christian influence into beings who contradict their original good character, as in Celtic lands the fairy-folk have likewise come to be fallen angels and evil spirits.

There is an even closer relationship between the Italian and Celtic fairies. For example, among the Etruscan-Roman people there are now flourishing animistic beliefs almost identical in all details with the Fairy-Faith of the Celts.[123] In a very valuable study on the Neo-Latin Fay, Mr. H. C. Coote writes:-'Who were the Fays-the fate of later Italy, the fées of mediaeval France? For it is perfectly clear that the fatua, fata, and fée are all one and the same word.' And he proceeds to show that the race of immortal damsels whom the old natives of Italy called Fatuae gave origin to all the family of fées as these appear in Latin countries, and that the Italians recognized in the Greek nymphs their own Fatuae.[124]

It is quite evident that we have here discovered in Italy, as we discovered in Greece and Roumain lands, fairies very Celtic in character; and should further examination be made of modern European folk-lore yet other similar fairies would be found, such, for example, as the elves of Germany and of Scandinavia, or as the servans of the Swiss peasant. And in all cases, whether the beliefs examined be Celtic or non-Celtic, Aryan or non-Aryan, from Australia, Polynesia, Africa, America, Asia, or Europe, they are in essence animistically the same, as later sections in this chapter will make clear. But while the parallelism of these beliefs is indicated it is, of course, not meant for a moment that in all of the cases or in any one of the cases the specific differences are not considerable. The ground of comparison consists simply in those generic characteristics which these fairy-faiths, as they may be called, invariably display-characteristics which we have good precedent for summing up in the single adjective animistic.

Shaping Influence of Social Psychology

For the term animism we have to thank Dr. E. B. Tylor, whose Primitive Culture, in which the animistic theory is developed, may almost be said to mark the beginning of scientific anthropology. In this work, however, there is a decided tendency (which indeed displays itself in most of the leading anthropological works, as, for example, in those by Dr. Frazer) to regard men, or at any rate primitive men, as having a mind absolutely homogeneous, and therefore as thinking, feeling, and acting in the same way under all conditions alike. But a decided change is beginning to manifest itself in the interpretation of the customs and beliefs of the ruder races. It is assumed as a working principle that each ethnic group has or tends to have an individuality of its own, and, moreover, that the members of such a group think, feel, and act primarily as the representatives, so to speak, of that ethnic individuality in which they live, move, and have their being. That is to say, a social as contrasted with an individual psychology must, it is held, pronounce both the first and last word regarding all matters of mythology, religion, and art in its numerous forms. The reason is that these are social products, and as such are to be understood only in the light of the laws governing the workings of the collective mind of any particular ethnic group. Such a method is, for instance, employed in Mr. William McDougall's Social Psychology, in Mr. R. R. Marett's Threshold of Religion, and in many anthropological articles to be found in L'Année Sociologique.

If, therefore, we hold by this new and fruitful method of social psychology we must be prepared to treat the Fairy-Faith of the Celtic peoples also in and for itself, as expressive of an individuality more or less unique. It might, indeed, be objected that these peoples are not a single social group, but rather a number of such groups, and this is, in a way, true. Nevertheless their folk-lore displays such remarkable homogeneity, from whatever quarter of the Celtic world it be derived, that it seems the soundest method to treat them as one people for all the purposes of the student of sociology, mythology, and religion. Granting, then, such a unity in the beliefs of the pan-Celtic race, we are finally obliged to distinguish as it were two aspects thereof.

On the one hand there is shown, even in the mere handful of non-Celtic parallels, which for reasons of space we have been content to cite, as well as in their Celtic equivalents, a generic element common to all peoples living under primitive conditions of society. It is emphatically a social element, but at the same time one which any primitive society is bound to display. On the other hand, in a second aspect, the Celtic beliefs show of themselves a character which is wholly Celtic: in the Fairy-Faith, which is generically animistic, we find reflected all sorts of specific characteristics of the Celtic peoples-their patriotism, their peculiar type of imagination, their costumes, amusements, household life, and social and religious customs generally. With this fact in mind, we may proceed to examine certain of the more specialized aspects of the Fairy-Faith, as manifested both among Celts and elsewhere.

The Smallness of Elvish Spirits and Fairies

Ethnological or Pygmy Theory

In any anthropological estimate of the Fairy-Faith, the pygmy stature so commonly attributed to various orders of Celtic and of non-Celtic fairies should be considered. Various scholarly champions of the Pygmy Theory have attempted to explain this smallness of fairies by means of the hypothesis that the belief in such fairies is due wholly to a folk-memory of small-statured pre-Celtic races;[125] and they add that these races, having dwelt in caverns like the prehistoric Cave Men, and in underground houses like those of Lapps or Eskimos, gave rise to the belief in a fairy world existing in caverns and under hills or mountains. When analysed, our evidence shows that in the majority of cases witnesses have regarded fairies either as non-human nature-spirits or else as spirits of the dead; that in a comparatively limited number of cases they have regarded them as the souls of prehistoric races; and that occasionally they have regarded the belief in them as due to a folk-memory of such races. It follows, then, from such an analysis of evidence, that the Pygmy Theory probably does explain some ethnological elements which have come to be almost inseparably interwoven with the essentially animistic fabric of the primitive Fairy-Faith. But though the theory may so account for such ethnological elements, it disregards the animism that has made such interweaving possible; and, on the whole, we are inclined to accept Mr. Jenner's view of the theory (see p. 169). Since the Pygmy Theory thus fails entirely to provide a basis for what is by far the most important part of the Fairy-Faith, a more adequate theory is required.

Animistic Theory

The testimony of Celtic literature goes to show that leprechauns and similar dwarfish beings are not due to a folk-memory of a real pygmy race, that they are spirits like elves, and that the folk-memory of a Lappish-like people (who may have been Picts) evidently was confused with them, so as to result in their being anthropomorphosed. Thus, in Fionn's Ransom, there is reference to an under-sized apparently Lappish-like man, who may be a Pict; and as Campbell, who records the ancient tale, has observed, there are many similar traditional Highland tales about little men or even about true dwarfs who are good bowmen;[126] but it is very certain that such tales have often blended with other tales, in which supernatural figures like fairies play a r?le; and, apparently, the former kind of tales are much more historical and modern in their origin, while the latter are more mythological and extremely archaic. This blending of the natural or ethnological and the supernatural-in quite the same manner as in the modern Fairy-Faith-is clearly seen in another of Campbell's collected tales, The Lad with the Skin Coverings,[127] which in essence is an otherworld tale: 'a little thickset man in a russet coat,' who is a magician, but who otherwise seems to be a genuine Lapp dressed in furs, is introduced into a story where real fairy-like beings play the chief parts. Again, in Irish literature, we read of a loch luchra or 'lake of the pygmies'.[128] Light is thrown upon this reference by what is recorded about the leprechauns and Fergus:-While asleep on the seashore one day, Fergus was about to be carried off by the luchorpáin; 'whereat he awoke and caught three of them, to wit, one in each of his two hands, and one on his breast. "Life for life" (i. e. protection), say they. "Let my three wishes (i. e. choices) be given," says Fergus. "Thou shalt have," says the dwarf, "save that which is impossible for us." Fergus requested of him knowledge of passing under loughs and linns and seas. "Thou shalt have," says the dwarf, "save one which I forbid to thee: thou shalt not go under Lough Rudraide [which] is in thine own country." Thereafter the luchuirp (little bodies) put herbs into his ears, and he used to go with them under seas. Others say the dwarf gave his cloak to him, and that Fergus used to put it on his head and thus go under seas.'[129] In an etymological comment on this passage, Sir John Rh?s says:-'The words luchuirp and luchorpáin [Anglo-Irish leprechaun] appear to mean literally "small bodies", and the word here rendered dwarf is in the Irish abac, the etymological equivalent of the Welsh avanc, the name by which certain water inhabitants of a mythic nature went in Welsh....'[130]

Besides what we find in the recorded Fairy-Faith, there are very many parallel traditions, both Celtic and non-Celtic, about various classes of spirits, like leprechauns or other small elvish beings, which Dr. Tylor has called nature-spirits;[131] and apparently all of these can best be accounted for by means of the animistic hypothesis. For example, in North America (as in Celtic lands) there is no proof of there ever having been an actual dwarf race, but Lewis and Clark, in their Travels to the Source of the Missouri River, found among the Sioux a tradition that a hill near the Whitestone River, which the Red Men called the 'Mountain of Little People' or 'Little Spirits', was inhabited by pygmy demons in human form, about eighteen inches tall, armed with sharp arrows, and ever on the alert to kill mortals who should dare to invade their domain. So afraid were all the tribes of Red Men who lived near the mountain of these little spirits that no one of them could be induced to visit it.[132] And we may compare this American spirit-haunted hill with similar natural hills in Scotland said to be fairy knolls: one near the turning of a road from Reay Wick to Safester, Isle of Unst;[133] one the well-known fairy-haunted Tomnahurich, near Inverness;[133] and a third, the hill at Aberfoyle on which the 'people of peace' took the Rev. Robert Kirk when he profaned it by walking on it; or we may equate the American hill with the fairy-haunted Slieve Gullion and Ben Bulbin in Ireland.

The Iroquois had a belief that they could summon dwarfs, who were similar nature-spirits, by knocking on a certain large stone.[134] Likewise the Polong, a Malay familiar spirit, is 'an exceedingly diminutive female figure or mannikin'.[135] East Indian nature-spirits, too, are pygmies in stature.[136] In Polynesia, entirely independent of the common legends about wild races of pygmy stature, are myths about the spirits called wui or vui, who correspond to European dwarfs and trolls. These little spirits seem to occupy the same position toward the Melanesian gods or culture heroes, Qat of the Banks Islands and Tagaro of the New Hebrides, as daemons toward Greek gods, or as good angels toward the Christian Trinity, or as fairy tribes toward the Brythonic Arthur and toward the Gaelic hero Cuchulainn.[137] Similarly in Hindu mythology pygmies hold an important place, being sculptured on most temples in company with the gods; e. g. Siva is accompanied by a bodyguard of dwarfs, and one of them, the three-legged Bhringi, is a good dancer[138]-like all corrigans, pixies, and most fairies.

Beyond the borders of Celtic lands-in Southern Asia with its islands, in Melanesia with New Guinea, and in Central Africa-pygmy races, generally called Negritos, exist at the present day; but they themselves have a fairy-faith, just as their normal-sized primitive neighbours have, and it would hardly be reasonable to argue that either of the two fairy-faiths is due to a folk-memory of small-statured peoples. Ancient and thoroughly reliable manuscript records testify to the existence of pygmies in China during the twenty-third century B. C.;[139] yet no one has ever tried to explain the well-known animistic beliefs of modern Chinamen in ghosts, demons, and in little nature-spirits like fairies, by saying that these are a folk-memory of this ancient pygmy race. In Yezo and the Kurile Islands of Japan still survive a few of the hairy Ainu, a Caucasian-like, under-sized race; and their immediate predecessors, whom they exterminated, were a Negrito race, who, according to some traditions, were two to three feet in stature, and, according to other traditions, only one inch in stature.[140] Both pygmy races, the surviving and the exterminated race, seem independently to have evolved a belief in ghosts and spirits, so that here again it need not be argued that the present pre-Buddhist animism of the Japanese is due to a folk-memory of either Ainus or Negritos.

Further examination of the animistic hypothesis designed to explain the smallness of elvish spirits leads away from mere mythology into psychology, and sets us the task of finding out if, after all, primitive ideas about the disembodied human soul may not have originated or at least have helped to shape the Celtic folk conception of fairies as small-statured beings. Mr. A. E. Crawley, in his Idea of the Soul (pp. 200-1, 206), shows by carefully selected evidence from ancient and modern psychologies that 'first among the attributes of the soul in its primary form may be placed its size', and that 'in the majority of cases it is a miniature replica of the person, described often as a mannikin, or homunculus, of a few inches in height'. Sometimes the soul is described as only about three inches in stature. Dr. Frazer shows, likewise, that by practically all contemporary primitive peoples the soul is commonly regarded as a dwarf.[141]

The same opinions regarding the human soul prevailed among ancient peoples highly civilized, i. e. the Egyptians and Greeks, and may have thence directly influenced Celtic tradition. Thus, in bas-relief on the Egyptian temple of Dêr el Bahri, Queen Hatsheps? Rāmaka is making offerings of perfume to the gods, while just behind her stands her Ka (soul) as a pygmy so little that the crown of its head is just on a level with her waist.[142] The Ka is usually represented as about half the size of an ordinary man. In the Book of the Dead, the Ba, which like the Ka is one of the many separable parts of the soul, is represented as a very little man with wings and bird-like body.

On Greek vases the human soul is depicted as a pygmy issuing from the body through the mouth; and this conception existed among Romans and Teutons.[143] Like their predecessors the Egyptians, the Greeks also often represented the soul as a small winged human figure, and Romans, in turn, imagined the soul as a pygmy with butterfly wings. These ideas reappear in mediaeval reliefs and pictures wherein the soul is shown as a child or little naked man going out of the dying person's mouth;[144] and, according to C?dmon, who was educated by Celtic teachers, angels are small and beautiful[145]-quite like good fairies.

Alchemical and Mystical Theory

In the positive doctrines of mediaeval alchemists and mystics, e. g. Paracelsus and the Rosicrucians, as well as their modern followers, the ancient metaphysical ideas of Egypt, Greece, and Rome find a new expression; and these doctrines raise the final problem-if there are any scientific grounds for believing in such pygmy nature-spirits as these remarkable thinkers of the Middle Ages claim to have studied as beings actually existing in nature. To some extent this interesting problem will be examined in our chapter entitled Science and Fairies; here we shall simply outline the metaphysical theory, adding the testimony of some of its living advocates to explain the smallness of elvish spirits and fairies.

These mediaeval metaphysicians, inheritors of pre-Platonic, Platonic, and neo-Platonic teachings, purposely obscured their doctrines under a covering of alchemical terms, so as to safeguard themselves against persecution, open discussion of occultism not being safe during the Middle Ages, as it was among the ancients and happily is now again in our own generation. But they were quite scientific in their methods, for they divided all invisible beings into four distinct classes: the Angels, who in character and function are parallel to the gods of the ancients, and equal to the Tuatha De Danann of the Irish, are the highest; below them are the Devils or Demons, who correspond to the fallen angels of Christianity; the third class includes all Elementals, sub-human Nature-Spirits, who are generally regarded as having pygmy stature, like the Greek daemons; and the fourth division comprises the Souls of the Dead, and the shades or ghosts of the dead.

For us, the third class, which includes spirits of pygmy-like form, is the most important in this present discussion. All its members are of four kinds, according as they inhabit one of the four chief elements of nature.[146] Those inhabiting the earth are called Gnomes. They are definitely of pygmy stature, and friendly to man, and in fairy-lore ordinarily correspond to mine-haunting fairies or goblins, to pixies, corrigans, leprechauns, and to such elves as live in rocks, caverns, or earth-an important consideration entirely overlooked by champions of the Pygmy Theory. Those inhabiting the air are called Sylphs. These Sylphs, commonly described as little spirits like pygmies in form, correspond to most of the fairies who are not of the Tuatha De Danann or 'gentry' type, and who as a race are beautiful and graceful. They are quite like the fairies in Shakespeare's Midsummer-Night's Dream; and especially like the aerials in The Tempest, which, according to Mr. Morton Luce, a commentator on the drama, seem to have been shaped by Shakespeare from his knowledge of Rosicrucian occultism, in which such spirits hold an important place. Those inhabiting the water are called Undines, and correspond exactly to the fairies who live in sacred fountains, lakes, or rivers. And the fourth kind, those inhabiting the fire, are called Salamanders, and seldom appear in the Celtic Fairy-Faith: they are supreme in the elementary hierarchies. All these Elementals, who procreate after the manner of men, are said to have bodies of an elastic half-material essence, which is sufficiently ethereal not to be visible to the physical sight, and probably comparable to matter in the form of invisible gases. Mr. W. B. Yeats has given this explanation:-'Many poets, and all mystic and occult writers, in all ages and countries, have declared that behind the visible are chains on chains of conscious beings, who are not of heaven but of the earth, who have no inherent form, but change according to their whim, or the mind that sees them. You cannot lift your hand without influencing and being influenced by hordes. The visible world is merely their skin. In dreams we go amongst them, and play with them, and combat with them. They are, perhaps, human souls in the crucible-these creatures of whim.'[147] And bringing this into relation with ordinary fairies, he says:-'Do not think the fairies are always little. Everything is capricious about them, even their size. They seem to take what size or shape pleases them.'[147] In The Celtic Twilight Mr. Yeats makes the statement that the 'fairies in Ireland are sometimes as big as we are, sometimes bigger, and sometimes, as I have been told, about three feet high.'[148]

Mrs. X, a cultured Irishwoman now living in County Dublin, who as a percipient fulfils all the exacting requirements which psychologists and pathologists would demand, tells me that very frequently she has had visions of fairy beings in Ireland, and her own classification and description of these fairy beings, chiefly according to their stature, are as follows:-'Among the usually invisible races which I have seen in Ireland, I distinguish five classes. (1) There are the Gnomes, who are earth-spirits, and who seem to be a sorrowful race. I once saw some of them distinctly on the side of Ben Bulbin. They had rather round heads and dark thick-set bodies, and in stature were about two and one-half feet. (2) The Leprechauns are different, being full of mischief, though they, too, are small. I followed a leprechaun from the town of Wicklow out to the Carraig Sidhe, "Rock of the Fairies," a distance of half a mile or more, where he disappeared. He had a very merry face, and beckoned to me with his finger. (3) A third class are the Little People, who, unlike the Gnomes and Leprechauns, are quite good-looking; and they are very small. (4) The Good People are tall beautiful beings, as tall as ourselves, to judge by those I saw at the rath in Rosses Point. They direct the magnetic currents of the earth. (5) The Gods are really the Tuatha De Danann, and they are much taller than our race. There may be many other classes of invisible beings which I do not know.' (Recorded on October 16, 1910.)

And independently of the Celtic peoples there is available very much testimony of the most reliable character from modern disciples of the mediaeval occultists, e. g. the Rosicrucians, and the Theosophists, that there exist in nature invisible spiritual beings of pygmy stature and of various forms and characters, comparable in all respects to the little people of Celtic folk-lore. How all this is parallel to the Celtic Fairy-Faith is perfectly evident, and no comment of ours is necessary.[149]

This point of view, presented by mediaeval and modern occult sciences and confirmed by Celtic and non-Celtic percipients, when considered in relation to its non-Celtic sources and then at once contrasted with ancient and modern Celtic beliefs of the same character which constitute it-to be seen in the above Gaelic and Brythonic manuscript and other evidence, and in C?dmon's theory that angels are small beings-plunges us into the very complex and extremely difficult problem how far fairies as pygmy spirits may be purely Celtic, and how far they may reflect beliefs not Celtic. The problem, however, is far too complicated to be discussed here; and one may briefly say that there seems to have been a time in the evolution of animism when the ancient Celts of Britain, of Ireland, and of Continental Europe too, held, in common with the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Teutons, an original Aryan doctrine. This doctrine, after these four stocks separated in possession of it, began to evolve its four specialized aspects which we now can study; and in the Irish Universities of the early Christian centuries, when Ireland was the centre of European learning, the classical and Celtic aspects of it met for the first time since their prehistoric divorcement. There, as is clearly seen later among the mediaeval alchemists and occultists, a new influence-from Christian theology-was superadded to the ancient animistic beliefs of Europe as they had evolved up to that time.


The ethnological argument, after allowing for all its shortcomings, suggests that small-statured races like Lapps and Eskimos (though not necessarily true pygmy races, of whose existence in Europe there is no proof available) did once inhabit lands where there are Celts, and that a Celtic folk-memory of these could conceivably have originated a belief in certain kinds of fairies, and thus have been a shaping influence in the animistic traditions about other fairies. The animistic argument shows that pygmies described in Celtic literature and in Celtic and non-Celtic mythologies are nearly always to be thought of as non-human spirits; and that there is now and was in past ages a world-wide belief that the human soul is in stature a pygmy. The philosophical argument of alchemists and mystics, in a way, draws to itself the animistic argument, and sets up the hypothesis that the smallness of elves and fairies is due to their own nature, because they actually exist as invisible tribes of non-human beings of pygmy size and form.

The Changeling Belief

The smallness of fairies, which has just been considered, and the belief in changelings are the two most prominent characteristics of the Fairy-Faith, according to our evidence in chapter ii; and we are now to consider the second. The prevalent and apparently the only important theories which are current to explain this belief in changelings may be designated as the Kidnap Theory and the Human-Sacrifice Theory. These we shall proceed to estimate, after which there will be introduced newer and seemingly more adequate theories.

Kidnap Theory

Some writers have argued that the changeling belief merely reflects a time when the aboriginal pre-Celtic peoples held in subjection by the Celts, and forced to live in mountain caverns and in secret retreats underground, occasionally kidnapped the children of their conquerors, and that such kidnapped children sometimes escaped and told to their Celtic kinsmen highly romantic tales about having been in an underground fairy-world with fairies. Frequently this argument has taken a slightly different form: that instead of unfriendly pre-Celtic peoples it was magic-working Druids who-either through their own choice or else, having been driven to bay by the spread of Christianity, through force of circumstances-dwelt in secret in chambered mounds or souterrains, or in dense forests, and then stole young people for recruits, sometimes permitting them, years afterwards, when too old to be of further use, to return home under an inviolable vow of secrecy.[150] And Mr. David MacRitchie in supporting his own Pygmy Theory has made interesting modern elaborations of these two slightly different theories concerning changelings.[151]

As already pointed out, there are definite ethnological elements blended in the other parts of the complex Fairy-Faith; and so in this part of it, the changeling belief, there are conceivably more of such elements which lend some support to the Kidnap Theory. In itself, however, as we hope to show conclusively, the Theory, failing to grasp the essential and underlying character of this belief, does not adequately explain it.

Human-Sacrifice Theory

Alfred Nutt advanced a theory, which anticipated one part of our own, that 'the changeling story is found to be connected with the antique conception of life and sacrifice'. And he wrote:-'It is at least possible that the sickly and ailing would be rejected when the time came for each family to supply its quota of victims, and this might easily translate itself in the folk-memory into the statement that the fairies had carried off the healthy' (alone acceptable as sacrifice) 'and left in exchange the sickly.'[152] Though our evidence will not permit us to accept the theory (why it will not will be clear as we proceed) that some such sacrificial customs among the ancient Celts entirely account for the changeling story, yet we consider it highly probable that the theory helps to explain particular aspects of the complex tradition, and that the underlying philosophy of sacrifice extended in an animistic way, as we shall try to extend it, probably offers more complete explanation.

Thus, the Mexicans believed that the souls of all sacrificed children went to live with the god Tlaloc in his heaven-world.[153] Among the Greeks, a sacrificed victim appears to have been sent as a messenger, bearing a message repeated to him before death to some god.[154] On the funeral pile of Patroclus were laid Trojan captives, together with horses and hounds, a practice corresponding to that of American Red Men; the idea being that the sacrificed Trojans and the horses and hounds as well, were thus sent to serve the slain warriors in the otherworld. Among ourselves in Europe and in America it is not uncommon to read in the daily newspaper about a suicide as resulting from the belief that death alone can bring union with a deceased sweetheart or loved one. These examples, and very many parallel ones to be found the world over, seem to furnish the key to the theory of sacrifice: namely, that by extinguishing life in this world it is transmitted to the world of the gods, spirits, and the dead.

Both Sir John Rh?s and D'Arbois de Jubainville have shown that the Irish were wont to sacrifice the first-born of children and of flocks.[155] O'Curry points out a clear case of human sacrifice at an ancient Irish funeral[156]:-'Fiachra then brought fifty hostages with him from Munster'; and, when he died, 'the hostages which he brought from the south were buried alive around the Fert (burial mound) of Fiachra.' More commonly the ancient Celts seem to have made sacrifices to appease place-spirits before the erection of a new building, by sending to them through death the soul of a youth (see p. 436).

It is in such animistic beliefs as these, which underlie sacrifice, that we find a partial solution of the problem of changeling belief. But the sacrifice theory is also inadequate; for, though changelings may in some cases in ancient times have conceivably been the sickly children discarded by priests as unfit for sending to the gods or fairies, how can we explain actual changelings to be met with to-day in all Celtic lands? Some other hypothesis is evidently necessary.

Soul-Wandering Theory

Comparative study shows that non-Celtic changeling beliefs parallel to those of the Celts exist almost everywhere, that they centre round the primitive idea that the human soul can be abstracted from the body by disembodied spirits and by magicians, and that they do not depend upon the sacrifice theory, though animistically closely related to it. For example, according to the Lepers' Islanders, ghosts steal men-as fairies do-'to add them to their company; and if a man has left children when he died, one of whom sickens afterwards, it is said that the dead father takes it.'[157] In Banks Island, Polynesia, the ghost of a woman who has died in childbirth is greatly dreaded: as long as her child is on earth she cannot proceed to Panoi, the otherworld; and the relatives take her child to another house, 'because they know that the mother will come back to take its soul.'[158] When a Motlav child sneezes, the mother will cry, 'Let him come back into the world! let him remain.' Under similar circumstances in Mota, the cry is, 'Live; roll back to us!' 'The notion is that a ghost is drawing a child's soul away.' If the child falls ill the attempt has succeeded, and a wizard throws himself into a trance and goes to the ghost-world to bring the child's soul back.[159] In the islands of Kei and Kisar a belief prevails that the spirits of the dead can take to themselves the souls of the living who go near the graves.[160] Sometimes a Polynesian mother insists on being buried with her dead child; or a surviving wife with her dead husband, so that there will be no separation.[161] These last practices help to illustrate the Celtic theory behind the belief that fairies can abduct adults.

Throughout Melanesia sickness is generally attributed to the soul's absence from the body, and this state of disembodiment is believed to be due to some ghost's or spirit's interference,[162] just as among Celts sickness is often thought to be due to fairies having taken the soul to Fairyland. An old Irish piper who came up to Lady Gregory's home at Coole Park told us that a certain relative of his, a woman, had lain in a semi-conscious state of illness for months, and that when she recovered full consciousness she declared she had been with the 'good people'.

Folk-beliefs like all the above, which more adequately explain the changeling idea than the Human-Sacrifice Theory, are world-wide, being at once Celtic and non-Celtic.[163]

Demon-Possession Theory

There has been among many peoples, primitive and civilized, a complementary belief to the one that evil spirits or ghosts may steal a soul and so cause in the vacated body illness if the abduction is temporary, and death if it is permanent: namely, a belief that demons, who sometimes may be souls of the dead, can possess a human body while the soul is out of it during sleep, or else can expel the soul and occupy its place.[164] When complete possession of this character takes place there is-as in 'mediumship'-a change of personality, and the manner, thoughts, actions, language, and the whole nature of the possessed person are radically changed. Sometimes a foreign tongue, of which the subject is ignorant, is fluently spoken. When the possession is an evil one, as Dr. Nevius has observed in China, where the phenomena are common, the change of character is in the direction of immorality, frequently in strong contrast with the character of the subject under normal conditions, and is often accompanied by paroxysms and contortions of the body, as I have often been solemnly assured by Celts is the case in a changeling. (See M. Le Scour's account on page 198, of three changelings that he saw in one family in Finistère; and compare what is said about fairy changelings in Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales, and Cornwall.)

A conception like that among the Chinese, of how an evil spirit may dispossess the soul inhabiting a child's or adult's body, seems to be the basis and original conception behind the fairy-changeling belief in all Celtic and other countries. When a child has been changed by fairies, and an old fairy left in its place, the child has been, according to this theory, dispossessed of its body by an evil fairy, which a Chinaman calls a demon, while the leaving behind of the old fairy accounts for the changed personality and changed facial expression of the demon-possessed infant. The Chinese demon enters into and takes complete possession of the child's body while the child's soul is out of it during sleep-and all fairies make changelings when a babe is asleep in its cradle at night, or during the day when it is left alone for a short time. The Chinese child-soul is then unable to return into its body until some kind of magical ceremony or exorcism expels the possessing demon; and through precisely similar methods, often aided by Christian priests, Celts cure changelings made by fairies, pixies, and corrigans. In the following account, therefore, apparently lies the root explanation of the puzzling beliefs concerning fairy changelings so commonly met with in the Celtic Fairy-Faith:-'To avert the calamity of nursing a demon, dried banana-skin is burnt to ashes, which are then mixed with water. Into this the mother dips her finger and paints a cross upon the sleeping babe's forehead. In a short time the demon soul returns-for the soul wanders from the body during sleep and is free-but, failing to recognize the body thus disguised, flies off. The true soul, which has been waiting for an opportunity, now approaches the dormant body, and, if the mark has been washed off in time, takes possession of it; but if not, it, like the demon, failing to recognize the body, departs, and the child dies in its sleep.'[165]

In relation to this Demon-Possession Theory, the writer has had the opportunity of observing carefully some living changelings among the Celts, and is convinced that in many such cases there is an undoubted belief expressed by the parents and friends that fairy-possession has taken place. This belief often translates itself naturally into the folk-theory that the body of the child has also been changed, when examination proves only a change of personality as recognized by psychologists; or, in a distinct type of changelings, those who exhibit great precocity in childhood combined with an old and wizened countenance, there is neither a changed personality nor demon-possession, but simply some abnormal physical or mental condition, in the nature of cretinism, atrophy, marasmus, or arrested development. One of the most striking examples of a changeling exists at Plouharnel-Carnac, Brittany, where there is now living a dwarf Breton whom I have photographed and talked with, and who may possibly combine in himself both the abnormal psychical and the abnormal pathological conditions. He is no taller than a normal child ten years old, but being over thirty years old he is thick-set, though not deformed. All the peasants who know him call him 'the Little Corrigan', and his own mother declares that he is not the child she gave birth to. He once said to me with a kind of pathetic protest, 'Did M. -- tell you that I am a demon?'


The Kidnap Theory, resting entirely upon the ethnological and social or psychological elements which we have elsewhere pointed out as existing in the superficial aspects of the essentially animistic Fairy-Faith as a whole, is accordingly limited in its explanation of this specialized part of the Fairy-Faith, the changeling belief, to these same elements which may exist in the changeling belief. And, on the showing of anthropology, the other theories undoubtedly offer a more adequate explanation.

By means of sacrifice, according to its underlying philosophy, man is able to transmit souls from this world to the world where dwell the gods and fairy-folk both good and evil. Thus, had Abraham sacrificed Isaac, the soul of Isaac would have been taken to heaven by Jehovah as fairies take souls to Fairyland through death. But the difference is that in human sacrifice men do voluntarily and for specific religious ends what various kinds of fairies or spirits would do without human intervention and often maliciously, as our review of ancient and modern theories of sacrifice has shown. Gods and fairies are spiritual beings; hence only the spiritual part of man can be delivered over to them.

Melanesians and other peoples whose changeling beliefs have now been examined, regard all illness and death as the result of spirit interference; while Celts regard strange maladies in children and in adults as the result of fairy interference. And to no Celt is death in early life a natural thing: if it comes to a child or to a beautiful youth in any way whatsoever, the fairies have taken what they coveted. In all mythologies gods have always enjoyed the companionship of beautiful maidens, and goddesses the love of heroic youths; and they have often taken them to their world as the Tuatha De Danann took the great heroes of the ancient Celts to the Otherworld or Avalon, and as they still in the character of modern fairies abduct brides and young mothers, and bridegrooms or other attractive young men whom they wish to have with them in Fairyland (see our chapters iv-vi).

Where sacrifice or death has not brought about such complete transfer or abduction of the soul to the fairy world, there is only a temporary absence from human society; and, meanwhile, the vacated body is under a fairy spell and lies ill, or unconscious if there is a trance state. If the body is an infant's, a fairy may possess it, as in the Chinese theory of demon-possession. In such cases the Celts often think that the living body is that of another child once taken but since grown too old for Fairyland; though the rational explanation frequently is purely pathological. Looked at philosophically, a fairy exchange of this kind is fair and evenly balanced, and there has been no true robbery. And in this aspect of the changeling creed-an aspect of it purely Celtic-there seems to be still another influence apart from human sacrifice, soul-abductions, demon or fairy-possession, and disease; namely, a greatly corrupted folk-memory of an ancient re-birth doctrine: the living are taken to the dead or the fairies and then sent back again, after the manner of Socrates' argument that the living come from the dead and the dead from the living (cf. our chapter vii). In all such exchanges, the economy of Nature demands that the balance between the two worlds be maintained: hence there arose the theories of human sacrifice, of soul abduction, of demon or fairy-possession; and in all these collectively is to be found the complete psychological explanation of the fairy-changeling and fairy-abduction beliefs among ancient and modern Celts as these show themselves in the Fairy-Faith. All remaining classes of changelings, which fall outside the scope of this clearly defined psychological theory, are to be explained pathologically.

Magic and Witchcraft

The evidence from each Celtic country shows very clearly that magic and witchcraft are inseparably blended in the Fairy-Faith, and that human beings, i. e. 'charmers,' dynion hysbys, and other magicians, and sorceresses, are often enabled through the aid of fairies to perform the same magical acts as fairies; or, again, like Christian priests who use exorcisms, they are able, acting independently, to counteract fairy power, thereby preventing changelings or curing them, saving churnings, healing man or beast of 'fairy-strokes', and, in short, nullifying all undesirable influences emanating from the fairy world. A correct interpretation of these magical elements so prominent in the Fairy-Faith is of fundamental importance, because if made it will set us on one of the main psychical highways which traverse the vast territory of our anthropological inquiry. Let us, then, undertake such an interpretation, first setting up, as we must, some sort of working hypothesis as to what magic is, witchcraft being assumed to be a part of magic.

Theories of Modern Anthropologists

We may define magic, as understood by ancients and moderns, civilized or non-civilized, apart from conjuring, which is mere jugglery and deception of the senses, as the art of controlling for particular ends various kinds of invisible forces, often, and, as we hold, generally thought of as intelligent spirits. This is somewhat opposed to Mr. Marett's point of view, which emphasizes 'pre-animistic influences', i. e. 'powers to which the animistic form is very vaguely attributed if at all.' And, in dealing with the anthropological aspects of spell-casting in magical operations, Mr. Marett conceives such a magical act to be in relation to the magician 'generically, a projection of imperative will, and specifically one that moves on a supernormal plane', and the victim's position towards this invisible projected force to be 'a position compatible with rapport'.[166] He also thinks it probable that the essence of the magician's supernormal power lies in what Melanesians call mana.[166] In our opinion mana may be equated with what William James, writing of his attitude toward psychical phenomena, called a universally diffused 'soul-stuff' leaking through, so to speak, and expressing itself in the human individual.[167] On this view, Mr. Marett's theory would amount to saying that magicians are able to produce magical effects because they are able to control this 'soul-stuff'; and our evidence would regard all spirits and fairies as portions of such universally diffused mana, 'soul-stuff', or, as Fechner might call it, the 'Soul of the World'. Moreover, in essence, such an idea of magic coincides, when carefully examined, with what ancient thinkers like Plato, Iamblichus, the Neo-Platonists generally, and mediaeval magicians like Paracelsus and Eliphas Levi, called magic; and agrees with ancient Celtic magic-judging from what Roman historians have recorded concerning it, and from Celtic manuscripts themselves.

Other modern anthropologists have set up far less satisfactory definitions of magic. According to Dr. Frazer, for example, magic assumes, as natural science does, that 'one event follows another necessarily and invariably without the intervention of any spiritual or personal agency'.[168] Such a theory is not supported by the facts of anthropology; and does not even apply to those specialized and often superficial kinds of magic classed under it by Dr. Frazer as 'sympathetic and imitative magic', i. e. that through which like produces like, or part produces whole. To our mind, sympathetic and imitative magic (to leave out of account many fallacious and irrational ritualistic practices, which Dr. Frazer includes under these loose terms), when genuine, in their varied aspects are directly dependent upon hypnotic states, upon telepathy, mind-reading, mental suggestion, association of ideas, and similar processes; in short, are due to

the operation of mind on mind and will on will, and, moreover, are recognized by primitive races to have this fundamental character. Or, according to the Fairy-Faith, they are caused by a fairy or disembodied spirit acting upon an embodied one, a man or woman; and not, as Dr. Frazer holds, through 'mistaken applications of one or other of two great fundamental laws of thought, namely, the association of ideas by similarity and the association of ideas by contiguity in space or time'.[169]

The mechanical causation theory of magic, as thus set forth in The Golden Bough, does not imply mana or will-power, as Mr. Marett's more adequate theory does in part: Dr. Frazer wishes us to regard animistic religious practices as distinct from magic.[170] Nevertheless, in direct opposition to Dr. Frazer's view, the weight of the evidence from the past and from the present, which we are about to offer, is decidedly favourable to our regarding magic and religion as complementary to one another and, for all ordinary purposes of the anthropologist, as in principle the same. The testimony touching magicians in all ages, Celtic magic and witchcraft as well, besides that resulting from modern psychical research, tends to establish an almost exclusively animistic hypothesis to account for fairy magical phenomena and like phenomena among human beings; and with these phenomena we are solely concerned.

Among the Ancients[171]

Among the more cultured Greeks and Romans-and the same can be said of most great nations of antiquity-it was an unquestioned belief that innumerable gods, placed in hierarchies, form part of an unbroken spiritual chain at the lowest end of which stands man, and at the highest the incomprehensible Supreme Deity. These gods, having their abodes throughout the Universe, act as the agents of the Unknown God, directing the operation of His cosmic laws and animating every star and planet. Inferior to these gods, and to man also, the ancients believed there to be innumerable hosts of invisible beings, called by them daemons, who, acting as the servants of the gods, control, and thus in a secondary sense create, all the minor phenomena of inanimate and animate nature, such as tempests, atmospheric disturbances generally, the failure of crops or their abundance, maladies and their cure, good and evil passions in men, wars and peace, and all the blessings and curses which affect the purely human life.

Man, being of the god-race and thus superior to these lower, servile entities, could, like the gods, control them if adept in the magical sciences; for ancient Magic, about which so much has been written and about which so little has been understood by most people in ancient, mediaeval, and modern times, is according to the wisest ancients nothing more than the controlling of daemons, shades, and all sorts of secondary spirits or elementals by men specially trained for that purpose. Sufficient records are extant to make it evident that the fundamental training of Egyptian, Indian, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, and Druid priests was in the magical or occult sciences. Pliny, in his Natural History, says:-'And to-day Britain practises the art [of magic] with religious awe and with so many ceremonies that it might seem to have made the art known to the Persians.'[172] Herein, then, is direct evidence that the Celtic Fairy-Faith, considered in its true psychic nature, has been immediately shaped by the ancient Celtic religion; and, as our witness from the Isle of Skye so clearly set forth, that it originated among a cultured class of the Celts more than among the peasants. And, in accordance with this evidence, Professor Georges Dottin, who has made a special study of the historical records concerning Druidism, writes:-'The Druids of Ireland appear to us above all as magicians and prophets. They foretell the future, they interpret the secret will of the fées (fairies), they cast lots.'[173] Thus, in spite of the popular and Christian reshaping which the belief in fairies has had to endure, its origin is easily enough discerned even in its modern form, covered over though this is with accretions foreign to its primal character.

Magic was the supreme science because it raised its adepts out of the ordinary levels of humanity to a close relationship with the gods and creative powers. Nor was it a science to be had for the asking, 'for many were the wand-bearers and few the chosen.' Roman writers tell us that neophytes for the druidic priesthood often spent twenty years in severe study and training before being deemed fit to be called Druids. We need not, however, in this study enter into an exposition of the ordeals and trials of candidates seeking magical training, or else initiation into the Mysteries. There were always two schools to which they could apply, directly opposed in their government and policy-the school of white magic and the school of black magic; the former being a school in which magical powers were used in religious rites and always for good ends, the latter a school in which all magical powers were used for wholly selfish and evil ends. In both schools the preliminary training was the same; that is to say, the first thing taught to the neophyte was self-control. When he proved himself absolutely his own master, when his teachers were certain that he could not be dominated by another will or by any outside or psychic influence, then for the first time he was permitted to exercise his own iron will in controlling daemons, ghosts, and all the elemental hosts of the air-either as a white magician or as a black magician.[174]

The magical sciences taught (an idea which still holds its ground, as one can discover in modern India) that by formulas of invocation, by chants, by magic sounds, by music, these invisible beings can be made to obey the will of the magician even as they obey the will of the gods. The calling up of the dead and talking with them is called necromancy; the foretelling through spiritual agency and otherwise of coming events or things hidden, like the outcome of a battle, is called divination; the employment of charms against children so as to prevent their growing is known as fascination; to cause any ill fortune or death to fall upon another person by magic is sorcery; to excite the sexual passions of man or woman, magical mixtures called philtres are used. Almost all these definitions apply to the practices of black magic. But the great schools known as the Mysteries were of white magic, in so far as they practised the art; and such men as Pythagoras, Plato, and Aeschylus, who are supposed to have been initiated into them, always held them in the highest reverence, though prohibited from directly communicating anything of their esoteric teachings concerning the origin and destiny of man, the nature of the gods, and the constitution of the universe and its laws.

In Plato's Banquet the power or function of the daemonic element in nature is explained. Socrates asks of the prophetess Diotima what is the power of the daemonic element (personified as Love for the purposes of the argument), and she replies:-'He interprets between gods and men, conveying and taking across to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophets and priests, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all prophecy and incantation find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through the daemonic element (or Love) all the intercourse and converse of God with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual.'[175]

Among the Ancient Celts

If we turn now directly to Celtic magic in ancient times, we discover that the testimony of Pliny is curiously confirmed by Celtic manuscripts, chiefly Irish ones, and that then, as now, witchcraft and fairy powers over men and women are indistinguishable in their general character. Thus, in the Echtra Condla, 'the Adventures of Connla,' the fairy woman says of Druidism and magic:-'Druidism is not loved, little has it progressed to honour on the Great Strand. When his law shall come it will scatter the charms of Druids from journeying on the lips of black, lying demons'-so characterized by the Christian transcribers.[176] In How Fionn Found his Missing Men, an ancient tale preserved by oral tradition until recorded by Campbell, it is said that 'Fionn then went out with Bran (his fairy dog). There were millions of people (apparitions) out before him, called up by some sleight of hand'.[177] In the Leabhar na h-Uidre, or 'Book of the Dun Cow' (p. 43 a), compiled from older manuscripts about A. D. 1100, there is a clear example of Irish fetishism based on belief in the power of demons:-'... for their swords used to turn against them (the Ulstermen) when they made a false trophy. Reasonable [was] this; for demons used to speak to them from their arms, so that hence their arms were safeguards.'[178]

Shape-shifting quite after the fairy fashion is very frequently met with in old Celtic literature. Thus, in the Rennes Dinnshenchas there is this passage showing that spirits or fairies were regarded as necessary for the employment of magic:-'Folks were envious of them (Faifne the poet and his sister Aige): so they loosed elves at them who transformed Aige into a fawn' (the form assumed by the fairy mother of Oisin, see p. 299 n.), 'and sent her on a circuit all round Ireland, and the fians of Meilge son of Cobthach, king of Ireland, killed her.'[179] A fact which ought to be noted in this connexion is that kings or great heroes, rather than ordinary men and women, are very commonly described as being able to shift their own shape, or that of other people; e. g. 'Mongan took on himself the shape of Tibraide, and gave Mac an Daimh the shape of the cleric, with a large tonsure on his head.'[180] And when this fact is coupled with another, namely the ancient belief that such kings and great heroes were incarnations and reincarnations of the Tuatha De Danann, who form the supreme fairy hierarchy, we realize that, having such an origin, they were simply exercising in human bodies powers which their divine race exercise over men from the fairy world (see our chapter iv).

In Brythonic literature and mythology, magic and witchcraft with the same animistic character play as great or even a greater r?le than in Gaelic literature and mythology. This is especially true with respect to the Arthurian Legend, and to the Mabinogion, some of which tales are regarded by scholars as versions of Irish ones. Sir John Rh?s and Professor J. Loth, who have been the chief translators of the Mabinogion, consider their chief literary machinery to be magic (see our chapter v).

So far it ought to be clear that Celtic magic contains much animism in its composition, and that these few illustrations of it, selected from numerous illustrations in the ancient Fairy-Faith, confirm Pliny's independent testimony that in his age the Britons seemed capable of instructing even the Persians themselves in the magical arts.

European and American Witchcraft

In a general way, the history of witchcraft in Europe and in the American colonies is supplementary to what has already been said, seeing that it is an offshoot of mediaeval magic, which in turn is an offshoot of ancient magic. Witchcraft in the West, in probably a majority of cases, is a mere fabric of absurd superstitions and practices-as it is shown to be by the evidence brought out in so many of the horrible legal and ecclesiastical processes conducted against helpless and eccentric old people, and other men and women, including the young, often for the sake of private revenge, and generally on no better foundation than hearsay and false accusations. In the remaining instances it undoubtedly arose, as ancient witchcraft (black magic) seems to have arisen, through the infiltration of occult knowledge into uneducated and often criminally inclined minds, so that what had formerly been secretly guarded among the learned, and generally used for legitimate ends, degenerated in the hands of the unfit into black magic. In our own age, a parallel development, which adequately illustrates our subject of inquiry, has taken place in the United States: fragments of magical lore bequeathed by Mesmer and his immediate predecessors, the alchemists, were practically and honestly applied to the practice of magnetic healing and healing through mental suggestion by a small group of practitioners in Massachusetts, and then with much ingenuity and real genius were applied by Mary Baker Eddy to the interpretation of miraculous healing by Jesus Christ. Hence arose a new religion called Christian Science. But this religious movement did not stop at mental healing: according to published reports, during the years 1908-9 the leader of the New York First Church of Christ, Scientist, was deposed, and, with certain of her close associates, was charged with having projected daily against the late Mrs. Eddy's adjutant a current of 'malicious animal magnetism' from New York to Boston, in order to bring about his death. The process is said to have been for the deposed leader and her friends to sit together in a darkened room with their eyes closed. 'Then one of them would say: "You all know Mr. --. You all know that his place is in the darkness whence he came. If his place is six feet under ground, that is where he should be." Then all present would concentrate their minds on the one thought-Mr. -- and six feet under ground.' And this practice is supposed to have been kept up for days. Mrs. --, who gives this testimony, is a friend of the victim, and she asserts that these evil thought-waves slowly but surely began his effacement, and that had the black magicians down in New York not been discovered in time, Mr. -- could not have withstood the forces.[181] Perhaps so enlightened a country as the United States may in time see history repeat itself, and add a new chapter to witchcraft; for the true witches were not the kind who are popularly supposed to ride on broomsticks and to keep a house full of black cats, and the sooner this is recognized the better.

According to this aspect of Christian Science, 'malicious animal magnetism' (or black magic), an embodied spirit, i. e. a man or woman, possesses and can employ the same magical powers as a disembodied spirit-or, as the Celts would say, the same magical powers as a fairy-casting spells, and producing disease and death in the victim. And this view coincides with ordinary witchcraft theories; for witches have been variously defined as embodied spirits who have ability to act in conjunction with disembodied spirits through the employment of various occult forces, e. g. forces comparable to Mesmer's odic forces, to the Melanesian mana, or to the 'soul-stuff' postulated by William James, or, as Celts think, to forces focused in fairies themselves. So, also, according to Mr. Marett's view, there is a state of rapport between the victim and the magician or witch; and where such a state of rapport exists there is some mana-like force passing between the two poles of the magical circuit, whether it be only unconscious mental or electrical force emanating from the operator, or an extraneous force brought under control and concentrated in some such conscious unit as we designate by the term 'spirit', 'devil', or 'fairy'.

In conformity with this psychical or animistic view of witchcraft, in the Capital Code of Connecticut (A. D. 1642) a witch is defined as one who 'hath or consorteth with a familiar spirit'.[182] European codes, as illustrated by the sixth chapter of Lord Coke's Third Institute, have parallels to this definition:-'A witch is a person which hath conference with the devil; to consult with him to do some act.'[182] And upon these theories, not upon the broomstick and black-cat conception, were based the trials for witchcraft during the seventeenth century.

The Bible, then so frequently the last court of appeal in such matters, was found to sustain such theories about witches in the classical example of the Witch of Endor and Saul; and the idea of witchcraft in Europe and America came to be based-as it probably always had been in pagan times-on the theory that living persons could control or be controlled by disembodied spirits for evil ends. Hence all black magicians, and what are now known as 'spirit mediums', were made liable by law to the death penalty.[183]

In mediaeval Europe the great difficulty always was, as is shown in the trials of Jeanne d'Arc, to decide whether the invisible agent in magical processes, such as was imputed to the accused, was an angel or a demon. If an angel, then the accused was a saint, and might become a candidate for canonization; but if a demon, the accused was a witch, and liable to a death-sentence. The wisest old doctors of the University of Paris, who sat in judgement (or were consulted) in one of Jeanne's trials, could not fully decide this knotty problem, nor, apparently, the learned churchmen who also tried her; but evidently they all agreed that it was better to waive the question. And, finally, an innocent peasant girl who had heard Divine Voices, and who had thereby miraculously saved her king and her country, was burned at the stake, under the joint direction of English civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and, if not technically, at least practically, with the full approval of the corresponding French authorities, at Rouen, France, May 30, A. D. 1431.[184] In April, A. D. 1909, almost five centuries afterwards, it has been decided with tardy justice that Jeanne's Voices were those of angels and not of demons, and she has been made a saint.

How the case of Jeanne d'Arc bears directly upon the Fairy-Faith is self-evident: One of the first questions asked by Jeanne's inquisitors was 'if she had any knowledge of those who went to the Sabbath with the fairies? or if she had not assisted at the assemblies held at the fountain of the fairies, near Domremy, around which dance malignant spirits?' And another question exactly as recorded was this:-'Interroguée s'elle croiet point au devant de aujourduy, que les fées feussent maulvais esperis: respond qu'elle n'en s?avoit rien.'[185]


Finally, we may say that what medicine-men are to American Indians, to Polynesians, Australians, Africans, Eskimos, and many other contemporary races, or what the mightier magicians of modern India are to their people, the 'fairy-doctors' and 'charmers' of Ireland, Scotland, and Man are to the Gaels, and the 'Dynion Hysbys' or 'Wise Men' of Wales, the witches of Cornwall, and the seers, sorceresses, and exorcists of Brittany are to the Brythons. These Gaelic and Brythonic magicians and witches, and 'fairy mediums', almost invariably claim to derive their power from their ability to see and to communicate with fairies, spirits, and the dead; and they generally say that they are enabled through such spiritual agencies to reveal the past, to foretell the future, to locate lost property, to cast spells upon human beings and upon animals, to remove such spells, to cure fairy strokes and changelings, to perform exorcisms, and to bring people back from Fairyland.

We arrive at the following conclusion:-If, as eminent psychical researchers now postulate (and as many of them believe), there are active and intelligent disembodied beings able to act psychically upon embodied men in much the same way that embodied men are known ordinarily to act psychically upon one another, then there is every logical and common-sense reason for extending this psychical hypothesis so as to include the ancient, mediaeval, and modern theory of magic and witchcraft, namely, that what embodied men and women can do in magical ways, as for example in hypnotism, disembodied men and women can do. Further, if fairies, in accord with reliable testimony from educated and critical percipients, hypothetically exist (whatever their nature may be), they may be possessed of magical powers of the same sort, and so can cast spells upon or possess living human beings as Celts believe and assert. And this hypothesis coincides in most essentials with the one we used as a basis for this discussion, that, in accordance with the Melanesian doctrine of control of ghosts and spirits with their inherent mana, magical acts are possible.[186] This in turn applied to the Celts amounts to a hypothetical confirmation of the ancient druidical doctrine that through control of fairies or demons (daemons) Druids or magicians could control the weather and natural phenomena connected with vegetable and animal processes, could cast spells, could divine the future, could execute all magical acts.


According to the testimony of anthropology, exorcism as a religious practice has always flourished wherever animistic beliefs have furnished it with the necessary environment; and not only has exorcism been a fundamental part of religious practices in past ages, but it is so at the present day. Among Christians, Celtic and non-Celtic, among followers of all the great historical religions, and especially among East Indians, Chinese, American Red Men, Polynesians, and most Africans, the expelling of demons from men and women, from animals, from inanimate objects, and from places, is sanctioned by well-established rituals. Exorcism as applied to the human race is thus defined in the Dictionnaire de Théologie (Roman Catholic) by L'Abbé Bergier:-'Exorcism-conjuration, prayer to God, and command given to the demon to depart from the body of persons possessed.' The same authority thus logically defends its practice by the Church:-'Far from condemning the opinion of the Jews, who attributed to the demon certain maladies, that divine Master confirmed it.'[187] And whenever exorcism of this character has been or is now generally practised, the professional exorcist appears as a personage just as necessary to society as the modern doctor, since nearly all diseases were and to some extent are still, both among Christians and non-Christians, very often thought to be the result of demon-possession.

When we come to the dawn of the Christian period in Ireland and in Scotland, we see Patrick and Columba, the first and greatest of the Gaelic missionaries, very extensively practising exorcism; and there is every reason to believe (though the data available on this point are somewhat unsatisfactory) that their wide practice of exorcism was quite as much a Christian adaptation of pre-Christian Celtic exorcism, such as the Druids practised, as it was a continuation of New Testament tradition. We may now present certain of the data which tend to verify this supposition, and by means of them we shall be led to realize how fundamentally such an animistic practice as exorcism must have shaped the Fairy-Faith of the Celts, both before and after the coming of Christianity.

'Once upon a time,' so the tale runs about Patrick, 'his foster-mother went to milk the cow. He also went with her to drink a draught of new milk. Then the cow goes mad in the byre and killed five other kine: a demon, namely, entered her. There was great sadness on his foster-mother, and she told him to bring the kine back to life. Then he brought the kine to life, so that they were whole, and he cured the mad one. So God's name and Patrick's were magnified thereby.'[188] On another occasion, when demons came to Ireland in the form of black birds, quite after the manner of the Irish belief that fairies assume the form of crows (see pp. 302-5), the Celtic ire of Patrick was so aroused in trying to exorcize them out of the country that he threw his bell at them with such violence that it was cracked, and then he wept:-'Now at the end of those forty days and forty nights' [of Patrick's long fast on the summit of Cruachan Aigle or Croagh Patrick, Ireland's Holy Mountain] 'the mountain was filled with black birds, so that he knew not heaven or earth. He sang maledictive psalms at them. They left him not because of this. Then his anger grew against them. He strikes his bell at them, so that the men of Ireland heard its voice, and he flung it at them, so that a gap broke out of it, and that [bell] is "Brigit's Gapling". Then Patrick weeps till his face and his chasuble in front of him were wet. No demon came to the land of Erin after that till the end of seven years and seven months and seven days and seven nights. Then the angel went to console Patrick and cleansed the chasuble, and brought white birds round the Rick, and they used to sing sweet melodies for him.'[188] In Adamnan's Life of S. Columba it is said that 'according to custom', which in all probability was established in pagan times by the Druids and then maintained by their Christian descendants, it was usual to exorcize even a milk vessel before milking, and the milk in it afterwards.[189] Thus Adamnan tells us that one day a youth, Columban by name, when he had finished milking, went to the door of St. Columba's cell carrying the pail full of new milk that, according to custom, the saint might exorcize it. When the holy man had made the sign of the cross in the air, the air 'was greatly agitated, and the bar of the lid, driven through its two holes, was shot away to some distance; the lid fell to the ground, and most of the milk was spilled on the soil.' Then the saint chided the youth, saying:-'Thou hast done carelessly in thy work to-day; for thou hast not cast out the demon that was lurking in the bottom of the empty pail, by tracing on it, before pouring in the milk, the sign of the Lord's cross; and now not enduring, thou seest, the virtue of the sign, he has quickly fled away in terror, while at the same time the whole of the vessel has been violently shaken, and the milk spilled. Bring then the pail nearer to me, that I may bless it.' When the half-empty pail was blessed, in the same moment it was refilled with milk. At another time, the saint, to destroy the practice of sorcery, commanded Silnan, a peasant sorcerer, to draw a vessel full of milk from a bull; and by his diabolical art Silnan drew the milk. Then Columba took it and said:-'Now it shall be proved that this, which is supposed to be true milk, is not so, but is blood deprived of its colour by the fraud of demons to deceive men; and straightway the milky colour was turned into its own proper quality, that is, into blood.' And it is added that 'The bull also, which for the space of one hour was at death's door, wasting and worn by a horrible emaciation, in being sprinkled with water blessed by the Saint, was cured with wonderful rapidity.'[190]

And to-day, as in the times of Patrick and Columba, exorcism is practised in Ireland and in the Western Hebrides of Scotland by the clergy of the Roman Church against fairies, demons, or evil spirits, when a person is possessed by them-that is to say, 'fairy-struck,' or when they have entered into some house or place; and on the Scotch mainland individual Protestants have been known to practise it. A haunted house at Balechan, Perthshire, in which certain members of the Psychical Research Society had taken up summer quarters to 'investigate', was exorcized by the late Archbishop of Edinburgh, assisted by a priest from the Outer Isles.[191]

Among the nine orders of the Irish ecclesiastical organization of Patrick's time, one was composed of exorcists.[192] The official ceremony for the ordination of an exorcist in the Latin Church was established by the Fourth Council of Carthage, and is indicated in nearly all the ancient rituals. It consists in the bishop giving to the candidate the book of exorcisms and saying as he does so:-'Receive and understand this book, and have the power of laying hands upon demoniacs, whether they be baptized, or whether they be catechumens.'[193] By a decree of the Church Council of Orange, making men possessed of a demon ineligible to enter the priesthood, it would seem that the number of demoniacs must have been very great.[193] As to the efficacy of exorcisms, the church Fathers during the first four centuries, when the Platonic philosophy was most influential in Christianity, are agreed.[193]

In estimating the shaping influences, designated by us as fundamental, which undoubtedly were exerted upon the Fairy-Faith through the practice of exorcism, it is necessary to realize that this animistic practice holds a very important position in the Christian religion which for centuries the Celtic peoples have professed. One of the two chief sacraments of Christianity, that of Baptism, is preceded by a definitely recognized exorcism, as shown in the Roman Ritual, where we can best study it. In the Exhortation preceding the rite the infant is called a slave of the demon, and by baptism is to be set free. The salt which is placed in the mouth of the infant by the priest during the ceremony has first been exorcized by special rites. Then there follows before the entrance to the baptismal font a regular exorcism pronounced over the child: the priest taking some of his own saliva on the thumb of his right hand, touches the child's ears and nostrils, and commands the demon to depart out of the child. After this part of the ceremony is finished, the priest makes on the child's forehead a sign of the cross with holy oil. Finally, in due order, comes the actual baptism.[194] And even after baptismal rites have expelled all possessing demons, precautions are necessary against a repossession: St. Augustine has said that exorcisms of precaution ought to be performed over every Christian daily; and it appears that faithful Roman Catholics who each day employ holy water in making the sign of the cross, and all Protestants who pray 'lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil', are employing such exorcisms:[195] St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes, 'Arm yourself with the sign of the cross which the demons fear, and before which they take their flight'[196]; and by the same sign, said St. Athanasius, 'All the illusions of the demon are dissipated and all his snares destroyed.'[197] An eminent Catholic theologian asserts that saints who, since the time of Jesus Christ, have been endowed with the power of working miracles, have always made use of the sign of the cross in driving out demons, in curing maladies, and in raising the dead. In the Instruction sur le Rituel,[198] it is said that water which has been blessed is particularly designed to be used against demons; in the Apostolic Constitutions, formulated near the end of the fourth century, holy water is designated as a means of purification from sin and of putting the demon to flight.[199] And nowadays when the priest passes through his congregation casting over them holy water, it is as an exorcism of precaution; or when as in France each mourner at a grave casts holy water over the corpse, it is undoubtedly-whether done consciously as such or not-to protect the soul of the deceased from demons who are held to have as great power over the dead as over the living. Other forms of exorcism, too, are employed. For example, in the Lebar Brecc, it is said of the Holy Scripture that 'By it the snares of devils and vices are expelled from every faithful one in the Church'.[200] And from all this direct testimony it seems to be clear that many of the chief practices of Christians are exorcisms, so that, like the religion of Zoroaster, the religion founded by Jesus has come to rest, at least in part, upon the basic recognition of an eternal warfare between good and bad spirits for the control of Man.

The curing of diseases through Christian exorcism is by no means rare now, and it was common a few centuries ago. Thus in the eighteenth century, beginning with 1752 and till his death, Gassner, a Roman priest of Closterle, diocese of Coire, Switzerland, devoted his life to curing people of possessions, declaring that one third of all maladies are so caused, and fixed his head-quarters at Elwangen, and later at Ratisbon. His fame spread over many countries of Europe, and he is said to have made ten thousand cures solely by exorcism.[201] And not only are human ills overcome by exorcism, but also the maladies of beasts: at Carnac, on September 13, there continues to be celebrated an annual fête in honour of St. Cornely, the patron saint of the country and the saint who (as his name seems to suggest) presides over domestic horned animals; and if there is a cow, or even a sheep suffering from some ailment which will not yield to medicine, its owner leads it to the church door beneath the saint's statue, and the priest blesses it, and, as he does so, casts over it the exorcizing holy water. The Church Ritual designates two forms of Benediction for such animals, one form for those who are ordinarily diseased, and another for those suffering from some contagious malady. In each ceremony there comes first the sprinkling of the animal with holy water as it stands before the priest at the church door; and then there follows in Latin a direct invocation to God to bless the animal, 'to extinguish in it all diabolical powers,' to defend its life, and to restore it to health.[202]

In 1868, according to Dr. Evans, an old cow-house in North Wales was torn down, and in its walls was found a tin box containing an exorcist's formula. The box and its enclosed manuscript had been hidden there some years previously to ward off all evil spirits and witchcraft, for evidently the cattle had been dying of some strange malady which no doctors could cure. Because of its unique nature, and as an illustration of what Welsh exorcisms must have been like, we quote the contents of the manuscripts both as to spelling and punctuation as checked by Sir John Rh?s with the original, except the undecipherable symbols which come after the archangels' names:-

'? Lignum sanctae crusis defendat me a malis presentibus preateritus & futuris; interioribus & exterioribus ? ? Daniel Evans ? ? Omnes spiritus laudet Dominum: Mosen habent & prophetas. Exergat Deus & disipenture inimiciessus ? · ? O Lord Jesus Christ I beseech thee to preserve me Daniel Evans; and all that I possess from the power of all evil men, women; spirits, or wizards, or hardness of heart, and this I will trust thou will do by the same power as thou didst cause the blind to see the lame to walk and they that were possesed with unclean spirits to be in their own minds Amen Amen ? ? ? ? pater pater pater Noster Noster Noster aia aia aia Jesus ? Christus ? Messyas ? Emmanuel ? Soter ? Sabaoth ? Elohim ? on ? Adonay ? Tetragrammaton ? Ag : : ? Panthon ? ... reaton ? Agios ? Jasper ? Melchor ? Balthasar Amen ? ? ? ? ? ? ♀ ? ? Δ ? Δ ? Δ . ☉ ? ? ? ? ? And by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Hevenly Angels

being our Redeemer and Saviour from

Gabriel [ symbols ] all witchcraft and from assaults of the

Michail [ symbols ] Devil Amen ? O Lord Jesus Christ

I beseech thee to preserve me and all that I possess from the power of all evil men; women; spirits; or wizards past, present, or to come inward and outward Amen ? ?.'[203]

From India Mr. W. Crooke reports similar exorcisms and charms to cure and to protect cattle.[204] Thus there is employed in Northern India the Ajaypal jantra, i. e. 'the charm of the Invincible Protector,' one of Vishnu's titles, in his character as the earth-god Bh?miya-in Scotland it would be the charm of the Invincible Fairy who presides over the flocks and to whom libations are poured-in order to exorcize diseased cattle or else to prevent cattle from becoming diseased. This Ajaypal jantra is a rope of twisted straw, in which chips of wood are inserted. 'In the centre of the rope is suspended an earthen platter, inside which an incantation is inscribed with charcoal, and beside it is hung a bag containing seven kinds of grain.' The rope is stretched between two poles at the entrance of a village, and under it the cattle pass to and fro from pasture. The following is the incantation found on one of the earthen saucers:-'O Lord of the Earth on which this cattle-pen stands, protect the cattle from death and disease! I know of none, save thee, who can deliver them.' In the Morbihan, Lower Brittany, we seem to see the same folk-custom, somewhat changed to be sure; for on St. John's Day, the christianized pagan sun-festival in honour of the summer solstice, in which fairies and spirits play so prominent a part in all Celtic countries, just outside a country village a great fire is lit in the centre of the main road and covered over with green branches, in order to produce plenty of smoke, and then on either side of this fire and through the exorcizing smoke are made to pass all the domestic animals in the district as a protection against disease and evil spirits, to secure their fruitful increase, and, in the case of cows, abundant milk supply. Mr. Milne, while making excavations in the Carnac country, discovered the image of a small bronze cow, now in the Carnac Museum, and this would seem to indicate that before Christian times there was in the Morbihan a cult of cattle, preserved even until now, no doubt, in the Christian fête of St. Cornely, just as in St. Cornely's Fountain there is preserved a pagan holy well.

It ought now to be clear that both pre-Christian and Christian exorcisms among Celts have shaped the Fairy-Faith in a very fundamental manner. And anthropologically the whole subject of exorcism falls in line with the Psychological Theory of the nature and origin of the belief in fairies in Celtic countries.


We find that taboos, or prohibitions of a religious and social character, are as common in the living Fairy-Faith as exorcisms. The chief one is the taboo against naming the fairies, which inevitably results in the use of euphemisms, such as 'good people', 'gentry', 'people of peace', Tylwyth Teg ('Fair Folk'), or bonnes dames ('good ladies'). A like sort of taboo, with its accompanying use of euphemisms, existed among the Ancients, e. g. among the Egyptians and Babylonians, and early Celts as well, in a highly developed form; and it exists now among the native peoples of Australia, Polynesia, Central Africa, America, in Indian systems of Yoga, among modern Greeks, and, in fact, almost everywhere where there are vestiges of a primitive culture.[205] And almost always such a taboo is bound up with animistic and magical elements, which seem to form its background, just as it is in our own evidence.

To discuss name taboo in all its aspects would lead us more deeply into magic and comparative folk-lore than we have yet gone, and such discussion is unnecessary here. We may therefore briefly state that the root of the matter would seem to be that the name and the dread power named are so closely associated in the very concrete thought of the primitive culture that the one virtually is the other: just as one inevitably calls up the other for the modern thinker, so it is that, in the world of objective fact, for the primitive philosopher the one is equivalent to the other. The primitive man, in short, has projected his subjective associations into reality. As regards euphemisms, the process of development possibly is that first you employ any substitute name, and that secondly you go on to employ such a substitute name as will at the same time be conciliatory. In the latter case, a certain anthropomorphosing of the power behind the taboo would seem to be involved.[206]

Next in prominence comes the food taboo; and to this, also, there are non-Celtic parallels all the world over, now and in ancient times. We may take notice of three very striking modern parallels:-A woman visited her dead brother in Panoi, the Polynesian Otherworld, and 'he cautioned her to eat nothing there, and she returned'.[207] A Red Man, Ahak-tah, after an apparent death of two days' duration, revived, and declared that he had been to a beautiful land of tall trees and singing-birds, where he met the spirits of his forefathers and uncle. While there, he felt hunger, and seeing in a bark dish some wild rice, wished to eat of it, but his uncle would allow him none. In telling about this psychical adventure, Ahak-tah said:-'Had I eaten of the food of spirits, I never should have returned to earth.'[208] Also a New Zealand woman visited the Otherworld in a trance, and her dead father whom she met there ordered her to eat no food in that land, so that she could return to this world to take care of her child.[209]

All such parallels, like their equivalents in Celtic belief, seem to rest on this psychological and physiological conception in the folk-mind. Human food is what keeps life going in a human body; fairy food is what keeps life going in a fairy body; and since what a man eats makes him what he is physically, so eating the food of Fairyland or of the land of the dead will make the eater partake of the bodily nature of the beings it nourishes. Hence when a man or woman has once entered into such relation or communion with the Otherworld of the dead, or of fairies, by eating their food, his or her physical body[210] by a subtle transformation adjusts itself to the new kind of nourishment, and becomes spiritual like a spirit's or fairy's body, so that the eater cannot re-enter the world of the living. A study of food taboos confirms this conclusion.[211]

A third prominent taboo, the iron taboo, has been explained by exponents of the Pygmy Theory as pointing to a prehistoric race in Celtic lands who did not know iron familiarly, and hence venerated it so that in time it came to be religiously regarded as very efficacious against spirits and fairies. Undoubtedly there may be much reason in this explanation, which gives some ethnological support to the Pygmy Theory. Apparently, however, it is only a partial explanation of iron taboo in general, because, in many cases, iron in ancient religious rites certainly had magical properties attributed to it, which to us are quite unexplainable from this ethnological point of view;[212] and in Melanesia and in Africa, where iron is venerated now, the same explanation through ethnology seems far-fetched. But at present there seem to be no available data to explain adequately this iron taboo, though we have strong reasons for thinking that the philosophy underlying it is based on mystical conceptions of virtues attributed-reasonably or unreasonably-to various metals and precious stones, and that a careful examination of alchemical sciences would probably arrive at an explanation wholly psychological.

Besides many other miscellaneous taboos noticeable in the evidence, there is a place taboo which is prominent. Thus, if an Irishman cuts a thorn tree growing on a spot sacred to the fairies, or if he violates a fairy preserve of any sort, such as a fairy path, or by accident interferes with a fairy procession, illness and possibly death will come to his cattle or even to himself. In the same way, in Melanesia, violations of sacred spots bring like penalties: 'A man planted in the bush near Olevuga some coco-nut and almond trees, and not long after died,' the place being a spirit preserve;[213] and a man in the Lepers' Island lost his senses, because, as the natives believed, he had unwittingly trodden on ground sacred to Tagaro, and 'the ghost of the man who lately sacrificed there was angry with him'.[213] In this case the wizards were called in and cured the man by exorcisms,[213] as Irishmen, or their cows, are cured by the exorcisms of 'fairy-doctors' when 'fairy-struck' for some similar violation. The animistic background of place taboos in the Fairy-Faith is in these cases apparent.

Among Ancient Celts

In the evidence soon to be examined from the recorded Fairy-Faith, we shall find taboos of various kinds often more prominent than in the living Fairy-Faith.[214] So essential are they to the character of much of the literary and mythological matter with which we shall have to deal in the following chapters, that at this point some suggestions ought to be made concerning their correct anthropological interpretation.

Almost every ancient Irish taboo is connected with a king or with a great hero like Cuchulainn; and, in Ireland especially, all such kings and heroes were considered of divine origin, and as direct incarnations, or reincarnations of the Tuatha De Danann, the true Fairies, originally inhabitants of the Otherworld. (See our chapter vii.) As Dr. Frazer points out to have been the case among non-Celts, with whom the same theory of incarnated divinities has prevailed, royal taboos are to isolate the king from all sources of danger, especially from all magic and witchcraft, and they act in many cases 'so to say, as electrical insulators' to preserve him or heroes who are equally divine.[215]

The early Celts recognized an intimate relationship between man and nature: unperceived by man, unseen forces-not dissimilar to what Melanesians call Mana-(looked on as animate and intelligent and frequently individual entities) guided every act of human life. It was the special duty of Druids to act as intermediaries between the world of men and the world of the Tuatha De Danann; and, as old Irish literature indicates clearly, it was through the exercise of powers of divination on the part of Druids that these declared what was taboo or what was unfavourable, and also what it was favourable for the divine king or hero to perform. As long as man kept himself in harmony with this unseen fairy-world in the background of nature, all was well; but as soon as a taboo was broken, disharmony in the relationship-which was focused in a king or hero-was set up; and when, as in the case of Cuchulainn, many taboos were violated, death was inevitable and not even the Tuatha De Danann could intercede.

Breaking of a royal or hero taboo not only affects the violator, but his subjects or followers as well: in some cases the king seems to suffer vicariously for his people. Almost every great Gaelic hero-a god or Great Fairy Being incarnate-is overshadowed with an impending fate, which only the strictest observance of taboo can avoid.[216]

Irish taboo, and inferentially all Celtic taboo, dates back to an unknown pagan antiquity. It is imposed at or before birth, or again during life, usually at some critical period, and when broken brings disaster and death to the breaker. Its whole background appears to rest on a supernatural relationship between divine men and the Otherworld of the Tuatha De Danann; and it is very certain that this ancient relationship survives in the living Fairy-Faith as one between ordinary men and the fairy-world. Therefore, almost all taboos surviving among Celts ought to be interpreted psychologically or even psychically, and not as ordinary social regulations.


Food-sacrifice plays a very important r?le in the modern Fairy-Faith, being still practised, as our evidence shows, in each one of the Celtic countries. Without any doubt it is a survival from pagan times, when, as we shall observe later (in chapter iv, 291, and elsewhere), propitiatory offerings were regularly made to the Tuatha De Danann as gods of the earth, and, apparently, to other orders of spiritual beings. The anthropological significance of such food-sacrifice is unmistakable.

With the same propitiatory ends in view as modern Celts now have in offering food to fairies, ancient peoples, e. g. the Greeks and Romans, maintained a state ritual of sacrifices to the gods, genii, daemons, and to the dead. And such sacrifices, so essential a part of most ancient religions, were based on the belief, as stated by Porphyry in his Treatise Concerning Abstinence, that all the various orders of gods, genii or daemons, enjoy as nourishment the odour of burnt offerings. And like the Fairy-Folk, the daemons of the air live not on the gross substance of food, but on its finer invisible essences, conveyed to them most easily on the altar-fire.[217] Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, and other leading Greeks, as well as the Romans of a like metaphysical school, unite in declaring the fundamental importance to the welfare of the State of regular sacrifices to the gods and to the daemons who control all natural phenomena, since they caused, if not neglected, abundant harvests and national prosperity. For unto the gods is due by right a part of all things which they give to man for his happiness.

The relation which the worship of ancestors held to that of the gods above, who are the Olympian Gods, the great Gods, and to the Gods below, who are the Gods of the Dead, and also to the daemons, and heroes or divine ancestors, is thus set forth by Plato in his Laws:-'In the first place, we affirm that next after the Olympian Gods, and the Gods of the State, honour should be given to the Gods below.... Next to these Gods, a wise man will do service to the daemons or spirits, and then to the heroes, and after them will follow the sacred places of private and ancestral Gods, having their ritual according to law. Next comes the honour of living parents.'[218]

It is evident from this direct testimony that the same sort of philosophy underlies food-sacrifice among the Celts and other peoples as we discovered underlying human-sacrifice, in our study of the Changeling Belief; and that the Tuatha De Danann in their true mythological nature, and fairies, their modern counterpart, correspond in all essentials to Greek and Roman gods, genii, and daemons, and are often confused with the dead.

The Celtic Legend of the Dead

The animistic character of the Celtic Legend of the Dead is apparent; and the striking likenesses constantly appearing in our evidence between the ordinary apparitional fairies and the ghosts of the dead show that there is often no essential and sometimes no distinguishable difference between these two orders of beings, nor between the world of the dead and fairyland. We reserve for our chapter on Science and Fairies the scientific consideration of the psychology of this relationship, and of the probability that fairies as souls of the dead and as ghosts of the dead actually exist and influence the living.

General Conclusion

The chief anthropological problems connected with the modern Fairy-Faith, as our evidence presents it, have now been examined, at sufficient length, we trust, to explain their essential significance; and problems, to some extent parallel, connected with the ancient Fairy-Faith have likewise been examined. There remain, however, very many minor anthropological problems not yet touched upon; but several of the most important of these, e. g. various cults of gods, spirits, fairies, and the dead, and folk-festivals thereto related (see Section III); the circular fairy-dance (see pp. 405-6); or the fairy world as the Otherworld (see chap. vi), or as Purgatory (see chap. x), will receive consideration in following chapters, and so will certain very definite psychological problems connected with dreams, and trance-like states, with supernormal lapse of time, and with seership. We may now sum up the results so far attained.

Whether we examine the Fairy-Faith as a whole or whether we examine specialized parts of it like those relating to the smallness of fairies, to changelings, to witchcraft and magic, to exorcisms, to taboos, and to food-sacrifice, in all cases comparative folk-lore shows that the beliefs composing it find their parallels the world over, and that fairy-like beings are objects of belief now not only in Celtic countries, but in Central Australia, throughout Polynesia, in Africa, among American Red Men, in Asia generally, in Southern, Western, and Northern Europe, and, in fact, wherever civilized and primitive men hold religious beliefs. From a rationalist point of view anthropologists would be inclined to regard the bulk of this widespread belief in spiritual beings as being purely mythical, but for us to do so and stop there would lead to no satisfactory solution: the origin of myth itself needs to be explained, and one of the chief objects of our study throughout the remainder of this book is to make an attempt at such an explanation, especially of Celtic myth.

Again, if we examine all fairy-like beings from a certain superficial point of view, or even from the mythological point of view, it is easy to discern that they are universally credited with precisely the same characters, attributes, actions, or powers as the particular peoples possess who have faith in them; and then the further fact emerges that this anthropomorphosing is due directly to the more immediate social environment: we see merely an anthropomorphically coloured picture of the whole of an age-long social evolution of the tribe, race, or nation who have fostered the particular aspect of this one world-wide folk-religion. But if we look still deeper, we discover as background to the myths and the social psychology a profound animism. This animism appears in its own environment in the shading away of the different fairy-like beings into spirits and ghosts of the departed. Going deeper yet, we find that such animistic beliefs as concern themselves exclusively with the realm of the dead are in many cases apparently so well founded on definite provable psychical experiences on the part of living men and women that the aid of science itself must be called in to explain them, and this will be done in our chapter entitled Science and Fairies.

So far it ought to be clear that already our evidence points to a very respectable residue in the experiences of percipients, which cannot be explained away-as can the larger mass of the evidence-as due to ethnological, anthropomorphic, naturalistic, or sociological influences on the Celtic mind; and for the present this must be designated as the x or unknown quantity in the Fairy-Faith. In chapter xi this x quantity, augmented by whatever else is to be elicited from further evidence, will be specifically discussed.

These points of view derived from our anthropological examination of the chief parts of the evidence presented by the living Fairy-Faith will be kept constantly before us as we proceed further; and what has been demonstrated anthropologically in this chapter will serve to interpret what is to follow until chapter xi is reached. With this tentative position we pass to Section II of this study, and shall there begin to examine, as we have just done with their modern Fairy-Faith, the ancient Fairy-Faith of the Celts.

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