Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Science of Faeries (Part III)

In The Science of Faeries Parts I and II I discussed the historical background of the science of faeries, recounted a fairy sighting of my own, and listed a number of theories about what faeries really are, be they hoaxes, folk memories of long-lost tribes, or real creatures.

In this final part, I will discuss what Evans-Wentz called the "Psychological Theory", and what I prefer to call the "Psychic Theory" to avoid confusion with theories that discuss the subconscious mind.  At the time "The Fairy Faith of Celtic Countries" was written, the words "psychic" and "psychological" were often synonymous.

Evans-Wentz spent many years traveling the Celtic countries and cataloging their beliefs and fairy sightings.  He noted the similarities between them all, and concluded that there is another world, a forth dimension.  Beings who exist in that world cannot be seen with physical eyes, but can be seen with psychical eyes.  Seers, those who practice the art of seeing, or who have a natural talent for it, can easily see these forms.  Non-seers, in the presence of such a being, may sense it in some way, beyond sight.  Seeking some explanations for this, our imaginations will go to work.  Our minds will offer up some vision, based on our context, our cultural frame of reference, and thus we will "see" a fairy without truly seeing it.  According to Evans-Wentz:
The visualization of the non-seer is a makeshift, a psycho-physical reaction to a purely psychical stimulus.
It is that all such apparitional appearances ... are equally due to a telepathic force exerted by an agency independent of the percipent.  This outside force to whom it is thus transmitted, and causes him to project out of some part of his own consciousness (which part may have passed over into the subconsciousness) a visualized image already impressed there.  The image has natural affinity or correspondence with the outside stimulus which arouses it.
Thus the creature you see will be based in large part upon the culture of the region you were raised, but may also have something to do with the nature of the creature itself.  While looking at the same fairy, a Scottsman would see a redcap.  A troll for the Norwegians.  The Welsh would see a coblynau, and in Brittany (an area of northern France) would rank higher in corrigan sightings.  Leaving the Celtic countries, an Arab might see a djinn, an Inuit may see an ijiraq, and in Japan, they would see a kappa.

All of these creatures, and many hundreds more, look and act very different from one another, and yet ofttimes their behaviors are described as the same: Capricious, likely to steal away children and replace them with one of their own, likely to mess with your sense of time, equally able to curse or bless you on a whim, and so on.

In some cases, Evans-Wentz concludes that these are nature's memories, an energy residue of some past event, that can be re-witnessed or sensed and seen in our own way.  But he is quick to point out that most fairy sightings seem to be of autonomous beings.  On this, he states:
Fairies exist, because in all essentials they appear to be the same as the intelligent forces now recognized by psychical researchers, be they thus collective units of consciousness like what William James has called 'soul-stuff', or more individual units.
And given the ubiquitous fairyland stories, he concludes that "fairyland exists as a super-normal state of consciousness into which men and women may enter temporarily in dreams, trances, or in various ecstatic conditions."  Our eye for dreams and religious experiences is thus the same as our eye for fairies.

I began this series by stating that I am a skeptic.  I still am.  It is more likely that fairies are a folk-memory of a long forgotten tribe that is sometimes perpetuated by hoaxes and hallucination.  I am as willing to believe that my own fairy-sighting was the product of an overactive imagination as it was a projection of my mind onto a being of energy to explain what I could sense but could not see.

Nevertheless, the latter explanation holds a certain magic, a meaning that goes beyond the happy accident that is evolved human life.  Part of me wants to believe... Do you?

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