Marc Alexander, Enchanted Britain (1981)
As a collector and interpreter of supernatural material specializing in upstate New York, I interview thousands of people a year, mostly about haunted houses and local legends. I also hear many personal narratives. By now I’m persuaded that the line between classic folklore and perceived human experience is blurrier than anyone would have thought. No shock has been greater than that presented by the occasional appearance of those figures of folklore and fable, the Little People, in current paranormal reports.
My witnesses don’t talk about “fairies.” They report seeing strange little ghosts. They say their children are having bizarre psychic experiences.
Apparitions of tiny humans are not even faintly as common as other phantom archetypes in New York State; like the White Lady, the Little Girl Ghost, the Old Chief, or the Old Soldier. Still, the fact that there are enough reports to make a pattern of things answering roughly to the profile of the fairies comes as a real surprise.
Many parts of the world have traditions about diminutive, magical, humanlike Other Beings. Such legends take root in the Hawaiian Islands, the Mediterranean, and parts of the South American continent. It takes a bit of work to proclaim them all as analogous to the fairies of northern Europe. Still, there are consistencies. Everywhere they appear in legend, the Little People are associated with three things:
- They have a connection to nature. They are of the woods, lakes, and hills. They move easily among the animals. They guard and honor special spots in the landscape and assist the seasonal cycles.
- They have a connection to the human dead. It’s not as if the fairies are the ancestors, but they seem to share the same indefinite Other World with the spirits of our dead. Earthly spots special to these Other Beings include man-made ritual spaces like burial mounds and megalithic-style earthworks.
- They have a special interest in human children. They come to children, they protect children, and sometimes they take children away.
Surely the most developed Little People traditions in the world are those of the Celtic societies, particularly the Irish and Scottish. The factors have been ideal: centuries of storytellers crafting tales out of these themes; centuries of writers preserving them. They have to serve as the model for study.