Here there be Monsters Part 2

At the age of forty-seven Robert Kirk had done very well for himself. He was a successful minister, and had made a name for himself as an accomplished author, having been the first person to publish the psalter into Gaelic which in 1689 was still a widely spoken language in the British Isles. He was also a loving father to his two sons Colin and Robert the second and dedicated husband to his beautiful wife Margaret.
                Robert was born and raised in Aberfoyle, Scotland but in 1664 became minister of Balquhidder, a tiny village at the east end of Loch Voil. The ancient remains of his old stone church still stand, though barely, the roof has caved in. Much of its crumbling façade has warn away with the passing of time where once Robert said his sermons to the country folk of the beautiful highlands. The large cemetery hides tombstones dating back to the 9th century. Among them rests the body of Rob Roy MacGregor, a kind of Robinhood figure of Scotland, whose exploits are the stuff of a standalone podcast episode. Beyond his grave, rising ominous over the church yard lies the Tom nan Angeae, The Hill of Fire. Up to the 19th Century, the ancient inhabitants of this cold and wonderous land lite fires atop these hills twice a year. On the first of May when the fields were being prepared. And again, on October 31st a festival known as Samhain, better known to us as All Hallows Eve. In Scottish lore, during these times the liminal boundary between worlds could be easily crossed. The Spirits of those who had died that year could come again to visit their relatives, to feast one last time with loved ones, to say a last goodbye from beyond the grave. But here, in Balqhidder, other beings there were that could cross into our world, far stranger, and more powerful than any human spirit. The Aos Si, the spirits, or the Old Gods, were known to come forth, demanding their yearly offerings of food and drink, which were duly left out least the house not receive the blessing of these creatures and die of starvation, and cold during the harsh winters.
                Balquhidder has always been seen as a “Thin Place” as the Celts say, were the boundary between Heaven and Earth is naturally not as robust as the rest of the world. All of this Rev. Kirk likely knew when he wrote his second book, for which he would be better remembered Today. The Secret Commonwealth, which weaved together strange tales of a race of people who once dwelt beside mankind. A magical and noble people, who lived in the hills and trees of the wood, and under the mounds of the earth, who demanded respect, and offered good luck to those who gave it, and suffering to those who did not. They were the Fiery Folk. And in 1692, in the same year that Robert Kirk published his book, the little people carried him away to their land somewhere into the twilight of reality, never to be seen again.

Going through the list of universal troupes it is impossible to ignore the noble people, as they are sometimes called though they could be the hardest to define. But they do often come with commonalities that give them their identity. They are often seen as the old gods, or nature spirits which prospered all around the world before the spread of Christianity and subsequently the relentless march of tyrannical modernity, crushing all mystery in its path. Before that time the fay lived alongside men, though men always feared them. Folklore is full of stories telling how men and the Gentry borrowing pots or utensils from each other, like you would normally do with a neighbor. Farmers would sometimes hire fay to help bring in a yield of crops, often leaving the corners of the field for them as a payment or reward for their help. Some fay would attach themselves to families or homes. In such cases it is sometimes said that they are the ghosts of ancestors long dead come to watch over you. They demanded an offering, such as warm milk. In exchange they would help out with common house chores during the night. Far from the terrifying poltergeist experiences, if you heard a fay making a racket in your house at night you would do well to leave it be, he’s probably just doing the dishes for you. Now that’s a mythical beast I can get behind! This can come with consequences of course. The fay are a proud and ancient people and demand respect, if you forget to leave its customary offering, or are sufficiently lazy enough to evoke their ire, or have a dishonest nature, watch out. They may turn into the roommate from hell. Rather than cleaning messes they will make them, they have been known to pound on the walls at night when provoked, not allowing its inhabitants to sleep, and will even attack people, pinching them miraculously while they sleep. If you can earn their respect, however, you will get more than just a clean house when you wake up in the morning as Fays tend to part good luck on the human neighbors they admire.

Outside the social creatures that inhabited the homes of our ancestors, these same creatures crafted complex communities, especially in the green hills of Ireland where the Daoine Sidhe dwell. Or parts of Iran where the Peri are still whispered about. They are cut from a different cloth of Fairy, tending to be taller and fair looking with a luminous glow. They have long blond hair and are often thought of as a type of aristocracy among the little people. They are said to live in the underground fairy mounds that cover the Irish and Scottish landscape, their King is Fionn Bheara, Lord of the Dead whose ruined castle you can still see today atop the hills of Knockma in Galway. If ever you cross paths with him, may I advise you to do whatever he wishes, he has a habit of offering you vast treasure beyond your dreams. Take head least you not listen to very one of his commandments. For fail to do so, the treasure you carry will turn into nothing but dead leaves.

The deeds of the fairy folk are not always so beneficent, as the old stories tell us. They can be just as dastardly as the can be kind. Like the mad witch baba yaga, their morality is questionable at best. Numerous stories involve the faire folk kidnapping people for purpose or pleasure and taking them to fairy land where they are often put to work doing menial tasks for their otherworldly captors.

The English have a tradition of this sort called the brownie. Unlike its Celtic kin the Brownie is rather dim whited, has a tendency to smell like rotting meat. He derives his name from the long brown shaggy hair giving their appearance the resemblance of a bigfoot sighting but with marked differences. The Brownie tends to enjoy and even encourage human interaction, as one story from Oklahoma goes to great length to tell us. The Lee family had the novel experience of spotting just such a creature roaming around their property, always around ten to ten thirty, even if they never saw it, they always smelled it when it was around.  It generally did not cause mischief or harm and they soon lost their fear of the creature, which seemed to enjoy watched Miss Lee through the window while she worked in the Kitchen. Every day they would find a feed pail which was left the night before by the brownie, which they would hide for it to find the following night, Misses Lee imagined the strange creature enjoyed the game, sometimes hearing it laugh at night as it looked for the pail. It grew to be an annoyance when it began tearing up the barn at night and crashing through a window while being chased away one night. It made off with their neighbors’ chickens and was never seen again. Such was the price for not giving this simple fairy his due!
A warning to those who would go looking for the fair folk though, they do not always wish to be seen nor should they be trifled with, as a story from County Donegal in Ireland. As a young Neil Colton had been picking berries outside his home with his brother and their cousin when they heard sweet soft music playing from somewhere deep in the wood. “We hurried round the rocks, and there we were within a few hundred feet of six or eight of the Gentle Folk, and they, dancing. When they saw us, a little woman dressed all in red came running out from them towards us, and she struck my cousin across the face with what seemed to be a green rush. We ran for home as hard as we could and when my cousin reached the house, she fell as dead. Father saddled a horse and went for Father Regan. When Father Regan arrived, he put a stole about his neck and began praying over my cousin and reading psalms and striking her with the stole and in that way brought her back. He said if she had not caught hold of my brother, she would have been taken forever.” Colton’s cousin was lucky to get away with her life, and with no long-lasting effects that are otherwise characteristic of being touched by one of the fair race. The word stroke is fitting of medical usage, for if you suffer a stroke by the fairy folk you can be paralyzed, lose feeling in the areas touched, or even go mad. As we seen in the case of Neil’s cousin, the fairy otherworld is not death per say, it is another plane of existence, their plane, which we might only glimpse, and briefly. And unlike the afterlife, it may be possible to come back from, as Father Regan showed, with the help of an even higher power.
                Perhaps stranger, like the ray guns of UFO stories, folklore of the fair folk tells of their own types of technology, termed Elf-shot. Kirk, the folklorist mentioned at the top of the episode mentioned these in his work on Scottish fairies, noting: “A stone like to yellow soft flint shaped like a barbed arrowhead but flying as a dart with great force… Mortally wounding the vital parts without breaking the skin. Some of which wounds, I have observed in beasts, and felt them with my hands.” He goes on the describe the disorienting effects the weapon can have on those wounded by it which seem to have a kind of mind control on their victim causing them to “do somewhat very unlike their former practice, causing a sudden alteration, yet the cause thereof unperceivable at present: nor have they power to escape the blow impendent.” In fact some of the oldest folklore of fairies are of charms against this malicious weapon of the Gentle folk, which seemed to cause wounds inward, and invisible to the eye. As mentioned by Kirk, cattle were a common target of the fairy weapon, and were noted for hundreds of years before the phenomena of cattle mutilations came to light in the 20th century.
Their nature, unlike the monsters that have come before them, is vague. They have been seen and described in all sort of manners. From the small and ugly to the tall and beautiful, sometimes they are covered in fur, other times they are hairless. They are reported to be as tall as a finger in some areas, and near human height in others. Often, they offer good fortune to those who cross their path, with modern day hikers telling tales of how the little people helped them find their way when lost. Other times they act like the other horrendous monster’s folklore has revealed to us, dangerous to behold. Some speculate they were once the angles who stayed natural during Lucifer’s war with Saint Michael. Because of their indecisions they were cast from heaven but not condemned. Others say they are spirits of a lower order, neither angel or demon, but forever ambiguous. What we can be certain of is that, at least at one time, this world, in which they thrived, was mysterious and wonderful and weird. No other creature encapsulates this sentiment better. No other loss is felt so dear. Modern man, busy with his noisy machines and rational philosophy, hardly noticed the slow depart of the Little people. As industrial farming destroyed their habitat, as the monks and friers who roamed the land blessed every hearth and field and wood, and stream. The home of the Fairy folk, if it does still exist has been largely hemmed in, or so the folklorists say. One story, published in 1841 spoke of a long march of dwarfish figures on little ponies riding near the small town of Glend Eathie, Scotland. Two children witnessed the procession for some time before one of them finally asked the last rider passing by. “What are ye, little mannie? And where are ye going?” The rider answered them “Not of the race of Adam. The People of Peace shall never more be seen in Scotland.”
Be that true or not, some believe that the little people never left, only changed in appearance. FW Holiday, a long time Nessie hunter and author of several books on the Paranormal took note of the prevalence of UFO’s around Loch Ness, especially around the time of Nessie sightings. After further reading, he came to view the disc objects, and the creatures that inhabited them as spirits of some sort, mostly benevolent, doing battle with whatever strange and terrible evil lurked below that water, and indeed below the water of many a Loch in the wild lands of the Scots. Popular writer John Keel, author of the Mothman Prophecies speculated that whatever the creatures are, they are certainly not from our material realm, noting with mounting frustration how no one from the UFO community has ever or would ever produce real tangible evidence despite the seventy-year search. He suspected they came from another dimension, were malicious in nature and could not be trusted. Practitioners of Magic often see the fay as an etheric entity counter to our physical nature. That is, where we live dominantly in the physical realm, relying on out five senses to understand of the world around us, they are wholly other, their motives and material being different and therefore suspect. Folklorist though have long seen and dealt (and in some cases even dwelt) with the Little People. And a term among them appears time and again to describe the nature of the Fay. Glamour. As Sir Walter Scott defined the word:
Could make a ladye seem a Knight
A nutshell seem a gilded barge
A sheeling seem a palace large
And youth seem age and age seem youth
All was delusion, naught was truth

That is, with everything to do with Fairies, all is not what it seems. They are masters at manipulation of the mind. This power they use often to confuse and obscure reality crafting near lifelike visions around their victim. These visions can be overcome though, as they are by no means perfect. In folklore, at least one flaw is always said to reside within the vision that is “not quite right” something off, and if spotted, the whole Glamour falls apart. When dealing with such beings then, confusion is not only prevalent it should be expected. We are not entirely helpless against them, thank God. They seem loath to cross running water, like streams and rivers and have a tendency to avoid holy objects though not always. As with the werewolves of Etheric body, and the strange power it has over Vampires, it should not be surprised that the Iron can come in handy against the Little people, though I would caution unlike the other monsters we have talked about, it is not always obvious that you would need such a weapon against them.

The strange otherness of the Fairy folk and perhaps their nature as well is articulated best in the 1969 of Jose Antonio Da Silva when he decided to go on a fishing trip near Bebedouro Brazil. At about three in the afternoon, he was surprised to hear voices in the remote area he had chosen to hunker down with his fishing pole. He turned to see two strange creature attired with metal helmets that obscured their faces, which had a breathing apparatus attached to the front of it that ran to a container that rested on their backs. They were about four feet tall with human like features. Jose began to feel a sharp burning around his legs, the short stocky creatures seized him and drug him away to a metallic craft, attempting to force the same breathing apparatus on him that they themselves wore though this fit poorly and chaffed his neck. Once inside the craft, he noted the interior looked more stone that metal and bore and eerie light that had no visible source. A third creature came into view and pulled a lever on the floor. Jose felt the sensation of movement and was under the impression that they were on a journey, one that took several hours. Once the craft had come to halt, Jose was dragged out of the ship, his face still covered with the helmet and breathing apparatus, but able to see the creatures that had kidnapped him without their suits on.

Up until now you might be wondering why I am telling you an alien abduction story in an episode about fairies. And you would be right to wonder, but it’s the rest of the story that turns De Silvas account into an altogether different tale. Instead of the traditional gray skinned, black eyed creatures typical of the alien mythology, Jose saw before him dwarf like people, with long beards and hair that stretched down below their waist. Their facial features were exaggerated, with large noses and eyes, shaggy eyebrows and a toothless grin. The room they had taken him to after landing was similar to the stone layout of the craft, a stone like structure with an omni present light with not discernable source. On one wall was displayed paintings of earthly things, normal houses and animals. In another corner was a table on which lay four dead bodies, all of them men, one burned quite badly. The Dwarfs searched his things, talking quizzically among themselves, though Jose could not discern their language or understand their gesturing. At one point the lead dwarf tried communicating with him through a tablet on which he drew symbols De Silva had never seen before. Despite their strangeness he sensed they were asking him to spy on the human world for them and report back in three years, after which he would stay with them and learn the ways of their society. A complex interpretation for two creatures who could not understand each other. Despite the ominous bodies in the corner, Jose refused their offer and began to finger his rosary. No sooner had he done this than the lead dwarf snatched in from his hands, spilling the beads all over the stone floor.
                This seemed a catalyst for change, for as the beads spilled the atmosphere in the room changed and a man appeared out of thin nowhere who was of human size, wearing a long robe like that of a monk and seemed invisible to the dwarves. He spoke to Silva in perfect Portuguese and gave him a secret message which should not be passed on for some time. After this mysterious message had been given however, the man abruptly disappeared the same strange way he had come. The dwarves took him again to the craft, he would luckily not suffer the same fate as the other men in the room. The same sensation of movement and several hours later, he was left sprawled on the ground half conscious in the middle of the wilderness. He stumbled to a nearby stream were the drank copious amounts of water and caught a fish which he cooked and ate. When he finally did stumble upon a road and asked a passerby for directions, he found to his astonishment that four days had passed, though it seemed only a few hours to him, and that he was near a city called Victoria, nearly two-hundred miles away from Bebeduro. Jose was able to hitch a train ride back to his base where be told senior officers of his ordeal.

In fact many a folklorist have speculated that the modern day UFO craze is just another rendition of the Fairy mischief they have commonly played on mankind for generations. In Fairy lore of the middle ages, they would kidnap men and women and take them to fairyland, a place to twilight and shadow, where the humans would be made to work, or worse be slaves for a more carnal purpose. Much like the motif that Aliens hold cross breading experiments with humans to reinvigorate their dying race, so Fays also have a history of abducting young people to infuse new blood to their ancient lines. It is often said that if the person stays in fairy land for too long, they too will become a fay, or their spirit will transfer into a fay’s body and they will be trapped there for all eternity. If this does not happen, they slowly waste away. The former is said to be the fate of Robert Kirk, the folklorist mentioned at the beginning of the episode. His lifeless body was found as if dead around the fairy hill outside his home. He had a habit of circling it at night when the insomnia he suffered from made it impossible for him to sleep. When he did not return his servants went looking for him and found him sprawled out atop the old fairy fort. A funeral was held, but not before Kirk appeared before a relation and commanded him to go to Grahame of Duchray, his cousin, and tell him that he was not in fact dead but being held hostage by the fairy folk and that there was only one chance for his salvation. His wife had been pregnant with his third child you see and when the child was born, he was to be baptized. During this time Kirk would appear in the room. If his cousin would only throw over his head a knife, or Dirk, he would be restored to society by his captors. If he failed in this, he would be lost forever in the fairy realm. True to his word, when Kirk’s son was being baptized, he made an appearance that several saw and were astonished by. Unfortunately, his cousin was so dumbfounded by the sight that he failed to do his duty and did not throw the dagger around his neck in time. The figure of Robert Kirk faded away and was never seen again in this world.
Arthur Machen, in his book The White people and other Stories describes perhaps the most articulate and romantic way of looking at the world after the flight of the fairy. He says quote:
“No matter how many churches were built in its fields and villiges, no matter how many saints walked its newly paved streets, pagan powers had long before claimed the blood-soaked land. Thus, every year, the River Thame’s muddy banks at low tide yield ancient figurines, Human bones, and Roman coins, Here is a raw reminder that we share this world with impish beings with unbridled hunger and desire who watch us and our silly concerns with bemusement.”

Monsters By John Michael Greer

The Dragon and the Disc by FW Holiday

The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by Walter Evans-Wenz

The Secret Commonwealth of Elves Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirk

Daimonic Reality by Patrick Harpur

The Anatomy of Puck by Katharine Briggs

The Vanishing People by Katharine Briggs