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The Importance of Studying the Fairy-Faith

From the Introduction to W.Y. Evans-Wentz's The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
I have made a very careful personal investigation of the surviving Celtic Fairy-Faith by living for many months with and among the people who preserve it; I have compared fairy phenomena and the phenomena said to be caused by gods, genii, daemons, or spirits of different kinds and recorded in the writings of ancient, mediaeval, and modern metaphysical philosophers, Christian and pagan saints, mystics, and seers, and now more or less clearly substantiated by from thirty to forty years of experimentation in psychical sciences by eminent scientists of our own times, such as Sir William Crookes and Sir Oliver Lodge in England, and M. Camille Flammarion in France. As a result, I am convinced of the very great value of a serious study of the Fairy-Faith. The Fairy-Faith as the folk religion of the Celts ought, like all religions, to be studied sympathetically as well as scientifically. To those who take a materialistic view of life, and consequently deny the existence of spirits or invisible intelligences such as fairies are said to be, we should say as my honoured American teacher in psychology, the late Dr. William James, of Harvard, used to say in his lectures at Stanford University, 'Materialism considered as a system of philosophy never tries to explain the Why of things.' But in our study of the Fairy-Faith we shall attempt to deal with this Why of things; and, then, perhaps the value of studying fairies and Fairyland will be more apparent, even to materialists.

The great majority of men in cities are apt to pride themselves on their own exemption from 'superstition', and to smile pityingly at the poor countrymen and countrywomen who believe in fairies. But when they do so they forget that, with all their own admirable progress in material invention, with all the vast extent of their commercial and economic conquests, they themselves have ceased to be natural. Wherever under modern conditions great multitudes of men and women are herded together there is bound to be an unhealthy psychical atmosphere never found in the country - an atmosphere which inevitably tends to develop in the average man who is not psychically strong enough to resist it, lower at the expense of higher forces or qualities, and thus to inhibit any normal attempts of the Subliminal Self (a well-accredited psychological entity) to manifest itself in consciousness. In this connexion it is highly significant to note that, as far as can be determined, almost all professed materialists of the uncritical type, and even most of those who are thinking and philosophizing skeptics about the existence of a supersensuous realm or state of conscious being, are or have been city-dwellers - usually so by birth and breeding. And even where we find materialists of either type dwelling in the country, we generally find them so completely under the hypnotic sway of city influences and mould of thought in matters of education and culture, and in matter touching religion, that they have lost all sympathetic and responsive contact with Nature, because unconsciously they have thus permitted conventionality and unnaturalness to insulate them from it.

The Celtic peasant, who may be their tenant or neighbour, is - if still uncorrupted by them - in direct contrast unconventional and natural. He is normally always responsive to psychical influences - as much so as an Australian Arunta or an American Red Man, who also, like him, are fortunate enough to have escaped being corrupted by what we egotistically, to distinguish ourselves from them, call 'civilization'. If our Celtic peasant has psychical experiences, or if he sees an apparition which he calls one of the 'good people', that is to say a fairy, it is useless to try to persuade him that he is under a delusion: unlike his materialistically-minded lord, he would not attempt nor even desire to make himself believe that what he has seen he has not seen. Not only has he the will to believe, but he has the right to believe; because his belief is not a matter of being educated and reasoning logically, nor a matter of faith and theology - it is a fact of his own individual experiences, as he will tell you. Such peasant seers have frequently argued with me to the effect that 'One does not have to be educated in order to see fairies'.

Unlike the natural mind of the uncorrupted Celt, Arunta, or American Red Man, which is ever open to unusual psychical impressions, the mind of the business man in our great cities tends to be obsessed with business affairs both during his waking and during his dream states, the politician's with politics similarly, the society-leader's with society; and the unwholesome excitement felt by day in the city is apt to be heightened at night through a satisfying of the feeling which it morbidly creates for relaxation and change of stimuli. In the slums, humanity is divorced from nature under even worse conditions, and becomes wholly decadent. But in slum and in palace alike there is continually a feverish nerve-tension induced by unrest and worry; there is impure and smoke-impregnated air, a lack of sunshine, a substituttion of artificial objects for natural objects, and in place of solitude the eternal din of traffic. Instead of Nature, men in cities (and paradoxically some conventionalized men in the country) have 'civilization' - and 'culture'.

Are city-dwellers like these, Nature's unnatural children, who grind out their lives in an unceasing struggle for wealth and power, social position, and even for bread, fit to judge Nature's natural children who believe in fairies? Are they right in not believing in an invisible world which they cannot conceive, which, if it exists, they - even though they be scientists - are through environment and temerament alike incapable of knowing? Or is the country-dwelling, the sometimes 'unpractical' and 'unsuccessful', the dreaming, and 'uncivilized' peasant right? These questions ought to arouse in the minds of anthropologists very serious reflection, world-wide in its scope.

At all events, and equally for the unbeliever and for the believer, the study of the Fairy-Faith is of vast improtance historically, philosophically, religiously, and scientifically. In it lie the germs of much of our European religions and philosophies, customs, and institutions. And it is one of the chief keys to unlock the mysteries of Celtic Mythology. We believe that a greater age is coming soon, when all the ancient mythologies will be carefully studies and interpreted, and when the mythology of the Celts will be held in very high esteem. But already an age has come when things purely Celtic have begun to be studied; and the close observer can see the awakening genius of the modern Celt manifesting itself in the realm of scholarship, of literature, and even of art - throughout Continental Europe, especially France and Germany, throughout Great Britain and Ireland, and throughout the new Celtic world of America, as far west as San Francisco on the great calm ocean of the future facing Japan and China. In truth the Celtic empire is greater than it ever was before Caesar destroyed its political unity; and its citizens have not forgotten the ancient faith of their ancestors in a world i n v i s i b l e.