We all love stories. The Ancients, ancient Celts, Druids, Pagans and others also loved to tell stories and parables, and within them, and sometimes they can be the simplest of stories, we can find unspoken secrets and deep truths that benefit and enrich us. Buried treasure awaits the discerning reader.
My grandmother loved to tell me stories. One day, and I must have been about five of six years old, after a long day of playing with friends in the Welsh countryside, after the evening meal, I sat close to the hearth, nestled against her rocking-chair and got comfortable, ready for another story of hers that would transport me who knows where.
‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world…’. Albert Einstein.
She said: There was once a young man who lived by himself in a cottage. It had a thatched roof, a big grandfather clock in the hall, a huge hearth, and in the garden there were so many roses near the house and so many trees at the far end of the garden. Just like this house.
I wondered. Could this be the very house in the story? My childhood imagination ran riot.
She continued. One night, on a night just like this one, the young man heard a noise outside the kitchen door. It was a well-known fact that for country-folk the usual entrance to a house was through the kitchen door and not the front door. The young man opened the kitchen door.
He couldn’t see anyone in the dark, and called out, ‘Who’s there?’. Was he startled?
Oh yes. From the ground, yes the ground a melodic voice replied, ‘It is room that we need to dress our children.’ The young man opened the door fully, and in walked a dozen fae (fairies), incredibly small – about five inches high – and each carried a tiny baby in their arms.
They began to search for an earthen pitcher with water and settled by the hearth with its roaring fire; they remained in the cottage for some hours, washing their infants and adorning themselves. Just before dawn they went away, leaving some money for the young man on the hearth as a reward for his kindness.
After this the young man used to keep the hearth burning all night long, left a vessel of water on the hearth, and bread on the table, each day. He knew he should remove everything made of iron before going to bed, and he knew that these visitations were a secret between him and the fae.
I wondered: would there be any money on the hearth tomorrow morning?
‘To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.’ Oscar Wild
My grandmother said, the fae would often visit the young man’s cottage at night, and after each visit he found money left for him on the hearth. It happened so often that he was able to give up working, and he lived quite comfortably on the money which he received in return for his hospitality from the Fair Folk.
Some years later he took a lovely young lady from the village to be his wife. Once she had married him she became concerned that the money he seemed to have in abundance was from foul means. But he refused to tell her, and, ofcourse, this made her more inquisitive.
‘I’m worried that you don’t get it honestly,’ she said to him. The young man tried to convince her that there was nothing dishonest about his means of livelihood. She gave him no peace. ‘If I tell you, they’ll never come back and I’ll never get any more money’, he said.
‘Ah,’ she said, ‘then it’s the fairies.’ He admitted that it was the fae, and being somewhat annoyed at revealing the fact, he promptly took himself off the pub for a pint of the finest beer and a smoke of tobacco.
When he returned home that evening, he tended the fire, put out a vessel of water and left bread on the table, but the next morning the water and bread was still there. And, there was no money.
His wife was sitting in the garden, and called to him as she had spied the fae leaving, but by the time he arrived they had gone – never to be seen again.
Sometimes, my grandmother said to me that it shows that hospitality is important, the good deeds are rewarded, and that it is best to keep a secret (unless it is a harmful one).
‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ The Book, Hebrews 13:2
Ofcourse, to many people the fae are just make-belief stories. But, perhaps they live on in the just-as-real imaginal realm, and perhaps cross-over into this realm when someone truly believes in them. Or, perhaps the real meaning is in the story about the fae. A moral? What do you think?
Interestingly, in a few day’s time one (or more) of the Cottingley fairy photographs is to be auctioned.
About five photographs were taken in 1917 by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England. And the photographs showed the girls in the company of the fae. Sir Arthus Conan Doyle and others were convinced the photographs were real and used the photographs at various public events. Public reaction was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, others believed that they had been faked.
I wonder? Fake photographs or not?
‘Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table. Even a tiny fleck of it stops time.’ Diane Ackerman
Many years later the girls, now much older, admitted the photographs were fake, and were cut-outs propped-up with hatpins. However, there’s a twist, as one of the women then changed her mind and said that at least one of the photographs were real evidence of fairy visitation. You can read more about that here.
There is an ancient belief in the fae, especially in Wales and Ireland, but also elsewhere. The ancients Celts and Druids believed in them (or similar) though descriptions and their names may have changed. But, it seems to me that many people believed in the fae because of the Cottingley photographs and many more wanted to believe. There is a real spiritual hunger and a desire to look behind what we think is real to see the realm beyond. Real or not, the photographs point to a longing for them to be real. I do believe my grandmother believed fervently in the fae. And, what of the meaning behind the story of the fae? Wise men and women, sages throughout the years have told stories and parables to illustrate a truth. It makes you wonder. Doesn’t it?
Could it also be that the photograph(s) about to be auctioned in the UK are part of the same (or similar) story that my grandmother told, or just a co-incidence?
‘Never stop wandering into wonder.’ Suzy Kassem