Dan Baines

Fairy Rings and Monstrous Things

Filtering by Category: Fairy Folklore

The Return of the Rossendale Fairies

Manchester artist John Hyatt took some photographs of the landscape around Rossendale in Lancashire. But when he later enlarged those he images he noticed they showed tiny winged creatures that looked like fairies.  

While I agree that whatever the creatures are in the image do have a human form I am still sceptical. The image below shows John's image (left) compared to one I took in my garden with no post editing and on a dull day. They are very similar and at least one Mayfly resembles a human in flight.

This does not mean to say that I am critical of John's work, in fact I applaud it and the following story published in the Lancashire Telegraph only highlights the positive aspect of keeping our ancient folklore alive. Everyone I know who actively 'promotes' the old beliefs and ways is an artist of some discipline and has received some form of positive experience or good luck, and in John's case he a living testament to that fact.

The following was published in The Lancashire Telegraph 13/04/2016 -

Magical fairy find helps man through recovery


TAKING photographs whilst out on a country walk ended up as a life-changing experience for John Hyatt.

While rambling in the Rossendale Valley he had snapped what he believed to be a cloud of insects.

But on closer inspection he wondered if they could be something more.

After the photographs went on display at The Whitaker Rossendale Museum & Art Gallery, they were picked up by the national papers and the so-called Rossendale Fairies went viral around the world.

Takings at the Whitaker increased by 600 per cent during their showing and the venue went on to win the Lancashire Cultural and Tourism Award the following year.

Since then John, 57, an international artist and professor of Art and Design at Manchester Metropolitan University, is regularly contacted by people all over the world wanting his advice on how to find and contact the ethereal beings.

People have traditionally been fascinated by fairies best illustrated by the Cottingley Fairies where young girls Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths produced a series of photographs in 1917 claiming to show fairies but later exposed as a hoax.

The professor, also former lead singer of the post-punk/indie rock band The Three Johns, went on to produce a series of fairy-inspired art work and has just finished working on a community film with children and young homeless people from East Lancashire.

He said: "It went viral around the world so people have been sending me photographs.

"Some lads in Israel asked me for my advice on how to go and find fairies.

"I gave them my advice and some tips on how to use a camera and they sent me some in Israel."

Since the intriguing images were taken in 2014 the professor has been careful not to reveal the exact location where they were taken.

He said: "They were just taken in the Rossendale Valley.

"I won't be more specific because I don't want people going and trashing it.

"You'd be surprised how many people have told me they want to go there.

"I was out with my camera deliberately trying to photograph fast moving things.

"I didn't actually see them with the naked eye because they were moving fast. I went back home and looked at them on the computer and then I realised what I'd photographed."

The professor himself who has lived in Rossendale for more than 30 years, is ambiguous about whether the creatures he snapped on his Nikon D40X were fairies.

"A lot of people think they are. I did a talk at Oxford Natural History Museum and they did an investigation of the photos. It's their livelihood so they came down on the side that they are insects but they still asked me to go down and give a talk.

"But I have always stayed on the fence deliberately. Because the interesting thing about them going worldwide was to see the world's reaction to them.

"I don't know what they were. I know they were interesting photographs. I went out for the next few days and took more photographs but every photograph that I took looked like insects."

After his strange experience in the Rossendale professor Hyatt began to research all he could about fairies.

Contrary to modern belief fairies were not always pictured as good and friendly beings.

He said: "I did quite a lot of research from reading folk tales, Irish, Japanese and South American. Everywhere has them. It is not like it is a locational phenomena."

Fairies were even mentioned in the works of the Irish poet WB Yeats in his attempts to define Irishness.

And hundreds of years ago parents sometimes believed their child had been replaced by a fairy changeling, he added.

"The original fairies in Britain were black fairies and they weren't tiny they were human-sized. It goes back to when the forest was predominant.

"Rossendale was all forest and it was the predominant feature of the landscape."

Professor Hyatt believes that the tradition of the Britannia Coconut Dancers of Bacup blacking their faces may also originate from fairy folklore.

"I don't think they realise they go back to this idea of the fairies coming out of the forest and their black faces come from folktales," he said.

He discovered that traditionally they were seen as harbingers of misfortune. Ironically whilst the media storm over the fairies was going on he was diagnosed with throat cancer but has since made a full recovery.

"I think that's why fairies symbolise death as they are creatures from the other side. Certainly in a lot of fairytales they are dangerous. I wasn't going through anything when I saw them. The day the photos went viral I was diagnosed with throat cancer so it was quite interesting in a sense that for the first month of the fairies going viral I didn't have any time to worry about having throat cancer because I was talking to people all around the world."

The professor who is a vegan, believes he may have seen the creatures because he has an open mind.

"If they want to show themselves to you then they will. I've got a completely open mind. I think a completely open mind is a prerequisite for meeting them.

"The interesting thing is that the people that didn't believe were very abusive and felt that their world was threatened - if they didn't have a very rigid attitude to reality everything would crumble."

The fairy photographs have also led to new inspiration in his art work, he adds.

"When I was ill I painted every day to keep myself positive. It's automatic painting as if the picture forms of its own accord. I'm quite open-minded. I think the world is a lot more interesting than we generally give it credit for and quite often normal everyday things are interesting if you pay attention."

The Occult Review

As society was still left reeling from the Cottingley Fairies incident the amount of articles on fairy folklore rose exponentially. This refreshed interest in our ancient lores and heritage started to uncover long forgotten traditions and records about fairies. One of the most popular magazines where you might find such information was The Occult Review published between 1905 and 1951. It contained articles and correspondence by many notable occultists and authors of the day, including Aleister Crowley, Meredith Starr and Walter Leslie Wilmshurst to name but a few.

Take this excellent feature from 1921, written only 4 years after The Cottingley Fairy photographs were taken. It covers the Cottingley incident in great detail but also incorporates other sightings and interactions with less attractive entities. It even points to a particular publication that is said to have preserved the elemental teachings of a very ancient faith. One that might still hold the key to unlocking the door to the world below...

You can read the May 1921 issue of the Occult Review here

For fear of little men...

Not a week passes in the rural UK without an article or feature about the folklore surrounding parts of our landscape.  In an almost last ditch attempt to protect if from development we seem to be reaching back into the annals of history in hope that some good old fairy fueled fear will make us consider the consequences of our actions.  As I've mentioned on previous blog posts, nobody admits they believe in fairies until you introduce the threat of bad luck or even death.  Then and only then do you make their normally skeptical unpointed boring ears prick up and listen.

Thomas the Rhymer, the famous thirteenth century Scottish mystic and poet, once met the Faery Queen by a hawthorn bush from which a cuckoo was calling. She led him into the Faery Underworld for a brief sojourn, but upon reemerging into the world of mortals he found he had been absent for seven years. Themes of people being waylaid by the faery folk to places where time passes differently are common in Celtic mythology, and the hawthorn was one of, if not the, most likely tree to be inhabited or protected by the Wee Folk. In Ireland most of the isolated trees, or so-called 'lone bushes', found in the landscape and said to be inhabited by faeries, were hawthorn trees. Such trees could not be cut down or damaged in any way without incurring the often fatal wrath of their supernatural guardians. The Faery Queen by her hawthorn can also be seen as a representation of an earlier pre-Christian archetype, reminding us of a Goddess-centred worship, practised by priestesses in sacred groves of hawthorn, planted in the round. The site of Westminster Abbey was once called Thorney Island after the sacred stand of thorn trees there.

But no one believes in fairies anymore, do they? Of course not. Ask most people and they will say that it's all old superstition that has no place in the modern world of the 21st century.

Yet when you delve deeply in to our inherited mindset, you find beliefs that defy logic yet are very much part of who we are. A great example of this occurred a few weeks back when I was standing in a field with Declan Little, our local fencing contractor, discussing the location of a new fence to protect yet another small wood I hope to plant shortly.

Standing alone and right on the path of the proposed fence line was an old thorn tree. It has been there as long as I can remember and while blown over by a past storm, it is still very much alive and growing strongly.

As we gazed at it we both knew that it was in the way but I also knew that nothing would induce me to remove it. Now Declan is a much younger man than I am so I asked him to please not laugh at me when I said I wanted the tree to remain as it was, untouched.

Not only did he not laugh but he added that he was hoping I wasn't going to ask him to cut it as he would have had to refuse.

Relieved that we were of one mind, we then recalled the famous incident in 1999 when construction on a national route from Limerick to Galway was delayed and eventually rerouted to protect a fairy thorn tree that stood in its path.

Stories abound of misfortunes visited on those who risked disturbing lone thorns and there have been many incidences in the past where digger drivers have refused, despite threats of sacking, to touch them.

These trees have a remarkable power about them.

A gnarled thorn, often growing in harsh rocky ground, survivor of wind, weather and grazing, somehow possesses its own unique aura.

Rural electrification

Despite whatever feelings we might have regarding old beliefs and superstitions, such trees deserve our respect. I have heard it said that rural electrification killed off the fairies, especially in the West of Ireland.

The theory was that if you were outside at night and heard a noise you couldn't explain, then immediately your imagination summoned up images of spirits from another world and with it a fear of disturbing them.

When you could turn on a light and see that perhaps it was just a cat or whatever, then at least the sound could be rationally understood.

The screeching of an owl or a vixen late at night must have also had a chilling effect on anyone walking or cycling alone in the countryside.

When I was a child my family always took an annual holiday in the west and I will never forget the stories of fairies or "the little people" that the hotel staff regaled us with.

There is a hill at the back of the hotel that I still feel has magical properties thanks to all those lovely tales of the otherworld and what might happen to you if you got lost there at night.

While walking in Sligo in the early 1900s, WB Yeats asked an elderly man he met on the road if he believed in fairies. "I do not," replied the man, "What do you take me for? What kind of eejit would believe in the little people or in witches and goblins and leprechauns? Don't be ridiculous. I do not believe in them. Not at all..." There was a pause. "But they're there," the man concluded.

The thorn tree which prompted these musings is one of many that are respected throughout Ireland and regardless of how others might scoff, no-one damages what might well be a meeting place of the fairies. Hawthorn trees are believed to bring good luck and prosperity.

Hopefully mine will survive for many years to come.


Foreign Fairies

For me one of the most compelling pieces of evidence supporting the existence of 'little people' is their documentation in almost every culture. Whether it's Native American Indian folklore or ancient Persian texts, they all refer to what we commonly categorize as fairies. They generally have similar traits regardless of location, emerging from forests or subterranean domains to help, hinder or horrify we surface dwelling destroyers of nature.

This very interesting article by Chauburji appeared in Pakistani newspaper The Nation.

On a long ago visit to Ireland, I found that the lives of the Irish were deeply linked to strange stories about things that could at best be called paranormal. The central characters in these stories, which my host in that beautiful country adamantly maintained were true, revolved around hereditary precognition, Leprechauns and ‘The Little People’. My interest in these accounts was aroused as I was born and raised in a house, where inexplicable things occurred on a daily basis. These occurrences were always benign and even protective, causing us to lose fear.

My mother sometimes spoke of mythical beings known as ‘baalishtias’ (derived from the word ‘Baalisht’ or ‘one hand width’). These miniature people, no more than a hand width in height, had perfect human features and hid themselves in forests by day, coming out nocturnally to forage for food. When we questioned our mother on the subject, we were told that she had heard these tales from her grandmother and the local hill people during her family’s annual summer sojourn to Dharamsala and Srinagar in the pre-independence era.

I too happened to hear similar accounts from Jumma Khan, our summer home caretaker cum cook in Murree. According to local narratives, these tiny beings inhabited forests, had magical powers and exhibited total empathy with insects and small animals. In everyday parlance we could perhaps refer to them as fairies, elves and pixies. I found that the Irish description of ‘little people’ was exactly similar to these ‘baalishtias’.

Stories about ‘miniature people’ with magical powers and the propensity to do mischief, are as old as antiquity and have featured in classics such as Gulliver Travels and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson. Box office hits have been produced around them indicating that the subject holds a never ending attraction for human beings of all ages. It is interesting to note that tales about existence of such creatures is not restricted to Ireland or the Sub Continent, but can be found in ‘folk lore’ around the world – in Greece, the Philippines, Hawaiian Islands, Flores Island, Indonesia and even amongst Native Americans in the United States.

Legends speak of the little people playing pranks on humans such as singing and then hiding from those, who looked around for the source of music. It was often said that these creatures used music to lead travellers astray in the days before modern transport. Other stories say that if accidentally spotted by someone, they begged the person not to say anything about their existence for a reward, which usually consisted of help in times of trouble. There were also unconfirmed reports regarding remains of tiny people discovered in the United States around Montana and Wyoming many years ago.

I once wrote a column describing a personal encounter with what appeared to be a miniature dwarf-like face that peered at me from the bull rushes, during a duck shooting trip with my dad and uncle near Chuharkana somewhere in the nineteen fifties. I had been left behind in the car, while the adults had waded into the water. To this day I am not sure whether what I saw was a figment of my imagination or something real. The fact is that I put my hand on the horn and did not lift it till such time that my uncle returned and berated me for scaring the ducks away.

Almost every child anywhere in the world has been raised on stories that feature fairies, elves, gnomes and pixies. These characters have been both good and evil. No childhood would be complete without tales that titillate imagination and (as some psychologists would insist) even create illusions. Nonetheless, my advice to anyone travelling to Ireland is never to pass a ‘frivolous’ comment on hearing strange stories, for such a remark will not be taken lightly by the locals. I for one would like to reserve my comments, for every folk tale or legend has been known to have some basis or the other. In this case too – who knows?


Woe betide he or she who fells a fairy tree...

Since watching Jordskott I've been fascinated by the fact that most people scoff at the existence of fairies however, if you introduce a life threatening superstition people suddenly show some genuine fear and belief.  Take this article from The Irish News which discusses fairy trees and the dire consequences of cutting one down.  It once again highlights that a primal fear still exists in most of us that nature and its possible elusive guardians are a force not to be messed with. 

ONE of the first stories I reported on more than 20 years ago as a trainee journalist was about a fallen tree.

It had been partially uprooted in a storm and was lying across a footpath and on to the road. Pedestrians had to step out on to the road to get past and even cars had to swerve into the opposite lane to avoid it.

It lay there for more than three weeks so I phoned government departments and the local council offices who all insisted that it was someone else’s problem.

Finally, I put the question: "Was the reason that the tree had not been moved because the workmen were afraid of being cursed by the fairies?"

Needless to say the response was met with bluster, derision and even contempt. But no-one could explain why a fairly routine operation to move a fallen tree that was clearly causing a hazard to pedestrians and motorists had still not taken place.

I went to look at the tree on a number of occasions. It was a hawthorn (known in many parts of Ireland as a fairy thorn) and while it was badly damaged it was still alive, part of its split trunk still rooted in the ground.

Superstitions about fairy thorns are deeply rooted in Ireland. My grandmother used to regale us with stories about the horrors that befell farmers and builders who cut down fairy thorns, usually entailing them being decapitated after the axe they were using to hack the tree hit a rock, bounced back and seemed to hang in mid-air before making the fatal cut, being torn apart by wild animals or meeting some other unexplained but gory end.

Even today if you drive down a country road you will inevitably come across a ploughed field with a lone hawthorn standing in the middle of it.

On a purely practical level trees are essential to human survival on this planet, turning carbon monoxide that mammals exhale into oxygen which we then breath in.

No trees, we all suffocate – yet this has not stopped humanity as a species decimating our forests and jungles. It is estimated that the equivalent of 50 football pitches of woodland are destroyed every minute.

Ireland is one of the most deforested countries in the world, with just 10 per cent of woodland, the second lowest coverage in Europe. When humans first arrived here around 10,000 years ago the island was a huge woodland broken only by loughs and mountains.

Despite the mass destruction, trees and forests still retain an archetypal significance for us. The superstitions surrounding the fairy thorn are just one manifestation. A walk in a forest, sitting under a tree or just looking at the leaves of an oak swaying in a breeze can be hugely restorative to a world-weary mind.

In the past three years I have planted around 200 native Irish trees, mostly in a small neglected field, trying to create my own woodland. Mountain ash, birch, alder, willow, apple, oak, Scots pine and a yew tree. Sapplings, that cost around 40p each and barely came past my knee are now as tall as I am and in a few more years will begin to reach maturity – though I may not be around to see the oak in their full glory.

I worked with the charity One Miliion Trees in One Day to secure more than half the sapplings and they are planning another tree-planting day in two weeks' time (February 20).

In my little, still fragile woodland, there are six hawthorns, and a curse on anyone who even thinks about trying to destroy them.

Tony Bailie

The Irish Cottage Haunted by Violent Fairies

LIXNAW, Ireland — All is not well in the cottage at the edge of the Ballynageragh bog.

The simple home lies on the outskirts of this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village in west Ireland’s County Kerry.

During the last two decades, no fewer than five inhabitants of the tiny white public-owned building died suddenly in tragic and unusual circumstances.

The unsettling events have tapped into a culture of legend and supernatural belief that continues to color life here.

One man dozed off with a lit cigarette and succumbed to smoke inhalation. Another hanged himself shortly after moving from the house. One inhabitant died in a car accident, and a fourth was stabbed to death while traveling in Wales.

Was this cottage built on a fairy funeral path?

Was this cottage built on a fairy funeral path?

Then in November 2013, neighbors found the body of Susan Dunne, 62, in one of the cottage’s bedrooms.

She had moved in 18 months earlier with her autistic teenage son, who stands accused of her murder. Patrick Dunne, 19, is being held in a Dublin mental hospital until his trial in April.

Dunne’s murder was the last straw. Villagers buttonholed Kerry County Councillor Robert Beasley during local election campaigns in May to say they wanted the county-owned house destroyed.

Although Beasley says he raised the motion at council meetings, several factors have delayed a decision about the cottage’s fate.

Among them, no action will be taken until the county has arranged with Susan Dunne’s family to remove her belongings, which remain in the house.

But for all those who want the house leveled, there are also many who argue that the deaths were just a coincidence that doesn’t justify the demolition of a perfectly good dwelling.

Ireland’s devastating financial collapse in 2008 and prolonged recession forced the local authorities to slash budgets. As a result, County Kerry has been slow to replenish its public housing stock. Waiting lists are long.

Some would be happy to live with the cottage’s bloody legacy as long as they have a roof over their heads, locals say.

“There’s a lot of people who would love to have it,” says Paddy Quilter, proprietor of Quilter’s pub in Lixnaw. “All this bullshit about knocking it down — ah.”

Quilter says he doesn’t believe in ghosts. A clutch of locals drinking at the bar nod in agreement. But all are familiar with the host of legends, superstitions and fairies that once populated late-night tales in rural Ireland — and that still have real-world implications for many people.

“In the old days, they called it piseog,” Quilter says, a Gaelic term (pronounced pi-shawg) meaning superstition, voodoo or anything suggesting a supernatural power at hand. “There were a lot of piseogs and ghosts before electricity came in.”

It’s a word someone might use to explain an unusual or unsettling phenomenon — the mysterious deaths of five residents of a single cottage, for example.

Industrialization weakened Ireland’s belief in the fairy world but didn’t stamp it out completely, says Criostoir Mac Carthaigh, an archivist at the National Folklore Collection in Dublin.

As a result, he says, many people adopt a better-safe-than-sorry stance. Some farmers continue their forebears’ habits of not plowing certain parts of a field said to be favored by fairies, while disavowing belief in the supernatural themselves.

“Even down to today, there’s kind of a residual belief and it’s not articulated, it’s not spoken about,” Mac Carthaigh says. “’Leave well enough alone,’ is a phrase you sometimes hear people say.”

Sometimes it goes farther than that.

In 1999, the National Roads Authority was notified that a proposed bypass in western Ireland would destroy a hawthorn bush that played an important role in fairy military history. (You read that correctly.)

Irish fairies are no Disneyfied pixies. They hold grudges. Destroying the bush could result in violent fairy retribution — faulty brakes, mangled cars, death.

The government rerouted the highway and built a protective fence around the bush as an offering to the spirits.

The fairies’ main lobbyist in the human world in that case was Eddie Lenihan, a grizzle-bearded folklorist in western Ireland’s County Clare.

He began his career as a "seanchaithe," or traditional storyteller, when he was completing field research for a masters degree in linguistics and found himself more interested in the stories old folks told than the accents they told them in.

Lenihan says he’s contacted almost weekly by people who want to placate fairies on their property or suss out their feelings about upcoming construction.

His questions about the Lixnaw cottage have nothing to do with council budgets or housing demand.

“Was the house built in a place where it shouldn’t be?” he wonders. “Is there a fairy fort [a remnant of an early Christian structure] nearby?”

“It might be built on a fairy path or a funeral path, which would be a problem,” he adds. “It’d be lunacy to be on one of those. According to the old people, if you’re on a fairy path, you’ll never have peace or luck in a house like that.”

No fairy paths are evident near the cottage today. The low-slung structure, abandoned for almost a year now, stands at the end of a dirt drive blocked by a rusting gate.

Overgrown hedges encircle the property. As storm clouds closed in on a recent windy afternoon, the branches rustled with an insistent sound, like the footsteps of someone or something approaching.

The house next door is for sale. 

Article taken from The Global Post

© Dan Baines 2016