London: Frowde, 1911, Minneola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2002.
The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries is the final account of an immensely complex and long-standing research on fairy faith in Britain and Brittany, the French Bretagne. The research Dr. Evans-Wentz conducted on fairies was meticulous and scientific.
There was obviously an effort from the part of the researcher to somehow classify and objectivize the fairy world, and this was perhaps necessary at a time when holistic science was not yet born in the West and scientists had to give an appearance of ‘pedantic detachment.’
On the other hand, this old-fashioned pedantic, meticulous and detailed research approach is perhaps a good counterpoint to the hairy stories this book abounds of.
But are we not outgrown from the times where as good as everybody was to dismiss all this as folk lore and superstition? Are we not somewhat more mature today to have a compassionate and participatory regard on these intriguing phenomena?
Well, I believe we are, and that therefore this study appears like the first volume of a greater vision—and the second volume still needs to be written! Unfortunately this book was written at a time when the overwhelming majority of people in our culture were dismissing fairies as pure superstition and folk belief.
It is sometimes good to see the context in which a particular book was written. I had a similar impression with Shamanism by Mircea Eliade, and I think both researchers share some personality traits. Both books are considered as reference books, which also implies that you may want to skip some passages or even chapters, as the author’s dry academic style gets a bit annoying over a longer sitting. But on the other hand, this detached style somehow contrasts well the sometimes really unbelievable stories that are counted in the book.
Indeed, what Evans-Wentz did was to collect and catalogue stories about fairies, in a very orderly fashion, with all pertinent information like tags put on needled ants, much like Béla Bartók catalogued most of Hungary’s folk melodies and made a fantastic music from that scurrilous repertoire of century-old musical lines.
And this adds on to the credibility of the author. Because some of the stories are so hair-rising, bold and unheard-of that surely without this enhanced credibility of the author, I would not have considered this book as a source of research in parapsychology.
An Irish mystic, and seer of great power, with whom I have often discussed the Fairy-Faith in its details, regards fairy paths or fairy passes as actual magnetic arteries, so to speak, through which circulates the earth’s magnetism./33, note 1
Perhaps the study would have benefited from a comparative perspective as to other paranormal phenomena than fairies?
I could imagine that the comprehension of the intrinsic fairy phenomenon could have been more amply illustrated and elucidated. Evans-Wentz correctly evaluates the fairy faith as being a part of a tradition of world-wide animism, and he does his best to convey to the reader that this is a good thing, and not something to dismiss as pseudoscience.
The theory of worldwide animism was also held in the face of one of the greatest holistic scientists, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and yet today we know that his color theory is a valid alternative scientific approach in its intent to contradicting Newtonian science. Evans-Wentz writes:
The modern belief in fairies, with which until now we have been specifically concerned, is Celtic only in so far as it reflects Celtic traditions and customs, Celtic myths and religion, and Celtic social and environmental conditions. Otherwise, as will be shown throughout this and succeeding chapters, it is in essence a part of a world-wide animism, which forms the background of all religions in whatever stage of culture religions exist or to which they have attained by evolution, from the barbarism of the Congo black man to the civilization of the Archbishop of Canterbury; and as far back as we can go into human origins there is some corresponding belief in a fairy or spirit realm, as there is to-day among contemporary civilized and uncivilized races of all countries. /226
You can travel the world and ‘collect beliefs,’ for cataloguing them. And you can also trust human intelligence and travel the world to find evidence for scientific truth that is as yet undiscovered and uncharted, and yet populates the myths of the world.
There is a subtle difference between the two approaches, while they both lead probably to the same discoveries.