An exhibition on the subject of Faeryland at the Royal Geographical Society (of all places!) from the 10th to the end of September stimulates me to repeat a few lines that I once wrote on the subject.
Faery lore has always been with us, as long indeed as faeries, but only in the last twenty years has it come to such prominence. This largely thanks to R J Stewart who has published some very practical books on the subject, starting with The UnderWorld Initiation in 1985, passing through Earth Light and Power within the Land in 1992, to The Living World of Faery in 1995 and The Well of Light in 2004. These have been particularly stimulating works because they present us with an important challenge.
They call upon us to do something about it, with particular reference to the doctrine of the Threefold Alliance – the mutual recognition of the interconnection of the human, animal and faery worlds. And how we can make the necessary connections by means of structured visualisations in conjunction with certain sites, such as standing stones, earthworks, forest paths, springs, pools, wells, woods, trees, meadows, crossroad tracks or the confluence of waters.
In the pursuit of otherworld experience we have, of course, to take care that such contacts are not subjective fantasies. Faeries are not quite such wish fulfilment figures as they are sometimes made out to be, and so we should not regard the quest as some kind of otherworld dating agency. Those forlornly seeking fulfilment of unsatisfied desires should stick, for their own good, to the human sphere. If you cannot make it with one of your own kind then you are not likely to have much luck with one of the Shining Ones!
In my own experience the start of any worthwhile contact has come as something of a surprise. The initiative came from the other side. When I found myself whipped up into some kind of spiral of euphoric awareness, with aura lit up like a Christmas tree, to discover I was standing in muddy shoes over a spring, in close proximity to a rowan tree. Or coming across part of a hedgerow where trunks of oak and ash formed pillars each side of a hawthorn gateway, to find it open before me on the level of inner awareness.
First comes the experience, then the realisation. Following upon this, if you are lucky and play your cards right, a deepening relationship forms from which friendship, companionship, guidance and teaching may arrive. At any rate, to a born scribbler such as myself, the consequence has been the writing of two books (The Faery Gates of Avalon and Melusine of Lusignan and the Cult of the Faery Woman) which are meant to be subtle guides and stimuli to action rather than otherwordly street maps.
Above all they seek to be modern. The study of old traditions of faery lore that have come down to us in legend and ballad can be very fascinating and indeed instructive but they speak of other times and other conditions. The faery world moves on as does the human one, and means of intercommunication now are not the same as once they might have been.
Indeed older forms of tradition speak not so much of intercommunication as of complete transition. Either a human is lured into faery land – or a faery enters the human world – visitors in an alien environment to that in which they were born. And such adventures tend to end in grief. Either the human being cannot find the way back, or if successful crumbles to dust, having been away for a very long time indeed in a different time dimension. Or the faery is driven back to fairyland because the human being breaks faith in some way, unable to unwilling to fulfil the conditions of such an unusual relationship.
There are of course rare cases where a successful transition seems to have taken place. The most celebrated being the 13th century Thomas the Rymer and his seven year dalliance in the hills with the Faery Queen. Or the successful recovery of Tam Lin from fairyland by a persistent and courageous human lover. All of which demonstrate that we are not dealing with a fluffy bunny kind of world when we approach the faery condition, but nor, on the other hand, are we consorting with demonic agencies as monkish scribes have tended to describe them.
Apart from ballad lore, which R J Stewart, as a musician has explored in some depth, there are other areas in which it is profitable to look, particularly in medieval times when humans and faeries seem to have been more closely connected than they are now. Perhaps because humans tended to believe in them more. On the one hand are the historical traditions of certain families that have claimed faery ancestry, and on the other early versions of Arthurian legend.
Three ancient families in particular spring to mind – those of Bouillon, of
and of Lusignan. Anjou
The first concerns King Lothair of
met a faery in the woods who bore him seven children, one of whom became the
Knight of the Swan who sailed down the Lorraine Rhine
one day in a boat to champion Beatrice of Bouillon who was having some trouble
with a local lord. He married Beatrice’s daughter Ida but left her when
(despite his strictures) she became too curious about his origins.
The second was the powerful and widespread family of
An early member of the family, Fulke the Black, was said to have married a
water sprite, who bore him at least two children before disappearing through
the roof of the church in great distress when compelled to attend the
consecration of the mass (an obvious monkish interpolation). This monkish libel
did not faze the family at all in after years. Richard Coeur de Lion in
particular revelled in being a member of “the Devil’s Brood!” Anjou
A third instance is that of the family of Lusignan, which like the town named after them near Poitiers, was founded by the faery Melusine, who originally hailed from Scotland, and returned to Avalon when after some marital strife her husband publicly called her a demon.
Taking into account the time scale of these family histories any such actual intermarriage would appear to have taken place a little before the dawn of the first millennium. Was there a window or door of opportunity that opened between the worlds at that time, making such interchange possible? And is there a cyclic connection with the sudden upsurge in faery interest that has occurred to us at the dawning of the second millennium?
One thinks of the elfin mythology of Tolkien that seems to have sparked much popular contemporary interest. But how much and in what way do we tend to believe in such things nowadays? I only know that when interviewed by an American radio show host I was asked to speculate a reason for this remarkable interest in Tolkien’s elven otherworld. I said that maybe it was because people were subliminally realising it to be true that we shared the world with another order of existence. At which the interviewer hastily interjected that they dared not broadcast such a possibility! Shades of Orson Wells causing a panic with his radio broadcast of H G Wells “War Between the Worlds” in the early days of radio? Are the alleged faery folk with whom we have shared the planet for millennia any more dangerous than science fiction invaders from Mars?
Who knows? What I have found intriguing is that descendants of all three families mentioned above played a leading role in the Crusades. Which suggests that for whatever reason the Christian west felt the need to go marching off to Jerusalem – then regarded as the centre of the world – the Faery powers felt the same way too!
Thus in 1099 a leader of the 1st Crusade, Godfrey of Bouillon became the first ruler of the
in 1099, and in 1101 his brother Baldwin its first king. Then thirty years on,
when that line had died out, Fulke V of Kingdom of Jerusalem
married the heiress to the kingdom, the princess Melisende, thus establishing
line on the throne. And by a similar process of marrying an heiress to the
kingdom, the crown passed to two Lusignan brothers, first Guy who, had married
the princess Sibylla, in 1186 and then Amalric who wed her half sister Isabella
in 1198. Anjou
There is plenty of room for conjecture here as fascinating as holy bloods and holy grails, which has given me plenty to mull over for some time to come. But there are more significant indicators of a close human faery interconnection to be found in a close reading of Arthurian legend.
Particularly early legend, recorded a couple of hundred years before Sir Thomas Malory set pen to paper in about 1370 to produce Le Morte d’Arthur. Admittedly it is a classic of English literature but in which, despite Morgan le Fay and the Lady of the
Lake, much of the faery content is lost. Sir Thomas, a
contemporary of Henry V and Agincourt, was
more focused on the conventions of feudal chivalry in the human world. To find
the faeries coming out of the woodwork we need to go back to around 1170 when
Chrétien de Troyes, the court poet of Countess Marie of , was versifying the first
Arthurian romances. Not that Chrétien (who thought himself a very modern 12th
century man of the world) entirely believed in faeries, but he was drawing his
material from older sources who did. Champagne
And when we examine his stories in depth, we realise that the commonplace romantic scenario was not so much human damsels in distress calling upon knights to go and solve their problems. It was more a case of a faery woman acting as initiator of a human knight into the faery world.
This seems to have been the case with regard to Erec and Enide, (Geraint in the Mabinogion version), for although it appears to be Erec who is taking the initiative, it is really Enide who is calling the shots and leading him on into his various adventures, ending up in ruling a dual kingdom with her. Similarly Yvain after certain rites at a magic fountain is led on by Lunette through a series of tests that end up with him married to the faery Laudine. Even in the Grail romance Percival has his Blanchefleur and Gawain his Orgueilleuse of Logres as intermediaries on the way to very faery locations – one the Graal castle and the other the
. And Lancelot’s adventures to
rescue Guenevere plainly take place in a faery kingdom. All this I have spelled
out in some detail in The Faery Gates of Avalon, in the hope that it
will encourage others to go back to the tales, keeping an eye out for the faery
dynamics, which become obvious once one knows what to look for. Castle of Maidens
This also applies to slightly later versions of Arthurian Legend such as the Lancelot Grail of 1220/30. Wendy Berg has shown in her remarkable work, Red Tree, White Tree - Humans and Faeries in Partnership, (Skylight Press 2011), that this stratum of legend leads to the conclusion that Queen Guenevere herself was one of the faery kind.
This view of Guenevere is no new agey fad, for the possibility has been seriously put forward by academics of some distinction, in Guinevere, A Study of her Abductions by Professor K G T Webster in 1951, and Lancelot and Guenevere by Professors T P Cross and W A Nitze in 1930. It is simply that Wendy, with her keen esoteric sense, has brilliantly illuminated a neglected academic thesis, and shown the whole Arthurian scenario in a new light. The light of Faery.
Guenevere was abducted on a number of occasions, but rather than passing her off as some kind of Persephone figure connected to the cycles of nature, a role which she really does not fit, a more likely possibility could have been the faery world trying to get her back! We find much the same kind of situation in Fiona Macleod’s The Immortal Hour where the faery Etain is taken back to fairyland after having wandered into the human world and been married to the Eochaid, the High King of Ireland.
Following this theory through leads to some startling conclusions as to the origin and destiny of the Grail Hallows, which as sword and lance and cup and stone, came originally from faery land. And which – like Arthur’s sword Excalibur – need to be returned there. Hence the need for the legend of Joseph of Arimathea returning the Graal to Logres, from whence it had been taken to Sarras (the inner side of Jerusalem) by the Grail heroes in the Ship of Solomon. Whilst the two cruets associated with his mission back to Glastonbury, one containing a red liquid and the other a white, signify amongst other things, the sap of the red tree and the white tree, the human and faery blood lines.
This provides the prospect for some exciting esoteric work. As Wendy points out, if it was the duty and opportunity of the knights (of whom we are the modern equivalent) to seek out the structure and nature of Faery, one way of doing this today may be to give more attention to way showers such as Melusine, Etain and Gwenevere. Those who left behind their birthright in the Immortal Clan to enter the human world. And there the challenge rests. Are we capable of responding to “the faint call of Faery” and taking steps to answer it?