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Mutable, Anamorphose, Astral, Creators of Illusions

Nothing is what it seems in the world of fairies. Castles turn out to be dark caverns, and caverns turn out to be bright palaces. Fairies are in and of themselves mutable beings, always changing form and type. When a fairy pays a human for services rendered, the enigmatic creatures are never satisfied with simply paying them in money. Fairies instead pay humans with dead horses, dried leaves, twigs, or other seemingly useless items. Items which turn to gold should the person be smart enough to bring it home with them. What are we to take from these strange actions?

The fairy world is confusing, whether as a means to test human fidelity or because of the fairies’ strange nature, fairy actions can never be straightforward. Fairies, by some peoples’ calculations, are astral beings (“astral” being the insubstantial world of the soul). This makes sense given that fairies appear at least in some respects to be essentially souls. The astral world itself is both less solid and more stable then water for it always changes, always flows, but the beings within it can choose to be solid or can choose their form.

“The fairy world is always described as an immaterial place.” (Wentz, 1911) Further testimonies gathered from Celtic peasents go on to attest that: “Spirits and fairies exist all round us, invisible. Fairies have no solid bodily substance. Their forms are of matter like ghostly bodies, and on this account they cannot be caught. In the twilight they are often seen, and on moonlit nights in summer.” (Ibid) Many fairies are always changing form appearing as a cup, an animal, or a tree. It’s impossible because of such changes to know for certain if fairies even naturally appear as humans, or if they simply take human form to put us at ease.

Jacob Grimm believed that: “The freest personality is proper to gods and spirits who can suddenly reveal or conceal their shape, appear and disappear. To man this faculty is wanting. He can but slowly come and go, and in his body he must abide.” (Grimm, 1935) What would it be like to not have to have any form? To be able to change and adjust at will; to be anywhere one wanted to be? There are two possibilities we must consider. The first is that fairies truely are free; that they are the artists that alter everything, even their forms, to get that which they seek. Or perhaps fairies are themselves a reflection of the world around them. A reflection that shows us what we want to see. In “Religion of the Ancient Celts” (MacCulloch, 1911) attests that: “With the growth of religion, the vaguer spirits tended to become gods and goddesses, and worshipful animals to become anthropomorphic divinities with the animals as their symbols, attendants, or victims. And as the cult of vegetation spirits centered in the ritual of planting and sowing, so the cult of the divinities of growth centered in great, seasonal and agricultural festivals which were the key to the growth of the Celtic religion to be found. Yet the migrating Celts, conquering new lands, evolved divinities of war. Here the old, female influence was still at work since many of these were female. “Most of the Celtic divinities were local in character; each tribe possessing its own group, each god having functions similar to those of other groups. Some, however, had or gained a more universal character absorbing divinities with similar functions. Still, this local character must be borne in mind. The numerous divinities of Gaul, with differing names—but judging by their assimilation to the same Roman divinity, with similar functions are best understood as gods of local groups. Thus the primitive nature spirits gave place to greater or lesser gods, each with his separate department and functions. Though growing civilization tended to separate them from the soil, they never quite lost touch with it. In return for man's worship and sacrifices, they gave life and increased victory, strength, and skill. However, these sacrifices had been and still often were rites in which the representative of a god was slain.” What we see then is that these fairies may not have been so free. They may have been, at least in part, defined by the thoughts of the people who surrounded them. So in this sense when humans wished for fairies to be beautiful, powerful beings that would make their crops grow, it was so. Later, as humans wanted them to be devils or faded souls, it again became so. Finally, when humans stopped caring about fairies, they ultimately vanished altogether.