Posted by: Ticktock | May 8, 2009

Monsters, Myths, and Legends: Fairies

FAIRIES

Little winged human-like creatures, no bigger than a butterfly, who cheerfully pull pranks on humans.

SKEPTIC’S LESSON

The history of fairies seem to be traced back through Celtic folklore. The original term was “fae”, which meant “wee folk”. They are usually depicted as mischievous pranksters. Early descriptions of fairies did not mention wings; they rode on animals or used magic to fly. Though fairies are seen as cute sprites like Tinker Bell today, they were once depicted with more fantastical gnome-like features.

They were thought to be scared of iron, which may give us some information about the origins of fairy mythology.

Perhaps one of the most famous hoaxes of all time were the fairy photos fabricated by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths at Cottingley in England. Elsie and Frances were just children fooling around with their father’s camera. He was rather annoyed at them for playing such childish games with his equipment. Word started to spread about these photos until Sir Arthur Conan Doyle entered the picture and declared them to be legitimate (he even used psychics and clairvoyants to tell him so). Doyle was such a believer that he was completely blinded to the obvious forged images; he believed in them until the day he died.

Doyle was also so respected that the girls were embarrassed to tell the truth, but they finally did admit in their twilight years (61 years later) that they faked the photos with cutouts and clothes pins. You can see that the cutouts were likely taken from a popular book at the time called Princess Mary’s Gift Book.

https://i0.wp.com/www.lhup.edu/%7Edsimanek/fairies/fairy1-r.gif

CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE

Although I can’t be certain, I believe that fairies were a way to rationalize genetic disorders in children. Without an understanding of gene inheritance and birth defects, common people would search for some explanation for why their babies might have any number of possible disorders ranging from autism to primordial dwarfism. Rather than see these abnormalities as a risk of reproduction, they imagined fairies sneaking in to steal their real babies and replace them with odd fairy babies. If only today’s parents could blame naughty behavior on changeling swapping fairies, right?

In addition, there were probably natural phenomena such as dreams that were assigned to the roles of fairy folk. William Shakespeare gives us a peak into the beliefs of the time when he provides Mercutio with a lovely monologue about Queen Mab of the fairies spinning a dream in his mind. Shakespeare also made it clear in Midsummer’s Night Dream that people may have believed that fairies caused people to fall in love. Dreams and love are abstract ideas that were a mystery to people at the time, and they explained it by personifying the unknown.

TRUE ANIMALS

Pink Fairy Armadillo – It is found in central Argentina where it inhabits dry grasslands and sandy plains with thorn bushes and cacti. It has the ability to bury itself completely in a matter of seconds if frightened.
The Pink Fairy Armadillo burrows small holes near ant colonies in dry dirt. It feeds mainly on ants and ant larvae near its burrow. See this nice British TV personality speak fondly of his days looking at pink fairy armadillos at the museum…

Mr. Spike Walker

Fairyfly Wasp- camptoteroides verrucosa – This is an extremely small wasp (no bigger than 3mm) that lives as a parasite on eggs (favoring the cicada). It can live at high altitudes, and it has extraordinary wings that resemble a goose feather. It can even swim underwater, using it’s wings as a paddle.

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