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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Results of the New Fairy Census

     The results of the new fairy census are now at hand. The last census began in 1955, and took almost 60 years to find a publisher. Now, due to the wonders of the internet, the new one can be downloaded as a free e-book of 5.02 MB, the result of a survey by the new Fairy Investigation Society. The original FIS was composed essentially of New Age cranks. The new FIS, with which I am a member, is as much concerned with folklore as with the paranormal, and with respect to the latter, they maintain an open mind, but not so open that their brains fall out. The earlier survey was conducted by paper and postage, while the new one involved a questionnaire on the FIS's website, which means it would only have been accessed by someone with an actual interest in the subject, albeit after being alerted to it by social media or other advertisements. The author concedes that a few jokes or hoaxes have crept in, but feels that the vast majority of respondents were sincere. Having read their circumstantial accounts, I am forced to agree. Of course, any individual report, no matter how seemingly sincere, may be false, but if only one is accurate, it is a whole new ball game.
     Authored by Simon Young, who also wrote the foreword to Marjorie Johnson's Seeing Fairies, it consists of 500 accounts listed according to five geographic areas: the British Isles, North America, Europe, Australasia, and everywhere else. Within each category, the regions or states are recorded alphabetically.
     A great boon to researchers is that every one of the first hand reports is both numbered and preceded by a rubric in italics listing the witness's sex, decade in which the encounter occurred, the decade of the witness's age at the time, and various details about the encounter, such as place, time of day, and the feelings of the witness. If you want to know, for example, whether fairies are more likely to be seen by men than women in a garden during the afternoon, you need only do a bit of bean counting. Let's have a look at some of the data.

     Who sees them? Interestingly, not many of the respondents are into the New Age movement involving strange, occult speculations. Also, very few are repeat witnesses. However, quite a large number ticked the boxes for regular or occasional supernatural experiences. The exact significance of this cannot be gauged unless we know the incidence of such experiences in the general population. I suspect it might be fairly high. (The paranormal is like sex used to be: a lot of people are involved, but they don't talk about it.) Just the same, I gain the impression that a significant proportion of the population are, to an extent, sensitive to the paranormal, and so have repeat experiences throughout life.
    There is a good representation of both males and females among the witnesses, but the most striking statistic is the number of small children. Bear in mind that, with one or two exceptions, all of the respondents were adults, and since they aren't dead yet, the average age is probably in the middle years. Checking the ages of all 500 would have been a bit daunting, but I did do it for the first 100 (all in the United Kingdom). Fully 33 of them - a third of the total - had their fairy encounter at the age of ten or younger. Bear in mind, too, that most of them would not have remembered anything before the age of three. On the other hand, the score of 14 for those aged 11 to 20 was probably consistent with the age spread of witnesses.
    (On the other hand, I am informed by Mr Young that the figures for the whole English speaking world are 22% children and 16% adolescents. Interestingly, 82% of the children were females, compared to 68% for both adolescents and adults.)
     A number of questions are raised by this statistic. A teacher [case 90A] told how two of the boys saw tiny lights which they interpreted as fairies, but which the teacher could not see. Are little children more sensitive to fairies?  If so, are they sensitive to other paranormal phenomena? Or are they simply more prone to fantasy or misinterpretation? If so, why do they remember them vividly as real events when they grow up? Adults don't normally remember their imaginary friends as real. In fact, I suspect even the children recognize them as imaginary. Even if a real event had been involved, wouldn't it be more likely that the adult would rationalise it as something more mundane? Whichever way we look at it, there is something very strange going on.

      How does it happen? In case 163, a thirty-something Scotsman swatted at what he first thought was a large moth, before he realised it was in fact "some kind of little man, dressed in red jacket and green trousers." More than ten years later, he was still trying to come to terms with it. And where did this happen? While he was standing in line at a supermarket checkout!
     In point of fact, there is a good summary of where and how to meet fairies here.
     In the census about half a dozen stories can be discounted because the witness was in some sort of altered state of consciousness: sick, on her deathbed, having taken hallucinogenic mushrooms, hallucinating from sleep deprivation or, in a couple of cases, having meditated specifically in order to see fairies.
     I can also recall only one case of a sighting in a city street, but they were encountered everywhere else: indoors, in gardens, in the woods, during the day and during the night. There were multiple witness cases, prolonged observations, and cases where one person saw the fairy but not his or her companion. One was even seen running along the bottom of a swimming pool [case 319]. In some cases, they were noticed only on developed film. However, a more typical sighting would be as follows: a few seconds or a few minutes, the witness being alone or, if in company, the companion failed to see it, because he was simply not looking that way at the time.
    A significantly large number of sightings were reported when the witness was in bed. I am always suspicious of such stories, even when the witness claims he was sure he was not asleep, or not dreaming. All sorts of strange experiences can occur at the onset or sleep or waking. But again, why do people remember these events as real? Why don't they rationalise them? If this was some sort of waking dream, why are only fairies judged to be objective? Not only that, but while dreaming, the body is incapable of moving. When the dream state gets out of synch with consciousness, producing night terrors or lucid dreams, the victim typically experiences paralysis. This was never mentioned in any of the bedroom encounters in the census. In many cases, it is reasonable to conclude that the witness was not asleep. One girl, in fact, got up to wake her sister and share the experience.

     Just plain weird. Before we go into the typical fairy encounters, let's take a look at the really weird. It has long been my observation that people who have inexplicable experiences will tend to report them to whatever organisation appears willing to take them seriously, irrespective of whether it is consistent with the organisation's field. Thus, the family haunted by white, cat-faced bipeds reported it to a UFO magazine. A while ago I wrote about tiny crafts and pilots. The woman who saw a tiny biplane told a ufologist. The lady who saw a tiny flying motorbike posted the story on a website about ghosts, before going to the Fortean Times website. So now, let us look at case 80: the experience of a London girl in the 1950s.
This has haunted me always. I swear it was not a dream. I was in the back garden. My mother was hanging clothes on the washing line, and a sort of wicker-basket affair with a balloon on top came down by my side, but not landing on the garden path. I was rather frightened but stood there with one eye on my mother, who had not seen it. Inside were some small people, but one older man dressed in grey trousers, I remember, a grey top hat and black jacket. He had silver hair and it was curly and long, and the gist of it was that I was to 'go away with them'. I refused, of course, but gosh, he was so persistent. But the whole contraption flew off. I ran to my mother and told her what had happened, and she took it for what most people would take it for, childish excess. It has bothered me all my life, because this was no dream, it took place, and everything was solid. English was spoken, and I consider it a really strange episode indeed. . . . It  was no angel. I felt it wanted to do mischief. This was not a friendly experience at all. . . . I remember telling my mother immediately. She was about twenty feet away from me, and did not see anything, but she did take notice of my state of fear.
      [39] In the 2000s, a Devon woman in her forties watched a "tree man" seven feet tall, with a trunk-like body, branch-like arms, and a haggard face with short branches coming from the top of the head and sides.
      [54] Also in the 2000s, another woman in her forties, this time in Hampshire, saw something that looked like a skeleton made out of sticks, but twice human height, jump out of a tree.
     [276] A woman claimed to have twice seen "tree persons" or "dryads", once in Iowa and once in Baltimore. They had slender brown/grey bodies with tree branch "hair". She also claimed to have twice seen fairies in the woods.
     [324] In New Hampshire in the 2000s, a twenty-something man saw what looked like an old man just two foot tall, bearing a stick like a staff, but he was made completely of twigs and leaves.
     These four bizarre stories make the "mobile, semi-vegetable forms assuming human shape" referred to in Marjorie Johnson's book (It is example no. 7 in my previous article) sound more plausible.
     [97] Midsummer's Day in England, 2008: "a creature like a person but stretched upwards, overly thin and tall, and with its head coming to a slightly corkscrewed point with some smaller branching points coming from it. It had its back to me and was mottled brown but wreathed in a glowing greenish mist that came from it and seemed to be part of it. Part of it stretched up from the shoulders forming something vaguely wing or fan-like in shape."
     [74] "a mix of frog and sparrow with a fuzzy coat all over."
     [359] "It looked like a spider human hybrid with humanoid body, grey fur, multiple eyes and limbs" (several witnesses in Oregon in the 2000s.)
     [289] I've watched a bee stuff pollen into its leg pouches, which is what bees do. But in the 1980s a teenager and her adult relatives watched an oversized bumble bee carrying a red pail the size of a thimble with its front legs.
     [250] In Florida in the 2000s, a twenty-something woman claimed to have seen a coach pulled by dragonflies. (This is the story I would nominate as most likely to be a hoax.)

     What about more mainstream fairies? Well, a lot of people interpreted moving balls of lights as fairies - a somewhat arbitrary interpretation, but a phenomenon which deserves investigation in its own right. Some also experienced nothing but mysterious music. There were also a few sightings which I suspect may have been simply real human beings viewed in unusual circumstances.
     A really interesting, not to mention baffling, feature of the phenomenon is the presence of wings. Anyone familiar with genuine fairy folklore will know that the fairies of legend do not have wings, only those in children's books. You will not find references to wings in A Dictionary of Fairies (1976) by Katharine Briggs, or A Field Guide to the Little People (1977) by Nancy Arrowsmith and George Moorse. More to the point, they were not present in the eye witness accounts collected by Janet Bord the hard way, by poring through the literature, for her book, Fairies, real encounters with little people (1997). Yet they feature in almost half the sightings in this census. Among the first 100 entries, I counted 46 with wings. (And in case you are interested, they were reported by children and adults in equal proportions.)
     As far as the wingless fairies go, they were pretty much like the elves of folklore: humanoid beings ranging in height from a few inches to a couple of feet. As an example, we might take case no. 312. In the 1970s a Missouri teenager walked into her bedroom with a towel wrapped around her after showering. She sat down on the bed intending to towel her hair when her attention was caught by a movement at the window. (I gather it was twilight outside.) A group of men just eight to ten inches high were walking along a branch, whence they jumped a small gap before continuing along her window sill. They looked like little Germans in lederhosen, with knobbly knees and old-fashioned hobnailed boots, and box shaped hats. She felt fear well up inside of her, and the next thing she knew she was waking up at the end of the bed, with the towel still around her, and it was totally dark outside.
     By and large, the skin of these traditional fairies are white or brown, but not black. However, one little girl (case 342) saw what looked like a Santa Claus just two or three feet tall, but his skin was as red as his clothes. Also, he had tiny white horns and a red pointed tail. She was so excited, she talked about him for weeks.
     Also, a while ago I wrote an article on "pixilation", the tendency for small objects to disappear and reappear, and how some people have adopted the successful approach of asking for them back. In some places, these activities are regarded as tricks of the fairies. So it was interesting to record the experience of a woman in Illinois (case 267). A long zipper had gone missing, and one day she saw it in the hands of "a wee man about eighteen inches high" with brown skin and black hair, barefoot with knee length pants. When she called out at him, he suddenly vanished, leaving the zipper behind. The lady claims to have seen the same fellow on one other occasion, as well as other fairies. Interestingly, her toddler could see them and play with them.
     What about the winged fairies? In many cases, the witnesses failed to describe the wings. Those who did mostly likened them to those of dragonflies, though occasionally butterfly wings were reported. One Yorkshire women said she had seen ghosts from early childhood, but didn't believe in fairies until one afternoon she was shocked to see what looked like a woman of about twenty, with blond hair and pink skin fly slowly across her room on "translucent shiny pink wings", scattering pink glitter which vanished as it floated to the floor. The fairy was seven feet tall. (Case 136)
    However, the vast majority of these winged beings measured no more than a couple of inches. Theoretically, some of them might have been genuine exotic insects. However, time and again the witnesses stated, in effect: at first I thought it was an insect, but when it/I got closer, I saw ... This was reported so often it is hard not to accept that they were telling the truth as they saw it.
    Two witnesses (#69 in Lancashire and #234 in California) reported that the lower part of the body was like a fish ie they were tiny, winged merfolk. Does that sound like the sort of thing two people would independently make up? One seen by a little girl in Colorado had the lower part coiled up like a seahorse (#242). However, this "fairy" was so tiny, I wonder if it wasn't some sort of insect.

   So, are there really such things as fairies? Perhaps I should ask another question: are there really such things as dragons? The word is Greek, and the classical dragon was simply a gigantic snake, nothing more. Later, the word got applied to other mythological reptiles, such as the Anglo-Saxon worm (German Wurm, Norse orm), essentially a gigantic lizard with huge bat wings, which broods over its treasure. It represented the spirit of the dead hero in his barrow, guarding his grave goods, its fiery breath emblemic of all-consuming death. Then the word was applied to the Chinese lóng or lung, a magical spirit creature with power over water, depicted as a long snake with four clawed legs, the head of a horse or camel, the antlers of a deer, and often bits and pieces of other animals as well. When humans went out into the real world, they named the world's biggest lizard the Komodo dragon, while the eighteen inch Agamid lizards frequenting my neighbour's yard are called bearded dragons.
    I would suggest that the beings recorded in the fairy census have as much to do with fairies as big lizards in Indonesia and little lizards in Brisbane have to do with dragons: Nothing! In my view we must completely dissociate the fairies of folklore and literature with the "fairies" people claim to be seeing. There is no reason to connect the two except a general similarity in shape. Do they represent some sort of organized parallel society of paranormal beings, a "secret commonwealth" to use the words of Robert Kirk? I have my doubts. In any case, you will note that magic powers are completely absent from the witnesses' accounts. Also, their interactions with human beings are slight to non-existent, apart from a few very dramatic exceptions - and they might not even be part of the same phenomenon.
     So what are they? Firstly, we must remember the obvious: you can't believe everything people tell you. But the corollary is also true: you can't disbelieve everything. In the case of the census, if we confine ourselves to what grown-ups claim to have seen in broad daylight then, without any evidence, declare half of them to be either liars or incompetent witnesses, we are still left with a lot of testimonies from people who would be taken seriously if they were witnesses to a crime. And if only one of those stories are true, then an unknown phenomenon exists.
    Secondly, if a material being, such as a dog or cat, enters a room, everyone present will be able to see it, because material objects reflect light, which impinges on our eyes, and is interpreted by our brains. But there are reasonably well established examples of apparitions - "ghosts", if you like - being visible to one person but not others, and sometimes they can be accurately related to a particular deceased person. (The experience of Sir Arthur Grimble is a good example.) These apparitions must be psychic projections produced by some discarnate intelligence - or even living persons. (But don't ask me about the cases which appear on photos.) And if you think that what the witness is looking at is the person's soul, which is somehow the same shape as his mortal body, remember that his clothes are always visible. Do clothes have souls?
     I would suggest that "fairies" are equally some sort of psychic projection - but of what? Is there really a community of little people? Go back and look at the "just plain weird" examples. In each case, the witness identified them as fairies for lack of an alternative. If you follow the Fortean Times message board, you will discover even more examples of weirdness. Their publication, It Happened to Me!, volume 5 contains a whole chapter on dog-headed men. Perhaps the sightings in the census are labelled "fairies" simply because they resemble something in popular culture, but in reality, they form part of a much larger phenomenon. There seems to be a whole parallel immaterial realm which is visible to us only on rare occasions.
    I am particularly puzzled by the insect-winged beings, because they appear to be a relatively new phenomenon, starting about the time they began appearing in children's literature. They weren't reported when folklorists were chasing genuine fairy beliefs in the nineteenth century. How can popular culture produce such a thing? Of course, we know that people's interpretation of what they see is culture bound. It has often been pointed out that UFO aliens would have been interpreted as goblins or devils in previous centuries. But if we ignore interpretations, and stick simply to what is being reported, the fact still remains: people are reporting insect-winged beings when they weren't doing so before. If they had seen them in the past, why weren't they incorporated into the fairy mythology?
     I refuse to believe that popular culture can cause hallucinations of aspects of the culture. First of all, certain images are imbedded into the culture even deeper than fairies: devils with cloven feet and horns, and angels in white robes with white eagle wings, but they do not get reported - at least not by people in their normal state of consciousness. Yes, I suppose they might be seen and not reported, but if so, why not? It would be less embarrassing to report a casual sighting of an angel than of a fairy. They certainly don't get reported where you would expect them: in church testimonies. As a matter of fact, I remember an old episode on daytime TV (? Oprah? Sally Jessie Raphael?) devoted to people who claimed to have encountered angels. In every case, they were strangers who unexpectedly came to their aid, and which they assumed were heavenly messengers. But in every case they were indistinguishable from normal human beings; not a single white feather anywhere!
     Secondly, if you accept the proposition that normal people, under normal circumstances, can have hallucinations of paranormal beings just out of the blue, where will it end? They could just as easily hallucinate more mundane things, such as cars or people. We would never be confident of our grip on reality.
    Ultimately, the new fairy census leaves us with the quandary originally raised by J. Allen Hynek with respect to UFOs: what do you do when perfectly believable people tell you perfectly unbelievable things?
Addendum: The fairy census is now available in paperback form, print-on-demand.

1 comment:

  1. This is an extract from the book "Monsters" by John Michael Greer (Llewellyn, 2011):

    Page 12:
    According to a Roper Organization poll in 1991, 18 percent of Americans report at least once waking up paralyzes with a strange person or being in the room with them--a fair description of a monster-related experience we'll be studying in much more detail shortly. Eleven percent had seen at least one ghost, and 7 percent had seen at least one UFO (Roper 1992).

    A more extensive set of surveys on psychic phenomena carried out by the National Opinion Research Center in 1973 discovered that 28 percent of Americans reported have been in direct personal contact with a ghost, 58 percent reported having experienced telepathic contact with a living person, 24 percent had experienced clairvoyant visions of events happening at a distance, and 36 percent reported at least one ecstatic mystical experience (Greeley 1975). Similarly, John Palmer's 1974 survey found that 17 percent of residents and students in Charlottesville, Virginia, reported seeing at least one apparition, and some three-quarters of those who had done so had seen more than one.

    Palmer 1974 is "A Community Mail Survey of Psychic Experiences," Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, volume 73 number 3 (1979), 221-251, reprinted in "Parapsychology", edited by Richard Wiseman and Caroline Watt (ISBN13 9780754624509); you can read the full article using the free sample in

    Roper 1992 is Roper Organization, "Unusual Personal Experiences: An Analysis of the Data from Three National Surveys Conducted by the Roper Organization" (Las Vegas: Bigelow, 1992). The focus is on UFO abductions.

    Greeley 1975 is Greeley, Andrew M., "The Sociology of the Paranormal: A Reconnaissance" (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1975).

    You might also want George Gallup Jr and William Proctor's "Adventures in Immortality: A Look Beyond the Threshold of Death" (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992; London: Souvenir Press, 1993). This is the Gallup from the Gallup poll organization.