Fairies are a well-known staple of folklore and modern children’s literature: supernatural beings who were thought by people of previous ages to inhabit the pastoral landscapes of Europe. But while belief in such creatures might be assumed to have no place in our modern, rational world, it seems fairies don’t really care, as new research has found that some people still regularly have encounters with them.
In fact, more than ‘some’: in the newly released, 400-page-long Fairy Census, 2014-2017 (free PDF download), some five hundred fairy experiences from the modern day are detailed. They were collected over the last few years via an ongoing internet questionnaire about who sees fairies, when and why.
The Fairy Census questionaire was designed not only to just let the respondent relay their experience; it also sought to understand the phenomenon better by looking for common elements. As such, questions included the location of the experience, whether other people were present (and if they too experienced it), the time of day, the duration of the experience, the mood of the fairy, how often the experiencer has had other supernatural experiences, any special state of consciousness before the experience, and any special phenomena connected to the experience such as loss of sense of time or strange sensations.
In the PDF, the experiences, recorded between 18 Nov 2014 and 20 Nov 2017, are divided into five sections based on geography: Britain and Ireland; North America; Europe; Australasia; and the ‘Rest of the World’. Editor Simon Young, a British historian who has written extensively on the topic of folklore, says that the Census is being released in PDF format free of charge in the hope that it will allow and encourage others to undertake their own research into the topic of fairies.
Here’s just one of the many experiences, which readers of my essay “Her Sweet Murmur” (on the sounds heard during paranormal experiences) will likely find quite interesting (the first paragraph is a summary of the aforementioned elements of the experience related to location, time etc.):
358) US (Oregon).Female; 2000s; 21-30; inside a private house; on my own; 9 am-12 pm; less than a minute; friendly, mischievous, ‘not sure, they seemed to want to be near me’; occasional supernatural experiences; no special state reported; a sense that the experience was a display put on specially for you, unusually vivid memories of the experience.
It was around 10 or 11 am in the early summer of 2002, and I was in the bathroom, just starting my bath. It was so warm and bright that I had the small window open, and the breeze was coming right in from the backyard. (There was never a screen on that window because it was a little high up, and too small for a person). I shrugged off my robe, and sat down on the tub edge, waiting for the tub to fill. Quite suddenly, a flickering cloud of little lights came right in through the window and, as though attracted to me, flew close, almost touching, around my head and shoulders.
I was so shocked that my brain just froze! There was a tickle in my nose, and something in my understanding just clicked. I said out loud, and I mean, LOUD, (though as a twenty-nine-year-old woman such a thing had never occurred to me as being within the realms of possibility or even reality) ‘Hey! Faeries! Go away!’ And I tossed my head and flicked my wrist. The cloud of little lights zoomed off a little bit away from me, then gathered close together, for just a second, and I almost heard a sound, but it wasn’t quite a sound, really, more of an impression that there was communication between them that I could very nearly hear, like a buzz or a high frequency whine or bells shimmering like when they bless the Host in Mass – and then they flew as one, right out the window again!
I was so surprised that I jumped up, naked as a jaybird, shut the window, and yelled out to my husband to come to the bathroom. My knees were too wobbly to support me just then. Whew! Never thought I’d get a chance to tell that to someone who didn’t think I was NUTS!!!
For the skeptical readers, editor Simon Young notes that while previous well-known ‘fairyists’ such as Evans Wentz and Marjorie Johnson set out trying to prove that fairies exist, he does not have this ambition – he is just trying to understand the phenomenon better. Nevertheless, he is “convinced of the sincerity of the vast, vast majority of respondents”. While in four or five cases he suspected that the respondent “made up the account for fun, or found themselves bored late at night on the internet with a whisky”, Young says that after reading hundreds of accounts “you get a feel for patterns within impossible experiences”. He nevertheless included the suspect accounts, “because I can hardly edit out experiences that smell rotten, to my subjective and possibly flawed judgment”.
To dig a bit deeper into fairylore beyond the accounts in the Census, be sure to get the companion book featuring essays from Simon Young and other folklorists and historians, Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies, 500 AD to the Present, available now from Amazon US and Amazon UK (see John Reppion’s review of the book here on the Grail). And you can head over to the Facebook page for the Fairy Investigation Society to find out more about research into fairy sightings, both ancient and modern.