Monday, November 26, 2007

Respecting your Elders

As an artist, I'm interested in how humans interact with and depict faeries in the present day. But as someone who is enamored with mythology, legend, etc. and also is academically inclined, I believe that artists can gain valuable touchstones to Faery through tradition and folklore which can deepen their work. I don't believe that modern people should be chained to the lore of the past or that Faery is immutable, but I do think that there is tremendous value in seeking the knowledge and experience of people whose daily lives were much more closely entwined with Faery and Nature than ours are. (Not to mention that the faeries of folklore are much more interesting and complex than their fantastical counterparts!)

Peter M. Rojcewicz, in his essay entitled Between One Eye Blink and the Next: Fairies, UFOs, and Problems of Knowledge highlights the importance of folklore to humanity:
Folklore, because of its generally unschooled, informal, and conservative nature, more clearly presents the outlines of the mind's organization than does the more self-conscious and stylistically variable popular and elite arts. Having a more intimate relationship with their own archetypal roots, traditional societies have lived closer to the quintessential spirit of nature, which employs the human mind as the context of its own 'individuation.' Nature individualizes it spirit in all forms of cognition, human or otherwise.[...]

Anomalous folklore [...], would not, rightly speaking, point to a 'supernatural' realm but toward a natural order that embraces all life. Folklore, from this perspective, does not bring us further from reality, but brings us through our 'imaginal' archetypal roots to the nature's 'truth.' Folklore is never literally true, but it may always be fundamentally true. [...] The scientific worldview would rob the universe of spirit and purpose; fairies [...] re-enchant the world, not in the way of 'glamour' or 'pishogue,' but in the sense that the world and our place in it is more and not less than it seems to the eyes. 1
In other words, folklore represents a collection of metaphorical truths. Unlike literature authored by one specific person, folklore was originally transmitted orally through numerous people, often generations prior to being recorded, and through this process its most potent elements are preserved and distilled: "Myths are naturally conservative, seeking out the archetypal pattern, so that whatever elaboration we make on a myth will, if it is not from the mythopoeic imagination, be forgotten. On the other hand, a comparatively trivial tale will always be remembered if it has come from there. 'If a tale can last, in oral tradition, for two of three generations, then it has either come from the real place, or it has found its way there'2." Folklore and mythology then are a series of powerful guides to humanity's relationship with the landscape, life, death, and other beings (human and non-human) which has been stripped of its nonessential and extraneous tidbits through the profound filter of time.

Much of the "knowledge" we currently take for granted regarding Faery is actually derived more from contemporary literature than from folklore, including the extremely tiny stature of the elfin people, their delicate insect wings, and their rather benevolent nature towards humanity — traits that a great number of people mistakenly believe to be the defining characteristics of faeries. To say that all literature regarding faeries (including work from such luminaries as Shakespeare whose writings have had a profound influence on the modern view of faeries) is false is not entirely accurate, of course, because to do so would be to deny that Faery does genuinely continue to inspire individuals. However, to take the views presented by literature as the only truths and to ignore the lessons of folklore regarding Faery is a grave mistake.

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) Rojcewicz, Peter M. "Between One Eye Blink and the Next: Fairies, UFOs, and Problems of Knowledge." The Good People: New Fairylore Essays. Peter Narváez ed. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997. 502-503. ISBN: 0-8131-0939-6.

2) Harpur, Patrick. The Philosopher's secret Fire: A History of the Imagination. Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee, 2002. 82. ISBN: 1-56663-485-7.

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