Category Archives: Fantasy

Fairy Folk and Family History

A couple of local gents are drinking a pint in a pub near Cushendall, County Antrim, one evening when a redhead comes through the door. “Ah, there’s that Liz Weir who believes in fairies,” one says.

Weir, an Irish storyteller with an international reputation, stops. “And you don’t?”

He smiles and shakes his head.

“So now, tell me, will you be cutting down that fairy tree on your place any time soon?” She means an old Hawthorne growing inconveniently in the middle of one of his fields.

He turns back to his pint.

“Why not, may I ask?”

He shifts in his seat. “Bad luck.”

Weir likes to tell that story because she’s not bashful about leaving the fairy folk alone. She won’t walk on Tiveragh, a well-known fairy hill, day or night, and, because we happen to be chatting on an April afternoon, she reminds me that May Eve (April 30) is coming. I should avoid all dairy that day because it will sour. She also advises that I plant primrose around my newly remodeled house to keep the fairies away and never throw water out the door for fear of drenching one of the little folk and making him/her angry. Before building, I’m to place a brick at each corner of the new structure. If next morning, the bricks are still in place, I can build. If one is knocked out of place, I’d be advised to build somewhere else.

Every one of my grandmothers gave me similar advice. Sophia, the no-nonsense founder of the family ranch, left drops of water in teacups to keep the fairy folk happy. She thought it made good sense. Since nobody has enough good luck, why risk bad? Likewise Weir is one of the most sensible people I know, computer savvy, widely traveled, a former librarian, who simply chooses to acknowledge what most of us try to ignore—the fact that things are not always what they seem. She’s not alone. Witness how casually we talk about Karma, practice Feng Shui, and bury St. Joseph statues upside down in the backyard.

When the poet W.B. Yeats traveled through the Irish countryside in the late 1800s, looking for stories of the fairy folk, he titled his resulting book, The Celtic Twight. When Eddie Lenihan traveled the same areas in the late 1900s also looking for old stories, he found a tradition as lively as ever. His book, Meeting the Other Crowd, begins by wondering if another book on Irish fairies is really necessary and never expresses any concern that the fairies will go away any time soon. Of course, his fairies aren’t fey. They are described as dangerous, a source of taboos, and otherworldly enchantments, that sound closer to alien abductions than Disney films. He prefers not to mess with the fairy folk and, evidently, you don’t want to mess with Lenihan. He got an Irish highway routed around a fairy tree.

Like Lenihan, Weir doesn’t worry that the fairy folk will disappear. They have the gall to exist even when we don’t believe in them. Instead she worries that folklore worldwide will be dumbed down by mass media. Among other things, I suspect she means—pan flutes. Last time I was in Sedona, Arizona, every tourist shop had flute music playing the in background. Same music in similar shops all over Dingle Penninsula in Ireland. Here’s the point, if you decide to look for your family stories, expect the trolls, fairies, and talking animals to tag along. The fairy folk are everywhere. We disguise them as children’s stories, laugh them off as nonsense, but, like the old gents in the Cushendall pub, we know better.

Keep in mind that encounters with the magical world does not mean going for easy solutions. A wave of the magic wand can conjure as much trouble as help. The charm of these stories is that they often focus on the youngest child or the smallest animal. Clever wins the day. Evil is not defeated. It’s tripped up, tricked, outwitted, making it something less feared than fooled.

Likewise, don’t let that simplicity fool you. The fact that you find these stories mixed in with the family stories regardless of family origin or cultural traditions suggests something psychologically deep. Stories old enough to have mingled with the fairy folk require a different attitude. Slow down, take a deep breath, open your imagination, and close your eyes. Remember, nobody asked you to go looking for old stories. You went anyway. Dug around, and, when the dead rise to be kissed, don’t back away. You can’t claim you didn’t know how deep the roots went. This is old memory, soul talk, the awakening of inner rhythms. This is the long ago and far away land of repeated dreams, songs that linger, footsteps we don’t expect but recognize.  I have a friend who introduced me to Trouble Trolls. When they knock, you don’t hide behind the door, you open wide, invite them in and dance with them. They’ll never be your friends but they might like the music and they could have gifts wrapped in their gnarled fists. Every story is wet like that with symbol—folklore even more so.

Even so, Mark A. Finlayson, doing research on artificial intelligence at MIT, believes that stories allow us to communicate complex ideas on a low bandwidth, which is why they work so well for children. Also why we never out grow them. Consider the complexity of modern parents who pay for two eggs and hire two surrogates to gestate two children at the same time so they will be like twins, but not really. How do you explain that to the children? According to NY Times Magazine (1/2/2011) you call them “twiblings” and invent a fairytale: Once, there was a couple who wanted to have babies. They tried and tried, but no babies arrive, and they were very sad. But then a Fairy Goddonor brought them some magical eggs . . ..

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Filed under fairytale, Family history, Fantasy, Old Storytelling Traditions, The Little Folk

Once Upon A Time . . .

Don’t be fooled. The little folk of fairytale and fable are the keepers of the wisdom. What’s more, they’re not stuffy about it. Worldwide, no matter the tradition, folk tales challenge the norm, encourage creative problem-solving, even question who you are in order for you to grow into someone else.

We need these stories. Proof is in the fact that if our families don’t provide, we will look elsewhere for them. I have a Native American friend who lives near Taos Pueblo in New Mexico who will not tell a story of the Corn Mother unless her listener also shares a story from his or her tradition. She worries that there are not enough storytellers. She believes that when we forget our stories, we forget everything.

Ireland, of course, is known for its storytellers, as this little video advertises . . .

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Filed under Animal Stories, children's stories, fairytale, Fantasy, Old Storytelling Traditions, Storytelling, Uncategorized

Confess? Or Tell a Whopper?

Every four-year-old caught with a stolen chocolate has the right instinct. Go with a whopper.

Given a choice between a contrite confession or a good story, most of us will take the story. Why? Because stories are elastic, creative, and, if inventive enough, we can’t help ourselves. We admire the effort.

The video says it all:

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Filed under Fantasy, Funny story, Uncategorized, Video Story, Why Stories?

Unicorn! Seen One Lately?

unicornMy husband met a unicorn last week.

He was impressed enough to take pictures.

He says he doesn’t believe in unicorns. He has a degree in physics, thank you! However, everyone who sees his pictures says “unicorn.” White, blue-eyed–what else could it be? No horn? They hide their horn, except in moonlight. I’m guessing that more people know that than understand what goes on in a particle accelerator.

JonUnicorns have been part of mythology since 400 BC when Ctesias describes them as living in India. Aristotle disputed his description and added his own. Although unicorns were never part of Greek mythology, they were included in Greek books of natural history. They are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible–repeatedly. Marco Polo claims to have seen one. The King of Scotland, James I, supposed brought one with him when he assumed the English throne. It has remained a part of the royal coat of arms ever since. The Simpsons televisions show includes an episode with a unicorn. My granddaughter has adopted a stuffed one that she sleeps with, pink sparkles and all.

Unicorn paintingWho cares?

Evidently everyone from Ctesias to my granddaughter.

More to the point, this is a blog about the power of stories, and without stories, we wouldn’t have unicorns!

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Filed under Animal Stories, Fantasy, Legend, Old Storytelling Traditions, stories, Uncategorized, Why Stories?

Story Quote # 7

Buck Ramsey (cowboy poet) testifying in favor of funding National Endowment for the Humanities

cowboy

cowboy

I think our nation, and our species has common memory that keep us, through tradition, connected; reminded of the precious things our minds and hearts and souls have sifted and sanctified from our long and common experience. But, as regards to songs, stories, and poems, which are much of the tradition of my tribe, I learned early a curious fact: The older the cowboy, the more likely he was to be plugged into that common memory of the tribe. That is he knew more songs, stories and poems than the younger ones and seemed to be in some way purer in his tribal etiquette. When it came to my generation, we knew only snatches of what the old ones knew. Clearly radio, movies, television began drowning out the resonance of the tradition, acted as something of an Alzheimer’s disease on the common memory.”

Personally, I’m a fan of radio, television and movies. They’re all based on telling a good story in one way or another. But stories that tell us who we are serve a deeper purpose. It seems to me that we remember a good “tribal story” as Ramsey calls them, differently than we remember a good movie. Anyone agree or disagree?

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Filed under cowboy story, Fantasy, Funny story, Personal Narrative, stories, Story Motif, Story Quote, Uncategorized, Video Story

The Little Folk–Fairies

“If you don’t believe in fairies, you’re not Irish.”

–Liz Weir, storyteller

Fairy

Fairy

 

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about and that was the beginning of fairies”

–JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan

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Filed under Fantasy, The Little Folk, Uncategorized

Exaggerated!! All Lies!

 

 

Mud Puddle Beauty

Mud Puddle Beauty

I know someone who claims to hate all stories because they’re embellished, exaggerated. Not true. Just elaborate lies.

 

She’ll have her mud puddles pristine, thank you.

Never mind that the experience of splashing in one has always been more about a feeling of freedom than wet dirt. It’s the fun, not the mess, that matters. And, yes, most of us will lie about how the mud got on our shoes if we don’t think the real story will be appreciated.

 

 

“There was this mud puddle, a really great mud puddle, that was just begging for someone to give it a good splash . . .”

OR

“I don’t know. The mud just got there!”

 

 

Fantasy Night

Fantasy Night

On the other hand, my friend is right. With a little imagination, who knows what a mud puddle might become . . . a fantasy of lights maybe.

 

Of course, that’s another story altogether.

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Filed under Fantasy, stories