Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lacking Sophistication and Loving It

Ireland is thought to be home to many of the good folk. These fairies will often live in large communities under some sort of royal rule. They are big fans of the fun - dancing, singing and feasting. But this enjoyment of life should not lessen the seriousness with which these creatures are taken. They are highly intelligent beings, who can in turn be benevolent or hostile towards humans.

There are many meeting spots where these communities of fairies will come together, often bushes or trees that stand alone, away from other natural groupings. When I was in Ireland, my folklore professor told us a story about a highway that was to be built in County Clare in the late ‘90s. As they got ready to begin construction of the road, a gentleman, well studied in traditional Irish folklore, spoke out in opposition.

You see, he pointed out that directly in the middle of where this road would be was a fairy tree. If this foliage was destroyed, he promised that the fairies would come and wreak havoc on everyone who used the road, in retaliation for this offense. At first, our professor told us, this gentleman was seen only as a nuisance. However, his persistence eventually paid off. The highway was still built, but it was built around the fairy tree, so no harm would come to it.

The professor used this story to illustrate that while people like to act as though they are above the belief in fairies and other creatures of magic, questions still remain. Ultimately, the people behind the construction of they highway decided that it was better to be safe than sorry. Why tempt the possibility of fairy wrath, as improbable as that seemed, if it could be avoided with some slight plan alterations?

I sat in that class listening to this and thought that it was possibly the greatest thing I had ever heard.

It’s easy to dismiss tales of magic and paranormal creatures as being the stuff of children’s stories, but maybe there’s a reason that so many similar creatures show up in the folklore of so many different culture in so many different locations. Now, I’m not saying that I have absolute faith in the existence of fairies, I just don’t want to rule it out. And nothing made me happier than knowing that the people of Ireland also weren’t ready to rule definitively against the existence of the wee folk, even when it was probably exceedingly annoying to change those road plans.

Peter Pan once explained to Wendy, “You see children know such a lot now, they soon don’t believe in fairies, and every time a child says, ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.”

I do agree that the amount of information we now have so immediately at our fingertips can make it easier for us to dispel so-called myths. But, as to the rest of it....No offense to Mr. Barrie, and I know good old Peter was a bit of a cocky kid, but this strikes me as a whole lot of arrogant. If fairies exist, I’m guessing the do so regardless of whether or not we choose to believe in them. And probably get a good laugh at us humans thinking that their lives are fueled by nothing more than our good thoughts.

While it may not be the thing keeping their hearts a-tickin’, belief does play some role in the folklore surrounding fairies. Apparently they will only show themselves to people who truly believe. Now, that I can understand. Why would you want to waste all that time convincing the person you were chatting with that you really are real and they don’t need to keep reaching for their anti-psychotic medications?

I, for one, am really going to try and believe. One, because it’s more fun than not believing. Two, because if the construction workers behind that highway in Ireland can entertain the notion, why can’t I? And three, because maybe if I believe hard enough, one day, a fairy might deign to have a chat with me. And, perhaps answer one or two of my floppity-jillion questions.

The gentleman who opposed the highway, Mr. Lenihan, said, “They laugh at you. It’s not sophisticated. But subconsciously, they believe.”

So, here’s to being unsophisticated. Who’s with me?

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