The Psyche Fairy Fake March 7, 2012Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
***Dedicated to Mike Dash (who practically wrote this piece) and to Kithra***
In Beachcombing’s recent gambol through the records of false fairies, he put up the picture above and confessed that he had no idea where it had come from, though it was frequently ascribed to witches in Devon or Cornwall in his sources. For example, in Janet Bord, Fairies: Real Encounters with Little People she labels it as ‘A photograph of Little People in Cornwall, England also showing a member of the group of witches involved in obtaining the picture’. Beach should say here that the photograph is in JB’s Fortean Picture Library: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com And would love to know anything beyond what he has amassed below.
Kithra wrote in with some information. In Kithra’s words (quoted already under the last post):
I strongly suspect that [the photograph above is a] picture from the famous surrealist Doc Shiels, taken in the 1970s. He took many photos of a ‘witches coven’ that included his daughter, when he lived here in Cornwall. He also played a large part in our local Owlman and Morgwar legends when they were reported seen again during that decade.’
For the uninitiated Doc Shiels was (and we hope is) one of these extraordinary individuals who enriches the world: but God help you if you, as a scholar, step into a slipstream of evidence depending on his pen or camera…
Mike Dash subsequently backed up Kithra with further data. First, he sent in a copy of an article by Mark Chorvinsky’s from Strange Magazine 9 (1992) pp.24-5, 60: ‘The Shiels-Related Fairy Photos’. In this article the picture is included and is described as ‘ANS photo 22’. It would be fun to put the other photographs up but they are just too blurred in the copy now in Beachcombing’s hands.
Now Doc Shiels had, according to Chorvinsky, sent some pictures to Fortean Times and Bob Rickard in 1977: and BR smelling a ‘fake’ suggested that they send the pictures in for assessment to the Fairy Investigation Society! (Another post, another day: this is good clear evidence for the FIS from the 1970s). It is not clear whether this present picture was in this clutch. But in 1978 Doc Shiels – apparently, there is some contradiction in the text – sent in this picture to Janet Bord and her husband claiming that they were of a witch named Psyche and also that they were taken by another witch named Psyche.
In a letter from the 1990 he further claimed that the pictures were taken in 1976 which seems credible. Everything else though is smoke and mirrors. Psyche was the name ‘in art’ of his daughter Kate, a witch and apparently Kate is the witch in this image: she would have been 14. (Beach bases this date off a Sun article from April 1978 entitled ‘The Weirdest Family in the Land: Stage Kids are Brought Up on Sex, Violence, Nudity and Swearing Galore’ where Kate is ’16’ ).
Beach should also note that Mark Chorvinsky makes the very sensible suggestion that these pictures were inspired by the surge in interest in the Cottingley Fairies in 1976-1977. However, Austin Mitchell had his famous interview with Elsie and Frances in September of 1976. From the first line of Chorvinsky’s article it seems that Shiels was already plotting in February of 1976 when he told a colleague: ‘How would you like the idea of obtaining the very first authentic photograph of a live leprechaun?’ What conversations with this man must have been like!
Kate later defended her wicca-style nudism in the most robust terms:
Some serious feminists, deeply involved in the women’s movement have been rather critical about allowing myself to be photographed nude in those days. They see it as a kind of exploitation, cheap cheesecake, or something of the sort. I disagree. As well as being a witch, I was in showbusiness. I always retained full control during the photo sessions, and most of the photographers and reporters were a wee bit scared, afraid and in awe of the Shiels clan. Nothing was ever published without my permission. If anyone was being exploited, you could say that the witches – some of us anyway – exploited the press. Yes, I know some people are shocked by nudity when it is associated with witchcraft. They see it as utterly wicked and depraved. I feel sorry for those small-minded puritans. They must live horribly frustrated lives. I feel free to do whatever I wish to do, so long as it harms no one. I see nothing harmful in those photographs. For one thing they help dispel the popular notion of a witch as an evil, ugly old hag. That is just one aspect of witch nature, as perceived by man.
Jon Downes, The Owlman and Others (Woolfardisworthy: Centre for Fortean Zoology, 4th ed, 2006) p.158 (Thanks again to Mike Dash for this).
One of Beachcombing’s correspondents writes that Kate is now in Northern Ireland as a social worker. Beach suspects that any damaged child that falls into her care will be lucky to have someone with many resources and a lot of grit. The crusty reactionary in him though can’t help but wondering what would happen if one of her less imaginative colleagues came across some photographs, taken by a father, of a naked 14-year-old girl in a wood with playdough men…
31 August 2012: The incomparable Janet Bord writes: ‘I have just seen the item The Psyche Fairy Fake on your blog (March item) and wanted to let you know, just for the record, that we have more of Doc Shiels’ fairy photographs, from the same series, in our archive. However I can’t add anything with regard to their background. Doc never admitted they were faked – though of course they clearly are. Thanks Janet!