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The Virgin and the Fairies June 28, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

The last fairy post for a week, we promise…

Beach has noted previously here the danger of confusing fairy sightings with UFO sightings. But, as a lot of his work this summer has concerned medieval records, he realises that confusion is nothing new where fairies are concerned. There is, 500 AD – 1700 AD, the danger of confusing fairies and demons. Demons are, for example, found in the typical fairy role of stealing babies and replacing them with changelings. Another problem goes the other way and is the risk of confusing fairies with angels or even the Virgin. This particular form of confusion seems to have been appreciated and to have even entered the fairy tradition as a rather self conscious joke. Take this marvellous passage from Thomas the Rhymer who has just seen a fabulous woman under Eldoun Tree. Thomas – who is frankly a bit of a dolt – thinks it is Mary, mother of God (who is presumably often seen out for a walk in the Scottish Lowlands).

Thomas laye and sawe that syghte,

Vnder nethe ane semly tree;

He sayd, ‘yone es Marye most of myghte,

That bare that childe that dyede for mee.

But if I speke with yone lady bryghte,

I hope myn herte will bryste in three;

Now sail I go with all my myghte,

Hir for to mete at Eldoun tree.’

Thomas rathely vpe he rase,

And he rane ouer that mountayne hye;

Gyff it be als the storye sayes,

He hir mette at Eldone tree.

He knelyde down appon his knee,

Vndir nethe that grenwode spraye:

And sayd, ‘lufly ladye! rewe one mee;

Qwene of heuen, als thu wele maye!’

Rather chillingly the fairy queen replies that she is of ‘ane other contree’. The French work Ogier the Dane also has Ogier salute a fairy (Morgan) as the Queen of Heaven and offer an ave! Morgan says that she has never aspired to such a high rank…

This might also works in reverse with the Madonna being confused with a fairy. A swineherd called Eof is out one morning near Worcester when he sees three beautiful beings walking through the meadow: the implication seems to be that he has seen fairies. Egwin the Bishop (obit 717) – though he might not have been bishop at this time – heard the report and came to see for himself declaring that the three were Mary and two angels. Egwin founded Evesham monastery there. Anyone interested in medieval cobblers will note that Evesham means Eof’s River Bend or Eof’s Settlement.

It would be interesting to see if modern Marian shrines had a reputation for fairies: Fatima, Lourdes etc. Any other fairy-virgin confusion? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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30/6/2012: When Beach wrote this post he secretly hoped that Invisible would be provoked to sharing some of her immense wisdom and reading in this field. He was not disappointed. Although I have to rush off and can’t document things properly, I did want to throw out a couple of bits of info on Marian apparition sites and fairies. In your discussion of the last of the fairy faith in Europe, I commented that it could be argued that Marian apparitions took the place of fairy sightings. The area around the Lourdes grotto had a long history of white ladies/fairies. Initially Bernadette described the apparition as a “little white lady”. There was a recent issue of Fortean Times which focused on the darker side of Lourdes by Therese Taylor  (Sorry, can’t quickly locate the exact reference). Here is a quote: ‘The Cave of Massabielle has an identifiable history prior to the apparitions of 1858. This rocky outcrop on the left bank of the river Gave, a short walk from the town of Lourdes, was part of a chain of grottos, some of which opened into deep caverns within the mountains. The grottos were sufficiently notable to feature in guidebooks to the region, although one’s response to them was always dependent on class and social factors.’ To the educated, such natural formations were the occasion for scientific exploration and scenic appreciation; to the common people, they were sites of supernatural activity. As the 19th century anthropologist Andre Lefevre wrote: “There is hardly a single French province which does not have trees, grottoes or dolmens which are haunted by fairies. One hears of fairy pillars and rocks, fairy nooks, fairy wells, lakes, houses and chambers of fairies, wraiths and sorcerors. “Superstitions concerning Massabielle provide evidence of a reputation both sacred and demonic, of a place both haunted and holy.When describing the area, local writer Lagreze noted that “the belief in fairies and sorcerors is dear to our mountain people”, but did not record exactly what stories the grotto inspired. The fairies were also known as ‘white ladies’, and they lived in caves, dolmens and groves. These nature spirits could be either well or ill disposed towards humans, and the could also be lustful, capricious, and powerful. They retained all the characteristics of pagan deities mingled with later Christian elements. The figure of a powerful or impressive Fairy Queen was often mixed up with that of the Virgin Mary, whose image she both shaped and mirrored.The fairies around Lourdes were familiar to the people of the town, and were known to live at Massabielle. Even today, the Lourdes Grotto is known as ‘Fairy Cave’ among local people. Lourdes tradition also linked the area of Massabielle to the Virgin Mary. It was claimed that in the 11th century Lourdes had been dedicated in feudal vassalage to Notre Dame de Puy [a black Virgin image], and that every year green herbs from the fields around Massabielle were gathered and offered to this ancient icon. From the end of April 1858, people began to report that they had seen visions, either at the Grotto or other locations. Most were children, but they included women and some men. Francoise Junca, who watched a group of children fall into trances at the Grotto, described how they “threw themselves on their knees, together like one man, then they would rise…weep, cry, lament, then they would suddenly fall to their knees again: and we, we followed all their changes, all their prostrations.”  The eccentricity of these displays did not repulse her. She found the children to young and naive to be capable of invention, “therefore for them there was a vision, and also for us, the spectators.” The Grotto, however, was a gateway to the other world, and anything might come through it.Soon, many visionaries were showing signs that they were in communication with either nature spirits or devils. Local folklore preserved chilling stories of a beautiful white lady who appeared around Massabielle. Unlike Bernadette’s Dame, she did not remain stationary but floated in the air and beckoned to the children who saw her, luring them towards the precipices. The white lights, also, would fascinate the watchers and draw them towards the caverns. Several visionaries would have stepped over cliffs or into the rushing water of the Gave had they not been restrained. The children at the Grotto sometimes exhibited signs that they were possessed.’ Alan Neame in the fascinating The Happening at Lourdes also discusses the fairy lore of the region. I’ve always been fascinated by the “false visionaries” who cropped up around Lourdes. I wonder if such places also create a sort of “Jerusalem Syndrome” where persons suddenly believe that they are either the Virgin or a visionary? As for Fatima, I will try to copy some relevant passages when I get back, but this trilogy covers the fairy history of the area where the apparitions occurred.  1. Heavenly Lights: The Apparitions of Fatima and the UFO Phenomenon by Joaquim Fernandes, Fina D’Armada 2. Celestial Secrets: The Hidden History of the Fatima Incident, Joaquim Fernandes, Fina D’Armada 3. Fatima Revisited: The Apparition Phenomenon in Ufology, Psychology,and Science, Fernando Fernandes, Joaquim Fernandes, Raul Berenguel. So many Marian apparitions start with a “white shape” or a “white lady” that is often believed to be a ghost: Bernadette’s lady was believed to be the ghost of a recently deceased young lady, a leader of the Children of Mary whose uniform included a white dress and a blue sash. Neame’s book went back to the original documents compiled by Rene Laurentin and showed how the apparitions were fitted to an orthodox Church template. The Fatima trilogy does the same, showing how the original reports differ dramatically from today’s accepted story. When I return, I’ll try to find more information on lesser known apparitions and their fairy connections.’ Bated breath in the Beachcombing household especially from uber Catholic Mrs B who is scandalised that the Madonna could be mistaken for a fairy: viva Invisible!