Never Forget the Church Sprite! August 8, 2012Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
When Beach gives fairy posts (and God knows sometimes he does too many) he tries to come up with unusual accounts, peculiar perspectives. He does not do ‘normal’ folklore. But this is a little story from Sweden that filled him with the melancholy of a dying or at least a changing world. Read it, reflect on it, go and tell it to your children: the only thing that Beach knows to rival it in fairy literature is Baring-Gould’s pixies listening to the church bells.
In Skärkind parish, which may be said to belong to the eastern plains country in the same province as Kila, I noted down the following legend. The village church was to be demolished; it was the year 1836, but it was deemed by certain peasants advisable in this connection to show consideration for the ‘church sprite’ (krykråt).
Reflect on the full horror of this, the guardian of the church was about to find himself without a home: this did not bode well for the village which would certainly be struck by its malevolence. However, come the hour, come the man.
One of [the villagers] promised to see to the matter. One night, at 12 o’clock, he drove up to the church with his dog-cart, stopped in front of the steeple with the gable-door and called up to the steeple, where the sprite was thought to have his abode in the clerestory which was here called ‘råkammarn’ (sprite’s chamber). ‘Church sprite! You must move! Come down, and I’ll help you.’ No reply. Nothing was noticed for a while. But then all of a sudden the dog-cart sank through the springs being pressed down. Then he knew that the church sprite had mounted. He then drove it in silence to Törnvalla church nine miles away and on arrival said politely: ‘Now we’ve arrived’. Once again, no reply, but slowly the springs expanded, so the church sprite must have gone in.
However, trust the modern world to intervene.
It was then some time before the new church was ready. By this time belief in the church sprite was fading, and no-one bothered to fetch it.
Oh the imbeciles! Then in 1906, the new church ‘was struck by lightning and its upper part and a large part of the church burned down.’… ‘One or two people wondered if there was a connection between this accident and the neglect shown to the church sprite.’ British fairies are not very keen on churches and Irish fairies don’t go near them: any other chapel, cathedral or mosque or synagogue fairies out there: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
1 Sept 2012: The Count writes I was very interested to read about the church sprite. Since in all Christian countries, every supernatural being not clearly identifiable as an angel is at best a semi-fallen angel, and more usually an actual demon, they tend to be physically incapable of entering churches, and certainly wouldn’t live in one on purpose! I suspect the answer is that the further east you go in Europe, the later people converted to Christianity, so folk beliefs were more firmly entrenched in the not-too-distant past. I would guess that your best bet for tales of surprisingly devout pixies being uneasily incorporated into Christianity would be Russia, especially Siberia, and also Iceland.Islamic church sprites? Well, we’ve already covered that topic, haven’t we? One huge difference between Christianity and Islam is that Christianity was actually a form of Judaism which happened to be far more popular with people who weren’t Jews, therefore it had to cover a lot of local belief-systems that weren’t mentioned in the Bible, meaning that they pretty much had to be lumped together as illusions caused by the Devil. Islam, on the other hand, was tailored to fit its home turf, so the many different species of djinn that the locals took extremely seriously were at the same time more or less irrelevant and not completely evil, thus exceptionally good djinn could become Muslims. Thus leaving out bread and milk for the djinn (or whatever it is you do) wasn’t sinful, which is a good rule to have if lots of Muslims are going to do that just in case and then worry about it offending Allah. As already mentioned, the solution reached by Christians, though unofficial, was almost identical. And as a previous correspondent mentioned, there’s at least one mosque dedicated to the djinn. I’d be interested to know if they actually hold services where the presence of the congregation has to be taken on trust.Synagogue sprites? That I very much doubt! Judaism laid down very strict rules a very long time ago, and is so monotheistic that there simply isn’t room for such beings. You might find tales of malicious creatures – probably dybbuks – creeping into the synagogue and causing all sorts of trouble until coped with by a heroically holy rabbi, but nice dybbuks who care about the state the roof’s in? I’d be extremely surprised! I suppose an angel might care about such things, but it seems a little undignified. In that department, I’m afraid the Jews are entirely on their own and will just have to buy a new roof, barring divine intervention. Though actually a live-in roof angel that blows the place up if you don’t repair it soon enough isn’t really very helpful, and probably less cost-effective than having the builders in. Of course, in the Far East, where such beings are a part of everyday life, the usual solution to this kind of problem is to build a replica of the haunted building very close to the original and politely ask the imp to move. Since non-corporeal beings live by different rules, it will be perfectly happy with a house, or indeed a church, much, much smaller than anything a human would find useful. It can then be bribed to behave itself with periodic gifts of whatever it is these creatures are supposed to like. Mostly beer and sweeties, apparently. Since building a tiny symbolic church three feet high is a lot easier than somehow arranging for there to be a brand new full-sized one that doesn’t currently have a sprite, if this was, or possibly still is, a common belief in Sweden, you may very well be able to find cases in which the Swedes re-housed sprites in tiny pretend churches. People are pretty much the same everywhere, and quite likely to come up with the same logical solution to this wildly illogical problem.’’ A little research into why Swedish fairies are able to live in churches reveals some interesting conclusions. The predominant and most humanoid of the various races of Swedish fairies, the huldre, were apparently the children of Adam’s first wife Lilith. They were therefore not only more or less human, and thus capable of being Christians, but, since Original Sin was brought about by Eve, were actually less sinful than humans, and therefore only had to read the Old Testament, being insufficiently in need of salvation to require the New one as well. So we have a branch of “The good folk” who were actually morally superior to humans, and also pretty much identical to them, apart from living underground and having magical powers. I suggest that this could be a distorted memory of a time when Sweden was still in the process of converting to Christianity. Communities of pagans, while having to make themselves more and more inconspicuous, might well have made some of the less hard-line Christians secretly a bit jealous, because by living according to a less restrictive set of rules and not obsessing about sin and wickedness the whole time, they could well have seemed happier, nicer, and less sinful than Christians. But at the same time, the priests would have been constantly reminding everyone that these people were different and sinister and probably had ghastly Satanic powers. Throw those two ideas together and you’ve got a pretty good description of the huldre, who are human yet different, sinister yet benign, don’t need to read the BIble, or at any rate not all of it, because they’re better than us, and could not implausibly live in a church. Of course, in places like Britain, this all took place a lot earlier, so nobody remembered nice pagans (assuming that British pagans were nice – according to Julius Caesar, the Druids weren’t very pleasant at all), and our fairies were not supposed to be even partially human, let alone superior to normal humans.’ Thanks Count!!