The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Sometimes stories are merely entertainment but story-telling is also among the sacred arts associated with religion and spiritual traditions. Thus, folktales and legends often include detailed spiritual information and instruction regarding their respective traditions. Some stories are intended literally, others are intended as metaphor, many may be appreciated on multiple levels simultaneously.
Thus the Bible may be understood as a historical source, as stories chronicling spiritual interaction with God and the spiritual experiences and journeys of various people, and as an explication of the sacred and a list of spiritual injunctions. Similar traditions exist elsewhere: in Santeria, the pataki are stories of the orisha. Pataki detail the lives and interaction of the orisha but also contain deep spiritual truths as well as ethical and moral information and spiritual instruction. Greek and other mythologies may be understood similarly.
“Fairy tales” are often understood as distinct from “sacred myths” because they are considered pure entertainment or whimsy, even though they detail the lives and actions of spiritual beings (Fairies), interaction between these beings and humans, and often detailed spiritual and ethical instructions. What if this was not really the case? What if fairy tales were intended to be as sacred as myths?
What if, in the face of oppression—and during the era of the witch-hunts!—these stories were deliberately downplayed as being solely entertainment in order to protect and preserve desperately endangered Pagan traditions?
That’s the theory of the Fairy Faith. All those stories detailing changelings, encounters with fairies, offerings of milk, whiskey or trinkets, which incidentally closely resemble the sort of humble offerings given on a daily basis to African-Diaspora spirits, may actually be offering detailed spiritual instruction in code.
For instance, in the Isle of Man it was once believed that if water was not left out for fairies, they would break into houses and vampirically suck the blood of sleeping humans. Was this always believed or was this a created rationale that enabled people to continue making offerings to their ancestral spirits?
This type of instruction is by necessity hidden, secret or encoded: sincere continuance of these practices was illegal, potentially heretical, and subject to severe punishment including death.
The Fairy Faith may represent vestigial remnants of Druidic religion.
Rumors and allegations that fairy tales were more than mere stories were rife throughout Ireland for centuries. Until the nineteenth century, Church control (and attendance) in much of rural Ireland was lax and country customs discreetly continued. This was an open secret: many fairy doctors openly communed with fairies. Ancient traditions were preserved, even if they were disreputable. Some fairy doctors, especially many female ones, may be understood as more than healers: they were also practitioners and leaders of the Fairy Faith.
In the nineteenth century, two conflicting phenomena arose that threatened this age-old practice:
Church control expanded throughout Ireland with attempts to standardize worship
The burgeoning Age of Rationalism increased doubt in the existence of fairies, spirits or any sort of spiritual entity, including God. Traditions like the Fairy Faith were identified by many as primitive, backward beliefs associated with the foolish and ignorant
This had particular implications in Ireland: by the late nineteenth century, fairies and the Fairy Faith had become an embarrassment and humiliation to the Irish Nationalist Party. Their fear was that no one would seriously consider granting political independence to a nation whose population still believed in fairies.
Both Nationalists and Unionists despised devotees of fairies. The Fairy Faith was dismissed as the worst superstition. In the wake of Neo-Paganism, however, the Fairy Faith has been revived and reinvigorated.
Further Reading: The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, originally published in 1911 but recently republished (Citadel Press, 2003) is considered the classic text regarding the Fairy Faith. Based on Evans-Wentz’s Oxford doctoral thesis, it incorporates information from anthropological, folkloric, and historical sources including field reports from Brittany, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland, and Wales. Evans-Wentz was not a sensationalist but a serious scholar of spiritual traditions, eventually becoming a leading authority on Tibetan Buddhism.