We are drowning in faerie.
It was during the golden hour when the little man came to my house. Through the window I could see him: clad in green, holding a wand. Cautiously, I opened the front door. "I'm here about the plants," said the yard man. His company was offering free appraisals of lawns in my neighborhood. "Sure, why not," came my reply. Couldn't hurt. He surveyed my tiny postage stamp-sized ground, liberally using his wand to douse anything appearing the slightest bit invasive in herbicide. Without minutes he returned and handed me his evaluation. My yard was deemed anemic at best (I suppose we really need to do something about it), but as I scanned the yellow sheet in my hand, one entry among the list of blemishes jumped out: fairy ring. In the modern context "fairy ring" (also known as fairy/elf circle or elf/pixie ring) refers to a circle of mushrooms that naturally occurs on some lawns. It borrows it name, of course, from folklore, where the Good People were said to dance in a ring.
The next day I was reaching for a healthy mid-morning snack when I spied the label.
Strawberries from Wish Farms, a logo adorned with a faerie in mid-flight (yes, I know those are blackberries in the photo; I was attempting to consolidate my fruit consumption). I'm up to my eyeballs in faeries these days. Preparing for book number three has immersed me in these old legends more deeply than I ever have been in the past. I'm practically drowning in the stuff. But you're drowning in faerie, too. Besides the greater arc of the new book, the one trend that has coalesced for me over anything else is how much of the world around us is mired in faerie. I mentioned toward the end of A Trojan Feast how often the fae folk are used as food mascots: Keebler cookies, Lucky Charms and Rice Krispies cereal, Green Giant veggies, Tommyknocker beer, Chicken of the Sea tuna, etc., but it goes far beyond that. Despite the fact that American belief in them has got to be wavering somewhere below 3% (a wild guess), so much of the our language, superstitions, even our surnames find their roots in faerie tradition. Consider just a few things that spring to mind:
Superstitions. We knock on wood for good luck because our ancestors believed elemental spirits (i.e. faeries) inhabited trees. This superstition likely comes from the belief it could either drive away evil spirits or seek blessings from benevolent ones within the wood. It's likely throwing salt over one's shoulder after spilling it has faerie-related origins as well—salt was feared by the good folk. The saying of "God bless you" following a sneeze, while often attributed to Pope Gregory I, just as likely traces its source to the notion that sneezes allow an opening for evil spirits to enter ones body. In Irish tradition, a sneeze was an opportunity for the faeries to take a child away; the pronouncement of "God bless you," especially if the child was unbaptized, helped to mitigate this possibility. The boogeyman takes his names from the Middle English "bogge" or "bugge," meaning "hobgoblin." And don't even get me started on Santa's elves and Krampus, because that's a whole blog entry of its own.
Language. Ever heard someone say, "Don't bogart that [insert favorite recreational substance here]"? That's a direct reference to the Boggart, a particularly kleptomaniacal faerie. "Cobalt" is named after a German "household goblin." Fayetteville, a common town name across the US, is derived from "fayette" or—you guessed it—little fairy. Today special military operatives sometimes wear ghillie suits when in the field... these shaggy suits were named after the Irish Ghillie Dhu, a reclusive, hairy faerie of the forest (the sasquatch connection here is not lost on the Aussies, who call them "Yowie suits").
Surnames. Fayettevilles are usually named after General Lafeyette, who came to America's aid in the Revolutionary War, but there are others of us who take our last names from the faeries. Corrigans take their name from the French "korrigan." "Hopkins" literally means "son (or kin) to Hob," another type of faerie (as in "Hobgoblin"). Hell, my wife even knew a salt-of-the-earth south Georgia church going Baptist woman with the first name of "Fairy."
Remember folks: this is just a list off the top of my head. And it doesn't even begin to cover the massive influence of faerie folklore on popular culture. Aside from obvious depictions of faeries and their motifs—abductions to the other world, the food taboo, missing time, changelings—they appear in the strangest of places. Disney's most recent animated film Moana plays different to a Gordon White fan, but even the keenest of Forteans might not have noticed that the kakamora who attack the protagonists are an expression of Solomon Islands faerie beliefs (which in turn, it should be fairly noted, could also be an ancestral memory of a Homo floriensis-type hominid).
Since mixing metaphors is the only way to truly convey the complexity and scope of how interconnected and deeply interwoven these depictions are, let's just say you can easily be sucked into very deep rabbit hole that goes round-and-round terminating in a complex spider's web. I think that's the sole point I want to make: this is baked into our culture, and most of us don't even realize it. Much is made of the leaving of the faeries, the notion that the Good Folk packed up their lives and left the British Isles somewhere around the mid to late 19th century. It's supposedly the reason we don't encounter them today, or at least why we don't encounter the more often. But seeing how much of an impact they—whatever they were—left on us, and how often we invoke them every day of our lives, I wonder... Did they ever really leave?