Little is left to the imagination these days. The ever deeper probing of scientists is removing any mystery from life and banishing the unknown and heretofore unknowable.
Oh, take me back to times in human history when mankind’s foibles and frailties, loves and losses, or tragedies and triumphs could be explained in terms of mystical powers exercised by tiny, unseen beings, most commonly known to us as fairies.
Chaucer, the great poet of the Middle Ages, created a Fairy Queen in his Canterbury Tales. William Shakespeare invented fairies called Oberon, Titania and Puck in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." The Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote two books about fairies intended to promote and protect a vital part of Irish history, one being "Irish Fairy and Folk Tales."
In Scandinavian culture, there were elves and Valkyries, who as handmaidens to the Norse god Odin would choose the soldiers to be slain on the battlefields, then lead them to eternal rest in a place called Valhalla.
The Welsh had their "fair folk," the Cornish "the little people," Scotland had "people of the mound," and Ireland had "the good people," "the noble people," "the wee folk," and "the host of the hills."
Variously these spirits — fairies and the like — were explained as fallen angels who were kicked out of heaven for their loyalty to Lucifer, but were saved mid-air by God himself and thus retained the power to fly.
Others would say they were the souls of the unbaptized, not good enough for heaven but not bad enough for hell.
There were "trooping fairies" or social fairies who lived in clans of merrymakers. "Solitary" fairies avoided crowds and were known as brownies, pookas, leprechauns — male fairies mischievous with their practical jokes — and "banshees," female fairies whose coming preceded death and would set up an awful wailing. "Social" fairies wore green jackets, while "solitary" fairies wore red, brown or gray jackets, according to literature. (An obvious question: If these creatures were invisible, how would anyone know the color of their jackets?)
Who among us didn’t hear fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm as we were growing up?
While the Grimms compiled existing Germanic lore, Andersen crafted a plethora of original stories, many that remain fresh and familiar to us, such as: "The Emperor’s New Clothes," "The Little Match Girl," "The Little Mermaid," "The Ugly Duckling," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "Thumbelina," and "The Snow Queen." The most famous fairy of all must surely be Tinker Bell.
In lore and legend, fairies bridge the divide between humans and the whimsy of nature. In "Thumbelina," for example, the tiny little girl is born from a barleycorn seed within the petals of a tulip and uses a walnut shell for a bed until she is stolen by an ugly frog that plans to marry her to her uglier son.
Saved by fish, she floats away on a lily pad. She’s taken in by a field mouse and then threatened again with marriage to a mole. When she revives a frozen swallow, the swallow returns the favor by flying her away to a land of little people.
Fairies, though unseen, still need places to live, and play, and thus began the tradition of building fairy houses of all-natural materials on islands off the coast of Maine some years ago. Fairy house festivals are popular all around New England today, and five years ago, the tradition took root at Chimney Park behind the Newton County Library.
Visit the park Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. and see for yourself the Fairy Village full of fanciful dwellings and habitats that creative volunteers have crafted from simple, nature-made materials.
Stumps, bark, twigs, stones and dried plant material assume new lives and purposes in the hands of artists who lose themselves in the creative, almost meditative, venture.
Be prepared to be overcome by the spirit — or "spirits" — and make your own fairy house that day from natural materials that will be on site to encourage the imagination.
Admission — that includes crafts, live Irish music, games and refreshments — is $5 per person, with wee ones under age 2 admitted free.
Don’t forget your fairy wings!
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.