Chapter 12.  The Little People

Do you believe in fairies? If not, you will probably not go along with the idea that they are more frequently seen in even centuries, such as the eighteenth, as opposed to odd centuries, like the nineteenth. Or that the fairies come from the stars. Or even that they are the spirits of unbaptised children who died in infancy.

Yet all these beliefs, and more, have been held at one time or another, as you can read in W.Y. Evans Wentz’s book, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, published in 1911.

The natural reaction to the mention of fairies is one of ridicule. We can vouch for this, because one of us (BF) once ordered an obscure reprint of a book on fairies at a very well known bookshop, and got some very peculiar looks in between the yes, sirs and the no, sirs.

But it might just be that this urge to ridicule is quite wrong. Wentz had something rather interesting to say on this:

The great majority of men in cities are apt to pride themselves on their own exemption from “superstition”, and to smile pityingly at the poor countrymen and countrywomen who believe in fairies. But when they do so they forget that, with all their own admirable progress in material invention, with all the far-reaching data of their acquired science, with all the vast extent of their commercial and economic conquests, they themselves have ceased to be natural.

Wentz goes on to argue that the herding together of people in modern cities, and the bustle of modern living, have resulted in the submergence of the psychic faculties required to see into the realm of the fairies. Modern man, therefore, should be asking not so much why some people can see fairies, but rather, why the rest of us cannot. The country-people should be pitying us, not the other way round.

Of course, we don’t really believe this argument ourselves but it is rather ingenious all the same. So is this one.

Most people disbelieve in fairies because they have never seen them for themselves. Very well then, take a group of people and sit them in a room. They can even wear pyramids on their heads if they wish, but this is optional. Then, when they are all sitting comfortably, stand outside the door and blow one of those very high-pitched dog whistles. Peoples’ hearing being what it is, the chances are that at least one person in the room will hear some sort of whistling sound, whereas the majority will hear nothing. The person who hears the sound will say something like, “What’s that funny high-pitched whistling sound?”, but the rest will say, “What whistling sound?”. Somebody else might say, “Oh yes! I can hear it too!”, but in the end, the “don’t hears”, who outnumber the “do hears”, will come to the conclusion that this high-pitched whistle business is just a fanciful imagination at work amongst the weaker-minded brethren of the group.

According to Mrs Daphne Charters, this is precisely the sort of thing that happens over fairy vision. The fairies are a race of beings who live on this planet with us, but in a different dimension, as it were. ‘Seeing’ them is like ‘hearing’ the dog whistle. The whistle is there alright, but if your ears don’t respond to it, that does not give you the right to call those who do hear it ‘nut-cases’. It is a beautiful argument.

Mrs Charters wrote, in her marvellous little book, A True Fairy Tale, published in the 1950s:

I have no doubt that many of you are convinced that Fairies are imaginary beings which have been invented for the amusement of children, and in stating that I have conversations with them every day, I am in great danger of being labelled a fanciful idiot.

But, like all true Independent Thinkers, she is not in the least perturbed by the scorn and scepticism of the world at large. She knows that the fairies are real.

So what exactly are fairies, and what do they do? Essentially they are Nature’s helpers, and they come in various grades, ranging from the minute Rudimes, who have little intelligence or consciousness, and whose function is largely to stimulate plant growth, to the Fares, who move amongst men, and help to heal the sick.

There are fairies of one sort or another everywhere, Mrs Charters tells us. They tend to our plants, they help our fires to burn more brightly, they direct the waters of our streams and rivers, they control the winds and forest fires, and they even help sailors guide their ships through storms. In fact, the fairies are involved in almost everything.

And what a bewildering world it would be if we could see them all at work, simultaneously, every minute of the day. Mrs Charters describes it in graphic terms:

There are so many tiny entities of various evolutions in every corner of the universe that life would become like a drunkard’s nightmare if everyone was tuned-in to all of them at once. We would realise that we sucked minute people in, and blew them out again each time we draw breath; we would see them in our soup and in our favourite chair, popping out of the wireless and into the flour bin. Therefore everyone keeps tuned-in to his own evolution and, when he has learned how to do so, to any of the others for long or short periods at will. Thus nobody gets in anyone else’s way.

In her delightful little book, Mrs Charters explains how she came to know the fairies in her garden on first name terms. Some of the names sound a bit suspect, we must admit, but we must remember the parable of the high-pitched whistle. At any rate, their names were Normus, Gorjus, Myrris, Mirilla and Namsos.

Here is a sample of fairy conversation:

“Namsos is very shy,” Normus explained, and I had a mental picture of a little figure hanging his head and sucking a finger nervously. “Never mind,” I said quickly. “Don’t press him. Namsos dear,” I added in the direction of the ground, “would you like to tell me about your work?”

There was no reply.

“It’s with worms and insects,” Normus told me.

“He likes even the worms?” I enquired.

“He really loves them,” Normus assured me.

“Well, I think that’s wonderful,” I said. “I know, of course, that we should love all creatures but it isn’t always easy.”

That is certainly true!

If you find the fairy conversation a little far-fetched, let us tell you at the outset that it gets even more so, so you had better keep that high-pitched whistle well in mind.

Mrs Charters had a spirit guide called Father John. A spirit guide, of course, is not a fairy, he is a sort of counsellor from the world beyond the grave, come back to Earth to help in the struggles of the living. Father John, along with the spirits of six other departed, actually helped Mrs Charters write her book. Incidentally, the six were a tea planter called George, a German Prince called Ludwig, a stockbroker called Ronald, a factory foreman called Andrew, a playboy called Peter and an estate agent called John.

But it was Father John (not the estate agent) who was incidental in the organisation and description of the Fairy Congress.

Let us explain. Though Mrs Charters could occasionally see and even converse with the fairies, her abilities to do so were limited. So occasionally she got her spirit guides to describe the antics of the fairies to her, since they, the spirit guides, were psychically more able to tune into the fairy realm than she was.

One day she asked Father John if there were such things as Black Fairies. Father John replied that there were fairies of every nationality, so Mrs Charters then asked if it would be possible to invite fairies of various nationalities to come to her garden for a Fairy Congress. (We assure our readers that we are not making all this up, and that, at the time of writing, neither of us had touched a drop for days. We can only remind our readers to hang onto that high-pitched whistle for dear life.)

Father John liked the idea, and they asked Normus, who asked his boss, who in turn asked his boss. (Fairies are graded into hierarchies, a bit like the civil service, really, and are ultimately controlled by the Devas, or Angels. The organisation of a Fairy Congress clearly involves a considerable amount of Fairy red-tape.) At any rate, permission for the Congress was granted.

Weeks and even months went by, until it was finally announced, by Normus, that the Congress was fixed for 15th September 1955. Three thousand fairies from all over the world were to attend, but unfortunately, Mrs Charters was not to witness the spectacle. The reason for this was that with so many fairies about, there would be too many vibrations for her limited psychic faculties to cope with, so it was left to Father John to describe the scene.

Here is the account by Father John of the male fairies, normally resident in Mrs Charters’ garden, awaiting the arrival of the international fairy delegates:

Normus was clad in his usual green jerkin and tights but instead of his feathered cap he was sporting an Indian chief’s head-dress. Movus’ dark hair was entirely covered by a turban; this was a great concession on his part as he always goes bareheaded. Nuvic was wearing a pair of sandals and a richly embroidered Chinese kimono; Namsos was covered from head to foot in Arab garb; Gorjus was resplendent in an Indian tunic and a Chinese coolie hat, and Nixus displayed legs encased in cowboy chaps and a tiny black mandarin’s hat.

But stranger things are still to come. There is a congress within the congress, at which various international fairies discussed the problems of maintaining world peace amongst the humans (and heaven only knows, we need all the help we can get.)

One despondent fairy remarked that it was difficult to see how the fairies could help if the humans didn’t believe in them. At this point Normus announced that they had a champion amongst the humans – “A most important person. We have met him and his love for us is strong.” (This was Lord Dowding, who wrote a foreword to the book.)

The other fairies wanted to meet him too, but Normus explained that this was not possible. He was a very busy man, and in any case, Normus explained, there were psychic difficulties – he couldn’t see them, literally. Mrs Charters had therefore to act as an intermediary so that the congress could send a message to this important supporter of the fairy peace movement! Whether the message ever got there, we do not know – but we suppose not, as the world seems still to be in pretty much of a mess!

Mrs Charters died in 1991, but not before she had attracted a follower by the name of Michael Pilarski, to whom she entrusted the publication of her collected manuscripts. These are to be published in three volumes, the first of which, Forty Years with the Fairies, is currently (2008) available. Mr Pilarski has also organised a series of Annual Fairy and Human Relations Congresses, the eighth of which took place at North Cascades, Wichita, at the end of June 2008. Various (human) speakers gave talks and ran workshops on such diverse topics as talking with trees, connecting with the Fairies of the Periodic Table of the Elements, Dolphin Energy Healing, and Water Element Therapy. There is another Fairy Congress coming up in 2015, and you can read all about it at

More polished in style, but no less strange to the orthodox reader than Mrs Charters’ book, are the books of Mr Geoffrey Hodson. His classic is undoubtedly Fairies at Work and at Play, first published in 1923.

Again we are told that the fairies are essentially Nature’s helpers, and some of the descriptions are really delightful. We quote two.

The fairies are flitting through the air in short flights, taking very graceful poses as they fly. … They flit from place to place, pausing a moment between each flight. They seem to be bearing something which they give to the grass or the flowers at each stopping place, at least they put out their hand and touch the place where they come to rest, as if applying some substance, then move swiftly away again. They become more clearly visible as they alight and as they move away; one loses them after they have landed. They are female, dressed in white, or very pale pink, clinging, sheeny material of exceedingly fine texture. It is drawn in at the waist and shines with many colours like mother-of-pearl. The limbs are uncovered, the wings are oval, small and elongated.

Next we have Mr Hodson describing the not-so-nice fairies involved in the great storm in London, 10th July 1923:

Demoniacal and terrific beyond description are the beings who are to be seen exulting in the aerial regions while the jagged flashes of the lightning and the deafening roar of the thunder continue hour after hour through the night.

Their appearance suggests gigantic bats. Their bodies are human in shape, yet it is no human spirit which, brilliant as the lightning itself, shines through those large upward slanting eyes. Black as night is their colour, red and flame-like the aura which surrounds them, dividing into two large pinions behind their bodies; hair that is like a fire, streams back from the head as though in tongues of flame.

If these descriptions are not more worthy of study than some of the plays served up on today’s television, then we don’t know what is.

Mr Hodson died in 1983, at the grand old age of 96. Such is the esteem in which he is held in theosophical circles, that there is today a web-site devoted to him and his work:

Neither of us ever met or corresponded with Geoffrey Hodson, but we did correspond with a lady who did know him. She was one of the founder members of the Fairy Investigation Society, now, alas, dissolved, and part of one of her delightfully intriguing letters ran as follows:

Old ruined castles are soon beautified by creepers when the little gnomes get busy. There are fairies inside houses too, of course, and they are attracted to people who believe in them. Since they are the manipulators of the forces of nature there must be elemental beings wherever there are water taps, fires, stoves, steam from kettles etc.

We do not give this lady’s name, nor that of the town where she lives, because, in the past, she has been repeatedly pestered by journalists who, she says, “keep quoting remarks which I am supposed to have said, and which I have not said.”

But we can say that she is totally sincere in her beliefs and that at the time of writing, she is compiling a book of true accounts of various peoples’ encounters with the little people. When it appears, it will make very interesting reading indeed.

But no account of Geoffrey Hodson and the fairies would be complete without some sort of mention of the Cottingley Photographs.

These were allegedly genuine photographs of fairies taken by two young girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, in the Yorkshire village of Cottingley, in 1917. At least, that was when the first two photographs were taken. The other three were taken in 1920, after the first two (one showed a prancing gnome carrying a set of fairy bagpipes, and the other a group of fairies dancing in front of one of the girls) had been brought to the notice of the Theosophist Edward L. Gardner, and later, of the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and ardent spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Both men were convinced that the photographs were genuine, and both were to write classic books of Independent Thought about the case. In 1922, Doyle wrote The Coming of the Fairies, and in 1945, Gardner wrote Fairies – The Cottingley Photographs and Their Sequel.

Shortly after the first two photographs had been sent to Gardner by a friend, he took them to a professional photographer he knew called Snelling. Snelling pronounced them genuine, untouched photographs, and said they could not have been faked.

Kodak, however, declined to give a statement, for reasons best known to themselves.

Next, Gardner went to Cottingley to interview the two girls, and came away convinced that the photographs – and the girls – were genuine.

At that time Doyle was writing an article for The Strand Magazine on the subject of fairies, and it was decided to include the first two photographs in the article. Meanwhile, the girls were given a camera each, and asked if they could take some more fairy photographs. As we said earlier, they took three more – unfortunately, no-one else was present when they did this – and the last of the three was a rather fuzzy photograph which some fairy experts later said was a photograph of a fairy taking a magnetic sun bath.

The appearance of the first two photographs in The Strand Magazine in December 1920 caused a world-wide sensation. Accordingly, the other three photographs were incorporated into an article by Sir Arthur which appeared in the same magazine for March 1921.

For many years no-one was able to conclusively crack the case. Some people pointed out that the photographs could have been of cut-out cardboard figures, and that, coincidentally, one of the girls was quite a good artist and also worked at a photographic studio for a time. Others threw caution to the winds and stated flatly that the case showed nothing more than the absurd gullibility of Sir Arthur and E.L. Gardner at being completely taken in by two teenage girls. The blatant fraud squad view was well summed up by an American friend of ours, the late Robert J. Schadewald, who remarked that simply to see the photographs were frauds, all you needed was “a half-way functional set of eyeballs”.

Doyle was not one to be deterred by charges of excessive gullibility. After all, Geoffrey Hodson had visited Cottingley Glen and verified that it was literally teeming with fairy life. That was in 1921. Bob Forrest visited Cottingley Glen in 1976, and even took some photographs there, but he neither saw nor captured on film any fairies. In fact, he had a hard job angling the camera so as to avoid photographing an old oil drum and part of a defunct bicycle frame that had been unceremoniously dumped in the stream there. But then neither of the present authors would expect to see or photograph anything – the two girls, according to Doyle, Gardner and Hodson, had a rare combination of psychic gifts, and we, unfortunately, are decidedly non-psychic.

In 1978 the American Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP for short) put the Cottingley photographs through an image enhancement process. This is the computer technique developed and used in the American Space Program for increasing the definition of photographs taken from spacecraft. The process smooths out photographic blurring and reveals details which would otherwise be invisible to the eye. When the technique was applied to the Cottingley Photographs, there came to light what can best be described as the images of the strings which had held up the cardboard cut-outs of the fairy figures. This damning and disturbing news was reported in the magazine New Scientist on 10th August 1978, and it certainly looked for a while as if the Cottingley Photographs were done for. But then in the same publication, on 21st September 1978, Mr A. Weyman of High Wycombe stepped in to save the day: “The string in the fairy photos,” he explained, “must be fairy string.”

Thanks to Mr Weyman the Cottingley photographs lived on to reappear in the April 1979 issue of Gnome News, the official publication of the Gnome Club of Great Britain (a curious organisation run by Mrs Ann Atkin, partly to help humans to come to terms with gnomes and fairies, and partly to sell a wide variety of ornamental garden gnomes. Not to be confused with the Fairy Investigation Society.) It was an article by Robert Sheaffer, and quite simply it claimed that the Cottingley Fairies were really winged UFO pilots from outer space. Today, UFOnauts do not have wings. They do not need them, Mr Sheaffer explained, because they have now developed techniques for nullifying gravity. When the Cottingley Photographs were taken, though, in 1917, extraterrestrial technology was not as developed as it is now. In those days, they still needed “external apparatus” to hop about – hence the fairy “wings”. Incidentally, the small size of the “fairies” indicates that they came from a massive planet where the force of gravity was large, and their preoccupation with flowers and such like was probably botanical experimentation rather than play. That was Mr Sheaffer’s view of things, at any rate.

Of course, if the fairies were really UFOnauts, it is natural enough to ask why no-one saw their spaceship. We now quote Mr Sheaffer’s article:

The first series of fairy photographs was obtained during the First World War, in the summer of 1917. It is thus quite likely that the fairies’ craft, when sighted, was mistaken for one of the many German dirigibles that were seen over England at that time, and hence it would not be correctly identified as a UFO. It seems likely that these creatures may even have deliberately disguised their craft, painting German markings and emblems on it so that they could carry out their reconnaissance unrecognised. Likewise, they may have deliberately adopted the dress and mannerisms of terrestrial fairies so that their true identity as extraterrestrials would not be suspected.

Speculation would doubtless have continued well after Mr Sheaffer’s extraordinary article had it not been for the fact that in 1982 Elsie and Frances actually confessed that the photographs were fakes after all. The ‘fairies’ were paper ones, cut-out figures. It seems that the girls took the first two pictures, in 1917, principally to fool their parents. What they couldn’t foresee was the involvement of Gardner and Doyle in 1920. The joke got out of hand, and in the end it simply became too difficult to reveal the truth without severely embarrassing someone somewhere. So they stayed silent, and the controversy went on for sixty years. Actually, it didn’t quite end there, for Frances still maintained that the last of the photos – the so-called fairy sun-bath – might have shown real fairies after all.…

We only ever knew one person who had actually seen the little people for herself. She was a young girl at the time, and confined to bed with mumps. One afternoon, she said, she suddenly saw a group of little men tumbling and somersaulting about the end of her bed. Of course, conventionalists will point out that these little men were the product of a fevered brain, but we have been told otherwise, again by the lady at the Fairy Investigation Society. She wrote:

Your friend was really seeing into the Fairy World when she had these visions, because her illness must in some way have affected her etheric body (which is closely allied to the physical) and brought her nearer to ethereal things. Sometimes the fairies or elves are trying to entertain the invalid, and they can also help to heal them.

Before any of our readers dashes out to catch some delirium-inducing disease, and thence retiring to bed in the hope of coming up with a fairy vision or two, let us put their minds at ease by reproducing a less drastic method of inducing fairy vision.

It comes from a strange book called The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies which was written by the Reverend Robert Kirk, and published in 1692. The method is quite simple, but involves the services of a wizard. So, first find yourself a wizard. After that, you simply follow a few basic rules. As the original account makes somewhat confusing reading to modern eyes, we have taken the liberty of modernising it, thus:

  1. Put your left foot under the wizard’s right foot.
  2. Get the wizard to place his hand on the top of your head. Apparently, it doesn’t matter which hand he uses.
  3. Look intently over the wizard’s right shoulder.

According to Rev. Kirk, anyone who tries this will notice that the view over the wizard’s shoulder will take on a sinister appearance, which sensation will be followed by “a Multitude of Wights (i.e. fairies), like furious hardie Men, flocking to him haistily from all Quarters, as thick as Atoms in the Air.”

Rev. Kirk also gives another method for inducing fairy vision, but frankly, we can make neither head nor tail of it. It involves winding a lock of hair about your waist – the hair having been taken from a corpse, by the way – then bending down and looking back between your legs. It is the bit after this that we don’t follow, but then we think that wizards are probably easier to come by than corpse hair these days, so we are not unduly worried about being left behind by the intricacies of Rev. Kirk’s alternative method.

If, after trying the wizard experiment, you can’t get rid of the fairies again, then here is how to do it. It is not exactly pleasant, we grant you, but apparently it works. It comes from the book of translations of Old English manuscripts, referred to in the last chapter, Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England, by Oswald Cockayne:

Mix the hopplant with wormwood, bishopwort, lupin, ashthroat, henbane, harewort, viper’s bugloss, heathberry plants, cropleek, garlic, grains of hedgerife, githrife and fennel. These elements are placed in a vessel under an altar, nine masses are to be sung over them, and later they must be boiled in butter and sheep’s grease, to which should be added holy salt. They are then to be strained through a cloth, after which the worts must be thrown into running water. The foreheads of those afflicted by elves should be smeared with this salve, and it should be put on their eyes and where the body is sore.

Here is another ‘cure’, from the same source:

For a man haunted by apparitions, work a drink of a white hound’s thost, or dung, in bitter ley; wonderfully it healeth.

Personally, we are not surprised. We should think that the very thought of it would cure more or less anything!

So there you have it. If you are willing to take the risks, and have a ready supply of wizards, lupins, heathberry plants etc., then do write to us to let us know what happens.