A Delightful Fate
The season of Pentecost celebrates the time when Christian believers received the spirit of their deity. The mythologies of the world celebrate the spirits of one’s beliefs. The world fate often is used as one’s destiny but in truth, the word comes from the Latin “fatum” a form of the verb “fari” which meant to speak. Thus one’s fate was something spoken, a decision. It became a word that ultimately meant one’s destiny since what one said reflected what one believed and how one lived. The spirits that help influence this were known collectively as the Fates, much like the Greek Moirai, a group of spirits who determined the course and end of one’s life.
We tend to think of mythological creatures as being larger than life; most deities are as well. After all, we want those spirits that can affect the history of mankind to do so with great fanfare. We think of miracles as large “Hollywood-style” productions. While the focuses of some spiritual beliefs are calmer, even their main characters possess great power and knowledge.
In 1691, a Scottish minister named Robert Kirk put pen to paper to tell of a different type of mythological creature. His characters were not new and had been a part of Celtic folklore and myths forever. Once depicted as being quite tall, by the time Robert Kirk wrote of them, their size had been greatly reduced. “These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People…are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (like those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the subtlety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure.”
The word” faeries” has an often disputed etymology and the faeries we see pictures in children’s books are a relatively new version. Their origins are a melting of various elements of mythologies and folklore from different parts of the world. Many believe they were originally minor goddesses, spirits of nature who took their revenge upon mankind when the natural world was mistreated. Thus the term faerie has been used to indicate trolls, goblins, gnomes, or ethereal spirits. They are sometimes called wee folk, good folk, people of peace, or the Welsh “tylwyth teg which translates as “fair folk”.
Celtic faeries are said to live in nature, often hiding, and are portrayed as a diminutive race driven into caves and underground by invaders. These enchanted creatures either protected the good people or could extract revenge upon the evil. In western parts of Europe ancient mythologies described faeries as personified aspects of nature, similar to the ancient gods and goddesses who had their origins in personified elements of life and questions about it.
The advent of Christianity in the first century ACE had no room for such mythological creatures as faeries. The Irish banshee and Scottish “bean shith” were referred to as a ghost, a woman who lived underground. There was no room in the Abrahamic faiths for such creatures. Their angels might seem like faeries but they were divine creatures, not creatures of nature. While medieval England portrayed faeries as both helper and hindrance, Victorian England explained mythological creatures as aspects of nature and faeries as metaphors for the night sky and stars.
Faeries are also found in ancient Greek mythology and are closely aligned to the Greek word “daimon” which means Spirit. The nymphs the classical poet Homer wrote about in his works “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” could be considered faeries. The Roman penates, lares, and genii from Roman mythology were also faery creatures. It is easy to see how the word “daimon” came to mean evil faeries known as demons.
I think the real benefit of our mythological spirits and stories is found in the Victorian definitions of them. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which something is compared to another thing, both things being very different. One example is: “The road was a ribbon of moonlight.” Victorian England sought to justify the telling of these stories without compromising one’s religion. They became metaphors, much like the stories found in the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths. The difference was that religious stories were held to be true while myths were considered fables of the imagination.
The real test of validity lies in the spirit of the believer. In 1891 W.B. Yeats wrote: “Do you think the Irish peasant would be so full of poetry if he had not his fairies? Do you think the peasant girls of Donegal, when they are going to service inland, would kneel down as they do and kiss the sea with their lips if both sea and land were not made lovable to them by beautiful legends and wild sad stories? Do you think the old men would take life so cheerily and mutter their proverb, ‘The lake is not burdened by its swan, the steed by its bridle, or a man by the soul that is in him,’ if the multitude of spirits were not near them?”
The legends and myths of the world give us a better understanding of both the world and mankind. Like the word fate, they speak of what we believe, how we live, and ultimately how we will die. Whether you consider something folklore, mythology, or doctrine, the spirits in which we believe shape our lives. “Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good.” Those words from the classic “Beowulf” are an example of the importance fate has been given by mankind. For many, fate is an inescapable shadow. For others, fate is merely the road upon which we travel, neither threatening nor constrictive.
The characters of the myths of man are really metaphors and if we take heed, they can assist us in our living. We might not live on the top of Mount Olympus but we can make every abode our own palace and live our own beliefs. Small children delight in the stories of faeries and often have a favorite. Such differences in their likes and dislikes are seen as individual, not threatening. Yet as adults, we often see the differences in beliefs as fearful. Hopefully one day we can truly learn from such myths and create our own fate, a road of success for all built upon a foundation of respect and reverence for all life. As William Ernest Henley wrote in his “Echoes of Life and Death”: “It matters not how strait the gate; How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”