When we use the term ‘faerie’ (or ‘fairie’ or ‘fae’), we bring a lot of treacly associations with it. One of the first things that you see folks who talk about faeries do is combat these images, noting that faeries have a wide range of forms and expressions, and very few of them are particularly sweet in the Tinkerbell sense. R. J. Stewart, in his Living World of Faery, jars the reader’s Romantic expectations and suggests that the legends of Bigfoot likely have their roots in faery encounters, for example.
These same people often undermine this by making use of a style of illustration and design that has its roots in the same Neo-Romantic Celt-wash that gives birth to Tinkerbell. The cover to Stewart’s aforementioned book or its illustrations? Almost exclusively suggest a rural and British pastoral-pagan scene. To the extent that faerie acquires any aesthetic bite, it tends to be a simple variation on this theme, limning it with gothic or, occasionally, punk elements (I’m looking at you, Changeling). This strips away the alien of faeirie and, at best, makes it the human weird.
While we could say that this is ‘just’ art and advertising, it does seem to have an effect on how sensible occultists think about it. Consider Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki’s take on how faerie are represented. She identifies the power of representation to be strictly human. Whether talking about faeires or gods, she suggests:
All forms … are the forms that we, as human beings, have decided they should wear.
This seems like a decidedly modern bad habit of thought, because we have come to identify ourselves deeply with our intellectual capacities. We don’t realize that these capacities aren’t entirely ours, that they provide the tools for spirits to interact with us as well as giving us the tools to interact with spirit. The forms they wear aren’t the ones we simply give them, but the ones that they carve out of our world of sense-perception, our imagination and experience. In this, we are more medium than artist.
That’s important because when we talk about what most people call faeries, we are talking about beings that operate very closely with our material existence, that are constantly moving through it, providing the structures that will become material and become capable of sustaining spiritual force. They are the forces through which manifestation becomes possible. When Dolores observes that they are primordial, an ever-present present, which predate the gods of antiquity, she is getting close to this, but still missing something.
They, tied to the powers of manifestation, are that through which the spirits called gods have to pass in order to acquire form and substance. They must make treaty with these forces and only through those forces then find access to our capacities for imagination and craft which can be put to use in giving them a place in the human world.
Ashcroft-Nowicki observes the importance of Pan in this account, as a figure who predates the Olympian pantheon but is nonetheless counted among their number. We could think of Hecate, especially as conceived by Proclus, who is the limit through which Zeus acquires his force. The names associated with these powers shift and by the Renaissance, it seems like many of the so-called pagan survivals refer to the faerie powers that still use the forms, rather than the gods who once found cultus through them. The hunt of Diana that will give inspiration to Leland’s Aradia seems to be faerie.
We should consider, too, the mythology of the jinn in the Middle East and the lore surrounding the impact of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam on those powers. With the Abrahamic faiths, we see a set of relationships with the higher realms emerging that operates outside of the usual channels, that develops an iconoclasm that seems to diminish the influence of the faerie realm as a vehicle of contact and revelation. Consider Buddhism, consider Ifa, in this sort of light. Consider the differentiation of spirits into those that have accepted these changed relationships and those that oppose them (the enemies of the dharma, the unconverted jinn, the pagan faeries, et.,).
Also consider the role of these spirits in the mysteries of incarnation. Accepting the gnostic belief that the spark that defines us comes from beyond this world, it enters into this world, into incarnation, by a series of relationships with the powers of this world, the faeries. There are a series of pacts or alliances that define our existence which have their basis in the faerie realm. Reincarnation makes sense in this, without exactly being a necessity.