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Comments On The Fairy-Lore Hypothesis

Mark Cashman

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: A UFO phenomenon which was no more than a version of myths about elves and fairies should have very distinct characteristics (discriminators), which do not seem to be present in the UFO phenomenon.

A UFO phenomenon which was no more than a version of myths about elves and fairies should have very distinct characteristics (discriminators), which do not seem to be present in the UFO phenomenon.

Most reports would be second hand.

Poorly educated rural witnesses would dominate.

It would display aspects of naturalism (attempts to anthropomorphize natural events).

It would vary with even minor variations in geography and culture.

Stories would be told and retold within a geographic area.

Scientific instruments would not detect the phenomenon.

Events described by the witness would be vague, but the witness conclusions on the cause would be specific and detailed, beyond anything the evidence allows.

Specific places will be made sacred to the phenomenon or designated the residence of the phenomenon, and changes to those places would be said to disturb / anger the phenomenon.

Visionaries would represent the majority of first hand accounts.

Non-visionary first person accounts would typically be of hearing or "feeling" the presence of the phenomenon rather than visual observation.

Direct interference of the phenomenon to benefit or damage specific persons would be frequent.

(Note: these characteristics are derived from Evans-Wentz "The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries")

It should be fairly clear that as long as we are discussing UFOs which meet the Hynek definition, of which there are quite a large number, that for those cases the entirety of these expected characteristics are violated.

It is also true that there are elements of the material outside or on the fringes of acceptance by the Hynek definition which sometimes falls into one or a few of these categories. For instance, high-strangeness, abductee, and contactee material frequently meets more than one of (2) (3) (7) (8) (9) (10) and (11), and there are even some similarities in the structure of such accounts. For instance, the following rather atypical fairy account (atypical in being first-hand)...

"When I was a young man I often used to go out in the mountains over there (pointing out of the window in their direction) to fish for trout, or to hunt; and it was in January on a cold, dry day while carrying my gun that I and a friend with me, as we were walking around Ben Bulbin, saw one of the gentry for the first time. I knew who it was, for I had heard the gentry described ever since I could remember; and this one was dressed in blue with a head dress adorned with what seemed to be frills.' When he came up to us, he said to me in a sweet and silvery voice, "The seldomer you come to this mountain the better. A young lady here wants to take you away." Then he told us not to fire off our guns, because the gentry dislike being disturbed by the noise. And he seemed to be like a soldier of the gentry on guard. As we were leaving the mountains, he told us not to look back, and we didn't." (EW p 45)

is somwhat similar to a fairly small percentage of CE3 and CE4 accounts, where the occupants allegedly impart information to the witness about themselves and their purpose, and suggest their knowledge of the witness.

On the other hand, there are a few "fairy-lore" accounts which have some resemblance to modern UFO events. For instance, this first hand account from Evans-Wentz (p83):

To another of my fellow students in Oxford, a native Irishman of County Kerry, I am indebted for the following evidence... "Some few weeks before Christmas, 1910, at midnight on a very dark night, I and another young man (who like myself was then about twenty three years of age) were on horseback on our way home from Limerick. When near Listowel, we noticed a light about half a mile ahead. At first it seemed to be no more than a light in some house ; but as we came nearer to it and it was passing out of our direct line of vision we saw that it was moving up and down, to and fro, diminishing to a spark, then expanding into a yellow luminous flame. Before we came to Listowel we noticed two lights, about one hundred yards to our right, resembling the light seen first. Suddenly each of these lights expanded into the same sort of yellow luminous flame, about six feet high by four feet broad. In the midst of each flame we saw a radiant being having human form. Presently the lights moved toward one another and made contact, whereupon the two beings in them were seen to be walking side by side. The beings' bodies were formed of a pure dazzling radiance, white like the radiance of the sun, and much brighter than the yellow light or aura surrounding them. So dazzling was the radiance, like a halo, round their heads that we could not distinguish the countenances of the beings; we could only distinguish the general shape of their bodies; though their heads were very clearly outlined because this halo like radiance, which was the brightest light about them, seemed to radiate from or rest upon the head of each being. As we travelled on, a house intervened between us and the lights, and we saw no more of them."

The difference between this and a classic fairy account (or even the atypical one cited above) are obvious. We have multiple witnesses, seeing unexplainable lights with unusual behavior that are estimated to have a specific size and be in a specific location. Escalation of hypothesis (attempts to account for the observation with mundane explanations, a feature of the most credible UFO cases) occurs. No communication is attempted, and the phenomenon departs. The witnesses do not obtain information on classifications of the fairies or their culture.

Sociologically, despite opportunities for "fairy-like" belief systems to evolve in concentration and flap areas, this does not seem to have occurred. For instance, though the 1965 Exeter accounts (such as the Muscarello incident) led to much concern among residents and the telling of cases among residents, none of the other characteristics of fairy lore evolved, nor did the descriptions of the objects observed converge on a common model. The Gulf Breeze sightings also did not evolve into a fairy-like belief, despite the long duration of those sightings and the active participation of people who wanted to see the phenomenon. Obviously, more detailed studies of the sociological context and development of these concentrations would be interesting, but there seems little desire in the sociological community for such projects.

In conclusion, a "fairy" model for the UFO phenomenon as represented by cases which pass the Hynek filter does not seem to be justified when UFO and fairy accounts and the characteristics of the body of such accounts are compared. Indeed, it is disappointing that Vallee, a physical scientist who has advocated the connection between the two types of material, did not take a scientific approach similar to that outlined briefly above, but instead chose to use merely subjective case by case similarity.

I do believe there is a significant value in having reseearchers be aware of the structure and content of various types of myth so that they can identify and properly discount UFO material which seems to have those characteristics.

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