Look beyond Santa and enjoy inspiration from elves, the fae, and other not-so-hidden creatures.
“The Kingdom of Elves was inside of the Land of Ireland. It lived in its bosom, concealed in its own light, in its days and cycles. And so it remains, even if men and women fly from the thought of it. Even if they deny it,” offers Marie Johanne Croteau-Meurois in her book The Portal of Elves: Memories from Elsewhere.
I met Marie at the last West Coast stop on my book tour, back when the world was still open. I had just shared from my book Spiritual Rebel, led the group in some creative spiritual practices, and then opened the floor for Q&A. Hers was the first question, “How do you feel about elves?” I smiled and admitted honestly, “I’m not sure.” Marie handed me a copy of her book, and I promised to read it. The pandemic hit, and my world wobbled before I could.
Yet, the holiday season’s ushering in of elves—of the Santa type and the Will Ferrell variety—sent me to my bookshelf to study up. I soon realized that Christmas elves hammering away in a toy workshop is a fairly recent idea―popularized in the mid-1800s as various European and Scandinavian traditions were mashed together for children’s books and holiday advertising. Which is perhaps, why I’ve never really taken elves seriously—they seem so commercial.
Yet, the history of elves in literature—and the continued proliferation of books with elven characters—is downright compelling. Rebellious, in fact. “Modern literature was supposed to act as a catalyst for the criticism of religion,” explains Dirk Johannsen, a professor at the University of Oslo. “By substantiating academic theories and cultural ideologies in the form of narratives, literature acted as a catalyst, providing prototypical representations of how religion might look, feel, and be performed.”
And, in contrast to a divine world that was exclusively contained “up there,” earth-based spiritual traditions continue to explore the possibilities of mystical and supernatural experience on this planet. Because some events seem to call out for us to expand our consciousness about other beings and realms.
For example, a very odd thing recently happened to my husband. He was laboriously trying to remove the wing of a cast-iron dragonfly that lives in one of my gardens in order to repaint it. Alas, the screws were stripped. After a few choice four-letter words, he abandoned the project. The next morning when he returned to his workshop, the wing was off the body, and the removed screws were placed nearby. Understandably, he freaked out. I suggested perhaps he had imbibed too much scotch and had done some black-out repair work. He laughed, reminded me that I was the recovering alcoholic, and quipped back, “Nice try.”
Knowing that many of my neo-pagan and Wiccan friends swear on run-ins with huldufólk (or “hidden folk”) or the fae, I decide to reach out to one. Wendy Van Allen runs the Soul Blossom Center in New York’s Hudson Valley and has been initiated into three Wiccan traditions. She’s also a daughter of Obatala in the Lucumi tradition and a practicing Spiritist. So, I knew she’d have something to say on this topic.
I asked Wendy one straightforward question: WTF is going on in our garden and workshop? She replied, quite simply, “Oh, you might have faeries.” I looked at her incredulously. She countered, “You are willing to believe in all the metaphysical and spiritual things you write about, and you draw the line at faeries?” I had to admit she had a point.
At Wendy’s suggestion, we placed a small offering of art supplies in the workshop. According to tradition, in the event we did have faeries, this might please them. And whenever Sean goes through the door, he now offers a “hello, faeries!”
Next, I read up on hidden folks—of the holiday type and the year-rounders—to learn more about the traditions and tales of the magical. And finally, I signed up to attend the Global Fairy Congress.
In sum, I became willing to embrace enchantment. To entertain the idea that some things cannot be proved by my scientific, rational mind. Nor my finely-crafted theological beliefs. Admittedly, I’m excited to see who might show up in the workshop next.
Tips for becoming enchanted:
Read: Dig into the rich stories of hidden (and not-so-hidden) folk through Scottish poet Andrew Lang’s classic Blue Fairy Book. Explore the mischievous side of fae folk and wild creatures with Varla Ventura’s Fairies, Pookas and Changelings: A Complete Guide to the Wild and Wicked Enchanted Realm. Journey with Marie Johanne Croteau-Meurois as she shares her enchanted adventure in The Portal of Elves: Memories from Elsewhere.
Watch: Grab some popcorn, a blanket, and settle in for The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two. Admittedly, I’m a fan because Yule Cat makes an appearance. The backstory of this feisty feline hails from Iceland, where Yule Cat is said to lurk around the countryside, ready to pounce on—and eat—anyone who doesn’t receive new clothes before Christmas. I know, weird, right? It’s suggested the tradition developed as an incentive for workers to finish processing autumn wool quickly—if not, they got no new clothes and might become Yule Cat’s food. (Another reason to consider vegan fashion?)
Experience: Twice a year, the Global Fairy Congress meets to communicate and co-create with nature spirits, fairies, devas, and sidhe. The Congress explains, “We don’t just believe in magic, we ARE Magic, and we choose to live that truth in grounded presence.” Its winter event includes speakers from Earth traditions and indigenous traditions, a faerie seer, musicians, and artists (this year via Zoom). Or check out its annual summer in-person festivities full of music, dancing, creative group rituals, and personal healing offerings.
Learn: If you’ve had unexplainable events you want another opinion on, set up a session with a spiritual counselor to explore the possibilities.
Keep Reading: “The Magical Potential of Doors.”