Fairies are Animals
Animals are unique among the forces of nature because while we must always imagine the life of a sun or the desires of a tree, we can witness those of animals. In many cases the original deities of Europe, the Indo-Europeans, and other peoples were in fact animals that they were later personified as humans. In most cases we certainly see the importance of animals to people’s lives when Boudica, one of the Celtic Queens of Briton, went to war against the Romans she used hares to help her divine the path she should take. Hares were important to the Celtic and Germanic peoples, in part, because they were the animals of witches and fairies, a tradition which perhaps lives on in the modern Easter Bunny. It’s important to remember that just as humans often turned into fairies and fairies often manifested as humans, fairies could also be personified as animals, and animals at times turn into fairies. In other words, animals can be “magical in themselves, with special powers and an independent way of life.” (Briggs, 1967) It’s possible then that humans and animals are simply different forms of the same soul, different points in a fairy evolution that is more complex than the mortal one.
Animals which are powerful enough to be considered fairies come in four categories: the first are natural forces which are personified as animals, the second are deities or the symbols of deities, and the third are animals which have gained enough power to be considered magical beings in their own right– in essence, the wizards of the animal world. Finally, the dead spirits of animals may have been able to become fairies just as the dead spirits of humans can. Nature’s spirits in the forms of goats, boars, birds, hares, and other animals are important to humans as these are the spirits of the grain and farms, the spirits that make crops flourish and grow as we shall see further in the “Home, Heath, and Field” section of their books.
Grain fairies are not the only nature fairy manifested as an animal, however. As mentioned previously, the eel and trout were often manifestations of the wells and sacred springs. This is one point most people miss when trying to determine where the myth of the Loch Ness monster originated. According to some accounts, the eel would almost fit the descriptions of the Loch Ness monster perfectly except for the fact that eels don’t get long enough, and they don’t stick their head out of the water the way Nessy does (cryptozoology.com).
However, both of these challenges to the eel theory are made mute if the creature is in fact an ancient fairy/deity of the Celtic people. One of the first written sightings of Nessy would seem to support this idea as it was by a missionary which Nessy was trying to stop from crossing the loch. A missionary who then rebuked Nessy in a story that fits the common tale themes invented by missionaries and saints who would claim to have been able to rebuke the gods and fairies of the Celtic people in order to prove they were greater than the beings the people originally worshiped. Given that the first written account of the creature is in essence an attempt at making it appear to be a demon, we can presume that further attempts were made to do the same to convince people to forget about it which is why our understanding of it is so meager but for a few sighting stories scattered through history.
Nessy isn’t the only large creature water fairies manifest as. The Kelpie is another example of a large, water fairy taking the form of an animal, a horse. The Kelpie attempts to lure people into trying to ride or catch it so that it can drag them into the water where it will drown them. There are a number of possible reasons why water fairies might have killed humans. It’s possible that the water fairies were attempting to gain the energy from sacrifices which no longer were being given to them. It’s also possible that after people stopped respecting these fairies, they became cruel. Just as with any deity of ancient times, they began to punish people after the people stopped worshiping them. Another possibility is that to these immortal beings drowning a human was, in essence, a mischievous prank much like a Greek nymph would play. It’s also conceivable that fairies would kill people in order to help them enter the spirit world at just the right time to benefit themselves or the human which they had killed. For a being living in the afterlife, death can be considered a form of birth. Finally, it is conceivable that the stories of Kelpie attacks were simply fabricated in order to discredit the water fairies or, as with everything else, some combination of all these motives are possible so that different fairies would have different reasons for acting the way they do.
Moccus, one of the many deities of vegetation and agricultural fertility, was said to manifest himself as a boar. Among the Irish, the boars were so important that their swineherds were given otherworldly knowledge in many folk tales. In Saxon mythology, the symbol of the boar was believed to protect people from harm when it was worn on their helmets. (Davidson and Davidson, 1989) Tacitus makes note of this as well. In his observation, the boar and the protection it provided represented their worship of the Mother of the gods.
“They worship the Mother of the gods and, as the symbol of their superstition, they carry about them the figures of wild boars. This serves them in place of armor and every other defence: it renders the votary of the goddess safe even in the midst of foes.” (Tacitus, 98)
In Ireland, cats are regarded as fairies in their own right. In one story, a man tells a fairy tale about how he encountered a procession of cats in much the same way one would encounter a procession of fairies. The cats in the procession seemed to be mourning the death of the king of the cats. When the storyteller had finished his tale, a cat which was resting in the room with him said “By Jove, old Peter’s dead. I’m the King of the cats.” The cat than fled up the chimney in a flash and was never seen again.” (Briggs, 1967)
Jacob Grimm asserts that Puss in Boots is actually the tale of a house fairy who has taken the form of a cat. In Scotland the Cait Sidhe is a fairy that manifests itself as a black cat with a white spot on its chest. In addition to cats acting as fairies, otters are also considered to be a form of fairy with a master otter waited upon by many other otters. (Briggs, 1967)
In addition to manifesting as animals, fairies and deities have used various animals as messengers such as using the white stage which was the messenger from the other world. Within Scandinavian and Germanic mythology, Odin used ravens as messengers and Thor used robins.
People had a natural fear of animals because, while the spirits of trees were rarely seen, animals were something people encountered daily. This mixed with the fact that people feared encountering fairies meant that fairies which manifested as animals were especially fearful. People harvesting in the fields often feared the manifestation of the grain as a wolf that would attempt to devour them or make them ill. Animals were often believed to be the most primal of fairies. People, after all, greatly fear predatory animals which are the reasons that there are “Little Red Riding Hood” stories about nearly every predatory animal from bears to tigers to wolves across nearly every land from the Celtic world to China. I would argue that people tend to miss the original idea behind Little Red because unfortunately the two, best known stories were written by people with ulterior motives. People who wanted to give Little Red a more “modern” morality and who perhaps never understood what its original moral could be as they were city dwellers in a time when wolves had long since learned to fear man, and fairies were less important to human society.
In one of the more original versions of the story from France, Red follows her mother’s instructions perfectly. We see this same perfect following of instructions occurring in China as well so it isn’t an isolated incident but a world-wide phenomenon. Yet despite her obedience, she still nearly falls into the trap of a wolf or the bear which is trying to eat her. In both tales, however, she outsmarts the beast and escapes. Yet she doesn’t get off scot free. In the French version, the girl is tricked into eating her grandmother, burning her clothes, and then getting into bed naked with the wolf. Yet she did nothing wrong; nothing to deserve what happened to her. It’s no wonder that the Grimm Brothers among others have edited this story so greatly in order to give it meaning. What could be the moral to such a dark story when the character did nothing wrong?
To understand the meaning behind Little Red, we can’t view it from our world; a world without fairies, without dangerous animals, without any primal fears of the forest. We have to consider what this story would mean given the much more feral world in which people used to live. A world inhabited by fairies and dangerous predators which hadn’t yet learned to fear humans. In such a world, the moral to beware of wolves and, of course, evil fairies that look like wolves would be of the utmost importance. Just as a Christian story might have the moral of to beware of the devil. In a Christian story we would expect the hero to avoid temptation and wouldn’t ponder what the moral was when they did so. In a fairy story, however, the hero would be expected to outsmart the evil fairy, and no one at the time would have wondered what the moral was. Indeed, in the more original version of Little Red, the girl deceives the wolf in much the same way one might deceive a fairy or an ogre in other fairy tales. Thus, the moral may simply be that when you are faced with these evil spirits, you need to be clever as cleverness is one of the highest forms of morality in a world where survival is a constant struggle.