Tuesday, August 23, 2016
The Good and Bad Fairies by H. Swift 1881
The Good and Bad Fairies by H. Swift 1881
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On the wings of memory go we back for a moment to the days of our childhood—that happy dawn of our life when everything around us seemed to us as fresh and bright and sweet as were our own innocent hearts; when we had no bitter regrets for the past, because the past was but a brief one of infantile guilelessness; and no anxious forebodings of the future, because we then lived altogether in the present; when for us there was a joy in every gleam of sunshine; and in the soft springy turf; and in the bird's nest which we found in the hedgerow; and in the butterflies which, cap in hand, we so eagerly chased; and in the wild-flowers which we gathered into nosegays or wove into graceful garlands. It was in those happy days that there was for us such a charm in stories of fairy life and in stories of human life, such as "Cinderella" and "The Sleeping Beauty," in which the fairy element was prominent. Such was then the vividness and impressionability of our imagination, that things fantastic and impossible became to us real and natural. No tale of enchantment, no terrible story of fierce giant or fiery dragon, was too wonderful for our belief. The good fairies, who in our tale-books were exhibited as the friends of the virtuous, the helpless, and the unfortunate; the bad fairies, who were depicted as the busy enemies of everybody, always seeking to sow discord, and destroy peace, and implant misery in human hearts and human homes, all were equally real to us. As we read or heard the stories of fairy doings, we could feel our hearts glow with love and gratitude to the good fairies, who were so compassionate and kind, and we could feel them beat with fear and hatred of the bad fairies, who were so malicious and cruel. We now smile at our vivid imagination of those days, and almost wonder that we ever can have been so simple and credulous. But may it not be that our childish simplicity and credulity was not a thing only worthy of being laughed at? May it not be, indeed, that for our ready belief in fairy guardians and fairy enemies there was a deeper cause than many of us now are disposed to imagine?" Heaven lies about us in our infancy!" wrote the poet; and it is possible that in our childhood's days we believed in supernatural beings and supernatural things so much more easily than we now do, because our perception of the reality and nearness of the inner and higher world was not so dull as it has since become through our immersion in worldly thought and feeling. When, as innocent children, we read or heard of kind fairy guardians, perhaps we could feel somewhat of the influence of those guardian angels of little children of whom our Lord said, "Their angels do always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven." And may be when we read or heard of the wicked fairies, we could perceive their likeness to those evil spirits who, like Satan, who
"Finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do,"
we were taught had so much to do with our occasional fits of naughtiness.
And now, on the wings of imagination, let us for a moment go back to the time when our world itself was young. From the fragmentary legends and traditions which that remote past has bequeathed to us, it would seem that the earth's inhabitants of that age were much more childlike than those of nowadays. The spirit of selfishness, which, more than anything else, has been the destroyer of the spirit of childish simplicity, had not then attained the proportions which it attained in subsequent ages of spiritual declension and increasing alienation from God; and we may suppose, therefore, that to the eyes of God's earthly children of those days the world of nature would be, more than it is to us, an open book, through whose pages they might discern a fuller measure of the light of the inner and spiritual world, manifesting to them the heavenly Father's nearness and love, and the nearness and love of His angelic children also. In such times we may imagine it was that the germs of some of the fairy stories which were our delight when we were children, and are equally the delight of children now, had their birth; for, wonderful though it seem, it is nevertheless true that some of the fairy stories most popular with our children—stories, moreover, which in varying forms are found in almost every European and Asiatic country —have been traced back to the remote past, and to the Eastern lands, in that past, where the sun of religion and science and civilization seems first to have shone. When we, in this practical age, first glance at these old fairy legends, they seem to us but puerile and foolish: but a deeper study of them reveals the fact that underlying them there are great and eternal truths; for when reduced, as they have been by our comparative mythologists, to their primitive form, they are found to have relation to the old old battle between good and evil, truth and falsehood, in the mind of man; the good being represented by the warmth and radiance of the sun, of which the good fairies were the types; and the bad being represented by the darkness and chilliness of the night, of which the evil fairies were the types. Thus does it happen that the idea of good fairies and evil fairies, held by our English ancestors of comparatively recent times, can finally be traced back to the peoples of the ancient world, and to their symbolic personification of the opposing principles of good and evil in the human mind. In ancient Persia, for example, the prototypes of our own good fairies were the Peris-—representative of the sun's rays, or of the morning or evening aurora, and primarily of the rays of the spiritual sun of love and truth; and the prototypes of our own evil fairies were the Divs—representative of the black clouds of night, and primarily of the darkness of evil and falsehood.
From the Eastern lands of their birth, these old myths, in the course of ages, gradually travelled westwards, changing their form in adaptation to the character and idiosyncrasy of the peoples which received them, until at last some of them had taken root in almost every country of the Western world; and in none did they find a more settled home, or give rise to a richer and more poetic fairy-lore, or exercise a more powerful influence on the lives of the people, than in our own dear England.
In these days of railway-whistles and steam-ploughs, the belief in fairies has wellnigh died out among us, only lingering in a few out-of-the-way corners of our land where the din and sootiness of our civilization have so far not penetrated. But in England of the olden time people were simpler than they now are—perhaps we ought to say more superstitious: but, after all, it may be that, like some of the superstitions still cherished among us, their superstitions were only perversions of genuine truths which had been held in distant times, and perhaps distant lands: it may be, in fact, that their belief in the existence of good and bad fairies had its origin in a much earlier and truer belief in the existence of guardian angels of light and tempting spirits of darkness, and in their active interference in the concerns of human life.
This idea is certainly borne out by a consideration of the offices and functions commonly attributed to the fairies by our English ancestors. For instance, if an honest and industrious man was successful in his undertakings, his success was held to be in great part due to the helping hand of friendly attendant fairies. If the house of a clean and orderly housewife wore an air of homely comfort; the fire blazing cheerfully, without accompaniment of smoky chimney; the floors, dishes, and pans free from dirt and dust; everything clean and in its proper place; it used to be said that the good fairies had taken up their abode in that house. If, in homestead or cottage, cleanliness, temperance, and mutual kindness were the ruling virtues of the inmates, it was supposed to be the good fairies who painted their faces with the flush of health and happiness, and at night blessed them with peaceful sleep and cheerful dreams. The successful labours in the well-ordered dairy; the rich harvests of corn and fruit and vegetables yielded by the well-ploughed and well-tilled fields; the abundant flowers and fruits which responded to the touch of the careful gardener, —all were viewed as rewards administered to their favourites by kind and friendly fairies. And, on the other hand, when the same simple people saw that punishment in one form or another always came in the wake of vice, their credulous minds readily figured to themselves the agents of the punishment as deformed and hideous fairy imps. In the abode of tie slattern, the idler, and the drunkard, dirt, discomfort, and disease were seen to prevail; poverty came in at the door, while love flew out at the window; household and cooking operations were always going wrong; the garments of husband, wife, and children always falling into rags; crockery and window-panes always breaking; furniture and floors becoming day by day more thickly covered with a pall of dust and dirt; and sickness and sour temper continually breaking out, adding misery to misery. At night, too, it was known that the inmates of the unhappy house, instead of enjoying refreshing sleep, were the victims of sleeplessness and horrible dreams. And all these pains and penalties were thought to be the work of tormenting fairies, who had been attracted to the house by its congenial sphere, and were now venting their malicious spite upon its miserable inhabitants.
In our day of enlightenment we should, of course, say that experiences such as those referred to were the natural outcome of causes quite adequate to produce them; that prosperity, health, and happiness might reasonably be expected to result from the practice of such virtues as sobriety, industry, honesty, and mutual kindness; and the contrary evils to result from the practice of the opposite vices. And, of course, we should be quite correct in so saying. But, nevertheless, it may with truth be said that our simple forefathers, who believed that good and evil fairies had to do with the production of such results, were also in a certain sense right; for, putting aside for the moment the evil fairies, have not all of us often heard those who are neat, clean, industrious, good-tempered, and gentle in word and deed, spoken of as "good fairies"? Ay, and we who have known such "good fairies," know that they have power to perform miracles of kindness and blessing quite as great as those recorded of their supernatural predecessors of bygone days. Not alone is it true that they are always cheerful and contented themselves; but, in addition, they are the "good fairies" of the lives of all around them. They come to us when we are weighed down by some heavy anxiety; and, by the enchantment of a few simple words of comfort, they ease us of one-half our burden. Or they come to us when we are in the throes of some great sorrow; and immediately through the cloud of our grief they radiate a cheering and strengthening beam of sympathy. Or they come to us when we are struggling with some labour or difficulty which seems too heavy for us; and by the magic of their genial presence, and hearty words of cheer, they quickly infuse new life into our wearied energies. These are the visible "good fairies" of our time, as they have been of all times: and it is for us to try to enroll ourselves in their happy company; so that, like them, we may carry strength, comfort, blessing, and moral sunshine with us wherever we go.
In order, however, that we may be enabled to do this, we must first make friends of what may fitly be termed the invisible "good fairies;" that is to say, the good suggestions and impulses which, without effort on our part, come to us from within our souls, for our guidance and government in our daily walk of duty. These, though invisible, are of all "good fairies" the most potent; for their work is to make the minds of those who cherish and obey them the beauteous reflex of themselves; and finally, to fit them for a place in the heavenly Father's family in His angelic kingdom. Messengers are they from our God who slumbers not nor sleeps, telling us of His unwearying watchfulness and tender care for His earthly children! With our whole heart, then, let us welcome these invisible "good fairies" when they come to us, and not repel them by acting in opposition to them—by being impatient when they tell us to be patient, violent when they tell us to be gentle, discontented when they tell us to be contented, or idle when they tell us to be industrious. Ever close at hand are hosts of invisible "evil fairies," in the guise of selfish and sinful suggestions and inclinations, whose aim it is to make us, as to our souls, as deformed and hideous as were the fabled hobgoblins that were the terror of our simple forefathers; but, God be thanked! if we make the invisible "good fairies" our protectors, by giving them an abiding-place in our breasts, never shall these "evil fairies" have power to harm us; on the contrary, they shall be more and more banished from the scene, until at last, in so far as depends upon us, the reign of the "good fairies" shall be completely established, and earth shall become as heaven.