On the Fairy Road

An exploration of historic and modern Fairy beliefs, and more generally Irish-American and Celtic folk beliefs, from both an academic and experiential perspective.

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Recommended Reading: the Academic Version

Annotated Reading List

I’ve been asked recently to provide a more indepth recommended reading list for people interested in researching fairies from a more academic angle. I have previously in various places offered short lists but never a longer one, so it did seem like a good suggestion. Today I’m going to write about many of the books I have found valuable in my own personal studies, and I hope that will in turn be helpful to others. These are specifically academically focused works, rather than more general sources, which means they were written by people working within the field they were writing about (or a closely related one) or published by university presses, as far as I am aware.

 

General
Claude Lecouteux – (multiple titles): Demons and Spirits of the Land. This text looks at belief around land spirits across Europe.

      Phantom Armies of the Night. A treatise on the Wild Hunt across the cultures in which it appears, including related fairy beliefs.

      The Tradition of Household Spirits. Mostly focused on Germanic and related European beliefs but a good discussion of the idea of household spirits and fairies.

      The Hidden History of Elves and Dwarves. Lecouteux’s take on beliefs around dwarves and elves. Not, in my opinion, his strongest work but still valuable.

Katherine Briggs – (multiple titles): The Vanishing People: Fairy Lore and Legends A very good look at fairy lore across europe, especially Celtic. 

       The Anatomy of Puck. A particularly essential look at the contrasting approaches that appear in different regional beliefs and between socio-economic demographics and groups.

       The Fairies in Tradition and Literature – one of Briggs’ most important works in my opinion, a look at fairy beliefs broken down by popular motifs and themes

       A Dictionary of Fairies. Essential resource for anyone interested in the subject it breaks down fairylore across multiple European cultures into dictionary style entries.

Diane Purkiss – At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, and Other Troublesome Things. An expansive look at fairy beliefs across cultures and time.

Karin Olsen & Jan Veenstra (editors) – Airy Nothings: Imagining the Otherworld of Faerie From the Middle Ages to the Age of Reason.  A collection of articles exploring concepts of fairies across various European cultures.

Simon Young and Ceri Houlbrook (editors) - Magical Folk: British and Irish Fairies 500 AD to the Present. A wide ranging anthology that includes material about a variety of fairies and fairy beliefs from assorted areas of Britain as well as Ireland.

Jan Beveridge – Children Into Swans: Fairy Tales and the Pagan Imagination. A study of both fairy lore and fairy tales across European cultures, with a focus on some specific types and times.

Peter Narveaz – The Good People: New Fairylore Essays. A collection of essays about fairy beliefs across the Celtic language speaking areas an diaspora into the late 20th century. Extremely insightful and fascinating.

 

Irish

Patricia Lysaght – The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger. An amazingly thorough look at folk beliefs around the bean sidhe and the spirits possible sources. Also necessarily touches on other tangential fairy beliefs within its wider contents.

 

Scottish
Emma Wilby – The Visions of Isobel Gowdie. Isobel Gowdie is one of the most well-known witch from the early modern period in Scotland

Robert Kirk  - The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies. A seminal work on Scottish fairylore. It is short and may be difficult for modern English speakers to work through because the language and style are not modern English, however it offers invaluable insight into 17th century fairy beliefs in Scotland

Brian Walsh – The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex. A discussion of Kirk’s writing including both the original text and a great deal of essential context for Kirk’s life and writing.

Lizanne Henderson and Edward Cowan – Scottish Fairy Belief. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Scottish belief specifically the authors do a thorough job of reviewing the available historic evidence with a good understanding of the difficulties in dealing with the sources.

Lizanne Henderson – The Guid Neighbours: Fairy Belief in Early Modern Scotland, 1500 – 1800. Henderson’s master’s degree thesis, a fascinating look at Scottish fairy beliefs. Particularly useful in establishing what fairies are in a Scottish context and how they fit into a wider belief system.

 

English

Regina Buccola - Fairies, Fractious Women, and the Old Faith: Fairy Lore in Early Modern British Drama and Culture. A fascinating and specific look at how the theatrical portrayal of fairies, women, and outsiders intertwined. Also includes fairy beliefs of the 16th and 17th century in England and some humans especially known for interacting with them.

Richard Firth Green – Fairy Queens and Holy Friars. An in-depth exploration of fairy beliefs across medieval England and how Christian cosmology may have changed perceptions of fairies over time.

Annabel Gregory – Rye Spirits: Faith, Faction and Fairies in a Seventeenth Century English Town. Focused on events in the town of Rye, offering interesting insight into fairy beliefs and the use of those beliefs to explain inexplicable events.

 

The Ballads

Francis Child – The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. An invaluable collection of the ballads themselves, including Child’s notes and commentary as well as multiple common versions of each ballad.

James Murray – The Romance and Prophecy of Thomas of Erceldoune. The prose predecessor to the more well-known Thomas the Rhymer, understanding the ballad is easier when the older version is also understood. This also allows for an exploration of the changes between versions over time.

Lowry Wimberly – Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads. A fascinating dissection of the ballad material including both folklore and opinions by the author about context and possible interpretation.

 

The Victorians

Laurence Talairach-Vielmas – Fairy Tale, Natural History and Victorian Culture. An essential look at the place of fairies within the Victorian quest for natural explanations of phenomena.

Carole Silver – Strange & Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness. An important discussion of the way that Victorian culture understood fairies across literature and personal belief.

 

Witchcraft Intersecting with Fairylore

Emma Wilby – Cunningfolk and Familiar Spirits. This book covers early modern witchcraft in England and Scotland, including both fairy beliefs and diabolism.

Owen Davies – Popular Magic. A look at early modern witchcraft and cunningcraft in England. As with Wilby’s book there is discussion of how fairy beliefs came into play.

Eva Pocs – Between the Living and the Dead. A look at eastern European beliefs around spirits, witchcraft, and beings we might call fairies.

Claude Lecouteux – Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies. An indepth discussion of the connections between witches, shapeshifting/lycanthropy, and fairy beliefs across Europe.

     The Return of the Dead. This work by Lecouteux discusses ancestor veneration and the dead in both a pagan and Christian context. Not directly fairy related but important for establishing a wider cosmology.

Andrew Sneddon – Magic and Witchcraft in Ireland. Primarily focused on the Protestant communities and their perceptions of witchcraft but also includes some interesting crossover with wider folk belief about witches and fairies.

Shai Feraro and Ethan White (editors) – Magic and Witchcraft in the Modern West. Largely focused on pagan witchcraft but including the marvelous essay ‘Taming the Fae’ by Sabina Magliocco which discusses fairies in a modern pagan context.

Juliane Goodare (editor) – Scottish Witches and Witch-Hunters. An anthology focused on early modern witchcraft in Scotland, including intersectional fairy beliefs.

 

Miscellaneous

Edward Quinn – Irish American Folklore in New England. A look at beliefs among the Irish American diaspora in New England.

Barbara Rieti – Strange Terrain The Fairy World in Newfoundland. A review of fairy beliefs in the diaspora of Newfoundland Canada.

Jacque Vallee – Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers. An exploration of the connections between fairylore and ufology.

Joshua Cutchin – Trojan Feast. In the spirit of Vallee’s book Cutchin’s work looks at the intersection of fairy beliefs and ufology but with the added layer of cryptids, specifically Sasquatch. These concepts are important to studying modern fairylore so that there is an understanding of the diversity of similar modern phenomena

        Thieves in the Night: A Brief History of Supernatural Child Abductions. Another work by Cutchin this one compares material between fairylore and aliens relating to stolen children.

James Wade – Fairies in Medieval Romance. A review of the appearance of fairies in important medieval literary works and stories. Offers some very good insight into not only the beliefs of the time but also how interactions with fairies were portrayed in literature of the time which in turn shaped later folk belief

Michelle Brock, Richard Raiswell, and David Winter (editors) – Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits in the Early Modern Period. An anthology including various essays describing how spirits including fairies were understood in the early modern period.

Michael Ostling – Fairies, Demons, and Nature Spirits: ‘Small Gods’ at the Margin of Christendom. An anthology with various articles looking at the positioning of fairies and other spirits to the Christian mind. Includes essays by Lisa Bitel, Julian Goodare, Terry Gunnell, and Sabina Magliocco all of which are important voices in the field.

Karen Louise Jolly – Popular Religion in Anglo-Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context. Foundational work about belief in elves and related beings in Anglo-Saxon culture.

Alaric Hall – Elves in Anglo-Saxon England. A thorough investigation of elf beliefs in Anglo-Saxon England and also touching on Scottish beliefs.

Mark Norman – Black Dog Folklore. A look at folklore relating to the black dog phenomena, which has a lot of crossover with fairylore.

This is a long list and it covers material across decades of academia. Don’t be intimidated by the length of the list; this represents years and years of study. Also this must be understood within the specific context of studying academic material about fairies – there would be a different list for resources focused on the folklore directly rather than scholarly interpretations of the beliefs and material across history and cultures. I always recommend people start with the cultural folklore itself and get a very solid grounding there before venturing into the interpretations, as the folklore gives the context for the academia and also allows a person to form their own opinions and understandings which the scholarly material can amplify.

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Morgan has been a practicing witch since the early 90's with a focus on the Fairy Faith and fairylore. She has written over two dozen non-fiction and fiction books on topics related to Irish mythology, witchcraft, fairy folklore, and related subjects. Morgan has also taught workshops on these same topics across the United States and internationally. In her spare time she likes to study the Irish language in both its modern and historic forms.
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