Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing.

The Secret Lives of Elves and Faeries: The Truth behind the Story of Rev Robert Kirk

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Born in 1644 in Aberfoyle, a parish of Perthshire, Scotland, Reverend Robert Kirk is remembered for apparently making great strides in bridging the gap between the human and faery realms.  He was the seventh son of his parents James and Mary, and went on to become a very intelligent, studious man.  Attending the University of St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh for his Bachelor's and Master's degrees respectively, Kirk chose to follow in his father's footsteps by becoming an Episcopal minister in Scotland.  In the Christian world, he is known for having completed and published one of the first translations of the Bible into Gaelic.  But aside from his work in the realm of humans, Kirk had spent much of his life enamored and immersed in the tales of faeries.  This fascination is what propels Kirk's name to the forefront of folkloric research.

What Reverend Robert Kirk is most known for, though his Biblical works were pertinent in his time, is the legacy of the faery race that he left behind.  His The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Faeries is thought today to be one of the best contributions to modern scholarship on the faery realm.  What is most intriguing about this text however, is that it was initially believed to have been an amalgamation of legends and myths the reverend collected during his life, condensed into a single work.  Yet in more recent years, there is a belief that the earlier editions of Kirk's manuscript are actually much more personal.

Somewhat paradoxically, Robert Kirk was both a Minister and a firm believer in the realm of faeries. ‘The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania’ by Noel Paton

Somewhat paradoxically, Robert Kirk was both a Minister and a firm believer in the realm of faeries. ‘The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania’ by Noel Paton ( Wikimedia Commons )

One scholar in particular, John Matthews, claims to have found an early copy of the reverend's manuscript, which bizarrely claims that Robert Kirk did more than collect Scottish tales, he lived them.  This earlier edition, called The Secret Lives of Elves and Faeries , is caveated in its title as having come directly from the "private journal of the Reverend Robert Kirk."  It reads like a journal as well, and dictates Kirk's supposed journey from Aberfoyle to the "Lands Beneath," the faery realm below the earth, and the interesting discoveries he found there.  Kirk describes in great detail the Seelie and Unseelie Courts (the good and bad faeries)*, faery food and faery dress, their "books of light", and numerous faery tales told to him supposedly by the faer folk themselves. 

Though he reports being warmly welcomed into the kingdom of the Seelie Court and treated well there, Reverend Kirk's journal further dictates that, while below ground, he broke the rules of the Unseelie Court.  Kirk ventured into the domain of the Unseelie, something forbidden to the race of mortal men.  Kirk had known this as he had trespassed, and knowing the rule he was breaking, made his circumstances all the worse.

Reverend Kirk claimed to have visited a secret realm of faeries. ‘Fairies looking through a passage’, by John Anster Fitzgerald, 19th century.

Reverend Kirk claimed to have visited a secret realm of faeries. ‘Fairies looking through a passage’, by John Anster Fitzgerald, 19th century. ( Wikimedia Commons ).

This venture supposedly resulted in Kirk's trial at the hands of the Unseelie and Seelie alike—as one could not decide a ruling without the agreement of the other—during which Kirk's declaration that he would gladly forfeit his life to protect their secrets softened the court to him and offered him a choice between two punishments: to either die for his crimes, or to leave the world of his people and live the rest of his days in the faery realm.  Kirk, so intrigued by all he had seen, chose the latter of the two "punishments", and only requested a brief return to the world above to get his affairs in order.  This, many believe, is the true reason behind Kirk's mysterious death in 1692.

Just outside Aberfoyle is a strange conical hill known as the Fairy Knowe. According to legends, Reverend Kirk’s soul is believed to still be kept captive in the Fairy Queen's Palace underneath the Knowe

Just outside Aberfoyle is a strange conical hill known as the Fairy Knowe. According to legends, Reverend Kirk’s soul is believed to still be kept captive in the Fairy Queen's Palace underneath the Knowe ( John McSporran / Flickr )

It is said that Kirk greatly enjoyed taking walks in the evening, both in his childhood and his adult life, visiting the faery mounds of Aberfoyle that he had taken great pleasure in exploring all his life.  His body was found in the morning on the faery hill, and legend spread throughout the region that Kirk had not truly died but had instead gone to live among the faeries as the chaplain to the faery queen.  Kirk never actually published his faery writings for himself.  Rather they were discovered posthumously and published by Walter Scott in 1815—not as a journal, but as a text of legends of the faery race.  Yet without his journal, Kirk quickly became regarded as having expert knowledge of the ‘Lands Beneath’.


nrushton's picture

This is my take on the Kirk story: https://deadbutdreaming.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/the-secret-commonwealth/ There is also a 2009 film called ‘Kirk’, which takes a different view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfpnLXkAsiE 

I truly enjoyed this and when we look at the legends that exist in so many places concerning fairies, little people and such you have to wonder the truth in all of this. Seems every myth has had some basis in reality. On an island in the Philippines many years ago they found small people and they put them on display at the world's fair. An old woman and an old man. My mother remembers seeing them. She never forgot them.

This world has been around a very long time they are finding skeletons of giants all over America and so why not the existence of the fairies? That is my humble opinion.

Tsurugi's picture

...or it is something that something else very much wants to keep the human race from learning. The concept of "forbidden knowledge" is ubiquitous in myth, legend, folklore, and religion, across the globe. In the Judeo-Christian tradition it is most prominent in the story of Eden; the Apple was a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When it is discovered that Adam and Eve had eaten the apple, the Elohim(God[s]?) determined that the humans must be banished from the Garden, "...lest they eat also of the Tree of Life, and become as us".
Something very similar happens in the recount of the Babel event. The humans came down out of the mountains and onto the plains and started building stuff. "Let us make bricks, and bake them in the sun," they said. "Let us build a tower whose top shall be in the heavens. Let us make a name for ourselves, so that we shall not be scattered across the face of the earth." The Elohim get wind of this tower thing the humans are building and go to have a look at it. They didn't like what they saw. "If they are allowed to continue, then nothing shall be withheld from them," they said. "Come, let us confuse their language so that one may not understand the other, and they will be scattered across the face of the earth.."
Unique to most biblical "morality" tales is the fact that the humans in the Eden and Babel stories were not actually doing anything bad. In one, they eat an apple. In the other, they're engaged in construction. No one is being murdered, no one is worshipping Satan or whatever. And yet arguably the two most devastating punishments ever exacted upon mankind are in response to these events.

There is a background of truth to all myths. They may have been twisted and misconstrued over the many years. I believe that this is something we are not to know and getting involved in these dimensions of what you call it is something we can not handle. Our sense of realities are too boxed up.

Hello Seana, I was in Aberfoyle in June of this year and visited the church and various other sites in the area. I was wondering if the old stone cottage across from the church and cemetery is the manse where the minister lived, If not where is it? Cheers, Carl


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