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‘Yorinda and Yoringel’ by John Duncan (1909)

Once Upon A Time: Concepts of Afterlife and Altered Consciousness Concealed in Faerie Folklore

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Once upon a Time, they all lived happily ever-after. In the 1891 publication The Science of Fairy Tales, the folklorist Edwin Sidney Hartland devoted three chapters to ponder over ‘The Supernatural Lapse of Time in Fairyland.’ He makes it clear that this motif is deeply embedded in worldwide folklore and mythology from a wide variety of chronological periods. He suggests that the consistency of the story elements involving the strange relative movement of time in faerie folklore, must stem from a common mythological theme, although he usually stops short of discussing this theme in favor of telling the actual stories. Within these supernatural lapse of time tales there are essentially three ways that time can behave in contradistinction to normal reality: Firstly, time stops in the outside world, while in faerieland many years can pass with the human participant living a life of enjoyment or suffering with the faeries. The protagonists usually break a taboo of some sort and find themselves back in the real world, where no time has passed. These stories are in the minority. More often the time dilation moves the other way. Secondly, the time distortion can be quite a drastic shift, so that a character spending minutes, days or weeks in faerieland comes back to consensus reality to find decades or even centuries have passed, or, thirdly a few minutes caroling with the faeries turns out to be any length of time up to a-year-and-a-day, once they return to the world they came from.

 ‘Time Never Flows When we are Incomplete’ (Image: Ylenia Viola)

 ‘Time Never Flows When we are Incomplete’ (Image: Ylenia Viola)

Faerie Circles: Dream State Consciousness

The First: Hartland points out that the folkloric faeries of Wales, usually known as the Tylwyth Teg, were particularly prone to abducting humans, usually through the ruse of tempting them into a dancing circle where they become enmeshed in a time-distorted reality. One typical 19th century tale has a lonely shepherd doing just that on a hillside in South Wales, after which he finds himself in a glittering palace with pleasure gardens, inhabited by the faeries. He lives there for years, even taking the chance to get involved in some romantic attachments with the beguiling black-eyed female faeries. But despite being warned off the fountain, which is filled with gold and silver fish, in the middle of the main garden, he can't resist overturning the prohibition


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Neil Rushton is an archaeologist and freelance writer who has published on a wide variety of topics from castle fortifications to folklore. His first book is  Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun 

Top Image:Yorinda and Yoringel’ by John Duncan (1909) (Public Domain)

By Neil Rushton

nrushton's picture


Neil Rushton is an archaeologist and freelance writer who has published on a wide variety of topics from castle fortifications to folklore. Recently he has been exploring the confluence between consciousness, insanity and reality and how they are affected through... Read More

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