Also included is Kirk's own glossary of "difficult words," in which we learn the 17th-century meanings of adscititious, defaecat, lychnobious and noctambulo. Kirk's "Secret Commonwealth" is one of those books which are well known but hard to come by His little treatise is a most careful and thorough piece of work, made the more so by the spirit in which it was written The result is one of the completest descriptions extant of that special phase of popular belief.
Praise Kirk is a magnificent dish to set before any student of either folk-lore or folk-psychology. Humans can and do physically transfer to the fairy or UnderWorld. The subterranean people are linked to the land, each region having its counterpart in the UnderWorld.
Thus they are, in one respect, the genii loci of the ancient world. The spirits of the dead and of ancestors are also found in this UnderWorld, though they are often distinct from the Fairy Race themselves. Both the subterranean people and the seers who perceive them retain fragments of ancient religious and philosophical tradition, often at variance with the religious and scientific viewpoints of the day.
Introduction 13 9.
There are spiritual or psychic healers in the human world who work through methods laid down by tradition, often using corrupted prayers and incantations to accompany their healing ceremonies. Such a project is well beyond the scope and intention of the present author. Having considered the prospect of rendering the original text into modern English for the general reader, yet without seriously detracting from the charm and skill of the original it remained to establish a set of parameters for commentary and occasional explanation.
But what of the concepts? In working through Kirk's treatise, it became clear to me that there are a number of common misconceptions concerning this book, and that I, despite my familiarity with versions of it and with the traditions which it describes, was also victim to some of these misconceptions. There is nothing like working through a text word by word, concept by concept, to reveal it's true meaning, providing the exercise does not become obsessive or dogmatic; some of my conclusions are found elsewhere in the Introduction.
Folklore and fairy lore is well represented in academic and popular publication, though often limited in the level of interpretation and sympathy to its inner spirit. The academic folklorist, however, has rules of a discipline to follow, and in Introduction 14 many cases, and for good reasons, interpretation is intentionally frowned upon and eschewed. It was the neglected inner spirit or deeper levels of tradition, so well illuminated by Kirk, that seem to me to demand the running commentary. Of particular interest is the concept, not devised by me, but stated in several places by Kirk himself that there was an initiatory and instructional tradition connected to seership, and a metaphysics and philosophy of the fairy traditions.
The majority of the comments and cross-references or comparative examples, therefore, deal with this undertone an apt word of a wisdom-tradition in connection with fairy lore. I have dealt with some of the psychological or psychic dynamics of traditional themes elsewhere see Bibliography , so in this book have limited the commentary solely to those parts of Kirk's text which seem, either subtly, or quite openly, to assert a perennial wisdom-tradition.
It is not too obscure a task to detect the presence of such material; we have many fragmentary records of it from the ancient world, from early Christian writers, from classical Norse, Celtic and other European myths and legends and from archaeological evidence. We also have a wide range of texts from the Renaissance period onwards, in which such perennial metaphysical and magical themes and systems are restated in various ways although Kirk's book is always declared to be a text or collection of folklore, it often reads like a book on alchemy Renaissance theosophy, or esoteric spiritual arts.
So the problem cuts both ways, subterranean and superterranean, as Kirk might say. There are also a number of direct connections between the material described by Kirk and primal magical arts still practiced in ethnic groups or isolated communities today. To deal with this important area of study adequately, we would need to add an anthropologist to our group of experts, so in Introduction 15 the present book these connections are touched upon not as examples of anthropological material, but only in the senses where they merge with the esoteric or perennial wisdomtraditions expressed in so many different forms through the centuries.
In other words, the Gaelic seers had initiatory techniques sometimes similar to those of the Siberian shamans, though there is no suggestion that one derives in any way from the other. They rise from properties and qualities of human consciousness, particularly in relationship to the environment, a subject which Kirk himself discusses in several places. This is by no means as simple a task as one might presume, and while it may be useful to modernize the English for the general reader, I have tried as much as possible to honor the individual style and character of Kirk's writing.
Thus the modernization is only relative, and there has been no attempt to rewrite the account in contemporary idioms which might be intellectually stylish but utterly trivial and out of keeping with the original spirit of the source material. I have paid particular attention to Kirk's use of words and phrases that might, to the modern reader unfamiliar with seventeenth-century literary styles or language, be misleading if retained in their original form, even with modernized spelling. Kirk included a Glossary in his text, and this is retained see Appendix 8.
The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns & Fairies
Much of Kirk's account of the Second Sight and fairy lore is written in typical 'shorthand' of the period, in which the sentences are, to the modern reader, compressed, often with a number of words omitted. While this style would have posed few problems to a seventeenth-century contemporary, it tends to mislead the modern reader, and I have taken the liberty of inserting in square brackets, in the customary manner, words, and, less often, phrases, which clarify the original without Introduction 16 imposing upon it.
Robert Kirk uses an anecdotal style, typical to my mind, of the Gaelic storyteller, with many sequences set in a rambling present tense. This does not, however, weaken or detract from the clarity of his scientific analysis and his argument, once we modern readers have become used to the style in which it is presented. We find a similar style in other literary examples of the period, however, so there is no firm assertion here that it derives solely from oral tradition or from Kirk's daily use of Gaelic in his isolated perish. The use of an extended present tense in storytelling is an ancient feature of oral tradition, and was carried over into literature for a number of centuries; but today it is quite unacceptable for anecdotes inserted into a general narrative or for moments of high tension to be rendered into the present tense.
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Some of Kirk's very long sentences, convoluted and set all in the present, I have intentionally divided, and then rendered part or all into the more usual narrative past tense. In most cases I have preserved the present tense only where it seems to work for the modern reader, but have frequently repunctuated longer rambling sentences, dividing them into several simpler units for the sake of clarity.
I have made no attempt to 'interpret' anything written by Kirk in the process of modernization, and have firmly resisted any temptation to move away from the original sense, even when it is too obscure to modernize fully. All such possible or probable interpretations are found in my own commentary, which follows the main text, and not in the text itself. If I have been in doubt about any sentence in the original, I have left it exactly as it was, making no changes other than to modernize the spelling or simply the punctuation. If alterations to punctuation have seemed in danger of changing the meaning of a passage or a sentence, I have scrupulously compared them to the original text punctuation, and only reworked such areas of text when it was certain that the original meaning would not be changed or lost It is only too easy to falsify a sentence from Introduction 17 the writings of an earlier century by changing the punctuation or inserting a word here and there which the editor finds more favorable to his or her own theories: I have applied the usual academic disciplines that are designed to prevent a hapless editor from falling into such traps, which include those described above, and detailed cross-reference work with many dictionaries and other texts of the same period for use of specific words and idioms.
At times even this lengthy process breaks down, for language was less fixed and defined than it is today, and writers tended to create and compress freely. For reassessment of the Gaelic words and phrases in the original text I have followed the transliterations, translations and interpretations suggested by Stewart Sanderson in the Folklore Society edition unless I have felt confident to add to them in any way from other sources or from my own knowledge of the language. Even if we had Kirk's own original copy or copies, the orthography and grammar of Gaelic or Irish at this period was very varied indeed, and we have no way of judging the idioms or dialects prevailing in Kirk's region at the time of writing.
Fortunately for this new edition the Gaelic element of the text is small and the important but highly academic argument concerning the language is not relevant to our present purpose. The illustrations are not intended as dogmatic assertions of Kirk's 'meaning', nor are they necessarily the exact images that were in his own mind as he wrote, though in the case of the cosmological and natural hierarchical figures, some of our illustrations are drawn literally from his words, item by item.
Introduction 18 Where he has indicated general models, such as the rotation of the Seasons, the Quarters, and the relationships between daemones, fairies, angels, and humans, the relevant illustrations show typical models employed through the centuries, with emphasis on the basic attributes known to be used in pagan and early Christian Celtic culture. Where he has described metaphysical models, such as the formation of the Septenary from the Four Elements and the Trinity, we have used simple mathematical or geometric patterns, in the time-hallowed method of magical and spiritual tuition worldwide.
Overall the illustrations are intended to help the reader not only with Kirk's text itself but with my Commentary upon it, which selects certain of the magical and metaphysical elements of the thesis, and aims to reveal the presence of a coherent initiatory tradition within Gaelic, and indeed European, fairy lore. These siths or Fairies, which they call sluaghmaith or the good people: it would seem, to prevent the dint of their ill attempts: for the Irish usually bless all they fear harm of and are said to be of a middle nature betwixt man and Angel, as were daemones though to be of old: [are] of intelligent Studious Spirits, and light changeable bodies like those called Astral somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight.
These bodies are so pliable through the subtlety of the spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure. Some have bodies or vehicles so spongeous thin and desiccate that they are fed only by sucking into some fine spirituous liquor [essence] that appears like pure air or oil.
The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies
Others feed more grossly upon the core substance of corn and liquor or on corn itself that grows on the surface of the Earth; which these fairies do steal away, The Secret Commonwealth partly invisible, partly preying upon the grain as do Crows and Mice. Some whereof were old before the Gospel dispelled paganism, and in some Barbarous places as yet, enter houses after all are at rest then set the kitchens in order, cleansing all the vessels.
Such drudges go under the name of Brounies [Brownies].
When we have plenty, they have scarcity at their homes; and on the contrary, for they are not empowered to catch as much prey as they please everywhere. Their robberies not withstanding, oftentimes [they] occasion great ricks of corn not to bleed so well, as they call it, or to prove so copious by very far as was expected by the owner.
Their bodies of congealed air are sometimes carried aloft, while others grovel in different shapes, and enter into any cranny or cleft of the Earth where air enters, [as if] to their ordinary dwellings. The Earth being full of cavities and cells, and there being no place or creature but is supposed to have other animals, greater or lesser, living in, or upon it, as inhabitants; and [there is] no such thing as pure wilderness [that is, a vacuum void or emptiness of life] in the whole Universe.
We then, of the more terrestrial kind, having now so numerously planted all countries, do labour for that abstruse people, as well as for ourselves. Albeit when several countries were uninhabited by us, they had their easy tillage, above ground as we [do] now, the print of whose furrows do yet remain to be seen on the shoulders of the very high hills, which was done when the champagne [that is, prime or virgin arable land] was still wood or forest.
They remove to other lodgings at the beginning of each Quarter of the year, so traversing until doomsday, being impatient of staying in one place, and finding some ease by sojourning and changing habitations, their Chameleon-like [that is, changeable of colour] bodies swim in the air, near to the Earth with bags and baggage.
- Shop with confidence.
- Die Fuggergilde: Der letzte Schachzug (kompakt) (German Edition).
- The Remarkable Notebooks of Robert Kirk;
And at such revolutions of time, Seers or men of the Second Sight females being but The Secret Commonwealth 23 seldom so qualified, have very terrifying encounters with them, even on highways. Therefore [seers] usually shun to travel abroad at these four seasons of the year, and thereby have made it a custom to this day among the Scottish-Irish [Gaelic speaking Highlanders], to keep Church duly every first Sunday of the Quarter, to sene or hallow themselves, their corn and cattle, from the shots and stealth of these wandering Tribes.
And many of these superstitious people will not be seen again in Church till the next Quarter [day] begins, as if no duty were to be learned or done by them, but the only use of worship and sermons were to save them from those [fairy] arrows that fly in the dark. They [the fairies] are distributed in Tribes and orders; and they have children, nurses, marriages, deaths and burials, in appearance even as we [do], unless they so do for a mock-show, or to prognosticate some such things [that will come] to be among us. They are clearly seen by those men of the Second Sight to eat at funerals, banquets; hence many of the Scottish-Irish will not taste meat at those meetings, lest they have communion with, or be poisoned by them.