Si Spurrier’s holiday residency continues, bringing us Day 4 of his 13 Days of Myth-mas — a look at his favorite myths and monsters from across the world, many of which will be found in his new series from Image Comics in January, Cry Havoc.
Click links for previous Days of Myth-mas:
On the First Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier gave to us… THE ZOMBIE.
On the Second Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier gave to us … THE HORRIFYING PENANGGALAN.
Today, on the Fourth Day of Myth-mas, Si Spurrier gives to us … THE LITTLE PEOPLE, the fae and the leprechauns and the other creatures roaming the wooded hills of Europe. And off we go…
By SI SPURRIER
Now this is waaaaay too big a subject to get into here in general terms. The Tuatha Dé Danann, the Aos Sí, the Daoine Sídhe . . . the current view of culturalists and anthropologists alike is that after the advent of Christianity in Europe (especially Ireland) the abruptly-abandoned gods and heroes of the Celtic pantheons were quite literally forced underground. The priestly detractors of the old mythology knew better than to simply deny and forbid it all, instead cleverly twisting the lore into new mutant forms which fit the Catholic mentality: fallen angels, unbaptised souls, evil spirits and so on. Hence reduced in status and stature, the gods of the EverYoung become the mischievous and miniature fae, goblins and leprechauns which so fascinated the Victorians (and which, in turn, have suffered further indignity on their way to becoming the twinkly barbiedoll butterfly-winged Fairies of today’s toystore shelf).
But it is worth taking a moment here to think about Euhemerism, which is a very particular approach to a lot of the stuff I’m waffling about in this article. Specifically, it’s the idea that the vast majority of folk tales, monsters, myths, religious traditions and similar Good Stuff isn’t just invented wholesale, but is based on the degraded and exaggerated memory of real historical events or beings. Hence the notion that various legendary bird-demons (the roc, the simurgh, the garuda, etc) might be based on folk-memories of pleistocenic terror-birds; the suspicion that Chinese dragons derive from centuries of digging-up dinosaur fossils in the Mongolian “flaming cliffs” region; and, yes, the current belief that the long lost Celtic Gods – Danu, the Dagda, Brigit, Goma, Lugh, the Morrígan and all the rest – were themselves just inflated folk memories of historical ancestor-kings, queens, heroes and villains among the first waves of Irish settlers.
Euhemerism almost always feels like a super convenient and satisfying “fit” to explain a lot of the wackiest shit in folkore, but . . . Buyer Beware. If it feels too good to be true it probably is.
I mention all this in regard to the cheery Little People – with their mushroom rings, pots of gold, adorable red caps and glittering underhill palaces – because if you’ve ever wondered why the scientifically-obsessive, rationalist Victorians had such an unquenchable fascination for all things spiritualist, mythological and esoteric, it was precisely this: they assumed it was all perfectly explicable.
Hence, at the time that (say) the writer Arthur Machen was sneaking terrifying diminutive pale woodland sprites into his utterly excellent horror novels, it was commonly believed that there existed sound archaeological evidence for a race of tiny tiny stone-age humans, who’d fled into the hills and woods with the coming of the, y’know, Big People, and it was the garbled race-memories of these hobbity Homos that had slowly turned into faeries. Why couldn’t some of them still be hiding-out in the hills?
Total and utter bollocks, of course, but – and here’s my point – that doesn’t stop it being a lovely and curiously reassuring thought.