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The Hidden Commonwealth rewards frequent readings, even by persons so fanatical in their prejudices as to refuse to believe its reports such tragically deluded souls can treat the book as only a compendium of folklore, if they must, and still profit from it. And these persons, says, Kirk, are of the same family as the prophets of ancient Israel, and of all prophets in all lands and among all peoples.

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That said, one does learn quite a lot of elfin lore from Kirk. These beings are, says Kirk, nothing but those elemental guardians of the nations who, according to the New Testament, have been appointed as wardens in the earth, but who frequently forget their roles and resist the sway of God.


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They are dangerous, but not evil; they are, rather, morally neutral, like the forces of material nature. Once removed from his native heath, says Kirk, a prophet loses the virtue that allows him to see the other world, and he becomes as blind to preternatural presences as any other mortal. He is like Antaeus raised up off the earth. Not only is every fairy a genius loci , every seer is a vates loci with a strictly limited charter.

17th Century Disclosure Martyr - Rev Kirk

In proof of this, he once cited to me the report of some English traveler in the New World who sent back a dispatch from Newfoundland or somewhere like that complaining that there were no fairies to be found in these desolate climes. But, ah no, I can say having read Kirk , of course some displaced sassenach wandering in the woods of North America would be able to perceive none of their ethereal inhabitants, as any faculty he might have had for seeing them would have deserted him. And, anyway, anyone familiar with the Native lore of the Americas knows that multitudes of dangerous and beneficent manitous haunt or haunted these lands.

They may lack some of the winsome charm of their European counterparts, not having been exposed to centuries of Greco-Roman and Christian civilization; and they may therefore be somewhat more Titanic than Olympian in their general character and deportment; but they certainly do not merit disdain or a refusal to acknowledge their existence.

Anyway, so as not to wax too facetious, let me make three observations about Kirk, and then a final observation about his way of seeing the world.

The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies - Robert Kirk, Andrew Lang - Google книги

First, it is certainly the case that he undertook his researches into folklore out of a genuine interest in the traditions of the Celtic north, and also out of what appears to be a deep conviction that those traditions touch upon a real dimension of vital intelligence or intelligences residing in the world all about us, occasionally visible and audible to us, but for the most part outside the reach of our dull, earthbound senses. Second, though, there is good reason to believe that he wrote The Secret Commonwealth , and placed so strong an emphasis on scriptural attestations of the reality both of elemental spirits and of the second sight, because he lived in the days of the early modern witch-hunting craze, when more than a few harmless Scottish country folk who innocently dabbled in the lore of their culture had found themselves arraigned by Presbyterian courts for practicing the black arts; Kirk may very well have been attempting to enter a brief in behalf of these unfortunate souls, by providing a theological warrant for their beliefs.

And, third, it may be the case that such a theological warrant really could be found in the Bible, and Kirk was simply a more careful reader than most other Christians on this matter; after all, though Christian tradition came soon to abominate all the lesser spirits venerated or feared in pre-Christian culture as just so many demons, this was not the view taken of them in the Pauline corpus; there they appear as perhaps mutinous deputies of God, part of the compromised cosmic hierarchy of powers and principalities, whom Christ by his resurrection has subdued, but not necessarily as servants of evil; Colossians even speaks of them as being not only conquered by Christ, but reconciled with God.

One need not believe in fairies to grasp that there is no good reason why one ought not to do so. To see the world as inhabited by these vital intelligences, or to believe that behind the outward forms of nature there might be an unperceived realm of intelligent order, is simply to respond rationally to one of the ways in which the world seems to address us, when we intuit simultaneously its rational frame and the depth of mystery it seems to hide from us.

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The Secret Commonwealth: Of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies

Everything we know about reality comes to us with a certain alloy of illusion, not accidentally, but as an indispensable condition. Even the dreariest Kantian can tell you that our ability to know the w orld depends upon those transcendental qualities the mind impresses upon it before it can impress them upon the mind, and that all perception requires the supreme fictions of the synthetic a priori. Moreover, even if one suspects this is not a matter so much of illusion as of delusion, again that is of no consequence. A delusion this amiable is endlessly preferable to boredom, for boredom is the one force that can utterly defeat the will to be, and so the will to care at all what is or is not true.


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It is only some degree of prior enchantment that allows the eye to see, and to seek to see yet more. And so, deluded or not, a belief in fairies will always be in some sense far more rational than the absolute conviction that such things are sheer nonsense, and that the cosmos consists in nothing but brute material events in haphazard combinations. Or, I suppose, another way of saying this would be that the ability of any of us to view the world with some sort of contemplative rationality rests upon the capacity we possessed as children to see in everything a kind of articulate mystery, and to believe in far more than what ordinary vision discloses to us: a capacity that endows us with that spiritual eros that allows us to know and love the world, and that we are wise to continue to cultivate in ourselves even after age and disillusion have weakened our sight.

Kirk probably encountered opposition to his supernatural beliefs in the secular and sceptical climate of 17th century coffeehouses in Restoration London , during his visit in Kirk collected these stories into a manuscript sometime between —, but died before it could be published. More than a century would pass before the book was finally released by Scottish author Walter Scott in under the title The Secret Commonwealth or an Essay on the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean and for the most part Invisible People heretofore going under the names of Fauns and Fairies, or the like, among the Low Country Scots as described by those who have second sight, Folklore scholars consider The Secret Commonwealth one of the most important and authoritative works on fairy folk beliefs.

These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People […] are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies lyke those called Astral somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight.

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These bodies be so pliable through the sublety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure. Andrew Lang published a second edition of the book in , under the title The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies , [17] followed by a version with an introduction by Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham. Multiple editions of The Secret Commonwealth have since been published, with notable scholarly analysis by Sanderson, Mario M. Rossi, and Michael Hunter.

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Stewart Sanderson edited a new edition for the Folklore Society in followed by a contemporary version published by Robert John Stewart in Michael Hunter edited a new edition in , and the New York Review Books published a new version in with an introduction by Marina Warner. Kirk died before he was able to publish The Secret Commonwealth. Legends arose after Kirk's death saying he had been taken away to fairyland for revealing the secrets of the Good People.

Kirk's tomb is located in the Aberfoyle churchyard. His grave was marked by a stone with the inscription, Robertus Kirk, A. Popular legend questions whether his ashes or even his body is buried there.

The Secret Commonwealth

Sayce, then at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge , noted the similarity between the legend of Kirk's death and the Germanic legend of Dietrich von Bern , who in one tale was taken away by a dwarf when he died. According to Sayce, both share a theme common to ancestral spirit cults—the departed are taken away to fairyland.

In Lee, Sidney ed. Dictionary of National Biography. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.