Faery (noun) : the realm of the faeries or state of being in that realm; a faery (pl. -ies).

Faërie (adjective, adverb) : indicating a quality or condition of experience of Faery or of something associated with it.


The False Knight on the Road / The Helper on the Path

Where are ye going?
Said the knight on the road,
I’m going to school
Said the child, and he stood.
He stood and he stood
And t’were well that he stood

So the traditional ballad known as ‘The False Knight on the Road’. In some versions the knight is the Devil, or an old crone, or a witch. In such encounters it is necessary either to exchange or solve riddles or counter a statement with a better one:

I wish ye were in yon lake
Quoth the hag on the road;
With a good boat under me
Quoth the wee lad and so he stood.

The boat for to break its bottom
Quoth the hag on the road;
And for ye to be drowned
Quoth the wee lad, and still he stood.

Ballads and tales about encounters on a path usually feature a young person who has to stand firm against an adversary. Who is this adversary?

The person making the journey is young because it is a new beginning: the acolyte seeking new knowledge, the young hero on a quest, the character represented as The Fool in the tarot pack. For many in this world who claim wisdom the quest is a foolish undertaking. But if, in making it anyway, the quester is innocent or naive, how will wisdom be gained for protection? Help is at hand as any good fairy story will tell. Often in the form of a wise counsellor or animal helper. But this is a journey that must be made alone and there are ‘false knights’ who might lead you astray. Never mind, consider the story of ‘The Green Man of Knowledge’ :

Jack, who has never ventured out of sight of the cottage in which he was born, one day decides to go to seek his fortune. In spite of the protests of his mother that he knows nothing of the ways of the world he sets off and eventually follows a signpost pointing to ‘The Land of Enchantment’. As night draws near and he begins to wonder where he will sleep a robin lands on a nearby branch and asks him where he is going. He explains that he needs somewhere to spend the night so the robin directs him to a cottage a mile or so along the road. He goes there and is welcomed by an old women who invites him in and gives him food. Then a young woman takes him to a bedroom and shows him a comfortable bed where he can sleep. During the night he wakes briefly and thinks he is sleeping on some moss on the cold earth, but when he awakes in the morning he is snug in the comfortable bed. When he get up an goes to the kitchen the young woman gives him breakfast then tells him to go out to the garden where her grandmother will give him some advice. He thinks he would rather stay with the young woman but does as she tells him and the old woman advises him as to the way he should go and sends him on his way. The young woman comes out as he is leaving and gives him a gold coin.

He stops for lunch at an inn and gets into a game of cards, eventually winning more gold coins and his opponent withdraws from the game.
“Who are you?” Jack asks him.
“The Green Man of Knowledge”.
“Where do you live?”
“East of the Moon, West of the Stars”.
At which he disappeared and left Jack with an overwhelming desire to find him again.

He journeyed on until he came to a cottage that was just like the one he had stayed in the previous night, and again he was welcomed and fed by the old woman and put to bed by the young woman who seemed even lovelier than before. The Old Woman was knitting by the fire when he went to bed. By the morning she had produced a large square that showed woods and fields and rivers and paths like a map, but also like a picture. She said if he stepped into it he would find someone to help him get to the Green Man of Knowledge. But he must be aware of the dangers and be sure he wanted to go. He said he was sure so she told him to step on the knitting and then said “Away with you”.

As the young woman waved him goodbye he was whirled through hail, fire, brimstone and water. Then he found himself in a blacksmith’s workshop. The old woman was there too, but now she was the smith’s wife. The smith pointed to a far off castle and said that is where the Green Man of Knowledge lives. “The only way in is across the deep moat is across the bridge, but if you step on it it will turn into a spider’s web and you will fall into the water and be sucked under. So you must wait until the Green Man’s three daughters come down to bathe. When they go into the water they are swans. Two are black but the youngest is white. When they are in the water as swans you must take all the white swan’s clothes and hide them. Then she will help you.”

Jack did this and when the two older daughters had come out of the water, dressed and gone back into the castle, the youngest called out to him
“Whoever you are, please give me back my clothes”.
He replied that first she must help him, so as a swan she carried him across the water. Then he saw that it was the young woman from the cottage, but she sent him on his way into the castle.

The Green Man looked astonished to see him and took him to a room with a trap door so Jack fell through into a cell. But that night the young woman came to him with food and said she would help him perform the tasks that the Green Man would set for him. The first of these was to retrieve a ring from a deep well. For this the woman made a ladder of herself so he could climb down to the bottom. She told him to be careful because if he slipped on he rungs he might break one of her bones. In spite of his care he slipped on he bottom rung, but she helped him find the ring and climb out again. The next day she wore a glove to hide her broken finger from the Green Man who was surprised that Jack had been able to retrieve the ring . The next day he was taken to an adjoining hill and told he must build another castle on it. When left to get on with his task Jack did not know how to start but the woman came and helped him build it. She told Jack that when the Green Man asked why there was a gap in the wall he was to tell him it was for him to complete the work. When he did this the Green Man was again astonished and asked who was helping him, but Jack would not tell. Finally he was set the task of bringing together all the ants from the forest and if he did he could marry one of the Green Man’s daughters and have enough money for them both to live on for the rest of their lives. When the young woman comes she tells Jack to dig an enormous hole and seal the bottom. Then she sang a song which attracted all the ants and when they were in the pit put a cover on it.


There are further episodes in most versions of the tale until Jack is eventually able to marry the Green Man’s daughter but she helps him overcome all the obstacles placed in his path and, of course, they live happily ever after. So who are all these characters? It seems clear that the old and the young women are so closely identified as to be regarded as one. The old woman treats him as a son. The young woman is his heart’s desire. Together they are what Jung would have called his anima. The anima, for a man, and the animus, for a woman, is superficially our other-gendered self, though Jung makes it clear that more deeply it is our soul. In this view the young man’s helpers are aspects of himself. So he is still alone on the journey. But he also has an adversary. Why is the young woman both the granddaughter of the old woman who helps him and the daughter of his adversary? A common folk tale motif here is the pattern where the daughter helps the man she wants to marry to overcome her father who is often a wizard or an ogre. Usually the young man does not seek the father but cannot avoid him because he seeks the daughter. Here the Green Man meets Jack on his journey and creates the desire to seek him out. He is the adversary or the false knight who tests him, here by the card game at the inn to see if he is worthy. So if the women here are Jack’s anima, is the adversary also an aspect of himself, an ‘other’ dark side of himself whom he must displace to gain his ends? Do we provide our own obstacles on the path, taking the form of the Devil or an old hag? If so, the form of the false knight is the clearest representation of our own deceit, conjuring a demon or facing the Hag who makes us confront our own shadow - the darkness we cast across the light of the world, or even our own absence from it. Then, we had better know the answer to the questions our not-self has to ask. With the help of the helper who tells us who we are and the helper who shows us what we desire and what we can become.


A fuller version of ‘The Green Man of Knowledge’ can be found in A Dictionary of British Folk Tales Katherine Briggs - 4 vols (1970) pp 290-295. There is also a vividly told version in Scottish traveller dialect , ‘The Green Gadgie o Knowledge’ in Reek Roon a Camp Fire by Stanley Robertson (2009) pp.17-27. ‘The False Knight on the Road’ (Child 3 a, b, c) is widely available in ballad collections.



In his tract called The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies written in 1691, Robert Kirk speaks of those who have the Second Sight which enables them to see the folk who live underground. He says that he has been told by some of these with the Second Sight that "they have seen a Doubleman, or the shape of some man in two places, perfectly resembling one another in all points". He also says that in spite of the two apparently being identical those with the Second Sight can easily tell which is the 'above ground' man and which is the 'subterranean man'. He affirms that "They call this reflex-man a 'Co-Walker', every way like the man as a twin brother and companion, haunting him as his shadow ...."

"This copy, echo, or living picture goes at last to his own herd. It accompanies the person so long and frequently for ends best known to itself, whether to guard him from the secret assaults of some of its own folks, or only as a sportful ape to counterfeit all his actions."

The doppleganger or other self is well known as a psychic phenomenon, but is interestingly here seen as a consequence of 'haunting' by the faerie folk.


Japanese Ship of Souls

They say the sea always roughens during the period of the Festival of the Dead in the seventh month of the old lunar calendar. After the Ships of Souls have been launched no one dares enter it: no boats can be hired : all the fishermen remain at home. For on that day the sea is a highway for the dead, who must pass back over its waters to their mysterious home, and therefore upon that day is it called Hotoke-umi - the Buddha Flood - the Tide of the Returning Ghosts. And ever upon the night of the sixteenth day, whether the sea be calm or tumultuous, all its surface shimmers with faint lights gliding out to the open, the dim fires of the dead; and there is heard a murmuring of voices, like the murmur of a city far off, the indistingshable speech of souls.

Lafcadio Hearn (1891)


Meilyr and the Lady

Meilyr was visiting the annual fair when his eye was caught by a young woman whose charms seemed to him incomparable. To his delight he managed to engage her in conversation and they spent some time together at the fair. He asked her if she would meet him again and she agreed. So they met at the trysting tree and walked together in the forest. Then lied down together on the soft moss on a flat rock above the flowing stream. There Meilyr took her in his arms. At first she warned him that no good would come of it, but he persisted so she allowed him to continue. As they lay together - fulfilled - on the moss she turned in his arms into an old crone of extreme ugliness with warts and hair sprouting from her nose. She left him then but said they might meet again in her own country.

For some time after this Meilyr lost his wits and wandered the land as a deranged vagrant. Eventually he recovered and resumed his former life. But although he seemed to others to be restored to what he had been, he found that he could see things that others could not see and he had the power too see events before they happened. And he saw his lover again, though not as he had seen her before, as she passed through the veil between the worlds and spoke to him so that he found, in repeating her words, that his speech was inspired. So he became a great poet, and a seer, and gained a reputation as a wise man, and a possessor of cunning arts.

All for the love of his lady.

Giraldus Cambrensis told a version of this tale in his twelfth century Journey Through Wales summarized HERE


Waters from the Source

So, searching for the source, Gwyn sought the spring from where waters welled up from the Otherworld, though it was said to be a perilous place with a veil of spell craft around it. It was because he knew certain words of power that he did not worry about that, and he spoke these words as he approached the place where the spring was reputed to be, though no spring could be seen. As he spoke the air about the place became like a clearing mist that shone diffusely as he drew near and he saw before him a bed of fine gravel from which water bubbled up out of the earth and out of this water a women taking shape before him.

In her hands she held a vessel of transparent crystal into which water flowed so he approached her to ask for a drink of the water, but as he spoke she began to dissolve once more back into the welling spring. He reached out for the vessel and tasted just a few drops of the water before she was gone and the well itself began to draw back the flow of water.

But it was enough, for great knowledge and wisdom had welled up within him with those few drops and he was overcome both with bitter grief and with great joy as he saw clearly how things were. He knew he must retreat from that place or be carried off for all time to the Otherworld as the place shifted its form once more. So he fled, but with him was a vision that never left him, though it was the cause of a trouble that he carried with him for all his days with his deep seeing into the weave of the world that others could not see and it took great strength to bear it.


In a Sunken Lane

There is nothing but the sense of something as you tread on the damp leaves of the sunken lane and know that the deep quietness contains a tune that calls to you from beyond the range of hearing , from deep in the twilight which contains a world that is there and not there, here and not here, everywhere and at a fine point of intersection between this world and another.

So you tread, tentatively, again and the tune calls you on ….

Where were you? Do you remember? Or only have the faintest trace of memory of another place, a perilous place, but one to which your heart would have you turn again. If only you could. But the tune is silent now. The intersection opening somewhere else, in some other lane.

And this lane, though still deeply mysterious, seems shallower than it did just then  … when?


Witch Road

To begin at the beginning it’s an ordinary lane
and the hedge alongside it a common hedgerow
bordering a field until the twined spindles
of its twisted branches bind the shifted light
around leaf and stem along another path through
the spaces between here and there, the shafts
that bend past thorn and bramble, turning
the glimpses caught in the eye’s corners away
into lines of sight, seer sight, lit by witch light
so each dark interstice of hedge is a step
through to another place, snickets running
deeper with each turn from one to another
into the lane that runs, no ordinary course,
just where the first lane runs but elsewhere
a half-step away from familiar things
spellbound now as the road slips through
and finds a way into Faery.

Deep Faërie Lore