Very rare, but it does happen. The other day some friends came over for brunch, and I showed my friend James a copy of Magical Folk, a book about fairy folklore to which I had contributed a chapter. In response, James told me the following story.
A few years ago James, his spouse Kevin, and one of their friends went camping near New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock. The campground at Monadnock State Park has around thirty standard campsites close to parking lots, plus five remote campsites that can only be reached by hiking. James and his companions chose to stay at one of the standard campsites.
After they set up their tents they decided to go for a hike along one of the trails that led to the more remote sites. The trail led them up away from the other campers and deeper into the park. After hiking for a while they still hadn't seen any of the the remote campsites, but instead found a beautiful clearing in the woods.
James described it as looking like a "fairy dell." There was a waterfall, and a small wooden bridge going over a stream, and lots of lush flowers. It was an idyllic space, but as they absorbed its beauty James became uneasy. Although they were ostensibly alone in the clearing he felt like there was someone there with them. James sensed that they were being watched. His companions began to fell uneasy too and they soon left, making their way back to their campsite.
|A beautiful photo of Mt. Monadnock from Wikipedia.|
Over breakfast he told Kevin and their friend about his strange dream. To his surprise, they both said they had very similar dreams that night. They had both dreamed that trusted, loving people from their lives had offered them food, but they both had felt that somehow things were not quite right. Neither of them had accepted the food.
When James finished his story he said to me, "You know, in a lot of traditional stories the fairies try to get humans to eat fairy food. If a human eats it they're trapped in the fairy world forever. I feel like we encountered something in that clearing, and it wanted us to stay there. I'm glad none of us ate the food in our dreams."
I'll try to put James's story into a regional context. When the Puritans first came to New England they said that there weren't any fairies here. The Puritans had mostly come from East Anglia, a part of England that had a lot of witch lore but not much in the way of fairy lore. Unsurprisingly, New England has a lot of folklore about witches. And had a lot of witch trials.
However, the Indian tribes that lived in New England did have a lot of folklore about small magical beings that lived in the woods, mountains and rivers. This folklore became part of the mainstream culture in the 19th century when it was shared with anthropologists and folklorists. European immigrants from places like Ireland and Scotland also moved into New England around the same time, bringing their fairy folklore with them. People began to see fairies in New England. And in the 20th and 21st century, local fairies called pukwudgies gained prominence in the national media.
New England is no longer a place without fairies. Different cultures describe fairies in different ways, but they seem to agree on a few things: fairies live in the woods, fairies are tricky, and fairies try to entice people to join them. Did my friend actually have a fairy encounter in Monadnock Park? I can't say for sure, but his story is definitely part of a long tradition of people encountering strange things in the New England woods.