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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/69

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47
Presidential Address.

basis upon which the complex and often apparently inconsistent beliefs connected with the fairy world can be reared and built into an orderly structure of thought and imagination. The object of the sacrifice is to reinforce the life alike of nature and of the worshipper; but this implies a conception, however crude, of unending and ever-changing vital essence persisting under the most diverse manifestations: hence the powers worshipped and appealed to, as they slowly crystallise into definite individualities, are necessarily immortal and as necessarily masters of all shapes—the fairy and his realm are unchanging and unfading, the fairy can assume all forms at will. Again, bestower of life and increase as he is, he must, by definition, be liberal and amorous—alike in romance and popular belief, the fairy clan is characterised by inexhaustible wealth and by an amiable readiness to woo and be wooed. The connection of the fairy world with the rites of rustic agriculture is so natural on this hypothesis as to need no further demonstration; but on any other hypothesis it is difficult if not impossible to explain.

I would only note that the practice of sacrifice has only recently become extinct, even if be extinct. And I would urge that the love of neatness and orderly method so characteristic of the fairy world is easily referable to a time when all the operations of rural life formed part of a definite religious ritual, every jot and tittle of which must be carried out with minute precision. Similarly, the practice of carrying off human children has its roots in the conceptions of the fairy as the lord and giver of life. For, reasoned early man, life is not an inexhaustible product, the fairy must be fed as well as the mortal; hence the necessity for sacrifice, for renewing the stock of vitality which the fairy doled out to his devotee. But this source of supply might be insufficient, and the lords of life might, from the outset, be regarded as on the look-out for fresh supplies; or else, when the practice of sacrifice fell into disuse, the toll levied regularly in the old days upon human