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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/70

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48
Presidential Address.

life might come to wear in the popular mind the aspect of raids upon human by an unhuman society.

Many of the phenomena of fairydom thus find a reasonable—nay, inevitable—interpretation in the conceptions inherent to the cult; others are referable to the ritual in which it found expression.[1] The participants in these rites met by night; by rapid motion prolonged to exhaustion, by the monotonous repetition of music maddening to the senses, by sudden change from the blackness of night to the fierce flare of torch and bonfire, in short by all the accompaniments of the midnight worship which we know to have characterised the cult of Dionysus among the mountains of Thrace, and which we may surmise to have characterised similar cults elsewhere, they provoked the god-possessed ecstasy in which Maenad and Bassarid, with senses exacerbated to insensibility, rent asunder the living victim and devoured his quivering flesh. The devotees were straightway justified in their faith; for in this state of ecstasy they became one with the object of their worship, his powers and attributes were theirs for the time, they passed to and were free of his wonderland full of every delight that could allure and gratify their senses.

Have we not in rites such as these the source of tales found everywhere in the peasant fairy lore of Europe and represented with special vividness in Celtic folklore? At night the belated wanderer sees the fairy host dancing their rounds in many a green mead; allured by the strange enchantment of the scene he draws near, he enters the round. If he ever reappears, months, years, or even centuries have passed, seeming but minutes to him, so keen and all absorbing has been the joy of that fairy dance. But oftener he never returns and is known to be living on in Faery, in the land of undeath and unalloyed bliss.

Here, if I am right, living tradition has preserved the memory of a cult which the Greek of two thousand years

  1. I again repeal that I do not attempt to account here for all the elements of the fairy creed. But those upon which I lay stress are, I believe, the root and guiding conceptions of this most antique of all faiths.