Kazi Dawa Samdup and Walter Evan- Wentz In Native Dress Source
“All these creatures owe their first origin to other animals. There is one bird, however, that by itself renews and even reproduces itself.”
Of the Phoenix and Fairy Dust
Walter Even-Wentz was an early 20th century folklorists and anthropologist. He is best known for editing the first English translation of The Tibetan book of the dead.
He was initially inspired to study after reading Madame Blavatsky and trained first at Stanford University where he would come under the influence of William James who was a visiting professor at Stanford in 1906, teaching an introduction to philosophy course. It was here that his interest in panpsychic reality begins. Wentz went on to study Celtic folklore first at the University of Rennes using a literary and historical approach first developed at Stanford then developing a more anthropological perspective while studying at Oxford.
Whilst at Oxford he wrote The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. The text is based on Wentz’s Oxford thesis and contains contributions from some distinguished Celtic scholars (1) , Wentz notes in the introduction that the book contains material that was not presented to the examiners on the board of the faculty of Natural Science at Oxford. Amongst his more speculative theories was his perspective on the fairy.
“In studying this belief, we are concerned directly with living Celtic folk-traditions, and with past Celtic folk-traditions as recorded in literature. And if fairies actually exist as invisible beings or intelligences, and our investigations lead us to the tentative hypothesis that they do, they are natural and not supernatural, for nothing which exists can be supernatural; and, therefore, it is our duty to examine the Celtic Fairy Races just as we examine any fact in the visible realm wherein we now live, whether it be a fact of chemistry, of physics, or of biology.”
F.F.I.C.C,. pp. 5
Walter Evans Wentz had a particular interest in the concept of re-birth in Celtic literature and Folklore.
“In his flight from County Armagh, Finn Mac Coul took his mother on his shoulder, holding her by the legs, but so rapidly did he travel that on reaching the shores of the lake nothing remained of his mother save the two legs, and these he threw down there. Some time later, the Fenians, while searching for Finn, passed the same spot on the lake-shore, and Cinen Moul (?), who was of their number, upon seeing the shin-bones of Finn’s mother and a worm in one, said: “If that worm could get water enough it would come to something great.” “I’ll give it water enough,” said another of the followers, and at that he flung it into the lake (later called Finn Mac Coul’s lake). Immediately the worm turned into an enormous water-monster. This water-monster it was that St. Patrick had to fight and kill; and, as the struggle went on, the lake ran red with the blood of the water-monster, and so the lake came to be called Loch Derg (Red Lake).”
James Ryan recorded by Walter Evan-Wentz, Autumn, 1919
F.F.I.C.C. pp 350
The Red lake is of course the traditional home of purgatory and an old site of pilgrimage in Ireland that was known and famed throughout Western Europe, given a late 17th century ideological description of the landscape here, a variant of the legend here and touched upon the not entirely unrelated narratives surrounding snakes and frogs here. The nativist belief that the frog is not a native species to Ireland and its importance in the internal consumption of Irish identity has been played with in a number of past post , here and in a number of other places. This one and the previous example I rather like, but I have deployed a number of examples. One can suspect that Wentz’s deployment of what he curiously terms a ‘weird legend’ (I think it is safe to suspect he may have been well aware of the medieval components at play in the text) at a famous site of Christian pilgrimage may be an example of natvisim red in tooth and claw. Natvisim has long been a part of Celtic studies it views that oral narrative and medieval Irish material is far older than it’s composition and represents a clear view on a non-Christian past. Wentz’s deployment of the tale me be read as attempting to give the site a non-Christian history and past.
This landscape has long been a site ripe for dreaming and conjecture.
(1) Andrew Lang was one of Wentz’s, Oxford examiners. Lang was responsible for producing the first major edition of Robert Kirks, ‘The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies‘. Alexander Carmichael was one of the contributors to F.F.I.C.C.
The Hermit Who Owned His Mountian: A Profile of W.Y. Evans Wentz
Biographical History Walter Evens Wentz
Biographical Information Alexander Carmichael
The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: William James
Michael Hunter (eds.)The Occult Laboratory: Magic, Science and Second Sight in Late 17th Century Scotland: The Secret Commonwealth and other texts, Woodbridge, 2001
Peggy O’Brian, Writing Loch Derg