Once upon a time, there was a little girl who believed in faeries. (Spoilers: she’s now a grownup who believes in faeries.)
From my earliest memories, faeries have been at the center of my mythological world. I’m an only child, and my main entertainment growing up was playing pretend. The first thing I can recall pretending to be was a faerie named Theresa.
There was a broken tree in the woods behind my house, just after you crossed over the edge of our yard, a short, safe-but-still-thrilling distance into the forest. Around the back of the tree was an empty space in the crook of where a now-broken branch once met the trunk. It was a shadowy, spider-webby hole, and one day, I wrote a note and placed it carefully in this hole. It was an invitation to a tea party, addressed to “a fairy.” I know I was in elementary school, because I included my hours of availability (weekends and after 3 p.m.). Some days later, I found a reply written on the back—in my father’s handwriting—from one Theresa the Fairy.
More than anything else, I wanted to really see faeries. I have fleeting, uncertain recollections: Did I really see a faerie, tinged a glowing blue the way Tinkerbell glows yellow, behind my television set? Or is that clear image just what I imagined I might see if I saw one? Did I see a faerie down by the post office near my grandparents’ house, or was it, again, a memory of a daydream? My grandmother told me, one day when we were walking in the woodlot—a piece of land my grandparents owned out on a little island on the Maine coast—that she’d seen leaves standing upright on the forest floor, dancing in a circle, and she knew it was faeries.
Early in the summer after my sixth grade year, my mother and I went into an independent toy shop in Portsmouth, NH called Treetop Toys. It’s a charming place on a street that overlooks the Piscataqua River. You have to step up quite a ways through the door, and inside, there are wooden floors, mobiles hanging from the ceiling, and toys everywhere. I remember the day perfectly: I was wandering out from the back of the shop when, on a shelf and propped against the wall…there it was.
Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee.
$40 was a lot for a book back then, but my mother agreed to buy it for me as my “graduation present.” I took it home and I poured over it, treasuring every handwritten word, every wild, scribbly pencil drawing, every exquisite watercolor.
It changed how I looked at the world of faeries. It changed my understanding of folklore. It changed how I drew and how I wrote. It changed my life.
I hungered for more. Countless hours were spent at the Portsmouth Public Library, an old, dim brick building that the city has since abandoned for a newly built, modern facility. Up on the third floor were the nonfiction stacks, and I’d climb up the shelves to sit in a window where the sill was not really wide enough and read from Katharine Briggs’ Encyclopedia of Fairies. Everything I wrote and drew, from my own stories to the text RPGs I took part in on the nascent internet, was infused with and informed by faerie folklore.
But the years passed, and other interests took over. My later high school years and my college years were consumed by anime. After college, there was the void of post-grad school exhaustion, then Victorian England and paganism. It was paganism that finally led me back to Faerie.
I met some of the most amazing people in my life through paganism. Our dear friends Bridget and Jenn had raved, ever since we knew them, about a magical, perfect place in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania called the Spoutwood Farm May Day Fairie Festival. They told us over and over how safe, how happy, how utterly soul-filling this weekend of faerie revelry was. There, children and adults dressed in faerie costumes and danced to heart-stirring music. Delicious food and handmade treasures were everywhere. And everyone was filled with joy and love and kindness, for each other and for the earth. You will LOVE IT THERE, they told us. Finally, Rachel and I planned and saved up, and we attended our first Fairie Festival with Bridget and Jenn in 2013.
It was everything they said it would be.
The years since 2013 have been pretty hard—and at the same time, they’ve been full of such love and wonder. The promise of the Fairie Festival every year has gotten me through some really rotten times, and the natural high of being in a place so suffused with love, acceptance, and whimsy stays with me long after I’ve gone home.
Last night, when we were in bed, Rachel turned to me and said, in an excited whisper: “Nine more sleeps until we sleep at Spoutwood!” Of course, we’re not literally staying at Spoutwood Farm, but the entire area—the rolling fields, verdant tangled woods, and winding rock-edged roads of southern Pennsylvania—is synonymous, in our minds, with the spiritual fulfillment that is the Fairie Festival.
Only eight more sleeps, now.
Rachel and I at the Fairie Festival last year – photo by Jenn ❤