“I was amazed as people must be who are seized and kidnapped, and who realize that in the strange world of their captors they have a value absolutely unconnected with anything they know about themselves” – Alice Munro
Mostly in the interest of avoiding such a fate, I’ve been reading up on alien abductions and faerie kidnappings, and have come to the inescapable conclusion that aliens and faeries need an online dating service. Jacques Vallee, in his seminal work Passport to Magonia, helpfully pointed out the detailed similarities between historical accounts of contact with faeries and modern extraterrestrial encounters, ranging from the broader instances of missing time, hypnotic control, and accompanying strange lights to the minutia of ritual offerings of unfamiliar food, but by far the most disturbing overlap is the fact that both faeries and aliens seem to have an unhealthy obsession with kidnapping people and a fetishistic fascination with human reproduction (admitedly nothing weirder than you see on Craigslist e.g. “Short, balding Chinese gentleman seeks tall African-American woman with passion for leather and Brahms”). Now, the hypothesis that both faeries and aliens are reproductive parasites, having trouble perpetuating their respective races due to some freak genetic accident, disaster, or horrible twist of fate, and are conducting organized efforts to ensure their own survival through, in the case of aliens, wacky and seemingly unnecessary medical experimentation and involuntary gamete donations, and in the case of faeries, generally demanding child care services for various sorts of hybrid faerie/human babies or some such domestic activity related to child rearing (I guess faeries just aren’t nurturers), has a certain odd resonance. Here’s the problem. Examine the adult classifieds in any periodical, or visit any dating website, and you’ll rapidly discern that the services required by aliens and faeries would be easy to obtain simply by asking. A lot of people would probably pay them to participate. In addition, people on average are mostly decent when it comes to lending a hand (or other appendage), so not caring whether aliens and faeries are part and parcel of the same phenomena, we can be reasonably sure that if a paranormal population appeared and explained that they were having a little trouble getting it on, charitable contributions of everything from human reproductive cells, to Viagra and pornography would come pouring in. The fact that alien and faerie abductions are conducted so surreptitiously, suggests (1) they are associated with a degree of shame, and (2) there isn’t some vaguely logical, concerted motivation like combating genetic impairment behind the effort. By examining the commonalities in faerie and alien abductions, one comes to believe that we are not dealing with cultures (supernatural or otherwise) that we simply don’t understand, rather with the sociological outliers of those cultures, that is, the sexual predators of the universe with an erotic fixation on humans. We’re not being visited by the sophisticated ambassadors of galactic civilization and the luminaries of alternate realities. We’re being visited by the degenerates. The rest of them probably think we’re a little dirty.
Of course, monsters have always exhibited an unnatural attraction to humans (sometimes for food, sometimes for companionship to fill the lonely hours of monsterhood between midnights, and sometimes just as a chew toy), but their fondness for us was more instrumental, logical, and overt. We tasted good. We’re good conversationalists and collect cool stuff. We’re an ideal rag doll when all our bones are broken. Monsters and gods abducting humans have a proud history, rooted in ideas about transformation (of monster or man) and that there is an underlying order to the anomalies of the universe based on an organized otherworld, which might not have rules we recognize as legitimate for daily terrestrial life, but certainly recognize as representative of a social structure. Kidnapping an unsuspecting human and dragging them off gives us glimpses of that otherworld. Traditionally, the assumption has been that human abduction was simply the monster oeuvre, and that kidnapping by faeries represented a standard operating procedure that served some benefit for both abductor and abductee i.e. mortal man had some utility for supernatural folk, and symbolized a hero’s journey for us that invariably led to some sort of positive character development.
Motifs of kidnapping or abduction by supernatural creatures are numerous. Whether the abductors are gods, spirits, faeries, goblins, witches, or aliens from outer space, there are striking similarities. The seduced or captured abductee is always taken to another place, used or manipulated in some way, and, if released, returned in an altered form or with continuing aftereffects…Perhaps the earliest forms of abduction are those associated with shamanism or priestly initiation rites, which may be compared to magical transformative journeys. Shamans, who gain power from their intercourse with the spirit world where, in trance or semi-trance, they are tested and tried, returning to the ordinary world with new powers and a new way of life…As traditional belief dwindled or was rationalized, kidnapping faeries from the otherworld became aliens from outer space who had much the same function and nature. The fairy-fascination subsided (though it did not die) in the 1920s, but before it was completely over the new kidnappers had appeared on the scene (Garry & El-Shamy, 2005, p380).
Scholars of faeriedom have frequently pointed out the differences between the Seelie (the reasonably friendly faeries, who may prank us, but are not essentially malign) and Unseelie (the critters that hate us with unbridled, psychotic rage) Faerie courts, going so far as to label the Seelie faeries as “the Good People”, who rewarded kindness and charity, and generally regarded us as pleasant and amusing. 17th Century folklorist and the grandfather of faerie anthropology Reverend Robert Kirk (1644-1692), minister of Alberfoyle and author of what can only be described as the first rigorous ethnography of faeries in the Scottish Highlands called The Secret Commonwealth, diligently collected first hand accounts of human-faerie interactions, noting that many of the stories involved abduction of both adults and children.
Kirk believed in the ability of the Good People to perform kidnappings and abductions, and this idea was so widespread that it has come down to us through a variety of channels. We can therefore examine in detail four aspects of fairy lore that directly relate to our study: (1) the conditions and purpose of the abductions; (2) the cases of release from Elfland and the forms taken by the elves’ gratitude when the abducted human being had performed some valuable service during his stay in Elfland; (3) the belief in the kidnapping activities of the fairy people; and (4) what I shall call the relativistic aspects of the trip to Elfland (Vallee, 1993, p100).
Of, particular note is the fact the Reverend Kirk emphasizes that faerie society is not a homogenous quintessence of goodness, and in fact that they differ in opinion on notions of fairness, justice, and relations to human beings, which suggest that just as there are weird and obsessive people, there are similarly weird and obsessive faeries (the entire species of which he refers to as “Subterraneans”). This gives us telling hints that most faeries looked askance at human abduction.
These Subterraneans have Controversies, Doubts, Disputes, Feuds, and Siding of Parties; there being some Ignorance in all Creatures, and the vastest created Intelligences not compassing all Things. As to Vice and Sin, whatever their own Laws be, sure, according to ours, and Equity, natural, civil, and reveal’d, they transgress and commit Acts of Injustice, and Sin, by what is above said, as to their stealing of Nurses to their Children, and that other sort of Plaginism in catching our Children away (may seem to heir some Estate in those invisible Dominions) which never return. For the Inconvenience of their Succubi, who tryst with Men, it is abominable; but for Swearing and Intemperance, they are not observed so subject to those Irregularities, as to Envy, Spite, Hypocrisy, Lying, and Dissimulation (Kirk, 1893 trans. Lang, p27).
The prominence of kidnapping as a motif in faerie-human relations would not seem to result so much from this being a normal aspect of fairy society, as it is clearly denoted as a transgressive act that other faeries regarded as a sign of poor adjustment, rather it makes for a more exciting folk narrative. If you meet one of the fey, and he turns out to be a pretty cool and levelheaded dude, odds are there isn’t much of a story to tell. If he throws a bag over your head and hauls you off to the netherworld, you might one day be able to sell the film rights. A simplified version of Anthropologist and Folklorist Vladimir Propp’s morphology of folktales is that invariably a fairy tale consists of a set of functions and moves: (1) An initial situation is laid out (midnight in rural West Virginia; rainy day on the Scottish moor), (2) An interdiction emerges (don’t drunkenly wander in the forest; stay away from the ancient standing stones), (3) the interdiction is violated (rules were meant to be broken?), (4) the violation leads to a consequence (alien abduction; faerie kidnapping) and typically some sort of test/competition (aliens need something from you; faeries need you to perform some service – curiously both often seem to be reproductively related), followed by (5) “victory” (mission accomplished, release from captivity), (6) a further test of the hero in the form of a sustained ordeal, and finally (7) a return. The dramatis personae of such accounts are equally important, and our abductees fall firmly into the intriguing category of the “victimized hero”. There’s not much to be learned from a folktale that says you were nice to a faerie, and the faerie was nice to you. Well, okay, it does point out a certain value in being a decent person, but it doesn’t have the rollicking, action packed excitement of crisis and dénouement. Propp, as a committed structuralist elucidated the “victimized hero” theme in Slavic fairy tales, which is clearly applicable to Celtic fairy abduction.
This function brings the hero into the tale. Under the closest analysis, this function may be subdivided into components, but for our purposes this is not essential. The hero of the tale may be one of two types: (1) if a young girl is kidnapped, and disappears from the horizon of her father (and that of the listener), and if Iván goes off in search of her, then the hero of the tale is Iván and not the kidnapped girl. Heroes of this type may be termed seekers. (2) If a young girl or boy is seized or driven out, and the thread of the narrative is linked to his or her fate and not to those who remain behind, then the hero of the tale is the seized or banished boy or girl. There are no seekers in such tales. Heroes of this variety may be called victimized heroes…There is no instance in our material in which a tale follows both seeker and victimized heroes (Propp, 1928, p21).
If as Propp proposed, folklore is meant to guide us through the declaration of a violable rule, the violation of said rule, and the consequences of the violation (doom or redemption), it is difficult to fit the theme of faerie or alien abduction into the category of moral lessons, beyond being able to point to the doll and say, “the bad alien touched me here.” This suggests that the faerie and alien abductions don’t easily fit into widely observed patterns of the mythological. Don’t get kidnapped for the purposes of pleasuring paranormal perverts or providing free childcare is not a useful message. Most of us are fairly avoidant of this anyway. Which leads us to the reproductive aspects associated with both faerie and alien abduction.
Throughout the history of abductions the beings have shown a keen interest in reproduction, an interest expressed in the old-fashioned way for Villas Boas and with greater technological sophistication for the Indianapolis woman whose fetus was removed, but present in some form or other in many accounts. Male abductees may report sperm samples taken and females a long needle inserted into the navel or abdomen for what the beings identify as a pregnancy test, while both sexes experience some inspection of the genital area. More than evenhanded scientific curiosity appears to motivate this attention, since the examiners devote a disproportionate amount of time and effort to the reproductive system at the relative expense of other equally significant bodily systems. In one case the abductors say outright that their mission is to build a better being by combining their qualities with those of humans. In other cases abductees have seen nurseries and hybrid children. Less direct references, where one man was rejected because of a vasectomy and another as too old and infirm for the beings’ purposes, indicate a depth of consistency in this theme…The reproductive theme so prominent in abduction reports recurs as a staple throughout the lore of supernatural contact and kidnap. Greek mythology portrays Zeus as a notorious lecher prone to carry off mortals, and tells of Pluto taking Persephone to Hades while her mother Demeter deprives the earth of its fertility. Genesis 6:4 says that “the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children unto them. …” Demons seduce humans in their sleep as incubi and succubi, La Llorona lures men with sexual attractiveness, and the devil as a handsome man may seduce and carry off a young woman. Even the dead, or at least the undead, feed on the lifesblood or sexual energies of the young and virile. Of course sex is always a topic of interest in or out of narratives. What makes faeries especially significant in this connection is the fact that they are somehow not reproductively self-sufficient and depend to a degree on humans. Faeries mate with humans, carry off women to fairyland, exchange their elderly for human babies, and seek a mortal midwife to assist at a fairy birth. This reproductive parasitism bears a close resemblance to the relationship between humans and aliens depicted in abduction accounts (Bullard, 1989, p156).
Scholars have tried to equate beliefs about faerie abductions with memories of ancient conflicts between pre-Celtic peoples and Celts or secret Druidic recruiting drives, in which kidnapping of children was probably more prevalent, as would have been the use of caves as hideouts by a dwindling minority, but this seems like the typical intellectual stretch engaged in by those who wish to be entirely dismissive of the possibility of alternate realities, and do so without blatantly referring to those who hold such beliefs as morons.
Some writers have argued that the changeling belief merely reflects a time when the aboriginal pre-Celtic peoples held in subjection by the Celts, and forced to live in mountain caverns and in secret retreats underground, occasionally kidnapped the children of their conquerors, and that such kidnapped children sometimes escaped and told to their Celtic kinsmen highly romantic tales about having been in an underground fairy-world with faeries. Frequently this argument has taken a slightly different form: that instead of unfriendly pre-Celtic peoples it was magic-working Druids who — either through their own choice or else, having been driven to bay by the spread of Christianity, through force of circumstances — dwelt in secret in chambered mounds or souterrains, or in dense forests, and then stole young people for recruits, sometimes permitting them, years afterwards, when too old to be of further use, to return home under an inviolable vow of secrecy (Evans, 1911, p245-246).
Ultimately, faerie and alien abductions seem to be a product of a paranormal fetishism, where creatures that are themselves anomalies among anomalies are obsessively-compulsively satisfying their own marginal, prurient interests. Ironically for our supernatural abductors, there is a certain segment of society that is probably turned on by the notion of being a sexual aid for aliens or faeries, but as Fran Lebowitz observed, “If your sexual fantasies were truly of interest to others, they would no longer be fantasies”. Perhaps these faerie and alien abductors aren’t all that odd after all given the broad range of things that get humans all hot and bothered. They just need to form a club. The ones mutilating cattle and stealing their reproductive organs? They’re just plain weird.
Bullard, Thomas E. “UFO Abduction Reports: The Supernatural Kidnap Narrative Returns in Technological Guise”. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 102, No. 404, (Apr. – Jun., 1989), pp. 147-170
Evans-Wentz, W. Y. 1878-1965. The Fairy-faith In Celtic Countries. London: H. Frowde, 1911.
Garry, Jane & El-Shamy, Hasan. Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2005.
Kirk, Robert, 1641?-1692. The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns & Faeries: a Study In Folk-lore & Psychical Research. London: D. Nutt, 1893.
Propp, Vladimir 1895-1970. Morphology of the Folktale. 2d ed., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968 (reprint of 1928 translation).
Vallee, Jacques. Passport to Magonia: On UFOs, Folklore and Parallel Worlds. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books, 1993.