Reports of encounters with “Little People” turn up in the US even today. To say that I do or don’t consider them literal “fairies” – the “real thing” that inspired the ones from folklore - would be irrelevant. I’ve never seen any of the potentially supernatural little people, for one thing. But when the paranormal overlaps with the folkloric, I get interested. There is something very neat going on with at least the pattern of reports.
The children who see these little people often report interactions, even sustaining relationships like those with imaginary friends. (Many examples of the well-known imaginary friend would actually be classified as little-people encounters by different interviewers.)
The adult experiencers I meet often think they’ve seen “ordinary” ghosts. Then you start questioning them. They even surprise themselves with things in their recollection that they never noticed before. (“Hey… Yeah, he was really small.”) And then they start to get it. You’d think the size would be the first thing they’d notice, but it seems like the shock of seeing something they sense is supernatural outweighs everything else.
That’s a logical way for most experiencers to think, because of the apparitional qualities of these Little People. It’s clear that they aren’t completely material, and they appear and disappear mysteriously.
They don’t behave like ghosts in most other ways, though, and because of their consistent parallels to figures of folklore, it feels like there may be a lot more to them. Little People tales are quite a bit rarer in the US than ghost stories, but I still have a thick file of them from my home region of Western New York, seemingly a hotspot for them.
Part I of this series was another upstate NY story about a human child who interacted with Little People apparitions. Let’s finish up with some of the speculation the details of that event brought to me.
1) Were these Celtic-style Little People?
The narrator of the tale we told in Part I is of pure Irish ancestry. Her father was born in Ireland, and many of her aunts had still the brogue. There is a long tradition about the Little People in her family. The Celtic cultures of Europe have a very developed cycle of legends and tradition about the fairies and fairy-style beings, most of whom answer to the name of “The Little People.” While literal faith is obviously dwindling, many living people of Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Manx, Breton, and American-Celtic ancestry still have a bit of belief in them.
Could the seven year old of our tale have been saved from the frozen pond by a troop of the Irish-style fair folk, possibly paying back some family debt? Some of the old Irish and Scottish families were rumored to have such special friends who surfaced every generation or two, often when there was a crisis. But that was in the home country. Rushford Lake is a long way from Tipperary; but the idea of almost instantaneous cross-Atlantic travel isn’t any weirder than the one of supernatural Little People. The reactions of the girl’s Irish-born father at the time of the incident might be telling. He accepted the story about the Little People a lot quicker than most of us would.
2) But do we look to the place, rather than the people, for an explanation?
This tale surfaced in Western New York, the historic territory of the Seneca. As did other nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, our Seneca friends had a sacred and private system concerning these Little People. It appears to be an original tradition with them, well older than the time of European influence. Many living Reservation folk believe in these Little People today. It seems almost as likely that these could have been local – Native American – wee folk.
It’s not only Native Americans who see them in their Western New York places. Our White contemporaries report Little People, too, often at traditional sites. Sometimes they come as diminutive children, but even when they appear as tiny adults they are often remembered as children because of their size and, when in groups, their playfulness.
The teller of the tale in our last update doesn’t mention much about the clothing or complexion of the Little People she saw. She notices only that they were not wearing winter clothes. While it may be frustrating, this is not really unusual. Many ghost-sighters seem to have a picture frozen in their minds, recalling minute details of dress, expression, light and shade. With certain other types of sightings, including Little People, many of my witnesses display a curious lack of recall about details. Most people who see Little People report them as members of their own society, often (when they remember) in the dress of a few decades before. Seneca witnesses see little Native Americans. White witnesses see little 19th and early 20th century farmers.
What does this suggest about the Little People, when people always see them as members of their own society? That they could be something else entirely than what they appear? That they cast webs of illusion into the minds of witnesses? That the witnesses do a lot of projecting? Your call.
3) Our witness recalls some curious features of the hill on which she had her adventure with the Little People.
Apart from its legend as a sled-hill, it seems an unusual piece of landscape. Years later our narrator came to it in the summer and remembers at least one side of it as terraced, like a ziggurat or a Mesoamerican pyramid. There was at least two feet between each of the grassy “steps.” Its broad, flat peak suggests the top of one of the American pyramids at which ceremonies, even sacrifice, were often held. (In this case the Little People saw that there would be no sacrifice.)
Of course, there’s a big difference between the recollection of a seven-year-old and a certainty we can use to build a theory. And there might be easy explanations for the odd landscaping. But other earthy curiosities have been reported about Western New York, suggesting, perhaps, that someone was working on the local landscape before the Iroquois arrived. If this stepped-mountain is what it seems, it could suggest a ceremonial site, and something unusual in the prehistory of this part of upstate New York. The Cahokian cultures of the Mississippi Valley fashioned stepped earthen pyramids.
It’s hard to believe that a truly ancient feature of landscape-architecture made of simple earth would survive even a century without upkeep. But if just a part of it did, it suggests that the hill might have had ritual significance. And these sites are associated with psychic folklore, including “Little People” stories. The supplanting culture always attributes psychic folklore to the sacred sites and monuments of the displaced.
3) Even the timing of the event on the hill is suggestive – December 21, 1976.
Our witness is sure of the date. Evidently someone in the family made a note of it. That’s usually the date of the Winter Solstice. This shortest day of the year is a pivot-point for many preindustrial cultures. It’s one of the eight power-points of the year that include the solstices, the equinoxes, and the cross-quarter days.
These cross-quarters - points in between the solar peaks and standstills – were of more importance to the Celtic societies. Still, the solstice would have been powerful to any society. “To Juan at the Winter Solstice” is one of Robert Graves’ most important mythological poems, and its major theme is the old Mediterranean solar Adonis-cult and its ritual sacrifice.
4) The sound effects our witness attributed to the manifesting Little People are also curious.
One would expect laughter and conversation that would escalate as the children neared; but “rushing horses”? Some of the Irish and Scottish Little People were thought to travel and manifest in ghostly equestrian troops, sometimes with chariots and carriages. Having them arrive as cavalry we never see is just one more thing to be considered.
It reminds me of the Tuscarora Reservation tale from a man who had seen “Witch Lights” streak across a field shortly after the sound of running horses. While “witch lights” are not Little People, in folklore anything supernatural tends to get associated at least occasionally with anything else supernatural. (Power-places get witches, Little People, ghosts, mystery-lights and other crazy stuff.)
Our witness’ “rushing horses” association reminds us unavoidably of the famous Yeats poem, “The Hosting of the Sidhe" (Shee): “The Host is riding from Knocknarea…”
But there are strange consistencies at the root to all Fairy-folk, both in lore and report. Whatever they may be, wherever these little people appear, they are associated with both the cycles of nature and the spirits of the human dead. They also have a universal interest in human children. This tale we were given from the recollections of a seven-year-old touches a lot of bases. It's a good one for the May Eve.