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Faeries Along the Silk Road ... and Beyond
At this time of year, when the weather is changing and we’re getting closer to Halloween, I start to think about the spirits of the otherworld. Faeries are everywhere you can imagine, in ways you may not expect.
The term "faery" itself is definitely of European origin, but the concept of nature spirits or elementals who are both of this reality and not can be found all over the world. The names may change, but whatever you call them, faeries have been both kind and mischievous, kind to humans on occasion and sometimes not.
A walk along the Silk Road
The Silk Road was a series of routes going over land and sea that were integral to traders long before the Christian era began. A lot of trade occurred along the route, bringing silks and spices and more from the East to the West and back. Traditionally, the Silk Road connected a region of China with Asia Minor and the Mediterranean, a route that was over 5,000 miles long -- quite a distance now; think of what it must have represented 2,000 years ago. The goods that the travelers took back were transported from places as far away as the Philippines and Thailand and Brunei, all the way to Italy and Portugal and even Sweden. Not only were silks and spices and even technology moved along these routes, so was culture, and that meant Asian concepts and items were introduced to Europe, and vice versa.
That includes faeries.
Beyond Europe, the faeries aren’t referred to as such, but as nature spirits and demons and angels and even gods and goddesses.
The Middle Eastern tradition is ancient and rich with folklore dealing with beings of other planes of existence. The best known among them is probably the djinn, called a demon in some cultures but simply a spirit in others.
After Persia, which has its own cultural traditions, the Silk Road splits, with one part of the road heading north, skimming Tibet on the way to China, with the other branch dipping south to India. India has its own ancient tradition, with gods, goddesses, and demons--all faeries of their own land.
The Indian countryside has local gods and goddesses, with a local goddess often worshipped in the form of a sacred tree -- not unlike the European tradition of dryads. They can take human form, just like faeries of the West have been known to do, and there's another tradition in which some humans in folklore claim to be descended from these spirits.
Then in Japan, the term kami is the broad term used for the version of nature spirits or gods. The term kamikaze, as you may know, which was the term used for the Japanese suicide pilots during World War II, literally refers to "wind spirits." The wind spirits were credited with keeping away the Mongols when they tried to invade Japan in the late 13th century. Since the official religion of Japan is Shinto, which is an animist philosophy, there are a lot of earth spirits, ie, faeries, there.
Taking a leap from Japan down to Polynesia, the earth spirits there are also strong. The menehune are some of the most popular faery creatures of the Polynesians. In Hawaiian mythology, the menehune are said to be a people who live in the deep forests and hidden valleys of the Hawaiian islands.
Jacquie Rogers (author of Faery Special Romances) and I are conducting a workshop at the Emerald City Writers’ Conference in which we look at faeries around the world. Until I did the research for it, I never realized that faeries are everywhere, out of sight, no matter where you go. No matter what they’re called, whether it’s faeries (as in Western Europe), or gods and goddesses (as in India), or kami (in Japan), or even angels (as in the Philippines), just a glance at a map will give you an idea of where you can find them.
What kind of nature spirits are you most familiar with in your culture? Leave me a comment in the comments section here and one lucky winner will get a copy of my ebook, INTRODUCING SONIKA!
INTRODUCING SONIKA, now on sale at cerridwenpress.com