Allegorical stories of saints battling with giants, monsters and demons may be interpreted as symbolizing the Christian's fight against paganism. At Bwlch Rhiwfelen (Denbigh) St Collen fought and killed a cannibal giantess, afterwards washing away the blood-stains in a well later known as Ffynnon Gollen. In Ireland, the tales of saints slaying giant serpents may have the same meaning; alternatively they (or some of them) may refer to early sightings of genuine water monsters. St Barry banished a serpent from a mountain into Lough Lagan (Roscommon), and a holy well sprang up where the saint's knee touched the ground.
In prehistoric times, early man was bowled over by natural events: rain, thunder, lightning, the violent shaking and moving of the ground, mountains spewing deathly hot lava, the glow of the moon, the burning heat of the sun, the twinkling of the stars. Our human brain searched for an answer, and the conclusion was that it all must be caused by something greater than ourselves - this, of course, sprouted the earliest seeds of religion. This theory is certainly reflected in faery lore. In the beautiful sloping hills of Connemara in Ireland, for example, faeries were believed to have been just as beautiful, peaceful, and pleasant as the world around them. But in the Scottish Highlands, with their dark, brooding mountains and eerie highland lakes, villagers warned of deadly water-kelpies and spirit characters that packed a bit more punch.
It would be dreadfullyironic, I mused, if once I earned a soul, I forgot everything about being fey, including all my memories of her. That sort of ending seemedappropriately tragic; the smitten fey creature becomes human but forgets why he wanted to in the first place. Old fairy tales loved that sort of irony.
I knew by the signs it would be a hard winter. The hollies bore a heavy crop of berries and birds stripped them bare. Crows quarreled in reaped fields and owls cried in the mountains, mournful as widows. Fur and moss grew thicker than usual. Cold rains came, driven sideways through the trees by north winds, and snows followed.
It must be understood that in some cases the process by which a god or goddess degenerates into a fairy may occupy centuries, and that in the passage of generations such an alteration may be brought about in appearance and traits as to make it seem impossible that any relationship actually exists between the old form and the new. This may be accounted for by the circumstance that in gradually assuming the traits of fairyhood the god or goddess may also have taken on the characteristics of fairies which Already existed in the minds of the folk, the elves of a past age, who were already elves at a period when he or she still flourished in the full vigour of godhead. For in one sense Faerie represents a species of limbo, a great abyss of traditional material, into which every kind of ancient belief came to be cast as the acceptance of one new faith after another dictated the abandonment of forms and ideas unacceptable to its doctrines. The difference between god and fairy is indeed the difference between religion and folk-lore.
Once, at the dreaming dawn of history -- before the world was categorized and regulated by mortal minds, before solid boundaries formed between the mortal world and any other -- fairies roamed freely among men, and the two races knew each other well. Yet the knowing was never straightforward, and the adventures that mortals and fairies had together were fraught with uncertainty, for fairies and humans were alien to each other.
I have a very clear memory of my first encounter with myth, sitting in a mobile library and travelling, at the same time, with Theseus on the road to Athens. By the time we'd met, and disposed of, the pine-bending giant Sinis, I'd become completely entranced. Within a few months I'd read every book on myths, legends and folklore in our two nearest libraries.