[Updated Sept. 14, 2021 to include some more recent books.]
Most people are aware of midsummer (the summer solstice) as a key time when the realm of the fairies overlaps with our own. Not as many realize though that there is another time of year when the veil is thin: the winter solstice, or Yule. It’s obvious when you think about it since characters like Santa, his elves, and Jack Frost are so connected to Yule.
Some branches of ancient and modern Paganism have close ties with fairies, with some revering the Good Neighbors as deities while others treat them more as spirits, sometimes even considering them to be the spirits of deceased humans. Few see Them in the stereotypical way portrayed by Disney and in children’s picture books.
There are many books on the topic and a growing fairy festival culture, like Renaissance festivals but devoted to fairies, and even magazines http://www.faeriemagazine.com (renamed as “Enchanted Living” but still relevant) and http://www.faemagazine.com/ for example.
The classic text that is most widely available on the topic is undoubtedly W.Y. Evans-Wentz’s “The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.” It was originally published in the early 1900s and has been republished a number of times since by various publishers. It can be found in most libraries and bookstores, usually in the mythology and folklore sections.
Another classic which has been reprinted by a few publishers recently is “The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, & Fairies” by Robert Kirk. The book is purportedly based on Kirk’s personal encounters with the shining ones.
Both books can be found in free online editions at http://www.sacred-texts.com along with a wealth of other public-domain texts on fairies, occultism, and world religions. Use the search feature there to find lots of helpful pages!
Another author who wrote extensively about fairies from the late 1800s and early 1900s is Fiona Macleod (a pen name used by William Sharp.) Macleod/Sharp was a member of the Golden Dawn magickal group and worked with W. B. Yeats in his attempts to establish a Celtic cultural and spiritual revival. In addition to the books written under the name Fiona Macleod, look for Steve Blamires’ book “The Little Book of the Great Enchantment” for an examination of what Fiona Macleod was all about.
There are a number of handbooks or encyclopedias giving capsule descriptions of fairies from various cultures. One of the classics that is well worth reading is Katharine Briggs’ “An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures.” Dr. Briggs was involved with the Folklore Society in the UK, and has an annual award named after her in honor of her work in folklore. Other similar books to look for are “The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Other Little People” by Thomas Keightley, “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies” by Anna Franklin, and “The Great Encyclopedia of Faeries” by Pierre Dubois.
Folklore about fairies is not just a bunch of pre-1900s tales passed on in rural areas. There are a surprising number of stories, from all over the world, based on events that have happened quite recently. “The Good People” edited by Peter Narváez is a collection of essays including fairy encounters and fairy lore from recent times. It’s a scholarly book and sometimes rather eye-opening if you’ve only read stereotypical fairy lore.
There are a number of modern Pagan spiritual paths that focus on fairies. One recent example of this is the system taught by Orion Foxwood. His books “The Faery Teachings” and “The Tree of Enchantment” provide a solid, ecologically-conscious magickal spiritual path. Another prominent author (who Foxwood drew on as a source) is R. J. Stewart. The most representative book of his for working with fairies is “The Living World of Faery.” Look for Stewart’s other books too for a great foundation in magickal spirituality.
Other excellent more recent books written by Pagans who work with the faerie realm include “Fairycraft: Following the Path of the Fairy Witch” by Morgan Daimler, and my favourite, “Faery Craft: Weaving Connections with the Enchanted Realm” by Emily Carding.
Another pair of books that might be of interest are Kenny Klein’s “Through the Faerie Glass” and “Fairy Tale Rituals.” They are a realistic look at human-faerie interaction without the usual saccharine veneer that is often associated with the Good Folk. [Note: in 2014 Klein was convicted of possessing child porn and was sentenced to 20 years in jail. Klein passed away in 2020 from pancreatic cancer while in prison. You might not want to support his books by buying them new. If you still want to get his books I’d recommend you buy them second-hand through a site like http://used.addall.com as the author will receive no money from the purchase of second-hand copies.]
Ceremonial magicians have also historically worked with faeries. “The Book of Oberon: A Sourcebook of Elizabethan Magic” by Daniel Harms, James R. Clark, and Joseph H. Peterson is a modern annotated edition of a handwritten grimoire from the 16th century in England. If you are interested in ceremonial magick as well as working with faeries, this will be exactly what you’re looking for.
Witches, too, have a long history of involvement with fairies. Of particular note is the Feri Witchcraft system originally taught by Victor and Cora Anderson. Cora Anderson’s “Fifty Years in the Feri Tradition” and Victor Anderson’s “Etheric Anatomy” are must-reads for those wishing to learn more about this path.
Other books to watch for include John Matthews’ “The Sidhe.” It’s a daring book for Matthews, as he notes in the introduction he generally discounts “channeled” material until his own personal experience changed his mind. Then there’s “The Faerie Way” by Hugh Mynne; a great introduction to the role of fairies in magickal spiritual traditions, and including some never-before-published art by George “A.E.” Russell.
There are books and other items such as divination sets that encourage us to interact very directly with Them. Most popular are the work of Brian Froud’s fertile talent: his “Faeries’ Oracle,” “The Heart of Faerie Oracle,” and “The Runes of Elfland” are personal favorites of mine; be sure to look for his other work as there is a lot out there! (Brian Froud is responsible for the look of the movie “The Dark Crystal” and the TV series prequel, as well as the faeries in the David Bowie movie “Labyrinth.” Brian’s son Toby was the baby in “Labyrinth” as well.) Another impressive book is “An Elfin Book of Spirits,” produced by the Silver Elves in Hawaii. You can find Brian Froud, his wife and son Toby online at https://www.facebook.com/brianfroud/ and the Silver Elves at http://silverelves.angelfire.com
And finally, to round out the list of interesting books on fairies I’d like to add two guidebooks to fairy sites. “The Traveller’s Guide to Fairy Sites” by Janet Bord lists locations in England, Wales, and Scotland. Paul Devereux’s “Fairy Paths & Spirit Roads” talks about the topic of magickal pathways in general and lists sites around the world.