Apart, but Separate
Fairyland has also been called Faery or the Otherworld. It is not entirely part of our world, but not entirely separate, either.
The realm is said to exist just beyond reach, on a floating island or beneath a grassy mound, on a bleak wet bog or floating in the air.
There are portals or gates between the worlds that would allow faeries and humans to pass through.
The entrance was usually a pit, pothole, cave, well, knoll, crevice or hill top. This entrance is also known as the Silver Bough or Silver Branch.
“To enter the Otherworld before the appointed hour marked by death, a passport was often necessary, and this was usually a silver branch of the sacred apple-tree bearing blossoms.”
Fairyland is said to be a beautiful place, time doesn’t pass as is does in the mortal world. The sun always shines, the weather is always fine and trees produced blossoms and fruit at the same time.
There is no ugliness, disease or pain. There is no aging and no death. Food tastes better than food on earth. Faeries spend their time merrymaking and dancing. They would have great feasts with grand processions of white horses adorned with silver bells.
Despite the perfection of their world, faeries would often desire what the mortal world holds. They made frequent raids on this side of the veil, and would steal food, shiny objects and even people.
Where is Faery?
In many stories, Faeries were believed to live in ancient medieval forts or stone circles. Faeries were often called the ‘little people’ or ‘hidden people’. Some believe they were the original inhabitants of the land, and were displaced by humans migrating, which forced them into hiding.
The Irish Tuatha de Danaan were said to have lived in the síd or the earthen mounds and hills that dot the Irish landscape. The term sídhe has come to mean Faerie in general, but it more properly refers to the residences of the Faeries.
Individual or isolated faeries lived in caves, wells, woodlands, bushes mines, ruins, barns, stone circles and tumuli.
They either lived in their own dwellings or in Elf-hills or hillocks which were actually ancient burial mounds called by Elfin names.
Faeryland and the Land of the Dead
There is also a strong association between Faeryland and the realm of the dead. The two realms exist side by side, and are inextricably connected.
Becuma of the White Skin, An Irish Fairy Tale
In 1920, James Stephens wrote a book of Irish fairy tales, one of the stories being Becuma of the White Skin. This is an excerpt of how he describes the other realms:
There are more worlds than one, and in many ways they are unlike each other. But joy and sorrow, or, in other words, good and evil, are not absent in their degree from any of the worlds, for wherever there is life there is action, and action is but the expression of one or other of these qualities.
After this Earth there is the world of the Shí. Beyond it again lies the Many-Coloured Land. Next comes the Land of Wonder, and after that the Land of Promise awaits us. You will cross clay to get into the Shí; you will cross water to attain the Many-Coloured Land; fire must be passed ere the Land of Wonder is attained, but we do not know what will be crossed for the fourth world.
A council had been called in the Many-Coloured Land to discuss the case of a lady named Becuma Cneisgel, that is, Becuma of the White Skin, the daughter of Eogan Inver. She had run away from her husband Labraid and had taken refuge with Gadiar, one of the sons of Manannán mac Lir, the god of the sea, and the ruler, therefore, of that sphere.
It seems, then, that there is marriage in two other spheres. In the Shí matrimony is recorded as being parallel in every respect with earth-marriage, and the desire which urges to it seems to be as violent and inconstant as it is with us; but in the Many-Coloured Land marriage is but a contemplation of beauty, a brooding and meditation wherein all grosser desire is unknown and children are born to sinless parents.
In the Shí the crime of Becuma would have been lightly considered, and would have received none or but a nominal punishment, but in the second world a horrid gravity attaches to such a lapse, and the retribution meted is implacable and grim. It may be dissolution by fire, and that can note a destruction too final for the mind to contemplate; or it may be banishment from that sphere to a lower and worse one.
This was the fate of Becuma of the White Skin.
One may wonder how, having attained to that sphere, she could have carried with her so strong a memory of the earth. It is certain that she was not a fit person to exist in the Many-Coloured Land, and it is to be feared that she was organised too grossly even for life in the Shí.
She was an earth-woman, and she was banished to the earth.
Word was sent to the Shís of Ireland that this lady should not be permitted to enter any of them; from which it would seem that the ordinances of the Shí come from the higher world, and, it might follow, that the conduct of earth lies in the Shí.
In that way, the gates of her own world and the innumerable doors of Faery being closed against her, Becuma was forced to appear in the world of men.