Recently The Manx Independent published an article ("Fairy Bridge and Tree Cleared of Clutter") about a man who's taken it upon himself to remove some of the bike helmets, plastic dolls, mirrors, scarves, necklaces, and many notes for deceased loved ones that had been in some cases stapled to the tree that sits beside the famous "fairy bridge" on the Castletown Rd.**
Those of you who read my book Faery Tale know of the beautiful places and people I connected with on the Isle of Man, and so, being such a fan of the incredible island, I like to keep up on the happenings there. People on Facebook (many of them Manx, from the feed I saw) were outraged.
While I can certainly understand the controversy, they could bear reminding that according to folklore, in ancient times if any thought to remove (or even so much as touch) a rag tied to a fairy tree, they were believed to risk taking on the illness left in hopes of curing by the petitioner - or in other cases, risk the wrath of the faeries themselves. So if this man's displeased the Good People, they needn't worry about justice and retribution, the faeries would take care of that.
However, I'm not so sure the faeries would be displeased.
The man raised an excellent point, and it's one I've been wanting to write about for quite some time now.
"'I’ve driven past it often, and thought that for a while now it was getting out of hand,' he said. 'I had a day off today, so I thought I’d just come down now and do it quickly.’ He admitted he wasn’t sure if he had the right to clean up the area, but felt that not everyone was comfortable with the state in which the landmark bridge had been left."
When I first began venturing to fairy sites I was touched and astounded by the sheer evidence of human pilgrimage to these sites (as I wrote about in the book). I found the things left behind to be novel, kitschy, fascinating. It was only in visiting site after site since the publication of my book that I began to understand just how serious the impact of "leaving offerings" can be. Things like bike helmets, plastic toys, sunglasses, figurines, laminated paper, metal, beads or glass should never be left behind. As a result, some sites I've visited look more like landfills than they do sacred places.
|The Fairy Tree, Isle of Man|
Places that do it right are places like the Chalice Well, where even candle wax is scraped from the stones by volunteers careful to preserve the site's "unmarked by man" sense of purity.
Before I understood the impact, I was guilty of leaving things in places that didn't belong there - even though they were things like shells and natural stones I'd picked up on my journey to that place - leaving them behind was still a distraction to others who came to those places after me, seeking to have their own experience. Untainted by other "pilgrims" who'd visited before. We have only to visit places like St. Nectan's Glen in Cornwall to see the sad and astonishing impact that "just leaving one special thing" can have on a sacred place in nature.
Sacred sites like stone circles, hut circles, raised burial mounds and ancient ring forts (aside from mostly belonging to governmentally-operated preservation societies, or in some cases farmers and other individuals who kindly let you trespass on their property to experience a site) do not belong to you. Or even me, as much as I'd like it. The people who truly act as guardians for these sites realize they belong to everybody.
It discouraged me to read in the same article that "In 2009, Sonya Bowness, who lived at the Fairy Bridge cottage and owned the land on which the items were being left, grew exasperated as the popular tourist spot turned into an eyesore. However, her plans to have a visitors’ centre and a public access space built on land next to the bridge were denied."
Ms. Bowness was clearly only searching for a solution that would still allow visitors to leave objects while simultaneously preserving her own sanity! However, Tynwald is considering installing a letter box near the tree so that children and adults wanting to leave notes no longer feel the necessity to staple and otherwise affix them to the tree.
|A"Wishing Tree," St. Nectan's Glen|
Some might argue that in many cases (like on Fairy Bridge on Isle of Man and in St. Nectan's Glen) these items have been left as a memorial to honor a loved one. Especially on Isle of Man, where many of the items were left by family members of bikers who died in motorcycle wrecks on the island. My heart goes out to them.
But I would say, if you want to make a shrine for a lost loved one, why not do it on your own property, where you can visit it daily and offer as many things as you'd like in remembrance? After all, their spirit isn't on the Isle of Man, it's much more likely with you, and the others who they loved during life. If you must leave something, leave an offering of flowers with a biodegradable string - these things go back to nature and it's the gesture, not the object, that carries the true meaning.
|Just a few of the thousands of trinkets |
left behind in St. Nectan's Glen
I've seen a lot of trinkets left behind in my travels to ancient and folkloric sites. But of all the memorial objects I've ever seen, the thing that effected me most powerfully was a simple bouquet of wildflowers left beside a forgotten burial mound in southern Scotland. It was impermanent, unintrusive, and an astonishingly beautiful anonymous gesture that said, I honor. I remember. In this moment, I remember.
Just like our temporary, beautiful and impermanent lives, the inherent message was that this too shall fall into the ground and pass.
And that, if you ask me, is how it really should be.
**I know of two other fairy bridges on Isle of Man, one is the one I write about in the book, and the other is kept a close secret by only a few locals. That one I pray they will keep a secret, even from the likes of me.