WAM book reviewer Tara Kusumoto talked with Signe Pike, author of Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World, about “faery journalism,” healing from loss, treating the planet better and of course, the recent super moon. Signe also let us know about her upcoming retreat to Glastonbury, England to connect with the ancient world of faery. Who’s in? (Limited spaces still available.)
WAM: Searching for faeries isn’t your run-of-the-mill adventure – how did you get started on this whimsical journey?
SP: I was working full-time in New York City as a book editor when my father passed away; at the same time, there was a woman [Raven Keyes] living in my building who was a very spiritual lady. She loved coming to my apartment because she said it was filled with faeries. At first I thought she was one basket short of a picnic. Then I started thinking that isn’t it so amazing that there’s this woman in her mid 50s who still believes that faeries exist, while the rest of us have relegated the belief to the nursery.
At the time, I was an editor and started looking around to find a writer who may be interested in writing a memoir to prove the existence of faeries from a skeptical perspective. Then one of the literary agents I was talking to said she thought I should write the book.
One of the things I write about in Faery Tale is my father, who was a brilliant storyteller and also a professor at Cornell University. He used to teach creative writing but he himself could never write. It killed him that he could never produce, that it was never good enough to show to anyone. He’d always tried to encourage my writing. Like my dad, I thought I could be a supporter of other people who were writers, but it wasn’t something I was capable of doing. Until he passed away… and then I had all these emotions bubbling up about life, death and the sense of enchantment that we lose by grief and devastation and disaster. I wanted to reclaim the childlike possibility and magic and wonder. That’s ultimately what sent me out into the field looking for faeries.
WAM: You use the term “faery journalism” – what does that mean?
SP: When you’re researching an imaginary – or invisible – being, there really aren’t any rules. To me, creating this concept of faery journalism meant approaching it in as serious a way as possible, though certainly the book is also filled with a lot of humor. It meant researching ancient Celtic folklore and really, folklore all over the world. Every culture believes in some sort of faery. Also, I wanted to find people who had first-hand encounters. Lastly, I was trying to experience paranormal faery activity myself. If I could do these three things, I could come up with some sort of plausible conclusion as to whether or not these creatures existed or whether it was a truly beautiful fantasy.
WAM: How did that approach change once you were on the journey?
SP: I went to the UK with locations that I knew were hot spots because of folklore attached to a particular rock, a ruin, a well that had to do with faeries. But once I got there, my whole plan went right out the window because I learned that maybe I wasn’t the one making the rules. On this intuitive journey, the first thing I learned was I had to start listening to my intuition. Intuition plugs us into more subtle energies and the environment around us. I had to listen to my gut and it would tell me to take a certain direction on a trail or go to the Isle of Man instead of Wales because there was something there that I had to experience. I learned quickly that when I did trust my instinct, I was rewarded with some sort of experience that became part of the puzzle that I was working out in the book.
On another level, when I left [New York] I was so disillusioned by my life and what I wanted to do and disillusioned with the state of the world. I had lost my faith in humanity. On my journey, I discovered that people were incredibly wonderful and that total strangers were opening their doors to me and taking me to places that they thought were particularly important, and really walking a stretch of the road with me. I came back with a renewed sense of how wonderful we really can be to one another.
For example, on Isle of Man, I met a group of eight motorcycle bikers who thought it was hilarious that I was there to research faeries but adopted me, took me to the pub with them every night, fed me full English breakfasts every morning and chicken curry every night. They even brought me on the back of their bikes to find an ancient faery site. They remain good friends and I’ll see them on the Isle of Man in June.
WAM: While you’re searching for faeries, it also seems to be a symbolic quest for meaning in your life. How did the whole experience of researching the book and experiencing a search for faeries change you?
SP: Because I was living so much in my head and such a skeptical and logical thinker, when my father passed away I didn’t have much to cling to in terms of my belief of life after death. When I left on my journey, researching faeries was an entry way to give the world beyond an opportunity. If I could find evidence of something as preposterous as faeries, then there was the possibility of everything else. As I was walking the hills and swimming in the Irish Sea and sitting in these ancient ruins, I was also searching to come to terms with the sudden and unexplained death of my father. I was looking for closure. Like so many of us, I was on this journey, seeking as a broken person to heal and become whole. I hoped that I could discover something of meaning. What I really didn’t know was that it was absolutely going to change my life utterly and completely.
I went from working 12- to 15-hour days in a cubicle in Manhattan to being able to sit at my desk in Charleston, South Carolina and apply a nice mud mask while I work on my next writing assignment.
I found closure, but healing is something that is a lifelong effort. Losing the important people to us, our parents, always makes you feel like you’re half an orphan. You still miss that person every day. In having encounters that I couldn’t necessarily explain and going through all the events I went through in Faery Tale, it did give me the seeds of trust that I needed to think that maybe there is something else out there. Maybe [my dad’s] not gone forever; he’s just in a different place.
WAM: One of the memoir’s themes is your hope that we treat the planet and all living beings with more respect. Can searching for faeries help us be more attuned to the natural world?
SP: Yes. Absolutely. The ancients believed that the earth was imbued with a sense of enchantment – that it wasn’t just a tick tock of the sun that caused our seasons to change, but that there was a deeper magic to our existence. And that’s what a search for faeries is all about – looking at the world around us on a daily basis. No matter where we live, we are here now and we have a responsibility to take care of this creation every day. A lot of us get lost in our 9-5 and get disillusioned by the perceived darknesses around the world. One of the messages of the book is that we have got to start focusing on treating the planet well. When we compost, turn off the lights, start recycling, stop using so much water… when we start treating each other kindly, it makes a huge difference, and there’s a ripple effect. A lot of people get caught up in the idea that I’m some zany woman looking for faeries… How droll! Searching for faeries in the English countryside! But really, I want to inspire women to wake up to magic in their daily lives and stay connected to how we can live better on this planet. I’m trying to get people to open up to the fact that just because you believe in the rediscovery of enchantment, just because you want to chase a childhood belief, you’re not doing something foolish.
WAM: What was the biggest challenge in writing Faery Tale?
SP: I think the biggest challenge for me was feeling like I’m an editor, not a writer. I was going on an adventure without knowing what the outcome was going to be. I was surprised that the adventure was so intensely personal and felt so intensely private that I felt compelled to write about it, but all of a sudden, it’s out there with the rest of the world. I have readers writing me who are sharing their stories about loss, or magical encounters, or in some cases, their thoughts on diagnoses of my father’s death. It’s been a real change for me. While I was writing it, I had to tell myself no one was ever going to read it…it was a make-believe game I played. No matter who was going to read it, I had to tell the story. Now of course it’s out there in the world and it’s interacting with people, which is an amazing thing. At first it was pretty scary.
WAM: We all just witnessed the Super Full Moon – was that an opportune time for faery sightings?
SP: Everyone who flocked to my book group was abuzz about the super moon. In the end of the book I’m standing in my backyard waiting to see a sign of faeries, so of course I saw the super moon in my backyard. Any time a beautiful natural change of season or beautiful astronomical event is taking place is a really good time to get in touch with any type of nature energies. I definitely was celebrating in my backyard in Charleston, something I certainly I wouldn’t have done two years ago when I was living in my studio apartment in Manhattan!
WAM: Do you have any other faery journalism trips planned?
SP: Raven and I are hosting a retreat to Glastonbury, England in June [details below.] There are still some openings but we want it to be an intimate retreat. The process of deciding to do it was a personal one for us because of everything we experienced. We have special friendships with all of the people that the women will be meeting. We’re opening a very intimate world to them so wanted to keep it small.
There’s such a community springing up around the book… which is really lovely!
A Return to Faery: Experience the Enchantment of Ancient England
Glastonbury, Avebury and West Kennet Long Barrow
with Raven Keyes and Signe Pike
June 24 –30, 2011
Sparkling lights. Shadows in the lamplight. Hauntingly ethereal music. What awaits you when you step beyond the veil?
For more information:http://signepike.com/home/events/workshops-spiritual-retreats/
For photos and faery “evidence” from Signe’s travels, visit http://signepike.com/home/photos-evidence-and-more/
For full book review, visit http://www.womensadventuremedia.com/issues/spring-2011/books-for-spring/