Halloween is just over, there were witches and pirates at the door, rabbits, dinosaurs, and superheroes Did you see the time-honoured faeries?
This is a segue to talk about the fairies who are thereabouts all the time, residing in the rocks.
When we hear legends about the “little people” we get the picture of wide expanses of lush, green fields of what is known as the Emerald Isle – Ireland. These little people have preternatural abilities, which live in the wilderness and on the fringes of the civilized world, have been staples of European folk tradition for millennia.
But there are sprites or the “wee folk” within the Canadian Shield, a vast rocky plateau of rivers, lakes, wetlands and forests. The 'Maymaygwasiwuk' were feared by most indigenous peoples because of their unpredictability and territorial nature. There are many caves, cracks and crevices prime habitat for the fairies.
Bruce Tomlinson is a retired Conservation Officer, a sessional instructor within the Natural Resource/Environmental Law program at Sault College and has an archeology licence. The 'Mameigwess' are the small men in stone canoes who come out of the cleft of the rock. They are powerful medicine spirits but also tricksters. The First Nations elders regard them as the entry point to the other world and it was the one specific request they made to archaeologists, “don’t go into caves”.
As you round Fairy Point, on Missinaibi Lake north of Chapleau look carefully into the deep cracks of the granite walls and the quartz veins. Can you see those diminutive beings with the hairy faces linked to the metaphysical or supernatural?
These tiny folk are the 'Memegwaysiwuk', the fairies whose stone canoes are painted on the wall looking down on you.
There are many pictograph sites in Northern Ontario. The Fairy Point collection is one of the most extensive in Ontario. Its settler’s name on topographical maps is named after those mischievous sprites that live within the crevices scattered along the sheer rock face. See the map.
Thor Conway is a retired archaeologist who has written several books on the indigenous cultures of Northern Ontario with another coming out soon with many oral tradition stories he has gathered.
When you learn that there is a dramatic cliff named Fairy Point, and mysterious dream–time images cover its walls, you can just sense that some fine stories must be associated with this place.
In over fifty years of working with, apprenticing to, and learning from tribal elders, I never met an elder of the Original People who did not respect the fairies or little people.
All had stories about the little people that were regarded as very important to know.
The elders often stated that the little people — variously called Maymaygwashiuk, Pyeencesuk, and Buhkwudjininik — taught us the ancient, respectful manners of living on the land and honouring the spiritual.
They followed the conservative ways of life, spoke a very ancient, often unintelligible, language, and moved between the physical world where we live and the greater spirit world.
The little people were visible and friendly to children, but difficult for adults to see. Only quick glimpses of them ever took place by adults. Because they had lives in both worlds, many fairies lived inside cliffs marked with images of dreams from vision quests.
Dr. Jonathan Pitt is an Indigenous knowledge keeper and is of Anishinaabek and Haudenosaunee heritage.
Cultural transmission is part of his research and the courses he teaches at Nipissing University through Aki or land-as-teacher. He also works as an Independent Consultant for post-secondary organizations as an Indigenization Advisor.
He said fairies are akin to most indigenous cultures with a great deal of diversity in the names and context.
My understanding just as Medicine Circle teachings are different from Indigenous groups (i.e. Ojibway to Cree) and even First Nation to First Nation based on location, then the name of the little people could also be different.
Most universally I've heard them referred to as the little people. Just as it is believed that there are different groupings of Sa'be/Sasquatch depending on location, then it follows that the little people would also have differences.
The wee folk have come up lately, as winter is often the time for sharing stories and teachings, on Manitoulin many call them the Paheens (as referenced in Pearen’s 1996 book Exploring Manitoulin) and there’s been much talk of them recently.
Nearly every culture in human history has a story about the little people, e.g. fairies in pictographs at Fairy Point. The Irish have leprechauns, in Indonesia archaeological evidence proves hobbit-like humanoids found there. They reside in a number of places according to Indigenous knowledge keepers and local oral history suggests that seeing a Paheen is bad luck.
Some of the well-known sites such as the vicinity of Fairy Point on Missinaibi Lake and the rock bluff near Campbell Bay on Manitoulin Island (Mnidoo Mnising) have commonalities such as pictographs nearby.
Although there are pictographs in some instances, the more significant element with the presence of little people have is with rocks and water. As the wee folk have sometimes been referred to in the local settler vernacular as “water sprites” – it must be noted that not all wee folk are diminutive or pint-sized smaller versions (sometimes hairy) of humans, some are more elemental and as we know from Fairy Point and Mnidoo Mnising can go and move within the rocks and crevices themselves.
Another such location would be what early Europeans referred to as Devil’s Rock (in relation to Christianity and colonialism), which is full of lore and likely contributed to the settler stories of the rock vista’s face feature and little people to try to understand things they did not fully have a handle on which some local Anishinabek (Teme-Augama Anishnabai and Timiskaming First Nation) call Manidoo-Wakibkong (Manitou Rock) where, at the rock’s face, the offerings of tobacco are made.
If memory serves me the mining tunnels are still there from the early 20th century. This site is known to be home to the wee folk.
The little people are, as Elders have told me are very quick and some oral history and teachings suggest that some are mischievous and yet others have helped us in the past as stories are not homogenous and vary from First Nation to First Nation.
You might see wee folk in any number of locations as they are not limited by time and space as we are, chances are though, if you are near the water highways or high rock vistas they are nearby watching.
See the Back Roads Bill Devil’s Rock story and mention of the fairies. Some Indigenous peoples offer gifts, feasts and ceremonies honouring the little people.
Believing in fairies means you have arrived into the elusive realm of nature spirits and that anything and everything is possible.
It is those playful, prankish, tiny beings who emerge from their rocky refuge to steal your camping supplies or rock your canoe for no apparent reason. Those who are lucky enough to see them typically find them in secluded areas off of the back roads. Beware, they are watching, say hello.