Explaining Money to a Fairy

Printed in the Summer 2014 issue of Quest magazine. 
. "Explaining Money to a Fairy

At the C G ferry wharf, the rocks of the hillside come down and almost overhang the gate that gives entrance to the wharf. At this gate a man is stationed on holidays to sell tickets for the ferry. Surrounding this spot is a countryside comparatively rich in fairy life, for much of the land is park and military reservation, and the whole place is therefore suited to the nonphysical creatures of the wood as well as the water sprites of the harbor. A curious adventure with one of these woodland devas will probably interest many people as showing the relationship between the human and collateral nonhuman kingdoms. It took its origin in the very early morning near the spot where the gateman is often seen collecting money.

We met there a curious elfin or sprite, a little fellow perhaps four feet high, slender and extremely active, rather roguish but friendly, and much less timid than most of his fellow fairies. Probably the frequent association with human beings had produced this result, for he seemed actually to be anxious to communicate with us. At any rate he had sufficient courage to attract our attention as we were passing by, shyly and yet gleefully opening his tiny hand, and exhibiting, as a child might, a coin which he seemed to want to know about. Whether this was connected with a real coin he had found and somehow got secreted as a prize possession or whether he made an image of the coin in superphysical matter is immaterial to the narrative. He at any rate clearly indicated that he treasured this thing, and the association in his mind seemed to be that he had seen human beings reluctantly surrendering these curious disks to the ferry gateman. Our fairy friend did not in the least understand why these little disks were prized. To him their special merit lay in the fact that they shone in the sun, at least the silver ones; and he had, as I say, noted that the human beings frequently surrendered them with some reluctance, and got in exchange a much less interesting bit of paper and then (from his point of view) appeared to go down the wharf into a box—the ferry boat—and so proceeded to the city. To him the whole proceeding seemed a kind of unintelligible game, and a bit dull, because human beings seemed never to vary it. He and his less patient friends might have played such a game for a little while now and then, but to go on constantly repeating it seemed to him ridiculous; and he wondered why these humans did not float over to the city through air, or run along the surface of the water by way of varying the game. He had got so far in the study of the matter as to realize that the coins were the key to the situation in some mysterious fashion; hence his appeal to two or three of us passing by and his childlike delight in exhibiting himself as the possessor of one of the treasured shiny disks.

The reader should realize that our fairy friend was neither human nor animal in consciousness, but was at a curious stage between the two. He had all the characteristics of a terrier—yes, reminding one in actions, though not in shape, of the intensely lively, joyous, impudent, and inquisitive terrier, so desirous of knowing the unknown and enjoying life so hugely. At the same time he possessed a not inconsiderable reasoning faculty and a charming and delicate emotional equipment. The problem before us was to interpret to his consciousness this senseless procedure of buying a ticket and getting on a boat. This in turn involved the explanation of money to him. How was this to be done?

A first attempt was made to convey in terms of feeling the fact that money could buy pleasant things. It was no use endeavoring to explain physical life—eating, drinking, and the like—but it seemed possible to impress the little fellow with the idea that these metal disks in some magic way unlocked enjoyment. Without trying to correct his impression that taking a boat was an obscure sort of a game, we tried to convey to him that money is related to joy. He got at this rather skillfully but curiously, for he possessed himself with the notion that the glitter of the coin was in a way the bottled-up essence of some of the happier things he understood—sunrise, moonlight, and starlight—and also reflections of these and other things in water. He seemed to think that in some way or other the coin was a fragment of these things. Like a terrier with an old boot, he seized upon this idea and got tremendous enjoyment out of it, skipping about and shimmering over it. It proved of no use trying to take this notion away from him.

The next stage was to convey the idea of purchasing the right to travel. For this purpose a boat seemed less likely to enlighten him than something else, and so we trooped up to a milk cart or some such conveyance that happened to be passing by and pointed out that this, like the boat, was a method of getting somewhere. Our fairy friend considered it extremely stupid as a method of conveyance, but he managed to take in the notion that there was somehow fun connected with traveling in this slow vehicle. At any rate there was fun for him in hopping onto it and hopping off again and skipping ahead much more rapidly than the horse, very much as a terrier might skittishly rush about.

When he had achieved this notion, we tried to explain to him that by giving the shiny round object to the man on the cart he would permit human beings to ride. But here we struck an immovable obstruction, for the lot of us were already riding, or making believe to ride, and had paid nothing! Furthermore, our fairy friend exuded the idea that any moment he desired to do anything so stupid as to ride on a cart, he could do it without letting the baker's boy know anything about it! Altogether he thought the whole thing rather idiotic (as perhaps it is), and was inclined to take us all for lunatics. It happened that he popped off the cart just as it turned in the road, and caught sight of the moving wheels, which shone a little in the early sunlight; and he instantly jumped to the not unnatural conclusion that the cart wheels were also some kind of money, for they were round, flat, and shiny, and were connected with the cart and the idea of travel which had been involved in our explanation. He expressed this idea of wonderment and instantly succeeded in reasoning sufficiently to suggest that if the tiny little metal coin was worth so much, the cartwheel in comparison by size ought to be able to purchase for him a whole sunrise! This funny bit of reasoning, though entirely logical, struck us all as being so humorous that we burst out in merriment, whereupon our fair friend, just as any dog might act under a sudden accession of joy, went shooting off into the air down the hillside, coruscating with delight over his adventure, rejoicing in the courage he had exhibited, the unusual nature of his experience, and his supposed triumph in understanding the nature of money.

There was another element in the experience. Just before the adventure of the milkman's cart, we tried to use the idea that sunlight and metallic shine were (to him) related, and we compared the latent force of money to the energy which the fairies sometimes pour out on plants. I remember our friend the sprite going up to a flower and flicking his fingers at it, to show us how he did this. The plant stretched its petals as it unfolded, very much as a cat stretches its legs after a long sleep, enjoying the new liberty. That idea was also part of his conception of the value of shining money.

But altogether, in retrospect, the business seems hopeless, for our fairy lacked completely any understanding of the physical limitations out of which money has grown. I have no doubt that if he remembered the episode for more than a moment, which is of course unlikely, he has conveyed to his fairy friends the most extraordinary conception of human ideas, and made us out to be, as compared with himself and associates, rather stupid and foolish, and interested in the most useless and dull things. And perhaps we are, who knows?



This article first appeared in The Adyar Bulletin, May 15, 1924. The identity of the author is unknown. The most likely candidate is the Theosophical writer and lecturer Fritz Kunz (1888–1972), whose wife, Dora, was known for her highly developed clairvoyant powers and her ability to communicate with nature spirits.


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