Born in 1644 in Aberfoyle, a parish of Perthshire, Scotland, Reverend Robert Kirk is remembered for apparently making great strides in bridging the gap between the human and faery realms.
He was the seventh son of his parents James and Mary, and went on to become a very intelligent, studious man. Attending the University of St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh for his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees respectively, Kirk chose to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming an Episcopal minister in Scotland.
In the Christian world, he is known for having completed and published one of the first translations of the Bible into Gaelic, the native language of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. But aside from his work in the realm of humans, Kirk had spent much of his life enamored and immersed in the tales of faeries. This fascination is what propels Kirk’s name to the forefront of folkloric research.
What Reverend Robert Kirk is most known for, though his Biblical works were pertinent in his time, is the legacy of the faery race that he left behind. His The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Faeries is thought today to be one of the best contributions to modern scholarship on the faery realm.
What is most intriguing about this text however, is that it was initially believed to have been an amalgamation of legends and myths the reverend collected during his life, condensed into a single work. Yet in more recent years, there is a belief that the earlier editions of Kirk’s manuscript are actually much more personal.
One scholar in particular, John Matthews, claims to have found an early copy of the reverend’s manuscript, which bizarrely claims that Robert Kirk did more than collect Scottish tales, he lived them. This earlier edition, called The Secret Lives of Elves and Faeries, is caveated in its title as having come directly from the “private journal of the Reverend Robert Kirk.”
It reads like a journal as well, and dictates Kirk’s supposed journey from Aberfoyle to the “Lands Beneath,” the faery realm below the earth, and the interesting discoveries he found there. Kirk describes in great detail the Seelie and Unseelie Courts (the good and bad faeries)*, faery food and faery dress, their “books of light”, and numerous faery tales told to him supposedly by the faer folk themselves.
Though he reports being warmly welcomed into the kingdom of the Seelie Court and treated well there, Reverend Kirk’s journal further dictates that, while below ground, he broke the rules of the Unseelie Court. Kirk ventured into the domain of the Unseelie, something forbidden to the race of mortal men. Kirk had known this as he had trespassed, and knowing the rule he was breaking, made his circumstances all the worse.
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