_Fairy Paths & Spirit Roads_ is a very fascinating book. Devereux's overall theme is that pre-modern & pre-urban communities had a very different view of the landscape than we do now. Earlier people often saw not just physical geography but also overlaid that with an emotional & spiritual geography, where certain hills & trees were to be avoided due to bad luck and certain roads were mainly (or sometimes only) for the carrying of the dead to burial.
His book is divided into two main sections:
- the "Background" section describes some of the overall common elements of otherworldly roads in different countries & continents
- the "Foreground" section is a sampler of specific routes to explore, describes how to find them, and points out specific landmarks to notice.
Geographically, he focuses on Australia, Britain, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the U.S. (specifically Death Valley, California and the Southwest).
In addition to describing routes, he talks about common elements useful for recognizing otherworldly routes. Routes of this type often are very straight, sometimes for miles, and sometimes through terrain where the straight path was not the easiest. A lot of the older paths that have been unused for decades (centuries?) show up on aerial and satellite photos better than on the ground.
Devereux also describes the folklore that surrounds some of these routes. However, this part is sometimes sketchy as Devereux openly admits that he is about a generation too late in his work, and much of the folklore was oral and ceased to be passed on about 30-40 years ago.
What folklore Devereux was able to find is still fascinating. There are a number of churches that had gates or doors specifically for the entrance of pall-bearers with coffins, and many of the spirit roads existed primarily for rual populations to bring in the bodies of the deceased for burial in hallowed ground. Since this often involved a group of people carrying a corpse & coffin on foot for miles, there were sometimes stones by the side of the road specifically to rest the coffin on while the pall-bearers rested. In the Middle Ages and even up through the 1600s, some villages had seers who would sit at the corpse-gates or beside the corpse-road during the midnight hours of certain days of the year to have visions of people in the community who would perish during the next year. In places that had fairy paths, there were a number of stories about houses that had ill luck for the inhabitants until the house was modified (a corner was cut, door placement was changed, certain windows were left open at night) so that the fairy path was no longer blocked.
Devereux also ties the otherworldly routes in Britain in with a number of Neolithic stone monuments, some of which were also on surprising straight routes, and speculates that some of these routes may be quite a bit older than currently realized.
This book was very fascinating and a very good example of the little-known stories and histories that can hide in the landscape around a person.