Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Secret Commonwealth: An Essay of the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean (and, for the Most Part) Invisible People, Heretofore Going under the Name of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies” as Want to Read:
The Secret Commonwealth: An Essay of the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean (and, for the Most Part) Invisible People, Heretofore Going under the Name of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Secret Commonwealth: An Essay of the Nature and Actions of the Subterranean (and, for the Most Part) Invisible People, Heretofore Going under the Name of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  555 ratings  ·  57 reviews
"Kirk is a magnificent dish to set before any student of either folk-lore or folk-psychology." — Times Literary Supplement
In the late 17th century, a Scottish minister went looking for supernatural creatures of "a middle nature betwixt man and angel." Robert Kirk roamed the Highlands, talking to his parishioners and other country folk about their encounters with fairies, w
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published November 21st 2006 by NYRB Classics (first published 1691)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Secret Commonwealth, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Secret Commonwealth

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  555 ratings  ·  57 reviews

More filters
Sort order
In the middle ages a belief in fairies was common, friendly if slightly mischievous creatures these “hidden people” inhabited a mysterious realm, a comforting alternative perhaps to the harsh realities of everyday life. But by the Reformation fairies started to accumulate a different set of meanings - and their association with the then hastily-discredited Catholic church with its saints and miracles did them no favours - they were often represented as a somewhat sinister prospect akin to minion ...more
Jason Plein
Mar 11, 2012 rated it liked it
If, like me, you read this expecting to learn something about the folklore of fairies, you will be disappointed. The beginning of the book has some of that, and it is entertaining.

The best reason to read this book is that it is strange and amusing. It is written by a clergyman on fairies, the second sight, and charms; he believes in all of the above. His prose reads something like that of the scientists of his time, but he writes about what appears to us to be nonsense. He is at pains to tell us
Xenophon Hendrix
Jun 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hardcore fantasy readers might find The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirk and Andrew Lang to be interesting reading. Lang, a nineteenth-century folklorist, had printed and wrote a long introduction to a seventeenth-century manuscript by Kirk.

Both parts are worth reading if you like the topic. The language is old, and by our standards the spelling is eccentric, but you will see where this little book has had an influence on contemporary fantasy. Definitely read the fo
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: phd-research
Kirk, a parson, wrote this book basically defending the belief in fairies, charms, and second sight that his parishioners had. He wanted to argue that you could be a good Christian and also believe in these kinds of other-world elements that were so pervasive in his community. He describes some of these beliefs and offers examples of specific instances and offers biblical references to back up his position (although some were a bit of a stretch).
It's VERY interesting and is considered to be a m
This was an interesting quick read. It was a little challenging at times to wade through the old English that was used, and I found the introduction to be long winded, but it was fascinating to read a document that was written in 1692. Although it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, since I breezed through it in about 2 hours, it was well worth the time. I’m only giving it three stars because it wasn’t what the description had led me to believe and the introduction got on my nerves.
Jun 06, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: very few people
So very boring. The subject matter - the curious nature of Scottish faeries and the faery faith of those that fear them - held tremendous potential, but this book fell far short of my expectations. It was dull and difficult reading, thanks to the 17th century grammar and vocabulary, and scattered with irrelevant Biblical quotes. If you want to learn about the faery faith, I would recommend Evan-Wentz's "The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries" over this one any day of the week. 'Tis a shame.
Apr 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This short, unusual book is intended to be a record of the existence of actual fae-folk. Tales of fae-folk are part of common folklore in England and Scotland, and this book was put together by a Scottish-Presbyterian minister. I'm always interested in folklore, and this book is an interesting read.
Andrew Hennessey
every ufologist should read it .. the clear link between faeries of old and the greys of today - same drink through the pores stuff etc
this book totally blows away exopolitics 'they came in 1947 at Roswell' rubbish
May 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Completely fascinating, an amazing source for fairylore studies.
Norman Howe
May 22, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: folklore
An interesting work. Obviously a predecessor of Charles Fort and John Keel.
Rob Chappell
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This curious and fascinating volume has been on my shelf for many years, and I find myself returning to it again and again. At the dawn of the "Age of Reason," new vistas of discovery were being unveiled by the telescope and the microscope; using scientific methodology, and first-person narratives collected from his parishioners, Rev. Robert Kirk proposed that the academic world should start exploring the "secret commonwealth" where the Fair Folk dwell -- a separate species, ranking midway betwe ...more
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a quaint little book (part of my Halloween reading this year!), written about 1691, by a Church of Scotland minister who had an extensive knowledge of his subject. The folklorist, Andrew Lang, wrote extensive notes concerning it and published an edition in 1893, of which this book is a reprint. Kirk wrote about the fairies, brownies, the "Little People" and phenomena associated with them. His was an age in which witchcraft was widely believed in, but Kirk denied that the "sight" that som ...more
An interesting historical artefact, documenting old Scottish beliefs about fairies, elves and other such spirits. Although I can't really call it a *good* book, I certainly made a lot of notes.

Interestingly, this is one of Philip Pullman's favourite works (the second volume of The Book of Dust is to be called The Secret Commonwealth after it) and scholars of His Dark Materials may well perceive the kernels of ideas within these pages. In particular, the Deaths in the Amber Spyglass feel prefigur
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
A charming and weird little book on fairies, written in Scotland in 1641 or so. The latter third of the book gets a bit tedious as it's mostly arguments about why those who have second sight should not be considered witches. The meat of the book is a sort of anthropological and sociological account of the Sithe and other fey folk that is quite fascinating, as much for what it reveals of the psychology the 17th century Scottish Seers as for for the info about the elves etc.
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, nonfiction
Very strange accounts of Scottish Highlands folklore by an Episcopalian minister gathered in the 17th century, published by Sir Walter Scott in 1815, and then re-edited in 1893 by Andrew Lang. Some accounts of being taken and then returned have an "X-file" vibe.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
I had to read this book for uni - it's a strange piece which I didn't particularly enjoy while I was reading it, but after reading some articles discussing the text, the author, and it's context, I definitely found it more interesting.
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another short but challenging read written by an eccentric Parson from the late 1600s as an open-minded (for the time) treatise on second sight & fairy-lore. Reading all your "s" as "f" is a novel experience, but that and the rest of the old-timey language did affect my reading comprehension.
Ryan Freeman
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
First-hand crypto-zoology and anthropology at its finest.
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating long essay on Scotland's metaphysical beings, including accounts from Scots about their interactions with them, with a introduction from the ever-brilliant Marina Warner, who we stan.
Maan Kawas
Interesting read!
Græme Ravenscroft
Decent resource. Love the archaic cast.
Daniel Polansky
A collection of observations and anecdotes about fairies written by a 17th century Scottish minister. More fun in theory than concept.
Joel Zartman
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Any society unable to keep books such as this in print deserves to be dissolved and forever consigned to neglect.
Apr 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
It was interesting.....mostly to see how a member of the clergy in the later part of the 1600's was trying to accommodate his parishioners long held beliefs while maintaining and promoting his own Christianity. He is trying to draw a line between innocence and sin. It is very interesting. It must have been very frustrating for Church leaders to try to teach this "new" religion and convert these folks when they already had a belief system that seemed almost to grow up out of the very earth where ...more
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

" Women are yet alive who tell they were taken away when in Child-bed to nurƒe Fairie Children, a lingering voracious Image of their (them?) being left in their place, (like their Reflexion in a Mirrour,) which (as if it were ƒome inƒatiable Spirit in ane aƒƒumed Bodie) made firƒt ƒemblance to devour the Meats that it cunningly carried by, and then left the Carcaƒe as if it expired and departed thence by a naturall and common Death"

Hmmm...sounds like an old explanation for postpartum
Dec 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is a collection of anecdotes surrounding unexplained phenomena collected by a 17th century Scottish minister, and published in the early 19th century. It purports to be about "Elves, Fauns, and Fairies" but mostly concerns "the invisible world" - what would today be called poltergeist-type activity and the Second Sight. It's interesting for what it is, but Robert Kirk will win no points for his prose, the book doesn't seem to be organized in any particular fashion, and my edition was a facs ...more
Mar 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book is a primary source from the 17th century, and it reads like one. The author, Robert Kirk, was a Scottish minister who scoured the Highlands for stories of fairies and other Otherworldly creatures. The tract was never edited. It's difficult to make sense of Kirk's commentary without a deep knowledge of Scripture and a facility for early modern English. The version I read featured an introduction by Andrew Lang; I'd like to see a modern scholarly commentary to help us 21st century folks ...more
Dec 20, 2016 added it
Background reading for storytelling. I hope it will keep me steeped in the strange. It is quite satisfying watching Kirk's mental gymnastics. He walks a fine line to justify how magicks are not always sinful and the Sight does not offend God.

The described seers spend a great deal of time in a stupor when they encounter knowledge greater than they are. Similarly, the author blatantly refuses to explain certain creatures and phenomena in detail simply because they are elusive by nature. I like th
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Robert Kirk's The secret commonwealth of Elves, fauna and fairies is speculative essay. Robert Kirk a Scottish minister in 1692, there is also a 're edited copy from 1893 by Andrew Lang.
This is a very difficult read. A lot of concentration is needed because of the old way of writing. This is really just the thoughts of a Scottish minister in 1692 on his investigation into the fairy world from talking to locals. He treats it all as fact & adds biblical quotes to back up his thoughts. It's als
Justin Howe
Oct 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An extremely short book written by a 17th century Scottish parson approaching the question of the second sight and fairies as both a believer and a naturalist with the express intention of refuting skeptics and atheists. In other words, it's a loopy book written in a sanctimonious and turgid style. A fact not helped by having Victorian psychical researches serve as the book's editor a century and a half later.
« previous 1 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries
  • Complete Guide to Faeries  Magical Beings: Explore the Mystical Realm of the Little People
  • Meeting the Other Crowd
  • At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Nymphs, and Other Troublesome Things
  • The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves and Other Little People
  • The Vanishing People: Fairy Lore and Legends
  • The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore
  • Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales
  • Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia
  • The Science of Fairy Tales: an Enquiry Into Fairy Mythology
  • Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History
  • The Sidhe: Wisdom from the Celtic Otherworld
  • The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland
  • Women in Celtic Myth: Tales of Extraordinary Women from the Ancient Celtic Tradition
  • Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations
  • Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness
  • The Heart of Faerie Oracle - Book & Tarot Cards
  • Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath
See similar books…
Robert Kirk (9 December 1644 – 14 May 1692) was a minister, Gaelic scholar and folklorist, best known for The Secret Commonwealth, a treatise on fairy folklore, witchcraft, ghosts and second sight of the Scottish Highlands.