I've been reading "The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries" by Evan-Wentz. Dr. Evan-Wentz is perhaps better known to Buddhists as the editor of "The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation" and other texts of Tibetan Buddhism. (There have been newer and better translations of most of these texts, but that's another story.)
Dr. Evan-Wentz' first interest was Celtic folk-lore, the field in which he earned his Phd. In this book, he recounts stories collected in his travels through the lands of Europe's Celtic fringe (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man and Brittany) during the first years of the twentieth century. In later chapters, he deals with literary sources detailing similar matter from earlier periods. There is also a brief treatment of some cross-cultural references.
The interesting thing, for our purposes here, is that according to his informants, mostly elderly so reporting memories from the middle of the ninteenth century, it was very much a common thing for people at one time to see various beings of what we would call supernatural orders. These came in various sorts, ranging from powerful, beautiful and mysterious entities known to the Irish as "the gentry" to small mischevious beings known by various names as leprachauns, pixies and elves. It was becoming uncommon to see these things already at the time Evan-Wentz wrote, and it is almost unknown today.
The question arises, what changed? The modern rationalist mind-set cavalierly dismisses any mention of fairies or elves etc. as delusionary. But could whole cultures be so delusionary? Could thousands of witnesses have imagined the same sort of things? Perhaps, the skeptic answers, their delusions were fed by the culture. But the cross-cultural references to this type of material is astounding. Many of the details of the Celtic "fair folk" correspond closely to the Asian idea of devas and nagas. And perhaps even more so to the stories of the Ojibway. I spoke to a friend about this, someone who knows Ojibway legends well, and he tells me many of the particulars regarding the "Mimiquay" (sp?) or little people of that nation are almost identical to the stories of the Celts.
The modernist might believe that we are better informed than our superstitious ancestors and no longer believe in such things. But there is another possibility. Perhaps we have lost some innate spiritual faculty that allowed us to perceive other levels or dimensions of reality; perceptual fields now closed to us.
Some years ago I read an article, by a Christian author, about angels. He had the interesting hypothesis that the invention of perspective in Renaissance painting was not an invention at all in the ordinary sense. Rather, it marked a change of perception. People at that time became more tuned in to the ordinary three-dimensional world, but at the same time lost the vision of other realms available to medieval man; who painted in two-dimensions but who saw angels.
Who's to say?