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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fair Folk Q & A

Recently for Patheos I did a post based on having people ask me questions on social media about the Morrigan which I answered in a Q&A format in a blog. Afterwards I had several people ask me to do one based around the Fair Folk and this is the result. As always I'll point out that this is based on my personal knowledge and experience with Themselves and also that I use the term fairies as a generic catch-all term for a variety of beings who are Otherworldly in nature. 

Eric asks about credible modern sources for sightings?
My answer - there's a site called Fairyist that has a collection of sightings, both from folklore and more modern examples. There's also a book by Marjorie Johnson called 'Seeing Fairies' that is a collection of modern sightings.

Eric also asks if I have a personal favorite encounter story?
My answer - Hard to say I have a favorite. Probably the white fairy hound was one of the ones that has stuck with me the most. That was back around '99. I was working for an ambulance company and besides emergencies we also did routine medical transfers. It was around 430 am on a february morning and we were parked next to a large grassy lot that was fenced off for construction. My partner stayed in the ambulance reading while we waited to go do our pick up at a local nursing home but I got out to stretch my legs. Standing near the fence looking into the darkness I noticed a white shape coming towards me across the field. It was large and obviously dog shaped, maybe the size of a German Shepherd, but all white. I thought maybe it was someone letting their dog run in the field, but I couldn't see any people anywhere. And it just kept running straight at me, like with a purpose. And that started to make me nervous, and then I noticed something seemed off with its gait. Like it was running with this oddly hitching movement. So it gets about 2/3rds or so across the field to where I can see it more clearly in the dark and I realize it looks like a large greyhound, but a bit heavier, and it only has one front leg kind of centered in its chest.
I have never moved so fast in my life as I did getting back in that ambulance. I scared my partner, who wanted to know what my problem was, and I said there was a dog - except when we looked out there was no dog. Nothing. Just darkness. And mind you it was impossible for it to have run anywhere in the amount of time between when I jumped in the rig and when we looked out, and the whole area was surrounded by a chainlink fence. It was just gone.

Ruth asks whether it's better to leave offerings indoors or outdoors?
My answer - there's two ways to look at this, one is that inside offerings invite them in so it can be safer to leave things outside. The other is that in a lot of folklore offerings were left in specific places inside, so it is okay to do.
I tend to favor the idea that its really the consistency that matters so, either leave things in both places or stick to one.

Benni asks whether it's true that bells drive away fairies, or if it's okay to use them in fairy related rituals?
My answer - the bells go both ways - folklore says bells, particularly church bells, drive away fairies. However bells are also strongly associated with them, including with the fairy Rade.
I was told that the sound of bells drives away negative entities, but draw in goodly inclined ones



Anita asks of the Fair Folk have human descendants?
My answer - I get asked this question a lot, and folklore is pretty clear that the answer is yes. Many Irish families trace their ancestry back to members of the Tuatha De Danann or to Fairy Kings or Queens.

Kelly asks about the effect of tuning into the Fey through cultural lenses, local folklore, and ancestral folklore?
My answer - I think all of these play a role. When we have a very strong cultural filter in place, like in any other area, it will color our perceptions. We see what we expect to see or at least give familiar names to things - I often tell a story about an each usige (water horse) in a local lake, which may or may not actually be a Celtic water horse but that name is the best I know to describe the being that is there.
That said though local spirits will always also be present and have their own tone and energy. I always recommend people look into the local folklore and fairylore of their area as much as possible.
Ancestral ties/cultural heritage can also have an effect if fey beings from that background seek us out or are drawn to us.
So like with so many things its really a matter of 'all of the above'

Ellen asks if the term Fair Folk is strictly Celtic or applies to other culture?
My answer - 'Fair Folk' as such would be a specifically Irish term for the beings who live in the fairy mounds; it can be used in a more general way or as a more specific descriptor for beings that are human-like in appearance and magically powerful (think roughly like Tolkien's elves). Other Celtic cultures have similar terms which are roughly analogous to the Irish Fair Folk, like the Welsh Tylwyth Teg [Fair Family] or Scottish Daoine Sith [People of Peace].
However the concept of fairies, as a more general term for Otherworldly beings, can be applied to beings outside Celtic cultures. If we are using the word fairy in its older sense as simply meaning 'from Fairyland'. Caution is needed here though to realize that each culture will have its own understanding of and unique beings within this wider concept.

Sara asks about the difference in experiences with Themselves, in my experience, between Europe and America
My answer - In my personal experience they are much more directly engaged and present in Europe. And yes I am including experiences in america with native fey beings. I have found that the spirits native to America that I would label as 'fairies' are more reclusive and less willing to seek engagement than ones in Europe, although I will add that I couldn't say that was something that would be true for everyone, as opposed to just my own experiences.

Brian asks who is nicer the Daoine Sidhe or the Alfar?
My answer - hands down the Alfar are nicer by any definition of the term.

Aleja asks if I think the Court system or concept of Fairy Kings and Queens occurs in America the way it does in Europe?
My answer - I have found the native fey to have a different system that is less monarchy based. But I would say that the ones who migrated over with the human populations did bring with them their social structures, including Kings and Queens and courts. How strong those are in each area will depend on different things, I think, including what sorts of Fey have strongly ingrained themselves there.
Aleja also asks about urban fey, and whether some Fey actually like iron, steel, and concrete?
My answer - there are definitely urban Fey, and have been for as long as there have been urban areas. There are also some fairies who do like iron and artificial materials. Mine fairies, for example, aren't bothered by metals and definitely don't mind being around human enterprise and construction. Gremlins are another type of fey being that are particularly connected to modern construction and metal.



Branwen asks what my experience has been in differentiating between European fairies and American ones.
My answer - well, in all honesty being able to see them probably helps me here. Sometimes just looking at a being can help differentiate what it is and what it's origins are - the local Fey here for example are small people whose skin looks like rock, and who have black hair and eyes, which is pretty distinctive from anything else ime. Otherwise though I think its like trying to figure out what specific kind of fairy it is in any context, which is about looking at where it is, what it's doing, what it seems to want, what annoys it or pleases it, and so on. It can certainly get tricky around here trying to be sure whether a fox-looking fey is something native, a húli jīng, or something Celtic that shapeshifts.

River asks what I think about human interactions with the fey relating to categories like worship, friendship, propitiation, and avoidance?
My answer - I think there's many layers to how anyone can choose to interact with them. Avoidance/propitiation is generally the safest and the most traditional. I usually recommend most people stick with that to be safe, unless they want to take on the responsibility that comes with stepping it up to another level. I think there's a place for establishing friendships/alliances especially for practicing witches, but there's risk to it, and that has to be considered. I'm not sure a true peer to peer concept is functional, but they certainly will barter and make deals. Worshiping them gets really tricky because then we have to start looking at the individuals instead of the generalities. Some fairies were Gods, or are strongly connected to Gods, and they deserve worship as much as any other pagan deity (take that as you will).

Mara asks how to handle connecting to or honouring the fairies when you have children.
My answer - All of my children have been warded very carefully until they were older. This has included iron in their rooms, as well as broom (the herb), rowan, and saint Brighid's crosses. I also teach them from a very young age how to behave and how to stay safe. In traditional cultures children would be taught from birth what to do and what not to do relating to fairies and that's an approach we honestly need to keep up today in paganism.

Vyviane asks in cases where Christian prayers are effective protections against them why do they work? Would pagan prayers work the same way?
My answer - I suspect that Christian prayers work in many cases because they are designed to be magical charms as much as prayers. I also suspect they may drive off some fairies who are offended by them, rather than that they have any actual power over the fairies. In my experience pagan prayers substituted for Christian ones generally don't work, although called on a specific deity associated with the fey that they may be cautious of can be effective. In the Irish this can be any of the Tuatha De Danann because they all have connections to the sí. In the Norse this might include Freyr or Odin, and in the Germanic more generally you might call on Berchta, Perchta, or Frau Holle.

Jonathan asks what do I think most contributed to the shift from fairies as fearsome beings deserving respect to the modern concept of Disney-fied Tinkerbells?
My answer - I blame the Victorians. Mostly.

Cathi asks how do pets usually act around fairies?
My answer - it will vary by pet. In my experience dogs don't seem to be bothered by them. Cats are either co-conspirators in mischief or else tormented by them. I have personally found that when dogs stare at empty space its usually ghosts, while when cats do it its usually fairies.

Cathi also asks can you escape a fairy by crossing running water?
My answer - depends on the fairy. It's said that if you cross running water you'd be safe from a kelpie pursuing you, for example, but there is also a story of a man who fled to America to get away from a Leannán Sí and she followed him anyway proving that the ocean was no barrier. And the Slua Sí are regularly said to cross water. For those that the answer is yes I suspect that its less that the water itself stops them and more that they are territorial by nature and won't chase you beyond their territory.



Diana asks if we should give traditional offerings like bread, milk, or whiskey or should instead offer things we like to eat now.
My answer - The traditional offerings have a lot of symbolic meaning beyond their actual value, for example both bread and milk are symbols of life and vitality and the name for whiskey in irish is literally 'water of life' [uisce beatha]. they also have the power that comes with multiple hundreds of years of tradition. I've found that cream and bread (or cake) is well received as are other traditional offerings like water or whiskey. I have also found that sharing anything that we are currently eating - literally sharing a meal - is also well received.
The only things I would personally caution against offering are heavily processed or preserved foods or meats. I avoid offering meat, generally, because it will draw the sort of fairy that prefers meat and that may not be a good idea. And it's generally understood in folklore that fairies don't consume the physical item but its essence - variously referred to as the toradh, quintessence, or foyson - which is most abundant in fresh foods and least present in heavily preserved foods.

Morrigan asks if the Fey are loyal and if so how do they show loyalty?
My answer - Yeats once wrote that the fairies have 'unmixed emotions' and I have found this to be true. If they consider you one of theirs in some way they are very loyal - the flip side of that though is they take any perceived betrayal very very badly. they reward those who are loyal to them with prosperity and good luck. they punish those who betray them with ill-luck and madness. We see this in stories where a person who proves true is rewarded over a lifetime, but someone who betrays their trust in some way (often by talking too much or bragging) not only loses whatever blessings they've gotten but is often punished harshly. For example one girl who had a fairy lover told her secret to her sister, who in turn told others; her fairy lover left her in retaliation and the girl went mad.
I guess the answer then is that loyalty goes both ways and has consequences.

Lauren asks how do They appear to me?
My answer - There's a lot of diversity here depending on how the question is intended. If we mean how do They appear as in, in what way, then I would say they appear in dreams, Journeys, and the waking world. If we mean how do they look (appear) to me then that depends entirely on what kind of being we are talking about, but I've seen everything from hounds and horses to people the size of moths to human-sized people, from things with wings to things that could pass as human if they tried. 

Amanda asks if the Unseelie can ever behave in helpful or useful ways?
My answer -  yes, they can. In my experience and in folklore there are examples of beings within the Unseelie Court who can interact positively with humans. The difference between them and the Seelie Court though is that whereas the Seelie would be more inclined to help any human who acts well the Unseelie would only do this for a particular individual, usually for a reason. What that reason is will depend on a lot of things, from a favor owed to just plain liking that person for their own reasons.
Caution is always required with the Unseelie simply because they are most likely to do humans harm without reason and to take offense over things.

Anna asks if elementals and fairies are the same?
My answer - I do realize that many people today lump elementals in with fairies - thank you alchemy! - but I don't. I see them as distinctly different types of beings and while I appreciate that some people find it easier to divide fairies up by elemental association its never been a system that works for me. I tend to stick to the older ideas of trooping or solitary, Seelie or Unseelie, or to group them by location, ie mountain fairies, lake fairies, mound fairies, etc.,.


So that covers all the questions I had received on social media. I hope people find those answers helpful, or at least interesting.  I'll repeat that this is my own experience and opinion and other people may agree or disagree. Also I tend to use the term fairy as a catch-all for any Otherworldly being, but I acknowledge that there are a wide array of specific beings and many differences within the wider category. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Respecting Fairy Places ~ An Excerpt from 'Fairies'

Since my new book 'Fairies: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk' was just released last Friday, I thought today I'd like to share an short excerpt from that work. what follows is from the introduction and is looking at how we can, and why we should, respect places that belong to Themselves:

Respecting Their Places
Many people lump nature spirits in with fairies and that is both true and untrue. Fairies are a broad category of beings and they can and do include both beings of this world and beings from the Otherworld that choose to come here. In the next chapter we will take an in-depth look at the Otherworld but I want to discuss here the importance of showing proper respect to the locations in our own world that are associated with or claimed by the fairies, whether that means true nature spirits or not.

A land spirit or the spirit of a natural feature like a tree or plant is strongly connected to the place it calls home. This is only logical really, as that physical place or object is for them like our body is for our soul – it acts like an anchor for the spirit in this world. If you think of it this way then it’s easier to understand why we should be careful and respectful of places that belong to these spirits. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all natural spaces should be inviolate, life after all is a cycle of growth and death and it can involve destruction, but just like we should show respect to the animals and plants we use for food, we owe respect to the natural places and the spirits that inhabit them. It’s also always good to keep in mind that nature spirits have the ability to influence the mood and atmosphere of a place, so happy nature spirits are always better than angry ones. Generally angry land spirits will express their feelings by making the area they influence unpleasant, causing the atmosphere of the area to be uneasy or unhappy, or cause bad dreams in people living nearby.

Respecting nature spirits is a straightforward proposition: don’t be needlessly destructive, don’t take down trees, move larger rocks, or make any big changes to an area without giving the land spirits a bit of notice (I recommend a couple days), and don’t muck up natural places in your yard or local woods with human junk or refuse. If there is a particular nature spirit, like that of a tree, that you want to connect to you can make offerings to it and talk to it. Offerings are also a good idea if you do have to do major landscaping or tree removal; honey works well, as does planting new growth or working to clean up any human messes.

Besides land spirits which exist as an intrinsic part of the world around us there are also places that belong to the fairies which are spirits of the Otherworld. These are not land spirits and are not tied to the land in these places but they have laid claim to them and feel a strong sense of ownership about them. Folklore and modern anecdotes show that interfering with or damaging places that belong to the fairies is a profoundly bad idea, and that they tend to respond in a fairly direct fashion. In Iceland both road construction and drilling that upsets the Hidden Folk tends to result in machinery breaking, ill luck, and strange happenings until the construction stops or the damage – usually to a boulder which is associated with them – is repaired. In Ireland folklore says that to interfere with a fairy tree or fairy hill can result in bad luck, illness, or even death. They are also not averse to destroying the offending human construction that is on their territory; one recent event in 2007 that made the news in Ireland was a series of telephone poles too close to a fairy hill which kept mysteriously falling down.


Traditionally places that belong to the fairies are best left alone; it is unwise to interfere with them or build on them. There are many stories, not only in Ireland but also in Iceland, of people who damaged or dug into fairy places only to suffer great ill luck, illness, or even death. In some cases even going into a place that belonged to the fairies posed a risk; in one story from Ireland a young man interfered with a well that was known to belong to the Fair Folk and in response they cursed it; when the man next went to drink from it he fell in and drowned (Ballard, 1991). If you choose to visit them it is best to do so during the day and to be careful not to leave behind a mess. It’s also advised not to relieve yourself on the ground in the area, as that is known to offend them as well. Add to that a general suggestion not to say anything in those areas especially that belittle or question their power or influence because they do respond to verbal insults. As long as you are careful not to break things, not to leave behind trash, and not to verbally provoke them you should be alright. 


Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Gillie Dubh

  One of the most well-known of the Scottish fairies, the Gillie Dubh is solitary being who is generally reclusive but unlike many solitary fairies is good natured and helpful to humans. The Gillie Dubh is unique in some respects because of how focused his folklore originally was to a very specific area, and how many alleged sightings of him there were for a sustained period of time, which has led some modern authors to suggest that he was, in fact, a human rather than a fairy. Despite this theory the folklore around the Gillie Dubh remains strong and his stories continue to be told and have spread beyond his original home region.




The name 'Gillie Dubh' - sometimes given as Ghillie Du - literally means dark [dubh] lad or servant [gillie] but the 'dark' here refers to hair color not temperament or nature. Briggs points out that this fairy, who is considered ubiquitously male, was called Gillie Dubh due to his dark hair and not his clothing (Briggs, 1976). This is a reflection of the common practice in both Irish and Gaidhlig of referring to a person's hair color by calling the person themself by that color, hence 'dark lad' a dark-haired lad, 'red woman' a red haired woman. The Gillie Dubh is said to dress entirely from forest flora, specifically leaves and moss (Briggs, 1976).

During the 18th century he was commonly known in one area of Scotland, and as one author put it: "he was seen by very many people and on many occasions over a period of more than forty years in the latter half of the 18th century." (MacKenzie, 1921, p234). He is most strongly associated with the area of Gairloch in what used to be Ross and Cromarty [now Wester Ross] and further north particularly with the area around Loch an Draing (MacKillop, 1998; MacKenzie, 1921). His preferred home is birch groves, of which he is the special guardian, and one might surmise that it is the leaves of this tree that he prefers to dress.

In at least one story he sheltered a lost child in the woods at night and then to have brought her home the next day; this girl is also the only living person the Gillie Dubh is ever known to have spoken to (Briggs, 1976). Some modern folklore suggests that the Gillie Dubh aids lost travellers, likely rooted in this older anecdote. His overriding characteristic however is his reclusive nature and reluctance to engage with humans.

By the measure of the Scottish fairy court system the Gillie Dubh would be considered a Seelie court fairy. Despite this there is one story of a group of Scottish lords in the 18th or 19th century who set out to hunt him down (Briggs, 1976; MacKenzie, 1921). Despite thoroughly hunting the woods and loch area they found nothing and left empty handed (MacKenzie, 1921). No reason is given for this decision, as it's clear the fairy wasn't harming or even harassing anyone, and even more oddly the people who did this chose to stay with the woman who had been rescued from the woods by the Gillie Dubh, now a married adult. It seems that after this time the fairy stopped appearing so often or easily to people as he had previously.

References
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
MacKillop, J., (1998) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
MacKenzie, O., (1921) A Hundred Years in the Highlands

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Being a Priestess of the Daoine Uaisle

  This month has been one of contemplation for me, as I look at how the last year has gone since Ireland. I've written about it, probably more than some people care to read about, because it's a big thing for me and because it's probably the overriding thing in my life this month. No matter what else has been going on my mind always spins back to the same thoughts: what does it mean to serve, what does it mean to be a priestess of Themselves, what does it mean to deal with them, and what does it mean to have this level of connection?



I want to be clear on a couple things as I begin writing this. What follows is my own personal reflections and thoughts, and while I'd hope it may resonate with other people I don't expect it will with everyone. Acting as clergy for the Gods is a highly personal and varied thing and I suspect that doing so for beings like the OtherCrowd who are not-Gods is even more so. Also it must be kept in mind that there's a huge array of beings that people may think of under the English term fairies, or any of the related non-English terms, and individual experiences with some of those will vary widely. A person who focuses on one specific kind of being may find their approach to working with or speaking for those beings vastly different from everything I'm about to say, and that's fine. While I can and often do use general terms and euphemisms I'm actually pretty specific in who and what I deal with and am in service to - the Irish Aos Sí, the people of the fairy hills.

The first thing that this dedication seems to clearly mean is writing about them. A lot.
Since coming back from Ireland last year, since that unexpected initiation, I've written two full length non-fiction books focused on Themselves (Fairies and Travelling the Fairy Path) as well as committed to a Pagan Portals book on the Fairy Queens. My blog has taken on a decidedly fairy-themed focus. I do still write about other things, but I feel more strongly compelled than I did before to try to get good information out there and to work on both preserving the folklore and older views as well as showing that modern beliefs do exist.

publication date september 2018
Secondly it means accepting that my focus now is on serving Themselves, not the human community. This has been a massive shift for me, because previously I did follow the more traditional approach of viewing priest/essing as a service to a human community, and I saw that as a duty that was important and even pleasant much of the time. I had always known there were those whose service focused more on the Gods, for example, but my understanding of that was still that it worked through a lens of human community. Now I see that in some cases service can be divorced from the human community and focused entirely elsewhere. It is a very different lens and that took me a long time to truly understand. I think before this experience I couldn't really have understood it at all except in the most abstract way.

It also means accepting and even embracing that this is something I need to be willing to publicly claim and discuss. This one has been the biggest struggle for me and it still is. Even after a year it feels strange and almost hubristic to call myself a priestess of the Good People and I do not like using that title, even though it's one I know I need to use and need to be willing to own. Oddly enough, given the change in focus for me, this is a title that was given by the human community not the Other One. The sorts of titles I get from them are very different and far more humbling - I think at this point I have been called 'servant' in at least three different languages. I suppose on the bright side at least I don't have any fear of getting too full of myself or forgetting my place around them.

Being a priestess in service to the OtherCrowd is hard work and it can be messy and unpleasant. It can also be amazing and full of blessing. But whatever it is, it is never easy. And unlike other things I have done or spiritualities I have practiced, this is not something that can be undone or changed later. There is no going back from this, and if that doesn't scare you then you aren't paying attention.

This isn't something I went looking for, although it's also not something I turned aside from either. If you really feel pulled to this, maybe look at the other path, at serving the human community by dealing with the Other not at serving the Other. Walking on this side changes a person not just figuratively but literally and that's a hard thing. I had previously had experience as a priestess to the Gods but I had never felt like I lost my sense of autonomy, like I wasn't making my own decisions. Now I feel utterly given over in ways that I could not have anticipated, and in ways I can't control. Keep that in mind, and don't forget that the cost of anything with them is equal to the value of what they are giving.

For anyone who finds the idea of this kind of path appealing, I'd warn against it. Practice Fairy Witchcraft, certainly, or whatever aspect of the Fairy Faith - or witchcraft - appeals to you. Become a priest or priestess for the human community if you feel called to as that is a vital and necessary thing. I found a lot of joy in my years of service to the human community in that capacity. But I wouldn't recommend priestessing for Themselves unless you have no choice or feel truly compelled to. It's a consuming thing, the way fire consumes, and like fire it transmutes what it consumes.




Part of why I'm writing this today is because I'm still working it out for myself, still trying to understand these changes and what they mean. The other reason I'm writing though is because I see so much out there that seems to glamourize (no pun intended) the idea of fairies and of connecting to them and I want to be sure people understand that it isn't all glitter and rainbows. It's literal blood, sweat, and tears. As much as it's alluring its also terrifying, and there's no part of it that's safe.

If you are going to do this, do it with your eyes open and keep your wits about you.

Friday, November 24, 2017

What Comes in Dreams: a Healing Charm

I've mentioned a few times before that I sometimes am given things in dreams. Sometimes these things relate to herbal knowledge and sometimes they are more complex, such as when I was told how to make Cáca Síofra. I can't always share these things, but when I can I do try to, not only so that other people can make use of them but also because I want to encourage other people to trust in what they might be getting in dreams or journeys.

One night a few weeks ago I had a dream and was given a healing chant. This happened around 1 am and I woke up afterwards but as I was very tired I didn't get up to write it down. I did remember it the next morning and had to try to figure out how to write it out properly. This was a bit more difficult than you might think because, as sometimes happens, it was given to me in modern Irish and while
 I have some modern Irish I'm much better with old Irish. When I'm given things in modern Irish I don't always know what all the words mean or how to write them out from hearing them spoken but can usually suss it all out afterwards. I do this by writing it down based on my best guess for what I think it should be and then asking my friends who are Irish speakers to help me smooth it out. In this case the next day several people helped me with the spelling and grammar (go raibh maith agaibh Caoimhin, Lora, agus Fionnuala!)

This is the healing chant as it was given to me:
"Gruaig le gruaig
craiceann le craiceann
cnámh le cnámh
feoil le feoil
fuil le fuil
casadh an chneá"

In English, roughly:
'hair with hair
skin with skin
bone with bone
flesh with flesh
blood with blood

turning/twisting the wound'

Anyone who wants to is welcome to make use of this. It's new as far as I know but it's similar in style to several other older healing chants for injuries, including, 'Charm of the Sprain' from the Carmina Gadelica and the Second Merseburg Incantation, so it's fine for me to share. It would be used by holding the hands over the injury and and chanting the words three times.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bodach

The name bodach, like elf and goblin, is used for specific fairy beings and is also a generic term for a type of a fairy. Bodachs are found in Scottish folklore where they are usually seen as a type of frightening nighttime fairy that may lead people astray or attack people; in some localized folklore the Bodach is an individual being while in other lore it is a general type of being which can create some confusion. As with so many named fairies we see that there is fluidity in the understanding of who and what Bodachs are.



In Gaidhlig the word bodach has a variety of meanings many of which apply to human men, including an old man, an unmarried man, and a rustic but it can also mean a specter or boogeyman (Bauer & MacDhonnchaidh, 2017). Campbell says that the name means 'a carle or old man' but he also defines them as night specters who are 'no living wight' (Campbell, 1900).  From this we can perhaps gain a mental image of the Bodach, based on the other meanings of the word, but we can also most certainly conclude that it is an Otherworldly being that appears at night and is frightening. Bodachs are only ever referred to as male in folklore and the term for them is an exclusively male one as well.

Campbell describes a variety among Bodachs and lists them as both a type of Bòcan as well as a type of fairy being on their own. The Bòcan in Scotland are any type of terrifying night being which may include fairies and ghosts which frighten humans but don't necessarily cause any physical harm to them (Campbell, 1900). In some areas the term Bodach is used in the same general way that Bòcan is elsewhere, to mean any and all terrifying nighttime spirits while in others the Bodach is viewed as a distinct type of being (Campbell, 1900). When included as one type in the more generalized grouping the Bodach qualifies as one of the Bòcan because of its nighttime appearances and habit of frightening people it encounters, although Bodachs may or may not cause physical harm.

The Bodach was often used by parents to frighten children children into behaving and to keep them away from dangerous areas. Some Bodachs were described as haunting areas that would be particularly unsafe after dark, trying to lure a person into going where they shouldn't. Bodachs often appear to children, trying to lure them into the darkness or to scare them, sometimes harming them directly sometimes only frightening them. In some stories the Bodach would rush down the chimney and seize children who were misbehaving, taking them away (Briggs, 1976). They were also drawn to children who were being loud or crying after dark, as well as those who disobeyed their parents.

There is also a tradition of named Bodachs who have a distinct personality, locality and activity associated with them. One type of named Bodach, Bodach an Sméididh [Beckoning Old Man], would be seen standing near the corner of a house and beckoning with his hands for the viewer to follow him (Campbell, 1900). Another named bodach, MacGlumag na mais, oliath tarrang shìoda, burrach mòr [Son  of Platter Pool from grey spike, silken spike, great caterpillar] sometimes just called Son of Platter Pool, appears to children at windows, gnashing his teeth loudly and flattening his face against the glass; if the child cries out the Bodach takes them away (Campbell, 1900). Another named Bodach is the Bodach Glas [Dark Man] who appeared as a death omen for a certain Scottish clan; he would appear three times and the third time singled doom (Briggs, 1976). In that case the Bodach seems to play a role similar to the Bean Sí in Irish folklore, being connected to a specific family and acting to foretell death within that family line. There is also at least one named Bodach with a friendly nature: normally described as a type of Brownie the Bodachan Sabhaill [Little Old Man of the Barn] was a helpful fairy who would come at night and thresh the crops in the darkness for tired, old farmers (Briggs, 1976).

While they can look and act frightening Bodachs can only enter a home if they are called or invited in (Campbell, 1900). They also rarely attack a person unless the person first puts themselves in the Bodachs power, be it by choosing to follow the fairy, by acknowledging its presence at the window, or by breaking cultural rules around behavior. They are known to take children but otherwise their reputation is ambivalent and focuses more on frightening than harming. In some modern Scottish anecdotal fairylore Bodach is the consort or partner of the Cailleach and in a wider sense modern lore places this fairy in the Unseelie court.

Bodachs are a fascinating type of Scottish fairy, running the gamut in folklore from helpful to harmful, consider in some cases Brownies and most often seen as Bòcans. These little old fairy men appear in the night to frighten children into good behavior, inhabiting the same darkness as ghosts and apparitions, and the safest way to avoid them is to refuse to acknowledge them. In many ways the folklore around the Bodach seems to blend together more common fairylore with other influences and certainly here we see the classic form of the Bogeyman looming large over naughty children in the Bodach's stories.



References
Campbell J., (1900) The Gaelic Otherworld
Bauer, M., and MacDhonnchaidh, U., (2017) Am Faclair Beag
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Cailleach

This article originally appeared in Air n-Aithesc, vol III, issue II, August 2016



The Cailleach

“Ebb-tide has come to me as to the sea;
old age makes me yellow;
though I may grieve thereat,
it approaches its food joyfully….
I am Buí, the Cailleach of Beare;
I used to wear a smock that was ever-renewed…”
-          The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare

The Cailleach, or Caillech in Old Irish, is a complex deity who seems to have roots in Neolithic Ireland. Cailleach is from a word that means ‘veiled woman’ or ‘elderly woman’ but in later usage was a pejorative generally used to mean hag or witch. In Ireland she is called the Cailleach Beara or Beare for the Beara peninsula which is her main habitation, although in folklore she is also sometimes given the epithet of Béarrach; the Old Irish word berach means sharp or horned. The Cailleach Beara’s true name is said to be Buí, a word that may mean ‘yellow’1. Alternately it may originally have been Boí, a word related to the one for cow (bó) and it’s possible that she was at one time a cow goddess who represented the land and its sovereignty on the Beara peninsula2. This idea is somewhat supported by her legendary possession of a powerful bull, the Tarbh Conraidh, who had only to bellow to get a cow with calf. Certainly she is strongly associated with Beara and because of the irregular orthography of Old Irish either version of her name is possible, although Buí is better attested, appearing in the well-known poem ‘The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare’. MacKillop suggests that she may also previously have been known as Dígde, a sovereignty goddess of Munster, and Duineach whose name he gives as meaning ‘[having] many followers’, both of which were subsumed into the single identity of the Cailleach Beara at some point3.

Several different goddesses are called ‘Cailleach’ in Irish myth including the Cailleach Beara of Cork and Cailleach Gearagáin of county Cavan4. The most well-known however is the Cailleach Beara, who is strongly associated with south west Ireland. She is considered a sovereignty figure, the archetypal crone who appears offering the throne to a potential king in exchange for intimacy; those who reject her in this guise will never rule but those who embrace her as an old woman will find her transformed into a beautiful young woman and will themselves become king. She is also credited with creating many of the standing stones and geographic features in various areas, who folklore claims are people or animals that she transformed; her bull the Tarbh Conraidh for example was turned into a stone in a river by her when he tried to swim across it to reach a herd of cows on the other side. In other parts of Ireland including Connacht, Leinster, and Ulster the Cailleach Beara is seen as the spirit of the harvest who inhabits the grain and flees from the scythes in the form of a hare5. In many areas harvest traditions included the practice of leaving the final sheaf standing in the field and naming it the Cailleach, or of dressing the final sheaf as an image of the goddess.
The Cailleach as Buí is said to be one of the four wives of Lugh, although other sources say that she had seven husbands; she is also said to have had 50 foster children6.  The Cailleach is generally described as an old woman but she also can appear young, and is considered the progenitor of some family lines including the Corca Duibhne7. A tenth century poem says that she was the lover of the warrior Fothadh Canainne. Folklore claims that she has two sisters, also named Cailleach of their respective areas, who live in Dingle and Iveragh8.

It is said that the Sliab na gCailligh in county Meath were created when the Cailleach flew over the area and accidently dropped the stones9. She is strongly associated with several areas in Ireland including the Beara peninsula in Munster and Slieve Daeane in Connacht10. Although she is found in Scotland as well she is not considered a pan-Celtic deity and so there is speculation that she represents a likely pre-Celtic divinity that was absorbed into Celtic culture at a later point11.

The Cailleach in Scotland has a different although related character, associated more tentatively with the harvest but also with the winter and storms. Called the Cailleach Bheur [beur meaning sharp or cutting in Gaidhlig] she was associated with the bitter winter wind and snowstorms as well as with creating geographic features which bear her name12. In the 1917 book “Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend” we learn that the goddess Bride (Irish Brighid) ruled over the summer half of the year, from Beltane to Samhain, and the other half of the year was ruled by the Cailleach. There are a variety of stories about how the year changed rulers which either feature the two goddesses contending against each other or describe them as aspects of one being. In one version Angus is the Cailleach’s son who falls in love with Bride, so the Cailleach imprisons her which causes winter to come to the land; only when Angus finally succeeds in freeing her on Imbolc does winter begin to relent13. In other versions of the story the Cailleach must drink from a magical spring, either on Imbolc at which point she transforms into Bride, or at Beltane at which point Bride is freed14.

In the Cailleach we see a complex and ancient deity, perhaps rooted in pre-Celtic belief but certainly once a powerful sovereignty goddess. It was she who created several features of the landscape of Ireland and Scotland making her cosmogenically significantly, and she who controls the storms of winter in Scotland. The Cailleach may appear old or young, and may give sovereignty to kings, even divine kings if we see her as Lugh’s wife and the source of his legitimacy as king of the Tuatha De Danann.  Although she is often considered a more obscure deity today, and her place among the Tuatha De Danann is somewhat uncertain, she seems to have been very significant historically and certainly maintains a powerful place in folklore today.


1Murphy, 1956
2O hOgain, 2006
3MacKillop, 1998
4Smyth, 1988
5O hOgain, 2006
6MacKillop, 1998
7Smyth, 1988
8O hOgain, 2006
9Smyth, 1988
10MacKillop, 1998
11Monaghan, 2004
12ibid
13McIntyre, 2015
14 McNeill; 1959; McIntyre, 2015

References

MacKillop, J., (1998) A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
McIntyre, M., (2015). “The Cailleach Bheara: a Study of Scottish Highland Folklore in Literature and Film”. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/6088609/The_Cailleach_Bheara_A_Study_of_Scottish_Highland_Folklore_in_Literature_and_Film
McNeill, F., (1959). The Silver Bough, volume 2

Monaghan, P., (2004) Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore