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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Do Elves And Fairies Have Physical Forms?

"To make my small elves coats." Illustrations to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, A. Rackham, common domain
   Among some people in modern belief elves and fairies are often assumed to be entirely insubstantial, that is they are described in the same terms as ghosts or other incorporeal spirits and are said to have no physical forms that can be touched or interacted with. This view has become so widespread in some groups that the idea of elves or fairies having any physicality is considered ludicrous, and yet a brief look at folklore shows that in both Norse and Celtic cultures historically these spirits were always assumed to have a physical form that could be interacted with. A quick survey of a variety of stories in folklore provides evidence of elves and fairies acting in very physical manners, but also being compared to formless things like the wind - so which is it?

Now I'll start by saying there are some understandable reasons why people tend to go with the insubstantial view. Firstly elves and fairies are usually invisible to humans (unless they choose otherwise or the humans have some special ability or token) and this invisibility naturally lends itself to an assumption of  a lack of substance. Yeats recounts a tale of a group of the Other Crowd who wanted to play a game of hurling but were unable to touch the ball until they found a human to play the game with them; this was necessary it seemed to give them solid form in our world (Yeats, 1893). Its also true that one of the better know historic texts on elves and fairies, rev. Kirk's 'The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Faires' refers to the Good People as having bodies that were like a 'condensed cloud', 'congealed air', and compares them to astral forms (Kirk, 1691). This certainly paints a picture of an insubstantial being. Many types of fairies, including the Slua Si and the Wild Hunt are also described as traveling through the air, a feat which is easier to reconcile if they are assumed to be intangible.

However, that being said even Kirk goes on to discuss a variety of things that are done by the the Good People of a very physical nature. He mentions them using solid weapons, for example, and that they steal nursing mothers to wet-nurse fairy babies, these women being physically removed and sometimes returned unharmed years later. People who are taken and returned relate stories of living among the fairies which involve activities much like those found among humans including spinning, sewing, cleaning, and cooking. Similarly we see many Welsh tales of the Fair Family in which they are physically interacting with people, often by kidnapping women, children, or babies (Sikes, 1881). In one notable tale a boy who was taken by the fairies steals a golden ball from them and finds his way back out of Fairyland to make a gift of the ball to his mother (Sikes, 1881). It is quite clear in that story that the boy is acting in a physical way with the fairies - such as playing with the King's son - and that the golden ball is tangible and exists as something that humans can touch and take. Ballads like Tam Lin and Thomas Rhymer also offer examples of people interacting in very physical ways with the Good Folk, as do the myriad tales of Selkie wives. W. B. Yeats related a story of a woman whose mother had a friend among the Good People who similarly could be substantial and gave the woman one day an herb for protection; this was passed to her from the fairy woman's own hand (Yeats, 1893).

Perhaps the best answer to this question can be gained by looking at the Norse and Germanic evidence. Here we see that elves are considered both insubstantial and also able to take physical form. Grimm relates a story of an elf-maid who entered a house like smoke through a knothole, then married the son of the family, bore him four children, only to eventually leave the same way she had entered (Grimm, 1883). He also states that elves are strongly connected to butterflies because both are 'the product of repeated changes of form' (Grimm, 1883, p 462). In this way then it is not a matter of elves and fairies either being insubstantial or having form, but rather a matter of them being both, or at least able to be one or the other.

Ultimately folklore shows us stories of both elves and fairies that are shadowy and can pass through the physical substance of our world as well as stories where they are as solid and able to effect our world as we are. In some cases the choice between forms seems to be theirs, in others, such as Yeats hurling tale, there appears to be a more formal set of rules in play. In the end it would seem that it is true that elves and fairies are both insubstantial and tangible, and that we should not assume they are limited to either.

Kirk, R., (1691) The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Faires
Sikes, W., (1881) British Goblins: Welsh Folklore, Fairy Mythology, Legends, and Traditions
Yeats, W., (1893) Celtic Twilight
Grimm, J., (1883) Teutonic Mythology volume 2

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Racism is Not Part of CR - Or My Heathenry

So its late summer and once again there's a flare up in the Heathen social media sphere relating to racism. Sadly this is nothing new. In fact three years ago, also in August, I wrote a previous blog partially about my opinion of racism. This is not a new issue.

This particular iteration came up when the Asatru Folk Assembly, a large US Heathen organization, made a public statement which has widely been interpreted as being both racist and homophobic/transphobic. When questioned about it they clarified that yes, in fact, they consider Asatru to be for straight 'European' people. I found myself yesterday morning being asked by several different people what my opinion was about the situation, as someone who identifies as Heathen and is also both mixed race and lgbtq. My opinion from that perspective is that its crap.

I am part of a Heathen kindred which includes people of non-European ancestry and I would far, far rather stand in solidarity and worship with my Kindred sister, who is one of the best, most honorable people I know - and a devoted Thor's woman - than I would ever want to claim any kinship to some stranger who shares nothing with me but an illusory relation based on coincidental melanin similarity. My Kindred sister is part of my innagard, and her ancestry or ethnicity is a complete non-issue. And I am lucky to have her in my life and in my Kindred. Those nidthings who judge her as less or say she has no place in her religion do nothing but show their own lack of value in doing so. My own ancestry, such as it is which includes both European and Native American, doesn't make me a better or worse Heathen, and the idea that I should be a 'feminine woman' or a 'masculine man' to properly honor the Gods shows a lack of knowledge of historic Heathenry in my opinion and a lack of understanding of gender and sexuality in general.

So there was that to start, but beyond that the other half of my spirituality got dragged into this growing debacle when someone publicly commented that Celtic Reconstruction shared the same values - racist, homophobic, transphobic values - that had started the drama to begin with. Then I was seeing people in multiple places talking about how racist CR is, and that causes me pain. Not because there aren't any racists in CR, lets be honest racists are a plague upon all religions and spiritualities, but because CR in general has always been something that was vocally anti-racist and many people who have been active in the community for years, like myself, have worked hard to emphasize that CR (and in my case Irish Recon) is not only anti-racist but also widely inclusive.

I want to be crystal clear here - CR does not support any stance, statement, or organization that is racist.

I can say this with confidence not because I myself am some sort of spokesperson for CR, but because we have a book called the CR FAQs which is as close to an accepted guidebook of CR as exists and it says in plain black and white text that CR rejects racism.
to quote: "CR is firmly anti-racist. This has been unanimously agreed upon by representatives of the established CR sub-traditions, CR elders and other long-term members of the community, including the founders of the tradition.... No matter where your ancestors were from, or what your ethnic background, you are welcome to practice CR with us.

Is that clear enough?
Anyone - anyone - who says different is wrong. Period. 

And as far as I am personally concerned the Irish Reconstructionism I practice, based on my research into the history and mythology of the pagan culture, is profoundly anti-racist, and anti-homophobic. You are welcome to honor the Gods with me no matter what your ethnic background, no matter who your ancestors were, and no matter what your sexual orientation or gender identity is. 

Beannachtai na tri Morrignae duit.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Gods and Fairies - Excerpt from Fairycraft

Gods and Fairies - Excerpt from Fairycraft

In Christian myth it is said that the fairies exist as beings that are between the nature of angels and demons; many people dismiss this as later propaganda but I believe it represents a reflection of genuine older belief. In pagan times the fairies were seen as being of the same nature as the Gods, but on a lower level, existing somewhere between the Gods and humans. Within modern Fairy Faiths the fairies - as well as the old Gods - have been greatly diminished and reduced to beings that are often seen as less than human, but this is not true to the older view.
  In Grimm's Teutonic Mythology we are told: "On the nature of Elves I resort for advice to the ON. [old Norse] authorities, before all others…..the Elder Edda several times couples œsir and âlfar together, as though they were a compendium of all higher beings, and that the AS. [Anglo-Saxon] ês and ylfe stand together in exactly the same way. This apparently concedes more of a divinity to elves than to men." (Grimm, 1882). From this we can understand that in both Norse and Germanic as well as Anglo-Saxon belief the Alfar, who were roughly equivalent to the Irish Sí, were seen as a semi-divine race of beings that were often placed alongside the Gods.
   Robert Kirk's book Secret Commonwealth, based on his 17th century experiences with fairies, says: "These Siths, or fairies... are said to be of a middle Nature betwixt Man and Angel, as were Dæmons[i] thought to be of old." (Kirk, 2007). This also shows the idea of the fairies as beings that exist above humans but below Gods in the universal hierarchy.
    Evans Wentz, writing 200 years later says: "In the Book of Leinster the poem of Eochaid records that the Tuatha De Danann, the conquerors of the Fir-Bolgs, were hosts of siabra; and siabra is an Old Irish word meaning fairies, sprites, or ghosts." (Evans Wentz, 1911) This connects the Irish Tuatha de Danann, often seen as the old pagan Gods, with the fairies. Wentz goes on to say: "In the two chief Irish MSS., [manuscripts] the Book of the Dun Cow and the Book of Leinster, the Tuatha De Danann are described as 'gods and not-gods'; and Sir John Rhys considers this an ancient formula comparable with the Sanskrit deva and adeva, but not with 'poets (dée) and husbandmen (an dée)' as the author of Cóir Anmann learnedly guessed." (Evans Wentz, 1911). Some modern authors do indeed see the reference to "Gods and not-Gods" as referring to the division between the people of skill and the common laborers, however I agree with Rhys that it more likely refers to the separation of the Gods and the fairies, in the same way that we see the Aesir and Alfar referred to in the Norse/Germanic material. There are many additional references in Irish myth to the sí, particularly the riders of the sí, acting with or at the request or direction of the Gods. It can be difficult to discern if these references are meant to indicate that the riders of the sí are the Tuatha Dé Danann or if they represent a separate force under the command of the Tuatha Dé, but I tend to favor seeing them as the "not-gods" who are allied with the Gods. If this is accepted along with the references to the fairies existing between men and Gods, then it becomes clear that the fairies exist as beings part of but separate from the Gods, and would likely have arrived in Ireland before the Gods and have been in the mounds before the Gods were driven into them.
  Are the fairies the "not-Gods" of Irish myth? It is impossible to know with certainty, but it is a possibility, and one I embrace. Whether they are or not, it can be said that they have long been viewed as powerful beings that are less than Gods but more than humans and should be given our respect. Using the framework of the old Fairy Faith provides an excellent way to do this.
Within the loose category of the term ‘fairy’ there are a huge array of different beings and it is far beyond the scope of this book to discuss them all, however it’s important for us to look at several specific types...
       It’s also always best to keep in mind that although we are seeking these beings out as allies and even friends, they must be treated with respect and caution. As Terry Pratchett said:
Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvelous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.

[i] Daemon - "(in ancient Greek belief) A divinity or supernatural being of a nature between gods and humans."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Polytheism

I've been a polytheist for a long time now, and an animist, arguably, for longer.

Polytheism is one of those deceptively easy-but-complicated things that a person says that tells you everything and nothing all at once.

I'm a polytheist - but what does that mean? Well obviously that I believe in and honor more than one deity. That would be the easy part. But the nuts and bolts of it is where the complicated comes in, because there is no one way to be a polytheist - honestly I don't think there's any hundred ways to do it beyond that basic believing. And even that gets a lot stickier than we like to think about. I say I believe in many Gods and someone else says they believe in many Gods, but are we even meaning the same thing, is our understanding of those Gods even remotely similar? How do we act on that belief? How does it shape our lives?

To me, the Gods are real, independent, individual Beings - as are the various spirits and other Powers. I see them as having various degrees of influence over the world and my life, not omnipotent but in some cases very close to it. Maybe it seems strange to frame it this way but a key part of my polytheism is an understanding that there are the Gods, the deithe, and the non-Gods, the an-deithe. The world is not simply a matter of humans and deities (defined as some sort of ultimate supernatural power) but rather is full of Powers, some of whom are easily defined as 'Gods', and some that are clearly minor spirits, but many that are in-between, that are not easily defined as either a God-exactly or as a lesser-spirit. Instead of worrying over whether something is a God I developed a system of respect and interaction that includes the spectrum of spirits. My polytheism, you see, is as much about the full range of spirits as it is about the highest Gods. It is about reciprocity, and building relationships. Its about connections. I know my Gods, and I feel that they know me - I give to them and they bless me, I create space for them and they come into it, I speak to them and they reply in their different ways.

Framed picture of landscape scene Germany circa 1945, taken by my great-uncle; Morrigan statue from Dryad Design; fox bone necklace and painted ram skull from the Forge of Awesomeness (Etsy)

I honor Gods from known pantheons, Macha, Nuada, the Morrigan, Badb, Flidais, Brighid, as well as Wodan and Frau Holle. I connect to them through mythology, folklore, language. I study the cultures they belong to, the pagan period they lived in as well as the way they survive today in other forms, hidden in fairytales and tradition. I seek to understand their connections to places and events, their original mythology and power. It matters a lot to me to feel like I have some understanding, even a small one, of the way these Gods were viewed and understood historically. But I also seek them in dreams and visions. I connect to them in the words of modern poets and authors, and I write their story in ink on my own skin.

I honor the liminal Gods, the Gods of Fairy, as well. Are they Gods by the dictionary definition? I have no idea. Do they act as Gods in my life? Yes, in my personal experience they do, and that quite frankly is good enough for me. These Beings are included in my polytheism because as far as I'm concerned they are Gods. Although I do pretty extensively study fairylore the Fairy Gods as such have no existing mythology; I connect to them entirely through experience and personal revelations. They want what other Gods want - acknowledgement, offerings, a place, respect.

My polytheism is a liminal thing, existing on the boundary between hard facts and mysticism, between known named Gods and unknown unnamed Gods. It is a daily round of devotions and offerings as much as it is spontaneous prayer and organic connection. It is rooted in history and study but it is also drinking from the well of inspiration and innovation. It is both new and old. My polytheism, along with my animism, is a foundational belief in my life, something that is key to shaping how I look at the world and how I choose to live my life. My belief in the Gods and my belief in what they want from me - to be an honorable person, to serve others in certain ways, to write about them, to live a life that reflects values I think they respect, and so on - are major factors in making my life what it is.

Community temple at the Morrigan's Call Retreat circa 2015

 It is also a polytheism that seeks to build bridges, to connect to others who believe in more than one God. I mentioned at the beginning that my belief may not be exactly like other peoples, and in all honesty I don't think that matters. One of the ways that I serve Macha, and the Morrigan more generally, is by acting as her clergy at a yearly retreat (the Morrigan's Call Retreat) which sees attendees from across every possible demographic of paganism and polytheism - and She has made it very clear to me that I am to serve all of them in Her rituals. I do not get to pick and choose when Her people come to me in ritual who is worthy and who isn't, who is enough like me in belief and who isn't. If they consider themselves Hers then I act as priest/ess for them to the best of my ability when they enter that space. That was a humbling message to receive and one that taught me that while we humans may by nature try to divide and categorize and label, the Gods have a different view. My job in that context is to serve Her and build Her community, not judge or divide. And so I try to do as She, as They, want. And I try to remember that ultimately we are all doing our best to seek the same things as best we can with the tools and understanding we have.

And that is my polytheism.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Iron as a Protection Against Fairies

Iron horse shoe above a door

Many of the old folktales - as well as the new modern day experiences - show us reasons why people feared and respected the Good People. Living side by side with the Otherworld necessitated not only the wisdom to know how to properly interact if you happened upon Themselves, but also created a wide array of methods to defend against those with malicious intentions and those whose idea of mischief was best avoided. One of the main ones recommended in folklore  as well as today is iron.
There are several ways to use iron to protect yourself and your home from fairies, if it's needed. Lady Wilde suggested protecting infants from being taken as changelings by sewing a bit of iron into the hem of the child's clothes (Wilde, 1888). Another commonly recommended protection for children and babies was to hang a pair of scissors, opened into the shape of a cross, above the cradle (Briggs, 1976). A horseshoe can be hung up over the door way, points up, which not only acts to ward off fairies but is also said to draw good luck. An iron knife or cross is also an excellent protection, either carried or hung up above the door or bed (Briggs, 1976). In Welsh belief a knife, particularly of iron, was so effective a protection that should friendly fairies visit a home all knives were hidden from sight lest they be offended and if a traveling person was attacked by the Fey he had only to pull his blade for them to disappear (Sikes, 1880). Another method found in Germanic and Norse traditions is to hammer an iron nail into a post near the doorway or alternately part of the door frame. Additionally it is said to be as effective to draw a circle using an iron nail or knife around what you want to protect (Gundarsson, 2007).

A more modern, but still useful method, is the use of iron water. Fill a small spray bottle with water and add iron filings, iron dust, or a piece of iron, and allow to sit for a few days. The water can be sprayed into a room or around the home as needed.
As always keep in mind that the use of iron will not effect all fairies, as some - including mine fairies and house fairies - are not bothered by it. For those that are sensitive to it, though, it is a superlative protection. 

Antique iron keys

Those who seek to connect with or encourage the presence of the Other Crowd or spirits must be very cautious about using this metal, as it will drive away those sensitive to it. One should never, for example, cut a plant to be harvested for magical purposes with an iron knife as this will drive away the plant's spirit. We can see this belief illustrated in Pliny the Elder's description of the Gaulish Druids harvesting of Selago (Bostock, 1855). 

True forged iron is hard to come by these days and although it is the best protection steel will also work in a pinch. Steel, for those who may not have known this, is still about 98% iron with only 2% or less of alloy metals added so it can still work as iron would to protect against fairies. Generally the type of item isn't as important as the material in this case so anything made of iron that you can procure can be used for protective purposes. Its also best to remember that fairy is a general term, like animal, that applies to a wide array of beings. Iron is recommended as a superlative protection against faeries, but there will always be those who are not bothered by it. If we were to say that about 80% of fairies can't bear the touch of iron then the other 20% have no problem with it, and those would include mine faeries, forge spirits, and some house spirits; basically any fairy that would naturally exist or dwell near iron or iron ore. Also any of the aos sidhe connected to smithing don't seem to be bothered by iron.

To summarize; ultimately the amount doesn't seem to matter as long as the content is iron. The shape is also not important although it is more often recommended in a form that is sharp - a knife or nail - or combined with a holy symbol like a cross. The placement is best either on the person or very close by, especially near where they are sleeping. When placed above or next to an entrance it is believed that the presence of iron will keep out any Otherworldly beings. Although in today's world iron may be more difficult to find steel is fairly easily obtained and will work as well.

Gundarsson, K (2007). Elves, Wights, and Trolls

Wilde, E., (1888) Irish Cures, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Bostock, J., (1855) Pliny the Elder the Natural History
Sikes, W., (1880) British Goblins: Welsh folklore, Fairy mythology, Legends, and Traditions

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Morgan's Basic Guide to Dealing with Non-Human Spirits

There are many things about modern spirituality that perplex me but one that I may have mentioned before is the immediate trust that people give to spirits. I know I've mentioned it in my books and in classes so I decided it was about time to devote a blog post to the subject. The most savvy, smart people seem to throw all their critical thinking skills out the window when dealing with non-corporeal beings of any kind and often problems ensue. So let's look at some basics in dealing with spirits.

Morgan's Basic Guide to Dealing with Non-Human Spirits

  1. Spirits Lie - I'm putting this one first because it seems to be the single biggest sticking point with people. Spirits lie. Even the Fair Folk, who in my experience don't tell verbal lies will still deceive you into believing that day is night by speaking only the truth in ways that lead you to assume all the wrong things. And spirits who aren't the Gentry can and do flat out lie. There is no reason to immediately assume a spirit is telling you the truth, any more than you would assume a strange human you just bumped into was being totally honest with you. And the problem here isn't just that they can lie, its that they will lie if it suits their purposes and you can really screw yourself over if you believe them. Let me tell you a story that happened about 15 years ago when my mother-in-law and several of her friends decided to play around with a ouija board. They believed they had contacted the spirit of a child from the colonial period, and this spirit immediately began giving them a tragic backstory about being orphaned while it was alive, and dying terribly and wandering the spirit world looking for its mother for the last 300+ years. And asked them to invite it in to give it a place to stay because it was sad and lonely and they seemed so nice...this was already a field of red flags to me when I was being told about it later but of course they believed every word and invited it in. And of course the next day when one person was alone in the house this had occured in the spirit began harassing her, telling her to kill herself, and trying to convince her that the other women were out to get her. And since they'd invited it in they found they couldn't get rid of it (which is where I came into the picture). And if you were wondering no it wasn't a human ghost, it was a negative entity that fed on human pain and misery; everything it had said to them was lies designed to worm its way in so it could influence them and feed on their suffering. The moral of the story - don't trust everything a spirit tells you without trying to verify what you've been told. 
  2. Nothing is Free - even free things aren't free. Most spirits work on some kind of barter system, although what they consider a trade may not be what we expect - for example plenty will help us for an exchange of energy that we don't even notice, or for the entertainment value. Others may ask for actual payment in some form, be it a physical offering later, an action done, a task completed, or similar. Some will also help us out on the theory that we then owe them something, a debt that can be called in later. (yes I do deal mostly with the Good Neighbors so I may be jaded) Even the ones who don't work on such an obvious system however, like our ancestors or spirit guides or mentors of different varieties do assume a certain system of obligation or reciprocity is in effect - you can't expect your ancestors to show up and help you out if you consistently ignore them or actively refuse to acknowledge them. Now some people may say that angels and similar spirits operate on a different system, but I'd argue that working with them or calling on them still requires a level of engagement and belief which is, in itself, a kind of payment. Don't underestimate the value of attention as a method of payment and type of coin to spirits - there are theories after all that some types of spirits who require human attention and energy and are lost to human consciousness literally cease to exist, which may be as close to death as previously immortal beings can get (depending again on what kind of spirits we're talking about - some can actually die and be reborn in a new form, others do not seem to die in a sense we understand). As part of this, never assume something - including help or guidance - is free. Ask what the cost is and remember that negotiation is always an option. If you don't ask and just blindly agree then you are accepting whatever terms the spirit wanted, and that's usually not a good idea. 
  3. Just Because It's a Spirit Doesn't Mean It Has Your Best Interests in Mind - Seriously on this one. I know some people believe that anything without a physical body must be some kind of enlightened being or guide that is here to help us evolve or something, but that is just not true in my experience (see story in #1). I'm going to be blunt here and I'm sorry if this offends anyone who believes differently, but humans are just not the center of the spiritual universe around which all other manifest creation circles, eagerly looking for a chance to help us be the best we can be. Just like life with other people and animals, some are nice and helpful because they want to be, some will help if motivated to, some are just jerks, and some will actively try to harm us. Much like assuming spirits won't or can't lie, assuming that spirits are only ever trying to help us can cause real problems for us. Its also important to keep in mind that sometimes they are telling you the truth, and sometimes they are not trying to hurt you - they may even really be trying to help - but that doesn't mean that you won't get hurt. Spirits don't always understand what a person's physical limits are, or emotional limits, and their ideas of what's best for us are not always in line with what is actually healthy for us. So you have to keep your own limits and safety in mind all the time and set boundaries that keep you safe. 
  4. Manners Aren't Just for Visiting your Grandmother - I am often horrified by the books I see suggesting we treat all spirits rudely, with blunt orders and an assumption that they must obey us. I highly recommend not doing that around the Fair Folk if you like living and having your health. Unless you are working in a ceremonial magic tradition (or similar) that explicitly requires you to summon spirits with coercion, bind them, and force them to do your bidding using commanding language and you understand which spirits that's appropriate with, there is no reason in my opinion to go into spiritual interactions acting like you're reading from the Key of Solomon. There are certain times and reasons to command spirits, even Otherworldly ones, but if you are reading this and you don't already know what those times and reasons are then for the love of all that's holy please don't try randomly getting an attitude with the Gentry; even most miscellaneous non-Fey spirits aren't going to take kindly to it. Putting aside the fact that common courtesy is free and easy, looking at a range of any folk stories demonstrates pretty clearly that having good basic manners gets you much, much further with most spirits than acting like a spoiled, entitled child. For but one example you might read the story of Lusmore. I will note that there is a slight exception in not saying thank you, but there are plenty of other ways to express gratitude, and also that prohibition isn't universal. When in doubt silence is usually a safe way to go, but general polite speech is always a good choice when you do speak. Unless and until you are in a situation where things have already gone sideways and you need to stand up for yourself, that is, and then, as they say, take no crap and enforce your boundaries. 
  5. Always Use Protection and Have Good (Spiritual) Hygiene - not just good advice in certain real life situations, its also good advice when dealing with spirits. You don't need to drape yourself in talismans but its a good idea if you are into a spirituality where you will be actively engaging in spirit work - that is intentionally interacting with spirits - to make sure are you cleansing yourself and your space, warding it, and also have some kind of protections. Actively dealing with spirits, whether its playing around with ouija boards, making offerings to house or local spirits, or trying to connect to Otherworldly spirits will attract both things you want and things you don't want. Kind of like putting out a dish to feed local stray cats is going to get you both cats and skunks, raccoons, and possums. You can and should try to be selective in your advertising but no matter how careful and clear you are in what you are willing to allow in and deal with you're still going to occasionally get other things showing up. Maybe they're curious. Maybe they're bored. Maybe you just look tasty and they're hungry. So common sense: cleanse out the space regularly of stagnant energy (just like you'd physically clean it), ward it to keep out what you don't want (just like you'd close your doors and windows to keep out animals and weird people from your house), and have protections (just like you'd lock your doors). For example on the Fire Festivals it was a common tradition in Ireland and Scotland to burn juniper or a similar cleansing herb in the house and barn. This way at least every three months the space was being blessed and cleansed; you can of course burn a blessing herb more often and you can also use other methods like ringing bells to cleanse a space. Space can be warded by walking the boundary with fire or sprinkling blessed water or salt along the border. An individual might bathe in salt water. Hag stones might be worn or hung up for protection, as can iron (although don't use this if you are actively trying to connect to the Fair Folk), and twigs of rowan. Many religious symbols are also worn for protection. 
  6. If it Seems too Good to Be True, Be Cautious - to quote Tolkien entirely out of context, "all that glitters isn't gold". Plenty of things look too good to be true precisely because they are, and the more beautiful and tempting a spirit seems the more careful you should be. If it reminds you strongly of someone you have strong feelings for, or of yourself, or in any way hits on emotional triggers for you those should all be big red flags for you to stop and take stock before proceeding. The spirit world is full of tempting things that are, in effect, baited traps. Remember points #1 and #3 and understand that many spirits can change their appearance and that they can and will use this ability to manipulate you. Its also worth keeping in mind that just because something doesn't look attractive is not a reason to assume that it is bad or dangerous. Spirits are not a matter of the inside matching the outside, and I honestly don't know why people assume they will be. Also bear in mind that human beauty standards are not actually a universal measure, so what we happen to find attractive might mean nothing at all to certain spirits (I'm fairly sure Brownies for example don't see their lack of noses as a blemish). Just because you think its ugly doesn't mean it's bad or evil - and just because it's gorgeous doesn't make it good. Most fairies in folklore that seduce and harm mortals show up in darn nice packaging to do so. If something is going out of its way to appear, well, appealing to you then at the least you need to ask yourself why. It might be harmless, a way to establish a connection with you, or it might be hiding a trap. This is not the sort of thing you want to figure out after you've already engaged with the spirit. 
  7. Always, Always, ALWAYS, Trust your Own Instincts - again this one should seem obvious but so often I see people not listening to their own gut, to their grief. By all means don't throw common sense out the window and look without leaping - always think things through before acting because we can be influenced without realizing it. some spirits specialize in getting us to do just that, so learning to act slowly and deliberately is a good thing. But generally speaking if something feels bad or makes you uneasy, don't do it or deal with it. At the very least it means its not something you're ready for and at worst its something that is dangerous to you. If your gut is saying bad idea, your gut probably knows something you don't. Don't let your head talk you into doing something stupid, and it doesn't matter if all the cool kids are doing it, or if you've done it before, or if someone told you that you have to do it to unlock the next level of spiritual awesomeness or win a gold star. If it feels wrong trust that it is wrong and try to figure out why. Its not like there's some video game time limit where you have to Do The Thing right now or start over at level 1 again. Take your time and be sure its safe before you do it, agree to it, or go into it. This applies triple when oaths or promises are involved. Because if you do something wrong with a spirit the consequences can be profound and very, very real in the 'real' world. And some mistakes can't be fixed. 
To summarize - treat spirits the same way you would treat strange humans (or animals), with the same politeness and healthy mistrust, apply Wheaton's Law to everything, always read the fine print before signing the contract, and don't do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Do all that and you have a much better chance of successfully dealing with spirits.
"May the odds be ever in your favor"

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Modern Experiences with the OtherCrowd

A couple years ago I wrote a blog called "Experiencing the OtherCrowd" which aimed to share some of my personal experiences with Themselves, the idea being that often people of a more Reconstructionist bent don't talk much about those sorts of things. I had also wanted to show some of my own interactions to give people an idea of what modern fairy experiences could be like since much of the time what gets put out there for mass consumption is of the decidedly twee variety. At the time I offered five particular experiences that I tended to mention in classes I was teaching because they were safe to share - not in the sense of 'Safe For Work'* but rather in the sense of things that had happened that I could talk about with others without fear of offending the OtherCrowd or getting myself in trouble with them, as there is a long standing prohibition about talking too much about them or about interactions with them.

I'd like to update and expand on that previous list with a further 5 safe-to-share experiences. Yes, these did all really happen, and in some cases other people witnessed them and can verify. Yes, these did happen in America. Yes, I am sure these involved beings I would call 'Good Neighbors'. For those who regularly read my writing or attend workshops I teach some of these may not be new. As with the first blog I am writing this to show people that interactions with the Fair Folk do still happen, and that those interactions are not always what some views of the 'fairies' may lead us anticipate.

5) I had been given a small bracelet as a gift by a friend. I took it off one night and when I went to put it back on it was gone. The lesser Fey are fond of taking my jewelry, although so far they've always given it back, eventually, so I was annoyed but not too worried about it. Several months went by and the bracelet still hadn't reappeared; at this point my family was getting ready to move to another town and I was getting worried. I tried everything I could think of, but no bracelet. finally I decided that maybe it wasn't Themselves who took it after all, but I'd just lost it. We moved to the new house and a few days after moving in I walked into the bathroom and the bracelet was lying in the middle of the floor.

small pool at Devil's Hopyard state park (the kind without fairies in it)

4) About 15 years ago I was hiking in a local state park known by some to have a strong presence of the Good People to it. In this same place I'd been pixy-led while I was with a friend, and I know of at least one other person who had also been pixy-led there. This particular day I decided to go off trail at the bottom of the waterfall and hike around the rocky area near the water's edge. I came around a place where the rockface had jutted out and into a small secluded area with a little pool. I stopped; in the pool was a pale, dark haired woman (not human).  She was about waist deep in the water and had been running her fingers through her hair when I walked around the cliff. There was a strong feeling of menace in the air that made my hair stand on end. She looked at me. I looked at her. She told me to get out. I backed up and left the way I'd come as fast as I could.

3) There's twice at least that I believe the Good People have saved my home or my life one way or another. The first time I was in my living room, getting ready to go run some errands when I caught sight of something moving on the wall behind the television, by the outlet where the electronics are plugged in. I walked part way across the room, but there wasn't anything there. I stood for a minute or so, nothing happened, so I went and sat back down. Glancing over the same thing happened again, but I ignored it. The third time it was the more distinctive form of a small person moving back and forth in front of the outlet, so I got up again and walked over this time right up to the outlet. The figure disappeared but a few seconds later the largest cord plugged into the outlet sparked and then started burning. Because I was standing right next to it I had time to pull it out of the wall before anything else caught fire, and the only damage was the cord itself, melted and burned (also probably added some white to my hair).

2) I have had many strange experiences with the OtherCrowd relating to butterflies and moths, also I mentioned the saving my life thing? Several years ago just before going to bed I started to have a severe allergic reaction to something (for which I now have an epipen by the way). I was going into anaphylactic shock, which as a former EMT I recognized, but at the time I was scared and made the very irrational decision not to disturb my husband. I went to bed, with my tongue swelling and each breath a struggle. Suddenly my husband jumped up yelling and turned on the light. He swore that a huge moth had just flown, forcefully, into his face, although he could find no evidence of any moth anywhere. A sense of calm came over me and I told him to call 911 and explained that I needed help. And obviously I lived, although I'll admit things got a bit dicey on the ambulance ride.

1) We have a fairy thorn in my yard - which is its own story, actually. Anyway, one day while doing yard work my husband damaged the tree accidentally. He came in and told me and I was very upset (read; freaked out) and told him to go make an offering right away. I went out myself and offered honey and milk, and asked him if he had had done but he was still in the middle of mowing the lawn. I emphasized he needed to do it as soon as possible. So a week or so goes by and its around 7 one morning. I'm up with my son who was an infant at the time while everyone else is still sleeping when we hear the most Gods-awful loud crashing noise. I rush to the window with the baby and looking down at the driveway see that a roughly 20 foot long branch from an oak tree has impaled my husband's car. I go wake him up, and the first thing I say is something like "Did you make that offering to the fairies like I told you to?" and he says "No I thought you'd done it for me.". So I say, "Oh no. You should have done your own. You'd better go see what's happened to your car."
It was totaled by the way.

*for those unfamiliar with the concept of Not Safe for Work, its internet slang indicating content that may be objectionable in the workplace, for example containing nudity, violence, or swearing. It's sometimes used as a shorthand to indicate content that may not be suitable for all audiences or contexts.