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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Excerpt from Suidigud Tellaich Temra

Suidigud Tellaich Temra

23. ‘A Findtain,’ arse, ‘& Éri cía gabad ca rabad inde?’
‘Ní ansa,’ ar Fintan, ‘Íaruss fis. tuadus cath. airthis bláth.
teissus séis. fortius flaith.’
‘Is fír ém, a Findtain,’ ar Tréfhuilngid, ‘’ at senchaid saineamail.
Is amlaid robái & bias co bráth béos, .i.

24. A fis, a forus, a foirceatol, a bág, a breithemnus,  a
comgne, a cómairle, a scéla, a seanchasa, a sos, a sodelb, a sulbairi,
a háine, a himdercadh, a gart, a himed, a hindmus asa híarthur
‘Can as aidi?’ bar in slúag. ‘Ní ansa,’ arse. ‘A hÁe, a hUmull, a
hAidhne, a Bairind, a Briuuss, a Breithfne, a Brí Airg, a Bearramain,
a Bagnu, a Cera, a Corund, a Cruachain, a hIrrus, a hImga, a
hImgan, a Tarbgu, a Teidmmu, a Tulchaib, a Muaid, a Muirisc,
a Meada, a Maigib .i. etar Traigi & Reocha & Lacha, a Mucrumu,
a Maenmaig, a Maig Luirg, a Maig Ene, a hAraind, a hAigliu,
a hAirtiuch.’

25. ‘A catha, immorro,’ arse, ‘& a comrama, a dúiri, a drobela, a
drenna, a díumasa, a dímáine, a húaill, a hallud, a hindsaigthi,
a crúas, a coicthi, a congala, asa tuaiscert atúaid.’
‘Can a[s] suidiu?’ ar in sluag. ‘Ní ansa.
A lLiu, a lLurg, a lLothur, a Callaind, a Fearnmaig, a Fidhgha,
a Sruib Bruin, a Bernus, a Dabull, a hAird Fhothaid, a Gull, a
hIrgull, a Airmmuch, a Glennaib, a Geraib, a Gabur, a hEamain,
a hAiliuch, a hImchlar.’

26. ‘A bláth dino,’ arse, ‘& a beathamnass, a ceasa, a cosnuma,
a cleas n-airm, a noethaighi, a halle, a hingantai, a sobés, a
sochostud, a háinis, a himid, a horddan, a tráchta, a turcharthi,
a teglochus, a hilldána, a hinaltus, a hilmáine, a sróll, a síric, a
sítai, a bri(t)graighi, a bre[cc]glas, a brugamnos asa hairthear
‘Can as suide?’ ar in sluag. ‘Ní ansa ém,’ olse.
‘A Fethuch, a Fothnu, a hInrechtro, a Mugno, a Biliu,
a Bairniu, a Bernaib, a Drendaib, a Druach, a Diamair, a
Leib, a lLiniu, a Laithirni, a Cuib, a Cúailgiu, a Cind Chon,
a Maig Roth, a Maig Inis, a Muig Muirthemne.’

27. ‘A hesa, a hóenaigi, a donda, a derga, a súithi, a cruithnecht,
a céolchairecht, a bindis, a hairfideadh, a hecna, a hairmitniu,
a séis, a foglaim, a foirceatul, a fiansa, a fidchelacht, a déne,
a díscere, a filidecht, a fechemnus, a féle, a forus, a tascor, a
torthaigi asa descert andeas.’
‘Can as suidi?’ arsiat. ‘Ní ansa,’ ar Tréfuilngid.
‘A Mairg, a Maistin, a Raighniu, a Rúirind, a Gabair, a Gabran,
a Clíu, a Cláiriu, a Femhniudh, a Faifaiu, a Bregon, a Barcaib,
a Cind Chailli, a Clériu, a Cermnu, a Raithlind, a Gleannamain,
a Gobair, a Lúachair, a Labraind, a Loch Léin, a Loch Lugdach,
a Loch Daimdeirg, a Cathair Chonrái, a Cathair Cairbri, a Cathair
Ulad, a Dún Bindi, a Dún Cháin, a Dún Tulcha, a Fertae, a
Feoraind, a Fiandaind.’

28. ‘A rrígi, uero, a rechtairi, a hordan, a hoireochuss, a cobsaidi,
a conhgbála, a fuilngeda, a forrána, a cathaigi, a cairpthigi, a fiandus,
a flaithemnas, a hardrigi, a hollamnas, a mid, a maithiuss, a ciurm,
a clothaigi, a rroblad, a rathmaire, asa meadón.’
‘Can as suidi?’ arsiat. ‘Ní ansa,’ ar Tréfuilngid.
‘A Midiu, a Biliu, a Bethriu, a Bruidin, a Colbu  a Cnodbu,
a Cuillind, a hAilbiu, a hAsul, a hUissniuch, a Sídán, a Sleamain,
a Sláine, a Cnu, a Cernu, a Cenandus, a Brí Scáil, a Brí Graigi,
a Brí meic Thaidg, a Brí Foibri, a Brí Díli, a Brí Fremhaindi,
a Temair, a Teathfa, a Teamair Broga Niadh, a Temair Breg, a
forbflaithius for Érind uili eistib sin.’
- source R I Best

Arranging of the Household of Tara

23. ‘Oh Fintan,’ said he, ‘and Ireland, how has it been divided, how is it therein?’
‘Not difficult,’ said Fintan, ‘In the west knowledge. in the north battle, in the east renown.
in the south melody. above her sovereignty.’
‘This is true, oh Fintan,’ said Tréfuilngid, ‘You are an excellent historian.
Thus it is and and shall be forever, that is

24. Her knowledge, her stability, her teaching, her boldness, her judgments, her
likeness, her advice, her stories, her histories, her resting, her beautiful form, her eloquence,
her brilliance, her insulting, her generosity, her bounty, her ardour from the western part of the west.’
‘Whence are these?’ said the assembly.
‘Not hard’ said he. ‘from Áe, from Umull, from Aidhne, from Bairind, from Briuuss, from Breithfne, from Brí Airg, from Bearramain, from Bagnu, from Cera, from Corund, from Cruachain, from Irrus, from Imga, from Imgan, from Tarbgu, from Teidmmu, from Tulchaib, from Muaid, from Muirisc, from Meada, from Maigib that is between Traigi and Reocha and Lacha, from Mucrumu, from Maenmaig, from Maig Luirg, from Maig Ene, from Arainn, from Aigliu, from Airtiuch.’

25. ‘As well her battles,’ he said, ‘and her contests, her strongholds, her rough roads, her combats, her arrogance, her vanity, her pride, her glory, her aggressiveness, her bravery, her fifths, her valours, from the northern part of the north.’
‘Whence are the aforementioned?’ said the assembly. 

‘Not hard. From lLiu, from lLurg, from lLothur, from Callaind, from Fearnmaig, from Fidhgha, from Sruib Bruin, from Bernus, from Dabull, from Aird Fhothaid, from Gull, from Irgull, from Airmmuch, from Glennaib, from Geraib, from Gabur, from Eamain, from Ailiuch, from Imchlar.’

26. ‘Her flowering as well,’ said he, ‘and her supplies, her spears, her protection, her weapons-feats, her householders, her praises, her wonders, her morality, her good manners, her splendour, her enclosures, her honour, her strength, her wealth, her householding, her multitude of arts, her attendants, her many treasures, her banners, her fine fabrics, her silks, her riding horses, her young trout, her hospitality, from the eastern part of the east.’
‘whence the aforementioned?’ said the assembly.
‘Not hard indeed,’ said he. ‘from Fethuch, from Fothnu, from Inrechtro, from Mugno, from Biliu, from Bairniu, from Bernaib, from Drendaib, from Druach, from Diamair, from Leib, from Liniu, from Laithirni, from Cuib, from Cúailgiu, from Cind Chon, from Maig Roth, from Maig Inis, from Muig Muirthemne.’

27. ‘Her flowing streams, her fairs, her nobles, her redness, her knowledge, her wheat, her music-making, her harmony, her entertainment, her wisdom, her respect, her melody, her learning, her instruction, her warrior-bands, her fidchell playing, her swiftness, her boldness, her poetry, her patronage, her science, her stability, her King's retinue, her fruitfulness from the southern part of the south.’
‘Whence the aforementioned?’ arsiat.

 ‘Not hard,’ said Tréfulngid. ‘From Mairg, from Maistin, from Raighniu, from Rúirind, from Gabair, from Gabran, from Clíu, from Cláiriu, from Femhniudh, from Faifaiu, from Bregon, from Barcaib, from Cind Chailli, from Clériu, from Cermnu, from Raithlind, from Gleannamain, from Gobair, from Lúachair, from Labraind, from Loch Léin, from Loch Lugdach, from Loch Daimdeirg, from Cathair Chonrái, from Cathair Cairbri, from Cathair Ulad, from Dún Bindi, from Dún Cháin, from Dún Tulcha, from Fertae, from Feoraind, from Fiandaind.’

28. ‘Her kings, as well, her administrators, her honor, her leading nobles, her stability, her maintaining, her champions, her aggressions, her warriors, her charioteers, her war-bands, her sovereignty, her high Kings, her highest poets*, her renown, her excellence, her fame, her great glory, her prosperity, from the center.’
‘Whence the aforementioned?’ arsiat.

 ‘Not hard,’ said Tréfulngid. ‘From Midiu, from Biliu, from Bethriu, from Bruidin, from Colbu from Cnodbu, from Cuillind, from Ailbiu, from Asul, from Uissniuch, from Sídán, from Sleamain, from Sláine, from Cnu, from Cernu, from Cenandus, from Brí Scáil, from Brí Graigi, from Brí meic Thaidg, from Brí Foibri, from Brí Díli, from Brí Fremhaindi, from Temair, from Teathfa, from Teamair Broga Niadh, from Temair Breg, the landed sovereignty of all Ireland from these.’

*those who hold the rank of ollamh

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Púca

"[A]n pucadh da ngairir an spioraid phriobhaideach" - Lucerna Fidelium 
(the púca he was called the secret spirit)

 The Púca - also called by a wide array of variant names including Phooka, Pooka, Pwca [Welsh], Bucca [Cornish] and Puck [English] - is a type of being found in folklore across hundreds of years. Some even connect Shakespeare's character Puck to the folkloric Púca, although Shakespeare naturally took a lot of literary liberties. Puca was used in early Middle English as a name for the Devil (Williams, 1991). The old Irish púca is given as 'a goblin, sprite' and similarly the modern Irish is given as hobgoblin (eDIL, n.d.; O Donaill, 1977). These translations give a clue to the Púca's nature, which may be described as mischievous but can in folklore be either helpful or harmful. In some sources the Púca was seen as purely evil and dangerous, while others described it as potentially helpful and willing to do work around the home if treated well (McKillop, 1998). 

Béria L. Rodríguez @ Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons Attribution

The Púca is known to take on many forms, most often appearing as a dark horse, but also as an eagle, bat, bull, goat, a human man, or a more typical goblin-like small fairy; in the 1950 movie 'Harvey' there is a Púca which is said to take the form of giant rabbit (Briggs, 1976; Yeats, 1888; McKillop, 1998). The form I am most personally familiar with is the black goat. In the form of a horse the Púca will lure riders onto its back and then take them on a wild ride only to dump them in a ditch. This is a reasonably harmless trick though given that the kelpies and each uisge when pulling the same trick end it by drowning and eating their riders. The Púca has also been known to work on farms and in mills, both in human form and in horse form (Briggs, 1976). This, perhaps, best encapsulates the Púca's personality, using the horse form to both trick and cause minor harm as well as to work and help. In other stories the Púca will sometimes trick a person, even cruelly, and reward them later. In one case a Púca gave a piper a ride, forcing him to play as they went, only to have the piper find the next day that the gold he thought he'd been paid had turned to leaves and his pipes would play nothing but the noises of geese; but when he tried to tell the priest later and demonstrate he found that his playing had become the best of any piper in the area (Yeats, 1888). And perhaps that is the best summary of the Púca after all. 

The Púca is a mysterious being, if indeed there is only one of him as some claim, or a complicated type if there are more than one. Generally all of the above named beings - the Púca, Pwca, Bucca and Puck - are considered together to be the same however while it may be that they are different cultural iterations of one being it might also be that they are simply similar enough to be classed together. The Welsh Bucca is said to be a single being who was once a God, while the English Puck is thought by some to perhaps be a type of pixie (Evans-Wentz, 1911). In contrast some older Irish folklore would clearly indicate the Púca was not solitary but a group of beings. It was said by one person interviewed in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century that the 'Pookas' were men who went invisibly to racecourses mounted on 'good horses' (Evans-Wentz, 1911). In Welsh and British folklore the Pwca and Puck were both said to mislead travelers and the British Puck stole clothes (Briggs, 1976; Purkiss, 2000).

The Púca also had a special association with autumn and with the turning of the year form summer to winter. In some areas it was said that any berries which remained on the bushes after Michealmas [September 29] belonged to the Púca, who would spoil them for human consumption (Briggs, 1976). In other areas it is said that it is after Samhain [October 31] that all the remaining berries belong to the Púca, and that he will urinate or spit on them to claim them. In either case it is clear that he was entitled to a portion of the wild harvest, the food that grew without being cultivated. The Púca was also associated more generally with roaming on and around Samhain and it was said that Samhain was sacred to him (Yeats, 1888). 

Although generally helpful the Púca can play pranks which may be malicious and if its necessary to convince one to leavea home or area folklore would suggest the same method used (albeit less intentionally) that rids a home of a Brownie - the gift of clothes (Briggs, 1976; Yeats, 1888). In particular the gift of fine quality clothes as the Púca seems to have high standards. If however you feel you have a Púca around that you enjoy you might try offering it the traditional cream or the less common offering of fish, as some say they enjoy that (Evans-Wentz, 1911). 

Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
eDIL (n.d.) Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Langauge 
O Donaill, (1977) Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla
McKillop, J., (1998) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Evans-Wentz, W., (1911) Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Willians, N.,, (1991) Semantics of the Word Fairy
Purkiss, D., (2000) At the Bottom of the Garden
Yeats, W., (1888) Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fairy Familiars

 The familiar spirit, often simply called the familiar, is one of the most well known companions of the classical witch. When most people think of the traditional witch's familiar they automatically imagine a demonic one, however there is a long history of fairies taking the role of the familiar spirit with some witches in Europe, just as some witches met not with the Devil but with the Queen of Elfland. In these cases the fairies seem to have been less like servitors, as some classic familiars may appear, and more like advisers who aid the witch by giving them knowledge and acting as a go-between for them with the world of Fairy.

There is a great deal of fluidity in the terms used here and what a clergyman might call a demon or devil the accused witch in turn would call instead a fairy or even an angel. For example Andro Man, a witch tried in Scotland in the 16th century said that his familiar was an angel who 'favours the Queen of Elfland'* (Wilby, 2005). In Eastern Europe there was a concept of witches or healing women having either good or evil spirits who aided them (Pocs, 1999). In some views what differentiated the familiar as either a fairy or a demon, as either a 'good' spirit or an 'evil' one, was the actions of the human being and the use they put the knowledge they gained from the spirit. This reflects a deep seated conflation of elves, fairies, and demons which existed particularly in England and shows a striking similarity in the supernatural afflictions caused by and magical cures used against both groups (Hall, 2007). This gives us not only a blurry line between fairies and demons as familiars but also shows us that there was truly no hard and fast line nor rigid definition separating the two types of spirits in common understanding.

Fairies as familiars are associated with both witches and cunningfolk, that is with both those who used magic for personal reasons and those who use it in service to the community. How a person was defined, like the term used for the familiar itself, was often fluid and could change or be multifaceted, so that one person's witch was another person's cunningperson or seer, and so on. Robert Kirk mentions such fairy familiars being attached to the Scottish Seers who he describes as predominantly male (Wilby, 2005). In later periods such familiars came to be more associated with women, even perhaps finding echos in the more modern leannán sí who guide and give knowledge to the bean feasa, but several older accounts claim the fairy familiar as the province of men (O Crualaoich, 2003; Davies, 2003). It may be best to say that fairy familiars were not segregated by the gender of the practitioner but that both men and women might have them.

Fairy familiars could take the form of animals, particularly dogs, but just as often appeared as ordinary looking people. They were notable only for how very unremarkable they were, looking little different than the common people around them; although they did sometimes wear the fairy color of green they were also noted to wear all black or all white (Wilby, 2005). In some cases like the fairy who was seen helping a bean feasa in Ireland as she gathered herbs other people besides the witch themselves saw the fairy (O Crualaoich, 2003). It should also be noted that they were clearly visible to the witch as tangible presences, not as dreams or see-through illusions (Wilby, 2005). While modern people may tend to relegate the familiar to the mental realm of guided meditations or spiritual journeys, historically they were real world manifestations which were seen, heard, and spoken to in the waking world. The reality of the fairy and encountering of the fairy familiar in daily life and while the witch was awake is noted in multiple sources (Wilby, 2005; Davies, 2003).

These fairy familiars were acquired in one of two ways, either met apparently by chance while the person was engaged in some mundane activity or else given to them intentionally as a kind of gift (Wilby, 2005). In several cases of accused witches in Scotland the witch claimed the Queen of Fairy herself gave them their fairy familiars, while in others it was passed on to them by a family member or other human being. The ones who were assigned by the Queen of Fairy seemed to act in particular as a go-between connecting the witch to Fairyland, relaying messages, and bringing the witch to Fairy to see the Queen at specific times. Those who found the fairy familiar coming to them spontaneously were in times of crisis, in great need due to illness, poverty, or other desperate situations, and would be offered help by the fairy in exchange for listening to the fairy's advice or agreeing to their terms (Wilby, 2005). Once the witch agreed to what the fairy asked or did as the fairy suggested they might continue to deal with that same familiar spirit for a short time or for years (Wilby, 2005). The relationship between the witch and the fairy familiar varied widely from person to person based on accounts that survived, mostly in witch trials, and could be either formal or more intimate.

The main help fairy familiars offered to those they were attached to came in the form of giving knowledge, both predicting events and teaching the person cures to treat illness (Wilby, 2005). Cunningfolk in particular made their careers through the knowledge of healing gained this way and the ability to cure any person who came to them with their familiars help. These spirits acted as givers of healing knowledge and as guardians for the witch, and in some cases granted the witch special powers of foresight or second sight directly (Pocs, 1999; Davies, 2003). They would accompany the witch when they went to meet other witches, traveled to see the Fairy Queen - and indeed would advise the witch there on proper behavior, such as kneeling - and when they went to the infamous witches' sabbath (Wilby, 2005; Davies, 2003). This is a marked difference from the role the demonic familiar played in other, particularly continental lore, where it might be sent out to do the witch's bidding by directly effecting people. The fairy familiar, in contrast, did not generally work the witch's will that way but rather improved their life by passing information to them and offering them advice and protection.

Having a fairy familiar was not an entirely positive experience however. Many of the witches and cunningfolk who spoke of such spirits mentioned times were they were frightened by them, even knowing that the fairy meant them no harm, one witch even going so far as to say that when confronted once unexpectedly by her familiar she fell to the ground in a fit (Wilby, 2005). There were also a variety of taboos which existed around such familiar spirits, often extensions of similar taboos seen throughout fairylore. For example it was considered unwise to speak of one's fairy familiar or to tell others of the things one's familiar did to help. In the trial records many witches initially denied having such familiars and only admitted it later under hard questioning, fearing breaking this taboo (Wilby, 2005).

The idea of the witch's familiar is a classic one and one that most people have some awareness of; usually the image people immediately think of is the demonic familiar spirit however historically the fairy familiar was just as present. There were some key differences between demonic and fairy familiars, the most important perhaps being who the spirit answered to - Devil or Fairy Queen - and the fact that the demonic familiar usually required a ceremony to call it forth while the fairy familiar was noted to appear at its own will, often to the surprise of the witch. Additionally the manner in which the spirit aided the witch also differed significantly between the two types. In other ways however it seemed that the difference between the two types of spirits was a semantic one, depending on the opinion of the person describing it as well as the actions and reputation of the person who it was attached to. In modern understanding it is the demonic familiar spirit which has come to be the main one we remember, but we would do well to consider the significance and folklore of the fairy familiar as well.

*the quote in Scots is: 'swyis to the Quene of Elphen'

Wilby, E., (2005). Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits
Pocs, E., (1999). Between the Living and the Dead
Davies, O., (2003). Popular Magic: Cunningfolk in English History
O Crualaoich, G., (2003) The Book of the Cailleach
Hall, A., (2007) Elves in Anglo-Saxon England

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Popculture, Modern Fiction, and Fairies

In November of 2015 I wrote a blog titled 'The Influence of Fiction and Hollywood on Paganism'. It was mostly me discussing my own opinions on the way that I have seen media change, or at least influence, pagan beliefs over the decades. Lately different discussions on social media have gotten me thinking that I might want to do a similar blog about the effects of popculture and fiction on fairy faith beliefs, although I'll say up front that I doubt I can include all of the ways that modern media is influencing what neopagans believe on this subject.

I also want to be clear at the beginning that pointing out that something is a more modern belief is not necessarily a judgment on that belief. I happen to personally agree with some new beliefs, but I still think its important to be clear about what is new and what is older. My goal here is simply to help differentiate between traditional folklore beliefs and modern beliefs rooted in fiction and popculture. As with my previous blog this one is based on my own knowledge of the subject and observations.

Summer and Winter courts - this is one of the ones that I personally like and use myself, however as far as I can find it is a newer term for the two courts. Of course as I discussed back in July in my post on the Seelie and Unseelie Courts themselves the entire idea of two courts as such is itself probably comparatively newer as well. Within the last decade or so there have been several young adult fiction series and paranormal romance series which have featured the idea of either a Summer and Winter Court of the Fairies or of courts based on all four seasons, or who use the terms Seelie and Unseelie but also incorporate summer and winter as nicknames for each. This concept has been adopted into fairylore more generally by those who dislike the hard seelie=good unseelie=bad division and feel that summer and winter are more ambiguous and less morally loaded terms.

The Grey court - Another idea like the Summer and Winter courts which cannot be found in older folklore as far as I am aware but which is gaining in modern popularity. The Grey Court is a term which I came across in a paranormal romance series based on the Fae, but has also popped up among pagans who believe in fairies as a term for a third more neutral court* or used as a term for the court of those fairies who are more wild and less civilized than the other two courts. In traditional fairylore the more wild fairies would have been termed solitary as opposed to the more civilized fairies or those who prefer to be in groups who were known as trooping fairies.

Unseelie as the good guys - Now to be clear all fairies are mercurial and can be inclined to either help or hurt - however those termed Seelie were known to be more inclined to helping while those termed Unseelie were known to be more inclined to hurting. The idea that the Unseelie were all or largely just misunderstood good guys, and more so that the Seelie were the real bad guys**, is entirely from modern fiction, and so common now that it has become a trope of its own. The idea that the Unseelie are just angst ridden bad boys trying to prove they can be good is really really just from modern fiction. Yes there are stories in folklore of beings generally labeled Unseelie doing helpful things or falling in love with mortals and so on, but those were exceptions rather than the norms and also those stories still tended to end tragically. when it comes to Fairy the only generality we can really make is that we can't easily make any generalities.

Fairies are nice - Fairies can be nice, but fairies are not nice by nature anymore than people are. The idea that they all are all the time is entirely modern and an extreme break from actual folklore. I tend to point to the Victorians as the source on this one but its hard to pinpoint exactly when and what started this shift and I think in reality it was probably a combination of the Victorian flower fairy obsession, the New Age movement's emphasis on the positive and a conflation with the idea of spirit guides. This leaves us with modern popculture fairies who don't resemble historic ones; certainly Disney's Tinkerbell is an example of the stereotypical modern fairy but H. M. Barrie's Tinkerbell was pretty vicious. Fairies in folklore were not to be messed with and could - and would - kill, maim, or hurt people for what may seem to us to be trifling slights.

Fairies are our Guides - this appears in both books and pagan culture more generally, the idea that fairies are a kind of spirit guide or are more highly evolved beings seeking to help humanity grow and develop. Some of them may perhaps be beings along these lines, there is after all a lot of diversity, and there is the idea in folklore that some people - especially witches - may have a particular individual fairy who helps them. But they are not all like this and I think it is an error to assume that every single fairy is a helpful spirit guide to all of humanity. for many kinds of fairies like Each Uisge or Hags we are nothing but a food source, and to others we simply don't matter at all.

Fairies are small, winged creatures - This one I do solidly blame the Victorians for and the popularity of children's books during that time which featured little winged flower fairies. This compounded with the early 20th century Cottingley Fairy hoax seemed to have profoundly effected how people visualized fairies, something which has since been perpetuated by everything from Disney to the art of Amy Brown. In folklore, however, and many anecdotal accounts the Good People appear in a wide array of forms from animal to human-like from tiny to giant, from beautiful to monstrous. Wings are actually very uncommon features though.

one of five photographs, taken in 1917, Frances Griffiths with the alleged fairies. image public domain

Fairies protecting the environment - Many modern pagans are firmly convinced that fairies are nature spirits and staunch protectors of the environment, an idea that appears in the works of pagan authors as well as movies (I'm looking at you Fern Gully). This is not something supported in actual folklore though but an idea that seems to have begun and gained popularity with humanity's own growing awareness of environmental concerns. It is true that many of the Fair Folk are extremely territorial and messing with their places is a profoundly bad idea - but this isn't due to a wider drive for them to protect our world so much as an urge for them to protect what belongs to them. There is, to my knowledge, not one single example in myth or folklore of the Good People appearing and warning anyone about the dangers of clear cutting forests, damning rivers, polluting, etc., prior to the modern era. And yes those things did happen historically which is why Europe isn't covered in forest anymore and has lost a variety of native species to extinction due to hunting.

Fairies rescue abused children - Fairies in folklore where known to take a variety of human beings fr a variety of purposes, not all of them positive. They would take brides and musicians, as well as midwives and nursing mothers. But they were also known to take infants and children and I think this is ultimately the root of the modern idea that they rescued abused children, however I will argue that saying they were rescuing these children is a modern recasting of the stories to soothe our sensibilities today. the idea appears in fiction dating back to the 1990's, at least, and gives a much nicer explanation for why the children were taken than folklore which says they were - effectively - breeding stock to supplement low population numbers among the Fey folk. As with the other examples so far there is nothing in the actual folklore to indicate that the children taken were abused and in fact usually in the stories they seem to have been wanted and well loved, with many tales revolving around the parents struggle to get the child back.

Maeve as Queen of the Unseelie - I admit this one baffled me when I ran across it. There are certain beings associated as queens of Fairy in Ireland and Maeve could be counted among them, however Ireland doesn't have the Seelie and Unseelie Court structure the way Scotland does, and as far as I know there is no Scottish equivalent to Maeve; also the Irish Maeve would not necessarily fit the mold of the Unseelie, never mind as a Queen of it. The English Mab who appears in Shakespeare is a queen of the fairies but is never mentioned as being Unseelie and is referred to as a midwife to the fairies and is associated with dreams and mischief making. Even Mab/Maeve's appearances in early 20th century literature hold to the view of her as a granter of wishes and giver of dreams. It isn't until very recently with the Dresden Files and The Iron Fey series, as far as I've been able to suss out, and possibly some television shows like Merlin, Lost Girl, and True Blood, that Queen Maeve/Mab has been cast in the role of the Unseelie and given a darker personality and inclination. As far as I can tell this is entirely based in modern fiction.

These are only a handful of examples of ways that modern fairylore differs from traditional fairylore and has been influenced by popculture. Indeed new fiction and new movies continue to come out and the popular ones seem to inevitably find a way to effect what people believe about the Other Crowd. For example when a recent movie featuring a selkie came out (and a great movie it was too) which had the plot twist that the selkie couldn't speak without her sealskin coat I started seeing people repeating that tidbit as if it were traditional folklore, even though it is not. In a culture today where many people are disconnected from the traditional folklore and plugged into mass media and popculture it should not be surprising that it is fiction and movies that are shaping people's fairy beliefs rather than actual traditional folklore.

*I can only point out here that the use of Grey Court for a third neutral court sitting between the so-called Light and Dark courts is exactly how it was used in the paranormal romance series.

**none of the Fair Folk are 'good guys' by modern human standards.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Colors, Clothing, and Fairies in Celtic Folklore

There are several colors which have come to be strongly associated with the Good Neighbors over time and today I want to discuss them. Generally they are related to us through descriptions of clothing and of animals, although by far the most detail can be gleaned by looking at clothing descriptions. The clothing itself when described in stories is usually similar to that of the people living in the area although sometimes a bit out of date in style (Briggs, 1976; Yeats, 1893; Kirk, 1891). The colors may be interpreted as symbolic or simply as representing widespread preferences by the Fair Folk.

J. Waterhouse, 'A Mystic Wood', public domain

Green - Green is probably the most well known of fairy colors. Several euphemisms for the fairies in different areas are based on the color green including Greenies and Greencoaties (Briggs, 1976). In some places, like parts of Scotland, it is so strongly associated with the fairies that it is considered unlucky for women in particular to wear green (Briggs, 1976). The Cu Síth of Scotland are said to have green fur. In many traditional descriptions fairies are described as wearing green; often they are said to wear green clothes and red hats, especially the Trooping fairies (Lysaght, 1991; Gwyndaf, 1991; Briggs, 1976). In other sources they are simply said to wear red and green (Bruford, 1991; Ballard, 1991; Evans-Wentz, 1911). In many cases green is said to be the primary color worn along with a touch of red, for example a fairy lady may wear a green dress with red slippers or a fairy man may wear a green outfit with a red feather in his hat (Briggs, 1976). In other descriptions given of fairies in folklore and anecdotes they are seen wearing green only (Evans-Wents, 1911). In many descriptions of the Queen of Fairy, such as we see for example in Thomas the Rhymer, she is described as dressed richly and in green. Briggs relates green to the color of death in Celtic folklore (Briggs, 1976, p109). In contrast however Evans-Wentz suggests green is associated with renewal, rebirth, and immortality (Evans-Wents, 1911). The truth may be somewhere between the two, with the color having layered symbolism.

Red - Red has long been associated with the Otherworld and with Otherworldly beings in Irish mythology and in Fairylore. In Irish mythology when a figure appears who is described as 'red' or wearing all red they are almost invariably Otherworldly in nature, something we see in Togail Bruidne Dá Derga as well as the Táin Bó Regamna. Red in Irish mythology is a color associated with blood and more generally with death by violence; in the Tain Bo Cuiligne we can see an example of this in the prophecy given by Fedelm to Medb where the words 'forderg' [very red] and ruad [red] are used figuratively to indicate blood and bloodstains. Red hats are associated with fairies, not only the eponymously named Red Caps who dye their caps in blood, but many others as well. In folklore fairies are sometimes described as wearing green clothing and red hats (Lysaght, 1991). They may also appear dressed entirely in red, although this could be considered a bad omen, relating to an anecdotal tale of a red clad fairy who would appear at births to foretell the baby's death (Ballard, 1991). As well a woman who saw red clad fairies in Newfoundland was hit by elf shot from them (Rieti, 1991). Although this may indicate that red clad fairies are generally more dangerous, as with most things fairy related, it is not a a firm indication. Leprechauns, Cluricauns, and the Fir Darig were traditionally known to wear red clothes, and they could be either harmful or lucky depending on circumstances and how the person interacted with them (Briggs, 1976).

White - In one Shetland account the fairies appeared as two opposing forces, one wearing white the other black (Bruford, 1991). A variety of fairies were known to wear white in particular and these included the Silkies (a type of English Brownie), the White Ladies, and the Tylwyth Teg (Briggs, 1976). Yeats related a tale of two boys who saw a white clad fairy figure circling a bush (Yeats, 1892)  Isobel Gowdie described the Queen of Elfhame as wearing white as well. Many fairy animals are described as being white with red ears, and this includes cows, deer, and dogs. In Old Irish white was a color that among other things was associated with corpses of the battle dead which were described as bloodless. It was also said in some folklore that fairies had white blood, which was sometimes found on the ground after they had fought.

Grey - The Trows of Orkney are noted to wear grey (Bruford, 1991). So strong is this association that one of the euphemisms used for the trows is 'the Grey Neighbors' (Briggs, 1976). In addition a variety of stories, including one recounted by Yeats in 'Celtic Twilight', describe a fairy appearing clad in a grey cloak (Yeats, 1892; Briggs, 1976). One famous fairy horse in Irish mythology was the Liath Macha or 'Macha's Grey' who appeared out of a sidhe and returned there after being mortally wounded. Grey is another color whose ultimate symbolism may relate back to death

Black - generally speaking an ill-omened color. To see a fairy wearing black was an omen of death, although not necessarily for the person seeing it (Ballard, 1991). A variety of fairy dogs and hounds are described as black in color, and these are usually - although not always, death omens. Black dogs are large and shaggy with flaming eyes, and in stories might be helpful or could be dangerous (Briggs, 1976). The cat sidhe are said to be black with a white spot on their chest.

Blue - Manx fairies are described wearing blue, usually with red (Briggs, 1976). There was also a sighting of a fairy market at Blackdown where the fairies seen where noted to be wearing both the usual red and green as well as blue (Briggs, 1976). There is a type of hobgoblin in Somerset, called 'Blue Burches' who was known to wear blue pants from which he got his name, burches meaning britches, and similarly a fairy called 'Blue Bonnet' who was known to wear a blue hat and worked in mines (Briggs, 1976).

Multicolors - there are also several sources that mention fairies wearing many colors, in the sense of a crowd of the Other Folk all arrayed in different colors, as well as particolored clothes or wearing plaids or tartans. One Welsh account of two brothers describes them seeing an assortment of smaller fairies dancing wearing many different colors (Gwyndaf, 1991). Scottish accounts going back to the 17th century describe some Highland fairies wearing plaids and this seems to be true into the modern period as well (Kirk, 1891; Briggs, 1976). There are also a scattering of accounts of colors not mentioned here because they seemed to be uncommon or unusual, such as yellow. We should not, therefore, assume that because certain colors are prevalent that they are necessarily restricted to these.

It's also worth considering that while these colors are likely still powerful and significant to the Good People, were one to see them today they would most likely be dressed in fairly modern attire. Although they are occasionally seen in archaic dress they are more usually seen in clothes that are either slightly out of date or contemporary and as rev. Kirk, Yeats, and Briggs all noted usually in the styles of the same region they are appearing in.

Lysaght, P., (1991) Fairylore from the Midlands of Ireland
Evans-Wentz, W., (1911) The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Ballard, L., (1991) Fairies and the Supernatural on Reachrai
Briggs, K., (1976). A Dictionary of Fairies
Bruford, A., (1991) Trolls, Hillfolk, Finns, and Picts: the identity of the Good Neighbors in Orkney and Shetland
Gwyndaf, R., (1991) Fairylore: Memorates and Legends from Welsh Oral Tradition
Yeats, W., (1893) Celtic Twilight.
Rieti, B., (1991). "The Blast" in Newfoundland Fairy Tradition
Kirk, R., (1891) Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cu Sidhe

There are many different types of fairy animals, both the more intelligent beings like the puka who can take animal form and animals that are part of fairy. One of the more interesting ones is the fairy hound, or cu sidhe (pronounced koo shee). The cu sidhe are known by many names including cu sith (Scottish), cwn annwn (Welsh), and when riding with the Wild Hunt may be called the Gabriel Ratchets, dandy dogs, or Hell hounds. They are also sometimes conflated with the ghostly hounds known as the black dog, black shuck, Hell Hounds, Padfoot, Bogey, Moddey Doo or the Grim. Katherine Briggs divides these supernatural dogs into three categories: supernatural beings, human ghosts in dog form, and ghosts of dogs (Briggs, 1978). For our purposes we will discusses all appearances of Otherworldly dogs, but it is important to understand up front that the subject is complex and that what appears to be a dog may or may not actually be a dog.

Irish wolfhound, image public domain

The cu sidhe may appear as huge shaggy black or dark green dogs, or as swift white hounds with red eyes and ears, sometimes missing a limb. They are known by their enormous size, often described as being as large as a calf with huge round eyes (Parkinson, 2013). These spectral dogs may be male or female and may appear alone, in pairs, or in packs (Campbell, 2008). A cu sidhe may also appear as a black dog with a white ring around its neck, usually seen on a fairy hill (Evans Wentz, 1911).

The cu sidhe when associated with the Wild Hunt usually frighten people, as the Hunt itself is an omen of war, death, and madness, although it can also bring blessings. The black dogs are seen as omens of death, although it is a bit murky as to whether, like the Irish bansidhe, the dog shows up to warn of an impending death or whether the dog causes the death (Parkinson, 2013). However not all black dogs are bad omens; in at least some cases the appearance of the black dog was protective as in one story from Swancliffe where a man has a black dog appear and accompany him through a dark wood, twice, only to find out later that the dog had saved him from being robbed and killed by highwaymen (Parkinson, 2013). They may also appear as guardians of treasure, something they are known for in Scotland (Parkinson, 2013). In Ireland cu sidhe are often associated with specific fairy locations where they are known to be seen over the course of multiple generations and are known to sit and watch people, but they are only considered dangerous if they are disturbed, otherwise they will remain peaceful (Lenihan & Green, 2004). In at least one Irish example a small white fairy dog appeared as an omen of the coming of the daoine sidhe to a home, to warn the inhabitants to prepare (Evans Wentz, 1911).

Fairy dogs may appear with the daoine sidhe during fairy rades, or they may appear wandering on their own, gaurding fairy hills, or going ahead of the Gentry to warn of their presence. Black dogs seem to be territorial, favoring churchyards, roadways, and crossroads, especially where gallows have been (Parkinson, 2013). In stories they are often associated with a particular area which is considered haunted (Campbell, 2008). Cu sidhe may appear standing motionless on fairy hills or even among mortal dogs on occasion (Evans Wentz, 1911).

Many people assume the cu sidhe and black dogs are ill-omens, and indeed they may be, but not always. While the appearance of such a hound, especially if it is baying or howling, is usually an omen of death the fairy hounds may also appear for other reasons. Sometimes they can be protective, either of a location in which case simply leaving them and the area alone will allow you to walk away unharmed, or of a person. They may also appear for unknown reasons, without directly harming or effecting anyone.

I have seen fairy hounds twice in my life.

The first time, many years ago, a friend and I were sitting in the doorway of a mutual friend's business in the city, beneath the darkness of the early evening sky. Suddenly we both became aware of the eerie silence – the sounds of the city had fallen away, the traffic had stopped going past on the street, everything seemed deserted. As we watched two huge black dogs came trotting down the sidewalk across the street. No one was with them but they walked calmly and with a purpose. My friend broke the silence and joked that perhaps they would cross the (empty) street and no sooner had the words left his mouth then both dogs changed directions and moved across the street towards us. We immediately fled into the building and closed the door; peering out the window we looked out to watch the dogs walk past and saw nothing. Literally no dogs, anywhere. Venturing back out we saw the dogs walking down the sidewalk away from us, although it was impossible for them to have passed where we were without us seeing them. They disappeared when the road curved and moments later the sound and traffic returned.

The second time I saw a faery hound happened when I was working as an EMT. My partner and I were on a layover at 5 am on a winter morning in a city by the shore of Long Island Sound and we had parked in a lot next to a large field fenced off for construction. My partner was reading a book but I decided to get out and stretch my legs while we waited, despite the cold weather. I walked over near the chain link fence that surrounded that field and noticed something white moving on the far side. As I watched in the darkness the white shape moved steadily towards me; it seemed to be moving quickly across the field and eventually I realized it was a dog although its gait seemed odd. I looked past it for any sign of a person out for a morning walk with their pet but saw no one. The white dog, some sort of hound by its shape, was so white that it almost glowed in the pre-dawn darkness and I stood there watching it come straight towards me, trying to puzzle out why it was alone in a fenced in field and why its movement seemed jerky and off even though it moved quickly. When it had crossed about two-thirds of the space between us I finally realized that it had only one front leg – not that it was missing one, but that its front leg was placed in the center of its chest. A wave of fear went over me and before I could think I had turned, run, and jumped back into the ambulance. My partner looked up, startled, and asked me what was wrong, and I told him there was a dog. Looking out he asked me what dog. Sure enough when I looked there was no dog to be seen anywhere, despite the fact that there was nowhere for it to go in the empty field and no time for it to have gone anywhere.


Parkinson, D., (2013). Phantom Black Dogs
Briggs, K., (1978). An Encyclopedia of Fairies
Campbell, J., (2008) the Gaelic Otherworld
Lenihan, E., and Green, C., (2004). Meeting the Other Crowd
Evans Wentz, W., (1911). Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

originally written January 2014 copyright M. Daimler

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Slánugud na Mórrigna - the Healing of the Morrigan

Slánugud na Mórrigna

And-sin tánic in Mórrígu ingen Ernmais a Sídib irricht sentainne, corrabi ic blegun bó trí sine na fiadnaisse. Is immi tanic-si (mar) sin, ar bith a forithen do Choinchulaind. Dáig ni gonad Cuchulaind nech ar a térnád, co m-beth cuit dó féin na legis
Conattech Cuchulaind blegon furri, iarna dechrad d'íttaid. Dobretha-si blegon sini dó. Rop slán aneim dam-sa so. Ba slán a lethrosc na rigna. Conattech-som blegon sini furri. Dobreth si dó. Inéim rop slán intí doridnacht. Conaittecht-som in tres n-dig ocus dobretha-si blegon sine dó. Bendacht dee & andee fort, a ingen. Batar é a n-dee in t-aés cumachta, ocus andee in t-aés trebaire. Ocus ba slán ind rígan.
 - E. Windisch, 1905

not three teated cows

The Healing of the Morrigan

Then came the Morrigan daughter of Ernmas from the Sidhe in the form of on old woman, engaged in milking a three teated cow where he'd witness her. For this she came, for the sake of a remedy from Cu Chulainn. Since any wound of Cu Chulain anyone escaped him with, for a portion of life only himself could heal.
Cu Chulainn submitted to her for the milking, iron-furious his thirst. She gave him the milking of a teat. 

"May this be health promptly for me."
The Queen's one eye was healed. He submitted to her for the milking of a teat. She gave it to him.
"Promptly may this be health to whoever gave it."
He submitted for the third portion and she gave to him the milking of a teat. 

"Blessing of Gods and not-Gods on you, oh maiden."
Their Gods are the people of power, and the not-Gods are the farmers*. And the Queen was whole.

* I just want to note that although trebaire has been understood as farmers or tillers of soil the word also means warriors and heroes. This passage "Batar é a n-dee in t-aés cumachta, ocus andee in t-aés trebaire" *could* also be read as 'their Gods are the people of [magical] power and the not-Gods are the warriors'.