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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Offerings to Gods and Spirits

  Offerings are a word that gets thrown around a lot in modern paganism and polytheism, particularly in the corners of it that I lurk in. Earlier this month at the Morrigan's Call Retreat I had a good discussion about offerings with another speaker at the event, Lora O'Brien, and she recently wrote a blog 'Working as a Spiritual Fixer in Ireland' which  I highly recommend reading. As I've been thinking about the subject more I've decided that it really is something that could use a more in-depth public discussion. On the surface it seems like a pretty straightforward concept - an offering is something that you give as a gift or in exchange for something - in spirituality usually to create reciprocity. And like all seemingly simple things it is actually much more complicated than it seems.

  I make offerings all the time myself because I see them as something that underpins my spirituality. Offerings are what create and continue relationships with the spirits and various beings around me, from my ancestors to the Gods, from the land spirits to the Other Crowd. I make offerings on holy days and important occasions, but I also make them on a daily basis, and I truly believe that I receive back in exchange.

altar space with offerings at Brushwood, NY

However there are some key things about offerings that I think are important to understand, and that are not often discussed. Firstly why do we make offerings? The main reason historically was twofold: to propitiate the spirits for blessing or to prevent harm, or to maintain an agreed upon exchange. In the first case, when applied to the Good Neighbors, the idea was that if we offered to them willingly they would not take from us forcibly so we see practices like milk being offered at fairy trees or cows being bled in fairy forts on holy days like Bealtaine. This ties in to some degree with the second idea which is that there was once an agreement between the Tuatha De Danann and/or aos sidhe and humans that a portion of our milk and grain would be given to them so that they would allow the land to prosper - basically we give back some of our harvest in acknowledgement that it ultimately comes through their good will. There are also those who traditionally would offer, especially milk or cream, once a week to the Fey in their home or immediate area in appreciation for their effort around the area and to ensure no ill luck about the place. Another aspect of this is that if we are taking something from one of their places, visiting where we don't usually go, or feel we have been given a gift by them or - in my opinion - feel we owe them in some way we should something back. With the Gods we may be offering for many reasons but ultimately the ideas can be the same: to build relationships, to create connection, in thanks, in propitiation. Offering to our ancestors may be more casual and more often because the relationship with them is closer and more implicit. Reciprocity is built piece by piece on giving when things are received and offerings are important to that.

Any offering should always be the best of something that you have to give, even if its a daily offering you are making. the idea here isn't to do something as a throw away action but to do it with intention and even if its small and casual it should be meaningful. It should have value, both intrinsically and to you as something that actually costs to give. the cost doesn't have to be monetary but it should be something that really matters to you, something that you have an investment in. I burn incense every day to the Gods and it is always either something I've made myself or the best quality one I could find to buy. Offering to spirits is not a matter of giving second rate things or whatever you have on hand*, although I will say that in some situations I have literally given the jewelry I was wearing. In my house we often share our own food with the various spirits we offer to, both in the belief that we are giving what is good enough for us, and because the practice of sharing food with spirits is a long one in many cultures seen in things like the Dumb Supper and in ancient ritual sites were evidence shows feasting and faunal deposits (people sacrificing animals, eating them and giving them to the gods).

Midsummer cake baked as an offering to Aine and the Gentry
When choosing what to give I do look at what would have been a traditional offering, like milk or cream for the Good Neighbors, or historically what was given to certain Gods. I also trust my intuition though, so my ancestors get things like coffee and hard candies. Sometimes I give things like poetry or songs, or my own effort or energy with something, if it seems like that is an appropriate thing to give. And I find that sometimes when something needs to be given I'll just get an idea for what it needs to be - and understand it isn't always something I want to give. For whatever reason I end up offering a lot of silver in the form of jewelry, usually jewelry I have a sentimental attachment to. These aren't things I necessarily want to give, in the sense of I'm not seeking to give them away or eager to give them up. I'd rather keep them, but I've found that when I get that feeling that I need to give something the more I resist it the stronger the feeling gets and the more little omens and indications I'll get that I need to make the offering. Recently for example I had gotten a feeling before going somewhere that I was going to need to give one of my favorite necklaces, a larger stone that was a cabochon of an amethyst naturally growing within clear quartz set in silver (my friend had called it a fairy stone when she'd seen). I did not want to give up this necklace but nonetheless I wore it when I went where I was going, and while I was there I kept getting that nagging feeling as well an assortment of different things going on indicating that an offering was needed. I tried other things first of course, because I'm stubborn, but finally I gave what they wanted and after that things shifted into a more positive sense. I've had the same thing happen before over the years, and I try to be philosophical about it. You may sometimes feel called to offer something with metaphysical significance such as your own blood or an oath and in that case you need to really seriously think about all the implications before you do it, especially if you have no familiarity with blood magic or with the power of oaths (when in doubt don't do it is always a good way to go, and try to find a substitute, if you really feel you must try to talk to someone more experienced first if you can).

So we've looked at why we offer and what, and I've mentioned to whom. When we offer is another question we might want to discuss. I mentioned daily offerings, and those are an option. I usually make daily offerings to the Gods in the morning and do some meditation on the day to come as part of my morning routine. these offerings are fairly small and basic - usually incense and lighting a candle - and represent a way to connect to the deities I honor. I also make a weekly offering to the Good People, of cream, because its traditional and to maintain a right relationship with them. And on the holy days, the holidays I celebrate I make offerings as well, to the ancestors, Gods, and spirits. If I am traveling I also will make offerings when I come to a new place, sort of a peace or friendship offering to the spirits of that place. I don't think there's really any right or wrong for when to make offerings but I do think if you are pagan/polytheist that making offerings at least on the holy days is a good idea.

  I will add this though on the subject of regular offerings to the Other Crowd: its a commitment that you shouldn't start unless you're willing to follow through with it. There are weeks were I am literally spending the last of my grocery money - or dipping into my gas money - to get the cream to give the Good Neighbors, but they always get theirs, sure enough. I learned my lesson on that one years ago when finances made me decide to stop giving them milk and I had an entire gallon pulled from my hand; as my grandfather would say, if you don't give them their due they'll take it. And in my experience they really will.

Where you leave offerings is really going to depend on your own circumstances and preferences. I follow the school of thought that the Gods and spirits consume the essence of the item, if it's food or drink, within the first 24 hours of it being offered and after that the physical item itself can be disposed of. So I leave offerings on my altar for a day then throw them out, or put them outside. In some cases I put them directly outside, but if you choose to do this consider whether the item is safe for any animal that might eat it. Milk, cream, honey, or alcohol are either kept on the altar for a day or poured directly outside. Flammable items like paper, butter, ghee, or herbs, I burn, because of the old Celtic belief (recorded by the Romans) that what is burned with intent in our world appears in the Otherworld. Solid items like silver, jewelry, or weapons, I give to earth or water, again because of archaeological evidence that this is how historic offerings were made in the pagan period.

**Editing to add: This should be common sense but we all know the saying about that...Most of this blog is discussing offerings in the context of home or private ritual sites. If you are visiting a historical, archaeological, famous, or natural site please do not leave a tangible offering there unless there is a policy in place allowing it. Its bad form to leave items, even what you might consider small things like crystals or coins at sites, that might be excavated for study at some point, and its extremely bad form to leave any sort of trash or litter anywhere. FYI - candle wax, food wrappers, bottles, and such are trash and they shouldn't be left at public sacred sites for other people to clean up. When in doubt pouring out a bit of water is usually a respectful and safe option. You can save the bigger offerings for other private settings later, or ask someone local (if you are traveling) how best to handle what you need to do.

So, I think we've covered every aspect of offerings I can think of, excluding how which is really a personal detail that I think is up to the individual to decide and also probably depends on your specific path - although its been touched on anyway here in bits and pieces. Offerings should never be taken lightly, and even when they are part of the daily round of our spirituality should never become routine. And whatever we offer should always be understood as important and valuable, or quite frankly its not worth doing, because if its being done without the proper intent or without any meaning - offering something with no real value to the person - then it will have no meaning or value to the spirits receiving it either.

* I'll add one exception to that, in emergency situations obviously you may end up offering what you have on hand but it should still be the best you can muster.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dreanacht - Wren Augury

The second part of the text on raven and wren augury. Original text followed by my translation.

Mad congaire an ceanandan duit anair turus daine craibtheach cucad co n-agairbe fort. Madh anairdes gaires an drean druith uallcha doroith. Mad aniar esurraidh dobi cucaib. Mad anairtuaidh goires aes lasa mbi cele fesa no mna tic and. Mad atuaidh is inmuin leat anti tic and. Mad aniartuaidh tic aes craibthech tic and. Mad od leith anneas gairesacht minab edrud ocus grian turus inmuin tic cucaib. Mad edrut ocus grian guin duine dil duit no adharc fort budéin. Mad ad cluais cli comrac fri hóg ua cein no fess la mnai óic. Mad ad deaghaidh gaires guidhi do mna d’fer ele dod chind. Mad for talmain tis ad deaghaid berthar do ben uaid ar eigin. Mad anair gaires an drean aes dana do thiachtain cuccad no scela uathaibh. Mad andes id diaigh gaires taisigh clerech maith nodcífi no tasc athlaoch uasul adcluinfe. Mad aniardhes gaires ladraind ocus drochbachlaigh ocus drochmhna do thiachtuin cucad. Mad aniar drochdhaine gail tic ann. Mad aniartuaidh gaires deghlaoch sochenelach ocus brugadha uaisle ocus mná maithi dothic ann. Mad atuaigh gaires drochdaine tic ann, gidhad oig gidhad clerigh cidad drochmna ocus aos ochaid aingidh do rochtain. Mad andes gaires galur no coin allta for do chethruib. Mad do thalmain no do chloich no do chrois gaires tasc duine moir indisis duit. Mad do chrosuib imda gaires ar daine sin ocus in lin fechtus teid forsin talmain is ed in lin marb dlomus, ocus an leth forsa mbi a aghaid is as dlomus na mairb.

Best, R.I. (1916) "Prognostications from the Raven and the Wren," Ériu

Wren augury
If the little fair headed one calls to you from the east
 people of devotion journey to you with severity on you. If southeast the wren calls false-bearded fools will arrive. If from the southwest, landless men are coming to you. If from the northeast it calls people with entertainment for the night or women are coming there. If from the north one who is beloved to you is he that is coming there. If from the northwest people of devotion are coming there. If it sings from the south side, it calls, although not between you and the sun, a beloved on a journey is coming to you. If it is between you and the sun wounding of a person dear to you or destruction on you yourself. If near the left ear yourself contesting against a young man or sleeping with a young woman. If near the back of you it calls an invitation by your woman to another man following you. If on the ground below near your back your wife will be taken from you indeed. If from the east the wren calls poets are coming to you or news from them. If from the south behind you it calls good, concealed clergy you will see or you will hear death-news of a noble ex-layman. If it calls from the southwest thieves and bad servants and bad women are coming to you. If from the west bad warlike people are coming there. If it calls from the northwest a good warrior from a noble family and noble hospitallers and good women are coming there. If from the north it calls bad people are coming there, or young warriors or clerics or bad women and cruel inciting people will be arriving. If it calls from the south illness or wild wolves on your herds. If from the ground or from a stone or from  cross it calls death news of great people it announces to you. If from many crosses it calls it is a slaughter of men and the full number it journeys between there and the earth is the full count of the dead it proclaims, and they will be from the side on which it faces as it proclaims the dead.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Two Short Translations

"Is Acher in Gáith Innocht"

Is acher in gaíth innocht,
fu-fúasna fairgge findfolt:
ní ágor réimm mora minn
dond láechraid lainn ó Lothlainn

Fierce is the wind tonight
Agitating the ocean's white hair;
I do not fear advancing across the sea
Eager dark warriors of Norway

Quatrains on Festivals

Atberim frib, lith saine,
ada buada belltaine:
coirm, mecoin, suabais serig,
ocus urgruth do tenid.

Lugnassad, luaid a hada
cecha bliadna ceinmara,
fromad cech toraid co m-blaid,
biad lusraid la Lugnasaid.

Carna, cuirm, cnoimes, cadla,
it e ada na samna,
tendal ar cnuc co n-grinde,
blathach, brechtan urimme.

Fromad cach bíd iar n-urd,
issed dlegair i n-Imbulc,
díunnach laime is coissi is cinn,
is amlaid sin atberim.

I tell to you, an excellent festival,
suitably pre-eminent is Bealtaine:
ale-feasts, edible roots, gentle bitters,
and new curds for a fire.

Lúnasa, suitably it moves
each year along,
tasting every fruit of harvesting,
food herbs with Lúnasa.

Meat, beer, nuts, tripe,
they are suitable food for Samhain,
bonfire on a hill with a company,
buttermilk, a roll of new butter.

Tasting each food for freshness,
this is the principle at Imbolc,
cleansing hands and feet and head,
Thus I say to you.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Popculture Fairies, Kids, Contradictions, and Conversations....

Or I could have titled this one 'teaching my kids about the Good Neighbors in a post modern world' but that wouldn't have been any shorter, would it?

So, as I've mentioned, probably ad nauseum at this point the main focus of my actual day to day, rubber-hits-the-road spirituality is the Otherworldly spirits and land spirits. I also, as I am sure I've not often mentioned but you may have caught onto, have three children. My kids are now ages 3, 8, and 12 which is an interesting spread to deal with. I have always held to the belief that we should raise our children with our beliefs and let them decide what they want to do from there, so from birth my kids have been raised pagan. And teaching them about the Gods has been fairly easy - they see what I do on holy days, they hear the stories, they see the altar, the offerings. I read them the mythology, much of which can be found in child-friendly versions. My husband is a very casual sort of Egyptian pagan but they see his version of spirituality too and it offers a nice counterpoint, I think to my own.

Teaching them about the Other Crowd is a whole other kettle of fish, almost literally.

You see, I realized really early with my oldest that I was swimming against the popculture tide, for the most part, on this one. Because the pagan Gods generally* are untouched by modern younger kids shows and movies, but while I'm over here railing against twee little fairies and the dangers of assuming too much safety with the Fey, Disney, Nickelodeon, Hollywood in general and a glut of children's fiction is teaching kids - mine included - the exact opposite of everything I'm saying to them.

And here is the real crux of the problem - I can't tell them that the happy nice fairies don't exist, nor that there aren't any winged little ones either. Because as much as I might emphasize the darker dangerous sort for the sake of caution I don't deny that Fairy is a dizzying array and variety of beings in nearly every imaginable form and temperament. There are nice little garden Fey, and winged sprites, and gentle fairies who are shy and unassuming; there are all the kind and harmless things that can be imagined and probably many beyond our imagining. And there are also things that eat us for dinner, and dye their hats in our blood, and drown kids for sport. And none of it is really that cut and dried at all because really its not black and white but infinite shades of grey that constantly shift and change and just when you think you've sorted out who's on which side of the divide of good and bad or safe and dangerous all the lines have moved and everything's topsy turvy. The cute little winged fairy is biting a chunk out of your hand and the giant monstrous Fey is helping you in exchange for nothing but a good word. Because that's the only constant in Fairy, that its never constant by our measure.

Fairy from the movie Labyrinth
Sarah: "Ow! It bit me!"
Hoggle: "What'd you expect fairies to do?"

But little children don't think well in nuances and degrees, they like concretes - good and bad, dark and light, either/or. Basically things I'm not good at. I can talk plenty about the dangers of Fairy and the need for caution to adults with decades of fairies-are-watered-down-angels-meant-to-serve-us ingrained in them but that's born of my soul-weariness from constant over exposure to the saccharine-sweet bubblegum approach that denies everything traditional fairylore ever was or still is. When it comes to my own children, I was baffled as to how to reach them without either scaring them so badly they iron plated themselves, or failing to get through to them at all and watching them merrily trip into danger face first.

Paracelsus once said, "Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy." I decided this was good advice in this situation as well, if I made it work for me. Popculture was the problem, but popculture could also be the solution. There are, after all, some decent movies out there with fairies in them, or fairy themes. The Secret of Kells. Song of the Sea. Labyrinth (especially for my older daughter). Spiderwick Chronicles. The Secret of Roan Innish. Into the West. Even Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit when they get older. None of these are prefect but if I watch them with my kids I can gently bring up the disconnects from the older folklore and redirect them in a better direction. I can make a fun movie into a subtle teaching experience. If I'm clever (and I certainly try) I can work in the actual methods of dealing with them safely. I can read them, and tell them, the old stories too of course, and teach them what I do and the folklore but they are less interested in that than in the captivation of a good movie. Because as much as it pains me, child of books that I am, while my kids like to read and like stories well enough their imaginations are captured by movies in a way that reaches the places I need to speak to right now. And unlike boring old mom talking a fun movie will get all three of them, diverse ages or no, sitting down together and paying attention. So I have to make popculture my weapon instead of letting it be used against me.

So this past weekend we tried two new animated movies, Epic and Strange Magic*. Very different movies but both were good in their own ways.

Epic is the story of a teenage girl who goes to live with her estranged father after her mother dies. He is obsessed with proving that in the woods by his house live an advanced civilization of tiny people - read: fairies. Meanwhile the fairies are divided into two opposing factions, the boggans who are bad Fey intent on spreading rot and decay, and the leafmen who are good Fey who fight the boggans and whose Queen is the only power that can reverse the damage the boggans do. The girl decides to run away and stumbles across the Fairy queen as she's being attacked; the girl ends up being shrunk down to fairy sized (about 2 inches) and entrusted with a magic pod that will choose the new queen. And adventure ensues.
Pros: sticks to the rigid ideas of good and bad with the Fey; likable characters; teaches kids to be aware of what's around them; time runs differently
Cons: balance is mentioned as necessary but is portrayed as endless war. The only true wisdom is held by the good side and the evil side is just mindlessly bad and destructive. also reinforces the 'fairies are tiny' idea.
Lessons I was able to teach my kids after watching: things aren't what they appear to be. Things that appear harmless can be dangerous. Things that appear unpleasant can be helpful. Time runs differently in Fairy.

Strange Magic; story of two fairy kingdoms, one of elves and winged fairies (all tiny) and one of goblin-like creatures (also tiny) led by a winged king who looks a lot like a cross between a cricket and a fairy. The Bog King hates love and has imprisoned the only fairy who can make a love potion. The fairy princess Marianne has her heart broken by an unfaithful fiance, who then tries to get he rback so he can be king. When her younger sister's best friend, an elf who is in love with the sister, gets tricked into sneaking into the dark kingdom to free the fairy to make the love potion (by the fiance who wants it to use on Marianne) adventure ensues.
Pros: great message about not judging by appearance; good isn't always good and bad isn't always bad; nice trickster fairy in the mix. Strong female lead.
Cons: singing. Lots of singing; Painfully campy at times. Another tiny fairies movie.
Lessons I was able to teach my kids; don't judge good or bad on looks, what seems fair can be treacherous, and what seems ugly can be trustworthy. Also don't judge beauty by our own standards, what we think is beautiful may be ugly to other beings, and what other beings find beautiful may seem ugly to us.

I'm still not a fan of popculture fairies, but I'm adapting. And my children and I are finding common ground to pass on the old ways in a new day and age....

*I did say generally, and I realize there are some exceptions.
*support your local library and check out the movie selection!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spirituality, Community, and Diversity

Anyone who's been in the modern pagan or polytheist community for more than, say, 5 minutes will probably have noticed that we're a pretty contentious bunch. We are, in point of fact, usually much better at splitting hairs than at building bridges, something that I've written about more than once. You see I'm of the opinion that we should worry less about whether or not the person next to us folds their altar cloth left to right or vice versa*, and more about whether we share the same Gods and the same general goals and outlooks.

If you go by some people its impossible to interact with or associate with people who don't follow the same spiritual path you do, who don't believe what you believe, or do things the same way you do. Others are a bit more lenient, willing to associate with people who are similar enough in the most important theology. Why is this impossible? Well the reasons vary, from concern that it will offend the Gods to be around people who don't believe in them correctly to the idea that it just personally offends the individual to have to put up with someone so different in philosophy.

I was never that person by the way, with my liminal ways and my friends all over everywhere. Even before the great Pagan-Polytheist Divide I was that person with friends who were Christian, Jewish, Atheist, Wiccan, Thelemic, Satanists, trad witches, Recons - that person who would gladly get into conversations with almost anyone. Of course I myself am someone who straddles worlds, identifying as more than one distinct thing. As to whether that's a strength or a weakness, well that depends on who you ask. Some people praise me for it, others...not so much. I'd argue though that whether its a strength or a weakness, its a flexibility that is important in a world that is constantly growing more complex.

I'm getting ready for the 3rd annual Morrigan's Call Retreat, coming up in less than two weeks. As part of this Retreat I'll be acting as a priest/ess in several rituals for a diverse group of people with a diverse group of co-facilitators. In the past my co-priestesses have included people on many different paths whose views agree and disagree with my own to varying degrees - and yet our ability to work together has always been good and the rituals themselves have touched people in meaningful ways. We come together to offer a conduit for the Morrigan, both to be honored and to reach out to those honoring Her. And it has always worked, and she always seems to appreciate it. I would argue that our diversity is an undeniable strength and that our ability to serve our community comes directly from it.

Spirituality is ultimately a solitary thing, even when we practice it in a group because it is something that lives in our heart. Our spirituality may be expressed around others or in a group setting some small amount of the time but we are always within ourselves contemplating and doing whatever it is we do in our daily lives. This 24/7 spirituality is far more important, I think, than what we may do in the small amount of time we spend religiously with others. No two people then are exactly identical in their spirituality, although they may be very, very similiar.

Our community is diverse, whether we want it to be or not, because no matter how much we try to surround ourselves with people just like us, people who believe like us and act like us, we will always fail. Its not human nature to have that much sameness, nor looking at history has it ever been. At the height of the Norse pagan period there were atheists among the Norse. There is an open, unanswerable question about whether the Tuatha De Danann are the aos sí or part of but distinct from them, and each person has to decide for themselves how the Irish Gods fit into the beliefs about the Good Folk. In spirituality there are always going to be more open questions than answered ones, and more than we'd like to admit the answers we do have are less certainty than faith. We believe what we choose to believe based on our own experiences and knowledge. And so each person has slightly different views and opinions. We are diverse.

And there is beauty in that.

*that's just a snarky example to illustrate how extreme the divisions can get. As far as I know altar cloth folding isn't an actual source of contention between anyone

Thursday, May 26, 2016

10 Questions About My Fiction

And now, as they say, for something completely different....
I thought it would be fun to switch things up a little bit and do something for people who enjoy my fiction. For those unfamiliar I have a four book series called 'Between the Worlds' which is something between an urban fantasy and paranormal romance with a lot of Celtic mythology and folklore thrown into an alternate reality mix. Its something I really love to write and it gives me a creative break from my non-fiction and translation work. So for today's blog I asked people to give me 10 questions relating to the series that I'd answer here.

1. Where did you get the idea for merging the two worlds? - Where I live we sometimes get really foggy days. I was driving across a bridge on one of these days and just started thinking that it was like something out of an old fairy-story, where someone wanders into the mist and out of our world. And I started thinking of what it would be like if you could just drive from our world into Fairy, and from there the idea of the two worlds being physically merged into one world grew and developed.

2. What was growing up in elven society like for Jess and Bleidd? - Elven society is very rigidly structured, and very matriarchal in a way that favors women (much the same as we could say patriarchy favors men). So for both of them growing up male in that sort of society means having limited control over your own life. On the same hand the elves are the highest ranking beings in their world so they were also in a social situation to have a lot of pride about who they were and their society. 
   Bleidd had a lot of freedom and an easier time for much of his life than most because he had an older sister, which meant that his only potential value to his mother was either in being used for an alliance marriage or doing something that reflected well on his family. He was very close to his sister, and she favored him in a way that allowed him a kind of unprecedented freedom. Because he had magical talent he joined the Elven Guard and trained as a mage. When his sister died he was already well established in the Guard and not in a position for his family to manipulate as easily. He's a bit unusual in that respect, and a lot of his personality reflects that he was given more free reign and allowed more individuality than most men in his society. 
   Jess, being the second son out of only two children, and having no particular magical talents (in a world where that extra talent counts for a lot) had a harder time. Jess really is a product of his society - the Law means a lot to him, as does doing the right thing, and being a part of a community. 

3. And what it was like for Allie growing up? - Allie's childhood is complicated. She spent the first 10 years or so with her mother, in the Dark court, caught in this weird place of being female and so privileged as her mother's heir, but also half human and so running into a lot of prejudice from her extended family, who see humans as even lower than the other Fey. Allie has an older brother, something that's alluded to in the fourth book, but without giving away any spoilers for future books I'll say he isn't particularly nice, and he is very ambitious. Her mother believed that if anything happened to her Allie would probably end up - one way or another - as someone's puppet and so she gave her to her human father when Allie was 10. She lived with him for two years, happily, until he died in a car accident, then she went to live with her grandmother, where she faced the same basic problem she had with her mother's family but reversed. Her grandmother and cousin were very prejudiced against elves, so Allie has always lived with a message that her ancestry is not acceptable, which is why she takes the rather risky approach of trying to 'pass' as human. She's never had much long term stability in her life, so that's something that she really strives for.

4. You have the traditional two courts of Fairy, but they seem different. How do the Dark and Light courts work? - In the reality of Between the Worlds, before the two worlds joined (in 1914) things were basically as we know them as far as human history and what we have from folklore goes. There were two main power structures in Fairy, the Light court which is generally pretty well inclined towards humans and the Dark which isn't. The Light court is structured based on Laws and an adherence to social order; the Dark is structured based on power and the strong ruling over the weak. Where the Light prides itself on being civilized to a fault, the Dark is brutal; both can be cruel in different ways. When the two worlds merged there was a huge and drawn out war, or more precisely many wars all over the world which became that reality's equivalent to the World War. It went on for decades, into the 1930's, and only finally ended when both sides realized that no one was going to win and the only viable option was detente. Because the Dark court had fought harder and suffered higher causalities the Light court was able to basically pull off a political coup within the existing Fairy holdings (their equivalent of countries) and force the Dark court into submission and going along with the idea of peace. The result however was that the Dark court went underground and became, functionally, very much like the Mafia during prohibition or a similar well organized criminal organization. They still exist, and they still believe that the world should belong to those powerful enough to rule it without mercy, so their long term goal is to regain enough influence to take back their former power. 

5. Why do most elves who are Outcast die? Why didn't Bleidd? - Elven society is based on extended family units and elves are taught from birth that one should only risk strong emotions like love on blood kin, because anything else is too fragile to be trusted. They are generally extremely loyal to their own immediate families, extending out to their clans by degrees. Being Outcast is considered one of the most severe possible punishments because it legally severs these ties and leaves the person alone and with no support system in a world that doesn't normally have that possibility. Most elves who are Outcast die because they cannot process the psychological impact of the extreme change from one to the other - the solitude and isolation from society -, and because they have been taught that its better to die than live with that kind of shame.
  Bleidd, however, is unusually independent for an elf, especially a male, and he is very stubborn and a bit self centered ( a significant flaw in his culture actually). He survives initially because he's so angry at the injustice of being wrongfully punished that refusing to die is his way of metaphorically flipping the bird at the people who cast him out. As time goes on he develops enough basic coping skills to adjust to being outside the society, but he also heavily self medicates with alcohol and excessive self-indulgence. 

6. Why can't the Elven Guard captains get married? - Because the job is one that consumes their lives 24/7 and they cannot have the distraction of divided loyalties; you can't have a marriage contract and commit to trying to give someone else a child when you are literally working whenever you are awake. It is however a job that you can voluntarily step down from, and become simply a mage in the Guard if you wanted to. 

7. Ashwood is a human town that is stuck between the two worlds - are there any Fairy equivalents in other places, where its a Fey town that is the bordertown? - Yes, although that is less common. Bordertowns in general are rare and act as the points of passage between the joined worlds, like bridges, since even though the worlds are joined you still can't simply walk from an earth area to a Fey one. Most Bordertowns are human because there were just more human places than Fey ones when the worlds joined. 

8. Why does magic effect technology? - Basically magical energy is very similar to electrical energy, enough that the presence of magic tends to overcharge and short out anything electrical. In order for things like computers, cell phones, toasters, cars, etc., to work in a Bordertown they have to be shielded from the magical energy, which ironically can only be done using magic. There are people whose entire careers are based on this.
   Even with that though the fully magical atmosphere of Fairy makes it almost impossible to keep anything electrical working for long, without using a specially designed Farady cage*, so the amount of tech in the Fairy Holdings is extremely limited.  

9. Are the spells in the books real? - I try to make all the magic in the books as real as possible, including the spells. 

10. If elves have both magical healing and human medical technology now, why do they still have such a high maternal and infant death rate in childbirth? - Magic and tech still have their limits in this world, and magic doesn't make the elves omnipotent. You have a population that has a low fertility rate to begin with, which favors male children 3 to 1, and where a woman may have two to three children in the course of five or six hundred reproductive years. You have a population with fewer women, where pregnancy is not a common occurrence, and where even healers only deal with it - even in larger populations - a few times a year. In smaller populations a healer could go years, or even decades between dealing with a pregnancy. Add into that the fact that they are very prone to dangerous complications and you end up with healers who simply don't have the practical experience in dealing with every possible problem that can arise. Also magical healing can address certain types of emergencies particularly those that are more trauma oriented- a torn placenta for example, or infection - but not things that are purely physiological like the baby being too large to pass the mother's pelvis, or the mother's heart failing during labor. Human technology can help in some cases but only if its used and this is a difficult area, because elves are both extremely proud of their own culture and also very slow to change. Since electronic tech doesn't work well in Fairy the baby would have to be delivered in a Bordertown where both tech and magic are available, and that would not be something most elves would want to do. 

*a Farady cage is an enclosure made of a conductive metal, like copper, that blocks electrical fields, and in this case magical ones as well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lugh the Many-skilled

One of the most well known of the Irish Gods is Lugh, Lug in Old Irish, who is given several epithets including Lamhfada [long arm], Ildanach [many skilled], and Samildanach [many joined skills]. He is also sometimes called either Mac Céin, son of Cian, or Mac Ethlenn, son of Eithne (MacKillop, 1998). One of the epithets applied to him in the Lebor Gabala Erenn is ‘rind-agach’ which Macalister gives as ‘spear slaughterous' (Macalister, 1944) although ‘spear-combative’ is a closer translation. 

Lugh was one of the High Kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann, ruling after Nuada, and he was the only one who could defeat his grandfather, the Fomorian Balor, in the second Battle of Maige Tuired. During this battle we see Lugh earning his epithet of many-skilled as he earns his way into the High King’s hall by proving he has more skills than any other individual member among the Gods. Later before the battle itself we also see him actively using his magical skill to rally his army and to curse the opposing army (Gray, 1983).

Lugh was the son of the Dé Danann Cian and the Fomorian Eithne; his paternal grandfather was the physician God Dian Cécht and his maternal grandfather the dangerous Fomorian Balor who had an evil eye that could kill anyone it looked on. There had been a prophecy that Balor’s grandson would kill him so Balor imprisoned his daughter in a tower; Cian snuck in and had a tryst with Eithne which resulted in triplets. When Balor found the babies he cast them into the sea where two of them either drowned or were turned into seals, while Lugh was saved and fostered by either Manannan or Tailtiu (MacKillop, 1998). In the Ulster cycle he is said to be the father of the hero Cu Chulainn by a mortal mother although Cu Chulainn does simultaneously have a mortal father as well. We see Lugh coming to Cu Chulainn’s aid in the Tain Bo Cuiligne when the hero is gravely injured, taking him into the Otherworldly sí in order to heal him. In myth and folklore Lugh is given four different wives: Buí (better known as the Cailleach Bhéirre), Nás, Echtach, and Englic (MacKillop, 1998). One of these wives was unfaithful and had an affair with the Dagda’s son Cermait, prompting Lugh’s vengeful killing of him; this in turn eventually led the three sons of Cermait to seek revenge on Lugh for their father’s death.

Lugh is most strongly associated with the festival of Lúnasa, which bears his name, although it is more properly understood as a memorial for his foster mother Tailtiu. Lúnasa in old Irish is Lughnasadh meaning ‘funeral assembly of Lugh’ while in more modern Irish the name means ‘games or assembly of Lugh’. According to the Lebor Gabala Erenn Lugh instituted the games of Lúnasa in honor of his foster mother after she died clearing the plain that bore her name (MacAlister, 1941). The holiday itself focuses on the celebration of the beginning of the harvest with things like dressing holy wells, horse races, athletic games, and the preparations of special foods. Today many Lúnasa celebrations center on Saint Patrick as a divine protector of the harvest but it is likely that Lugh originally held this role and was only later replaced when the new religion came in (McNeil, 1962).

Lugh may be seen as one of the kings of the Otherworld, particularly associated with Teamhair, as he is depicted as such in the story of Baile in Scáile (Smyth, 1988). He is also strongly associated with the founding of different mortal family lines and several different tribes were named after him (Smyth, 1988). Lugh was the king of the Gods for a time and is portrayed as having a very important role among the others, being both well-known and appearing in a variety of myths. Some scholars suggest that Lugh was an interloper to the Irish pantheon who was only added later and that his mythology reflects this, showing him being born and coming into the crisis between the Tuatha Dé Danann and Fomorians in a way that displaces the existing king Nuada (O hOgain, 2006). Whether this is so or not, Lugh was almost certainly a pan-Celtic deity who can be found under similar names in different related cultures, although one should note the mythology is very different elsewhere. To the Welsh he was Llew Llaw Gyffes, and to the Gaul’s he was Lugos; the name is derived from the proto-Indo-European root *leug(h) which most likely means ‘to swear an oath’ (O hOgain, 2006).

Lugh possessed one of the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danann, said in myth to be either a sword or spear, although it is most often believed to be a spear (Daimler, 2015). It is said that whoever had the spear of Lugh could never lose in battle. In the story ‘Tuath De Danand na Set soim’ we are told that this treasure was acquired by Lugh in a city before the Gods came to Ireland, a version echoed in less detail in the Lebor Gabala Erenn, although there is another story about how he gained the spear as well. The ‘Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann’ tells us that after Lugh’s father Cian was killed by the children of Tuireann, Lugh required them to fulfill a series of impossible tasks and in so doing gained his famous spear; although the children of Tuireann did fulfill all of the things asked of them they ultimately died in the effort.

Lugh is a multi-faceted and multi-skilled deity who is well known even today among many pagans. His mythology is complex and shows us a deity who is bold and powerful, but also stubborn and sometimes unforgiving. He was a successful king to the Tuatha De Danann, and in the story of Baile in Scáile he appears alongside the personification of sovereignty, speaking to the one who would be the human king of Ireland. And in later folklore it was Lugh who secured the harvest by contesting against Crom Cruach, reinforcing his role as a God who supports the proper order of civilization. There are certainly many things in Lugh that a modern pagan might choose to connect to or honor.


MacKillop, J., (1998) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Gray, E., (1983) Cath Maige Tuired
MacAlister, R., (1941) Lebor Gabala Erenn
Smyth, D., (1988) A Guide to Irish Mythology
O hOgain, D., (2006) The Lore of Ireland
Daimler, M., (2015) The Treasure of the Tuatha De Danann