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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Why Do We View Fairies As Nature Spirits?

It's a widespread idea at this point particularly in modern paganism and popular Western culture that fairies are nature spirits, that is that they are intrinsically bound to our natural world in some way. This idea is often simply stated as fact, implied to have always been true, or even argued as the older or more legitimate belief. In paganism its one aspect of a current trend I'm seeing to homogenize and simplify fairies by defining them as easily as possible, erasing all the nuances and complexity that we find in the actual folklore and beliefs. It's so pervasive that I felt it necessary awhile ago to make a Youtube video addressing the confusion between fairies and nature spirits but I thought it might also be good to write a bit about it.

Waterhouse, 'The Mystic Wood', public domain

I'm not telling anyone what to believe but what does bother me is seeing people claiming that the idea of fairies as spirits of nature is ancient, from a Celtic culture, or in line with folklore. Of course there are examples of beings that we might now classify as fairies from various cultures - I'm looking at you Greece and Rome - that are heavily tied into nature and might fit the description of a nature spirit. Dryads and Naiads are often mentioned, whether they should properly be considered nature spirits or not I don't know (I don't know enough about how they were understood in classical thought) and Genii Locorum [spirits of places] get tossed in there as well. The Norse landvaettir may also be considered nature spirits by some reckoning, although again whether they fit the more modern concepts of a nature spirit the way that popular culture envisions flower fairies or modern pagans muddle elementals into it is an open question.

So what then is a nature spirit? I don't think there is any one agreed on definition of this term which is used rather nebulously by different groups. The most basic view of course is that a nature spirit is a spirit of nature, that is a spirit which inhabits or ensouls any natural object or phenomena. The world around us then is full of spirits, large and small, which most humans are simply oblivious to. Nature spirits are sometimes confused with the Indian concept of a Deva (literally divine being) or with the early Renaissance idea of Elementals (beings existing within specific alchemical elements), but again both of these terms are not directly synonymous to nature spirits anymore than fairies would be.

What is a fairy? At its most basic a fairy is an Otherworldly being, although the term is often applied more to such beings from the Celtic cultural milieu than elsewhere. The word is also often used as an adjective, hence 'fairy woman' (bean sidhe), fairy godmother, or fairy hound to describe a more specific type of being that is from Fairy/the Otherworld. While the term in modern contexts has started to take on a very specific application in some areas thanks to mass media of a small winged female sprite its wider use is still inline with the older definition which can be seen across the last 700 hundred years or so. Many, many different kinds of Otherworldly beings that are known in folklore and anecdotes under specific names from Brownies to Urisgs, from Bean Sidhe to Each Uisce, would fall under the wider term of fairy.

While many modern pagans and some non-pagan academics may view fairies, in toto, now as nature spirits that is definitely not how they have been understood across history, although as noted some nature spirits do fall into the wider definition of 'fairy'. Rather from its inception in the 12th and 13th centuries the word fairy was applied to beings from the Otherworld (i.e. the world of Fairy) that is beings who were inherently not from the human world. Fairies could pass between the human world and their own world as they chose to, could be seen or be invisible, could - in fact were known to - change their habitations regularly. They were even known to emigrate across oceans with populations or individuals something nature spirits cannot do being bioregion specific. While they may defend natural locations or things like a tree or boulder this is never done because its a tree or boulder but because it belongs to the fairies, or put another way it isn't based on a desire to protect the environment generally but out of territoriality (the same as humans fighting over territory will defend what they perceive to be theirs). As often as we see stories of fairies defending a fairy tree we see stories of them striking a person down for building on a fairy road or fouling a fairy well; its the violation of their possession of a space not the natural world they are angry over.

So, how did this current Westernized view comes about? It was a confluence of different factors rooted in upper and later middle class media and occultism, which explains why the viewpoint is predominantly found today in popculture and modern paganism, but is less common in cultures that still hold older views and understandings of fairies. A concise timeline of the shift in how mainstream Western culture viewed fairies in relation to nature:

  • Victorian Era - The Victorian era ran from roughly 1837 to 1901, encompassing the reign of British monarch Queen Victoria. It marked a period that included the end of the Industrial Revolution and many social changes including the growth of the middle class in both the United States and Britain. This period is notable for its romanticism of nature and the natural world, poetic appreciation of paganism and pagan themes, and its radical re-envisioning of fairies in art and literature. Victorian culture, divorced from actual belief in fairies, instead made them the fodder of entertainment infantilizing them, diminishing them, and gentling them in character and appearance, among many other things*.
  • Theosophy - beginning in the last quarter of the 19th century Theosophy was the precursor for the 20th century New Age movement and drew on concepts from Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, and Rosicrucianism. It forwarded an understanding of fairies drawn from a blend if contemporary cultural romanticism of nature (see previous point) and the 15th century alchemical classification of fairies as elemental beings. Combining these two concepts resulted in a view of fairies as tied to natural elements and strongly connected to the natural world. 
  • Edwardians - following the Victorian era we move into the Edwardian, and we see a continuation of the shift in fairies in mainstream culture. JM Barrie's Peter Pan play and book are released during this time and the infamous Cottingley fairy pictures begin at the end of this era; both typify the way that modern popular culture has come to view fairies as small, fairly harmless**, and connected to the natural world in dress, home, and appearance. Immediately following this period we see Cicely Mary Barker's Flower Fairy books emerging which crystalize all of the previous influences into a single form: the fairy as small nature spirit.
  • 20th Century Pagans - moving into the later 20th century we find these previous influences taken into different corners of paganism and appearing in diverse books. Fairies are defined as spirits of nature, often directly conflated to elementals using the classical alchemical system, and sometimes further seen as guardians of nature and guides to human evolution and right relationship with the earthly world. 
This modern view of fairies as nature spirits then is one that has been woven across the last 150 years or so initially coming from groups who did not necessarily believe in fairies but were indulging in a need for entertainment using fairies as the players on the stage, taken from there back into belief, then out again, then back in. This process has largely divorced the fairy-as-nature-spirit from the folkloric fairy, and even perhaps the actual nature spirits from the popular culture ideas of nature-fairies. 

Ultimately we can perhaps argue that some fairies are nature spirits, given how loose the definitions of both terms are, but it's an egregious oversimplification to say that all fairies are spirits of nature. We can also say that people who are seeking nature spirits and calling them fairies are getting nature spirits and this undoubtedly adds to the current muddy waters on the subject. But we must be very careful not to generalize out and assume that all fairies are nature spirits because some may be, or even because the ones that a certain author writes about or a certain person connects to are. The bulk of fairylore and modern anecdotal accounts from living cultures with active fairy beliefs show that these Otherworldly beings are not directly tied to the natural world but are travellers who come and go here.

The best way to understand fairies is to look to the living cultures the beliefs come from. Much of what we have as mainstream or popculture beliefs, while not necessarily useless, must be understood in context to really be understood. If you want to understand nature spirits, look to the world around you and work to connect to it; if you want to understand fairies look to generations of gathered knowledge, experience, and be very careful. One of these things is not like the other.

*Entire books have been written on this subject alone so I can only touch on it here but I suggest Purkiss's 'At The Bottom Of The Garden' or Silver's 'Strange and Secret Peoples' if the subject interests you. Suffice to say that some Victorian fairies did still have teeth and dangerous sexuality but the period saw a major shift in how the middle and upper class of America and Britain saw and understood fairies that has and still is effecting mainstream culture today.
** Tinkerbell was undeniably homicidal in the older source material but also unable to harm Wendy herself - she needed to trick others into doing it for her. Folkloric fairies would not have been so impotent in the same situation. There's also the famous scene where she needs the human audience to believe in fairies to bring her back to life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Miscellaneous Q & A

It's been a while since I've done an open question and answer blog so I thought I'd start off 2019 with one. I opened my social media to questions and have gathered both the questions and my responses below.

Dana asks: How much does your fairy faith inform your fantasy fiction?
My answer: A lot, although fiction does carve its own course in places by necessity.

Aleja asks: Where does the name NicNevin come from? Is there another name for that Fairy Queen? Any relation to Nemhain (which I think is pronounced similar to Nevin, correct me if I'm wrong)?
My answer: There's no agreement on it, but the current leading theory is that it's from Scots 'nic naohim' meaning daughter of the little saint. Alternate theories do include nic neamhain daughter of Neamhain and nic cnàmhain daughter of the bones if I remember correctly. She is sometimes simply called the Queen of Elfame but doesn't have another proper name that I know of.

Bryan asks: [Tell me about] leannan sidhe?
My answer: Basically there are two sorts of Leannan Sidhe - there are the predatory kind which Yeats wrote about (and who have Manx equivalents) that inspire creative people but feed on their life force, and there are also the ones who are just 'fairy lovers' (which is what leannan sidhe means more or less). Even the non predatory ones aren't exactly safe as they generally at some point will want to take their human lover with them into their own world. When a human has a leannan sidhe of either variety it is very, very difficult to break that connection if you want to, although ironically it can be easily broken involuntarily as there are many accounts of people who loved their fairy sweetheart but broke a fairy prohibition around them, usually relating to speaking to others about their existence, and lost them forever. The human usually goes mad.

Robert asks: More a about the results of unions with Fairy Lovers.
Some of the families and clans that have that in their family history. There is a famous family of physicians that resulted from this sort of event.
And some good lines of fishermen from Selkies.
My answer: the physicians of Myddfai, yes. Descended from a Gwraig Annwn who then taught them knowledge of healing.
Generally unions of humans and fairy lovers can result in all sorts of things from death to babies. There's a lot of material in folklore that gets into this because its actually not at all uncommon - we see it Norse and Icelandic stories, we see it in German stories, we see it across the Celtic language speaking countries. the MacLeod's by some versions of the story have a fairy ancestress, as do many Irish families - off the top of my head including the O'Keefe's, McCarthy's, FitzGerald's, descendants of the Eóganachta, and O'Leary. Kelpies are known sometimes to have children with human women, as do selkies, and maran, and elves, and of course Daoine Sidhe.

Kris asks: Although I believe in, and have experienced the reality of deities often, I have never had an experience where I thought "hmmm that's the good folk/elves/brownies/etc". I DO have an open mind about it, but maybe not subconsciously, I don't know. So what about people like me? Am I missing out? Am I in more danger because I can't sense them? Should I not worry about it unless they make themselves known to me?
My answer: generally if there's no reason for you to reach out to them then its always better to leave well enough alone. I'd say its a good idea to have some general familiarity with them in case you ever find yourself in a situation where you need it, because you never know, but you don't need to worry about missing out if they aren't readily apparent to you. Some pagan traditions have actively incorporated the Good People, under various guises, into their worship and some people don't have a lot of choice about whether they interact or not, and for those people it is really important to know what they are and how to do what needs doing safely. But the best analogy I can make is that its like keeping bees, there are reasons people should do it, there are reasons people will do it, and there are perfectly good reasons never to do it at all, but its good to have some basic knowledge for safety around a hive no matter what because it has its dangers along with its positives. If that makes sense?

Patricia asks: Do you think when you work out in nature a lot (many hours per week) , and pay more attention to what goes on in the woods and gardens that it gets noticed by the Other Crowd?
My answer: I think that when you attune yourself to things that matter to the Other Crowd, they may take notice although that will vary (in other words there's no guarantee). It's also complicated because of the sheer diversity of the Fair Folk. But in general, yes, I think that its possible especially if you are making places for them in some sense.

Lucya asks: What are the similarities and differences between fairy belief in Cornwall and Ireland?
My answer: Overall very similar as I understand it, although Cornish belief is more focused on pixies and sees fairies as very small beings who are perpetually shrinking (also a Manx belief) where Irish lore sees at least some of them as the size of an average adult human. Both have stories of changelings, people led astray, fairy ointment, berries spoiled after Samhain, and fairies bringing either luck or bane.

Lesley asks: I would love to know more about living with the Good Neighbours, likes/dislikes, how often to leave food offerings, how to approach leaving offerings, how to keep them happy.
My answer: I generally make an offering once a week, although I may leave something out spontaneously more often. the biggest thing with that is to keep in mind that if you start a regular schedule they will expect you to keep it so I usually encourage people to ease into that, maybe start with holidays and special occasions. I generally leave them cream or baked goods, sometimes milk, butter, or fruit. I've found that they will express their likes and dislikes in less than subtle ways. there's no big ritual to it for me I just put it in a specific place each time for them and take a minute to focus on what I'm doing.

Mat asks: This one is based on the interview you did on weird Web Radio. Can you elaborate more on the idea that the fae don't like being referred to as the fae? I've never heard that but find it fascinating.
Also, I would love your take on the idea that the fae find the words "thank you" highly offensive.
Also, what's the primary difference between faery, goblin, ogre, troll, etc?
My answer: 1. There's a belief that the Good People don't like being called fairies which goes back at least several hundred years. Its tied into the idea of using euphemisms, although there's no real clarity on why calling them fairies specifically annoys them, just that it does, as illustrated in this poem from 1842 (its in Scots so I'll give it in english after):
""Gin ye ca' me imp or elf
I rede ye look weel to yourself;
Gin ye call me fairy
I'll work ye muckle tarrie;
Gind guid neibour ye ca' me
Then guid neibour I will be;
But gin ye ca' me seelie wicht
I'll be your freend baith day and nicht."
- Chambers, 1842
[If you call me imp or elf
I counsel you, look well to yourself;
If you call me fairy
I'll work you great misery;
If good neighbor you call me
Then good neighbor I will be;
But if you call me seelie wight
I'll be your friend both day and night].
the idea is pretty strongly ingrained even today. If you are going to get their attention by discussing them its better to do so using a name they prefer.
2. I think some of them find it offensive for the same reason some of them abhor the gift of clothing, because it implies they did a service for a human, even if they did. I'd also note though the bigger reason I generally recommend avoiding saying thank you is that semantically in english 'thank you' is an implicit acknowledgement of a debt owed, saying 'I'll remember this', and that's dangerous ground with fairies who may collect on that debt when you don't expect it.
3. Complicated. Many terms that we tend to assume are specifics are actually generics, including fairy, elf, and goblin. Fairy as I mention in another answer basically means 'Otherworldly being'; elf *probably* comes from a root word meaning white and also is used for a class of beings rather than one specific type; goblin's meaning is ultimately unknown but again is applied to various troublesome dangerous fairies. And to complicate matters further as you can see from the poem above the same being might be called imp, elf, or fairy in a single source (and we do see this even in anecdotal accounts). Trolls are a bit like this in that they have regional variants, but their folklore is a bit more cohesive; large, generally grumpy, turns to stone in sunlight. Ogres are man-eating giants.

Uailo asks: Do you think Yunnwi Tsundi(for others reading they are the "little people" of the Cherokee lore) classify as Fairies or more Nature Spirits? Or just "Other"? They seem to have some similar antics and qualities.
My answer: I tend to see the Yundwi Tsundi and the Nunnehi, as along the lines of a kind of fairy type being, much like the Jinn might be. I think cross-culturally there are a lot of similarities.

Donald asks: Could some cryptid encounters actually be fae?
My answer: I think some of what are called cryptids now would have been called fairies historically.

Shannon asks: How do you protect and support kids who are sensitive to this stuff?
My answer: I think listening and believing them when they talk about their experiences is very important. Also not blowing off their concerns or fears when they are expressed. You can start teaching children young how to ground and center, shield, focus, cleanse, all the basic good psychic hygiene things.

Melissa asks: What would America look like if we took the idea of faeries seriously?What is a faery, anyway? And should I be worried?
Help! My teenager lives in the Otherworld! How do I get her back to (my) reality?
what are shadow people and how can I defend myself and my family against them?
My answers: 1. Probably a lot better to be honest
2. A fairy, or faery (spelling has always varied widely), is a general term for a being of the Otherworld. The word has been in use since about the 13th century in English, originally as a term for the place and an adjective for things with the nature of that place.
3. Should you be worried about fairies? Possibly
4. Have you tried turning her socks inside out or burning mugwort around her?
5. Opinions on this will vary.For my own part I think that shadow people are more a category than a single thing. I think we can find human ghosts that interact in this form, negative entities that appear this way, and also some fairies that can present as shadow people. Because they inspire fear one way I have found to effectively deal with them is to stand up to them. Many spirits that feed on fear, again ime, will leave if you don't give them what they want. I've also used some traditional Icelandic runestaves against ghosts that have proved effective against shadow people as well, and iron seems to work well against negative entities in general in many cases. Unfortunately because they are so diverse sometimes it takes some experimentation to find what will work in a specific situation with them

Friday, December 21, 2018

2018 in Review

Its hard to believe we're already wrapping up 2018. Inspired by Benebell Wen's 'My 2018 Year in Review' post linked on social media I thought I'd do my own version here.
So, my 2018.

I travelled a lot this year!
In April I went to Ireland, visiting Ardagh, Sligo, and the Beara Peninsula. Part of that was for a Land Sea Sky Travel tour and it was a great experience.
June I was back for another year at the Morrigan's Call Retreat and in July I went down to Atlanta for the Mystic South Conference
Mystic South was a great conference. I had fun with my presentations and I was able to hang out with old friends and new.
Then in September I went to Iceland, travelling from Reykjavik up to Akureyri with the fabulous Land Sea Sky Travel on the Hiddenfolk, Witches, and Elves tour. I think this may have been the most accurately named tour ever.
Shoutout to my travel buddy Mel who lets me drag her to all sorts of random places. Level 7 friendship unlocked.

I wrote a lot this year as well. I had my usual blogging for Patheos Agora, but I also started blogging on Witches & Pagans, kept up with my personal blogging here (albeit scaled back a  bit later in the year) and wrote for my Patreon. I had two articles in an issue of Air n-Aithesc this year and one in Watkins Mind Body Spirit.
I contributed pieces to several anthologies including a chapter for a book (forthcoming in 2019) on Modern witchcraft, articles about the Morrigan and Brighid for an ebook on Celtic Goddesses, and had several pieces published in a really awesome Dagda anthology 'Harp, Club andCauldron: a curated anthology of scholarship, lore, practice and creativewritings on the Dagda' 

I wrote several books: Desire and Ashes (the 7th book in my fiction series), Pagan Portals Manannan, Pagan Portals Fairy Queens, and I'm just wrapping up a New Fairies Dictionary.

I had several books I wrote published this year, including the aforementioned novel Desire and Ashes, as well as Pagan Portals Odin, Travelling the Fairy Path, and Pagan Portals the Dagda.

And inspired by my friend Lora O'Brien I started making youtube videos and ended up with my own youtube channel.

I am of course leaving out all the boring parts and just focusing on the highlights here, but suffice to say there was also a lot of driving kids to school and doctor's appointments, celebrating things, assorted shenanigans, and general life going on. And of course that whole Pleiades thing.

Looking forward to seeing what 2019 has in store.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Witchcraft, Acceptability Politics, and Defiance

I've often said that I think witchcraft, specifically American neopagan witchcraft, is a victim of its own public relations. This is something we can see more and more clearly as different divides appear within the wider community, often over core issues of inclusion or exclusion. Why do these things happen in witchcraft which is at its core something that should be amorphous enough to hold a place for everyone?
Because, I think, we have forgotten where witchcraft came from, where its power is rooted.

There's been a push for decades, since the 1950's at least in my opinion, towards mainstreaming witchcraft and painting a picture of it as gentle and kind. Reimagining witchcraft as the domain of the white middle class, literally recasting the witch as a young and white and female - and of course beautiful. Harmless. And intending no harm either.
This idea has been pushed so hard and for so long that many of us have started to believe it ourselves, and there's a whole generation of witches now who see witchcraft as an aesthetic of young, beautiful, spooky (but harmless!) people. Looking like Wednesday Addams but with candles and a cat.

Maybe there's nothing wrong with that, and I have no issue with people whose witchcraft is gentle or based on lighting candles and thinking good thoughts. Witchcraft is expansive, it can fit these new people in.
But we have lost and intentionally subsumed the other (and the Other for that matter) along the way. We have accepted a certain degree of trendy outsider but only so far, only what is still acceptable to the wider mainstream. We hate being embarrassed by those people*, the ones who make us all look bad by going too far, by being too queer, too ethnic, too macabre, too spirit-ridden, too dramatic, too big, too different, too outside the norm. Too much. Satan? Definitely off limits. Making pacts with spirits? So early modern witchcraft-ish. Necromancy? Too Hollywood. Oh mainstream witches may talk about all of these things repackaged into more palatable forms but the real gritty bloody practices no. And then there's the people who we politely segregate, the ones we suggest make their own spaces and get out of ours, the people of color, the transpeople, the gender non-conforming, people from specific cultures. Actual inclusion is too messy. Too intersectional and difficult and requires making space and letting people speak for themselves instead of speaking for them.

We talk a lot about spirits and Gods but we don't seem to actual live that talk. There's no teeth to the belief.

We have forgotten the power of feasting with the Devil and dancing with the Queen of Elphame.
We have forgotten the need to heal with magic when there is no money to heal with doctors.
We have forgotten the rage of the unheard victim who knows they will find no justice in any court and turns instead to a moonless night and thorns and clay.
Well...some of us have forgotten.
Because it's easy when we live in relative comfort and safety, when danger is an idea rather than a reality, to forget the visceral needs that drove and still drive people to feast and dance and heal and hex. It's easy to forget when we are part of the comfortable majority, in any sense, what it's like for those of us who are not, who live on the fringes. Who don't choose witchcraft for for gentle reasons but for survival and defiance. The disabled, the queer, the marginalized, the unwanted. And the people for whom witchcraft isn't a choice but an inheritance, a culture, a way of life. People for whom witchcraft is about power.
We need to remember all of these things.

Its time and past time to stop worrying so much about what the mainstream thinks. They will never stop trying to make us like them and they will never accept us based on our attempts to be just like them unless we sell our souls to their God. It's time to start living in our own power, to get our hands dirty and bloody again, to go out under that dark moon and feast and dance - or at the very least to accept that some of our witchcraft kin do so and that they are witches as much as anyone else is. To embrace defiance.
Acceptability politics won't save us. Witchcraft that is inclusive and wild just might.

*my usual disclaimer that no I do not mean actual predators or dangerous people here. They deserve to be shunned and should be

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Kionan's First Solstice - A Between the World's Short Story

In canon short story from my Between the Worlds series. Taking place after the events in book #7 Desire and Ashes this is a a solstice story in the spirit of the stories in the Fairy Gifts anthology.
It was written initially for a few friends and shared with a social media fan group but now I'd like to share it here for anyone who follows my blog and enjoys my fiction. It runs around 3700 words.

Kionan's First Solstice

Winter Solstice

Allie jerked awake to the realization that she was alone in bed and the sun was up. These two things were both unusual – normally Kionan woke her up before dawn and although Jess sometimes did get up early Bleidd slept in if he had any choice. Realizing she was by herself and it was nearly seven a.m. was concerning and she propped herself up on one elbow, shoving the mess of her unbrushed hair out of her face. There was nothing but silence and she was certain that neither Kionan nor either of her spouses was in the attached nursery which only increased her concern.
Trying not to panic she sat up, pulling at the oversized tshirt she slept in which had twisted around her body as she slept. With a careful effort to control her emotions she reached out to Jess and Bleidd, “Guys? Where are you? Where’s the baby? Is everything okay?”
She felt Bleidd’s amusement washing over her, even as Jess answered, his voice chagrined, “Sorry my heart we didn’t mean to worry you. You were sleeping so soundly when Kionan got up we thought it would be a kindness to let you keep sleeping. So we got up with him and brought him downstairs.”
Another panicked thought chased away the concern over why they weren’t in the bedroom, “Oh! You didn’t open any of his gifts with him did you?”
Now Bleidd was laughing, the feeling tickling through her mind, “Of course not Allie. We’re in the kitchen feeding him porridge and watching Luath through the window. He’s getting a kick out of watching her play in the snow.
Indeed,” Jess agreed, sounding less amused. “I’m afraid he’s wearing more food than he’s eating.
Ah, okay,” Allie thought back, blushing and glad they couldn’t see it. She should have known they wouldn’t get up with him on his first winter solstice and start opening gifts without her. “Let me hit the bathroom and then I’ll be right down.”
Allie struggled the rest of the way out of bed, stretching, then stumbled to the bathroom. Her bad ankle was stiff although not overly so, but she still took a few seconds to roll her foot around trying to loosen up the muscles. It was always hard to get started in the morning, even after almost two years living with the injury. Returning to the bed she sat and rubbed her left foot and leg for a minute, knowing it wouldn’t help but reassured by the action anyway. When felt like it was as good as it was going to get she reluctantly slipped on her titanium ankle brace, the silk padding cool enough to make her shiver. After several months wearing the brace she fastened it quickly without paying much attention to the action or the slight easing of the perpetual ache as the unstable joint was supported.
Before heading downstairs she also took some time to brush her hair out, although she didn’t bother to pull it up or get dressed beyond the shirt she slept in. All of her roommates were gone, spending the holiday this year with their respective families or significant others, so it was only her little family in the house. Leaving her blackthorn walking stick leaning against the wall she hurried to join her family.
She limped down to the kitchen following the alluring smell of coffee and the sound of her 7 month old son laughing hysterically. The coffee smell was promising but she knew from experience that the laughter meant a big mess. Kionan’s favorite pass time at the moment was making messes, and he enjoyed them most when they involved food. This was a hobby that Allie’s fairy hound appreciated, but no one else in the house liked, especially as he had an uncanny ability to get food in people’s hair. She almost felt bad for her spouses. Almost.
Entering the kitchen she found Bleidd and Jess both doing their best to get a spoonful of porridge into Kionan’s mouth – Bleidd holding the spoon, Jess acting as a distraction - as the baby laughed and tried to grab the spoon. Both adults were wearing a good amount of the food, and the table, floor, and wall were liberally splattered as well. Allie smothered her own laughter at the looks of intense focus on the men’s faces and turned to get herself some coffee. “I don’t suppose you’ve gotten any of that into him have you?”
“You’d be surprised,” Bleidd said, dodging a chubby fist and managing to get half a spoonful between Kionan’s gums. The baby swallowed dutifully, making happy noises, then before Bleidd could be too proud of his success grabbed the spoon and sent the rest of its contents flying across the table.
Allie took a big gulp of coffee to avoid laughing out loud. Jess sighed heavily. Taking pity on them, and grateful that they’d let her sleep, she said, “Okay well, you know what, I think he’s done, and you two are, umm, well why don’t you guys go grab a quick shower and I’ll get the kitchen cleaned up okay?”
Jess hesitated but Bleidd didn’t, setting the spoon down and grabbing Jess’s hand. “We’ll be quick.” He paused, giving Jess an appraising look as he pulled the other elf to his feet. “Well, we won’t be too long anyway. Then we can open presents. I know you’ve been very excited about Kionan’s first holiday.”
“And our wedding anniversary,” Allie reminded him smiling and hoping their shower shenanigans weren’t too distracting to her while she was watching the baby. She moved over to the table, grudgingly impressed with the sheer level of mess such a small baby could create.
“Ah, yes,” Jess said, leaning in to give Allie a kiss without getting any of Kionan’s breakfast on her. “Happy anniversary my love.”
“Hard to believe its been a year already,” Bleidd said, tugging on Jess’s hand. “We’ll be back. Try not to have too much fun without us.”
“Shouldn’t I be saying that to you?” Allie quipped as they disappeared down the hall into the bathroom. Smiling she grabbed a kitchen towel and started getting Kionan cleaned up. By some solstice miracle he had managed not to get any food on his own clothes or in his high chair, so once his face and hands were cleaned she left him sitting there and quickly got the rest of the room straightened up. As she worked Luath came in, panting slightly from her run outside. The dark hound yipped when she saw Allie and then joined her at the table licking up any porridge she could reach. This delighted Kionan who bounced in his chair and shrieked. Allie gave them both an affectionate glance as she cleaned porridge off the wall. “You two are conspiring together aren’t you?”
Luath yipped again, her tail wagging slowly, then she yawned and stretched watching Allie for a cue. Allie scooped the baby out of the high chair, mess adequately cleaned up, and balanced his weight carefully on one hip. “Okay guys let’s go into the living room and get a fire started and turn on the tree lights. We can’t open any presents yet but we can look at them.”
Luath’s tail wagged harder for a moment then she trotted ahead to the living room, Allie and Kionan trailing behind. Allie moved a bit faster down the hall than she usually would have, trying to ignore the emotional energy coming from the bathroom, glad that Jess and Bleidd were enjoying themselves but not wanting to get sucked into their activities. Her control was much better than it had been but it wasn’t perfect.
In the living room Luath trotted over to lay down in front of one of the couches and Allie set Kionan down in his playpen, wincing at the pain that shot through her ankle, then moved over to turn on the lights on the tree. That done she headed over to the fireplace to get a fire going. In her grandmother’s time the fireplace had been more decorative than anything else but since Jess had moved in it saw regular use, even in the summer. Allie suspected that it was habit for him because he was so used to using fireplaces in Fairy or even in the Outpost, although her house – their house she reminded herself – had a furnace and oil heat. But the truth was she enjoyed the fires and the cozy feeling it gave the living room which had always seemed like such a formal place. As she worked to get the fire to catch she glanced over and saw that Kionan had managed to get himself into a sitting position, a skill he had only just mastered, and she grinned at the baby.
Starting the fire proved harder than she’d expected and after a dozen failed attempts she sat back glaring at the still un-burning kindling. She shook her head then glanced around, feeling like she was doing something inappropriate even though she knew she wasn’t. It was the subconscious knowledge that her grandmother and her cousin wouldn’t approve, but at that point even if their ghosts were watching she didn’t have the patience to keep wasting time. With a last furtive look around she traced an elven rune in the air over the wood piled in the fireplace and muttered ‘tihne’.
With a soft whoomp the wood caught fire, crackling cheerfully a few seconds later. Allie sagged as the energy needed for the spell rushed out of her, but it was worth it. Closing the bronze chainmail-like fire screen that hung down over the fireplace she crawled over to the playpen and sat next to Kionan, “Not too bad a job by your old mom, huh Kion?”
“I wasn’t aware you knew that spell,” Bleidd said from the doorway.
Allie jumped slightly, turning to see both Jess and Bleidd standing regarding her. Their hair was dry, probably courtesy of Belidd’s magic since he never hesitated to use it even on small things, and they were wearing the loose pants and shirts they slept in. Jess was looking thoughtfully at the fire; Bleidd’s eyes were locked with Allie’s, his expression amused.
She blushed. “I read about it in a book. It’s pretty useful, though.”
“Indeed,” Bleidd agreed crossing over to join them. “I use it regularly, as I lack the patience to try the more mundane method.”
She snorted slightly, not doubting him for a minute. “So, are we ready to open presents?”
Jess had remained standing, and at her words he shook himself slightly, as if he’d been lost in thought, then smiled widely. “Certainly. How should we start?”
“Let’s get Kionan out and he can open his first,” Allie suggested. Before she could stand Bleidd had risen to his feet and lifted Kionan out, placing him in Allie’s lap with a smoothness of motion she could only envy. Jess picked one of Kionan’s gifts from under the tree and they got started with the traditional gift opening, although it was more the adults opening and Kionan watching than anything else. Still Allie enjoyed it, both the feeling of family celebration that came with the tradition as well as watching her son touch, smack, and drool on his new toys.
By the time they were finished with Kionan’s gifts he was doing the slow blink that Allie knew by now meant a nap was coming on. She stood carefully, picked him up just as carefully,  and laid him back down in the playpen, tucking his new fleece blanket around him. He yawned and stuffed the corner of the blanket into his mouth, sucking happily on the fabric as he dozed off.
She sat back down, shaking her head slightly, “We really are lucky that he’s such a good baby, you know.”
Jess and Bleidd both gave her puzzled looks, so she elaborated, “Most babies aren’t nearly this easy about things like naps.”
They exchanged a baffled look between them then shrugged, making Allie giggle slightly. Kionan was the sum total of their experience with babies after all so they had nothing to compare him to. Not that Allie had any more experience than they did, but she had gotten more than enough stories from customers and friends, as well as reading every baby book her store carried, to feel like she had some sense of babies more generally. Before she could start to expound on the subject though Jess had moved to the tree and returned with another gift, which he handed to her. She took the box and immediately knew that it was a book, which intrigued her. She had no idea what book Jess would have gotten for her.
“Happy solstice, and happy anniversary,” he said, sitting down on the floor with them. “I wasn’t sure what sort of gift would be appropriate for an anniversary so I hope this suits both occasions.”
“It’s okay Jess I know that its confusing,” Allie said beginning to carefully peel back the shiny wrapping paper.
Bleidd snorted, “Yes humans do love any excuse to give gifts.”
Allie paused in her unwrapping, “I don’t hear you complaining when you’re the one getting the gifts.”
His eyes twinkled in the reflected tree light. “Its one thing from you or someone else – Jason perhaps – that I have some meaningful connection to. But the reciprocal obligations of this obsessive gift giving are mind boggling.”
She giggled, not sure how serious he was being, and finished opening the present. The book was heavy and leather bound and the title was written in Elvish. “Oh! ‘The Study of Magic in the Borderlands’, this is Jaerillys’s treatise on magic since the Sundering! Wow. Thank you so much, Jess, I love it.”
She caught the look of raw envy that Bleidd was giving the book in her hands, a new, and by elven standards rare, work by a well-known mage from Jess’s clan, “Don’t worry Bleidd you can borrow it to read as soon as I’m done with it.”
He smirked at her, raising an eyebrow to acknowledge that she’d caught him in a moment of open jealousy. Before he could come up with a clever diverting joke, Jess had turned to him and handed him a gift as well. “For you Gadreene.”
 Bleidd opened the present with a careless ripping of paper, his expression flippant – until he saw what Jess had given him. Incredulous he looked at his spouse. “Jess?
“Do you like it?” Jess asked shyly, as Allie craned her head to see what Bleidd was holding. In his palm was a pendant on a silver chain. The pendant itself looked like it had been carved from bone in the shape of an owl with a single pale opal-like stone set in the middle.
“What is it?” Allie asked, curious.
“It’s a protection amulet,” Bleidd said, his expression oddly vulnerable. “High level magic, and hard to come by because they are neither cheap nor easy to make.”
Allie and Bleidd both looked at Jess, who was positively beaming. “It was luck and synchronicity that I came across it, truly, and I had the chance to purchase it from a human, if you’ll believe it, who didn’t even know what they were selling. But I knew when I saw it that it would be ideal for you – you can keep it charged and it will protect you from physical harm to a degree.”
Allie looked at Jess in open mouthed awe, impressed that he’d managed to find something so perfect, something that would be useful to Bleidd and also set her own mind more at ease over Bleidd being back in the Guard. “For someone who doesn’t know much about gift giving holidays, you are really, really good at this.”
He laughed, pleased at the compliment, and the sound seemed to free Bleidd from whatever paralysis that had held him. He slid the pendant over his head, sliding it into his shirt, then leaned over and pulled Jess into a tight embrace. When he finally pulled back Allie would almost swear he was blinking back tears, but she and Jess both carefully avoided drawing any attention to the emotions, as they knew that Bleidd didn’t like open vulnerability. Allie found herself wondering if anyone before Jess and herself had ever expressed real concern for his safety.
Untangling himself Bleidd stood and went to the tree, returning with two small gifts. He handed one to Allie and one to Jess before sitting back down. Jess opened his first, revealing an ornately hilted dagger. Bleidd smiled as Jess unsheathed the blade, and Allie could feel the magic in the small weapon. “I enchanted it myself,” Bleidd said proudly. “It won’t ever lose its edge and any wound caused by it will be difficult to heal and prone to bleed freely.”
Allie looked at her husband in real surprise, caught off guard by the viciousness, but Jess was obviously thrilled. He resheathed the weapon carefully then reached out to pull Bleidd in for a quick hug. “An excellent gift love, I’ll treasure it. I can wear it with my uniform and it will surely be useful.”
They turned to Allie who shook away the reminder that elves were extreme in all things and carefully opened her own gift. Inside a small white box she found a silver necklace, a triple spiral pendant with stones at the end of each line and in the center. After a moment she decided the stones were moonstone, and as with his gift to Jess she could feel the slight tingle of magic in it. “In an enchanting mood this holiday were we?”
He grinned broadly, reaching out and taking the necklace which he clasped around her throat. It hung just above her collarbone. “The four stones reminded me of us, you, me, Jess, and Kionan. And yes I did enchant it. Why not when I can? As long as you are wearing it you won’t feel cold.”
“I won’t- wow. That’s pretty cool,” Allie admitted. “That’s a major enchantment.”
“Yes, it took me all year to set,” he admitted.
“Wow,” she said again, impressed that he’d gone to the effort. She knew that as these things went in Fairy it wasn’t considered that important, but to her it meant a lot. And it was certainly not something she’d ever have been able to afford to get herself. “This is great, Bleidd.”
He smiled and hugged her, and she could feel how genuinely happy he was. She pulled back then struggled to her feet, glancing at Kionan who was still soundly asleep. “Well compared to both of you my gifts probably won’t seem that impressive, but it took me forever to pick them out so that should count for something.”
She limped over to the tree as behind her Jess said, “Whatever you have gotten us I am sure we will be pleased my heart.”
She looked where she’d left the gifts but they weren’t there. Confused she searched the area under and around the tree. Finally Bleidd asked, “Is something wrong?”
“Well, ah, I can’t find them,” Allie admitted. “I left them both right here…but they aren’t where I put them”
Frowning Bleidd and then Jess joined her, all of them looking around for any more gifts. “It’s not like they got up and walked away,” Allie said, frustrated. “They must still be here.”
“What did the paper look like,” Jess asked.
“Ummm, red with holly leaves on it.”
“Like this?” Bleidd said straightening up next to the couch holding some shredded paper.
“Yes! Wait – oh no….Luath you didn’t.”
“Didn’t what?”
“Didn’t eat the presents,” Allie said, her heart sinking.
Next to the couch the fairy hound looked from Bleidd holding the shredded paper to Allie and whimpered, tucking her head under her paws.
“Oh no,” Allie said again, sinking to the floor. “Of all the gifts why did you have to eat mine?”
“Allie!” Bleidd snorted, indignant but also amused.
“Well,” she said, as Jess sat down next to her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders.
Bleidd joined them, “Will these gifts be reappearing in a few hours?”
“Ew, no,” Allie said, making a face. “Thankfully we won’t have to be trying to recover them. they were paper so they are really gone-gone.”
“Can the gifts be replaced?”
“Yes but it won’t be the same giving it to you later.”
“It’s alright, its will still be the same gift.”
“Why don’t you tell us what you got us?” Jess said, trying to comfort her as she glared at Luath who whimpered again, sensing Allie’s displeasure.
“It just…I guess I might as well. I mean it’ll take time to replace things…Bleidd I got you tickets to see that band you like, Mortal Coil, when they come to Grisburg. I thought we could make a date of it the three of us, if Jess wanted to go too, or if you don’t want to go Jess, since you don’t really like heavy metal, Bleidd you could invite whoever else you wanted. And Jess I got you season tickets to the theater here in town. I know you’d mentioned wanting to get more human culture and I thought going to see plays would be a fun way for you to do that.”
“Those are very thoughtful gifts Allie,” Bleidd said gently.
“Well currently they’re being digested,” she griped. “But I can get everything replaced. Thanks for understanding.”
“I think the theater sounds very interesting,” Jess said, hugging her closer.
Allie shook her head, then started giggling quietly, “You know only we could end up having gifts eaten by a hound on our first family solstice.”
“I’m not sure about that, but when you think about it, it is rather funny,” Bleidd said, smiling. “And I for one am just as glad it wasn’t mine or Jess’s that she ate.”
“Very good point. And I guess we may as well laugh about it,” Allie agreed still giggling as she leaned against Jess. “Happy solstice guys. And Luath you stay away from my new book.”
The hound wagged her tail slowly as Allie kissed first Bleidd then Jess. I guess this was a pretty good holiday she thought to herself surrounded by their love and hopefully the first of many more.

Copyright Morgan Daimler 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Selkie Resistance Agenda

Today's post is meant just for fun (mostly) and is based off something a few of my friends came up with a while ago, the Selkie Resistance, which is in part about loving the ocean and hating modern society's aesthetic standards.
I'm trying to keep this humorous, hence the format, and what follows is entirely my own opinion. I do not speak for the entire Selkie Resistance ;) And yes I realize this isn't really an agenda per se.

Always dive deeply
Be true to yourself
Curiosity is a gift
Devour their hearts
Enjoy what you can
Find your flow
Go where the waves call you
Home is where you find rest
Its alright to let the water carry you
Joy doesn't need an excuse
Keep swimming
Learn your own tides
Making waves is okay
Nothing is really permanent
Oceans exist inside and out
Play whenever you can
Quests don't always end well
Rage heals; so does rest
Selkies of the world unite
Tears have power too
Value the worth not the weight
Water is always the answer
You are beautiful

Friday, November 23, 2018

Evolution of My Spirituality

I was asked on social media to talk a bit about my personal practice, so I thought a short blog about it would be a good approach. I've been pagan now for nearly 30 years and in that time my approach to everything has changed drastically more than once so its interesting to answer this question now, knowing what I say will be different than what I would have said 10 or 20 years ago and what I might say 10 or 20 years from now.

When I first started out in this spirituality I was very young and mostly modeling my practice from what I could glean out of available books. The result was a very stylized, formal, and rigid structure. At first I would follow a book exactly to make sure I was doing it correctly, dog-earing pages so I could flip between sections as I performed each part of a ritual or spell. Later as I shifted into a more reconstructionist approach I became more comfortable innovating but I carried forward a sense that a good ritual or even spell needed formality and rigidity. This was exacerbated as I joined Druidic groups which also focused on very formal, complex ritual structures. When I later began exploring Heathenry I was introduced to the idea that ritual could be simple and effective and this led me into a deep dive on older ritual structures including Celtic cultural feasting practices which were very eye opening for me*. In turn this influenced my personal approach to witchcraft and the Fairy Faith.

Ironically as I began to see the value and power in simplified ritual and to understand why we did each part of the structure - and so what in my own practice of it was actually essential and what wasn't - I ended up returning to a closer approximation of what I had done when I was much younger before I had stumbled across the idea of formalized spirituality at all. Nonetheless when I wrote down the outline of my own witchcraft practices in my book in 2013 I kept a slightly more formalized approach in there knowing that such structure had been comforting and necessary to me at one point and that especially when I'd been starting out on my path connecting my witchcraft to Fairy that more formal structure had its value. I mention that here because while I don't personally follow the same approach anymore I do still think that's a good place for people to begin, especially if they are coming from neopaganism more generally, and that aspects of that structure offer a level of safety my current approach does not.

At this point in my life my own magical work and spiritual practice is more spontaneous and fluid. I do love having set holidays to celebrate and I think holidays and holiday traditions are very important both in passing on beliefs and in creating connection between us and the Other (or Gods, spirits, ancestors, seasons, or what have you). Previously my holiday schedule was fairly reconstructionist in nature but as those who follow my blog and Patreon know that has recently been changing as I feel my way to a new cycle. Exciting times.

My approach to the rituals themselves is fairly simple and organic for the most part and usually just involves casting a compass with fresh water opening the rite and creating a space between worlds, calling in the spirits, making offerings, speaking to the spirits as needed, doing divination as needed, finishing with more offerings (think of it like welcome gifts and parting gifts), asking for peace between myself and whatever showed up as I say goodbye, then returning the space to its former state. I use this structure for holidays and for dark moon rituals although for dark moons I may also include meditation or journeywork. For spells or magic I would only go to those lengths if I was doing something major. Usually magic is a matter of simple actions and words, often involving yarn or fire.

I do have set things I say or repeat in these rituals and spells because words have power and repeated words gain power over time in my opinion. I'm a collector of old folk spells and charms and I also write my own and use them over time, and as well I've had things come to me in dreams or visions that I use. I also will use spontaneous speech when needed so not everything is old, traditional, or something I've been using for years. Sometimes the most powerful magic can come from words uttered in the moment when magic is being cast.

Daily practices are also generally simple and include small offerings and focused awareness. Focused awareness is a state of mind I try to have where I pay attention to potential omens, messages, just basically try to listen more than I talk if that makes sense. Talking to the spirits is easy but listening isn't always something people think to do, not really, so I have found it helpful to make an effort to throughout the day no matter how chaotic or hectic it is. And yes I often end up doing this in places like the bathroom, or while I'm cooking, or out walking, or while everyone else is watching tv. I make note of my dreams and if I remember them I write them down, as I believe that some dreams are actually the spirit wandering out and should be treated as real. I try to engage on some level with the beings who I feel are my allies or friends (if you will) as often as possible. I pay attention to the Otherworldly things I might See or experience and try to note patterns or trends as well as work, daily, to keep things in my general area and home smooth with Them.

I'm not trying to say any of this is easy, its not, and I want to emphasize here that this is distilled practice after almost three decades so please don't anyone use me as a measuring stick - there's many ways I could do better and things I've gotten pretty well dialed in now. I also, I've mentioned in other blogs about my particular fairy priestessing, don't necessarily recommend my personal path to anyone. Certainly the wider tradition of blending witchcraft with fairywork I do recommend which is why write about it, but the specific dedication and service to Themselves I advise caution with as it is consuming. I think some of that is reflected in my daily practices and I'm not even getting into the details of dietary things or personal taboos. 

So this is where I am currently at with my personal practice. I feel like every change has helped me grow closer and deeper into my work and I am glad for that. In many ways I wish that I didn't have to stumble along creating this as I go but I have tried many other traditions along the way - and learned a lot from each experience - and I have never found anything yet that is suite right for what I'm looking for except what I do myself. My witchcraft isn't something that fits well in the ceremonial magic structure or the neopagan one that comes from it, its far closer to early modern witchcraft. My spirituality isn't easily fit into CR, Irish-focused neopaganism, or Heathenry although it looks to all three. My focus on the Good People is something I've only found, minus the religious overtones, in the traditional beliefs of Ireland and those people who were once known to be away with the fairies. Which leaves me with no choice but to forge ahead as best I can.

And so I do. And I change and grow and try to learn and do the best I can to honour the Other and to serve Them, and to preserve and continue the traditional beliefs respectfully.

I am not the same person I was 10 years ago, or even perhaps 5 years ago, and that is alright. As the saying goes that which isn't growing is dying. I'm sure I contradict things I've said and opinions I've had before, do things now I probably once told other people never to do, and that's also alright. To quote Walt Whitman: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.". Opinions change, people change, and we should never be afraid to acknowledge that.
I'm not the same person I was even 2 years ago - I went into the sidhe at Cruachan and I came out a different person, I stood on Tlachtga surrounded by fires and walked away a different person.
And I've learned to love the person I am now.

*I highly recommend Lady With A Mead Cup by enright for more on this