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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Two Views of the Leannán Sí

  Of all the beings in Irish - and more generally Celtic - folklore one of the most interesting may be the Leannán Sí. The name literally means 'fairy lover'* and we see two distinct pictures emerge in mythology and folklore of this type of being, very different in nature although both perhaps equally hazardous in various ways. 


'La Belle Dame sans Merci' by John Waterhouse


  The most well known Leannán Sí is a figure from folklore and is perhaps the more obviously dangerous. The name is often Anglicized to its more phonetic form of 'Leanan Shee'. Yeats described this spirit as one that sought to seduce mortals, and if successful would feed on their life energy while inspiring their creativity; the only escape according to him was to find another to replace yourself in her affections, or else you would be bound to her even beyond death (Yeats, 1888). This Leannán Sí was fond of poets and musicians and other naturally creative people, but her presence meant a short, if intensely productive, life. According to Yeats if a person could resist her allure then she would become bound to their service instead, although one may assume this was the more rare occurrence (Yeats, 1888).  The Manx version of this spirit, the Lhiannan-Shee, was more blatantly vampiric in nature; said to haunt springs and wells, invisible to everyone except the man she seduced, she would drain his life until he wasted away (Briggs, 1976). Generally when we hear stories of the Leannán Sí they feature a supernatural female of great beauty who seduces a man and once she has him as her lover she draws his vitality from him causing him to slowly die; in the Irish stories this is done in exchange for extra-ordinary inspiration, while in the Manx the only thing given is the Lhiannan-Shee's company to the man. However there are equivalent beings by different names that are more literally vampiric. In Scotland we find the Baobhan Sith, literally 'wicked fairy woman', who seduces a young man into dancing with her and then drains him of blood leaving him dead by morning (Briggs, 1976). 

Although usually described as female there is a version of the dangerously seductive Leannán Sí that is male - the Gean-cánach, or 'love talker'. He appears as an attractive young man smoking a pipe, walking in the untamed places, and is quick to seduce women when he can, after which they lose the will to live (Briggs, 1967). There are some clear parallels between these two spirits as both seek to seduce mortals and this seduction results in the person's wasting and eventual death. The biggest difference between the Leannán Sí and the Gean-cánach is that the Love Talker only lays once with his victim then departs never to be seen again, leaving her to waste away for want of him (or perhaps because he has stolen some vital life energy from her) while the Leannán Sí is a regular visitor to her victim throughout his life and possibly afterwards. 

The second, and less discussed, leannán sí is a more straightforward one, a person of the Sí of either gender who takes a human lover. Katherine Briggs in her book 'Fairies in Tradition and Literature' devotes an entire chapter to this type of leannán sí and their place in fairylore. The most well known by far example of this type of leannán sí is the story of Niamh and Oisin in the Fenian Cycle. In this tale Fionn's son Oisin is captivated by a fairy woman, Niamh. He chooses to go to Tir na nOg with her, where they live happily together and she bears him a son and daughter. However as time passes he begins to miss his friends and wishes to visit Ireland again; Niamh warns him that if he goes he must not dismount his horse because if he touches the ground he will die. Of course while he is there he finds that hundreds of years have passed and all the people he knew have died, and through mischance his saddle slips and he falls, instantly aging when he hits the ground. 

With this type of fairy lover they may or may not seek to take the human partner out of the mortal world, and may or may not produce offspring with the human partner in stories.  In most cases if a child is produced the family will later trace its decent back to that spirit, such as the Fitzgeralds' tracing their ancestry to the fairy Queen Aine who was a lover of the earl of Desmond. Some versions of the story of clan MacLeod's Fairy Flag say that it was a gift from a fairy lover. It is not infrequent in stories for a fairy lover to give a family line they are part of a special item or token as a sign of favor. The Lhiannan-Shee of Ballafletcher was connected to the Fletcher family who had a custom once a year of drinking from a fairy cup which she had given them (Briggs, 1976). 

In some stories the mortal remains in our world but regularly sees her fairy lover, shunning any human love in turn. In one tale from Scotland a girl had such a fairy lover and made the mistake of trusting her secret to her sister who then spread the tale; in anger the girl's leannán sí abandoned her and she went mad from his loss (Briggs, 1967). In a tale from Ireland a young man had a fairy lover who took him into the Sí on Bealtaine; a fairy doctor was called for and for 9 days and nights sought to get the young man back until finally he appeared and begged to be allowed to remain with his new wife (Briggs, 1967). In many cases like this the human partner is simply taken into Fairy and removed from the human world entirely, often under the guise of having apparently died in our world. In the stories where the human partner stays in our world but sees her leannán sí regularly she is often required to keep him a secret or lose him. As with all things however there are various versions and exceptions to be found.*

Several folk songs immortalize attempts by mortals to win the heart of a fairy lover, including Scarborough Fair, which is based on older folk ballads including The Fairy Knight; and the ballad of Tam Lin which also survives as a song today. In the first example the girl wishes for an elfin knight as a lover or husband and he responds with a list of seemingly impossible tasks she must first accomplish. In the second example a girl takes a fairy lover (Tam Lin who was a mortal taken into Fairy as a child) and only after they have been lovers for a time and she seeks to abort the child she is carrying does he tell her the quite difficult way she must win him free of the Fairy Queen so he can be her husband. Some versions of ballads of fairy lovers are decidedly grim, such as Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight which tells the story of a woman who wishes for an elf knight on Bealtaine morning only to have him appear and kidnap her to a greenwood where he tells her that he is going to kill her as he has seven other king's daughters before her; she tricks him into falling asleep, binds him with his own sword belt, and kills him with his own dagger then escapes. Similar ballads exist that begin the same way but where the elfin knight tries to drown the girl who must outwit him to escape. These represent a clear warning to be careful before wishing for a fairy lover, although most other tales are far less murderous and when they end badly do so because of a failure on the human partner's end to keep their lover a secret resulting in abandonment. We may see echoes of this theme in Keats poem 'La Belle Dame sans Merci' which tells the story of a knight who loved a fairy maiden who took him 'to her elfin grotto' and enchanted him only to abandon him. The knight was then left to waste away, pining for what he could not have, although this could also perhaps be an example of the more directly harmful kind of Leannán Sí as well. Looking at these stories and ballads we can see the challenges and difficulties this sort of leannán sí presents, as they may not always be as overtly dangerous as the first sort but they can often lead a person to the same eventual end.

Not all instances of humans with fairy lovers end badly for the human though, as some tales do make it clear that the non-human half of the pairing genuinely cares for the human partner. There is at least one story recorded by Evans Wentz of a man with a fairy lover who immigrated to America and his Otherwordly lover followed him there (Briggs, 1967). There are two stories I know about featuring Kelpies who fall in love with mortal women and go against their own nature for the sake of their human partner. In one Irish tale a Kelpie loves a girl but is tricked into becoming a beast of burden on her father's farm after she finds out his true nature. After a year of such work the girl and her family consult a fairy doctor who asks the Kelpie if he would choose to be a mortal man so he in turn asks the girl if she still wants to marry him*; she says yes and he chooses to become mortal so the two are married (McNeill, 2001). In a less cheerful story from Scotland a Kelpie falls in love with a mortal woman and courts her. They wed and she bears him a son, but one day she realizes his true nature and flees. Heartbroken the Kelpie remains in their small home, raising their child, and waiting futilely for her to return. 

Some bean feasa were also known to have leannán sí, as in the case of Eibhlin Ni Ghuinniola, about whom it was said "a 'fairy lover', a leannán sí, was often seen with [her] as she gathered plants". (O Crualaoich, 2003, p. 191). It was believed in such cases that it was through this connection to the Otherworld that these women gained their knowledge of magic and cures, although a leannán sí was not always involved with the wise women. Some then could maintain a relationship with a fairy lover and also remain at least for a time in our world and would benefit from the knowledge gained from their fairy associations. 

As we can see the threads of myth and folklore provide two distinct but perhaps intertwined views of the Leannán Sí. The Leannán Sí as a distinct being seduces and inspires, gives creativity but drains away life. The related beings like the Gean-cánach and Baobhan Sith similarly use their beauty and appeal to gain lovers whom they destroy in the taking, feeding on either their life force or blood. In contrast the more general fairy lovers may bless or ruin their human lover, may steal them from this world, abandon them to it, or be constant companions. One is a more overtly malevolent, seductive figure which is a distinct type of being in its own right; the other a more ambiguous term applied to different beings which in its own way embodies all that Fairy itself is - alluring, sometimes dangerous, sometimes generous.


* to be absolute clear here because English can be annoying, 'fairy lover' meaning a lover who is a member of Fairy, not a human who loves fairies.

*I'm not going to address the Roan/Selkies as leannán sí because that is an entire involved topic of its own, for example, with its own rules and obligations and gets more into abductions and fairy wives/spouses. 
* don't ask me why he still wanted to marry her at that point, I have no idea.

References:
Yeats, W., (1888) Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry
Briggs, K., (1976). A Dictionary of Fairies
Briggs, K., (1967). The Fairies in Tradition and Literature
O Crualaoich, G., (2003). The Book of the Cailleach
McNeil, (2001). The Celtic Breeze

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Doom of Otherworldly Love - a Poem

I know you have loved me
since before I was worth loving
A shadow in dreams, a glimpse
of a fair form in daylight.
You who are part of a world
not my own, yet somehow
belong to me as much as I
belong to you, inexplicably.
A constant presence in my life
A guardian, a guide, a lover,
Never more than a thought away.
Perhaps my heart was always
yours before it was even my own
And so I will send my heart to you
as a ghostly owl in the day
when I am walking the earth
and you are in your Otherworldly
hall far from mortal things.
And by night when my body
lies at rest, my spirit will join
my heart, united with you.
I fear that sending pieces of
myself to you thus has doomed
me in this mortal world, yet
love dooms us all in the end
because I cannot wish it otherwise.
 - M. Daimler copyright 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bealtaine and the Other Crowd

"Being associated with a ceann féile (cheif festival), May Eve and May Day were supposed to be times of greater than usual activity among supernatural beings, Every lios ("fairy fort") in Ireland was said to be opened that night, and their inhabitants moved abroad in great numbers, often changing residence at that time."
- Seán Ó Súilleabháin, 'Nósanna agus Piseoga na nGael'


Hawthorn in the spring rain

   Bealtaine has many different themes and associations in folklore but one of the strongest is the idea of the presence of supernatural beings being particularly strong at this time. For example one belief was that on Bealtaine day it was wise not to lend out any milk, butter, or a coal from the fire, especially to a stranger, lest the person be one of the Good Folk in disguise and steal the family's luck for the year (Wilde, 1888; Evans, 1957). A household's luck was intrinsically tied to the items which symbolized it - milk, butter, and fire - and to be tricked into giving any of these to dangerous powers including witches or the Fair Folk was to voluntarily give them power over you; to do this particularly on Bealtaine when spirits of all kinds were abroad and their powers especially strong was the height of foolishness.

    As the quote above illustrates every sí was believed to open and the inhabitants to travel out across the land, a process which was repeated as well at Samhain. Bealtaine was also the time when babies and young brides were most likely to be taken and a person had to take great care when travelling, especially alone. Although today many people might think of Samhain as the most dangerous liminal time, in truth Bealtaine was equally dangerous and liminal. At other times of the year a person might still run the risk of running afoul of the Fair Folk - or if one was lucky and clever of earning their blessing - but at the turning points like Bealtaine every single one of my references all mention the ubiquitous presence of the Other Crowd, to the point that it was almost expected to see or experience something Otherworldly. To quote Danaher:

    "Supernatural beings were more than usually active about May Day, and the appearance of a travelling band of fairies, of a mermaid, a púca or a headless coach might, indeed, cause unease or alarm but certainly would occasion no surprise, as such manifestations were only to be expected at this time." (Danaher, 1972, p121)

    There were two main, and possibly interlinked approaches to dealing with the Daoine Eile on May Day. In the old days - and perhaps still in some places - it was traditional to make offerings on May Day morning of milk poured at the base of a fairy thorn or on the threshold of the house, and to take the cows to the sí and bleed them, with some of the blood tasted by the people and the rest given as an offering to the Daoine Uaisle (Evans, 1957). I personally try to avoid making blood offerings during most of the year, but some exceptions may occur on the major holy days, and we see a precedent in both Irish and Norse belief of offering such to the aos sí or elben respectively*. Any offering of food or drink, left on the doorstep of the house or at any known Fairy place, whether its a lone fairy tree or fort, was also done and was thought to convey some protection on the person (Danaher, 1972). I would also suggest that offerings of butter, bread, or cakes would be in line with tradition and acceptable. Offerings are an important part of creating a positive reciprocal relationship with the powers of the Otherworld. One might note that there is an important difference between being tricked into giving milk or butter without intent and giving the same things purposely as gifts; to be tricked is to lose your power but to give a gift freely is to show respect and hopefully create an amicable relationship.

   Protections against harm from the Other Crowd included primrose and gorse scattered on the doorstep, and Rowan branches hung over the doorway (Evans, 1957). Yarrow was hung in the home to ward off illness, and a loop of ash might be used to protect a person against Themselves; it was also said looking through the loop would allow someone to see them even through glamour (Evans, 1957; Danaher, 1972). Iron should be carried, ideally a black handled iron knife, or else ashes from the hearth fire, and if one is being misled or tormented by the Good People one could turn their jacket inside out to confuse them or in more dire circumstances they could splash urine on their hands and face* (Danaher, 1972). Of course the most commonly used protection may simply be staying inside and avoiding any chance encounters.

    At Bealtaine some people say that the veil between the worlds is thinner; I disagree. I think that at Bealtaine and Samhain both it is not that the separation between the worlds is any different but the amount of presence in our world is notably higher for those who are aware of such things. So be sure to pour out a little milk or cream for the Good People and if you are out and about carry a bit of salt or iron in your pocket, and hang a bit of rowan with red thread over your doorway.

   And don't be surprised if you see something uncanny.


*In Grimm's Teutonic Mythology he discusses the practice of offering a cow to the elves as part of an alfablot

*The Good People detest filth and things like dirty wash water and urine are known to disgust them, and so act as protections against them.


References
Ó Súilleabháin, S., (1967). Nósanna agus Piseoga na nGael
Wilde, E., (1888) Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions
Evans, E., (1957). Irish Folk Ways
Danaher, K., (1972) The Year in Ireland

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Following Personal Gnosis

   I write a lot on my blogs and various other places about a more academic view of my spirituality - facts, myths, translations. Hard, verifiable, provable things. Sometimes I think this may lead people to think I don't get as much into the experiential side of things although I do try to write about that as well - its just harder to talk about the more personal end of things. In reality personal gnosis is a huge factor in my spiritual life, but because it is so personal it doesn't lend itself to sharing much. Its hard to discuss a personal experience without reducing it to something that sounds silly or opening it to skeptical review.

    Gnosis is of course a pretty big topic in paganism, something that is both often misunderstood and just as often misused. The word gnosis itself just means spiritual knowledge, usually with the understanding that its knowledge obtained through direct experience or insight. What may perhaps otherwise be termed an epiphany, although in my experience it is also knowledge often gained directly from Gods and spirits. Gnosis is often shorthanded in the modern community to u.p.g. meaning unverified or unsubstantiated personal gnosis but honestly I prefer to just call it personal gnosis, because how can we verify that Freya likes strawberries or the Morrigan likes whiskey? Certainly - and this is the usual view - we can rely on seeing if this gnosis is shared by other community members and how widely (becoming then shared personal gnosis or s.p.g.) but the flaw there is that - in my opinion - the vast majority of gnosis is never meant to be shared. Certainly some of it is and should be (as the above examples are) but much of the 'knowing' we get in our spirituality is personal for a reason I think.
  I'm keenly aware that much of what I perceive as personal gnosis is just that - personal. It is something that applies to me in the specific context that it occured in but it may not be relatable at all to anyone else. And you know what? That's okay. Personal gnosis doesn't require validation on a public level. If I feel that something is true to me then I may not need anyone else to share that belief for it to be true to me. Just because I believe it doesn't mean you have to believe it too.
     And this is where I believe that gnosis is misused in the community because I often see people taking what is, to me, clearly meant to be insight for themselves and then projecting that outwards as a general belief for everyone. Sometimes this works out okay, but sometimes it doesn't, because there may be a good reason that a deity or spirit tells someone to do something a certain way that is only meant to apply to that person, but not to others. Or why someone perceives a deity in a certain unusual way that is meant to be unique to them. It becomes a matter of 'I believe this so everyone else must believe it too', and good rarely comes from that.
   The other issue with gnosis is whether or not to accept it at all and this is also a sticky wicket. Some people reject all gnosis entirely but that's no better than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. On the other hand though there are people who accept absolutely every notion that goes through their head as if it were sacred writ, and that isn't any better. either extreme - total rejection or total acceptance - is ignoring the importance of discernment and I think discernment is absolutely vital in spiritual matters. Sometimes a dream is just our subconscious trying to work a problem out - or as Scrooge would have it 'an undigested bit of beef' - and it would be an error to take every dream as a deeply significant message. However that doesn't mean that some dreams aren't messages or communications from spirits; land spirits and deities are well known in folklore and myth to talk to people in dreams and I don't think that should be discounted. In the same way when we use methods like meditation and Journeywork there is always the possibility that we are interacting with our own mind, but there is also the possibility of genuine connection and gnosis. The key is to learn how to tell when we are talking to ourselves and when Something Else is talking to us.
  My basic rules when it comes to personal gnosis:
  1. Is it something I would tell myself? - basically does it sound like me talking to myself: is it in words I would use, is it something I have said to myself before, does it reinforce something I already believe.
 2. Is it exactly what I want to hear? - is it a message that is what I would expect to hear or want to hear? Basically if I was daydreaming is this how I would imagine this going? Not that the gods and spirits can't give us messages that we want sometimes but in my experience often we don't get exactly what we expect or would like. Much like in dealing with other people the experience shouldn't feel like its in our control. To use a personal example that illustrates - I hope - my point: I had suspected a certain connection between myself and something else for a long time without any real reason for thinking that way but I had always hoped I was wrong (personal reasons) but recently had my suspicion confirmed in a personal gnosis moment. Part of why I trusted it was that it wasn't really something I wanted to hear.
  3. Can it be independently verified? - some gnosis is unprovable and as I mentioned that's fine when it's personal. I'm firmly convinced Nuada likes offerings of Gentlemen Jack, but there's no empirical proof of it. However I have had gnosis before that provided knowledge which was verifiable. I've had several dreams involving the herb yarrow, for example: once I was told a way to prepare it to use it as a cleanser, and when I checked later I found out that yarrow does indeed have anti-bacterial properties*; I also had a dream relating to yarrow as a symbol of fidelity in love which was later verified in folk tradition as well. So I recommend always checking what you get to see if it can be verified.
  4. Does it contradict known folklore or mythology? - I'd be really cautious of anything I get that actively goes against existing folklore. This requires a lot of questioning and extra checking.
  5. Is it dangerous or does it encourage dangerous behaviour? - I'd also be really, really cautious of personal gnosis that is harmful to you or encourages harm to you or others. Spiritual insight should *not* be actively dangerous to life and limb.
  Beyond those basic guidelines I see personal gnosis as a set of personal beliefs and knowledge which may or may not be shared but that should, ultimately, shape the person's spirituality in positive ways. It is, you might say, the bones of our spirituality. Vitally important and deeply personal, and unique to each of us.
 
  . *with anything related to herbs do not play around with them please. Consult an herbalist.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wishes - a poem about fairies

  This was inspired by two things - a story called 'A Guide for Young Ladies Entering the Service of the Fairies' and a poem by my friend Jennifer Lawrence called 'Tam Lin's Garden'. Both are brilliant pieces of writing and you should read them immediately.

   People talk about wishes now as if they were cheap things
   Spending their desire on casual words and wants that are
   lost between one thought and the next, forgetting that
   Words are things with weight and power, not to be wasted.
   People talk about wishing they could see fairies, as if
   Fairies were beings that exist to serve people, forgetting,
   Oh, forgetting a hundred lifetime's worth of wisdom
   Warning them not to play lightly with their own destruction.
   I would warn them as well, if I could - or perhaps not,
   for what fun is there in a game with no one to play with?
   Eternity is a long time to be bored when your playthings
   Stop playing, and its hard enough when they break so easily.
   Then again, what fun is there without the chase and seduction?
   When they trip over themselves in eagerness to fall into
   My hands, thinking all their wishing has finally paid off,
   And I need no more effort than showing up with a smile?
   Not much of a game that, when once they've promised,
   Once they've misspoken and given themselves up to me,
   The only fun left is the same struggle and slow breaking
   That's been played out so many times before, without change.
   Perhaps I would warn them after all, if they'd listen,
   Perhaps I'd remind them of all the old fear and caution,
   Of babies and brides stolen, of a hint of music that haunts,
   Of their place feeding a variety of appetites, some quite bloody.
   Perhaps I'd tell them of how there is no winning for them
   Once entangled, whether its by the dark or the light
   Because its a choice of suffering to amuse those who can't
   Be pleased, or endless, nameless dull service to the same.
   If I did they'd be wary, and watch their words, and hide,
   They would think, being wise to the truth, they had a chance,
   It's a grand game then, when the mouse gives the cat
   A good run, and I much prefer having to be a clever cat.
   I don't suppose it matters much in the end though, either way,
   One way or another the great game will keep playing out,
   As always, they will keep wishing for things dire and foolish
   And if luck is against them, their wish will be answered.
     - M. Daimler 2016

Friday, April 15, 2016

Cétnad nAíse ~ Poem of Restoration

Doing this one a bit differently - going to alternate the lines instead of doing separate text.
I hope you enjoy it. 



Cétnad nAíse ~ Poem of Restoration

Ad-muiniur secht n-ingena trethan 
I invoke the seven daughters of the stormy sea
dolbtae snáithi macc n-áesmar. 
shaping life's thread from boyhood to age
Tri bás flaimm ro-ucaiter, 
Three deaths be taken from me
tri áes dom do-rataiter
Three ages be given to me
secht tonna tocaid dom do-ra-dáilter! 
Seven waves of good fortune dispense to me!
Ním chollet messe fom chúairt 
No harm to me on my circuit
i llúrig lasréin cen léiniud! 
in flashing corslet without hindering!
Ní nassar mo chlú ar chel! 
Not light is my reputation before heaven!
dom-í-áes;
To me these ages
nim thi bás comba sen!
May I not die until old age
Ad-muiniur m’Argetnia 
I invoke my Silver warrior
nád bá nád bebe; 
who did not die and will not die
amser dom do-r-indnastar 
Deliver to me time
findruini febe!
of excellent electrum*!
Ro orthar mo richt,
Chanting my form,
ro saerthar mo recht
Ennobling my authority,
ro mórthar mo nert
Magnified my strength,
nip ellam mo lecht
Not readied my grave,
nim thí bás for fecht, 
May I not die on a journey,
ro firthar mo thecht! 
My death fulfilled!
Ním ragba nathair díchonn, 
May a foolish serpent not overtake me,
ná dorb dúrglass, 
Nor a hard-green worm,
ná doel díchuinn! 
Nor a senseless beetle!
Ním millither téol, 
May no theft destroy me
ná cuire ban, 
Nor host of women
ná cuire buiden! 
Nor warrior troop!
Dom-i urchar n-aimsire 
To me extensions of time
ó Rig inna n-uile!
From the King of everything!
Ad-muiniur Senach sechtaimserach 
I invoke Senach of seven-durations
con-altatar mná side
Who was reared by Fairy women
far bruinnib bdais
on their breasts.
Ní báitter mo shechtchaindel! 
May my seven lights not be submerged!
Am dun díthagail, 
I am an indestructable fort,
am all anscuichthe, 
I am an immovable foundation,
am ha lógmar
I am that treasure
am sen sechtmainech
I am seven-times-valuable compensation
Roba chétach 
May I be possessing a hundred
cétbliadnach, 
hundred years
cach cét diib ar úair.
Every hundred from each hour.
Cota-gaur cucum mo lessa;
I sue towards me my advantage
ro bé rath in Spiurta Noíb formsa.
May the grace of the Holy Spirit be on me
Domini est salus.
The Lord is salvation
Christis est salus.
Christ is salvation
Super populum tuum, Domine, benedictio tua.
On your people, Lord, your blessing

 *electrum is a metal alloy of gold and silver




Tuesday, April 12, 2016

the Nature of the Gods: how I define Deithe and an-deithe

The subject comes up occasionally - what makes a God a God?

It's a good question, really, especially if you haven't thought about it before. I'm pretty strongly against the idea of omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience - basically all the omni's usually attributed to monotheistic deities - as qualities of individual deities. There's just a level of cynicism in me that finds it impossible to to believe that anything that, well, grand for lack of a better term could or would have any interest in me on an individual level and my own experience does support the idea that we matter to the Gods and spirits in some way. I do believe there is some grand transcendent divine consciousness that holds everything together, beyond even my understanding of the individual Gods but I do doubt that such a thing would be any more aware of individual beings as I am of the single cells in my body or of the separate grains of sand in a desert. If there is such a grand divinity I would think it is so vast and beyond our ability to comprehend that it would effectively be almost impossible to connect to or engage with. Rather I think, perhaps, that this grandness is the spirit of our reality itself*.

Which is where the individual Gods come in. Whether or not we accept that there is a larger grand divinity - and I don't know that it matters whether we do or not - I do believe that there is a hierarchy of Gods and spirits that we can perceive and interact with. I base this concept on my own personal observations and experiences, so I won't claim that its some sort of universal truth or spiritual absolute, but its an approach that works for me. I like to use the concept of a hierarchy because I find that is basically how it works with the beings at the highest level having both the most power and the least interest in humanity and those at the lower levels having the least influence and the most interest in humanity.


At the highest level we have the most powerful spirits, beings that for simplicity's sake we call Gods**.  Gods have the greatest and most pervasive degree of influence over the widest areas, and the fewest limits on their actions and influence. I have seen Gods take an active interest in individuals for both good and ill, and I think it is always unwise to forget the level of power a deity is operating with. There is a range, of course, from an upper end of extremely powerful to a lower end of still-a-god but not as powerful. Gods also, again in my opinion, have the greatest scope of knowledge both of current events and of things yet to come. Why do Gods have an interest in individual people? Well that's going to vary by each person, but ultimately the Gods have their own purpose and agenda, and sometimes they need us to forward that. They work on a scope and scale that is so vast it can be hard sometimes for us to understand the why - although sometimes its pretty obvious. They need us, and we need them, on different levels.

Besides the Gods there are also a wide array of spirits, including those who are almost Gods themselves to those who are almost on the same level as humans, and those below us (influence-wise). Many of the Good Neighbors can be just below the Gods as far as influence and power goes, which is part - I think - of why they have always been so respected and feared. Others however are much closer to us and less dangerous to us. And if you take, for example, a spirit like most ancestors or human ghosts, they are very close to us indeed influence wise and while they can and do help us and provide us with information they usually aren't a significant threat to us unless something unusual is going on (or unless it is an ancestral spirit that has been or is being elevated to a higher level, which is possible - nothing is fixed, everything is fluid). The closer a spirit is to us the more logical it is for that spirit to want to help us or to need our energy.


All of this is of course very loose and there is a lot of grey areas. What I might call a God someone else might call a fairy and neither of us would necessarily be wrong. And I do believe that there is the potential for movement both up and down in this system, so that an ancestor who is honored and prayed to by enough people over enough time can become a deity and a deity who is forgotten and ignored for long enough can lose power. Much like so many other areas of life nothing is set in stone; rather our relationship with the Gods an spirits is a symbiotic one where both sides benefit. I'd also argue that ultimately it really doesn't matter whether what you are connecting to is a god, per se, or a powerful spirit, or one of the daoine maithe, if it does benefit you to have that connection.


*as an animist I believe that all, or almost all, things have spirits, including the world itself, and the solar system, and so on. When I sat down to contemplate this article I had to carry that idea outwards and admit that it is possible that there is, ultimately, a spirit of the manifest universe which could be viewed or perceived as the divine source. Whether or not other realities have their own such spirit I could not say.

**there really is not good definition for god or deity that isn't just circular logic. For my purposes I tend to define 'deity' as extremely powerful being who can influence all levels of reality to the greatest degree; following along with that however not-Gods or 'spirits' are beings with lesser degrees of influence.