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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fairies and the Dead - An Excerpt from my W.I.P

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book 'Fairies: A Guidebook to the Good People'


Fairies and the Dead

The relationship and connection between the fairies and the dead is a complex one, and likely always has been. The human dead aren't fairies, except when they are. Fairies aren't the human dead, except when they might be. The places of the dead belong to the dead, except when those places are fairy mounds, like the neolithic tumuli. Even the Slua Si, whose name means 'fairy host', are sometimes said to consists of the spirits of human dead, as in some cases does the Wild Hunt, making it hard to draw any clear lines between the groups. In a very general sense we can say that human ghosts are not the same as fairies, but fairies can include people who were once human. The key difference may be, as we shall see, how exactly the human came to join the Fey.

Kildare, Ireland

There is some old Celtic belief, recorded by the Greeks and Romans, which hints at the idea of rebirth or reincarnation, that a person born in our world was dying in the Other World and a person who died in this world was born in the Other World. This idea, perhaps, explains the reason that fairies who wed mortal men were known to cry at births and laugh at funerals. It may also explain in some way why the Irish name for the Other World, an Saol Eile, literally means 'the Other Life'. It is not just another world in the sense of being a place, but it is also another life, another type of existence.

There is some suggestion that the initial depiction around the 16th century of fairies as small beings was actually related to the connection between fairies and the dead and the belief that human souls were small in appearance when separated from the physical body (Briggs, 1976). In turn this idea may reflects a related idea, that the soul was separate from the body and could leave it at times, either temporarily or permanently. We see this in the folktales were a person is taken by the fairies but their dead body is left behind and in anecdotes where a person goes into a trancelike state while their spirit is off with the fairies. The idea that the soul can be separated from the body and once separate has a reality and substance that can even be injured is an old one seen in multiple sources (Walsh, 2002). It may be difficult for us to grasp the idea of a soul as a tangible, physical thing when our modern culture tends to prefer the idea of souls as insubstantial and ephemeral but it’s clear that the older belief gave the soul substance.



Fairy tree with rags in a cemetery, Boa Island, Ireland

Another level of entanglement is more straightforward, that is sometimes the Fairies are known to take people to join them and often these people were thought to have died. In a wide array of folklore from Ireland and Wales we see stories where a young woman is thought to die and is buried, only to be seen later among the fairies in one context or another. In at least one story it was a young man who died and was buried, only to have a fairy doctor tell his family that he was among the Other Crowd; when they attempted to retrieve him he appeared and begged to be allowed to stay with the people of the sidhe (Briggs, 1976). The Scottish witch Alison Pearson claimed a dead relative was among the fairies and that it was he who acted as her familiar spirit with them (Wilby, 2005). Getting back to the earlier point about the soul as a tangible presence we must understand that these are people with presence and physicality who were interacted with and who are clearly counted among the ranks of the fairy people.

In the book ‘Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries’ several anecdotes are related that connect the Good People directly to the dead, in both the sense of describing some fairies as being humans who have died as well as saying some of them are people who were taken and thought to have died. One person related a story about a woman who died and shortly after, before the body had been buried, her husband was visited by one of the Good People who told him she wasn’t dead but taken by the fairies; the husband then waited by the body with the door open and his wife came in to see her infant at which time he grabbed her (Evans-Wentz, 1911). After being restrained and struck with a charm he had prepared the wife returned to her body, as the story was related, which revived and she went on to live a long mortal life (Evans-Wentz, 1911). In another tale with a less pleasant ending a bride died at her wedding, only to appear to her new husband later and tell him that she was actually among the fairies and that if he went to a certain place he would see her passing by and could save her (Evans-Wentz, 1911). The husband went as she’d told him to but when he saw his bride among the fairies passing by he found himself paralyzed and unable to move to grab her; he never saw her again after that, but refused to re-marry (Evans-Wentz, 1911). The people interviewed in that section of the book, who were relating the beliefs of different areas of Ireland around the turn of the 20th century, also made it clear that there were fairies who were never human and had never been human, assigning them origins among the Fir Bolg and Tuatha De Danann, as well as saying they were fallen angels. There were also those among the human dead who could and did return as ghosts or other types of undead spirits that were not considered fairies.


The entrance to Newgrange, sometimes called Bru na Si, known as a fairy mound, home of the Gods, and a neolithic burial place



The subject of the fairies and the dead is not a simple one, but it is clear that the two groups are intertwined. There are those beings who were never human spirits and those human spirits who are not and will not be fairies. But there are also those who were once human and are now fairies because the fairies themselves added the human to their ranks. The different layers of belief make it apparent that while there was crossover between fairies and the dead there was also distinction and separation of the two groups in other ways. If one could imagine it as a Venn diagram we would see fairies as one circle, the human dead as another, and the area where the two circles overlapped – how small or large that is no one can say for certain – would represent those who fall into both groups.



References:
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Evans-Wentz, W., (1911). The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Wilby, E., (2005) Cunningfolk and Familiar Spirits
Walsh, B., (2002) The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex


All text and images copyright Morgan Daimler

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Spirituality - Why I Don't Believe in Easy

  The other day I was talking to a friend and I happened to mention that when it comes to spirituality I no longer believe in the concept of easy. Simple, yes, because there are aspects of spirituality and spiritual practice that can be simple. But easy, oh no, easy is one of those things that will trap you into laziness and inattention. More often than not the simplest things are actually the hardest precisely because they require the most attention not to mess up. Something that is complicated or difficult by its nature requires a lot of care to do correctly and so we tend to be less inclined to slack when we do those things. Lighting a candle seems easy doesn't it, but when you are doing it with a spiritual intention you have to always guard against the simple action becoming routine and then losing its purpose and power. After all, what is the difference between lighting a candle for its physical light and lighting a candle for a spell or a prayer, except the focus and intent you put into it?

Do you see what I mean? Easy is a deception. Constant vigilance is necessary to keep simple from becoming ineffectual, and that makes simple very, very hard to do properly.


There are many aspects of pagan spirituality and witchcraft that seem easy. They aren't. And so they are usually the things that are most often neglected or messed up. Shielding. Warding. Cleansing. Offerings. These should all be simple to do, and done regularly, yet too often they fall by the wayside or are not given the attention they deserve.

The difficult thing about having a regular spiritual practice is doing the easy things well when the easy things become routine. Because what is easy is to fall into that sort of mindless action that happens when we've done something so often that the doing becomes automatic. When we light incense regularly in our spiritual practice how quickly do we stop doing it with intention and just light it so we can move on to the next step? When we pour out a bit of drink or give a bit of food as an offering to the spirits [outside of ritual] how quickly does the action become habit and the meaning get lost? doing by rote means doing by reflex without the mind engaged and with things like spirituality and witchcraft that isn't always the best idea. Easy is hard.

As soon as we stop thinking about what we are doing and why we are doing it, we are in trouble. Because like everything else, once we stop thinking about it we stop caring about, stop putting emotion and energy into it. Laziness and lethargy sneak in and it is surprising how quickly we can stop doing the 'easy' things altogether. Stop grounding and centering regularly. Stop shielding constantly. Stop cleansing often. Stop all the basic things that the complex things are built on, without realizing that in the process we are undermining ourselves.

I'm not saying everyone has to take their spirituality to a professional level, of course, there have always been lay people in every religion and its fine if spirituality is a casual concept for you. However even a casual spirituality should be done well if you are going to bother doing it at all. I mean I'm not a professional baker, but if I bake a cake I want to do my best to get the best result and the same should hold true for any endeavor including spirituality. Otherwise why bother at all?

I don't believe in easy anymore. The easier it looks, the harder it will be to do well for any length of time.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Wild Hunt


This is an excerpt from my book 'Fairycraft'

The Wild Hunt is a collection of spirits - some say ghosts, or fairies - that travel through the air in storms led by a Huntsman. Who the Huntsman is varies as widely as the geographic areas the hunt is found in and the names it is known by. There have been entire books written about the Wild Hunt - and I highly recommend Claud Lecouteaux's "Phantom Armies of the Night: the Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead" - so this section will by necessity be very limited in its scope but I'd like to offer an overview. I have encountered the Hunt myself a time or two and it is likely that another follower of a Fairy-based witchcraft will also meet them or see them at some point and its best to go into that with an understanding of who and what they may be.
  So, to begin, the Hunt is found in Germany, France, Denmark, Normandy, Sweden, Norway, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the United States (Jones, 2003). The Hunt is interesting though in that although found across a wide geographic area and among different cultures it always takes on a unique local character, often with a specific local spirit or God taking on the role of Huntsman. In the Germanic areas the Hunt is often led by Odin (Wodan), Frau Hulde, or both together, the Welsh Hunt is led by Gwynn ap Nudd, and the English by Herne, while in France it is led by Harlequin, and in other areas a variety of fictional or historic figures including sir Frances Drake (Jones, 2003).  The hunt in Germany is also sometimes led by Frau Perchta or the White Lady, Frau Gauden, who led groups of dead children or witches through the sky and were seen as good omens of abundant crops in the coming year (Berk, & Spytma, 2002) Some modern sources try to relate the Hunt led by Harlequin to the Norse goddess Hel, but it more likely that the name derives from the 12th century term "Herlethingus", a word used to describe wandering spectral troops during the time of Henry the 2nd (Berk, & Spytma, 2002). In Orkney the Hunt is led by Odin but may also be the trows riding out on pale horses to steal cows (Towrie, 2013). In Scotland the Hunt is the Unseelie Court, perhaps relating to the Irish idea of the Slua Sí, the fairy host who travel through the air attacking the unwary. Often when the Huntsman - or woman - is not a God or Otherworldly spirit it is said to be a person who so loved hunting in life that they rejected any other afterlife but to continue hunting and were rewarded or cursed to perpetually hunt for all eternity (Grimm, 1883).
    The Wild Hunt is known by many names. In Orkney it is called the Raging Host (Towrie, 2013).  Associated with Odin the Hunt was called Odin's Hunt/Odensjakt, Odin's Army, Wilde Jagd, the Wild Ride, Asgardeia, Oskerei, Horrific Ride, Thunderous Ride, and also the Ride of the Dead, and the Family of Harlequin (in France) (Towrie, 2013; Berk, & Spytma, 2002). Other names include the Furious Host or Wild Host and in America, the Ghost Riders.
    The Wild Hunt travels in the air, and appears as a group of dark riders, led by a Huntsmen who may be headless, with a pack of fearsome hounds, and accompanied by a horde of spirits who sometimes appear as the newly dead or battle dead (Jones, 2003). When the Hunt is led by Gwynn ap Nudd the hounds are white with red ears, and are called the Cwn Annwn or Gabriel Hounds (Berk, & Spytma, 2002). The Hunt always includes horses and hounds, both usually black, but sometimes white or grey, and always fierce; in some accounts the animals breath fire and they are often missing limbs or with extra limbs and may display the same gruesome wounds as the battle dead accompanying the Hunt (Berk, & Spytma, 2002). The presence of the Hunt is signaled by the unearthly sound of hooves, hunting horns, and baying hounds appearing usually in the night sky and sometimes in storms (Towrie, 2013).
Mary Jones gives us a classic description of the Hunt from 1127 CE:
"...it was seen and heard by many men: many hunters riding. The hunters were black, and great and loathy, and their hounds all black, and wide-eyed and loathy, and they rode on black horses and black he-goats. This was seen in the very deer park in the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods from the same town to Stamford; and the monks heard the horn blowing that they blew that night. Truthful men who kept watch at night said that it seemed to them that there might be about twenty or thirty horn blowers. This was seen and heard...all through Lenten tide until Easter." (Jones, 2003).
   This description gives the time the Hunt appears as during "Lent" which might be assumed to be roughly March and April. In Switzerland the Hunt was said to appear during summer nights, and those who do not quickly get out of the way of the passing Hunt will be trampled by it (Grimm, 1883). More often in folklore the Hunt was said to ride in late fall and winter, particularly during the 12 nights of Yule. Grimm tells us that in Germany it was believed the Hunt rode during the time from Christmas to 12th Night or whenever the storm winds blew (Grimm, 1883). Yule was seen as a time of high supernatural influence when the Dead were more present (Towrie, 2013). In my own experience with the Ghost Riders of America they appear around Samhain and ride until the first week of January, but in times of great unrest or disturbance they may appear as well.
   In many cases the Hunt is connected to Fairy in some way, but it is equally strongly connected to the spirits of the Dead. Towrie conjectures that the Orkney trows, themselves connected to the Wild Hunt, may have originally been considered spirits of the dead (Towrie, 2013). The dead are often seen in the retinue of the Hunt and that includes both those who may be recognized as recently dead as well as the ancient battle dead, some displaying hideous wounds. Some folklore also says that the wild Hunt rides out seeking the dead, chasing certain types of ghosts or spirits.
 The Hunt appeared for different reasons depending on where it was - in some cases hunting a mythic animal or creature, in others pursuing lost souls or even seeking to punish wrong-doers (Towrie, 2013). As a Fairy Rade* the Hunt is usually hunting human beings, either with the purpose of kidnapping them or tormenting them; in some cases the person might go mad (Berk, & Spytma, 2002). In some cases the Hunt might offer to take a living person to ride with them, but the risk of doing so was great; the person might never return or might become a permanent part of the Host**. Seeing the Hunt could be an ill-omen and the Hunt itself could kill or drive a person mad, but conversely in some areas it was believed meeting the Hunt bravely and politely could earn a person great reward. There are several folk tales, like the story of "Wod, the Wild Huntsman" where the main character meets the Hunt and comes away with gifts of meat and gold as a reward for his cleverness. Showing proper respect would also earn a person a reward, but conversely rudeness would result in the person being thrown a severed human limb, if he was lucky, or his own dead child, if he wasn't; in some cases the Hunt would turn on the person mocking them and tear the person to pieces (Berk, & Spytma, 2002; Grimm, 1883).
   Protection from the Wild Hunt is best achieved through avoiding them by not traveling at night, especially during Yule or other dangerous times. Shelter can also be sought at the first sound of hunting horn or hounds in the air. However, should those fail or not be possible and should you meet the Hunt, and do not feel like taking your chances with them, there is this charm from 14th century Germany:
      "Woden's host and all his men
      Who are bearing wheels and willow twigs
      Broken on the wheel and hanged.
     You must go away from here."

        (Gundarsson, trans. Höfler; Berk, & Spytma, 2002).


*The Fairy Rade or Fairy Ride is a concept seen in many cultures of a procession of higher ranking fairies who ride out together, often at specific times of year like Samhain and Midsummer. Crossing paths with a Fairy Rade is dangerous, although we can see examples in stories such as the tale of Tam Lin where a mortal is recovered from the fairies after being won back during a Rade. The Fairy Rade sometimes is similar to or confused with the Wild Hunt.
 **Some modern spirit workers and traditional witches do choose to ride with the Wild Hunt. I won't say I've never done it, but I also won't encourage other people to try it. There is always a danger with the Hunt that you won’t come back.


References:
Towrie, S., (2013) The Wild Hunt.
 Jones, M (2003) The Wild Hunt. Retrieved from http://www.maryjones.us/jce/wildhunt.html
Gundarsson, K (2007). Elves, Wights, and Trolls
Berk, A., and Spytma, W., (2002) Penance, Power, and Pursuit, On the Trail of the Wild Hunt.
Grimm, J. (1883) Teutonic Mythology volume 3



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ireland: Seeing the Stories

The idea behind today's blog is pretty straightforward - its a collection of pictures of different sites in Ireland from my recent trip along with some related lore, history, myth, or personal stories. I had been sharing these in snippets on social media and decided to collect them all into one place here and share them with a wider audience.


Display at the Bru na Bionne Visitor Centre, "Stone Balls"




"He was eating a piece of cheese. He did not then tarry to seek a stone. He put the piece [of cheese] in the sling. When Medb's forehead was [turned] towards them, he let fly the piece [of cheese] and it struck her on the crown of the head so that he killed her by the one cast in vengeance of his mother.
That is the death of Medb."
- Aided Meidbe

At the Bru na Boinne centre we saw some examples of stone balls, which got me talking to several people on the Sacred Sites tour about sling stones and ended with me re-telling the story of Medb's death via hard-cheese-sling-stone. Because I think people fail to grasp often how large and weighty sling stones actually were/are. It was really fascinating to be able to see the archaeological examples of the stones knowing how often they feature in the mythology, from Lugh to Cu Chulainn.

Image of the river Boyne



The Boyne is named for the Goddess the Bóinn, mother of Oengus mac ind Og.
A powerful Goddess, she is often referred to in mythology as 'the Boann' or 'the Boand' (modern Irish Bóinn) with the definite article 'the' used before her name in many stories just like we see with the Dagda or the Morrigan. She created the river by going to her husband's well, the well of Segais which held all wisdom, without permission and without dryness [cen tarta] to entreat its power [airigud a chumachta]. The water of the well rose up against her in waves and tore her apart as she ran to the sea, creating the riverbed behind her.
Her name likely means White Cow or Bright/Blessed Cow, from Bó Fhind

The Mounds at Knowth



Knowth is a really amazing site and one of my favorites that we visited. Consisting of 19 total mounds, 1 'great' mound and 18 smaller ones, Knowth was constructed about 5,000 years ago as a series of passage tombs. The great mound has two entrances to tombs, one on the eastern side one on the west. The smaller mounds were also tombs, and there is evidence of wooden henges on the site as well and tempe structures. Over the millenia Knowth has been used for a variety of purposes by the local people, starting as a passage tomb and later having homes built on top of the great mound, which offers a fantastic view of the surrounding land (and was insanely windy btw the day we were up there; I was sure if I let go of my phone it would end up in another county). The curbstones at Knowth are intricately decorated and the entire place has a more genuine feel imo than Newgrange which has been heavily modified by reconstruction attempts.


Newgrange




I really didn't feel much connection to Newgrange at all. It was by far my least favorite of all the passage tombs we visited, although when we were wandering the grounds I did find an amazing tree with some intense energy that I made a small offering at.
Newgrange is about 5200 years old - older than the Egyptian pyramids - and is aligned with the winter solstice. The inner chamber is a cruciform tomb with some beautiful decorated stones. The mound itself had been sealed at some point and heavily overgrown until the turn of the 18th century (1699) when the entrance was accidently discovered by laborers digging for stone. The ensuing centuries saw attempts at study and understanding of the location. In the 20th century the site was heavily reconstructed, including the placement of the white quartz on the face, giving us the monument as we know it today.


An image of the River Unshin



"The Dagda had a house at Glenn Etin in the north. The Dagda was to meet a woman on a day, yearly, about Samain of the battle at Glen Etin. The Unish of Connacht calls by the south. The woman was at the Unish of Corand washing her genitals, one of her two feet by Allod Echae, that is Echumech, by water at the south, her other by Loscondoib, by water at the north. Nine plaits of hair undone upon her head. The Dagda speaks to her and they make a union. Laying down of the married couple was the name of that place from then. She is the Morrigan, the woman mentioned particularly here."
- Cath Maige Tuired

The river Unshin, where it's said, at a ford of this river near Samhain time, the Dagda had a yearly arrangement to meet the Morrigan. He found her straddling the water washing herself with her hair unbound from 9 plaits and the two united. Afterwards the place was called 'Lige ina Lanomhnou' which means roughly 'Bed of the Married Couple'. she then gave him advice on dealing with the coming battle with the Fomorians and promised to use her magic to destroy the Fomorian king Indech.


Heapstown Cairn


Heapstown Cairn is a large, unexcavated cairn believed to be a passage tomb. It was once much larger but has lost an unknown amount of material over time to people taking stones for construction of walls and such. Nonetheless it is still a large sprawling mound - the largest existing cairn in Ireland - and it is quite impressive to see.
Heapstown is located to the west of Magh Tuired and in mythology it was the site of the well of Slaine which was filled with stones by the Fomorians during the second battle of Maige Tuired. Some people have come to associate this location with Airmed because of the mythology; personally I felt a strong presence of the aos sidhe here as did several other people on the tour.


Ceathrú Chaol, cairn G



The Ceathrú Chaol [Carrowkeel] passage tombs are a series of 14 cairns clustered on the hills of the Breac Sliabh mountain range. Cairn G was excavated in 1911 and is unique in that it is the only passage tomb known, other than Newgrange, to feature a roofbox, and the cairn is aligned to the midsummer solstice, according to the Megalithic Ireland website. The inside of the cairn, which can be easily accessed, features an open central chamber and three small side chambers.
The group I was with walked up to the cairns and I chose to go into cairn G. Several other people did as well and then later left to go explore other cairns but I stayed in this one. I would probably still be in this one if I had a choice about it.


The Janus Stone, Boa Island


In Caldragh Cemetery on Boa Island we went to see two stone carvings, both of which had been moved there at some point from other location. The larger figure is called the Janus Stone because it carved on each side; one side is male the other female. The smaller figure I found out later is called "the Lustyman" although it may be a female figure. The name seems to be because it was original located on Lusty More Island. Both figures appear to have become the focus of some form of offering as they had coins on them in piles, although I could not begin to guess what the intent with the coins was. The cemetery itself is extremely old and impossible to navigate without walking on graves, and as well is still in contemporary use so the energy is interesting. There was also a Fairy Thorn at the back of the cemetery area, within the fence.


Rathcroghan Mound


Once the site of an immense royal complex the Rathcroghan - Ráth Cruachan - mound is still impressive. The mound itself was once the royal seat of Connacht and is where it is said that Medb herself ruled from. It is surrounded by other significant sites including Uaimh na gCat, Medb's grave, and the place where the two bulls from the Tain Bó Cuiliagne fought, reinforcing its significance. The mound itself is immense and one can easily imagine the wooden palisades and buildings. Although it has never been excavated the way other sites have been it is clearly of great historic value. The mound itself has a curving eastern entrance and another western one, and standing on top of the structure provides a magnificent view of the countryside. Pictures really don't do the beauty of the Rathcroghan mound justice, this is one of those places you need to see for yourself.


Uaimh na gCat


Uaimh na gCat, the Cave of Cats, the Cave of the Morrigan. Also called "Ireland's Hellmouth" by some. To me, after going in and coming back out again, it will always be the Sí of Cruachan but that's another story. As we arrived I saw a rainbow in the sky and then we had a little black kitten gamboling around the entrance, which was surely a good sign at the Cave of Cats, right?
The cave itself, deep down and a slippery climb into the earth to reach, is a natural feature but the entrance is a man made souterrain which makes for an odd contrast of experience going in and coming out. You ease into the earth, reaching up to touch the Ogham carved on the lintel, and the first dozen feet in is all hard lines and sharp edges - it feels man made. It feels carved. And then that transition point and you leave behind the hand of man and move into the sections made by nature, and it just feels different. Smoother, even where its jagged. Everything here is all wet clay that sucks and clings, as if the cave means to keep you. And maybe it does. But you go anyway, into the darkness that only the deep earth can have, where sunlight has never even been a dream. And maybe you understand why people describe caves as wombs, or maybe you understand why darkness drives some people mad or terrifies them, or maybe down there you find Herself waiting.
And that's the cave.


Navan Centre & Fort


Novemeber 1st - still Samhain - went to Emhain Macha and visited an Iron Age village at the Navan Centre & Fort. The village is like a small version of Sturbridge Village or Williamsburg where the actors stay in character and the day we visited they had a special event 'A Death in the Celtic Clan'. It was really fun, but I had to be on my best behaviour as they kept talking about the Good Folk and the temptation to troll the poor actors was kind of epic - ie actor asks 'where are you from?' nice person says 'America' I'm wanting to say 'the Sí of Tlachtga where we celebrated last night', and so on3. I basically sat there covering my mouth and smothering giggles the whole time.
Inside the reconstructed roundhouse was really neat - the whole floor was covered in furs! - but wow so much iron. Also their story teller told a really neat version of the tale of Fionn and Sadb, where Sadb was turned into a deer by 'Fer Dub' [dark man] who wasn't a Druid she'd refused to marry as I'd always heard the tale but was a man of the Sí in this version sent to take her for the Unseelie Court

Dumha na nGiall



"It was then that Badb and Macha and Morrigan went to the Knoll of the Taking of the Hostages, and to the Hill of Summoning of Hosts at Tara, and sent forth magic showers of sorcery and compact clouds of mist and a furious rain of fire, with a downpour of red blood from the air on the warriors’ heads; and they allowed the Fir Bolg neither rest nor stay for three days and nights."
- Cet-Chath Maige tuired

Dumha na nGiall [mound of hostages] is a 5,000 year old passage tomb at Teamhair [Tara] at the edge of the section known as Raith na Ríg [fort of kings]. The mound is built in the same way as most other passage tombs and includes some beautiful, intricate carving of the stones at the entrance. The entrance itself was blocked with a heavy iron grate, and much to my deep dismay the visible interior was cluttered with rubbish. Seeing a place that was actively used for burials for a thousand years and which has up to 500 cremated remains in it used as a modern rubbish bin for tourists makes me beyond angry and as much as I hate seeing the entrance blocked I wish they had something solid there.
I'll add here that our group went around cleaning up all the sites we went to, picking up litter, cigarette butts, and clearing trees of ties that would have hurt them. Part of me was really happy and proud that we were doing this. Part of me was really furious that we had to.
If you are a tourist and you don't want to clean up other people's trash, at least try not to treat someone else's sacred site like your rubbish bin please.

Cloch an Fhir Mhóir



"And there [Cu Chulainn] drank his drink, and washed himself, and came forth to die, calling on his foes to come to meet him.
Now a great mearing went westwards from the loch and his eye lit upon it, and he went to a pillar-stone which is in the plain, and he put his breast-girdle round it that he might not die seated nor lying down, but that he might die standing up."
- Aided Conculaind

It was sunset as we walked across the fallow field to the standing stone which folklore and local tradition says was the place that Cu Chulain had died at. There was something very evocative about the stone jutting up from the empty field and as our group gathered around it, some people reaching out to touch the stone, I retold the story of Cu Chulain's Death starting with the Morrigan breaking his chariot. It is a good story I think, and a complex one, and as we stood in the gathering darkness as the light faded there was something powerful in telling about Cu Chulainn's final battle. We could look around and imagine the gathered army, see the chariot wheeling around, the trick of the satirists and false combatants, Laeg's death, the mortal wounding of the Liath Macha, and finally Cu Chulainn's wounding and effort to tie himself to the stone. People laughed in a grim appreciation of the irony as the hero's dead hand fell and cut off the hand of the enemy seeking to take his head and faces fell still at the part where the wounded Liath Macha went and brought Cu Chulainn's friends back to this very spot, too late to save him.
The entire experience was more moving than I expected it to be, honestly, as someone who isn't really very interested in Cu.

the Hag's Chair, at Cairn T, Sliabh na Caillíghe



Cairn T is aligned to the equinox, like the more famous Loughcrew cairn L Samhain alignment. The Cairn is barred and locked but it is possible to get the key, which we did. The inside of the main cairn is beautifully decorated, although we cleaned up a bit of litter while we were there (seriously people? lollipop sticks, wrappers, and cigarette butts?). At the outside rear of the cairn is the stone known as the Hag's Chair. The entire location is strongly associated with the Cailleach, and its said that the site was created when she was leaping from hilltop to hilltop and dropped teh stones from her apron. Folklore says that a person may sit in the chair and make a wish and the Cailleach will grant it. It didn't feel right for me to do so, so I did not when I was there. I'm a big one for trusting my gut with these things, which gets me into another point I'd like to make. Someone had left a significant amount of what looked like oatmeal on the stone which we cleaned off, as it was attracting birds and while the idea of the offering was probably really nice the resulting bird poop covering a stone people were supposed to sit on was less so. We moved it to a better location. I don't usually disturb other people's offerings but in this case I made an exception, and I'd encourage people in general to give some thought before they make offerings to A. what they offering and whether it's suitable to the area and wildlife and B. whether that's the best place to leave it. also don't leave things that aren't biodegradable or might cause issues in the future with study of the site.
The area around the main cairn includes several smaller cairns that have been opened and I was very drawn to one of those in particular. It also had some carving left on at least one of the inner stones, although it was greatly weathered. The entire site was amazing, and I would like to go back at some point.


I have more pictures, and more stories - I didn't even get into Kidlare or Dublin here! - but I think this is getting long and that's a good way to end. I hope you enjoyed this, as it was definitely a different blog today.


Copyright text and all images Morgan Daimler 2016

Friday, December 9, 2016

7 Snarky But Serious Tips for Dealing with Fairies

Inspired by the always awesome Seo Helrune blog and today's 'Eight Sarcastic But Serious Tips for Necromancy'. I give you 7 snarky but Serious Tips for Dealing with Fairies



Since fairies are pretty trendy right now and people are paying mad money to become a certified Fairyologist - or Fairy Doctor, or Fairyist, or whatever today's popular term is - I thought I'd save everyone some money and offer this free down and dirty guide to fairy work. Think of it like the Cliff Notes version to years of actual experience, study, and effort.

Why Work with Fairies? - You like to live dangerously, right? Not afraid to risk some maiming or madness or inconvenient death? Good. There are advantages to trucking with uncanny things of course or no one would do it, but I just wanted to get that bit out of the way right out of the gate. Now that we've established that you have a healthy disregard for your own sanity and safety I'll point out that those who successfully navigate dealing with the Fair Folk are usually rewarded with knowledge, luck and health. And rumor has it wealth. So there are benefits to establishing a good relationship with Otherworldly beings, and those benefits can be very valuable and even tangible. Of course you aren't allowed to talk about any of that, so should you manage to score some super secret fairy bennies just remember to keep your mouth shut about it, or, well I already mentioned the maiming and madness part right? Another benefit of working with fairies is that odds are good you'll either be given or learn to make elfshot, and who doesn't want to have an invisible means of getting even with your enemies? None of this is free, of course, but don't let little details like that bother you.

Convenience - The great thing about fairy work is that pretty much every culture has fairies, by one name or another, and so no matter where you are you'll be able to find Otherworldly spirits. A smart person would do some research and look into local folklore and stories, but if you really do like to live dangerously just jump right in and see what happens. Best case scenario it'll be fine. Worst case scenario, well, reincarnation is a thing right? Or you could do the research. Dealer's choice.

So, let's get to it then. Here's some tips.

1. Start Small - no pun intended on this one, but if you want to deal with the Fey going right to the ones most likely to eat you for dinner or to turn you into something unnatural probably isn't the best idea. Start small. Like really small. I mean, sure, in stories people like the Brahan Seer or Turlough O'Carolan slept on a fairy mound and were rewarded with amazing abilities, but there's also all those jerks who tried the same thing and went mad for the effort. The thing about fairies is that some can and will help you and bless you in awesome ways - and some can and will torment you and laugh while they do it. Also some think you are a mighty yummy appetizer. So if you begin with something like your house spirit who is already inclined to like you and build a relationship there, you can get the practice in before you move on to bigger things. Although keep in mind your house spirit can also seriously jack you up, so don't slack off just because I said it was a good place to start. Also keep in mind I'm saying 'start' not end - the idea is to slowly build up a network of friends and allies in the Otherworld. Just don't aim above your means right out of the gate.

2. Bribe Them - some people are really against the whole concept of bribing spirits. I suspect these people don't deal with many spirits. Remember how I mentioned that nothing is free? Yeah, funny thing about that is if you don't offer something in payment up front sometimes they'll decide to set the price themselves later on. You do not want this. No one wants this. Being in unspecified debt to a member of fairy is kind of like owing a favor to the mob so you are much better off to go into any dealings with Them paying upfront. I recommend butter or cream, but I'm a bit of a traditionalist. I'd avoid offering blood - your own anyway - or anything else with heavy metaphysical implications for you.

3. Negotiate - Speaking of payments you may find yourself in a situation where you are being offered something you really, really need in exchange for something else. Like your firstborn - what you thought Rumplestilskin invented that idea? Fairies taking babies is an old practice and its a lot easier if one of the parents gives them up willingly. Not all changelings were stolen, some were bargained away, and if you think I'm kidding then please, please, don't try to deal with fairies. No, really. Don't. They may ask for something else but whatever it is you should be asking yourself why they want it and whether you really want to give it up. I mean a soul seems pretty inconsequential until you don't have yours anymore. So don't be afraid to negotiate or even to say no. Sometimes it's just not worth it. Did I mention the butter and cream?



4. Manners are a Thing -  Seriously though, if you want to deal safely with the Good People then you better say 'please' and 'May I?' like you are visiting your Grandmother. And not the nice one who bakes you cookies but the strict one who doesn't let anyone slouch and has plastic on the furniture so you rotten kids won't get it dirty. Although there is a prohibition against saying 'thank you' which many people I know agree is best to follow; say something else instead which isn't 'thanks'. Why no thank you? Some people say it is dismissive, while others say that it is an admission of a debt - see point #2 for why that's bad if you've already forgotten. The key here is be on your best behavior, be polite, and remember that you aren't the one with the actual power here. Which is why you are dealing with them in the first place right?

5. Keep It Clean - I don't know if cleanliness really is next to godliness or not but I do know that the Fair Folk detest filth. You want to know a really good way to ensure that the Good People will be against you? Pee on land that is theirs. True story. A traditional method to keep them out of your home involved dirty water, and it was an old practice to always yell 'Beware' before tossing dirty water out a door or window after cleaning, because you did not want to hit a fairy with that water, should one be passing by. So if you want to work with fairies keep it clean.

6. Don't be an Ass - I suppose I could have put this under #4 but honestly its such a big issue it deserves its own bullet point. I don't know why people labor under this delusion that getting a huge attitude and treating the Good Neighbors like you are some spoiled prima donna and they are your lowly intern is a thing, but it does seem to be a thing so here we are. I have seen popular pagan authors suggesting people make their own fairy* or command fairies to certain tasks and that is just a jerk thing to do. Fairies are independent, sentient beings. Would you walk up to a stranger in the street and start bossing them around? Unless the fairy starts it first and you are being a jerk in defense of yourself or similar, just don't go there. You go there and so will they and that is not a contest you want to get into unless you are 100% confident you will win - and they have a lot more experience at it. Also way more viciousness. So for the love of all that's green and growing don't be an ass unless and until you have to.

7. Speaking of Asses Always Cover Yours - The best laid plans still go sideways so always have a worst case scenario plan in mind. Know what protections work against which fairies - because there is no one size fits all - and know when to bluff and when to run. Have an escape plan behind your back-up plan. And know exactly how far you are willing to go and what you are willing to do. I mean when it comes down to it would you kill something? Would you maim something? Remember tip #6? Well I mentioned don't be a jerk unless you have to but understand if you have to go there you have to go all the way there. You can't half-ass your jerk attitude with the fairies when that attitude is required by a situation. Which by the way is exactly why you don't want to lead off with it, because if you are going full-ass jerk then you'll be wearing iron jewelry and lighting up St. John's Wort and sulfur every day for a loooooong time. This is also why tip #1 is to start small and build up relationships, because if the shit hits the fan you'll need those allies.

So there you go.
Good luck. You'll need it.

*in fairness while they called it a fairy they were actually talking about making a thoughtform or golem. But still the principle of creating your own fairy servant is pretty offensive so here we are.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Shifting Spirituality and Fairytale Wolves

I've been thinking a lot about wolves lately. I'm in a place spiritually right now that is a bit contradictory - several events in Ireland were very empowering and intense for me and moved me into a deeper connection with the Other Crowd, but at the same time other things have become chaotic as a result. Not all of this chaos was predictable and the wolves are a good example of that. I have a long (like almost 30 years long) running relationship with birds as spiritually significant and I'm not saying that is gone necessarily but it has certainly changed. And I have never resonated with wolves before so that is an entirely new and somewhat strange feeling, yet I am being strongly drawn to them. So I began exploring what wolves symbolize to me and I started with fairytales, a subject I'd already been thinking about; the intersection of the two subjects became something of an epiphany which I'm going to try to convey here as best I can.

 Fairy tales were - if you'll forgive the expression - my bread and butter growing up; I read and re-read Grimm and watched every available Disney movie. Yeah, I was that kid. And as I got older and segued more into the older folklore and folk stories the children's fairy tales kept a place in my heart, although I was cynical enough to see the less appealing patterns in them. The princess with the tragic backstory who needed saving, or else the peasant girl with the same; in both cases the girl was almost always helpless and victimized and just waiting around for the right guy to save her and give her the perfect easy life. (Not a concept that especially appealed to me, by the way, as I always felt that the only one who was going to save me was myself). And of course there was usually the prince or sometimes a woodsman who was the hero*, rushing in at the eleventh hour to save the girl just in time. The antagonist was generally someone with inherent power in the girl's life, be that an evil queen, a step-mother, a witch, or an evil fairy - usually female by the way, because the girl's father generally died or stood by and did nothing to help her - and this antagonist was motivated more often than not by base jealousy. Not exactly the most engaging pattern once you start to see it and it did take some of the luster out of the tales for me, and that was before I got a hold of the original versions of the stories, where there mostly weren't any happy endings, just a lot of misery and retribution**.

In a few stories there is another character though - the wolf. We all know the fairytale wolf of course, the chilling howl in the night, the glowing eyes by the side of the path, the calculating predator that will try to talk you into your own destruction. The wolf, usually labeled the Big Bad Wolf, is a different kind of antagonist. The wolf isn't jealous or vengeful. The wolf isn't motivated by anger or by ambition or lust***. The wolf, you see, is simply hungry and is doing what wolves do to solve that problem and of course in the stories the wolf is anthropomorphized and so uses cleverness and guile to achieve their ends instead of simply attacking the protagonist. The wolf is the archetypal predator and in fairy tales that archetype deepens into that of the antagonist who is truly frightening precisely because they aren't motivated by human emotions, but by simple physical hunger. The wolf schemes to trick the young goats in the story of 'The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids' and Red Riding Hood in 'Little Red riding Hood' with a frightening deviousness that seems difficult to avoid. In fact in both stories the protagonists are only saved after they've been eaten, when a Hero comes along and cuts the sleeping wolf open to rescue them. Which, by the way, doesn't kill the wolf - rather the sleeping wolf is filled with stones and later wakes without realizing what's happened and usually goes to drink and falls into the river and drowns. But is the wolf really trying to kill anyone, or is the wolf teaching the other characters a lesson^? In all the stories the wolf succeeds in tricking the others and consuming them, yet in most they emerge safe - if shaken and wiser - at the end. The wolf may be a harsh teacher, but they are a ultimately a teacher in the stories: about the dangers of not listening to good advice, about the risk of letting in wolves, of the difference between safety and danger. There's some interesting layers of Fairy in there to me, of the supernatural wolf who can consume animals and people without killing them and who can't be killed even by a blade but must instead be killed by earth and water and trickery.

Little Red Riding Hood, by Gustave Dore (d. 1883) 
As I've been rethinking fairy tales, I've been re-thinking where I see myself in them. I am definitely no princess waiting helplessly for someone to come along and save me.  I'm no prince who needs a princess to save - really I just don't see myself in any way as one part of an equation that needs another person to be complete. And I'm not a woodsman or hunter with a sharp ax and a no other purpose but to pop up when a wolf needs cutting open. I've never liked fairytale witches with their mindless evil but I do like evil queens quite a lot as it happens; I admire the way they defied societal conventions to be women with real power in their worlds, but I dislike the random jealousy or paranoia-motivated homicide. But as I've been contemplating the wolf in stories I've found that I do connect to that concept. They are certainly forces of chaos and they seem to defy the whole idea of a clear-cut bad guy because they are just doing what wolves do and trying to get a meal (as opposed to overthrowing a kingdom or your standard step-child murder over jealousy) and excluding interpretive Victorian sexual innuendo they are non-sexual. And in most of the tales the wolf is also playing the role of teacher, giving harsh if memorable lessons to the others. I really resonate with that. They are the one character in the old fairy tales who isn't a victim with a tragic backstory who needs saving or a jerk with a sword who needs someone to save, or the villain driven by jealousy, or traditionally evil like the witches, etc., There's a purity in the danger the wolf represents and in the lessons they teach, as well as the beautiful contradiction of the way they reinforce the need for civilization and solid walls while they themselves live wild and untamed in the trackless woods.
I really admire that story line.

I began my wolf-quest with fairytale wolves and this re-assessment of their role, and from here (probably in future blogs) I will look at wolves in Irish folklore and wolves as they relate to witches, the Good People, and the Gods. These are all heavy, complex subjects and its a lot to unravel. Wolves relate to both the Morrigan and Odin, two deities I am strongly bound to, for one thing and I know there is a lot of material there to process. There is also a great deal of Irish so-called werewolf lore to get through. And on a purely personal level there is the spiritual, experiential side of things. For now, there's this poem I wrote as I meditated on the connection I feel with the fairytale wolf:

I am the Wolf ~ a poem
"You see I am the wolf -
no red clad, hooded maiden,
no ax wielding woodsman,
my role in this fairytale is
neither lost nor saving
but hunting and howling
running wild off the path
and sleeping sated in
your warm comfy bed.
That's the thing about wolves
we like our solitude but
we run in packs too
when it suits our mood.
And I am as much sharp
teeth and terrible claws
as I am soft, warm fur
and endless loyalty.
I am all of that and more,
enchantment and fierceness
Magic and menace.
You see I am the wolf
And in my story
the wolf always wins."
- M Daimler 2016



*There are some exceptions to these of course, like Hansel and Gretel were Gretel is the hero who saves her brother by shoving the witch into the oven. I'm speaking in general terms here.
**In most of the older versions for example 'consent' isn't really a thing, and the princess being conscious isn't even a requirement so in several versions of Sleeping Beauty she conceives twins while still under the curse. So much for that awoken by a kiss bit. In the older Cinderella after she marries the prince she forces her stepmother to dance to death, and in the original Little Mermaid Ariel fails to get the prince and becomes a wind spirit - and so on.
***I know a lot of later commentators do try to make everything in fairy tales into analogies for sex, including the wolves, but I suspect this is more a reflection on the culture of that time than the actual story. For a person who had no real wolves howling in the night to fear it might make sense to see the wolf as a symbol of lust or sex, but for the people first telling the tales who shivered at the sound of wolves in the darkness I think they meant the wolf to be a real wolf. To them the wolf was an animal who did lurk in the woods and who would eat little goats and pigs and even maybe naughty little girls who wander off the path into the trees.
^In the oldest version of Little Red Riding Hood the story ends with both Grandmother and Red being eaten and never rescued, but I'd still argue in that case the lesson is being taught to the reader, albeit with a far grimmer tone. I did say before that the original versions didn't have happy endings. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Changelings

  I've recently had Bridget Cleary on my mind and that along with some synchronicity on social media that brought the subject up in a separate context made me decide to write today about changelings. For those who don't know, Bridget Cleary was a woman in Ireland who died in 1895 when her husband and several family members and neighbors burned her alive after several days of trying to 'cure' her, believing that she was actually a fairy who had taken the real Bridget's place. This belief was rooted in the idea of changelings, that the Good Folk can and do take people and replace them, and that the real person can only be returned if the changeling is forced to reveal itself. Bridget Cleary died and her husband and the others were tried for her murder, but belief in changelings still exists today and is deeply rooted in Fairylore.


The basic premise of the changeling is that it is a foreign being or object left behind in exchange for a desired human who is stolen into Fairy. In some cases the changeling was said to be one of the Good People who magically appeared to be the human but usually acted very differently; if it was a baby who had been taken the replacement would typically be sickly, constantly hungry, and impossible to please, while an adult who was taken might display equally dramatic personality changes. A person who had previously been kind and gentle might become cross and cruel, while a child who had before been pleasant and easy tempered would suddenly be mean spirited and demanding. In other cases the changeling might not be a living thing or spirit at all but rather would be an object like a stick or log enchanted to look like the person, left to waste away and die while the real person lived on in Fairy. Generally this was understood as the person having been replaced by a changeling although there were some occultists during the Victorian period who came to believe that changelings actually represented a type of possession where the human would be overtaken by a fairy spirit and in 20th and 21st century anthropology changelings are often viewed as attempts by folklore to explain medical conditions (Silver, 1999).

The primary targets for fairy abduction were babies and brides, but especially those of great beauty and the best temperment. Physical health was usually an important factor and in at least one story a bride who was in the process of being taken is left when she sneezes, because the Fae want only those in perfect health (Lysaght, 1991). Generally speaking humans in liminal states which included any transitions like birth or marriage were at risk of being taken, with babies and children up to age 8 or 9 being at high risk and women in child-bearing years being in equal danger (Skelbred, 1991; Jenkins, 1991). Other popular targets for abduction included new mothers who might be taken to wet nurse fairy babies, and may or may not be kept permanently or later returned; similarly some humans like midwives and musicians might be borrowed but usually were returned fairly quickly and usually were not replaced with changelings. Those replaced with changelings were those who the Good Folk intended to keep, and the changeling often died or returned to Fairy at some point, leaving the human family to mourn the person they then believed to be dead.

Why the Other Crowd take people is not entirely known but there are many theories. Probably the most common belief is that the fairies steal people in order to supplement their own numbers (Gwyndaf, 1991). This idea usually hinges on the related belief that the Good People reproduce rarely and with difficulty and that they must therefore look to outside sources like humans to strengthen their own population; or to be blunt they take humans to use as breeding stock. This is seen particularly in the variety of stories about stolen brides as well as stories of borrowed midwives where the midwife is taken by a fairy man to the bedside of his wife only to find herself delivering the child of a human girl she recognizes but that everyone thought had died. Another belief was that fairy babies were unusually ugly and so fairies coveted beautiful human babies and would exchange one for the other (Skelbred, 1991). They seem to prefer people who are in some way deviant or have broken societal rules (Jenkins, 1991). This can be seen in both anecdotal evidence where people taken are usually out alone when or where they should not be or have failed to follow the usual protocol for protection, or in ballads and folktales where people are taken while in or near liminal places. On the one hand this can represent one way in which people open themselves up to being taken but it could also represent a deeper underlying motivation, in which perhaps the people are being taken because they have some quality that the Fae folk either admire or need more of themselves. This of course is predicated on the idea that changelings are left in place of people taken for some at least nominally positive use, however it is worth noting that not all theories of fairy abduction are benevolent, by even the most lenient standard. If one favors the idea of the teind to Hell as an actual tithe that occurs and in which humans can be used as substitutes for fairies, then arguably people may be taken to be offered to darker spirits so that the fairies themselves may be spared (Lyle, 1970).

Means of identifying a suspected changeling often involve tricking it into revealing itself. This may be done through careful observation, such as the story of the mother who noted that when she was with her child the baby would cry ceaselessly but when alone in her room the baby would fall silent and the mother outside the room could hear music (Lysaght, 1991). A Scottish story along similar lines involved a changeling infant who was seen playing straw like bagpipes, or in a variant was seen playing a reed for other fairies to dance to (Bruford, 1991; Evans-Wentz, 1911). In older folklore a variety of tricks are suggested including boiling water in an eggshell which in the tales will cause the changeling to sit up and declare that as ancient as it is it has never seen such a thing before; a regional variant involves disposing of ashes in an eggshell (Bruford, 1991). A family could also seek out the advice of a wise person or fairy doctor to assess the suspected changeling and confirm or deny its fairy-nature. Generally if the presence of a changeling was confirmed every attempt was then made to regain the human child; only in very rare cases was the family advised to treat the changeling well and accept its in their family, with the idea that treating it well would earn good treatment for their own child in Fairy (Briggs, 1976).

Because the fear of changelings, and more generally of losing a person to the Good People, was so pervasive there were many protections against it and methods of getting a person back. Looking at protections first we see an array of options, beginning with prohibitions against verbally complementing an infant, lest the words attract the fairies' attention and increase the chance of the child being taken. Although in some contexts red was seen to be a Fairy color it was also used as a protection against fairies, something we see more generally in the use of red thread (with rowan); there is at least some anecdotal evidence of the use of red flannel pinned to children's clothes as a way to keep them from being taken (Lysaght, 1991). In Wales early baptism was common because of the belief that a Christian baptism would protect and infant from being taken (Gwyndaf; 1991). So widespread that they might be termed ubiquitous were belief in the power of iron (or steel) and particularly of keeping scissors, a knife, a fire poker, or tongs over or near the cradle. Other commonly found protections include burning leather in the room, keeping bread nearby, fire, silver, giving the woman and child milk from a cow who had eaten the herb mothan, and being carefully and perpetually watched (Skelbred, 1991; Evans-Wentz, 1911). In many stories it was a moment's inattention or an adult falling asleep that allowed the changeling swap to happen, compounded by a lack of any other protections in place.

 I will warn the reader before we get into this section that, as Bridget Cleary's story illustrated, often the means of forcing a changeling to leave were brutal and could be fatal to the person on the receiving end. There were just as many methods of forcing a changeling to leave as there were protections against them because the belief was that once the changeling was forced to leave the human child or bride would return. To force a changeling to leave usually involved threatening or harming them, most commonly with iron or fire. In Bridget Cleary's case she was forced to drink an herbal concoction, doused in urine, and jabbed repeatedly with a hot iron poker, as well as having a priest come in and say mass over her; after several days of this she was set on fire and eventually died of her burns (Giolláin, 1991). A piece of iron might be thrown at the changeling, or in one of the more benign rituals salt could be placed on a shovel blade, marked with a cross and heated in a fire, with a window left open near the changeling (Gwyndaf, 1991). The changeling might be beaten, pelted with refuse and animal dung, or starved in order to force its own people to take it back, with the idea that only this cruel treatment could motivate the changeling's biological parents to return the human child to spare their own offspring (Skelbred, 1991). Fire often played a significant role in these rituals, with some involving the changeling being thrown into a fire or placed on an object that had been heated in a fire (Briggs, 1976). Another ritual to force a changeling to leave involved taking it to a river and bathing it three times in the water, and related practices involved leaving the infant or child at the edge of a body of water - a liminal space - so that the fairies would take it back and return the mortal child; a less kind version involved throwing the changeling into a river (Silver, 1999; Evans-Wentz, 1911). In cases where the changeling left and the human did not return, or the changeling had already died naturally, attempts could be made to force the return of the human captive by burning grass or trees on the nearest fairy hill (Briggs, 1976).

Changelings are found across Celtic folklore and stories of changelings exist in both folklore and more recent anecdotes. The idea that sometimes the Other Crowd take people and that those people may be saved and returned to the human community with effort or may instead be lost forever to their own kind is a pervasive one. Ultimately the fairies may take people to increase their own numbers or to diversify their own gene pool, to possess the beauty of a particular person or for darker reasons, but the folklore is clear that they take people usually with the intent of keeping them. Those who are rescued or otherwise returned are usually permanently altered by their time among the Good People and most often the hard evidence we have shows that attempts to get people back and force assumed-changelings out results in the death of the changeling.


References:
Skelbred, A., (1991) Rites of Passage as Meeting Place: Christianity and Fairylore in Connection with the Unclean Woman and the Unchristened Child
Evans-Wentz, W., (1911) The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Jenkins, R., (1991) Witches and Fairies: Supernatural Aggression and Deviance Among the Irish Peasantry
Lyle, E., (1970). The Teind to Hell in Tam Lin
Lysaght, P., (1991) Fairylore from the Midlands of Ireland
Bruford, A., (1991). Trolls, Hillfolk, Finns, and Picts: the Identity of the Good Neighbors in Orkney in Shetland
Silver, C., (1999) Strange and Secret People: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness
Gwyndaf, R., (1991) Fairylore: Memorates and Legends from Welsh Oral Tradition
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
O Giolláin, D., (1991) The Fairy Belief and Official Religion in Ireland

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Doubled Edge of Fairywork

Sometimes people ask me why I don't talk much about personal practice and experience with the Othercrowd, beyond a handful of anecdotes that I repeat and some fairly generic for-public-consumption stories. I'm pretty free with talking about experiences that occured with other people, about being pixy-led, or seeing fairy hounds, or items being taken and returned. And I will talk about the numinous, about the Gods even the liminal Gods, pretty easily. So why not share more of the deeper personal things?



It's a hard thing to talk about for many reasons. Certainly one is that I worry about people questioning my sanity as I talk about these experiences. Its funny how we can talk about things with Gods and people are, if not supportive, at least more willing to consider possibilities; even ghosts are met with a basic assumption of the person's sanity. But when it comes to the Othercrowd, at least in my experience, people are far quicker to jump to 'crazy' to explain away something. And of course I worry that in speaking about it I'll say too much and lose their favor which is a concern supported by folklore - the quote may go that the 'first rule of fight club is don't talk about fight club' but in my experience that is far more applicable to fairies. There's also always the worry that people simply won't believe me because its so difficult to convey these experiences in words without making them sound trite and contrived. Even I don't think some of them sound believable when I tell them, and I was there when they happened. So there's the fear that people just won't believe what I'm saying is true.

And there's the worry that they will.

I feel often like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, saying on one side to seek Themselves out for their blessings and friendship and on the other to avoid them because of their mercurial nature and danger. And the Heaven and Hell of it, if you'll pardon the expression, is that both are equally true. Because I do think there's value in keeping the old ways and the reciprocal relationship with the Good Folk that has existed for many hundreds, if not thousands, of years - and indeed part of my service to Them as a priestess is to do what I can to keep those old beliefs and traditions viable - and I think that people should be encouraged to do that. But I also think that modern pop-culture has done the Fairy Faith no favors and that people do need to be reminded of the respect and fear that They are due and why they are due it. So its seek Them out and encourage Their interest in you but at the same time be cautious of Them and don't get Them too interested. And if that's a contradiction, then consider it your first lesson in fairywork.

I talk a lot about the darker side of Fairy and the dangers of the beings who dwell within it, and I do that on purpose. The Otherworld and its inhabitants are not the stuff of young adults novels and LOTR fanfiction. I see too many people who plunge head first into seeking the Gentry out, heedless of any potential danger, and my instinct is to warn people. I'll use the analogy of hiking here, that hiking on a summer day seems really appealing because its so beautiful and looks so easy - you just start walking in the woods, isn't that nice? And you know most of the time it will just be nice and pleasant and nothing bad will happen. Nothing at all will happen except for you getting some exercise. But - oh, there's always a but isn't there? - anyone who is an experienced hiker knows that there's always a chance of getting lost, or falling and getting hurt, or being attacked by an animal, or eating something that looks familiar but isn't what you thought it was, or...or. You see? And that's what I might say that Fairy is like. And if you get lost or hurt or attacked you had really better know what to do about it.

And there's a part of me that doesn't like to talk about some things I've seen or experienced because I worry that it may give people the wrong idea, may make things seem more alluring or good than they actually are. May make people forget the danger. May create that urge in people where they want to have that same experience because they are hearing the beautiful experience and not grasping the fuller context.

I am not yet 40 years old and I have seen things that I will never stop seeing - not horrible, terrifying things either but things so beautiful it breaks the heart and so enchanting it makes everything in mortal life seem a pale shadow in comparison. Beauty is a poison in its own way, and it sinks into the bone beyond removing. The stories talk about that too but we don't want to see it most of the time because we like the idea that people can be saved from Fairy in the end and return to their lives and be happy here. But once you've heard that music and once you've seen those shining halls you lose a part of yourself to the sound and sight of it and there is no real coming back from that. The old stories talk about that too you know. And ultimately I don't want the responsibility of leading someone else where I am, aching for a world that isn't here and that nothing here compares to.

Fairywork is worth doing and it has benefits that make it worth the risk, like any other dangerous thing. But it is dangerous both in Fairy's ability to actually harm a person and the way its enchantment changes a person. It is something that must be done with care and with constant vigilance to be done well, or something that must be done lightly to be done safely, or something that can and will consume a person. I suppose I talk about the things I do because I'd rather be a horrible warning than a great example, to paraphrase Aird,.

And so when I talk about it I try to talk enough to encourage people to want to do it, but not enough about my personal deep experiences to give the impression that losing your soul to it should be a life goal. And I try to emphasize the danger so that if things go sideways people can't say they didn't know the pitfalls and bears where there along the trail the whole time.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Meeting a New Liminal God

I'm on a brief hiatus at the moment, and today is Thanksgiving here in the US, so I am re-posting this from my other blog 'Into the Twilight'. Its a look at more of the personal side of my witchcraft practice. Enjoy!



Generally speaking in my practice of Fairy Witchcraft I honor two main pairs of deities. From Bealtaine to Samhain the Lady of the Greenwood and Lord of the Wildwood hold sway as the rulers of the summer - what some may choose to call the Summer Court - and they are powerful as well during the full moon at any time of year. From Samhain to Bealtaine the Queen of the Wind and the Hunter have dominion as rulers of winter - what some might choose to call the Winter Court - and as well they are powerful during the dark moon throughout the year. I've also mentioned that there are other liminal fairy gods that people may connect to and discussed a few others that I am aware of, although I don't personally connect to them.







I've long felt that eventually I'd probably end up with seven Fairy gods for a variety of reasons, including the fact that 7 is just such a strong number in the folklore and in the system as its unfolded. But after all these years there were only the four and many times I feel as if I barely know or understand them. Which is probably a fair enough assessment really. But the thing about anything and everything to do with Themselves, even the ones that are Gods, is that you have to expect the unexpected and things often happen when you stop looking for them to happen.

So its the dark moon, and I'm up on social media and a friend happens to make a comment on her own page about polytheists needing to actually focus on doing and not talking (I'm paraphrasing). And this friend tosses out an offhand comment wondering if there is a goddess of such-and-such and unbidden I find myself wondering if there is a God of Shenanigans. Because there is a long running joke at this point about myself and a propensity for shenanigans (in the sense of mischief or high spirited behavior with maybe a small dose of secret activity). And without thinking I go to my own social media page and start typing about how if there were such a deity surely they would be a fairy god because fairies and shenanigans go together (again paraphrasing). And I joked that perhaps I should set up a shrine....and as soon as I typed it, actually as I was typing it, I had that sense of the numinous, of presence, pressing in on me, and I thought oh dear....

It seems I have found, quite without meaning to or looking, my fifth liminal fairy god. I meditated on him later and was given three names for him - titles all of them, just like the other liminal Gods prefer titles. although they so far have stuck to single titles. He told me to call him the Knight of Love, and the Keeper of Passages, and the Lord of Mischief. Shenanigans seem to sum up his nature pretty well; he is a spirit of gentle mischief and of cleverness, of high spirits and of fun, of the sort of devilment that never really results in permanent harm but can be quite irritating. I rather suspect he likes to hang out wherever the craic is mighty and may in fact influence the mood and spirit of a group or place. He inspires reckless love and passion, but all in the sense of genuine enjoyment and bliss. He loves a new adventure and seeing what's around the next turn but he also guards the pathways and roads Between - because he knows them all. He loves a good joke and admires the sort of trouble that a person gets into when they are having too much fun to care. In that sense he is a rather dangerous sort, but then he's of Fairy, so that's to be expected. Safe isn't exactly something you're going to find in abundance among Themselves. I do get the sense though that as much as he may encourage you to get into trouble he'll be equally quick to help you find your find your way out again.

I saw him as a young man, fair haired and light eyed*. I also got the impression of both endless sky and deep earthen tunnels around him, so again, pretty transitional. I believe his animals are foxes, otters, crows and swans. Both the colors red and white came through strongly with him, but he appeared dressed in black and green. I gather he'd like offerings of the traditional sort, milk, cream, bread, but also beer or hard liquor, and anything associated with happiness or good memories, or that symbolizes shenanigans by nature. He belongs to the Winter, properly, but I think he moves easily and freely between any and all times and places. I might choose to honor him especially on Samhain, as the year turns, and since I 'found' him, or he revealed himself, on the eve of the Dark moon I'd associate him with that as well.

It will certainly be interesting to see where this goes from here.

* I'd be surprised if that has any permanence to it. I gather he can appear however he chooses, which is no surprise.