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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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Stepping Into Brigit - a Review

  Many people are familiar with my dedication to the Morrigan but what may not be as widely known is my love of Brighid. It is, by its nature, a different sort of love, but it is just as much a presence in my life in its own way. So when I was asked to help Beta test* a new course 'Stepping Into Brigit' designed for people interested in Brighid to learn about and connect to her I jumped at the chance.



The course is set up as an 11 module course, with each module containing multiple lessons, and is meant to be done - ideally - over a month. With roughly 38 overall lessons to complete (course surveys excluded) one would need to either decide to do one or more lessons a day or set aside time every few days to do a full module in order to finish in a month. What I liked about the set up though is the learning is self paced, so that you can choose to it at whatever speed you like and in whatever fashion works best for you. I took the 'chunky' approach myself and did a full module at a go because that was what worked best with my schedule, although other people may find a slower spacing better.

Each lesson is fairly thorough but also brief. At some points I felt perhaps a bit too brief, but the idea was to take time with each one and contemplate it, write down thoughts and reflections on the material, and really process it, rather than rushing through to get to the next one. They often included outside recommended reading or references to follow up, such as the Story Archaeology's entry on discussing her which should take some time to do. With that in mind the size of each lesson is pretty good, and it really was designed to encourage engagement from the student. I also like the use of mixed media throughout the course which used text, images, videos, and audio clips.

The material looks at Brighid in a holistic manner including both the pagan Goddess as well as the Christian saint, and while I didn't feel the same engagement with the material relating to the saint that reflects more of my own bias than any flaw in the course. It certainly was the most well-rounded view I think I've seen and I can't fault it's fairness in giving an equal voice to all sides. the material is generally presented without any favoring of one opinion over another and with clear citation of sources, allowing a student to draw their own conclusions for the most part about the very complex subject of Brighid pagan roots and Christian history.

Speaking of sources, I really did like the way the course offered a lot of quotes directly from source material. I think often this is the best way to let a student contemplate the original material without the filter of an author's opinion. I also like the amount of poetry included and the way that allowed me, as a student, to experience the material without overthinking it and to appreciate the beauty of the ideas presented. I also liked the option of entering feedback after each lesson, to share personal experiences or thoughts. I did feel there was a lack of more directed exercises beyond the journaling being encouraged, but I acknowledge that not all students want to feel like they have written homework to complete. The overall feel of the course was contemplative and engaging without being tedious or excessively 'school-like' in its feel, which I think will have a wide appeal to modern adult spiritual seekers.

There are many people out there interested in Brighid and many seeking classes or courses online to help them better connect to spiritual things of interest. For those looking to learn about and connect to Brighid I think this course would be a good option, if you find that online courses are generally a good option for you. As with any such course it requires a person to be self-motivated to do the lessons, and to incorporate the material in a practical manner. However for someone who has the desire to truly make use of what this course is offering I think a great deal of valuable knowledge can be gained here.


*to be clear - I was asked to Beta test the course by its creator, but this review is being offered by me freely and without any compensation. As far as I am aware I was asked to help test the course in part because of the book I had written on Brighid and my knowledge of Her, and in the interest of transparency my book Pagan Portals Brigid is recommended reading for this course. However I would not and will not endorse nor recommend anything I do not genuinely see value in and my opinions offered here are honest; had I not seen value in the course on its own merits I would simply not have reviewed it.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fairies, Witches, and Dangerous Magic


When many people think of the classical image of the witch it comes with the implicit shadow of the Devil looming over it and an inherent sense of danger. When the folklore is studied in Scotland and Ireland, however, it is not cloven hooves and hellfire that mark many witches but the touch of Fairy and interaction with the Otherworld that made them what they were, and for some of us what we are still. But people are right nonetheless to associate this kind of fairy-touched witchcraft with dangerous magic, the sort that up-ends social orders and defies the status quo, the sort that runs wild under the night sky singing to itself of madness and mystery, the sort that seeks to give power to those who society sees as powerless. And that sort of magic is without a doubt dangerous, because it is boundless and unrestricted by what Yeats called (in another context entirely) "the nets of wrong and right".

A modern Fairy Witchcraft altar for Samhain


From a traditional point of view the cunningfolk and wise women(1) worked with the right order and helped the community, but the witch worked against that order - and so did the fairies. Witches might steal a cow's milk, or stop butter from churning, or take a person's health, or a family's luck - and so might the fairies. Elfshot was wielded by the Good People, but it was also used by witches. Witches might take the form of hares to travel the countryside - and so might fairies.  A witch's purpose was often personal, instead of communal, and might seem inexplicable to their neighbors, in the same way that the Other Crowd seemed to operate with their own concerns in mind, regardless of the human community. The witch defied the social order, retaliating against offenses and taking actions to ensure their own success and prosperity instead of that of the greater communal good, a good that often enough was at odds with the witch's own interests, exactly as people might view the Good Folk acting for their own good over human interests.

Isobel Gowdie said that it was from the Fair Folk that she and the other witches got elf shot and by some accounts it was from the fairies that Biddy Early obtained her famous blue bottle. Alison Pearson, a confessed witch from Scotland, said that she learned her knowledge of herbs and herbal cures from the fairies, and I have previously discussed the claims by some historic witches that they were given familiar spirits from Fairy. The idea of witches gaining knowledge from Otherworldly sources is an old one, and in itself an idea that threatened the proper order, because things taught to people by the Gentry were inherently out-of-bounds and in defiance of a system that sought to regulate and control information and education. The Other Crowd give people weapons to fight against other humans - elfshot, Otherworldly arrows that humans cannot generally even see to defend against; they give herbal knowledge which provides magical cures in defiance of established medicine; they give visions of what is and what may be to help a witch find lost items and predict the future(2).

Along these lines when questioned a variety of witches in Scotland claimed to serve not the Devil but the Queen of Elphen or Elfhame, saying that it was this Queen who they would be brought to visit and who they served in some capacity. We can perhaps see echoes of this concept in ballads like Tam Lin or Thomas the Rhymer; in the first Tam Lin is a mortal who is taken to serve the Queen of Fairies, apparently by guarding a well at Carterhaugh, and in the latter Thomas is taken by the Queen of Elfland to serve her for seven years in an unspecified manner before being returned to the mortal world. In the case of witches it was a very literal defiance of social order, where the witch's ultimate allegiance was to no earthly person or heavenly power (by Christian standards) but to the monarch of the Otherworld itself, usually bound by formal pledges or oaths and by a renunciation of mortal order in the form of the Church.

In the examples we have of historic witches associated with fairies, whether we look at those brought to trial or those renowned in more positive ways, we most often see people who were otherwise socially powerless or limited by the society of their times. People who were poor, marginalized, struggling, even victimized by the social order. Scottish witch Bessie Dunlop claimed that she made her pact with the fairies when her husband and child were desperately ill, for example. Sometimes, as in the cases of Biddy Early or Alison Pearson, the practise of magic and of dealing with the fairies seemed to be directly related to a major life change; the death of her husband in Biddy Early's case, and an illness in Pearson's. Both arguably directly impacted the person's social status and ability to fend for themselves within their society, and both arguably gained status from their fairy-related practises, although Pearson was eventually caught up in Scotland's witchcraft persecutions. Witchcraft, ultimately, was and still should be a way for people to gain or re-gain control of their own lives.

The Other Crowd are dangerous and unpredictable in many ways, and so can witches be, which is what we see when we look at history; because anyone who worked outside of what was deemed the proper social order was a wild card as far as that social order was concerned. In Old Irish the Good Folk are called 'túathgeinte', literally leftwards or northwards people, with túath having connotations of evil, wicked, and of motion to the north instead of the luckier and more beneficent rightward/southward motions. In exactly the same context we have the words túathaid - person with magical powers - and túaithech - witch, or magic worker. In both cases the concepts are directly linked with the idea that dessel, with the sun, righthandwise, was lucky and fortuitous while túathal or túathbel, against the sun, lefthandwise, was unlucky and related to ill-luck and confusion. Both fairies and some witches(3) then went against the right order, turning against the sun instead of with it.

The magic of the Good Neighbors that was taught to these witches - what I in modern practice call Fairy Witchcraft - was about empowering the powerless and giving the witch a way to meet their own needs and to ensure their own safety. It was knowledge and magic that removed the person, to some degree, from human society and this removal made them dangerous because it realigned their allegience in unpredictable ways. This is magic that is meant to effect real change for the benefit of the witch, not necessarily for some nebulous greater good. There was - is - a cost, of course, because there is always a cost in dealing with Themselves, and sometimes that cost was heavy. But it gave and gives hope to people who were suffering and hopeless, and offers control to those who otherwise are at the mercy of others.

Walking with the sun, righthandwise, is trusting the system, whether that system is religion or something else, to bless you and take care of you because you are walking the expected way, the well-worn way. Walking against the sun, lefthandwise, is taking your fate in your own hands and disrupting that system, going against that order; it is walking with the Other Crowd into danger and uncertainty because you believe ultimately the knowledge you gain there is the greater blessing. Fairies and witches have a long history together, and it is all dangerous magic. 
Which is exactly as it should be, because dangerous magic gets things done in the end.

"Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill,
For there the mystical brotherhood
Of hollow wood and the hilly wood
And the changing moon work out their will."

 - W. B. Yeats, 'Into the Twilight'


1 understand however that these terms are fluid and one person's cunningman was another person's witch, perspective being everything in these cases.
2 not that the Brahan Seer was a witch, necessarily, but some stories do say that it was from the fairies he got his famous seeing stone, and certainly some say that Biddy Early could look into her blue bottle and see things.
3 there are multiple words in Old Irish that mean witch, and it should be understood that túaithech is only one and has particular connotations not seen in the others. I have discussed this in a previous blog 'Nuances of the word 'Witchcraft' and 'Witch' in Old Irish'


Further Reading:
Tam Lin (1997) Child Ballad 39A http://tam-lin.org/versions/39A.html
Harvard Classics (1914) Volume 40: Engish Poetry I: from Chaucer to Gray
Linton, E., (1861) Witch Stories
Pitcairn, R., (1843) Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland, vol 1, part 3
Wilby, E., (2010). The Visions of Isobel Gowdie
Gregory, A., (1920) Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland
Hall, A., (2005) Getting Shot of Elves: Healing, Witchcraft and Fairies in the Scottish Witchcraft Trials. Folklore Vol. 116, No. 1 (Apr., 2005)
O Crualaoich, G., (2005) Reading the Bean Feasa. Folklore Vol. 116, No. 1 (Apr., 2005)
O Crualaoich, G., (2003) The Book of The Cailleach
Magic and Religious Cures (2014). Ask About Ireland. Retrieved from http://www.askaboutireland.ie/reading-room/history-heritage/folklore-of-ireland/folklore-in-ireland/healers-and-healing/magic-and-religious-cures/
Wilde, L., (1991). Irish Cures and Mystic Superstitions
O hOgain, D., (1995). Irish Superstitions
Yeats, W (1888). Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry
Locke, T., (2013). The Fairy Doctor. Retrieved from http://www.irishabroad.com/blogs/PostView.aspx?pid=4404

Daimler., M (2014). The Witch, the Bean Feasa, and the Fairy Doctor in Irish Culture. Air n-Aithesc, vol 1 issue 2, Aug. 2014

Friday, November 11, 2016

a Prayer to Brighid

Brighid, Lady of healing
May we find wholeness in troubled times
Brighid, Lady of the smith's flame
May we forge a brighter future from uncertainty
Brighid, Lady of sweet speech
May we raise our voices in eloquence and strength
Brighid of the Hospitalers,
May we support those in need around us
Brighid of the Judgments,
May we act fairly to all, friend or foe
Brighid of the Cowless,
May we protect the helpless among us
Brighid of the Tuatha De Danann
May we find courage to endure every challenge
By the endless sea
By the ever-changing sky
By the firm earth
Let it be so
- M. Daimler, 2016

statue of Saint Brigit, Kildare, Ireland, image copyright M Daimler 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Goblins

 One of the more well-known types of Fey, by name at least, are goblins but many people are vague on what exactly goblins are. So today lets take a look at goblins, what they are, and some folklore surrounding them.

The word goblin itself dates back to about the 14th century and is believed to possibly come from the Latin Gobelinus, and to be related to the German Kobold; the meaning is given as an ugly fairy or devil (Goblin, 2016). Originally the word goblin was not applied to a specific type of fairy being but rather was used as a generic term, in line with the older uses of fairy and elf, to indicate a more general type of being. In Scots, for example, we can see more than a half dozen kinds of fairies which are described as goblins, from Gunnies to Whaups (SLD, 2016). The name goblin was used in earlier periods as a synonym for other negative types of fairies, such as thurs and shuck, both of which had connotations of maliciousness and evil (Williams, 1991). The prefix 'hob' was added in front of the word goblin, giving us hobgoblin, to indicate a goblin type spirit which was less negative and more benevolent; hobgoblins were inclined to mischief but also known to be helpful to people where goblins were not (Briggs, 1976). MacKillop posits that the word as well as the being were borrowed into Celtic belief from outsiders, likely from Germanic folk belief probably of the Kobold (MacKillop, 1998). The Irish Púca is sometimes described as a goblin, and goblins are often seen as equivalent to bogies. An array of subgruops of fairies are considered goblins or hobgoblins including the aforementioned Púca (and more general Puck), Bogies, the Fuath - themselves a general term inclusive of specific types - Boggarts* and Bogles, who are usually considered the more evil sort of goblins, the Welsh Coblynau, and Irish Clauricaun and Dullahan (Briggs, 1976; MacKillop, 1998). Even the usualy benevolent Brownie is sometimes considered a goblin, or perhaps more properly a hobgoblin (SLD, 2016; Briggs, 1976).

When they appear in folklore goblins are generally described as wizened or smaller than the average human and unattractive in their features, ranging from grotesque to animalistic. In Rossetti's poem 'The Goblin Market' the depiction of the goblins directly relates them to animals describing them with whiskers, tails, and with fur (Rossetti, 1862). Dickens described them as small, with long arms and legs, and rounded bodies (Silver, 1999). These descriptions are typical of those found in older folklore as well where goblins are usually referred to as grotesque and ugly. Generally goblins are male and their physical descriptions reflect ideas closer to imps or devils than the usual fairies who appear fair on the outside no matter how dangerous they may be on the inside. This may reflect a belief that goblins, although a type or kind of fairy, were closer to or on the border of being demonic; this is muddy water at best as there was often a fine line between the Fey and demons in the medieval period particularly among the literati. Briggs suggests that it was particularly the influence of Protestant belief which edged the goblins into the category of the demonic as they directly equated them to 'imps from Hell' (Briggs, 1967). In fact imp is often given as a synonym for goblin, further confusing the issue. Specific types of goblins, such as the bogies, were known as shapeshifters as well and could alter their appearance at will in order to more easily decieve people. Because of their fearsome reputation many people were afraid of goblins, and even the generally more benevolent hobgoblins (Evans-Wentz, 1911).

Goblins were known to favor specific locations and might set up residence in a home; in one story a bogey takes over a farmer's field and had to be tricked into leaving (Evans-Wentz, 1911; Briggs, 1976). In Rossetti's poem they have their own market and a well worn path which is taken to and from it each dawn and dusk. Like many Fey goblins are usually considered nocturnal and are most likely to be encountered at night (Evans-Wentz, 1911). Goblins of various sorts might also be associated with wilder locations and with the ruins of former human habitations and were known to lead people astray, either as part of a frustrating but ultimately harmless joke or to the person's eventual death (Briggs, 1967). By modern reckoning goblins fall under the dominion of the Unseelie court and may be either solitary or trooping fairies, depending on what kind of goblin is being discussed (Briggs, 1976). Hobgoblins, however, are harder to be certain of as they are usually seen as more benign and can be associated with helpful spirits like Brownies.

There is at least one well known piece of more modern literature which refers to goblins, Rossetti's poem 'The Goblin Market' which I have written about previously. In the poem the goblins appear in a fairly typical form being deceptive, malicious, and grotesque in appearance. They play the usual role of a group of fairies trying to trick mortals, in this case by getting them to eat dangerous fruit. In the poem when the person the goblins are seeking to trick resists they become violent, which is also inline with the general temperament normally seen with them. Goblins play a prominent role in the film 'Labyrinth' where they are depicted more as hobgoblins, being somewhat dangerous and set against the story's heroine but overall more mischeivious than actually malicious. Goblins also feature in the Harry Potter novels and movies, and while they physical resemble the goblins of folklore in those fictious depictions they are very different in character from the traditional, being more similiar to traditional depictions of dwarves with their focus on money and metalsmithing than folkloric goblins.

Ultimately goblins are a difficult group of fairies to define, being both a specific type of being and also a class of being. The word itself is just as ambiguous, the etymology uncertain beyond the 12th century, and the ultimate root unknown. The term goblin can be used to indicate a specific being which is small, grotesque and malicious or a broader category of beings that were generally described as 'imps' and ran a gamut from devilish to mischeivious. When the prefix hob is added it indicates a more benign nature to the creature being discussed; Shakespeare's Puck is referred to as a hobgoblin in the play A Midsummer Night's Dream. However Protestant influence did add a darker reputation even to the hobgoblin who were considered out-right demonic in some places. The only way to be certain of the usage of goblin or hobgoblin to look at the context of the reference, however one can safely say that goblins were generally viewed as dangrous and to be feared, whatever sort of goblin was being discussed.

*boggarts may also be angered brownies and there is a somewhat fine semantic line at times between a hobgoblin and a brownie.

References:
Goblin (2016) Online Etymology Dictionary
SLD (2016) Dictionary of the Scots Langauge: Goblins
Williams, N., (1991). The Semantics of the Word Fairy: Making meaning out of thin air
Briggs, K., (1976). A Dictionary of Fairies
Silver, C., (1999) The Strange and Secret Peoples: fairies and the Victorian consciousness
Rossetti, C., (1862) The Goblin Market
Evans-Wentz, W., (1911) The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
MacKillop, J., (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Briggs, K., (1967) The Fairies in Tradition and Literature

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Morrigan's Second Prophecy


After the battle of Maige Tuiredh the Morrigan gave two prophecies. This is my translation of the second one.

Boí-si íarum oc taircetul deridh an betha ann beus ocus oc tairngire cech uilc nobíad ann, ocus cech teadma ocus gach díglau; conid ann rocachain an laíd-se sís:
"Ní accus bith nombeo baid:
sam cin blatha,
beit bai cin blichda,
mna can feli,
fir gan gail.
Gabala can righ
rinna ulcha ilmoigi beola
bron, feda cin mes.
Muir can toradh.
Tuirb ainbthine
immat moel
rátha, fás a forgnam
locha diersit- dinn
atrifit- linn lines
sechilar flaithie
foailti fria holc,
ilach imgnath gnuse ul-.
Incrada docredb- gluind ili.
imairecc catha,
toebh fri ech delceta
imda dala
braith m-c flaithi
forbuid bron
sen saobretha.
Brecfásach mbrithiom-
braithiomh cech fer.
Foglaid cech mac.
Ragaid mac i lligie a athar.
Ragaid athair a lligi a meic.
Climain cach a brathar.
Ní sia nech mnai assa tigh.
Gignit- cenmair olc aimser
immera mac a athair,
imera ingen..."


- Irish text, Gray, 1983





Crow perched on a sign near the Dumha na nGiall, Teamhair

 


She was afterwards among them prophesying the years at the end of existence, and further promising each evil and lack in those years, and every plague and every vengeance: so that there she chanted her poem:
"Something seen is a world that shall not be pleasing:
summer deprived of flowers,
cows deprived of milk;
women deprived of modesty,
men deprived of valor.
Conquests without a king,
pointed, bearded, mouths of many-oaths,
sorrow, a lord without judgments*.
Sea without profit.
Multitude of storms,
excessively tonsured,
forts, barren of structures,
hollow, a stronghold coming from mistakes
a devastated time,
many homeless,
an excess of lords,
joy in evil,
a cry against traditions,
bearded faces**.
Equipment decaying,
numerous exploits,
finding battles,
silent towards a spurred horse,
numerous assemblies,
treachery of lord's sons,
covered in sorrow,
crooked judgement of old men.
False precedents of judges,
a betrayer every man.
A reaver every son.
The son will go lay down instead of his father.
The father will go lay down instead of his son.
In-law each to his own kinsman.
A person will not seek women out of his house.
A long enduring evil period of time will be generated,
a son betrays his father,
a daughter betrays [her mother***]"

-copyright M Daimler 12/2015

Reference
Gray, E., (1983) Cath Maige Tuired

* "feda cin mes" can be translated as "a lord without judgments" or alternately "trees without acorns"; given the rest of the sentence is discussing the difficulties caused by lack of a king, the lord version seems more logical
** sometimes a reference to Vikings
*** the manuscript ends with "a daughter betrays" with the next page missing, however it is logical to assume the line should be "a daughter betrays her mother"

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Muddy Boots, or Setting My Feet on the Path Before Them

my 'sacred' boots, which have crawled through souterrains, walked up sacred hills, cleaned a holy well, and delved deep into the Morrigan's cave


I left for Ireland on October 25th, to help co-facilitate a Morrigan sacred sites tour. I was very excited, and had high expectations of connecting more deeply with the Morrigan, Badb, and Macha on their own sacred ground at places where their stories had taken place. The tour had been arranged by Land Sea Sky Travel and hit, in my opinion, all the major sites I'd want to have gone to from the well known like Teamhair [Tara] to the more obscure like Boa Island. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect to the Morrigans and I hope, very sincerely, that it served that purpose for the people who went on the trip.

My own journey went sideways, as they say, almost immediately, and that's the story I'd like to tell here. Because its mine to tell and because parts of it I'm compelled to share publicly.


Hawthorn on the side of a path leading up to the cairns of Ceathrú Chaol [Carrowkeel]

I have mentioned, I know, that while I am a polytheist and do honor the Gods my primary focus is on the aos sidhe, hidden folk, and land spirits. This is true. However on a trip like this I honestly expected that the main focus would be on the Gods - the Morrigan, Badb, and Macha - and on connecting to the land itself in a broader sense; that the Good People, while obviously always a factor, would be a background consideration. It became clear almost immediately that this was not to be the case, and then increasingly obvious that everything altogether was shifting in ways I had not anticipated. But now I'm getting ahead of myself.

After a bit more than 24 hours of travel time we landed in Dublin, a day before the tour was to start. I and my friend Melody who was traveling with me met up with my co-facilitator Stephanie Woodfield and her companion Ed Rickey and then Vyviane of Land Sea Sky Travel. Since we had come in early a group decision was reached to take the day and go down to Kildare and I was excited to see Brighid's Well (or wells as it turns out). The drive was lovely and I was struck the entire time by how much everything felt like home to me - not in a deep metaphysical sense exactly but in a literal, visceral way. It was actually disorienting; I don't travel much and I'm used to when I do travel feeling very much like I am somewhere foreign whether I'm in Florida or California or western New York. But that wasn't so in eastern Ireland, it all felt like I could easily still be home, and it was an odd feeling to be sure.

Brighid's Well (the old one, so I'm told)
So we went to Kildare, to what I am told is Brighid's Well 'the old one' - of course there are many Brighid's wells - but this one did feel powerful and special and I quite liked it. I won't say exactly what happened there, but I had a moving experience praying for my younger daughter that was both odd and beautiful. Then we went to the other well, the more well known one with the big statue and nice shrine, and the sideways-ness began. Because as soon as we got near it, well it wasn't Brighid at all that I was aware of there but Themselves entirely. And that wasn't what I'd expected. It wasn't bad exactly, but it was strong, and obvious that I had their attention. However all things being equal I dismissed it since things like that can happen - have happened to me - and I assumed it was the location and being in Ireland.

The second day we joined up with the people going on the tour, and a more excellent group no one could hope for. I could write an entire blog just about how wonderful they were, but just take it as a given from here out that they were the most amazing 15 people - their stories are their own though and I don't feel its my place to speak to them, except where they touch on my tale here so I'll leave it the individuals to decide what they may or may not want to share for themselves. We got everyone together and we went to Knowth and Newgrange. I will confess that Newgrange itself underwhelmed me although I quite liked Knowth. That aside though for the second time in as many days I found that while I was aware of the presence of the Gods it was the aos sidhe that dominated my attention. We had had lunch at the centre's cafe and I had kept several of the wrapped pats of butter, stored in a plastic bag in my purse* and as we roamed the grounds at Newgrange, while the others felt obligated to pour out offerings to the Gods, I found a tree near the boundary which was Theirs and made my own offering there, to the Other Crowd.

At the end of the day we went to the lovely cabins we were staying at for the first part of the trip. I found a post on the fence line, right in front of a small stream, across from our cabin and set about making offerings there - it would become a sort of impromptu altar for the time we were there and I would make butter and cream offerings there every morning. That night I ended up giving a spontaneous workshop on the Other Crowd, Good Manners, and How Not to Get Taken after one of our tour people went out walking and heard voices in the darkness calling him to join them (not human voices). Being he is a skilled musician I was fairly concerned by this and it became a running joke - of the seriously-though variety - to make sure that person stayed among the mortal people.
When I went out the next morning to make an offering of cream there was a fairy ring in the grass in front of the post I was making the offerings at.
Have you ever had to go into a cabin full of people you either just met or possibly don't know well in person (my traveling companion excluded) and try to explain why the spot you've already mentioned as a place to make offerings to the Good Neighbors now has to be approached with care due to a fairy ring? It makes for interesting breakfast conversation.



The next day we went to Heapstone Cairn and then Cheathrú Chaol [Carrowkeel]. Heapstown Cairn is associated with the well of Slaine and is a place with strong ties to the Tuatha Dé Danann, especially Airmed. We did our opening ritual there and it was a good solid ritual to the Morrigan. But if you're guessing that, just like before, I felt the presence of the Gods but was far more keenly aware of the Good People you are starting to see the same pattern I was catching on to, although at this point I was ignoring it. I was here to honor and connect to the Morrigans as a priestess of Macha and that was what I wanted to do. I was seeing this as a once in a lifetime opportunity for that connection, and while I did appreciate the feeling of intense association, I suppose you could say, with the aos sidhe that wasn't what I had intended the focus to be.

You know what they say about the best laid plans...

Heapstown Cairn had a strong presence of the Other Crowd, both within it and in the little groves around it. I felt it and so did a few others in the group. It was an old feeling but quiet, contemplative. Cheathrú Chaol though - oh that place! I loved it from before I saw it. I loved it as we approached it and I saw the rising wall of hills. I loved it as soon as I set foot on the ground. We drove in and the mist came down like a wall, so that we hiked up to the cairns in a shroud of white. We arrived at the first cairn, carin G, and I went no further - if I were to say I had arrived home anywhere in Ireland it was that place. It is sacred, deeply so I think, and it is very full of the Otherworld. I went in to the cairn and refused to come out again until I was genuinely afraid that Vyviane might have to come get me, and I wouldn't let that happen. I won't share my actual experience there, but I feel like I left a piece of myself behind, and I walked away with two Irish pennies and shell in exchange. It was a fair trade.



The next day we went to Boa island for a ritual to Badb in the cemetery where the two Janus stones are. That place is quite amazing all on its own, and the feeling of walking on the ancient dead is strange, but the energy overall very peaceful. We chose to do the ritual under the cemetery's only tree, towards the back and I stood with my own back to it, just in front of a large white quartz stone thrusting up from the ground. the tree was being overtaken by ivy and honestly that was all I noticed before we started. This, dear readers was a serious error on my part**. So we began and as we got to the part where there is a ritual meditation, and Stephanie began reading it while people relaxed and tranced out, I became keenly aware of a door opening behind me in the trunk of the tree. My eyes focused on the small branch hanging over my head and down in front of my face and it occured to me, suddenly and simultaneously with the door appearing, that the tree was a hawthorn.
Sitting inside our warded space with a group of people mostly in open trance.
Oops.
Suffice to say I handled the situation and everything was fine, because we had a motto going on this tour of 'no crow left behind' [crow meaning tour participant] and I have a strong sense of duty to people I feel responsible for. I will not make that mistake again though and afterwards I was sitting on our coach eating salt from a packet out of my purse (salt and butter, great things to carry around).

Rathcroghan was next on our itinerary, on the dark moon the day before Samhain. We started at Ogulla, a triple holy well, then went to the Rathcroghan mound. Walking up the mound I could feel that it was a sidhe but at this point I was kind of accepting that all the old cairns and burial mounds are. We were being guided by Lora O'Brien [can't recommend her highly enough by the way] and when we reached the top, up the eastern entrance, she had us all take 16 big steps out to demonstrate the size of the mound; I found myself walking straight towards the western entrance/walkway and had an almost overwhelming urge to keep walking. I knew in the moment that I had to go down that way, just as I'd come up the east. Had to, like a compulsion. This was almost immediately problematic however as Lora began talking about the mound and its history and mentioned the two paths, east and west, and shared that in her own opinion the western walk was not for the living and we were all to go down the east, the way we'd come. And the hell of it was that what she was saying resonated as true with me but still I knew I had to go down that way. So she had us focus on connecting to the ancestors and Medb, and probably to no one's surprise at this point instead I ended up connecting to the Fair Folk in the mound instead. Then when we were done and it was time to leave I discovered I had a problem - I could not go down the eastern path. Could not. Physically could not. So I wandered the top trying to figure out what to do because this was most certainly a case of 'do as I say, not as I do' since I knew no one else should follow me down the western path and I was afraid to just go down and have anyone else follow me. In the end I found Lora and talked to her, and then when everyone else had gone I went the way I had to go.
Maybe you're wondering why?
At the time I didn't know, only that I had been told I had to go that way and then found that the east was physically barred from me. Later, in the cave though it came clear.
There's more than one kind of initiation.


cat at the Cave of Cats

We left Rath Croghan and we headed to the field where Uaimh na gCat is. I saw a rainbow - the first and only one I saw while in Ireland - as we went and then as we walked to the field. When we arrived there was a kitten playing nearby who darted in and out of the cave; later he would escort me the final few yards out of the cave tunnel.  All of these seemed like good omens to me and I was eager to get into the cave and finally connect in that profound way I had been expecting with the Morrigan. In the cave I ended at the very back, perched precariously on a slip of muddy ledge just above Lora and another person with the tour. There is a piece of time in the cave which I do not remember and I hope if nothing else that I did act as Her priestess for others while we were in there; sometimes when I go into a deeper trance I don't remember it. I do remember towards the end yelling at people as they left not to set foot outside the cave without thanking Herself first, so there's that.
Most clear in my memory though is the vision of the back of the cave opening up into a great golden hall, the sidhe of Cruachan. And as to that, I'm not sure anything I can say could ever do the experience justice. I think I would almost certainly have broken my neck trying to get to the doorway though if I wasn't in the position I was in right next to another person who I would certainly have injured if I'd tried to climb higher, and that thought, of hurting someone else. alone held me in place, but barely.

That night after the cave I dreamt of the sorts of things you'd imagine after something like that and I woke early in the darkness full of inspiration. You see our group was going to Tlachtga, the Hill of Ward in Athboy, that night to celebrate Samhain at the big Samhain Fire Festival. I, along with Stephanie and Vyviane, had been asked to take a role in the ritual itself helping by holding banners at the quarters and reciting some of the sacred space casting and such in unison with the other priestesses present. In addition I had been asked to say something in the ritual to honor the aos sidhe, and up until that morning I had nothing prepared. But when I woke up I had to immediately go and write down and it felt good and right.
We arrived on the Hill and the rest of the group went off to Trim to shop and explore. At this point I didn't even blink to feel the presence and know it was a sidhe. Of course it was. The energy in the air was amazing and the people who put on the ritual are even more so; it was an honor to meet them and stand side by side with them later on. Gemma McGowan is one of the nicest people I've ever met and her ability to herd cats - as we say in the states about those who are good at getting pagans to work together - and to put on such a huge ritual leaves me in awe. Everyone who was involved with that Samhain ritual was wonderful and I wish I'd had more time to talk with everyone - as it was it seemed like the night went too quickly. The crowd was epic, estimated at around 2,000, and it was filmed by a Japanese television crew. There were fireworks. There were bonfires. It was cold. It was windy. It was gorgeous.
I don't want to detract from the beauty of the ritual itself or the hard work of the group who put it on, but for my own small personal experience I will say that there was a point were I was introduced to say my blessing for the aos sidhe and given a title, something that resonated and presented me with a choice to accept or reject it. I accepted it, and the geis that came with it***, and I said the blessing I'd written as well as one additional line, added spontaneously.
"Daoine Uaisle
Daoine Maithe
Daoine Sith
Noble People
Good People
People of Peace
You who are due part of the harvest
You who are due a portion of the milk and bread
You to whom the wild harvest belongs after Samhain
You who can give luck or take it
You who can give health or take it
You who can give fortunes or take them
We remember and honor your presence
May there be peace between us
May there be friendship between us
May the old ways never be forgotten
Beannachtaí na Daoine Sidhe daoibh"

the temple mound at Emhain Macha

The next morning, still Samhain by my reckoning, we went to Emhain Macha. We went to the Iron Age re-enactors village where they were celebrating Samhain and also the funeral of a village member, and - you guessed it - much of the event revolved around the Other Crowd. The site itself was beautiful and it was really moving to stand where the stories took place and retell them. The main mound, where the old temple stood and was burned, had a a good feel to it where I could have happily stayed all day. But the place that drew me the strongest was the smaller mound to the side of it, which - you guessed it - is a sidhe. We did ritual there with me as always offering butter, both in the ritual and before and after. It can safely be said that I buttered my way across Ireland.
After that we went to Cloch na Fhir Mhóir [Clochafarmore] the stone where legend says Cu Chulainn tied himself as he was dying. It was dusk and I stood out in the field and told the story of the stone.

The final day of ritual occured for us at Teamhair [Tara] and Loughcrew. Teamhair, like Newgrange, did very little for me personally although I think the ritual there went very well. Loughcrew was another thing altogether. The hike was pure determination but once up there it was worthwhile. The view alone was worth the effort - imagine standing so that you can look down on the backs of crows flying below you -  but the cairn was also worth it. I did see the Hag's Chair and touched it, but felt that it was not right for me to sit on it, so I did not. I was drawn into one of the smaller open cairns to the side of cairn T though, and as usual Themselves were there strongly. At one point I had lost my sense of orientation and wasn't sure where the way out was, and said out loud that I needed to find the gate to leave - and immediately looked over and saw it. If you guessed a butter offering was made then you'd be correct.


inside the entrance of  cairn T at Loughvrew


I could tell you more, about the hawthorns and the hawthorn twigs showing up everywhere, about the shells, about the magpies. But I think this is enough. You'll notice I haven't mentioned the Morrigan much so far. She and They were present but I found that while I served them by serving as a priest/ess to others on the tour for myself there was nothing on that end, excluding a feeling of Macha's presence at Emhain Macha. No, this entire trip for me became a different sort of thing entirely and it was life changing in a way I never would have anticipated. I am still not sure what it all means or what will happen now, but I am contemplating it all.

On this trip I was given two titles I didn't expect or look for, given them publicly: fairy doctor and priestess of the aos sidhe. The first I may arguably have ended up serving as for much of the trip, at least in ensuring that our musician remained earthly. Whether it is a permanent thing or not I am unsure, and unconcerned. I do what needs doing and people can call me what they please for it, as most labels are transient and shifting. On the other hand some labels are titles with weight and obligations that only a fool would ever take lightly, and priestess of Themselves is such as that. I was named Their priestess and it was spoken in sacred space, in ritual, on Samhain, on the hill of Tlachtga in front of thousands of people - it was spoken aloud and I did not reject it when it was said.
Priestess of the aos sidhe is something I will spend a lifetime living up to, and it is more work, in truth, than any one person can do. But I will try my best to do my best.
Sometimes the path is unclear and hard to find, the footing unsure.
Other times though, other times the path before us is plain and only the walking that's left for us to do.

rainbow at Rathcroghan


*yeah, this is basically the sort of person I am - "look butter, this will come in handy later for offerings. Into the bag it goes".
**I make mistakes. Some of them more serious than others.
***everything has a cost. Anyone who tells you different is lying.

All text and images copyright Morgan Daimler 2016