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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Fairies of the Battlefield

In Irish mythology, particularly the Ulster cycle we see references to certain groupings of fairies that appear on the battlefield, although they are obscure figures. For example in this passage from the Táin Bó Cuiligne: "Crothais a scíath & cressaigis a slega & bertnaigis a chlaidem, & dobert rém curad asa bragit, co ro recratar bánanaig & boccanaig & geniti glinni & demna aeoír re úathgráin na gáre dos-bertatar ar aird. Co ro mesc ind Neamain (.i. in Badb) forsin t-slóg."
(he [Cu Chulainn] brandished his shield and he shook his spears and he brandished his sword and gave a warrior's cry from his throat, so that the bánnaig and bocannaig and Otherworldly-woman of the glen and demons of the air answered because of the terrifying cry he had raised on high. So that the Nemain (that is the Badb) came and intoxicated the host).
In this and similar examples we see these three beings, the Bánánach, Bocánach, and Geniti glini appearing together, sometimes also with the fairy host and sometimes with the 'demons of the air' which is likely also a reference to the fairy host. All three were known to appear shrieking or screaming over or near battlefields. 

Cloch an Fhir Mhoir the menhir that marks where Cu Chulainn died in battle
There's not a lot of available information about these specific spirits, but let's look at what we do have:

Bánánach - described in the eDIL as a 'preternatural being haunting the field of battle' (eDIL, 2017). The root of the name is suggested as Bánán which is further suggested as bán in this case probably meaning pale or bloodless, but also possibly meaning 'white'. We may perhaps postulate from this that these spirits appear pale or are clad in white, which would be inline with some other spirits associated with death. MacKillop suggests that the Bánánach is specifically a female spirit. In the Fianaigecht we are told that the Bánánach and Bocánach appeared with the Red-Mouthed Badb, one of the Irish war Goddesses further connecting them to the battlefield. Arguably we know the least about the Bánánach but if we translate the name as 'pale spirits' or 'white spirit-women' we may possibly tie them into other spirits like the White Ladies; although they may equally be connected to the Bean Sí. In some Irish folklore the Bean Sí are said to wear white, to shriek or wail, and to predict death and they are often connected back to the goddess Badb (MacKillop, 1998). This description does seem strikingly similar to the Bánánach, the biggest differences being the Bánánachs association with the battlefield and less explicit associations with death.

Bocánach - loosely described as a goat-like supernatural being, like the Bánánach it is known to haunt battlefields (eDIL, 2017). The name comes from the word Bocán and Boc, both meaning a he-goat. MacKillop considers them a type of goblin. It's possible that they may be similar to or related to the Púca and the Bócan who are both shape-shifting goblin-like fairies associated with goats. In the Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh the Bocánach and the Bánánach appear on the battlefield with the Siabarsluag, the fairy host.

Geniti glini - a supernatural female specter who appears on battlefields, the name literally means 'Otherworldy-woman of the valley' (eDIL, 2017). O'Mulconry's Glossary gives us this about them: "genit glinde .i. ben i nglinn (gen .i. ben, glynnon .i. foglaid .i. banfoglaid bid a nglinn)" [Supernatural-women of the valley that is women of the glen (a girl that is a woman, glynnon that is a outlaw that is a female-outlaw living in the valley]. They are also sometimes called gelliti glini, translated as spirit of the valley, possibly due to a confusion between the words genit (supernatural woman) and geilt, a person driven mad in battle or a crazy person living in the wild (eDIL, 2017). These spectral women are strongly associated with shrieking on the battlefield as well as appearing there. Of the three named in this grouping the Geniti glini would seem to be the most obviously dangerous, particularly with O'Mulconry's direct equation of them with outlaws, using a word - foglaid - that also means reavers, plunderers, and later was a general term for an enemy.

 Although we don't know too much about these spirits we can make some general associations based on when and how they appear in mythology. They usually seem to show up right before or during battles, and act to create or magnify feelings of battle-rage, frenzy, and madness. They appear sometimes with Nemain or Badb, Irish war Goddesses, who are both also associated with inspiring these things in warriors and armies. I think we can also safely say that they are not limited to the battlefield but are merely drawn to it, the way crows and ravens are drawn to carnage, since they also appear in conjunction with other mass groupings of fairies like the Siabarsluag. Although the information we have on them is obscure they do seem to have some connections to more well known spirits including the Bean Sí and Púca and it is at least possible that they might be early literary representations of spirits we later came to know by other names.

eDIL (2017) electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language
MacKillop, J., (1998) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Oisín - Liminal Lord

  One figure from Irish mythology that doesn't tend to get as much attention in modern paganism is the Fenian hero Oisín, son of Fionn Mac Cumhail. Oisín falls into the grey area that many of the characters in the non-Mythic cycles may fall into, where he is not obviously a God but he is clearly not exactly a mortal man either. His mother was a woman of the sí and his father the larger-than-life hero Fionn. Oisín has a fascinating life that is very strongly interwoven with magic, for good and ill, and it seems entirely possible that he lives on today at the very least as a man of the sí.

Oisín's mother was Sadb*, daughter of Bodb Derg the king of the Munster sí, who was also a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Unfortunately she was turned into a deer by Fer Doirich, a Druid of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who was in love with her; she rejected him and he used his magic to change her form. As a deer she then ran afoul of Fionn mac Cumhail when he was out hunting but his two hunting dogs refused to harm her and Fionn realized she wasn't a mortal deer. Fionn took her to his home at where she regained her form as a woman and the two were married. While she was pregnant though Fionn left and she was tricked into leaving the fort only to encounter the Druid again who struck her with a wand and returned her to deer-shape. Fionn looked for her for 7 years to no avail but eventually found a wild boy living in the woods who he recognized as his son. The boy told him of being raised in the woods by a deer so he named the child Oisín, meaning 'little deer'.
We have this about his birth:
"Oisín mac Fhinn fear go n-goil
ro geanoir a gCluain Iochtair
ingein dheirg a mhthair maith,
torrthach naoi míos ón mór fhlaith." (Smyth, 1988)
[Oisín son of Fionn, man of valour
was born at Cluain Iochtair [Northern Meadow]
his good mother was the daughter of Derg
pregnant nine months with this great lord]

After being found by his father Oisín joined the Fianna and became both a renowned warrior and poet. He appears in many stories from the Fenian cycle of myths and a few beyond it as he was said to outlive the other members of the Fianna (Smyth, 1988). So pivotal was Oisín in the stories that the cycle is sometimes called the Ossianic Cycle and many tales are told by him or from his point of view (MacKillop, 1998).  In one of the most well-know stories, that of Dairmuid and Grainne, when Grainne was originally meant to marry Fionn she first fell in love with Oisín before switching her affection to Dairmuid; Oisín supported the two lovers in their flight from his father. Many of these stories were widespread and commonly known and over the centuries new details and pieces were added that shaped the tales in slightly different directions, giving us an evolving picture of the way people viewed him and the Fianna more generally. In the famous story of Oisín's encounter with saint Patrick we can watch the story evolving in written form from a more clearly ecclesiastical tale that showed Oisín and Caílte repentently converting to Christianity to later versions that show a lively debate between saint and warrior with Oisín defending the value of the Fianna and even tricking the saint through wordplay into getting his God to release the Fianna from Hell (O hOgain, 2006).

Oisín had one son while he was with the Fianna named Oscar with an unknown mother. Like his father his name incorporates the Old Irish word for deer 'os' combined with 'car' possibly meaning friend, although that is uncertain. Oscar was a renowned warrior and famous fighter; when Oisín later encounters Saint Patrick at the end of his life he tells the saint that he would only believe the strength of the Christian God if he saw that God wrestling his son Oscar to the ground and winning (O hOgain, 2006). He also had two sons and a daughter with his wife Niamh in the Otherworld.

In the Acallam na Senorach we are told that both Oisín and his fellow Fianna member Caílte survive the destruction of the Fianna. The two eventually meet Saint Patrick and relate to him what their life with Fionn and his men was like. In other stories from oral tradition later preserved in writing Oisín was hunting one day when he was approached by a woman on a white horse; she was Niamh Chinn Óir [Niamh of the Golden Hair] daughter of Manannán mac Lir. Niamh proclaims her love for the warrior and asks him to go with her back to her home - alternately either Tír na nÓg or Tír Tairngire (MacKillop, 1998). There the two live happily for three centuries until Oisín wants to return to Ireland to visit his family. Niamh warns him against doing this but he insists, so she tells him to ride one of their horses over but that under no circumstances can he touch the ground. Of course when he goes to Ireland he finds the land greatly changed and all who he knew gone from memory. When he leans over to try to help some men move a stone the girth on his saddle breaks and he falls, instantly aging; the horse flees back to the Land of Promise without him.

By some accounts Oisín was buried in county Leitrim on Curran mountain under a standing stone, while other say he is buried in county Down at Sí Airceltrai (Smyth, 1988). However in other stories when Oisín died he is said to have returned to the Sí of Blaí, his mother's place (Smyth, 1988). Given that he was half-sí himself on his mother's side (or half Dé Danann) and returned after death to her home it may be that he did not die at all but like many humans who were taken by the Othercrowd became fully one of the daoine sí. To me this makes more sense than believing he died as he did, given that he was half Tuatha Dé Danann; it would seem odd to me that he died ignobly while stories say the Fianna all sleep and wait to be roused when they are needed again. I would suggest that versions that have his fall to earth, discussion with saint Patrick, conversion, and death are more clearly set as penitent Christian myths of pagans turning to the new God than what we may view as actual pagan mythology. Each version of his story however adds important layers to our understanding of him.

Oisín is a fascinating personage, found in both mythology and folklore, son of a fairy woman and an epic hero. He was a poet and warrior like his father but in some ways the stories show him to be more levelheaded and compassionate than Fionn was, perhaps making him a better role model. He survives the destruction of the Fianna, either the battle itself or by living in Tír na nÓg until their time has passed and it may be that he lives on still in the shining halls of his mother's sí or by his wife's side in the Land of Promise. For those who seek out role models among the Fianna or who are looking for Gods or beings to honor among the people of the sí, Oisín deserves more consideration than he gets. And in any case, his stories are worth reading.

*in some version's Oisín's mother's name is given as Blaí or Blaí Dhearg, and her sí is called Ocht Cleitigh, near Sid in Broga, see Smyth or O hOgain for more on this. Both names, Sadb and Blaí, may relate to terms for places with Sadb possibly meaning a dwelling place and Blaí possibly meaning a field or plain.

Smyth, D., (1988) A Guide to Irish Mythology
MacKillop, J., (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Acallam na Senorach
O hOgain, D., (2006) The Lore of Ireland

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ljósálfar, Dökkálfar, and Svartálfar; A Brief Overview of Elves in Norse Myth

Discussing the Álfar is complicated because they appear in mythology as both one cohesive grouping and subdivided into more specific groupings. Often in Norse myth we simply see references to the Álfar, often paired with but distinct from the Aesir, giving us phrases like in the Voluspo "How fare the Aesir? How fare the Álfar?" and this one from the Lokasenna "From the Gods and elves who are gathered here..."*. Yet we also find distinct groups mentioned among the Álfar that seem to have their own characteristics and descriptors, the Ljósálfar, Dökkálfar, and Svartálfar. It is possible that these distinct groups are literary conventions, created later to better define different mythic motifs, or to reflect foreign influences. Certainly in modern times we see only the general grouping of Álfar in folklore and the word álf is used in compounds such as land-elf and waterfall-elf, implying that álf has more general connotations.

Consider this a cliff notes of Alfár in Norse mythology. In the Prose Edda we see Snorri Sturlson mentioning distinct types of Álfar who appear in mythology, the Ljósálfar and the Svartálfar. A third group of álfar, the Dökkálfar also appear in mythology.
Ljósálfar - their name means 'light elves' and they live in a world called Álfheim [elf home] or Ljósálfheim [light elf home] that according to mythology belongs to the Vanic deity Freyr. The Ljósálfar are described by Snorri as being beautiful and fair to see. Ljósálfar are said to influence the weather and like the Aesir, Dwarves, Humans, and Giants they possess runes given to them by Odin.
Dökkálfar - The Dökkálfar are referenced in a few places in Norse mythology. The name itself means 'dark elves' and Snorri describes them as living in the earth. Grimm calls them 'Genii obscuri' or spirits of the dark and suggests a connection between them and nâir, spirits of the dead, even going so far as to place them living ''in hel, the heathen hades" (Grimm, 1888, p446). Grimm also questions whether the Dökkálfar should be separated from the nâir or whether "[t]he dusky elves are souls of dead men..." (Grimm, 1888, p 447).  There is some strong evidence that the Dökkálfar were the mound dead or male ancestors and the Dökkálfar are sometimes called Mound Elves; it is not certain however and it may be that some Dökkálfar are human dead but others are not**.
Svartálfar - meaning 'black elves' they possess their own world, Svartálfheim [black elf home]. The Duergar or dwarves also live in Svartálfheim creating a longstanding confusion about whether Svartálfar are truly elves in their own right or are actually another name for dwarves. Both are associated with mountains and mountainous regions, but seem to have a distinct and separate focus in activities and interactions with people. Grimm believes that the Svartálfar were good natured beings and argues that they received worship from people into the 19th century.

The álfar and the duergar - elves and dwarves - are also difficult groups to entirely sort out. On one hand there are some good arguments that the two may actually be the same, with Svartálfar and potentially Dökkálfar both simply being alternate names for deurgar. This is supported by three main things: many deurgar have names that incorporate the word 'álf' such as Vindalf and Gandalf; the Svartálfar were said to live in Svartálfheim but the deurgar live there as well; and the svartalfar and Dökkálfar were said to live beneath the ground or in mounds. However there is also evidence that might support the argument that the two groups were separate, including that they are occasionally referenced in the same work together as different groups.  In verse 25 of Hrafnagaldr Óðins we see the Dökkálfar being grouped together with giants, dead men, and dwarves: "gýgjur og þursar, náir, dvergar og dökkálfar" [Giantesses and giants, dead men, dwarves and dark elves]. This would at the least seem to indicate some degree of separation between Duergar and Dökkálfar. In the Alvissmal it is also established that the Álfar and Duergar have different languages and kennings for things, which would also indicate separation of the two groups (Gundarsson, 2007). For the most part the Álfar would seem to be beings closely tied to the Gods, perhaps one step beneath them in power and influence, beings who can influence weather and possess powerful magic that can effect people's health. The Duergar are associated with mining and smithcraft and are not as closely tied to the Gods; when they appear in myth dealing with the Gods they must always be negotiated with or otherwise dealt with in some fashion diplomatically.

The Álfar are a complicated and fascinating group in mythology and we have barely touched on them here. Consider this merely a brief introduction to some basic ideas about the Álfar as they appear in Norse mythology but bear in mind that they can be found throughout Germanic/Norse folklore. they are beings that are both benevolent and dangerous as the mood suits and depending on how they are treated, like the elves found across folklore.  

* For my own opinion I think this is likely referencing the Ljósálfar whose realm would seem by descriptions to be close to the realm of the Aesir, however as far as I know the original text does not specify which álfar
**the idea of some dead joining the elves after death is something we see as well in the Irish, indicating that this may be a wider concept.

Faulkes, A., (1995) Prose Edda
Grimm, J., (1888) Teutonic Mythology, volume 2
Hrafnagaldr Óðins
Gundarsson, K., (2007) Elves, Wights, and Trolls

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Seeking Advanced Practice

  I see a lot of people who are looking for more advanced material - and fair enough the market is glutted with beginner books that often enough repeat the same things over and over. People read one or two beginner books and then want to move on, to read that next step that will take them into deeper practice. So why don't we see a fair number of more advanced books? Why don't we see more people writing about truly advanced witchcraft practices?

There's reasons why advanced books are hard to find and it isn't because there's no one to write them. Most obviously there's the difficulty that some advanced material is oathbound or not allowed to be shared publicly. But there actually are advanced books on the market aimed at pagans so it's not that they aren't out there; the problem is they generally don't sell well or they are very niche - because advanced tends in many cases to mean specialized. Don't sell well means that they go out of print quickly and publishers hesitate to print them. Niche means if they do see print they may be quite expensive. Many people end up going through academic texts and books that aren't necessarily on witchcraft but tangentially related material - ceremonial magic perhaps - and teasing out anything useful in order to move slowly forward into the unguided darkness.

Another problem is that while basic material is fairly easy to write about as we get further and further into esoteric subjects it gets more difficult as things become less straightforward. We pass from the almost cookie-cutter 101 material, the 'chop wood, carry water' basics, into the experiential and numinous. I can teach a person the basics of fairy etiquette but how to put into words the complexities - moral, safety, and magical - of compelling and binding a fairy in ritual? Of course I can teach it but can the layered complexities be relayed properly and can I, as the person putting the material out there, be confident that it won't be misused? what responsibility do I bear if it is misused and should I care? How do I use words to describe a scenario that may go wrong in a dozen ways, and teach every way to recover and succeed if it does go wrong? Advanced often enough is the deep water beyond theory and thought where we are plunged into actually doing, and no book can guide a person through those currents and riptides as well as an actual in-person teacher.
Beyond all that though we run into the not insignificant wall of what qualifies as advanced material anyway. Particularly in witchcraft this question can be almost like a zen koan; if a witch is advanced enough do they even know they are advanced? What does advanced mean in a spiritual context? In the context of magical practices? What, really, is an advanced witch? For many people it seems to be an ideal of someone who has moved beyond the basics and into the real occult secrets. Here are some of my thoughts on what exactly it means to be advanced.

  1. Advanced practice usually involves things that are more dangerous or complex than basic practices. For example dealing with higher level spirits, casting magic that is harder to do in various ways, such as time involved or methods used, magic that has more intense possible consequences to the caster, or perhaps using methods in your magic that require an understanding of complex magical theories or spiritual commitments.
  2. Advanced practice means building on the basics - advanced practice is advanced for a reason; it is the culmination of what has come before. You don't just get to a point where all the earlier stuff gets tossed out the window and you're on to the real mysteries. The form and methods may change but ultimately the basic lessons are still key, and they are where we start for a reason. Directing energy, cleansing, grounding - these never stop being important.  
  3. Advanced practice is predicated on having mastered the basic concepts - just like in everything else you can't do the complex if you don't know how to do the simple steps that make up the complex. You can't do calculus if you don't know how to add and subtract. You can't ride a bicycle if you haven't mastered a sense of balance and coordination. 
  4. Advanced takes effort - getting beyond the basics isn't something that just happens anymore than hanging out in a swimming pool every day will make you an olympic class swimmer. It takes regular practice of the basic skills and work towards more complex skills to get to that advanced point. To use another analogy its like learning dance or martial arts, you have to just keep at it, practicing regularly to gain the skills to move forward. 
  5. Advanced should take time - there are no shortcuts to reaching the level of advanced material. People hate hearing this but its true. I'll point to the analogies I used above for effort because those hold true here as well. You don't take two dance lessons and become a prima ballerina and you don't go to a week of martial art classes and earn a black belt. Even someone who is extremely skilled and intelligent doesn't start and graduate college in a month with a PhD. 
Ultimately my point here is that advanced practice is often a matter of carrying forward the basic practices, and mastering them. You don't stop grounding and shielding and you don't stop cleansing your energy, no you do it until you can ground and shield in your sleep and cleanse reflexively. It is not just knowing how to do these things but knowing a dozen ways to do them under any circumstance. That is mastery, and that is what advanced practice is when we are talking about witchcraft. Advanced witchcraft is being able to use every basic lesson and amplify it, to take magic to a deeper place, to know what can and can't be done and then do the impossible anyway. It is definitely not basic practice, yet it is built on it so intrinsically that I don't think you can separate out the basic from the advanced. 

People love the idea of an advanced witch as someone who knows secrets and who commands great power - and perhaps that is true for secrets are merely hidden knowledge and power resides in all of us if we know how to find it - but everyone wants that for themselves and they want it now. When we contemplate advanced though we may find that it is not something that lends itself to instant gratification or to quick mastery. It is slow, and it is boring, and it takes its own time. And ultimately it is not or does not need to be showy or flashy to be effective. It is the repetition of the simple and basic until they are reflexive and the person can take that reflex and do amazing things with it. 

If you are seeking advanced, then keep doing the basic. Every day. Practice, practice, practice, and keep seeking out knowledge wherever you can find it. Take risks, experiment, play with your magic. Learn from your mistakes, and learn from your successes. But never stop doing.
Ipsa scientia potestas est.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Fairy Resource List

When it comes to studying fairy beliefs and trying to learn about fairies finding good resources can be real challenge. I've offered suggested reading lists before but this time I wanted to take a more multi-media approach. This is only a small list of suggestions, as a truly comprehensive one would take more space than I could fit in a blog.

Non-Fiction Books:
There are a lot of non-fiction books out there about fairies and many are best avoided, quite frankly. Some though are solid resources and worth reading.
A Dictionary of Fairies by Katherine Briggs - really anything by Katherine Briggs is good as she was an eminent folklorist of her time. This book is my choice to recommend because its one of my go-to's and is easy to use due its format.
The Good People: New Fairylore Essays edited by Peter Narvaez - a collection of more recent essays on the subject of fairylore from different Celtic countries, including a lot of anecdotal evidence. A modern version of 'The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries'.
A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality: Sli Aon Dhraoi by Lora O’Brien – a great overall introduction to modern Irish paganism that includes some good discussion on the Othercrowd. I’d also recommend the author’s older book, “Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch”
Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry by W. B. Yeats – a look at folklore and belief, especially fairylore.
The Gaelic Otherworld by John Campbell – an overview of Scottish folk beliefs and folk lore
The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans Wentz – the classic text on the Fairy Faith its a bit dated at this point having come out in 1911 but it includes fairy beliefs from a wide array of Celtic cultures.
Scottish Herbs and Fairy Lore – by Ellen Evert Hopman – a great book on traditional Scottish fairy beliefs and related practices
Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee – excellent artwork and some great tidbits of folklore sprinkled in
Elves, Wights and Trolls by Kveldulfr Gundarson – a look at Norse and German fairy beliefs and some comparison with the Celtic beliefs. Very useful for looking at how different closely related cultures viewed their fairies.
The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by reverend Robert Kirk – written in the 17th century its a short but fascinating look at traditional Scottish fairy beliefs
The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex by Brian Walsh – a review and analysis of rev Kirk’s book but extremely insightful and should be read in addition to Kirk’s book for its commentary on beliefs about fairies
Meeting the Other Crowd by Eddie Lenihan and Carolyn Green – excellent book on Irish fairy lore

Most fiction that is based around fairies don't make a good resource here, for obvious reasons - its fiction. It was written by someone wanting to tell a good story not for the purpose of passing on actual belief or folklore. As much as we might like to think that fiction authors are actually inspired by real fairies or trying to tell a true story, much of the fairy fiction on the market is vastly at odds with traditional folklore. There are however some that are closer to traditional lore, and so I'm listing those here as resources.
The Faery Sworn Series by Ron Nieto - a trilogy about the granddaughter of a Fairy Doctor in Scotland who teams up with a kelpie to find her grandmother when she goes missing.
The Knowing by Kevin Manwaring - a story that builds off of the life and disappearance of rev. Robert Kirk.
Good Fairies of New York by Martin Miller - a bit whimsical but also gritty. Story about Celtic fairies coming to New York and those already there, how their lives collide with several humans.
Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett - part of Pratchett's Discworld series, and in fairness his other books are also good, but this one is my particular favorite for fairylore.

Ah Youtube. There's some really interesting stuff on there. Here's a couple videos I'd recommend
The Fairy Faith - a documentary that looks at fairy beliefs and anecdotes in America, Ireland, and the UK
Irish Fairylore: An Interview with Folklorist Dr. Jenny Butler - a great interview with someone who knows the subject well from an academic perspective
Folklore Collections by Michael Fortune - Michael Fortune is a treasure; he has spent time and effort recording interviews with people about their beliefs in different parts of Ireland.
Eddie Lenihan - there are a few videos of Eddie Lenihan on youtube and I highly recommend them. He is an amazing storyteller and very knowledgeable

Not on youtube but really, really worth watching is the kin fables series on Vimeo.

Television and Movies:
Secret of Roan Inish - a movie about a family's multi-generational relationship with selkies, called rón in Irish.
The Spiderwick Chronicles - aimed at a very young audience, but seems to capture the idea of some traditional fairies
Pan's Labyrinth - fairly accurate, although very grim, depiction of fairies
Labyrinth - more lighthearted but truer to older folklore. A story of a girl trying to regain her baby brother from goblins; reminiscent of old changeling stories.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Purification and Cleansing of Baneful Energy

People sometimes ask about the concept of purification and cleansing in a Celtic worldview, and like most Indo-European based cultures there did seem to be one. The idea that the world contains both energy that is beneficial to people and should be encouraged and energy that is harmful to people and should be protected against or cleansed from people seems to be fairly ubiquitous across cultures. Many aspects of how the pre-Christian Irish pagans specifically would have viewed this concept and dealt with it has been lost, of course, but hints remain and these hints as well as modern folk practices are more than enough for a person to create a viable system to work with today. When we look at the iron age Irish we mostly find the idea of what harms people embodied as spirits (and so we see means to fight or drive off these spirits) but we do also see in some cases the idea of magic or energetic illnesses that effect people in negative ways, such as Cu Chulainn's wasting sickness or Aengus's love sickness. We also find the idea that people through their actions can place themselves into or out of society with people outside of society having a distinct and dangerous energy to them that must be purified before they return to civilization. Taking all of the evidence together can help us get an idea of the wider beliefs relating to healthy and harmful energy and how to deal with it.

We can find a few hints in mythology and ritual practices that indicate that people who intentionally stepped outside of society needed to be ritually cleansed before re-entering it. Specifically there is indications that a person who had left society to live in a wild state and who wished to re-enter society needed to be ritually cleansed using a process that featured a ritual meal, usually a broth (McCone, 1990). This process may have involved the broth being both consumed as well as asperged over the person or symbolically bathed in. This broth would have been made from food that was being ritually offered to the Gods and so was sacred by association as it were. The Fianna, who lived a portion of their time outside society, seem to have had cleansing rituals in order to re-enter society later and these rituals may have involved ritual anointing with milk or butter (PSLV, 2011). In this way we see that the food used for ritual feasting could play a role in purification, particularly the more significant or serious purifications including redeeming people who had been living wild or as outlaws.

On a simpler level we see the concept of entering a sacred place or space, especially for ritual or magical purposes, by first walking three times around the space sunwise [clockwise]. This practice has remained through the modern period in folk practices, but the concept of approaching somewhere from a sunwise direction with positive intentions, or indeed circling it against the sun for cursing, can be found in the mythology indicating the deep roots of the idea. It is a quick and basic way to draw beneficial energy, to simply walk clockwise around something.

As with many other cultures we also see the idea of burning different herbs to cleanse away baneful energy. The most well known in Irish and also Scottish culture may be juniper. Juniper is mentioned by various authors, including Danaher, Evans, and MacNeil, for its protective qualities in folk belief and for the widespread practice of burning juniper in the home and stables on the Quarter (Scottish cross-Quarter) days to be rid of dangerous energy and to bless the space and people. Another less well known herb burned for protection against evil spirits and baneful magic was mugwort, which was also kept around the home, tied onto livestock, and worn on a person's clothing for purification and to ward off fairies and witches (MacCoitir, 2006). Rosemary was also used especially as a fumigant in sick rooms, carrying the idea of cleansing away lingering illness or baneful energy in the atmosphere.

We don't know for certain exactly how the pre-Christian Irish viewed ideas like the Greek concept of miasma, if they even had such a concept themselves, but we do know that there were concepts relating to cleansing of a person, which allowed them to re-claim a place in society. Irish society in general was one that was very focused on reparitive justice, as we see in the Brehon Laws and in the mythology (Kelly, 2005). This, perhaps, explains why the focus on purification and cleansing is the way that it is with its emphasis on returning a person to a proper alignment with society and with its focus on protecting people and their places by keeping the energy there beneficial. We also know that specific actions such as entering a space sunwise had power to bless both a space and the person and could be used for cleansing. And finally there were practices relating to burning or wearing a variety of herbs, a few of which are mentioned here, with the belief that the smoke from these plants or their presence would cleanse away or ward off harmful energy and purify a space or person. This purification was important before engaging in any ritual activity or folk magic, and we see people engaging in such purification regularly - burning juniper on all the Quarter days, walking three times sunwise before entering a holy well, turning around three times before seeking a charm stone in a river.

For those seeking to work such magic or follow such a spirituality in a modern context maintaining a good habit of purification and cleansing is essential. Perhaps especially so for those who seek to walk a liminal way or who intentionally step outside society's bounds on a regular basis. The more baneful or harmful energy you may be around the more important it is to make sure you purify and cleanse often, but even if you live within society and keep on the straight and narrow (as it were) it's a good idea to at least purify and cleanse on the major holidays. I recommend a combination of the above mentioned methods, although I favor incorporating moving sunwise (or depending on circumstance against the sun) into everything you do, with intention.

McCone, K., (1990) Pagan Past and Christian Present in Earl" Irish Literature
MacCoitir, N., (2006) Irish Wild Plants
Kelly, F., (2005) A Guide to Early Irish Law
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (2011) The Hidden Imbolc 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

What Do Fairies Look Like?

The idea for today's blog was partially inspired by a discussion with a friend on social media that sprung from a quote I posted, from my book 'Fairies':
When you imagine what a fairy looks like, what do you picture?

For most people the mental image is strongly shaped by pop-culture and artwork, and these in turn are largely products of an idealized cultural aesthetic. Although Tolkien-style elves may be an accurate representation of one type of Fairy being, the idea that all fairies are tall, lithe, and handsome is far from what we find in folklore. And while the images of small insect-winged* children may fit a very specific type of garden fairy, the more widespread images of winged Barbie-like beauties - wasp waisted, disproportionately large eyed, large breasted, with tiny hands and feet - is straight out of our culture's fantasies. Many modern images, such as those that depict selkies as a kind of seal mermaid with the upper torso of a human and lower half of a seal, are purely from an artist's imagination. In the same way the recent upsurge in anime and video game influenced images - those that have extremely long pointed ears, sharp features, slim figures but exaggerated sexual characteristics - don't reflect actual folklore or mythology but an artistic view that is aimed at appealing visually to an audience used to consuming a specific aesthetic. 

So, what do the Good People really look like? As with most questions relating to Themselves there is no simple answer, because the subject is too broad and diverse. I think, therefore, that the best approach is to look at a range of different types of fairies known to have more human-like forms and discuss how we see them described in folklore, in order to get a feel for the ways that these beings, overall, may appear. In order to keep this article reasonably short I'm only going to give very brief descriptions of each below:

Aos Sí - Yeats described the Daoine Maithe as looking much like human people, although prone to wearing slightly outdated fashion. Described as around five feet tall, sometimes slightly taller. We see the idea of their human appearance reinforced in much of the anecdotal evidence particularly stories of borrowed midwives, stolen brides, and musicians who spend a night inside a fairy hill. There would seem to be then at least one type of more powerful fairy people who do or can look very much like humans and may even pass for human to some degree. 

Tylweth Teg - like the aos sí generally described as human-like in appearance, usually fair haired. 

Pixies - Descriptions can vary greatly but they are known to wear green; in one potential account of two children who may have been pixies they were said to have green-tinted skin. Pixies may range in height from a few inches tall to five or six feet, and by some accounts may take the form of hedgehogs. Briggs describes them as red haired with pointed ears, short faces, and up-tilted noses. 

The Baobhan Sithe - described as beautiful human-looking women, about five feet tall, who wear long green dresses to hide their feet which are the hooves of a deer. Said to take the form of wolves and crows or ravens.

Brownies - generally about 3 feet tall, a uniform medium brown color all over and preferring brown clothing. In some areas it was said they had no fingers while others described them as having no noses. 

Leprechauns - look much like humans in the oldest stories, except they are said to only be about 12 to 18 inches tall. In later folklore they are described with a similar height and as looking like older men with grey or white hair and beards.  

Goblin, from 'English Fairy Tales' by J. Jacobs, 1895, pubic domain

Goblins - three to four feet tall, ranging from almost human like, although extremely ugly (by our standards), to very animalistic with whiskers, tails, claws, and the like. 

Trows - in some folklore trows are described as very human in appearance, although they may appear old, shriveled, or physically deformed. In other stories however they are described as clearly inhuman, unattractive, and twisted, even in sometimes appearing as a mix of human and horse. They are often described in unflattering terms as having oversized feet, large noses, flat faces, and short limbs. They can range in height from three to six feet depending on the story. They are often said to dress in grey. 

Dwarves - Another type of fairy that has a wide range even within its grouping. In some cases they may appear as Tolkien described them, as short, barrel chested, heavily bearded men. In other cases the may have clear physical deformities such as animal feet or feet turned backwards at the ankle. 

Púca - a shapeshifter the Púca can appear as a variety of animals including eagles, goats, horses, bulls, and dogs. May also appear as a small man. 

Kelpies - can assume the form of a horse or of a dark haired person, usually but not always a man. As a horse he is appealing and fine-looking; as a person he would seem human except that his hair remains damp and may have water weeds in it if one looks closely. 

Merrows - Like traditional mermaids they have the upper torso of a human and the lower half of a fish; merrows also have webbed hands. Females are extremely beautiful. Males are hideously ugly, with green tinted skin, and deep set red eyes. Children born from the union of a merrow and a mortal are said to have scales. 

Selkies - Selkies can take the form of seals or of dark haired human-like beings. The children of selkies and humans are said in folklore to be born with webbed hands or feet.

Glaistig - May appear as a beautiful woman with slightly damp or dripping hair; as a woman wearing a long green dress to conceal her lower half which is that of a goat; or may appear in the form of a goat.  

Huldra - A kind of Scandinavian fairy that looks like a very beautiful woman but always has some hidden deformity in stories; sometimes a tail, or a hollow back. The Huldrekall (male huldra) is quite ugly with a long nose. 

Martin Brandenburg 'Elfenreigen', Public domain

Elves - elves present a unique difficulty because the English word elf is used to gloss several words in other languages and was also used for a long time as a generic. Because of this we end up with a range of beings that fall under the label 'elf' but are very different in nature and description. We may perhaps divide them into two main groupings, the taller elves and the small elves. The latter are generally described as about a foot tall and can appear as old and wizened or younger. The former group are often described as more human in appearance, although they are clearly supernatural in their abilities and are averse to iron. Grimm suggest a division in Germanic mythology of taller elves into three main groups, the ljossalfar, dokkalfar, and svartalfar, each living in different domains and having slightly different appearances; lossalfar means 'light elves', dokkalfar 'dark elves', and svartalfar 'black elves'. Snorri writing about Norse mythology described only ljossalfar and svartalfar. In Scottish and Germanic sources the taller elves may be described as beautiful and the word elf was sometimes glossed with incubus; elves were known for seducing mortal women. However in other Germanic sources elves were explicitly called ugly and were said to have long or crooked noses. 

Giants - there are also a variety of giants to be found in fairylore, beings who can be 7 or 8 feet tall or more. In English folklore these are usually named beings like the Jack-in-Irons or Jimmy Squarefoot. In other cultures these may appear as a type of being in their own right such as the Norse Jotun or Anglo-Saxon Ettin, both names meaning 'giant'. Giants may appear very human but on a larger scale or may be monstrous, such as the aforementioned Jimmy Squarefoot who was part man and part boar, or they may have extra heads or limbs.

Gruagachs - male or female, generally human-like in looks may appear as either young and attractive, or as wizened, old, and very hairy.  

Muryans - Cornish fairies that could be as small as ants. They might be shape-shifters who could take animals forms, particularly birds, but were also associated with the Heathen dead. It was believed they had once been human-sized but had shrunk over time, eventually disappearing entirely. 

This is only, obviously, a small sample of the huge array of fairies that can be found in folklore. I hope though that this has illustrated the range of descriptions we see, from human-like to monstrous, from tiny to taller, from what we may call beautiful to what we judge as ugly, from entirely human-like to animalistic, with various skin colors including green. As Katherine Briggs says "The fairy people are good and bad, beautiful and hideous, stately and of their greatest variations is size" (Briggs, 1976, page 368). Personally I have seen what we would call beautiful, but I have also seen beings we'd describe as outside that 'normal' that are within context considered beautiful by their own. Hollow backs, back-turned feet, single eyes and limbs, small, huge, horns, tails, famine-thin and very large, webbed feet or hands, immobile, non-ambulatory - Fairy has an enormous diversity to it that far, far defies our modern cultural perceptions of 'beauty'. If we are seeking to understand and appreciate the folklore, and to connect on any level with these beings then we must understand this diversity and appreciate it for what it is without overlaying our own perceptions and opinions onto it. We must understand that each group of fairies, each kind, would seem to judge by their own standards just as we do by our cultural ones, so that what a pixie considers beautiful is not what an elf (of any type) might consider beautiful, and neither may be what a human would call beautiful. I think we limit our appreciation of Fairy when we are looking at it through our own lens of beauty, height, ability, size, skill, or mobility, rather than appreciating it and Themselves for what and who they are in themselves. 


Further Reading:
Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz
Celtic Twilight by W. B. Yeats
Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry by Yeats 
Meeting the Othercrowd by Lehinhan and Green
Teutonic Mythology by J. Grimm
Prose Edda Snorri Sturlisson
The Trows, Orkneyjar 
A Dictionary of Fairies by Katherine Briggs
Elves in Anglo-Saxon England by Alaric Hall

*on a small side note, the idea of fairies having wings is actually more recent and comes from the theater. I recommend this article 'In Search of the Earliest Fairy Wings' for a far more in-depth discussion of the subject. 

* there is some art out there that is based more closely on folklore, rather than adapting an idealized concept of what a fairy is to our modern beauty standards. What I am referencing here is specifically the more popular images found in video games, anime, and more imagination based art. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Excerpt from the Cath Maige Tuired

Cath Maige Tuired

1. Batar Tuathai De Danonn i n-indsib tuascertachaib an domuin, aig foglaim fesa ocus fithnasachta ocus druidechti ocus amaidecchtai ocus amainsechtai, combtar fortilde for suthib cerd ngenntlichtae.
2. Ceitri catrachai i rrabatar og fochlaim fhesai ocus eolais ocus diabuldanachtai .i. Falias ocus Gorias, Murias ocus Findias.
3. A Falias tucad an Lia Fail bui a Temraig. Nogesed fo cech rig nogebad Erinn.
4. A Gorias tucad ant sleg boi ac Lug. Ni gebtea cath fria no frisinti an bidh i llaimh.
5. A Findias tucad claidiub Nuadot. Ni ternadh nech dei o dobirthe asa idntiuch boduha, ocus ni gebtai fris.
6. A Murias tucad coiri an Dagdai. Ni tegedh dam dimdach uadh.
7. Cetri druid isna cetri cathrachaib-sin. Morfesae bai a Falias; Esras boi hi nGorias; Uiscias boi a Findias; Semias bai a Murias. It iad-sin na cetri filid ocar' foglaindsit Tuata De fios ocus eolas
 - E. Gray, Cath Maige Tuired, 1983

Battle of the Field of Pillars

1. The Tuatha De Danann were in the northern islands of the world, gathering occult knowledge and sorcery and druidry and witchcraft and skill in magic, until they had mastery of the produce of Heathen-magical skill.
2. Four cities had all occult knowledge and wisdom and diabolatry that is Falias and Gorias, Murias and Findias.
3. From Falias they brought the Lia Fail [stone of Fal] to reside in Temraig [Tara]. It would shriek under each king who would take Ireland.
4. From Gorias they brought the spear that was Lug's. None were able to support battle against it or against he with it in his hand.
5. From Findias they brought Nuada's sword. No one escapes when it is pulled from its fatal scabbard, and none could resist against it.
6. From Murias they brought the cauldron of the Dagda. No company went away unsatisfied hence.
7. Four druids were in those four cities. Morfesae was in Falias; Esras was in Gorias; Uiscias was in Findias; Semias was in Murias. These are the four poets from whom the Tuatha De learned knowledge and wisdom.

This passage represents the beginning of the story and the first introduction in the tale to the Tuatha De Danann, the People of the Goddess Danu. We learn that before coming to Ireland they have been in the 'northern islands of the world', in four cities which had a vast store of magical, occult knowledge. In these cities lived four men, alternately called druids and poets, who taught this great magical knowledge to the Tuatha De until they had mastered it. We also learn some valuable information about the famous four treasures of the Tuatha De, information that reinforces that from another piece the Tuath De Danand na Set soim.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fairylore in the Ballad of Tam Lin: an overview

One of the most significant Scottish ballads, from a fairylore perspective, is undoubtedly Tam Lin, which can be found under variant names and versions dating back to 1549. As eminent folklorist Katherine Briggs puts it "It is perhaps the most important of all supernatural ballads because of the many fairy beliefs incorporated in it." (Briggs, 1976, p 449). An indication of the importance of the ballad may be its popularity over the centuries and its prolific nature. Indeed there are nearly 50 versions of the ballad that I am aware of, and probably more that I am not aware of, each with variations which can be minor or major in nature. However the wider theme of the ballad remains consistent: a young woman goes to a well in a wood that is rumored to be guarded by a fairy who takes a toll from all trespassers, she becomes pregnant by him, and returns to free him from the fairies on Halloween night.

Waterhouse, 'The Flower Picker', 1895 public domain

It is worth looking more closely at the themes and plot of Tam Lin, however it is beyond the scope of this particular article to compare all of the numerous versions. I do recommend reading Acland's 'Major Variations in Tam Lin' for a better understanding of some these if it interests you. What I will be doing here is looking at the most common and to the best of my knowledge the oldest version of the ballad Child's 39A from the book 'The English and Scottish Popular Ballads' and using this as a basis of discussion. I will also look at a few important variants and additions, but not a full comparison of every version.

Below I am going to include the version of the ballad from Child's collection, but I am updating the language slightly and translating the Doric words. The original unaltered can be found free online here.  I highly recommend reading the full original ballad before reading the discussion of it below. I will present the ballad followed by my commentary.

1. O I forbid you, maidens all,
That wear gold on your hair,
To come or go by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.

2. There's none that go by Carterhaugh
But they leave him a treasure,
Either their rings, or green mantles,
Or else their maidenhead.
3. Janet has tucked up her green skirt
A little above her knee,
And she has braided her yellow hair
A little above her eyebrow,
And she's away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go
4.When she came to Carterhaugh
Tam Lin was at the well,
 And there she found his steed standing,
But away was himself.
5. She had not pulled a double rose,
A rose but only two,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Says, Lady, you'll pull no more.
6. Why pull you the rose, Janet,
And why break you the stem?
Or why come you to Carterhaugh
Without my command?
7. "Carterhaugh, it is my own,
My daddy gave it to me,
I'll come and go by Carterhaugh,
And ask no leave of you."
8. Janet has tucked up her green skirt
A little above her knee,
And she has braided her yellow hair
A little above her eyebrow,
And she is to her father's house,
As fast as she can go.
9. Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the ball,
And out then came the fair Janet,
The flower among them all.
10, Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the chess,
And out then came the fair Janet,
As green as any glass.
11. Out then spoke an old grey knight,
Laying over the castle wall,
And says, Alas, fair Janet, for you,
But we'll be blamed all.
12. "Hold your tongue, you old faced knight,
Some ill death may you die!
Father my child on whom I will,
I'll father none on you."
13. Out then spoke her father dear,
And he spoke meek and mild,
"And ever alas, sweet Janet," he says,
"I think you go with child."
14. "If that I go with child, father,
Myself must bear the blame,
There's not a lord about your hall,
Shall get the child's name.
15. "If my love were an earthly knight,
As he's an elfin grey,
I would not give my own true-love
For any lord that you have.
16. "The steed that my true love rides on
Is lighter than the wind,
With silver he is shod before,
With burning gold behind."
17. Janet has tucked up her green skirt
A little above her knee,
And she has braided her yellow hair
A little above her eyebrow,
And she's away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go..
18. When she came to Carterhaugh,
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she found his steed standing,
But away was himself.
19. She had not pulled a double rose,
A rose but only two,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Says, Lady, you'll pull no more.
20. "Why pull you the rose, Janet,
Among the groves so green,
And all to kill the bonny babe
That we got us between?"
21. "O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin," she says,
"For his sake that died on tree [i.e. Christ's sake],
If ever you were in holy chapel,
Or christendom did see?"
22. "Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,
Took me with him to stay
And once it fell upon a day
That woe did me betide.
23. "And once it fell upon a day
A cold day and windy,
When we were from the hunting come,
That from my horse I fell,
The Queen of Fairies she caught me,
In yonder green hill to dwell.
24. "And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Yes at the end of seven years,
We pay a tiend to hell,
I am so fair and full of flesh,
I'm afraid it will be myself.
25. "But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday,
Then win me, win me, if you will,
For well I know you may.
26. "Just at the dark and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that would their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they must bide."
27. "But how shall I know you, Tam Lin,
Or how my true-love know,
Among so many uncouth knights,
The like I never saw?"
28. "O first let pass the black, lady,
And soon let pass the brown,
But quickly run to the milk-white steed,
Pull you his rider down.
29."For I'll ride on the milk-white steed,
And yes nearest the town,
Because I was an earthly knight
They give me that renown.
30. "My right hand will be gloved, lady,
My left hand will be bare,
Tilted up shall my hat be,
And combed down shall my hair,
And that's the tokens I give you,
No doubt I will be there.
31."They'll turn me in your arms, lady,
Into a lizard and snake,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I am your child's father.
32. "They'll turn me to a bear so grim,
And then a lion bold,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
And you shall love your child.
33. "Again they'll turn me in your arms
To a red hot rod of iron,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I'll do you no harm.
34. "And last they'll turn me in your arms
Into the burning coal,
Then throw me into well water,
O throw me in with speed.
35. "And then I'll be your own true-love,
I'll turn a naked knight,
Then cover me with your green mantle,
And hide me out o sight."
36. Gloomy, gloomy was the night,
And eerie was the way,
As fair Janet in her green mantle
To Miles Cross she did go.
37. At the dark and midnight hour
She heard the bridles sing,
She was as glad at that
As any earthly thing.
38. First she let the black pass by,
And soon she let the brown,
But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed,
And pulled the rider down.
39. So well she minded what he did say,
And young Tam Lin did win,
Soon covered him with her green mantle,
As happy as a bird in spring
40. Out then spoke the Queen of Fairies,
Out of a bush of broom,
"Them that has gotten young Tam Lin
Has gotten a stately-groom."
41. Out then spoke the Queen of Fairies,
And an angry woman was she,
"Shame betide her ill-fared face,
And an ill death may she die,
For she's taken away the handsomest  knight
In all my company.
42. "But had I known, Tam Lin," said she,
"What now this night I see,
I would have taken out your two grey eyes,
And put in two eyes of a tree."

There you have it, the most common version of the Ballad of Tam Lin. Let's take a closer look at the material.

The name Tam Lin, which elsewhere sometimes appears in variants as Tam-a-Line, Tam o the Lin and Tamlane is not a proper name but what we might understand as a nickname or name with epithet. Tam is a version of Tom. Lin, or Linn, has several meanings in Doric but the most likely here is a waterfall or pool of water; a Lane is a slow moving stream. Tam Lin may be read as Tom of the Pool or Tom of the Waterfall and Tamlane similarly as Tom of the stream, which of course makes perfect sense for a fairy who guards a well in the Carterhaugh woods. In some alternate versions the fairy knight is named as True Thomas, conflating this story with that other ballad of a Fairy Queen abducting a man, possibly due to both characters having similar names, Tam/Tom and Thomas. 

Tam Lin initially appears as a mysterious figure who controls the woods of Carterhaugh. He expects a toll from trespassers of something valuable which is listed here as either jewelry, green cloaks, or the virginity of maidens. The mention of green is interesting, as green is particularly a fairy color and was seen as an unlucky color for women to wear for this reason. The mention of it here may be the first hint of fairy involvement. Janet - given different names in some other versions - has heard the warning about Tam Lin and decided to go to Carterhaugh, in alternate versions such as we see in 39C going "By the only light of the moon". It should be noted here that Janet has been told that Tam Lin expects sex from maidens and is intentionally going there, which at least implies that she accepts this as a possibility. She has also dressed in a green skirt, which as was just mentioned is a fairy color normally not worn by women. I have always personally seen this as indicating that Janet knew exactly what she was doing and intended to go find herself a fairy lover.

Janet arrives in the Carterhaugh wood at the well that Tam Lin guards and finds Tam Lin's horse, but not Tam Lin himself. The verse states that Tam Lin is at the well however implying that although she may not see him he is nearby. It is possible that this is an allusion to fairy glamour or enchantment. Finding the fairy horse but not the guardian she was looking for she picks two roses, taking from the place that Tam Lin guards. This naturally, immediately, summons Tam Lin to her side. You have to admire Janet's directness here, as we see her intentionally invoking Tam Lin with her actions. I might suggest that this is not generally the wisest course of action, as usually disturbing or violating a place guarded by fairies results in retribution; in this case we see instead a conversation. 

The interaction between the two as related in the ballad doesn't include any sex, although we will find out later that occured but was not directly mentioned; in various alternate versions the sex is more obviously stated and is usually clearly consensual but not always so*. For example:
"He's taken her by the milk-white hand
Among the leaves so green
And what they did I cannot say
The leaves they were between
" (39I)
"He took her by the milk-white hand
And gently laid her down,
Just in below some shady trees
Where the green leaves hung down.
" (39J)
What we do have in 39A however is Tam Lin challenging Janet over her trespassing on the place he guards and her pulling of the roses. Janet's response is to tell him that she is the one who owns Carterhaugh and so doesn't need his permission. Its pretty obvious at this point that Janet just doesn't back down from anyone, including Fairy Knights, which may be why - as we see later in the ballad - Tam Lin chooses her to save him from Fairy. 

As far as we can tell from the ballad Janet has no further contact with Tam Lin after returning home to her father's hall. It soon becomes obvious to those around her that she is pregnant and one of her father's knights accuses her of as much, worrying that she will get them in trouble. Here we see an illustration of why I like Janet so much in this version of the ballad. She has been publicly accused of a significant social transgression - sex out of wedlock and pregnancy from it - and her response is to yell back and tell the knight, effectively, to shut up and curse him with an ill death, that whoever she has a child with it won't be him. Now that it's been brought out in public her father also asks if she is pregnant, although we may note he speaks to her 'meek and mild'. She doesn't outright admit that she is, but says that if she is she will take the blame for it because no man in her father's hall is responsible. 

Janet then does admit that her lover is one of the Other Crowd, and despite having as far as we are aware only one tryst with Tam Lin she declares that he is her true love and that she will not give him up for any mortal lord. She then describes his horse, an interesting bit of lore from our perspective, as lighter than the wind and having silver horse shoes in front and gold in back. The horse shoes are interesting, although tangential, but give us an idea of what fairy horses may be shod with since iron is obviously not an option. Why the two different kinds of metal? It's hard to say but it could represent the animal's ability to travel between the two worlds. 

Janet immediately goes back to Carterhaugh after this and once again finding the horse at the well and not Tam Lin, pulls two roses to invoke him. He appears and tells her to stop but also asks her why she wants to abort the child she is carrying. Although in other versions of the ballad Janet is advised to take such an action or is pulling not roses but abortifacient herbs in this version there has been no mention of such implying that Tam Lin has some supernatural knowledge of her intentions. Janet questions him about whether he is truly one of the Gentry or is a mortal man and he tells her how he was claimed by the Fairy Queen after falling from his horse. It is quite likely that this is an analogy for dying, and reinforces the blurred lines between the fairies and the dead that is often seen throughout folklore. 

At this point in another version, 39I, we see the following passage which isn't present in 39A but is pertinent for our discussion here:
31. The Queen of Fairies kept me
In yonder green hill to dwell,
And I'm a fairy, lyth [joint] and limb,
Fair lady, view me well.
32."But we that live in Fairy-land
No sickness know nor pain;
I quit my body when I will,
And take to it again.
33.'I quit my body when I please,
Or unto it repair;
We can inhabit at our ease
In either earth or air.
34.'Our shapes and size we can convert
To either large or small;
An old nut-shell's the same to us
As is the lofty hall.
35.We sleep in rose-buds soft and sweet
We revel in the stream;
We wander lightly on the wind
Or glide on a sunbeam.
36.'And all our wants are well supplied
From every rich man's store,
Who thankless sins the gifts he gets,
And vainly grasps for more.'

I'm including this here, as it appears in Child's notes, because I feel that it offers some essential information about the nature of fairies. In this version Tamlane has just told Janet that he knew her as a child and that he was born a human son to the Earl of Murray before being taken by the Queen of Fairies. Yet he also explicitly tells her that he is 'a fairy, lyth [joint] and limb'. This confirms that the fairies may take a person and by some means transform that person into one of their own kind. He then goes on to describe to her what it is like to be a fairy, including the facts that they do not get sick or know pain, can leave their bodies or re-enter them, change their sizes, and exist as either physical beings or ethereal ones ('we can inhabit at our ease in either earth or air'). He finally references something mentioned by both rev. Kirk in the 17th century and Campbell in the 19th writing on fairies, that fairies will take the substance or produce of food if a person speaks ill of their own crops or stores and that it is one this that they live. 

He also expresses his concern over being given to Hell as part of the teind paid on All Hallows (I've discussed the fairies tithe to Hell previously in depth here) and tells her that she can rescue him if she is brave enough. What follows is a very specific method of rescuing a person during a fairy procession, although it is possible that this only works because Janet is very brave and because she is carrying Tam Lin's child. In other examples of this method being used the person doing it shared a blood relationship with the person they were trying to save, and I suspect that being related by blood in some manner is an essential factor, which may be why Tam Lin hadn't mentioned it earlier, although the timing of Halloween may also have played a part. In a similar story, The Faerie Oak of Corriewater, a woman tries and fails to save her brother in a similar situation, indicating that this method is certainly not fool proof and that Janet was indeed risking her life to save Tam Lin. 

Janet is advised to go to Miles Cross on Halloween and wait for the fairy procession to ride past at midnight, perhaps meaning that the timing of midnight on Halloween is essential, or perhaps merely referencing that this was the usual point that the fairy rade rode out. In some versions it is specifically mentioned that he is riding with the Seelie Court: 
"The night, the night is Halloween,
Our seely court maun ride,
Thro England and thro Ireland both,
And a' the warld wide
- "A fragment of Young Tamlane," Hinloch MSS, V, 391(Child, 1898)

I feel it important to add that in an alternate version, 39D, the protagonist carries holy water and uses it to make a 'compass' or circle around herself before the fairies emerge from the mound. This can be seen as a protective gesture on her part and also perhaps explain why the fairies do not perceive her presence until she breaks the circle to grab Tam Lin down from his horse. 

It is mentioned that because of his renown Tam Lin will be riding on a white horse; the idea of white horses carrying people of significance in Fairy is something we see repeated often in different places but it is worth noting here. The Queen of Fairies herself is said to ride on a white horse in many stories, and white animals are often messengers of the Otherworld. In the few versions where he is not riding a white horse he is riding next to the Queen herself, mounted on a 'blood-red steed', with red also having significant - and far grimmer - Otherworldly meaning. Janet is alerted to the approach of the fairy rade by the sound of bridle bells, as the ballad says 'she heard the bridles sing' referencing the belief that fairies attached silver bells to their horses bridles and manes when they rode in processions.

Once she has pulled him from his horse we see the fairies turning Tam Lin into a variety of fearsome things, finally ending by turning him into a coal which Janet must throw into a well. From the water Tam Lin emerges as a naked man and Janet covers him with her green cloak, claiming him with this act. It is likely that there is great significance in his final forms being heated iron and a burning coal and that he must, in a fiery form, be thrust into well water. Tam Lin did himself guard a well and wells were often sacred and viewed as both powerful and healing. 

Having withstood these trials and won Tam Lin the fairies cannot take him back again, although its unclear whether he has regained his mortality or not. For her efforts Janet wins a bridegroom and a father for her child, but she is also cursed by the Fairy Queen, who wishes of her 'an ill death may she die'. Arguably Tam Lin is the truest winner here, having avoided being tithed to Hell, being returned to mortal earth, and getting a well-off wife and child into the bargain. The Queen's parting words imply that if she had foreseen these events the she could have prevented it by either literally blinding Tam Lin or, perhaps, by altering his sight less literally so that he wasn't moved by Janet's beauty, depending on how we choose to interpret her giving him the eyes of a tree. It is implied in some, and out righted stated in others, that the Fairy Queen loved Tam Lin herself, although it is ambiguous as to whether this was romantic love or more maternal, she having taken him in many versions when he was only a boy: 
"Out and spak the queen o fairies,
Out o a shot o wheat,
She that has gotten young Tamlane
Has gotten my heart's delight.
 - 'Tamlane,' " Scotch Ballads, Materials for Border Minstrelsy," No 96 a

What can we learn then from Tam Lin? It's a complicated question and a layered answer. Janet, arguably, goes out seeking a fairy lover and finds one. She does this by dressing in green and going to a well in a wood that is known to have a fairy guardian who takes a toll from trespassers, including having sex with them. She possibly goes at night, by the light of the moon, perhaps a full moon? She invokes him by picking forbidden flowers, the property of the fairies. The two talk and it is later implied (stated in other versions) they have a tryst which results in a pregnancy, putting Janet in  a difficult position with her family, so she goes back to Carterhaugh and invokes Tam Lin a second time. He then gives her a means to rescue him, something that may only work because the timing is right and Janet is stubborn, fearless, and carrying his child. We learn about how to invoke fairies, and what payments they may expect. We learn as well how a mortal might become one of the Good People, what that might mean, and how he might be rescued. We see that a fairy lover can be gained, and even won away from the fairies, if one is brave.

One is left wondering about Janet's fate though, since she has clearly earned the enmity of the Fairy Queen...

*In some later versions of the ballad the sexual encounter between Janet (by any name) and Tam Lin is clearly non-consensual. This requires an entire essay of its own to unpack and I highly recommend reading Acland's 'Is Tam Lin a Rape Story?'. I agree with all the author's points and tend to favor her third argument as it relates specifically to the original ballad of Tam Lin. 

Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Child, F., (1898) The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
Acland, A., (1997) Tam Lin
Acland, A., (2015). Is Tam Lin a Rape Story?

Copyright M. Daimler 2017

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Online Morrigan Resources

I often see people asking for recommendations for online accessible resources for the Morrigan, so I thought today I'd offer my personal suggestions. None of these are necessarily blanket endorsements but these are resources that can be found online, are free, and are worth reading. As with anything else in life remember to use critical thinking and to keep in mind that on this subject there can be a variety of opinions.

Dissertations and Papers - There are some great academic works out there on the Morrigan worth checking out. There are also some that I don't entirely agree with but still recommend because they add important layers to any discussion about this complex deity/deities.
  1. War-goddesses, furies and scald crows: The use of the word badb in early Irish literature by Kim Heidja  
  2. The 'Mast' of Macha: The Celtic Irish and the War Goddess of Ireland by Catherine Mowat
  3. War Goddess: The Morrigan and Her Germano-Celtic Counterparts by Angelique Gulermovich Epstein
  4. Demonology, allegory and translation: the Furies and the Morrigan by Michael Clarke
  5. The ‘Terror of the Night’ and the Morrígain: Shifting Faces of the Supernatural. - by Jacqueline Borsje 
Blogs - There are a lot of people who blog about the Morrigan these days and I will admit my own suggestions will be limited to people I know, and read regularly. I don't go out looking around for new Morrigan bloggers because I just don't have time. You'll also note this only includes written blogs, which isn't an intentional snub to vloggers or youtbers just a reflection that I hardly ever have time to watch videos on my pc so I can't recommend them (since I haven't really watched many).
  1. Call of the Morrigan: A Community Blog for the Great Queen - a great community based blog that offers a variety of views and opinions by different authors
  2. Dark Goddess Musings - the blog of author Stephanie Woodfield. Not updated regularly, but has interesting content
  3. Lora O'Brien - Author and Freelance Writer - what it says on the tin. Not Morrigan specific but there are Morrigan posts to be found and Lora's writing is always good and worth reading. Lora also offers paid courses on the Morrigan and several other related topics that I highly recommend.
  4. Under the Ancient Oaks - the blog of Druid and author John Beckett. Not Morrigan exclusive either but she is a frequent topic. 
Websites - An assortment of Morrigan related websites out there that I am aware of and whose content is generally reliable
  1. Scath na Feannoige - Morrigan content and content focused on the warrior path. Some free and some paid access, but excellent material. 
  2. Mary Jones Celtic Literature Collective - as advertised, a resource for all things Celtic. your best source for myths on the Morrigan (in the Irish lit section) and also offering an encyclopedia section
  3. Story Archaeology - A great resource for newer translations of the myths and discussion of the stories in context. if you search the site/podcast you'll find multiple results relating to the Morrigan 
  4. Coru Cathubodua - a site by a group dedicated to the Morrigan, with articles and a resource list 

Artwork - Some of my personal favorite sources for Morrigan artwork I like. Your mileage may vary. These are not free - obviously - but I can't list Morrigan resources without including them
  1. the Ever Living Ones, art of Jane Brideson 
  2. Lindowyn @ Deviantart, art of Ashley Bryner
  3. Gemma Zoe Jones
  4. Dryad Design - statuary and jewelry by Paul Borda 

Music - We can't forget about music, after all! Its a great resource and a great way to feel connected

  1. Omnia 'Morrigan'  (or this slower version)
     2. Darkest Era 'The Morrigan'
     3. Cruachan 'The Brown Bull of Cooley'
     4. Cruchan 'The Morrigan's Call'
     5. Heather Dale 'the Morrigan'
      6. Mama Gina 'Ruby

Books - I should probably mention here that generally I am not aware of any decent books on the Morrigan, specifically, that are available free online. You can access some older public domain works including Hennessey's 'War Goddess' on Sacred Texts but books that old have issues with some seriously outdated scholarship and need to be read with a big grain of salt. They are worth reading with some critical thinking and discernment but I wouldn't give them a blanket recommendation