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Friday, December 22, 2017

Movie Review: Bright

This is a first for me, a movie review, but I really want to do this one for two reasons: I hardly ever find decent urban fantasy as a movie and the mainstream critics have eviscerated this one which I think deserves a response. As an author of urban fantasy this genre is one that is obviously very close to my heart and I have been excited since I first saw ads for Bright because it looked like something beyond the usual, tepid, tv fair that I've seen so far. I'm not going to name names but let's just say that I haven't ever found any small screen material in the genre that held my attention. Suffice to say Bright did, and I think it deserves a review from someone who loves the genre but isn't a professional movie reviewer.
This may contain mild spoilers, so you've been warned. That said, here's my review of the Netflix movie Bright.



Bright starts out slow, with the initial half hour or so letting the audience get to know the two main characters and acclimate to their world. The particular setting is Los Angeles in an alternate reality where magic is real and Otherworldly beings not only live side by side with humanity but form a fully integrated part of society. There is no 'telling' in this movie, no voice over exposition to explain to the audience why the world is the way it is. We are simply thrown into it. The film uses the opening sequence brilliantly, I think, to explain some basics of the world using background shots and street graffiti. I applaud this choice, as I think it would have been a mistake to over explain the world or have too much set up. We are given just enough to grasp the concepts and follow along as the movie continues and the world further establishes itself. The film also does something that I am personally a huge fan of and do in my own writing which is to shift human racial issues to interspecies differences, although I will add that its clear from subtext in the movie that human racial issues haven't disappeared either. The orcs are lower-class species, humans are somewhere in the middle, elves are at the top, fairies are flying rats, and there are hints of other species including centaurs, dragons, and others* that make the world complex. Its clear although not explained in depth that within both the orcish and elvish culture there is actual culture and also conflict. The world of Bright then is multilayered and contextual.

The two protagonists are well done and well played by Will Smith, as veteran cop Darryl Ward, and Joel Edgerton, as rookie orc cop Nick Jakoby. Jakoby is a first in this world, an orc who became a police officer and there is an integral tension to his position surrounded by people prejudiced against his species. Jakoby himself with his boundless optimism and enthusiasm is the perfect foil to Ward's character, who is counting down to being able to retire and start collecting his pension. There are layers to the relationship between the two that involve perceived betrayal, actual betrayal, and hurt on several levels and I thought that was well built for this kind of movie. I've seen it described in multiple places as a 'buddy cop film' but for me it wasn't that at all, but an exploration of what happens when two 'good' people are thrown together and forced to trust each other despite themselves. I liked that Jakoby's character never stopped reaching out to Ward, and that Ward never relented to the end, and I think from my own perspective there were aspects of Jakoby's behavior that should have been viewed as coming from orc culture, including his loyalty to his partner despite it all and his desire to be a hero.

Leilah is what every movie antagonist should be: merciless, relentless, and utterly dedicated to her own cause. The film doesn't waste much time fleshing out her character, but I felt like that worked in this case; it added a level of dread to have the antagonist be, in many ways, a blank slate. The protagonists don't know anything about her except that she wants what they have and is willing to kill anyone who gets her in her way to get it. There is never any sense that she can be negotiated with or avoided - she is like a force of nature. It was refreshing to see an antagonist treated this way. She is a beautiful monster and the movie lets her be exactly that, without trying to soften her or justify her deadliness.

The Magic Task Force was a nice concept within the world, and I liked the implications that there were things behind the scenes than even the audience wasn't aware of. In a situation where you have a few good people and a lot of obviously bad people, it was interesting to have the Magical Task Force as an ambivalent unknown factor. I also appreciated the implication that there were elves in law enforcement in some way as that added depth to the world.

There was just enough foreshadowing early, particularly with the sword wielding Shield of Light member to make it clear there was more going on than just an orc cop getting bullied or Ward being stuck with a partner he didn't want. I liked that there were human and orc gangs, and there were good and corrupt cops, and I also thought the orc church was awesome. Much of the world building here, as I mentioned, was subtle and simply presented as part of the reality of the movie which allowed the viewer to be immersed in the world without being overwhelmed with explanations. There was just enough backstory and exposition in dialogue, without making the story drag.

I enjoyed the humor of the movie, which had some great one-liners as well as some good dialogue overall. There are points, especially in the beginning, that the pacing is a bit off and the tone wobbles - for example Ward's daughter seems to really like Jakoby when he shows up at their house, yet in the next scene she's angry at her father and saying that her mother says Jakoby is going to get Ward killed and she wishes her father wasn't a cop. That seemed off balance and strange. I'll also admit I didn't like Ward's wife's character at all, but that may be because she wasn't established enough and came off as flat.

There were a few plot holes that I do wish the writers had taken care of. Why did the wand make Tikka sick but not the other untrained Bright who used it? Why didn't Tikka speak English to them in life-or-death situations when yelling at them in Elvish was obviously a wasted effort? But overall I think that it was a fairly cohesive story and that it was effective at tying up its own loose ends. There was nothing in the story itself that I found badly done and the details I mention are fairly small.

I think there's a lot to like in this movie, and I enjoyed that it was solidly an urban fantasy but wasn't afraid to toss out at least a few of the popular tropes. The elves are powerful, but they are also elitists and clearly dangerous. The orcs are physically strong and clearly socially limited to menial tasks for the most part, but they aren't stupid or evil. There's no clear line between good and bad here, just people trying to survive. The special effects were good but not excessive. As urban fantasy movies go this may be the best one I've seen.
I'd give it 4.5 stars out of 5.


*there's a point in one scene where a human looking character blinks a nictitating membrane sideways across her eyes, indicating she isn't actually human, but I have no idea what she is supposed to be. Which I liked.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Why Do Elves Have Pointed Ears?

It's generally assumed in Western culture today that elves, and more widely many types of fairies, have pointed ears and the image has become so ingrained in popular culture as to be a trope. Yet why do we picture elves and fairies with pointed ears, when most descriptions from European folklore^ emphasize how human-like these beings appear?

Arthur Rackham illustration, public domain
When we look at descriptions of fairies, under different names, from folklore we generally find their human-like appearance being emphasized. In the 'Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer' Thomas initially mistakes the Fairy Queen for the Virgin Mary; in the 'Ballad of Tam Lin' Janet has to ask Tam Lin to clarify whether he is truly a fairy or was once mortal, indicating that there's no obvious physical indicators of his nature (Acland, 2017). As Andrew Lang says: "There seems little in the characteristics of these fairies of romance to distinguish them from human beings, except their supernatural knowledge and power." (Wimberly, 1965). Yeats, in the late 19th century relates this description of a Fairy woman given to him by a woman in Ulster: "She was like a woman about thirty, brown-haired and round in the face. She was like Miss Betty, your grandmother's sister, and Betty was like none of the rest, not like your grandmother, nor any of them. She was round and fresh in the face..." (Yeats, 1902). In all of these examples and others across folklore we see fairy people being described without pointed ears and notably with a very human-like appearance, usually the only indication of their Otherworldly nature comes through their actions, demeanor, an energy or feeling around them, or a perception people have of them as such.

So where then do we get the idea that elves and fairies have pointed ears? The answer is a bit convoluted and requires looking to the way that Christianity depicted demons, the way that Greeks described satyrs, and finally Victorian art.

The concept of elves and fairies with pointed ears in Western culture is likely rooted in Christian demonic imagery. This is because Christianity in seeking to explain the existence of elves and fairies fit them into the cosmology as a type of demon or fallen angel, which logically led to people imagining demonic characteristics onto fairies. As far back as 1320 we can find depictions of demons with pointed ears, usually along with other physical deformities, especially animalistic features (Bovey, 2006). These pointed ears and horrific appearances are in sharp contrast to the way that angelic and divine beings are depicted, emphasizing through physical depiction the hellish nature of these demonic beings. Whereas the saved souls and angels are emphatically human the demons are just as emphatically inhuman with their obvious animal features, including their ears. This is likely an intentional device to make the demons unappealing and frightening, in opposition to the relatable human-like angels. In folklore we also often see fairies described with animal features, including tails or webbed feet, as well as physical deformities like hollow backs; although fairies are just as often described as beautiful as they are grotesque. Because Christianity chose to depict demons in the way that it did and because they explained fairies in their cosmology as a type of demon or fallen angel, and because fairylore itself described fairies as having physical features that could fit the later Christian descriptions of demons there was a certain inevitability in the artistic depictions of the two types of beings blending together.

Although it may be understandable as to why Christianity chose to show demons as horrific in artwork, pointed ears inclusive, this does beg the question of why Christianity chose to depict its demons this way when in the Bible they are described as fallen angels, and angels are certainly not horrifically animal-like in appearance. Although some angels can look disturbing based on how they are described in the Bible - cherubim for example have four wings that are covered in eyes - most are simply referred to as 'men' without any further detail, implying that while they were not human they also weren't exceptionally strange looking (KJV, 2017). In fact in stories where they show up some people may recognize them for what they are but others often do not, which we see in the story of Lot and his angelic visitors in Genesis 19; this at least implies that they can pass as human. The Bible also makes it clear that Satan and his servants - read demons - masquerade as angels and servants of light which would seem to contradict the idea of demons having a grotesque appearance (KJV, 2017).

Looking further back though we see that there were some beings in Greek and Roman mythology that did have animalistic features and potentially pointed ears, including beings like satyrs. Satyrs were described with ears that could be either donkey like or goat like in shape, and in artwork this is easily perceived as pointed (Atsma, 2017). In the King James version of the Bible there are references to satyrs*, which may be a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for a type of spirit (Jackson, 2017). Even though a mistranslation is likely in that case it speaks to a cultural perception that related satyrs to demons. The word in question that is being given as satyr is sa'im which may be a corruption of the Hebrew seirim. In old testament demonology the seirim was a being that blended attributes of a goat and demon, based perhaps on the practice of representing a demon by a symbolic animal with similar attributes (Rodriguez, 2017). Satyrs, with their goat-like features and wild natures were an easy target to later be shifted into the bad-guys of the new religion, particularly with the goats already existing symbolism as an animal of the wilds connected to infertility and danger. It is likely then that the classical depictions of satyrs influenced that later Christian depictions of demons.

Puck, 1629 woodcut from 'Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests', public domain

Early depictions of elves and fairies in artwork show them in line with folklore depictions, that is mostly human like in appearance although they may be either beautiful or ugly and were sometimes shown as very small. As we enter into the Victorian era we begin to see elves and fairies shown with pointed ears, probably based on popular imagery of Puck which in turn drew on demonic imagery that was drawing on the depictions of satyrs (Wright, 2009). Puck was a popular folkloric figure that had long blended fairylore and demonology, understood as a type of fairy, individual being, and also a name for the Devil (Wright, 2009). This blurring of fairylore and Christian cosmology was fertile ground for artwork and laid the foundation for a wider understanding of fairies through this lens; the artists of the Victorian era slowly refined the concept so that what began as pointed ears only on the most wild of fey beings eventually spread to pointed ears even on the delicate winged nature sprites. By the 19th century artists began depicting elves and fairies with pointed ears almost exclusively. By the 20th century we see these descriptions entering written media with both prose and poetry describing elves and fairies with pointed ears. Even Tolkien tentatively described his Hobbits with slightly pointed ears and his Elves, at one time* with pointed or leaf shaped ears (Dunkerson, 2017). The concept has now become ubiquitous, spreading throughout popculture and into folklore, so that it is simply taken as a given that elves and fairies have pointed ears. More recently I have noticed a shift particularly in anime and rpgs from the smaller leaf-shaped ears of Victorian art and Tolkien to excessively exaggerated, elongated ears that stretch above or beyond the head and are more reminiscent of donkey ears in shape.

How does this all result in a modern view of elves and fairies with pointed ears? We seem to see a pattern where satyrs were, at least in part, the basis for later depictions of demons and then in turn demons influenced the perception in artwork of what fairies looked like, with the idea that fairies were a kind of fallen angel. Although in folklore we don't find many descriptions of fairies' ears and particularly not of their ears being pointed, we begin in the Victorian period to see them shown this way by most artists. These pointed ears, along with some other animalistic features, become the tell-tale signs of a being's Otherworldly nature, often in art combined with wings*. Pointed ears became a quick way to signal to a viewer that the subject of a piece wasn't human even if they seemed so in all other ways, or in other cases to emphasize their inhuman nature.

For whatever its worth, I personally haven't seen many Otherworldly beings that do have pointed ears. Your experiences may vary.

'La Belle Dame sans Merci' Waterhouse, public domain


^I'm focusing specifically here on Western culture and European folklore because I am not well versed enough in other areas of folklore to speak to the ear-shapes of fairies throughout the world. Although that would be an interesting topic to discuss the research involved is beyond the scope of this blog at this time. I would tentatively suggest based on what I know of specifically Japanese and Chinese folklore as well as Native American folklore that it's likely most fairies have round ears as when in a human-like form they are generally described as being able to pass as human or otherwise looking human, however I cannot say so with certainty without a great deal more research.
*for example, Isaiah 34:14: "The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest." - KJV Bible
*the wings come from the theater and the need to signal to audiences that an actor was playing a fairy, although I suspect this too is rooted in the later connection of fairies to demons.
*in fairness he did seem to later pull back from this description and its an open ended debate as to whether his ultimate intention was for his elves to have pointed ears or not.

References:
Bovey, A., (2006) Monsters and Grotesques in Medieval Manuscripts
Acland, A., (2017) Tam Lin Balladry
Rodriguez, A., (2017) Old Testament Demonology
KJV (2017) Official King James Bible online https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/
Jackson, W., (2017) What Are the Unicorns and Satyrs in the Bible?
Dunkerson, C., (2017) Do the Elves in tolkien's Stories Have Pointed Ears? http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/Ears.html
Yeats, W., (1902) Celtic Twilight
Wright, A., (2009) Puck Through the Ages https://www.boldoutlaw.com/puckrobin/puckages.html
Mikl, A., (2004) Fairy Paintings in 19th Century Art and Late 20th Century Art: A Comparative Study http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/lib/thesis/2004/2004mikla.pdf
Wimberly, L., (1965) Folklore in the English & Scottish Ballads
Atsma, A., (2017) Satyroi http://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Satyroi.html

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fair Folk Q & A

Recently for Patheos I did a post based on having people ask me questions on social media about the Morrigan which I answered in a Q&A format in a blog. Afterwards I had several people ask me to do one based around the Fair Folk and this is the result. As always I'll point out that this is based on my personal knowledge and experience with Themselves and also that I use the term fairies as a generic catch-all term for a variety of beings who are Otherworldly in nature. 

Eric asks about credible modern sources for sightings?
My answer - there's a site called Fairyist that has a collection of sightings, both from folklore and more modern examples. There's also a book by Marjorie Johnson called 'Seeing Fairies' that is a collection of modern sightings.

Eric also asks if I have a personal favorite encounter story?
My answer - Hard to say I have a favorite. Probably the white fairy hound was one of the ones that has stuck with me the most. That was back around '99. I was working for an ambulance company and besides emergencies we also did routine medical transfers. It was around 430 am on a february morning and we were parked next to a large grassy lot that was fenced off for construction. My partner stayed in the ambulance reading while we waited to go do our pick up at a local nursing home but I got out to stretch my legs. Standing near the fence looking into the darkness I noticed a white shape coming towards me across the field. It was large and obviously dog shaped, maybe the size of a German Shepherd, but all white. I thought maybe it was someone letting their dog run in the field, but I couldn't see any people anywhere. And it just kept running straight at me, like with a purpose. And that started to make me nervous, and then I noticed something seemed off with its gait. Like it was running with this oddly hitching movement. So it gets about 2/3rds or so across the field to where I can see it more clearly in the dark and I realize it looks like a large greyhound, but a bit heavier, and it only has one front leg kind of centered in its chest.
I have never moved so fast in my life as I did getting back in that ambulance. I scared my partner, who wanted to know what my problem was, and I said there was a dog - except when we looked out there was no dog. Nothing. Just darkness. And mind you it was impossible for it to have run anywhere in the amount of time between when I jumped in the rig and when we looked out, and the whole area was surrounded by a chainlink fence. It was just gone.

Ruth asks whether it's better to leave offerings indoors or outdoors?
My answer - there's two ways to look at this, one is that inside offerings invite them in so it can be safer to leave things outside. The other is that in a lot of folklore offerings were left in specific places inside, so it is okay to do.
I tend to favor the idea that its really the consistency that matters so, either leave things in both places or stick to one.

Benni asks whether it's true that bells drive away fairies, or if it's okay to use them in fairy related rituals?
My answer - the bells go both ways - folklore says bells, particularly church bells, drive away fairies. However bells are also strongly associated with them, including with the fairy Rade.
I was told that the sound of bells drives away negative entities, but draw in goodly inclined ones



Anita asks of the Fair Folk have human descendants?
My answer - I get asked this question a lot, and folklore is pretty clear that the answer is yes. Many Irish families trace their ancestry back to members of the Tuatha De Danann or to Fairy Kings or Queens.

Kelly asks about the effect of tuning into the Fey through cultural lenses, local folklore, and ancestral folklore?
My answer - I think all of these play a role. When we have a very strong cultural filter in place, like in any other area, it will color our perceptions. We see what we expect to see or at least give familiar names to things - I often tell a story about an each usige (water horse) in a local lake, which may or may not actually be a Celtic water horse but that name is the best I know to describe the being that is there.
That said though local spirits will always also be present and have their own tone and energy. I always recommend people look into the local folklore and fairylore of their area as much as possible.
Ancestral ties/cultural heritage can also have an effect if fey beings from that background seek us out or are drawn to us.
So like with so many things its really a matter of 'all of the above'

Ellen asks if the term Fair Folk is strictly Celtic or applies to other culture?
My answer - 'Fair Folk' as such would be a specifically Irish term for the beings who live in the fairy mounds; it can be used in a more general way or as a more specific descriptor for beings that are human-like in appearance and magically powerful (think roughly like Tolkien's elves). Other Celtic cultures have similar terms which are roughly analogous to the Irish Fair Folk, like the Welsh Tylwyth Teg [Fair Family] or Scottish Daoine Sith [People of Peace].
However the concept of fairies, as a more general term for Otherworldly beings, can be applied to beings outside Celtic cultures. If we are using the word fairy in its older sense as simply meaning 'from Fairyland'. Caution is needed here though to realize that each culture will have its own understanding of and unique beings within this wider concept.

Sara asks about the difference in experiences with Themselves, in my experience, between Europe and America
My answer - In my personal experience they are much more directly engaged and present in Europe. And yes I am including experiences in america with native fey beings. I have found that the spirits native to America that I would label as 'fairies' are more reclusive and less willing to seek engagement than ones in Europe, although I will add that I couldn't say that was something that would be true for everyone, as opposed to just my own experiences.

Brian asks who is nicer the Daoine Sidhe or the Alfar?
My answer - hands down the Alfar are nicer by any definition of the term.

Aleja asks if I think the Court system or concept of Fairy Kings and Queens occurs in America the way it does in Europe?
My answer - I have found the native fey to have a different system that is less monarchy based. But I would say that the ones who migrated over with the human populations did bring with them their social structures, including Kings and Queens and courts. How strong those are in each area will depend on different things, I think, including what sorts of Fey have strongly ingrained themselves there.
Aleja also asks about urban fey, and whether some Fey actually like iron, steel, and concrete?
My answer - there are definitely urban Fey, and have been for as long as there have been urban areas. There are also some fairies who do like iron and artificial materials. Mine fairies, for example, aren't bothered by metals and definitely don't mind being around human enterprise and construction. Gremlins are another type of fey being that are particularly connected to modern construction and metal.



Branwen asks what my experience has been in differentiating between European fairies and American ones.
My answer - well, in all honesty being able to see them probably helps me here. Sometimes just looking at a being can help differentiate what it is and what it's origins are - the local Fey here for example are small people whose skin looks like rock, and who have black hair and eyes, which is pretty distinctive from anything else ime. Otherwise though I think its like trying to figure out what specific kind of fairy it is in any context, which is about looking at where it is, what it's doing, what it seems to want, what annoys it or pleases it, and so on. It can certainly get tricky around here trying to be sure whether a fox-looking fey is something native, a húli jīng, or something Celtic that shapeshifts.

River asks what I think about human interactions with the fey relating to categories like worship, friendship, propitiation, and avoidance?
My answer - I think there's many layers to how anyone can choose to interact with them. Avoidance/propitiation is generally the safest and the most traditional. I usually recommend most people stick with that to be safe, unless they want to take on the responsibility that comes with stepping it up to another level. I think there's a place for establishing friendships/alliances especially for practicing witches, but there's risk to it, and that has to be considered. I'm not sure a true peer to peer concept is functional, but they certainly will barter and make deals. Worshiping them gets really tricky because then we have to start looking at the individuals instead of the generalities. Some fairies were Gods, or are strongly connected to Gods, and they deserve worship as much as any other pagan deity (take that as you will).

Mara asks how to handle connecting to or honouring the fairies when you have children.
My answer - All of my children have been warded very carefully until they were older. This has included iron in their rooms, as well as broom (the herb), rowan, and saint Brighid's crosses. I also teach them from a very young age how to behave and how to stay safe. In traditional cultures children would be taught from birth what to do and what not to do relating to fairies and that's an approach we honestly need to keep up today in paganism.

Vyviane asks in cases where Christian prayers are effective protections against them why do they work? Would pagan prayers work the same way?
My answer - I suspect that Christian prayers work in many cases because they are designed to be magical charms as much as prayers. I also suspect they may drive off some fairies who are offended by them, rather than that they have any actual power over the fairies. In my experience pagan prayers substituted for Christian ones generally don't work, although called on a specific deity associated with the fey that they may be cautious of can be effective. In the Irish this can be any of the Tuatha De Danann because they all have connections to the sí. In the Norse this might include Freyr or Odin, and in the Germanic more generally you might call on Berchta, Perchta, or Frau Holle.

Jonathan asks what do I think most contributed to the shift from fairies as fearsome beings deserving respect to the modern concept of Disney-fied Tinkerbells?
My answer - I blame the Victorians. Mostly.

Cathi asks how do pets usually act around fairies?
My answer - it will vary by pet. In my experience dogs don't seem to be bothered by them. Cats are either co-conspirators in mischief or else tormented by them. I have personally found that when dogs stare at empty space its usually ghosts, while when cats do it its usually fairies.

Cathi also asks can you escape a fairy by crossing running water?
My answer - depends on the fairy. It's said that if you cross running water you'd be safe from a kelpie pursuing you, for example, but there is also a story of a man who fled to America to get away from a Leannán Sí and she followed him anyway proving that the ocean was no barrier. And the Slua Sí are regularly said to cross water. For those that the answer is yes I suspect that its less that the water itself stops them and more that they are territorial by nature and won't chase you beyond their territory.



Diana asks if we should give traditional offerings like bread, milk, or whiskey or should instead offer things we like to eat now.
My answer - The traditional offerings have a lot of symbolic meaning beyond their actual value, for example both bread and milk are symbols of life and vitality and the name for whiskey in irish is literally 'water of life' [uisce beatha]. they also have the power that comes with multiple hundreds of years of tradition. I've found that cream and bread (or cake) is well received as are other traditional offerings like water or whiskey. I have also found that sharing anything that we are currently eating - literally sharing a meal - is also well received.
The only things I would personally caution against offering are heavily processed or preserved foods or meats. I avoid offering meat, generally, because it will draw the sort of fairy that prefers meat and that may not be a good idea. And it's generally understood in folklore that fairies don't consume the physical item but its essence - variously referred to as the toradh, quintessence, or foyson - which is most abundant in fresh foods and least present in heavily preserved foods.

Morrigan asks if the Fey are loyal and if so how do they show loyalty?
My answer - Yeats once wrote that the fairies have 'unmixed emotions' and I have found this to be true. If they consider you one of theirs in some way they are very loyal - the flip side of that though is they take any perceived betrayal very very badly. they reward those who are loyal to them with prosperity and good luck. they punish those who betray them with ill-luck and madness. We see this in stories where a person who proves true is rewarded over a lifetime, but someone who betrays their trust in some way (often by talking too much or bragging) not only loses whatever blessings they've gotten but is often punished harshly. For example one girl who had a fairy lover told her secret to her sister, who in turn told others; her fairy lover left her in retaliation and the girl went mad.
I guess the answer then is that loyalty goes both ways and has consequences.

Lauren asks how do They appear to me?
My answer - There's a lot of diversity here depending on how the question is intended. If we mean how do They appear as in, in what way, then I would say they appear in dreams, Journeys, and the waking world. If we mean how do they look (appear) to me then that depends entirely on what kind of being we are talking about, but I've seen everything from hounds and horses to people the size of moths to human-sized people, from things with wings to things that could pass as human if they tried. 

Amanda asks if the Unseelie can ever behave in helpful or useful ways?
My answer -  yes, they can. In my experience and in folklore there are examples of beings within the Unseelie Court who can interact positively with humans. The difference between them and the Seelie Court though is that whereas the Seelie would be more inclined to help any human who acts well the Unseelie would only do this for a particular individual, usually for a reason. What that reason is will depend on a lot of things, from a favor owed to just plain liking that person for their own reasons.
Caution is always required with the Unseelie simply because they are most likely to do humans harm without reason and to take offense over things.

Anna asks if elementals and fairies are the same?
My answer - I do realize that many people today lump elementals in with fairies - thank you alchemy! - but I don't. I see them as distinctly different types of beings and while I appreciate that some people find it easier to divide fairies up by elemental association its never been a system that works for me. I tend to stick to the older ideas of trooping or solitary, Seelie or Unseelie, or to group them by location, ie mountain fairies, lake fairies, mound fairies, etc.,.


So that covers all the questions I had received on social media. I hope people find those answers helpful, or at least interesting.  I'll repeat that this is my own experience and opinion and other people may agree or disagree. Also I tend to use the term fairy as a catch-all for any Otherworldly being, but I acknowledge that there are a wide array of specific beings and many differences within the wider category. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Respecting Fairy Places ~ An Excerpt from 'Fairies'

Since my new book 'Fairies: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk' was just released last Friday, I thought today I'd like to share an short excerpt from that work. what follows is from the introduction and is looking at how we can, and why we should, respect places that belong to Themselves:

Respecting Their Places
Many people lump nature spirits in with fairies and that is both true and untrue. Fairies are a broad category of beings and they can and do include both beings of this world and beings from the Otherworld that choose to come here. In the next chapter we will take an in-depth look at the Otherworld but I want to discuss here the importance of showing proper respect to the locations in our own world that are associated with or claimed by the fairies, whether that means true nature spirits or not.

A land spirit or the spirit of a natural feature like a tree or plant is strongly connected to the place it calls home. This is only logical really, as that physical place or object is for them like our body is for our soul – it acts like an anchor for the spirit in this world. If you think of it this way then it’s easier to understand why we should be careful and respectful of places that belong to these spirits. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all natural spaces should be inviolate, life after all is a cycle of growth and death and it can involve destruction, but just like we should show respect to the animals and plants we use for food, we owe respect to the natural places and the spirits that inhabit them. It’s also always good to keep in mind that nature spirits have the ability to influence the mood and atmosphere of a place, so happy nature spirits are always better than angry ones. Generally angry land spirits will express their feelings by making the area they influence unpleasant, causing the atmosphere of the area to be uneasy or unhappy, or cause bad dreams in people living nearby.

Respecting nature spirits is a straightforward proposition: don’t be needlessly destructive, don’t take down trees, move larger rocks, or make any big changes to an area without giving the land spirits a bit of notice (I recommend a couple days), and don’t muck up natural places in your yard or local woods with human junk or refuse. If there is a particular nature spirit, like that of a tree, that you want to connect to you can make offerings to it and talk to it. Offerings are also a good idea if you do have to do major landscaping or tree removal; honey works well, as does planting new growth or working to clean up any human messes.

Besides land spirits which exist as an intrinsic part of the world around us there are also places that belong to the fairies which are spirits of the Otherworld. These are not land spirits and are not tied to the land in these places but they have laid claim to them and feel a strong sense of ownership about them. Folklore and modern anecdotes show that interfering with or damaging places that belong to the fairies is a profoundly bad idea, and that they tend to respond in a fairly direct fashion. In Iceland both road construction and drilling that upsets the Hidden Folk tends to result in machinery breaking, ill luck, and strange happenings until the construction stops or the damage – usually to a boulder which is associated with them – is repaired. In Ireland folklore says that to interfere with a fairy tree or fairy hill can result in bad luck, illness, or even death. They are also not averse to destroying the offending human construction that is on their territory; one recent event in 2007 that made the news in Ireland was a series of telephone poles too close to a fairy hill which kept mysteriously falling down.


Traditionally places that belong to the fairies are best left alone; it is unwise to interfere with them or build on them. There are many stories, not only in Ireland but also in Iceland, of people who damaged or dug into fairy places only to suffer great ill luck, illness, or even death. In some cases even going into a place that belonged to the fairies posed a risk; in one story from Ireland a young man interfered with a well that was known to belong to the Fair Folk and in response they cursed it; when the man next went to drink from it he fell in and drowned (Ballard, 1991). If you choose to visit them it is best to do so during the day and to be careful not to leave behind a mess. It’s also advised not to relieve yourself on the ground in the area, as that is known to offend them as well. Add to that a general suggestion not to say anything in those areas especially that belittle or question their power or influence because they do respond to verbal insults. As long as you are careful not to break things, not to leave behind trash, and not to verbally provoke them you should be alright. 


Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Gillie Dubh

  One of the most well-known of the Scottish fairies, the Gillie Dubh is solitary being who is generally reclusive but unlike many solitary fairies is good natured and helpful to humans. The Gillie Dubh is unique in some respects because of how focused his folklore originally was to a very specific area, and how many alleged sightings of him there were for a sustained period of time, which has led some modern authors to suggest that he was, in fact, a human rather than a fairy. Despite this theory the folklore around the Gillie Dubh remains strong and his stories continue to be told and have spread beyond his original home region.




The name 'Gillie Dubh' - sometimes given as Ghillie Du - literally means dark [dubh] lad or servant [gillie] but the 'dark' here refers to hair color not temperament or nature. Briggs points out that this fairy, who is considered ubiquitously male, was called Gillie Dubh due to his dark hair and not his clothing (Briggs, 1976). This is a reflection of the common practice in both Irish and Gaidhlig of referring to a person's hair color by calling the person themself by that color, hence 'dark lad' a dark-haired lad, 'red woman' a red haired woman. The Gillie Dubh is said to dress entirely from forest flora, specifically leaves and moss (Briggs, 1976).

During the 18th century he was commonly known in one area of Scotland, and as one author put it: "he was seen by very many people and on many occasions over a period of more than forty years in the latter half of the 18th century." (MacKenzie, 1921, p234). He is most strongly associated with the area of Gairloch in what used to be Ross and Cromarty [now Wester Ross] and further north particularly with the area around Loch an Draing (MacKillop, 1998; MacKenzie, 1921). His preferred home is birch groves, of which he is the special guardian, and one might surmise that it is the leaves of this tree that he prefers to dress.

In at least one story he sheltered a lost child in the woods at night and then to have brought her home the next day; this girl is also the only living person the Gillie Dubh is ever known to have spoken to (Briggs, 1976). Some modern folklore suggests that the Gillie Dubh aids lost travellers, likely rooted in this older anecdote. His overriding characteristic however is his reclusive nature and reluctance to engage with humans.

By the measure of the Scottish fairy court system the Gillie Dubh would be considered a Seelie court fairy. Despite this there is one story of a group of Scottish lords in the 18th or 19th century who set out to hunt him down (Briggs, 1976; MacKenzie, 1921). Despite thoroughly hunting the woods and loch area they found nothing and left empty handed (MacKenzie, 1921). No reason is given for this decision, as it's clear the fairy wasn't harming or even harassing anyone, and even more oddly the people who did this chose to stay with the woman who had been rescued from the woods by the Gillie Dubh, now a married adult. It seems that after this time the fairy stopped appearing so often or easily to people as he had previously.

References
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
MacKillop, J., (1998) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
MacKenzie, O., (1921) A Hundred Years in the Highlands