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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Miscellaneous Q & A

I thought it would be fun to do another question and answer blog today so I asked for questions on social media and here they are along with my answers:

Rei asks: On the subject of fairies, do you think there are wildly different beings in different parts of the world with different 'rules of engagement' as it were? I've had some experiences here in Appalachia that do not seem to hold to the same rules like for example apologizing/thanking seems OK even polite depending who you're dealing with.
My answer: wildly different no, but different yes. I think we can find beings throughout the world that might fit the wider definition of what we would call in English 'fairies', that is Otherworldly beings that come into our world and follow specific patterns of behavior including interacting with humans in specific ways. When it comes to the etiquette I like to compare it to human culture. If you travel around the world what is good manners in one place may actually be rude somewhere else, so it's always good to try to learn the local customs as it were.

Rebecca asks: Do you have any fairy resources that are not Irish? I have some Scottish based books that I got from your bibliographies but can't find much on Welsh or general British.
My answer: there's an older book called 'British Goblins: Welsh Folklore, Fairy Mythology, Legends, and Traditions' by Wirt Sykes. I would also recommend checking out this site
For British I'd recommend British Fairies by John Kruse as well as the blog of the same name here

David asks: In old Irish tradition the good people like the finer things which were available at the time; cream, butter, meat and so on.
If we accept for arguments sake that they exist in a different time realm, so to speak, then would you say that today's offerings should now also be the finer things available to us, such as champagne, fine wine, delicacies and so on?
My answer: I tend to think the times change but their preference for quality hasn't. But then I also think that the whole point was always twofold - to make sure humans remembered that the Good Neighbours were owed a portion, and that they expected the top of the harvest not the bottom. Or put another way I'd never risk giving skimmed milk

Maggie asks: Are there any references to Brighid and fairies?
My answer: Not that I know of but I will dig a bit deeper and see what I can find

Pamela asks: I know there's lots of theories as to why they dislike iron, l was wondering what your personal opinion is about why they dislike it so much?
My answer: my personal theory is that iron is very grounding and disrupts their magic. They avoid it because it reduces their ability to effect the world and control things and may also be directly harmful to them. Rev. Kirk theorized their bodies were partially made of energy and if he is right then a grounding material like iron might physically harm them. Although I'm starting to wonder if it may not be a more straightforward and literal allergy to the metal, but I also tend to believe they are or can be physical beings as much as tehy are or can be non-physical beings. 

Eliza Marie asks: What are your thoughts on comparisons between older accounts of encounters with the Gentry and modern day "alien abduction" experiences?
My answer: I personally think that alien encounters are modern interpretations of fairy encounters. I think that as humans stopped believing in fairies as real powers who were dangerous and could take people, and started to believe in dangers from other planets we start to see fairy abductions and encounters shifting into alien ones. Since fairies have always been known for using glamour to effect what humans see and perceive it would make sense that humans expecting outer space monsters would get them.

Kathryn asks:Do you have an suggestions for further research on Yeats and the Fellowship of the Four Jewels?
My answer: Not something I'm familiar with relating to Yeats, but looking into Ella Young's writings may prove more fruitful. If you haven't already I'd read Graf's book 'W. B. Yeats Twentieth Century Magus: An In-Depth Study of Yeats's Esoteric Practices & Beliefs, Including Excerpts from His Magical Diaries.'

Pamela asks: In the remscéla where the Morrigan meets Cuchulainn and has the one legged horse with chariot pole sticking through it's head, do you have any idea what that description is supposed to translate to the reader other than super otherworld weird?
My answer: The Tain Bo Regamna is one of my favorite stories. Often in mythology we see one eyed, one limbed beings as symbolic of cthonic forces - for example the Fomorians are described this way in some instances. We also see the corrguinecht or crane-wounding-magic being done in a position of standing on one foot with one hand behind the back and one eye closed. To me this indicates that not only is the horse clearly Otherworldly but it is also rather ill-aspected, either cthonic in nature or sinister. I suspect a person hearing the story told would have immediately identified this description with a being that is unsainly or otherwise of a dangerous Otherworldly nature, foreshadowing what happens later in the story. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Two Book Reviews: The Winnowing of White Witchcraft and British Fairies

Today I'd like to offer two short book reviews of texts I've recently read that I enjoyed very much. They are extremely different books, but both valuable I think in their own ways.

The first book I'd like to review today is 'The Winnowing of White Witchcraft' by Edward Poeton, with an introduction by Simon Davies.

The book is a new release of a 17th century book that had never been published. It was written as an anti-witchcraft treatise in the 1630's (exact date unknown) but is aimed less at what we might expect [read: diabolism] and more at cunningfolk and similar folk practices in England. The author was a physician and had strong opinions about the healing practices of cunningfolk which he criticized through this treatise and by trying to equate cunningfolk directly to more diabolical witches. The text is set up as a dialogue between a cleric, doctor, and uneducated country man; the country man frequents cunningfolk and the other two are set in the text to persuade him to stop by convincing him such folk are just as bad as actual witches.

Although an argument against cunningfolk it provides a good amount of information about what such people were doing at the time, as well as giving a descriptive 14 point list of what activities a witch, specifically a white witch or cunningperson, could be identified by which included being observant of "good and bad dayes, and of lucky and unlucky howers"; identifying and aiding bewitched people; divining with personal objects [psychometry]; use of spells and charms that they term prayers; and reliance on omens. It also mentions a person having a familiar spirit which they first called an angel of God then admitted was a fairy. There are small bits of folk magic practices throughout the work. The text is heavily footnoted and annotated throughout and includes a wealth of valuable material for a person studying early modern witchcraft or cunningcraft.

If this subject interests you then I'd say it's a good read with some interesting information in it, particularly as it is an original 17th century source. It was published by the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and it is very well done, with an exceptional introduction and footnotes throughout. The introduction does a wonderful job of setting the cultural tone that the text was written in and establishing who the author was, both essential points.
I will however add two caveats: at $45 it is very expensive for a 77 page book and you do need a working ability to read early modern dialects, particularly those meant to be intentionally archaic and rustic. Another review I had seen of this book (which actually motivated me to find a copy) gave the impression the third speaker in the text was nearly unintelligible and while I did not find this to be so other readers may have more difficulty with his sections. A small example to illustrate: "
Cham zorry master doctor, that you shud ha zuch a conzete o mee: I tell ee truely (I thong God vort) I dee ze my prayers ery morning, whan I wash my vace an honns, An zo agen at night whan cham abed..."
[I am sorry master doctor that you should have such a conceit of me: I tell you truly (I thank God for it) I do say my prayers every morning, when I wash my face and hands, and so again at night when I am abed...]

The second book I'd like to review if 'British Fairies' by John Kruse.

I had recently become aware of a blog 'British Fairies' and then found out that the blog's author John Kruse had a book of his collected material under the same title, so I decided to seek out a copy. 

The book is divided into three parts; the first part further into three subsections. Overall there are 35 chapters and they are all fairly short and set up much as a blog article would be. This style lends itself to easier reading, which is good because the author has a more cerebral tone and approach to the subject that some readers may prefer in smaller doses. The first part is titled "the Character and Nature of British Fairies" with subsections on basic characteristics, attributes, and human relations. The second part looks at fairies in art and literature; the third focuses on "themes and theories" relating to fairies. 

The book is 186 pages and is well research and thoroughly cited and footnoted throughout.

This is a book that is going on my list of 'must reads' for fairylore. It is well written and thorough, and takes a much needed deeper look at specifically British fairylore focusing on primarily England, Cornwall, and Wales. The author touches on all of the vital areas one would hope to see in such a text, from questions about whether fairies have physical forms to how they came to be viewed as tiny childlike girls with wings. The chapters are really more like short essays on particular subjects, perhaps betraying its origins as a blog, and often include bullet point lists summarizing key points but this works to the book's advantage rather than detracting from it. One may choose to read the whole book through, read short sections at a time, or use the text as a reference for specific topics. 

The text retains a loose air of skepticism, never committing to belief or stating disbelief, however it does approach fairies through the lens of traditional folklore while tracing the shift into a very different modern understanding of who and what fairies are. The overall tone is one of exploration and seeking answers. I do not, of course, agree with everything the author believes but the material is well written and the arguments presented are persuasive and supported. There's a wealth of material in these collected essays and the format makes that material accessible while covering a lot of ground. 

I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in the subject, particularly if your focus is more on England, Wales, or Cornwall.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

What Is a Fairy Court?

  It was recently brought to my attention on social media that not everyone may understand exactly what a royal court is or how one functions, and specifically how this relates to the fairy courts. Today I want to address this issue and try to offer some clarity on the subject for anyone who is curious. 

'Riders of the Sidhe' by John Duncan

It's important to understand that when we talk about fairy courts we may be talking about two distinctly different things. This double meaning and usage comes from the Scots language where the word court means both a group attending on royalty and more generally a group or company. Because much of our fairylore about the courts in a general sense comes from the Scots speaking areas of Scotland this double usage of the word has found its way into modern fairylore, but a lack of understanding of the language means the nuance may be lost. 
Firstly the term fairy court is used as a general term to define an entire group of fairy beings, and by that understanding it's nature is very broad. When we talk about the Seelie Court (or it's antithesis the Unseelie Court) we are not talking about a specific royal court, but are using the term in that second general sense for all types of beings who may owe allegiance to the monarchy of that court, the Queen of the Seelie Court or Nicnevin who is reputed to be Queen of the Unseelie. However all beings with such allegiance are no more members of the royal court itself than all people in England are members of the English royal court. When we say they are part of the Seelie court we are using the term very generally, and that is probably the more common usage we find. The idea of this general use of 'Seelie court' started as a euphemism, a way to refer to all fairies in a positive manner which is why it is so intentionally inclusive. 
The second way the word can be used, the first definition, relates to the specific group of beings who would attend or serve a Fairy Queen or King; we see this use in ballad material and in some anecdotes. That gets us into what we are going to be addressing in depth here, the Fairy court as a royal court of Fairy. In that case we are talking about a very specific grouping of individuals around and related to the Fairy royalty of a place. With this use of court we swing from overly broad to very particular, as you shall see. 

A royal court, fairy or mortal, is set up in roughly the same way and represents - effectively - the royal household. The royal court would include the ruling monarch, their immediate family, royal advisors and counselors, courtiers*, court officials (such as the chancellor, purser, and chamberlain), entertainers, body servants and some servants more generally, ladies-in-waiting, courtesans, knights, heralds, doorkeepers, cupbearers, ushers, grooms, huntsmen, and clergy (Pattie, 2011; C& MH, 2014). Ladies-in-waiting were usually the wives of nobles attending court (effectively courtiers) or sometimes widows of such nobles who had the task of keeping the Queen company, entertaining her, and keeping her up on the general goings-on at court as well as what was essential gossip. The Queen would also have maidservants or handmaidens who were not nobility and were servants in truth that would handle her personal needs. Defining who was or wasn't in the court could be somewhat nebulous but effectively anyone who was in regular - usually daily or nearly daily - contact with the royal family and made their home at the royal court may be considered a member of the court. How many people a court was comprised of could vary widely from a relatively small number into the thousands depending on the size and power of a kingdom. 

Being a member of the court did not mean having rank in it, however. Having rank within a court meant having a specific title and duty within that court relating to serving the monarch, and the system of rank as one may assume was hierarchical. Certain titles implied a great deal more power and influence than others, and some positions, like master huntsman or master falconer, where usually held by members of the nobility (C & MH, 2014). To quote the article 'Officers and Servants in a Medieval Castle': "The presence of servants of noble birth imposed a social hierarchy on the household that went parallel to the hierarchy dictated by function." (C & MH, 2014). This is referencing human royal courts however it applies equally to courts in Fairy; rank in a court is a matter equally of birth and function within the court itself, and everything is a matter of rank. 
The court would be subdivided into sections by area of function and these in turn would be overseen by one individual and a series of lesser ranking assistants. Lower ranking members may wear the livery of the royal family to indicate specifically who they serve. Sections included the living quarters of the royals, the royal wardrobe, the stables, the kitchen, and hunting; each one was then subdivided sometimes into many smaller parts. The kitchen at large for example had a variety of very specific domains including: cooking area; buttery, pantry, confectionery, cellar, larder, spicery, saucery, scalding-house, and poultry (C & HM, 2014). A scullery maid would not likely interact with the Queen but would report to other lesser kitchen workers who in turn reported to higher ranking kitchen workers and on up the chain of command. Other sections were similarly complex, although how much or little would depend on the overall size of the household and court. 
If this sounds complicated that's because it is, and no less so for Fairy courts than for human ones. 

If you want a good illustration of a modern human royal court's officials you can look at the royal court of Norway here. For a good list of medieval ranks and positions there is this article, which I quoted and cited above. 

We should note that it is called a court for the same reason our modern legal court bears the name - because the royal court was a place where the Queen or King would make laws and give legal judgements. They would also receive tributes and taxes and generally take any actions to govern their country that was necessary. In this sense a royal court is both a collection of people and a place - it is the sum total of those people closest to the monarch but it is also the place that the monarch rules from. A portion of the officials at court would be people whose jobs would be assisting in overseeing the actual running of the country and implementation of the laws and orders of the monarch. This includes the exercise of military power as well as economic, which would be controlled by the monarch but delegated to court officials to actually handle executing. The location may be one set place, may move between several, or may always be changing. The court is, effectively, the center of government for any monarchy.

The ruling monarch has a court; the members of their court do not have their own courts because only the ruling monarch has the authority to make governmental decisions, military decisions, and judgements of law. So a Fairy Queen would have her court but her children and other close relatives would not have their own courts unless they are ruling monarchs in their own right of their own territory or have been given specific authority to rule as a representative of the Queen in a different location. In the same way, non-royal nobility do not generally have courts although in some rare cases they might depending on the degree of authority they have over their own territory.  

One example of a Fairy court of the type we are discussing comes from the ballad of Tam Lin. When Tam Lin is talking to his lover Janet about how she can rescue him he tells her this:

Then the first company which comes to you
Is published king and queen;
Then next the second company that comes to you,
It is many maidens.
Then next the company that comes to you
Is footmen, grooms and squires;
Then next the company that comes to you
Is knights, and I'll be there.

- Tan Lin 39G (modern English)

What we are seeing described is the Fairy court riding out in procession in groups, with the royalty first, then the queen's ladies-in-waiting, then the more general retinue of servants, then the knights at the rear. This is fully inline with what we might expect of a royal court, although I would imagine other nobles riding along with the king and queen. 

When we see fairy courts portrayed in modern fiction they are often greatly simplified or not well explained which may give people a shallow view of what they are. A fairy court, whether that of the Seelie or Unseelie Queen or any of the Irish Fairy monarchs, would be complex and include a variety of beings that were part of the ruler's household, from close family to servants who waited on the royal family, as well as the same range listed above from advisors to huntsmen. These are usually beings who would be in permanent or near permanent attendance on the royal family, with the exception of knights who may be sent out or assigned specific tasks that took them away from the court. Again we can look to Tam Lin as an example of this, as he was a knight within the Queen's court but had been given the task of guarding a specific well in the forest of Carterhaugh. Courtiers, especially nobles, may also spend part of their time away from court, but would generally be expected to spend most of their time attending to the Queen or King. 

To understand and appreciate the fairy courts we need an understanding of what they are. Human royalty still exists in some places and still has courts, although largely symbolic now, and there is no indication that fairies do not still operate with a monarchy system which would include royal courts. At the least understand that these courts would include the royal household as well as courtiers, and that rank within a court would be an intersecting matter of birth and function. Everyone in a court has a function which ultimately serves the monarch, and the court itself is both representative of the monarch's power and a tool to exercise that power. 

Hopefully this article has helped provide a very basic understanding of what such a court would consist of and include and roughly how one would function. 

*courtiers are almost a topic unto themselves to be honest. A courtier was a person who attended the ruler at court and could include members of the nobility, servants, secretaries, merchants, soldiers, clergy, friends of the ruler, lovers, and entertainers. They may or may not hold actual rank in the court depending on a variety of factors. What defined someone as a courtier was the amount of time they spent hanging around the royal court, whether or not they ever actually even interacted with the ruler. 

Acland, A., (2018) Tam Lin 39 G retrieved from
Heirarchy Structure (2018) The Royal Court retrieved from
Pattie, T., (2011) Medieval People, Titles, Trades, and Classes retrieved from 
C&MH (2014) Castle Life: Officers and Servants in a Medieval Castle retrieved from
Brosius, M., (2007). The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies
Thoms, W., (1884) The Book of the Court: Exhibiting the History, Duties, and Privileges of the English Nobility and Gentry.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Elfin Knight: an Excerpt from 'Travelling the Fairy Path'

The following article is an excerpt from my forthcoming book 'Travelling the Fairy Path'. It looks at material from the ballad 'The Elfin Knight' and what we may learn from it as people interested in fairylore. I find it particularly valuable in what it may teach is about the importance of consent for witches when dealing with the Fair Folk in certain situations, particularly sexual ones. We see themes of such compulsion appearing in some of the stories we have in folklore, most often relating to female fairies like the selkie brides, so I thought this example of a human woman or girl compelling a male fairy was a good example to use here.
   In the context of the book it appears in a chapter discussing the ballad material more generally and what we can learn by analyzing it. Much of the book itself is focused on more practical and experimental material; this is the most academic chapter but I think offers a nice balance with the more practical and philosophical parts.

The Elfin Knight

This ballad is more familiar to most people in its later song form as ‘Scarborough Fair’ but in this older ballad the context is clearly supernatural. Later versions slowly lose this aspect and become a simpler song: in one example, variant I, about a woman trying to avoid marriage to an older man, and in others of one lover asking a person to remind another of them and ask them to complete impossible tasks. In the older versions the supernatural is clearly on display, telling the tale of a woman who wishes for an Elf Knight as her true love, and he responds by giving her a series of seemingly impossible tasks to complete to win him. She in turn gives him a series of equally impossible tasks to earn her as his wife. Below I will include one of the oldest versions which dates to 1670 (Caffrey, 2002). Then I’ll discuss some of the variations; as with many of the ballads there are multiple versions and some have significant differences.

The Elfin Knight Version 2B
1My plaid7 away, my plaid away
And over the hills and far away
And far away to Norway,
My plaid shall not be blown away.
The Elfin knight stands on yonder hill,
 Refrain: Ba, ba, ba, lillie ba
He blows his horn both loud and shrill.
Refrain: The wind has blown my plaid away
2He blows it east, he blows it west
He blows it where he likes it best
3 ‘I wish that horn were in my chest,
Yes and the Knight in my arms next!
4 She had no sooner these words said
Than the Knight came to her bed.
5 ‘You are too young a girl’, he said
‘Married with me that you would be.’
6 ‘I have a sister younger than I
And she was married yesterday’
7 ‘Married with me if you would be
A courtesy you must do for me.
8 ‘It’s you must make a shirt for me,
Without any cut or seem’, said he.
9 ‘And you must shape it knife- and sheerless,
And also sow it needle and threadless.’
 10 ‘If that piece of courtesy I do for you
Another you must do for me.
 11 'I have an acre of good untilled land,
Which lays low by yonder sea shore.
12  'It’s you must till it with your blowing horn,
And you must sow it with pepper corn.
13 ‘And you must harrow with a thorn
And have your work done before the morning.’
14 ‘And you must shear it with your knife
And not lose a stack of it for your life.’
15 ‘And you must stack it in a mouse hole
And you must thresh it in your shoe-sole.’
16 ‘And you must prepare it in the palm of your hand
And also stack it in your glove
17 ‘And you must bring it over the sea
Fair and dry and clean to me.’
18 'And when you've done, and finished your work,
You'll come to me, and you’ll get your shirt.'
19 ‘I’ll not abandon my plaid for my life;
It covers my seven children and my wife.’
20 ‘My maidenhead I’ll then keep still
Let the Elfin Knight do what he will.’
 (modified from Child, 1898)

This is a complex ballad and one that stands in stark contrast to others like Tam Lin and Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight. Like the latter though we see this one beginning with a young woman hearing an Elfin Knight blowing his horn and wishing aloud that she had him for her own, and like ‘Lady Isabel’ the elf seems compelled to immediately respond by going her. He does not seem to want to do this and we can gather his reluctance since his first comment is that she is too young for him, which she counters by saying that her younger sister was just married. In most versions the girl’s age is unspecified although she does seem to at least be of marriageable age; only in version D is her age given as the very young 9 years old and we may interpret his challenge to her there as a way to put her off until she’s older. In version A the Elf Knight says not only that she is too young but that ‘married with me you ill would be’ and in version C he asks her ‘Are you not over young a maid; with only young men down to lay?’ (Child, 1898). When she insists despite his concern over her age that she is acceptable – by referring to the marriage of her younger sister – he issues her a challenge, more kindly worded in version B above and more bluntly said in C ‘married with me you shall never be; until you make me a shirt without a seam [etc.,]’.

Looking at this section several things are clear. The Elf Knight seems to have no choice in responding to the young woman when she hears his horn and wishes for his company. He also seems unable to simply refuse her advances when she expresses a desire to marry him, or at the least to have sex with him. Instead he responds to her insistence by giving her a list of things she must do to earn him as a spouse, in all versions this seems to include making a shirt that is not sown or cut, and not touched by iron. In several alternate version there are additional requirements including:
D: '…wash it in yonder well,
Where the dew never wet, nor the rain ever fell
And you must dry it on a thorn
That never budded since Adam was born.’
Or alternately from version C:
And you must wash it in yonder cistern
Where water never stood nor ran
And you must dry it on yonder Hawthorn
Where the sun never shone since man was born.’
In both of these we see the key to the additions being the idea of washing the shirt in water that is not ordinary water and drying it on an ancient thorn tree that has either never flowered or never seen the sun for as long as humans have existed.

The girl responds to these challenges with a set of her own which in most versions are more complex than what she has been asked to do and involve plowing, planting, harvesting and preparing an acre of land in ways that are just as impossible as the shirt she has been asked to make. In some versions the land is said to ‘lay low by yonder sea strand’ but in some others it is specifically ‘between the sea and the sand’ (Child, 1898). We may perhaps assume the challenges are more difficult and numerous because the Elfin Knight is assumed to have a greater ability to achieve the impossible tasks than the girl is.

In the later variations the ballad ends with the young woman telling the Knight that when he has completed his task and is ready to present the literal fruit (or at least grain) of his labor he can return for his shirt. However in the two earlier versions, A and B, the woman responding with challenges of her own seems to free the elf of the compulsion he was under (or at least a portion of it), as he replies to her telling him when to come for the shirt by saying he won’t ‘abandon his plaid for his life; it covers his seven children and his wife’. In other words he doesn’t want to give up his own bed and family for this young woman. She at least has the good grace then to reply that she will keep her virginity and he can do as he will, certainly setting him completely free at that point.

There are also variations of the refrain which is presented here in the oldest form of ‘ba ba ba lillie ba; the wind has blown my plaid away’ which is found in variants A and B; versions C, D and E are fairly similar with the second line saying ‘and the wind has blown my plaid away’ but the first line varies from ‘over the hills and far away’ to ‘blow, blow, blow wind blow’ except version E which uses the opening line of the refrain from versions A and B. the refrain for version F is ‘sober and grave grows merry in time; once she was a true love of mine’ and marks the first version with no mention of the Elfin Knight. G introduces the famous lines ‘Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; and you shall be a true lover of mine’ and H blends the previous two giving us ‘every rose grows merrier with thyme; and then you will be a true lover of mine’. I returns to the older version with ‘Hee ba and balou ba’ as the beginning but the reference to the wind blowing away the plaid to finish; J uses nonsense words. K’s refrain is ‘Sing ivy, sing ivy; sing holly, go whistle and ivy’ while L uses the variant ‘Sing ivy, sing ivy; sing green bush, ivy and holly’; finally M returns to a version of ‘Every rose springs merry in its time; and she longed to be a true lover of mine’. It is likely that the earliest refrains which rely on references to the wind blowing away the plaid are symbolic and that the plaid in this case was meant to represent either a loss of innocence or security. Caffrey in his article ‘The Elfin Knight Child #2: Impossible Tasks and Impossible Love’ suggests that the plaid is meant to have sexual connotations and that is certainly likely throughout the ballad. The other versions of the refrain include a selection of herbs: ivy, holly, rose, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Ivy was used in love magic and had protective qualities; holly is favored by fairies and also has protective qualities but interestingly was known as a plant that protected the heart against love (MacCoitir, 2006; MacCoitir, 2003). Rose not surprisingly has a long history as a symbol of love and also of beauty. Parsley is associated with lust and fertility; sage for fulfilling wishes; rosemary for love and lust; and thyme for love and attraction (Cunningham, 1985). All of these plants then have significance relating to the meaning of the ballad itself and for our purposes should be considered in the use of magic relating to working with or drawing the Fair Folk or love magic generally.

I think we can see from this that it is possible for a person to compel a Fairy being, particularly an Elfin Knight, if they hear his horn being blow and wish for him in that moment. However I think that this ballad along with ...‘Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight’ make it clear that it may be either unwise or dangerous to make such a wish. You may get what you wish for but in one case the result is a homicidal lover, while in the other it is a deeply reluctant one. Many of us may wish we had an Otherworldly lover or spouse but these ballads show us that forcing Fairy beings into these relationships does not work out well.

7A plaid is a length of cloth that can be worn as mantle but also serves as a bedcovering. In this context I might suggest the bedcovering meaning is intended although one might also see it as applying to a mantle being worn.
8In this version as well note that she does not claim that she has a younger sister who is already married but that she ‘has a sister eleven years old; and she to the young men’s bed has made bold’. This does not seem to be a persuasive argument for the Elf Knight however who continues to put her off.

Caffrey, N., (2002) The Elfin Knight Child #2: Impossible Tasks and Impossible Love
Child, F., (1898) The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
Cunningham, S., (1985) Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs
MacCoitir, N., (2003) Irish Trees
 --- (2006) Irish Wild Plants

Friday, July 27, 2018

Reconstructing Early Modern Witchcraft Resources

I draw on a lot of resources for my own practice of witchcraft, and at this point I've moved away (for the most part) from looking at how other modern practitioners do things and instead draw on ideas about how historic witchcraft was likely done. I combine that with folk magic practices and the Fairy Faith to create the practical system that I use for my witchcraft.

Here is a list of some of the main sources that I use:

  • 'Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits' and 'The Visions of Isobel Gowdie' by Emma Wilby. Two of my top sources, they deal with both early modern witchcraft as well as touching on fairy beliefs and practices. 
  • 'Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History' by Owen Davies. Another good look at early modern magical practices which includes some fairy beliefs. 
  • 'Between the Living and the Dead' by Eva Pócs. A look at early modern witchcraft practices in eastern Europe.
  • 'The Witch Figure' edited by Venetia Newall. A collection of essays on witchcraft in folklore and across different cultures. Quite a bit of fascinating and useful material.
  • 'Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies' by Claude Lecouteux. A look at the soul complex within european belief but includes a lot of valuable lore about witches and fairies that is applicable to practice. I found it especially relevant for dream work and journeying. 
  • 'Scottish Fairy Belief' by Lizanne Henderson and Edward Cowan. Primarily focused on fairy beliefs (and also on my list for that subject) but this book includes a good amount of witchcraft material as well, including some actual methods of dealing with fairies used by fairy doctors and mná feasa. 
  • 'Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland' by Andrew Sneddon. Not actually one of my favorites as I find the title deceptive - its focus is more on the outbreaks of witchcraft accusations among protestant communities in Ireland. However it does touch to some degree on folk practices and Irish witchcraft in the final chapter so it has its uses. 
  • 'The Silver Bough' by F Marian McNeill. A look at Scottish folk beliefs more generally it includes some very useful sections on witchcraft and fairy beliefs. 
You'll notice there aren't many Irish specific books in there. Well, I haven't yet found a good solid historic text on Irish witchcraft, although I keep looking. For that area I comb through a wide array of Irish specific folklore, anthropology, and academic pagan texts and look at anecdotal material relating to cultural beliefs. 

And although I don't really draw on other modern practitioners there are a few who I enjoy reading or have found thought provoking or useful*. Not all of these are people who necessarily consider themselves witches, per se, and they aren't necessarily people I agree with 100%, but they are writers I think are worth considering. For that list we'd have:
  • 'A Grimoire For Modern Cunningfolk' by Peter Paddon. Peter was a great guy and I enjoy his writing style and approach to the subject. 
  • 'Call of the Horned Piper' by Nigel Jackson. One of my favorites for modern traditional witchcraft, I found it really resonant. 
  • 'Essays From the Crossroads 2016 Collection' by Seo Helrune. So I admit I'm a big fan of Seo Helrune. Love this book, love the blog (which you can find here). More focused on ancestor work than I am but very insightful and deliciously blunt and willing to confront hard truths. 
  • 'A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality' by Lora O'Brien. Another of my favorite books, not witchcraft specific exactly but full of good material, much of which I find touches on actual practices. I also enjoy Lora's blog which can be found here 
Speaking of blogs:
  • Sarah Anne Lawless has a great blog here that I very much enjoy and recommend. I don't agree with everything she says or all her conclusions but I love her perspective and find her material always raises good points (even when I disagree).
  • Via Hedera - a great blog looking at green witchcraft, animism and generally interesting witchcraft related subjects. Not exactly tradcraft but lots of great food for thought in related practices.

So that covers all the main things I can think of. Some books and some blogs, some academic some personal, a mix of material. When it comes to my own practice I look at these resources as well as the body of fairylore that we have, see what works and what doesn't through experience, and go from there. 
*I am aware that there are many other books on the market in the genre of traditional witchcraft. Generally speaking I have either read them already and they just didn't resonate with me, or I haven't been able to get a copy yet (Gemma Gary is on my wish list for example). 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Fairies and the Dead part 2

So I'm recently running into this idea that all fairies are the human dead.
Let's unpack that because its complicated. 

I have written about the intertwining of fairies and the dead before in a blog that was an excerpt from my book 'Fairies'. The subject is very convoluted and there really is no direct answer to the question "Are the fairies human dead?". Ultimately we would have to say yes, no, and maybe. So instead of going for simple let's look at the mythology and folklore and explore a bit about why they are connected and why not all fairies human dead. 

Yes there are some humans among the Good People although its a bit unclear whether they are/were actually dead or whether the Fair Folk took them alive and made it seem like they had died with glamour and changelings. Let's leave that aside however and just assume okay they are dead and were taken and made into fairies. Humans becoming fairies is a thing in folklore, sure. However there's nothing in folklore indicating that all the Daoine Maithe are former humans and there's material that does indicate that some of them have never been human. 

The Riders of the Sidhe [fairy mounds] predate the Tuatha De Danann going into the fairy hills in Irish mythology and are referenced in the Fate of the Children of Tuirenn as being allied with the TDD prior to their war with the Fomorians. This is, in mythology, prior to the arrival of humans in Ireland. The TDD themselves are said to be among the fairies - the aos sidhe - now after having gone into the fairy hills when humans took over Ireland. There are also types of fairies that are not humanoid at all or primarily, things like water horses for example. And I would hope it would be obvious that nature and land spirits are not human. 

A big aspect of the 'human dead are fairies' argument hinges on the idea that some of the known fairy mounds are actually neolithic burial sites. This is true. But there are a few problems with this argument as a basis for assuming that the fairies are human dead or rooted in human dead as a belief. First of all we have no idea if our iron age ancestors were aware that the neolithic mounds were burial sites; just because we know this now does not mean they knew it. Secondly, and more importantly, not all fairy hills are neolithic burial mounds and not all sites believed to be homes of the fairies are mounds. There are fairy hills that are old forts (not burial sites) and there are places like lakes, trees, caves and mystic islands also associated with the Good People. There is a spot on the side of Benbulben that is literally unreachable by humans that is said to be a doorway to Fairy. So we need to be very cautious in reducing this to simply neolithic burial mounds = sidhe = aos sidhe= human dead. It is not that simple. 

There is also an abundant amount of folklore in Ireland relating to ghosts and hauntings as well as practices connected to the seasonal visitations of dead relatives that make it clear that traditionally there was a degree of separation between most human spirits and fairies. It was never assumed that everyone who died went into the fairies. quite the opposite. And one should remember that a person taken by the fairies could be theoretically rescued - there are stories of this being done successfully. But I have never once seen a story in folklore of a person bringing a ghost or regular dead person back to life.
Folklore and anecdotes make it clear that the Good Neighbours only take specific people for particular reasons. If they take a person and make that person into one of their own there is a reason for it, always. Maybe as a servant. Maybe breeding stock. Maybe to increase their own numbers or (in Scottish lore) to pay a tithe. Maybe as a nursemaid. But there is always a reason they want that specific person. 

So yes, some human dead become fairies but *not all* and not all fairies are former humans. Some are Gods, some are Otherworldly beings, some are nature or land spirits. Some are simply fairies and always have been.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Fairy Priestessing: When Your Spirituality Swallows You Whole

In a lot of the pagan community I see an approach to spirituality that is a bit like a video game: you start and you achieve different levels as you go, until you beat the game and win. This bothers me on a couple levels which I'd like to address before I get into the meat of today's blog which is going to be about my own experiences of living as a priestess of the Good Folk. Firstly the idea that spirituality is supposed to progress in an accomplishment sense, I think, sets up an attitude of competition and of progress for its own sake. In reality I don't believe our spirituality should ever be about competing with anyone else - no 'keeping up with the Joneses' here - nor about moving forward just so that we don't feel like other people are moving past us. If a person always remains at a certain level by choice, that's fine; if they are perfectly happy without titles or degrees or any of that that's also fine. I also think that the idea that spirituality is about constantly earning degrees or titles or 'winning' in any sense is deeply problematic because it shifts the focus from the actual spiritual growth to the perceived prize. Earning a title or degree shouldn't be about the title itself but about the experience, ability, wisdom, and yes spiritual growth, that comes with earning it. And finally I think it makes the things being earned seem like rewards instead of what they actually are in many cases: responsibilities.
So that's some food for thought as we dive into this.

I never sought out the current situation I'm in*, although I suppose there was always an inevitability to it. Years before I actually went through my initiatory experience I was already being pulled into deeper work with the Daoine Maithe, although it was happening slowly enough that I almost wasn't paying attention to it myself. I was, prior to 2016, dedicated to Odin and Macha and a lot of my focus was on assorted work related to them. I'm mentioning this here because I want to be clear on two points. Service to Themselves is optional, of course, but you are not necessarily going to be the one seeking Them out. They have their own agency just as the Gods do and they will act in whatever ways they believe serve their own best interests. Also I see people who seem to think that dedication to or priestessing for the Good Neighbours is a desirable life goal or the ultimate purpose of a path that is focused on the fairies. As if its a mark of pride to be able to say that you are a priestess of Themselves.
I find that idea extremely concerning.

Now, I realize that there's all kinds of Otherworldly beings out there and my experiences with specifically the Irish Daoine Sí may not resonate with people dealing with a totally different kind of being. Fair play to you. But since there's a lot of material out there extolling a sparkly happy life of fairy friendship I feel rather obligated to offer a counterpoint. Not all fairies are nice, and not all dedication to Fair Folk of any variety will result in whimsy and excess twee.

Historically we don't see surviving references to people who served as clergy to the Daoine Uaisle, although I suspect that the mná feasa and fairy doctors took part of this role into the modern era, as possibly did the witches. However it's also important to note that especially for the bean feasa and fairy doctor a big part of what they did would be to protect people from fairies or heal people from injuries caused by fairies - they were arguably not about serving the Gentry but about serving the human community and acting as a kind of go-between. Actual clergy is a different matter in my opinion, so understand that what follows is based on my personal experiences and interactions rather than a lot of historical material** and is looking not at what I actually do, but the effect that this service has had on my life.

There are different kinds of priests and certainly one kind is the sort that is focused on serving the human community and acting as an intermediary for the human community and the Powers. I am not that kind. I am the other sort, although I used to be the first kind when I was dedicated to the Gods. Now I am another kind of priest, the kind who serves the Powers and acts as an intermediary for them to the human community, and that may seem like semantics but its a very important distinction. What I do is what is in their best interests, as I understand it and as its conveyed to me, and sometimes that's at odds with the human community.

 I'm very hesitant about putting some of this out there because I don't want it to be misunderstood, and I am perpetually walking a thin line of what I can or can't say. In this case I feel like this needs to be said and hopefully can help people trying to find their own way with this path or service. If no is still an option I encourage you to seriously consider it, but if you have passed that point then I hope my words can perhaps offer a sense of camaraderie along the way.
 If this is the path you are meant to be on, then by all means walk it. But I want people to go in with their eyes open and an awareness that there are dangers and sacrifices that go along with this. There's a cost for the blessing. Also this is in no way a situation where the person with the biggest prohibitions or strangest restrictions is in any way more devout than anyone else. In my experience each aspect of what is asked of us has a very specific purpose and that purpose, whether personal or more general, is something that serves them and has nothing to do with how other humans perceive a person. What they ask is generally subtle and not flashy or obvious most of the time. To put this another way I've never yet been asked to wear a giant flashing sign that says I Totes Serve the Shining Ones and I'm pretty cynical of people whose devotion is attention seeking rather than results focused.
On a related note: be proud of whatever it is you do, especially if it has taken hard work to get there, but never forget that ultimately this isn't about you. I will also say that my own personal experience has been one where the Fair Folk often and repeatedly emphasize a need for me to remember my place, and that place isn't a high one. The Fairy Queen's nickname for me, affectionate as I like to hope it is, nonetheless translates more or less to 'servant'.

Consent is an essential concept with the Gentry but their idea of consent, like so many other aspects of their etiquette, is not the same as the human concept. Yes, they do often require a person to explicitly agree to a thing, usually verbally, but that consent does not have to be freely given. A glance at Irish folklore illustrates that they are more than willing to compel a person's agreement and that consent under duress or threat is still binding. It's important to remember that, and that there is no loophole that says you don't have to abide by an agreement you made in such a situation. There's a reason that we see stories of people who chose to be maimed rather than forced into consenting to a fairy agreement they didn't want to be part of. Once you have agreed to something - once the deal is struck - getting out of it is often nearly impossible. Giving consent, verbally or by action, is the same as signing a legally binding contract and is treated as such, and breaking it is harder than you'd imagine.

Understand that once you've agreed to something, sworn an oath, or made a commitment there is no further negotiating and you may be surprised by some of the terms that come down and effect you. This is why I tend to always emphasize the need to negotiate like a high priced lawyer getting paid thousands by the hour and always look for the small print. Yes there's consent at least by their definition and yes you can say no, but once you've said yes there's no arguing that you didn't understand what you were agreeing to. Let me quote an excerpt here from my book 'Travelling the Fairy Path' at this point:
"Here's the thing though, about getting into this sort of spirituality. If you choose to do this kind of work then there's an understanding that you are agreeing to all the terms, including the ones that haven't been specified beforehand. And if you try to get around something they are emphasizing as important, often enough, they may give you a bit of time to toe the line voluntarily then they will step in and influence things themselves."

So that all said, I want to point out three ways that being a priestess of the Good Neighbours has affected my life. I am not saying this is the template for how such a thing would be for anyone else, but I am offering it as my own experience and something to consider for anyone who may consider this.

Diet - This began a few years before the initiation but has slowly grown more rigid. I am not supposed to drink caffeine, eat heavily processed foods, or red meat. I am supposed to focus on fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, dairy, minimal white meats or fish and clean water. Anytime I have tried to deviate from what they 'suggest' there's some sort of mishap with the food or drink involved or I get physically ill.
Since then I've also learned that this specific diet is similar to the ayurvedic sattvic diet as well as reminiscent of the diet of a fairy doctor Yeats mentions and ties into dietary issues Cutchins discusses in his book 'Trojan Feast'. I don't know why this emphasis on freshness and specific foods but talking to two different friends have raised a few theories. One, suggested by a Buddhist friend, is that a more sattvic diet may make a person more psychically open or capable. Second, the Good People themselves are known to take the essence or toradh from foods and this may be roughly analogous to the sattvic quality in foods, and also explain why they would prefer I eat food that still has as much of that 'toradh' as possible.
  However I will point out that this is not necessarily an easy diet to live by, especially on a tight budget and with food sensitivities. And its even harder when travelling. There are points when I simply don't eat because I don't have any other viable options.

Prohibitions - So here's a thing that the brochures leave out. There's this concept of spiritual prohibitions which are things that either must be done or must not be done. These prohibitions are not things people take on themselves, for the most part, but are things that are put on a person by others particularly Otherworldly beings or authority figures. Let me just be blunt here, a spiritual prohibition sucks. These aren't just casual things and they aren't lightly taken on or ignored, and you don't get to decide whether or not you feel like following one. To break one is to, in effect, violate an aspect of the agreement that's been made with the Otherworld and the consequence is severe. Sometimes a loss of health, luck, or sanity. Sometimes death. No I'm not kidding.
   At the moment I have two relating to the Gentry. I cannot cut my hair, although minimal trimming for health is allowed. I also cannot knowingly go into a Christian church or active sacred space, and I cannot enter a cemetery where a Christian funeral is being held. The second prohibition is one that clearly impacts my life in a dominantly Christian culture and with primarily Christian extended family. No, there are no exceptions.

Exclusivity - As someone who deals with the Good People there is no issue with also being a devout worshipper of deities or practitioner of spirituality of any kind. As a priest who serves them however in my experience they expect a degree of exclusivity. They don't share their toys, to use an expression. If you go to that next level with the Gentry then expect that any other deep divine connections you have will at the least be changed and at the worst be severed; not all at once or immediately perhaps but it will happen. I lost a decade long dedication to Odin after becoming their priestess and six months or so after that lost my place as a priestess of Macha.
They will not stand for divided loyalty.

Physically - This is a weird one, I admit but I have no real explanation for it outside of this work. Yes I have looked into physical explanations, yes I have looked into environmental reasons, and nothing. My entire life my hair has been pin straight. As I mention above I was given a prohibition about cutting my hair which I have not done now in almost two years, barring slight trimming. My hair has inexplicably gone from straight to ringlet curls and waves; I jokingly refer to them as 'elf curls' because they are nothing like actual elf locks but I don't know what else to call them. Maybe this doesn't sound like a big deal, but firstly it's a very odd thing to have your hair suddenly, randomly become totally different than it always has been before, and secondly I had no practical idea of what the heck to do with it. Curly hair is complicated.
  Will it stay this way forever? I don't know. Will it keep getting curlier? I don't know. But it certainly makes it clear to me the degree that my life belongs to them now, which I suppose was the entire point.
  I share this aspect, ultimately, so that people will be aware that they can and will change you physically whether or not you want them to. Maybe just so that you are always aware that they can.

I like to use the analogy of spirituality as a path because the path is wherever you happen to be walking. Sometimes it's already created and other times you are creating it as you go. The path of Fairy witchcraft is a particular one and it's not for everyone, and priestessing for the Good People even more so. If Fairy witchcraft is a path you walk then priestessing is what happens when the path opens up and devours you whole. It has changed many aspects of my life that I never expected it to touch and I am perforce reminded almost constantly that my dedication is interwoven into every aspect of my day. I wouldn't change any of this and I am grateful for all of it, but it isn't easy and people need to know going in that it won't be.

*I won't bore people here with what amounts to years of backstory but for those who haven't regularly followed my blog I'll recap briefly with links: I've written and talked about the Good People as part of my life for as long as I've been writing; I went to Ireland in 2016 and ended up in a spontaneous Otherworldly initiation; this messed me up for about 6 months; it also meant some serious life changes.
**although I do have a few references that back up some of what I've experienced or been guided to do, specifically in Yeats discussing fairy doctors and Wilby discussing how some witches served the fairies. I'd rather focus here on my own personal experiences though and let that be taken for what it is.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mystic South 2018

This past weekend I flew down to attend the second Mystic South conference in Atlanta Georgia. As I understand it the conference is focused on an appreciation of uniquely southern magic and practices but also open to looking at the wider pagan community, and includes a special track for academic presentations. Quite frankly they had me at the idea of academic material because that isn't something you see a lot of at other pagan conferences.

I originally submitted two workshop ideas and one academic presentation; all three were accepted. Additionally I was asked to be on one panel and one live podcast. Then, life being what it is, an opening came up to do an additional class when scheduling had to be moved around, so a fourth class was added. On the one hand, this was a good thing (I think) because I definitely felt like the trip was worthwhile, always a worry for me when travelling like this isn't exactly inexpensive. On the other hand though I was basically going flat out from the time our plane landed at 6 am friday morning until we arrived back at the airport to head home at 5 sunday night. 4 classes, 1 panel, and 1 podcast appearance was a lot to try to do in 59 hours, considering I do need to sleep and eat as well and in retrospect a little less willingness to jump in to everything may have served me better. The biggest downside to things being so hectic was that I wasn't able to attend many other workshops or have much time to decompress, which is an introvert essential.

So, Mystic South.
First of all I think this was the most fun I've had at a bigger pagan conference, despite my interesting life choice to schedule so much. The organizers are amazing, the volunteers were amazing, and the overall feel of the conference is amazing. Did I mention that it was amazing? It wasn't perfect by any means, nothing is after all, but the feel of it was friendly and fun and the class line up was a great blend of more academic and more experiential.

I taught a class Friday called 'Trading on the Goblin Market' which was about dealing safely with the Good People - think of it like a crash course in fairy lawyering. Friday night I had a small spot on the Desperate Housewitches live broadcast along with several other presenters. That was super fun. Friday itself is a bit of a sleep deprived blur - my friend and I had to get up before 3 am to catch our plane - but I did reconnect with friends and meet some facebook friends in person.

Saturday began with a morning conversation with friends over hot chocolate (for me) before I taught a class on Celtic Fairies in America (kind of self explanatory). Afterwards I managed to catch one of the academic presentations 'The Effects of Muse Misuse in Popculture' by Clio Ajana which was fascinating. She talked about the way that a Hollywood movie and its later remake shaped our understanding of the muses and the problem of sexualization of the muses in popular culture. I'm looking forward to that presentation possibly being published as a paper.
After lunch I had my own academic presentation of my paper on the evolution of the Fairy Courts in popular culture. I was very nervous about this because I have never done a formal academic presentation before and I haven't done a presentation with a power point since college. I think it all went well though and I was really impressed with the questions and comments afterwards.
I also attended a panel on navigating paganism as a person of colour. I'm still processing that discussion, which I think was a lot to unpack. It probably is a topic that needs more than an hour to really get into, and I do wish there had been a woman on the panel itself, although in fairness the moderator was a woman. As someone who is white-passing mixed race I think conversations like that panel are essential and I was really glad to see it as part of the conference.
Dinner was a large social affair replete with both casual conversation and deeper philosophical discussion on the future of paganism and witchcraft. Saturday night ended with a really fun 'swamp witch' themed party which I dubbed 'pagan prom'; it was a blast and I actually danced although not as enthusiastically as my travel companion. Costumes had been encouraged so I dressed up as a swamp fairy because that seemed close enough to swamp witch. Plus I hardly ever have a reason to wear my horns in public.

Sunday I had a panel first thing in the morning about Reconstructionism. I was surprised to see how well attended that one was for something so early on the third day of the conference, but it seemed to go well. I thought the moderator asked good questions and I felt like the flow on the panel was good, although at a few points I felt like I was talking too much. That might just be my own issue though. After that (and with a side trip to get checked out of our room) I had a class on Wodan and the Wild Hunt. It's always fun to start out a class by warning people that I have publicly called Odin a *ahem* shifty bastard before - yeah I didn't use the word shifty. Close though. But the class itself I think went well and it was interesting to discuss Odin, Wodan, and the fluidity of who and what the Hunt is.

Beyond that recap - I had several good conversations with friends, old and new, and was able to connect in person with people I'd previously only known online. I met some wonderful people whose knowledge and passion for their subjects was beyond impressive.
And I did something I almost never do at these things - I had fun.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Remembering Uaimh na gCat

The entrance is in a field, beneath a hawthorn.
It is an unassuming opening into the earth, but there is something intimidating about it. The darkness beyond the stone and grass is deep and full. It invites you in at the same time that it warns you away. But this is why you have come to this place, seeking this cave, seeking this darkness, and you won't be deterred now.
You move into the liminal space of the entrance, pausing and turning to look back at the light you are leaving behind. Above you there is a stone lintel, carved with ogham. Reaching up you trace the lines, the stone cool beneath your fingers. Then, resolved, you turn away from the world above and begin descending into a different world.
The stone path is not easy but clearly bears the marks of human hands. At first. Your feet feel for steps carved into the passageway, your hands sliding along the walls.
In this place you can't rely on sight so your other senses lead you. You touch the walls and feel with your feet. You smell the fullness of the air. You hear taste moisture and earth on your tongue as you breath. You hear your own movements but also the dripping of water, and the stillness which is its own sound.
Everything is damp and slick and there is a sense of subtle peril. As you move downwards the man-made steps give way to rough rock and you feel the pattern of the path changing beneath your feet, even through thick soled boots. The darkness is different here, thicker, heavier, alive.
The downward journey levels out and you are walking flat now, the space expanding out around you as you enter the cave itself. It is cool here, and damp; the walls are wet and the air you breath in feels like some greater being's exhalation. The floor is inches of clay mud that grab at you and try to hold you in place, making every step forward a battle. Nonetheless you move forward, crossing the main section of the cave until you reach the far side where it begins to climb again before leveling off and disappearing into stone. The mud is like a living thing, moving with you, around you, on you.
You are still now, hands and legs muddy, leaning into the stone wall, feeling the darkness as it encompasses you. It has its own pulse, its own rhythm, and standing there you become part of it, enveloped by it. There is a voice in that darkness that speaks to you, and you listen.
You listen.
When you finally re-emerge into the world above you are not the same.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fairies and Aliens: an Opinion Piece

To begin, nothing I am going to say here is groundbreakingly original. But this is a topic that comes up from time to time and I want to address my own opinions on it, as within the community of people who believe in the Good Neighbours there tend to be a couple schools of thought. Suffice to say that the people who hold the opposite opinion to mine use the exact same evidence but argue the other angle.

So, a question that comes up for those who study fairies and/or folklore is what if any connection might exist between fairies and extra-terrestrials?

Here's my personal opinion on it, given as a personal opinion (so no reams of citations).
I believe that modern stories of aliens and alien abductions are actually fairies and fairy abductions re-framed to fit within 20th and 21st century human expectations. Fairies have been a part of belief and folklore as long as we have written stories from the various cultures we find them in*. However as we have moved, culturally, into the modern and post-modern period fairies have largely in the dominant culture of America become relegated to children's stories and nostalgia. This left a contextual void for people having experiences to use to explain what they were experiencing. This void was filled by fiction and film as popculture embraced the idea of extraterrestrials and our cultural consciousness became saturated by these new stories.
The first aliens appear in fiction as early as 1887 (in a short story titled Les Xipehuz) and in Hollywood in the silent films of the early 1900's; the idea however really bloomed post world war II in both speculative fiction and film. The first UFO sighting in the US is thought to have occured in 1947; the first reported abduction in 1961.

When we compare fairylore and alien and UFO lore we see some striking similarities:

In traditional fairylore fairies are well known to steal people, sometimes permanently sometime temporarily. In cases where people are returned they may have terrifying stories of their experience and may have physical marks. In turn alien abduction stories also feature aliens stealing people sometimes for benign purposes, or obscure ones, sometimes for cruel reasons. The people are returned with nightmarish memories and sometimes physical marks. The Slua Sidhe are noted to lift people up into the sky and they as well as some other types of fairies were said to carry people across the sky or fly with them, returning them later; modern UFO encounters sometimes include people being taken up into alien crafts and carried away only to be returned to earth. The reason for taking people, including forced reproduction, are also consistent between both fairy stories and alien abductions although how the two play out historically versus currently vary.

Time is often noted to move differently in the world of Fairy; so too those who describe alien abductions often talk about weird issues with time. Particularly in Fairy it has been said that what feels like a day there will be much longer amounts of time here and similarly in alien abductions people describe being gone for minutes that were really hours or hours that were really days.

Some fairy encounters, including those with beings like the Mâran, include sleep paralysis and overwhelming fear that occur to a person in their bed. In the same way alien encounters are sometimes described as happening to a person who is sleeping and wakes to find themselves unable to move and terrified. The descriptions of both types of encounters look almost identical when the type of being isn't mentioned, although the modern alien encounters usually involve abduction as well which the Mâran do not. 

Food can play a role in both fairy encounters and alien encounters. In traditional fairy encounters fairies would often offer food to people, usually with the intent of trapping the person in Fairy so that they could not leave. In some alien encounters the person is offered food of various sorts as well although the intention is unclear. In fairylore when the food was refused there are stories of the fairies trying to force the person to eat the food or drink the liquid, or physically punishing them for refusing; in the same way in some alien abduction stories there have been accounts of people forced to eat or drink substances, in some cases violently.

Fairies were noted to dance in circles and to leave behind fairy rings in their wake. These could be rings of mushrooms or of darker or lighter grass. UFOs have also been noted to leave circular marks in places they have been seen landing , sometimes flattened grass sometimes burned areas. Similarly the idea of strange lights being attributed to fairies has a long history in folklore, often associated with danger, while UFOs are described as both lights in the sky as well as strange lights seen through trees. These sites afterwards, of both types, are noted to have strange properties and effects on people.

Appearance is an issue that is also brought up but given that fairylore tells us that the Good People can use glamour to appear however they want - and to make our surroundings appear to us however they want - I find this particular angle the weakest. If we expect them to look like what science fiction has taught us aliens will look like, I have no doubt that is exactly what we see during an abduction experience.

There are people who will say that we see far fewer fairy encounters today and fewer fairy abductions, yet now we have this phenomena of alien encounters and abductions, which have many of the same hallmarks. To my mind it seems that the fairies are no less active but have simply switched how people are perceiving their activity so that those who believe in or are open to believing in aliens get aliens, while those who believe in fairies continue to have experiences more in line with older folklore. Fairies used to be feared and that fear had power; aliens still are feared as an unknown and technologically superior factor.

So ,short answer, I think alien encounters and abductions are just fairies dressed up in modern guise. Which is a pretty effective method of both misdirection and control, if you happen to be Them.

For further on this subject I suggest reading 'Passport to Magonia" and "Trojan Feast" both of which discuss fairies and aliens as an interwoven subject.

*there is of course no way to know how long they have existed in oral cultures