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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Fairy Donuts are Off Limits

Recently I had written a blog about viewing Fairyland as modern and reassessing our conceptions of it and its inhabitants. Following on that I saw a post by Chas Clifton on his blog at Letters from Hardscrabble Creek 'In the Land of Fairy Don't Eat the Pentagram Pizza' which touched on my blog as well the post by John Beckett that had inspired mine, but Clifton also went further to talk about modern human food in Fairy and suggested "there might be some tempting restaurants".

And that has me thinking, because he makes an excellent point that definitely needs to be brought up. Just as we tend to have an anachronistic view of Fairy itself and those within it, seeing medieval towns and tunic clad, hose wearing people, we may also anachronize the food. Or at least have a very specific idea of what food we'd be offered. And like so many other instances where there can be danger when we let our guard down if we are watching out for the ubiquitous fairy apple to be offered to us by a cloak-clad crone as we walk a dusty road we may unthinkingly take the lemonade offered by the friendly child or the biscotti offered as a free sample in front of a cafe.
And we'll forget that all of these are the exact same delicious trap. 


When we look at folklore it's very clear - and I've discussed before - that eating the food of Fairy is dangerous. It binds a person to the place, either through obligation or transmutation. But when we think of what food we'd be offered what do we imagine? 

Probably not donuts and milkshakes.




I can understand why people tend to have a set idea of what food they'd be offered in Fairy. In the folklore it's often simply called food and that's not helpful. When it is specified, in the Adventures of Connla or the Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, we see apples being mentioned. Not for any Christian symbolism in my opinion, at least not originally, but for older mythic themes of youth and immortality. Apples and the Otherworld have very old connections afterall, to the point that Manannán's realm there is named 'region of apple-trees' [Emain Abhlac]. In Rosetti's poem 'the Goblin Market' the fairy food was fruit of various kinds. It's easy to go with the idea of fruit, and because we have an ingrained view of Fairyland as primitive and existing in our past people tend to naturally picture historic dishes or simple foods. And in fairness you may encounter or hear stories of people being offered that sort of thing; In Cutchin's book 'Trojan Feast' he mentions modern encounters where people were offered berries, pancakes, and milk to name a few. So that does still happen and I don't want to imply it doesn't. 

But just as there are cities to be found in Fairy and modern encounters of fairy beings that look very much like humans but are not* we may also encounter or be offered fairy food that is not what we expect. Personally I find baked goods to be pretty common, especially sweet breads, rather like bread-shaped cakes, and little cakes. I think though that if they were trying to lure a person in they would offer whatever seemed most alluring and innocuous to that person. If you happen to run into a group of the Good People who are trying to trap you they may offer you the prerequisite apple, but they may also offer you chocolate chip cookies just like you loved as a child or invite you to sit down to that aforementioned pizza, which just happens to be your favorite. There was a post on Tumblr that mentioned the Good People using a coffee shop to trap the unwary, where you were fine if you stuck to what you paid for but you were doomed if you accepted anything offered for free - because in Fairy nothing is ever free. 

So always remember my friends, no matter how much you want that donut in Fairy just say no and keep walking on. 





* see Fairy Census entry #22 for one example 


Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Morrigan's Call Retreat 2018

 The beginning of June, for the fifth time, I headed off to the Morrigan's Call Retreat to share in fellowship with other people who honour the Great Queens. Every year I teach workshops at the Retreat and help in the rituals; I see old friends and make new connections with people. My experiences over the years have been good ones and I always write about them when I get back.

Bridge entering the location of the Retreat

This year has been a bit different for me and was both bittersweet and nostalgic.

Last year I shared a cabin with three friends, Mel, Angela, and Jaime. It was a cabin that I had been in before and I like staying in; it has personality. We had a good time bunking together and it was fun to be with friends. The location is beautiful and last year we woke to the sounds of crows in the trees and the nearby river. It was nice to stay with friends I don't see in person often, like Angela and Jaime, and I enjoyed spending some time with Jaime at the Retreat because she and I had a variety of similar interests including fairylore. And she's just a great person to be around in general.
 At the end of last summer Jaime was killed by her ex-boyfriend.
I still miss her.
This year I was in the same cabin, with my other two friends, that we were in last year and it was hard not to think of the person who wasn't there. It was both good to remember how happy she was there and sad to be reminded of what had happened. We set up a picture of Jaime in the cabin so that she would be with us again*; I certainly found my mind going to her often over the weekend.

I was also faced with dealing with the way that my spirituality has shifted, whether I wanted to or not. Ireland 2016 was pivotal for me, which I wrote about after I got back, and as time has gone by things have only shifted further and settled into what they started to become then. I had to accept my dedication to Odin ending and now at this year's Retreat I have been faced with my dedication to Macha ending as well. My understanding of myself in relation to the work I do and the way I have honoured the Gods has had to be re-assessed, which is not a bad thing but is not an easy thing either. Being in service to - dedicated to use a more relatable term - the Othercrowd and realizing they mean that to be an exclusive focus in most ways requires some realigning on my part, especially as the idea of that kind of monofocus has never been part of my mindset before.

This was the first year that I wasn't able to attend any other workshops. It isn't that I didn't want to, in fact I had planned to, but I found myself instead in several good very in-depth conversations. So rather than getting to soak in other people's structured wisdom and knowledge I learned from others organically and casually, sitting around a table as the sun set or walking through the woods. There was a lot of conversation and a feeling of building community in a different way, directly one-on-one through discussions rather than in workshops.

This was also the first year that I had a lessened role in the rituals at the Retreat, something that related to my shifting spirituality. My role as a priestess is no less active - actually felt more active this year in my service to the Daoine Maithe - but it was not expressed by speaking for or allowing Macha to speak through me. That, for me, is in the past. The rituals were still powerful and moving and I was glad to have the role in them that I did; people seemed to find both the rituals and the Temple moving.

I taught three workshops at the Retreat: Meeting the Morrigans, Shapeshifting in Irish Mythology, and Fairy Queens. It's always difficult to judge how classes are received but as far as I was able to tell they seemed to go well. There was a lot of interest and they are all subjects that I could talk about for more than an hour easily so there was lots of material to go over. The Fairy Queens class was especially fun to do for me as I work on my book project with the same focus.

This year in many ways was one of transition for me and that can be a painful thing even when it's necessary. One thing that has stayed the same throughout the years is the feeling of community and unity that comes with the Morrigan's Call. So many people from diverse paths and diverse backgrounds and yet everyone for those few days comes together to honour the Morrigan. It gives me hope see it, and to see it continuing from year to year.

the river near our cabin



* there was also a lovely framed picture of her in the Temple

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Modern Fairyland, or Experiencing the Otherworld as a 21st Century City

John Beckett recently wrote a blog which tangentially touched on two things I want to expand on here: the way neopagans Romanticize the world of Fairy and experiencing a place in Fairy that seemed much like modern America. I think that both of these points deserve some discussion and that they tie together so it makes sense to tackle them together. I do want to preface this by saying that while I can and usually do to some degree point out textual evidence to support my points* in this case going to be discussing my own personal experiences or what people in this context would describe as UPG (unverified personal gnosis). I tend not to talk much about this aspect of my practice for my own reasons but I think in this case it is necessary to some degree. People are, as always, free to either accept what I am saying or not but I would encourage skeptical readers to at least consider what I am saying. Certainly my experiences are no more or less valuable as anecdotal evidence than what is found anywhere else, I think.

It is true that modern pagans seem prone to describing and viewing Fairy through a primitive lens. When people talk about experiences there they are usually couched in terms of wilderness and wild places or occasionally of settings that may be described as historic such as castles or cottages. And that is not to say that these places can't be found in Fairy just as we can find these places in our own world, because they certainly do exist both here and there. But there is a definite and noticeable  favoring of the sorts of Otherworldly scenery that correlates with the places in our own world people tend to say we are most likely to find Themselves as well. Many pagans talk of Fairy as if it were one vast forest or Europe stuck in medieval times.

There's a couple problems with that in my opinion that are worth addressing. First of all I'm always wary of anything that narrows our understanding of Fairy rather than expanding it. The more restricted any view of the Otherworld is the quicker we will be faced with unmanageable contradictions. Secondly this is problematic because when we look at the evidence we do have from folklore and earlier anecdotal evidence we find that by and large people who went into Fairy found it to include not only the aforementioned wilderness but also cities, and usually the places people visited were either much like the ones on earth or similar to what had existed within living memory. Or put another way people discussing going to Fairy a hundred years ago weren't usually seeing medieval villages* but rather described places just like they had left on earth or places reminiscent of their grandparents or great-grandparents times. This is also what we generally see in descriptions of clothing, with the Good People being described as wearing either contemporary fashions or those a generation or two out of date*. So I do think that the wider community would do well to seriously re-assess how Fairy is being imagined and why, and consider broadening horizons.

Now for myself a large part of my personal practice is predicated on Journeying or being taken in trance or dreams to Fairy. I haven't spoken too much about this because by and large these are personal experiences and I don't think sharing them is necessary or adds value to the wider dialogue. However in this case I'd like to share a few instances where places were visited that were neither wild nor primitive.

  • There is a place I have been to on several occasions which I think of as a kind of 'Grand Central Station' although there are no trains there. It is a multi-level building, stone with a lot of brass or bronze fixtures and what seem to be electric lights, with large archways that lead off from a main area. There are clocks everywhere and glass windows. It seems to act as a transfer point where people can choose their destination and then pass through an archway to find the road that will take them there. 
  • I have stayed in a place that is very much like a small modern house, with running water, indoor plumbing, and a functional kitchen. The only thing that wasn't entirely modern was that it was heated by a fireplace. Otherwise though, what acted at least like electric lights, a stove and refrigerator, all the usual comforts. 
  • Several cities in the Otherworld that I have experienced seem distinctly modern, with paved roads, traffic lights, and a mix of residential, entertainment, and business areas. None of these are uniform but like places on earth they each have their own personality - one reminded me a bit of some older New England cities where the buildings seemed older than the overall energy of the place, while another was very sleek and modern and had a very rushed feel to it as if everything was in motion. Not to disabuse anyone's idealized ideas of what Fairy might be but these were not perfect versions of cities either, they had some shady looking beings (not unique to cities by any means) hanging around, there was rubbish in the streets and by the buildings, and one consisted of nothing but one way streets.
I have of course also been to places that were wilderness, and places that reminded me of human habitations from various time periods - but then again I've been to the same variety of places in this world as well. I know some people feel that whatever we see or experience in Fairy reflects our own expectations but I disagree; I have often seen things I didn't understand and so couldn't reflect an expectation and sometimes have pointedly not gotten what I expected. I rather loathe cities myself and if I were to expect one in Fairy I would probably imagine it either as an ideal small city or some sort of perfect past vision of an early modern city and that is definitely not what I have experienced. I will also admit that I haven't seen anything resembling cars myself in the places I've been even though I would expect them in settings that seem so modern but I have seen a lot of metal work in bronze and various alloys. I also haven't seen any guns. That isn't to say there aren't any motor vehicles or modern weapons there, just that I haven't personally experienced them. 

I suspect that our relationship with the world of Fairy and the relationship of its inhabitants with us is far more intrinsic and symbiotic than we realize. Perhaps the way that time moves differently between us affects our perceptions of this but it seems clear that there is a mimicry that occurs either intentionally or coincidentally, or even because of the influx of humans to Fairy. Perhaps it comes from their own observations and visits among us in this world. It is safe to assume I think that this pattern which has occured across folklore into the 20th century is not about to stop now.

What my experiences have convinced me of is that Fairy is a stunningly diverse place and we shouldn't underestimate that. 

Not Fairyland. A hotel in California. But hey I needed an image so here we are.




*in my book 'Fairies' I have an entire chapter on the land of Fairy and it's really too much to summarize here, but suffice to say there's a good amount of literary and scholarly evidence to be discussed
*of course there are some exceptions, but again we can find places in our own world that reflect various historical time periods as well.
*let us all take a moment to appreciate the idea of one of the Gentry appearing today in bell bottoms and tie dye, or a poodle skirt.

Verba Scáthaige - a translation

Today I am going to offer a translation piece I did from the Ulster Cycle, a look at Scathach's words to Cu Chulainn when he left her training to return to Ireland.

Incipiunt uerba Scathaige fri Con Culainn oc scarad doib isna rannuib tair. Ro scaith do Choin Culainn lanfogluim in milti la Scaithaigh. Do aurchechain Scathach do iarum ind ni arad m-biad, con-eipirt friss tria imbass for ossna.
Imbe eir hengaile
arat-ossa ollgabud
huatha fri heit n-imlebair .i. tain bo Cuailgne
Cotat curaith ciallfaithir
fortat braigait bibsatur
bied do chailcc culbeimnech
cruoch fri srut Setanta .i. proprium nomen do Choin Culainn.
Tithis fithog foibharamnus
fethal feula fedchlessaib
fearba do Breig m-braitfiter
braighit di thuaith tithsithir
tren cithach coictigis
cichis do buar m-belata
ba hoín fri slog sirdochrae
silfis de fhuil flandtedman
fernaib ilib idlochtaib
cuan dia-lilis loscandaib
lin do-fedat ildamaib
ilar fuili firfith-
for Coin Culainn cen colainn
Ceisfe alag n-enchride
al de dalaib dedairbe
didirn brodircc brisfithir
bruthaich fri toinn trechtaide
frissin m-belend m-bandernech
belenn di chet clesamnach
cichet biet banchuire
baiti Medb sceo Aillellai
arat-osa ollgabadh otharlighi.
Ucht fri h-echtga irgairgi
at-chiu firfeith Finnbennach Aei
fri Donn Cuailngi ardburach & cetera.

Here begin the words between Scathach and Cu Culainn as they parted in the eastern area. This occured after Cu Culainn completed his military training with Scathach. Scathach foretold to him then the things to happen in his life, speaking through imbas forosna [poetic illumination].

When arises a bird-of-valor
Vast-danger awaits you
Few against a great herd, that is the Cattle Raid of Cooley
Harsh against your senses
Striking necks to breaking
Your [sling] stones will be buffeting
Gory against Setanta's stream, that is your proper name Cu Chulainn.
Swearing oaths stripping young trees
Halidom of bloody weapons-feats
Cows to Breig [Meath] will be raided away
Your people's captives will be slain
Strong blows for a fortnight
Your cattle will go on the crossroads
You alone against a marauding host
Showers of blood, deadly-blood-red
On the shields of many warriors
A band who clings like vermin
A multitude they will lead many cattle
An abundance of deep wounds
On your flesh Cu Chulainn
You will suffer a wound of heart-blemishing
Beyond the second partition of it
Therefore urging ravaging battle-breaking
Furious against a thundering wave
Against a hero of iron-blows
A hero of many weapon-feats
A women-troop will beat their breasts
Overwhelming Medb and Ailill
Healing in a sickbed awaits you.
A face against long-fierce slaughter
I see well-muscled Finnbennach Ai
Against the Donn of Cooley loud bellowing and so on.







Monday, June 4, 2018

Dangerous Things - A Poem


I may be cynical
but I have earned it
so I laugh
I do
when I hear people
talking about
the Good People
being drawn by wind chimes
and shiny baubles
although I probably said
much the same once myself.
I shake my head
at the idea
that They wish us
nothing but well.
Cynical, yes
sharp as a thorn prick
coated in blood
sharp as salt heavy
on the tongue
sharp as the longing
for an Saol Eile.
They have never been
safe
and people forget that
at their own peril
It is always
degrees of risk
My life used to be
my own
before the rath
before the cave
before the fire on the hill
My hair used to be straight
My heart used to be whole
People can keep
their windchimes and baubles
their human made 'elf-locks'
misnamed madness
their wishful thinking
I will tell you plainly
wishes are dangerous things.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Frogs in Irish Folklore


So a little while ago a good friend asked me about what, if anything, I had heard relating to frogs and Irish folklore. I had to admit that while I personally associated frogs with the Good People I wasn't entirely sure why and I couldn't recall offhand any specific frog folklore. So its been on the back of my mind for a few weeks now and recently while on the Duchas.ie site I decided to see what I could find. Since there was more frog folklore than you might expect it seemed like a good idea to share it here with everyone. 



Frogs in Celtic myth in general are obscure and hard to find much information on. However we do know that they had some position of importance, whatever that may have been because frog bones have been found in faunal deposits in Gaul. In a chariot burial in Marne 100 frog bones were found along with boar, pig, and duck in a pot (Green, 1992). Miranda Green suggests that the presence of frog bones in burial sites may relate to teh animals amphibious nature and connection to both life and death.

When we look at Irish folklore we find more material about frogs covering a variety of topics. The following is a summary of folklore from the awesome Meitheal Dúchas site:
Frogs and weather: yellow frogs mean fair weather, black frogs mean rain. Frogs croaking or coming inland mean rain or storms. Yellow frogs can also mean dry weather.
Frogs Guarding Treasure: there are many stories where a person digging for gold will find the hole suddenly spewing copious amounts of frogs until they are driven off, and in one case where men were digging at the roots of a hawthorn the frogs jump out and nearly eat them. Often the frogs were described as unusually large, sometimes the size of a person's head, and they may simply chase the treasure hunters off with sheer numbers while in other stories they were actively dangerous. In many of these accounts the people who seek the treasure guarded by the frogs die soon afterwards. 
Frogs as Fairy Punishments: One story tells of Poteen makers who forgot to give the first glass of a batch to the fairies and later that night found themselves surrounded by thousands of frogs. They believed these frogs had been sent by the Good People as a punishment. 
Frogs and Fairies: frogs also seem to be associated more generally with the Good People, for example we see this in the poem 'the Wreck of the Ferry Boat'
"So Hanly, elves of every ilk,
Draws from his vast domain,
From Cooltacker he draws little folk,
From Sheeane little men;
From Clounshee both frogs and waterdogs [otters],

And green-caps from the glen"
And it's said that it's unlucky to get water from a well with a bucket that may have milk still in it as the frogs will get the butter for the year, which is reminiscent of the lore about not giving out milk or butter on May day as it may be one of the Good People asking and they'll take your luck for the year. 

There is also a story of a man who dreamt for three straight nights of treasure* in a specific location under a stone; on the fourth night he went out with a neighbour to dig for it. The two men used holy water to mark a circle around the stone to keep the fairies out and began digging. The fairies appeared in the form of horses but couldn't approach due to the circle of holy water so when the men found the gold the fairies turned it all into frogs. Nonetheless the men filled their sack with the frogs and when they got home they found the sack filled with gold.
Frogs as Omens: frogs in the house are bad luck or sign of a coming storm and a frog in the house at night is an omen of death. 
Frog Bones: in one account there's a mention of the use of frog bones in a love spell. It says that if a woman loved a man she could take a live frog and place it in a box until it died and all the flesh was gone. She would then remove the 'wish bone' from it and hide it in the clothes of the person she fancied. According to the folklore the person would immediately fall in love with the woman.


That covers the selection of frog folklore I was able to find, excluding only the use of frogs in folk cures which I feel falls into a separate discussion. It's clear that frogs in lore are more complex than one might assume, and that there is indeed a long and complex association between frogs and the Daoine Maithe although it is one that is rather difficult to fully understand. We might gather from what can be seen here that frogs represent a connection between the living and the dead as well as this world and the Otherworld and that, generally speaking, they act as guardians and protectors of that which belongs to the Fair Folk (keeping in mind that these are not merely frogs but large, fierce frogs that can eat a person or effect their luck). The use of frog bones is an interesting practice, relating back perhaps to the hidden power of the frog and its connection to the Otherworldly powers.

*the pattern of dreaming three nights in a row of treasure in a location is something we see in various folk stories. 


References:
Frogs (2018) Meitheal Dúchas https://www.duchas.ie/en/src?q=frogs 
Green, M., (1992) Animals in Celtic Life and Myth

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tri Cuirn o Cormac ua Cuinn - The Three Goblets of Cormac grandson of Conn

Today I'd like to offer a shorter translation piece for you:

Cuirn sin tucad do Cormac u Cuinn dar muir
Feacht n-ann do luid Aedh Oirdnidhi mac Neill Frosaidh mic Fearghuile mic Maile Duin do ordugud fer cuigid Connacht. Do luid dar Eas Ruaidh ocus do baithed a fuis meisi ocus a cuirnn ann. Tainic Aedh co riacht Corca Tri, co n-deisidh a tigh righ Corca Tri. Coeca righ do riguibh Eirenn maille re h-Aedh.
Longuis Aedh adhaigh domhnaidh ocus an rigraidh: ocus cia ro loing Aed, ni sib digh, uair ní bai corn lais, or do baitheadh a cuirnn ocus a cuaich ac Ath Enaigh uas Eas Ruaidh, oc tiachtain don t-sluadh thairis. As amal immoro robai Aed cona sibh digh a leastur aile o ra dealuigh re cich a mathar acht a curn. Ba bron tra do righ Corca Tri ocus dia seithid, each ic ol ocus righ Erenn gin ol. Togbuis Angal a lamha fri Dia, ocus feicis gin codladh gin tomailt co madain, gu n-eabert a bean fris ara barach, ‘Eirg,’ ar si, ‘co Dirlus Guaire mic Colmain, uair ba tealach feile ocus naire o aimsir Dathi anall, dus an fuigbithea corn tria firta na feile ann.’ Cechaing Angal righ Corca Tri tar dorus na ratha amach, ocus tuisleas a cois deas, co ra tuisil cloch leis isin lis .i. an cloch do bai ar belaib an t-suirn a rabudar na tri cuirn as deach robai a n-Eirinn .i. an Cam-corn ocus an Litan ocus an Easgung. Cuirn sin tucad do Cormac u Cuinn dar muir, ocus ro folaig Niamh mac Lugna Firtri an dara comalta do Cormac u Cuinn, iar n-dith Cormuic, co toracht Coirpri Lifeachuir dar muir ocus cia ro fritha na cuirn aile la Cairpri, ni fritha na cuirn-siu co h-aimsir na næmh ocus Aeda Oirdnidi mic Neill, or tucad cealtar tairsib o Dia, co ru-s-foillsid do righ Corca Tri tria firta na feile.
Altaigis a buidi do dia an t-i Angal ocus beiris leis na curna, cona tri lan do mid inntibh. Do-bert a
laim Aeda Oirdnidi righ Eirenn, ocus atlaigi do dia ocus do-bert an Litan a laim righ Ulad, ocus do-bert an Easguing a laimh righ Connacht, ocus fagbuis aigi budhein an Cam-cornn. Co toracht iartain do Mailseachloinn mac Domhnuill, co tuc-sidhe do Dia ocus do Ciaran a coitcinne co brath.
- RIA MS 23 O 48: Liber Flavus Fergusiorum, 1435-40


The Three Goblets* of Cormac Ua Cuinn
There was one time Aed Oridnide, son of Nial Frosach, son of Feargal, son of Maelduin, came to bring order to the men of the province of Connacht. He went over Eas Ruaid, and his table-attendants and his goblets drown there. Aed went until he reached Corca Tri, and rested at the house of the king of Corca Tri. Fifty kings of the kings of Ireland were along with Aed.
Aed ate on Sunday night and the kings [as well]: but though he ate he drank no drink, because he had no goblet, because his goblets and his cups were submerged at Ath Enaig, above Eas Ruaid, as the army was taking it. It was thus around Aed with them drinking from other vessels of great distinction as if from the breast of their mother but his goblet alone [was missing]. It was a sadness for the king of Corca Tri and his wife that the horse nearby was drinking and the king of Ireland without drinking. Angal raised his hands to God, and went on without sleep [and] without food until morning.
The next day his wife said to him: "Go," said she, "to Dirlus, to Guaire son of Colmain, for that has been the house of welcome and generosity from the time of Dathi on, to see if you would get a goblet there through his wonderful generosity."
Angal, king of Corca Tri, proceeded through the door of the fort outwards, and his right foot slipped, and a stone fell from the fort that is the stone that covered the mouth of the division(?) where were the three goblets that were best in Ireland that is the Curved-Horn, and the Litany, and the Eel. These were the goblets that were brought by Cormac grandson of Conn over the sea; and they were hidden by Niamh son of Lugna Firtri, the second foster-brother of Cormac grandson of Conn, after the slaughter of Cormac; and Cairpri Lifeachuir came over the sea, and though the other goblets were found by Cairpri, these goblets were not found till the time of the saints and of Aed Oridnide son of Nial. Because a cloak went to cover them of God, until they were revealed to the king of Corca Tri, through his wonderful generosity.
Angal gave thanks to God, and went with the goblets, with the three full of mead. He put them in the hands of Aed Oirdnide, king of Ireland, who gave thanks to God, and put the Litany in the hands of the king of Ulster, the Eel in the hands of the king of Connacht, and reserved to himself the Curved-Horn.
Successively afterwards [it went] to Maelsechlainn son of Domhnaill; it went as a peace-offering to God and to Ciaran, generally, until Judgement.
- RIA MS 23 O 48: Liber Flavus Fergusiorum, 1435-40

*I'm translating corn here as goblet but it can also be read as drinking horn. Certainly drinking horn has a more poetic feel with the names Curved-Horn and Eel, and the word tends to convey meanings attached to those shapes. I just went with goblet because it felt more regal in context. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Online Fairy Resources

I've posted various recommended reading lists before but I thought it would be both helpful and fun to post a selection of assorted links to online resources for the subject of fairylore here that don't fall into the realm of 'recommended reading'. There are after all other media one can look to for education on the subject and there's some great music and fiction as well. Many of these are also more modern looks at fairylore and show, I think, the way that the Good Folk continue to interact with people and the way that stories and poetry act as vessels for the older folklore to be carried forward.





Videos
Kin Fables by Five Knights Productions is an excellent series of short independent films with fairy themes
Dr. Jenny Butler gives a great interview on youtube about Irish Fairy Lore
There's also this short video of a modern fairy encounter that I recommend people watch.
Michael Fortune has a wonderful series of videos on Irish folklore, some of which focus on fairy beliefs. These are must watch in my opinion.
Ronan Kelly's Ireland (linked above) has an episode 'Pat's East Galway Fairies' that also worth a watch.
You can find several videos of Eddie Lenihan on youtube, of varying quality, and I suggest watching them all. Lenihan is a well known story teller in Ireland and he has fought in the past to keep a fairy tree from being destroyed for the sake of a road.
Lora O'Brien offers a fabulous class on the Irish Sidhe on her website.

Fiction and Poetry
Charmingly Antiquated on Tumblr has a great comic about a university taken over by the Fey.
Five Knights Productions also has a graphic novel series titled Kin available online
Rosamund Hodge has an excellent short story online called 'A Guide for Young Ladies Entering the Service of the Fairies'
Lora O'Brien's 'The Fairy Lover' is a fascinating look at the Leanan Sidhe, and 'The Banshee in Italy' is worth a read for certain.
Author Jennifer Lawrence has several excellent pieces online including 'Tam Lin's Garden' and 'Rebuttal: The Faerie Queen's Reply' that represent good, modern takes on the story of Tam Lin

Non-Fiction
Professor Ashliman of the University of Pittsburgh has a very useful site called 'Folktexts' that I recommend people checking out as a solid online non-fiction resource
Another great non-fiction source is the folklore site Duchas. There is a great deal of fairylore to be found there, although in fairness not all has been transcribed into English.

Audio Resources and Music
Bluirni Bealoidis has a great podcast focused on fairies titled 'Fairy Forts in Folk Tradition'
The BBC program 'In Our Time' has an episode titled 'Fairies' that presents a variety of views on the subject
There's a large array of songs that could be recommended, of course, but below I'll offer a selection of some that keep with the more traditional views.
Heather Dale, "The Changeling Child' and 'The Maiden and the Selkie'
Mor Gwyddelig's version of Buain a Rainich is very good and bilingual.
There's also several good versions of Tha Mi Sgith or A Fairy's Love Song.
Coyote Run has a very good take on fairy lore with their song 'Finnean's Dance'
Some of the old ballads can be listened to as well such as 'Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight' and 'Tam Lin'.
I'll end with one of my favorites songs with a fairy theme:


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Magic in Motion - Circles and Compasses in Folklore

The idea that movement in magic has significance is of course an old one and can be found in both folk magic and folklore. In witchcraft we see this reflected in the idea of casting a circle and in some forms of modern traditional witchcraft in casting the compass*, and we also find the idea in references to early modern witchcraft which involve the idea of moving directionally around a space either deiseal [clockwise] or tuathail [counterclockwise]. This same idea is reflected in Irish and Scottish folk practices where sacred spaces such as grave yards or holy wells were first circled three times deiseal before being entered.

Movement in circles is seen for a variety of purposes, including taking oaths, enchantment, breaking spells, and protective magics (Wimberly, 1928). We see the idea in various ballads and stories of a person circling or moving around a place or person in order to cast magic on them. This idea also exists in folk magic, such as we see in the Carmina Gadelica in Caluinn a Bhuilg 63 where the visiting carolers circle the house three times deiseal to drive out negative spirits and Oidhche Challaig 66 where inhospitably treated singers circle the fire tuathail before reciting a curse on the house (Carmichael, 1900).

The idea of a circle being used for protection is also an old one. There are examples from The Ballad of Tam Lin where the variously-named protagonist uses holy water to create a protective circle or compass around herself, apparently to avoid detection by the Fairy Rade:
"There's holy water in her hand,
She casts a compass round,
And presently a fairy band
Comes riding o'er the mound
." (Tam Lin 39D)
Generally the protagonist takes this action after being explicitly told to by her fairy lover:
"Ye'll do you down to Mile Course,
Between twall hours and ane,
And full your hands o holy water,
And cast your compass roun
'" (Tam-a-Line 39G)
Wimberly suggests that the references to holy water in these versions are reflections of the later use of milk or water to rescue Tam Lin by bathing or submerging him, and also that it may represent a later Christianization of the pagan practice of using protective circles/compasses. In either view the act seems to secure a level of protection for both the protagonist and later her lover as well by creating a barrier against the Good Folk (Wimberly, 1928). The ballad also suggests that while within this circle the protagonist was invisible to the Fairy Rade passing by, and was only finally seen when she moved to pull her lover down from his horse. 

The direction of the movement was important, with circling done in a deiseal way, with the sun [clockwise], being seen as blessing or protective:
"So let me walk the deasil round you, that you may go safe out into the far foreign land, and come safe home." (Scott, 1827)
"...the kindred of the deceased carried the body ashore, and, placing it on a bank long consecrated to the purpose, made the Deasil around the departed." (Scott, 1828)
In some cases this is referred to as 'right and round' or 'right and around' (Wimberly, 1928). McNeil wrote that all festivals started with the deiseal circumambulation three times of the site or the specific item like bonfire or holy well (McNeill, 1956). Bullán stones are turned deiseal to work cures or for healing prayers and it was once the common practice for holy wells to be circled deiseal before being entered. The concept behind this magic hinges on the idea that moving deiseal, or towards the right hand side or south, is a naturally positive and beneficial direction which follows the motion of the sun.

In sharp contrast compassing tuthail, or widdershins* in the Scots language, was seen as having a very different purpose. It was sometimes referred to as 'wrongwise' or 'contrariwise' and represented going against the natural order, towards the left hand side or north, or against the motion of the sun. It is a direction strongly associated with witchcraft and also with invoking Fairy:
In the Ballad of Childe Rowland the protagonist's sister is taken into Fairy after going around a church widdershins, with the implication that this action opened her up to fairy abduction; in the same way to gain entrance to rescue her the protagonist must walk three times round widdershins himself. 
"Margarat Davidsone quhan scho sa the new moyne scho ran thrys widdersones about" [Margarat Davidson when she saw the new moon she ran thrice widdershins about] (Crammond, 1903).
"The wemen maid fyrst thair homage [to the Devil], and nixt the men. The men wer turnit nyne tymes widderschinnes about and the wemen sax tymes" [The women made first their homage {to the devil} and next the men. The men were turned nine times widdershins about and the women six times](Pitcairn, 1833)
"Upon the pronouncing of some words, and turning himself about wider-shins, that is turning himself round from the right hand to the left, contrary to the natural course of the sun" (Miller, 1877).
When bullán stones are used for cursing they are turned tuathail and there are some accounts in folklore of stones being held in the hand and turned tuathail to enact hexes as well.

However while widdershins does have a particularly strong association with hexing and negative magic today, and is even viewed by some Christians as both unlucky and even blasphemous in relation to sacred sites, it was used for positive ends including healing and its historic association with witchcraft is likely, in my opinion, why in modern terms we view it entirely as negative. Some examples of positive uses:
"The said Aliesone past thryse widdershynnis about the said Issobel hir bed muttering out certane charmes in unknawen wordis … and thairby cureing of the said Issobell of hir diseas " [The said Alison passed thrice widdershins about the said Isobel's bed muttering out certain charms and unknown words...and thereby curing the said Isobel of her disease] (Gillion & Smith, 1953)
"In cureing of his wyfe, be causeing ane grit fyre to be put on, and ane hoill to be maid in the north side of the hous, and ane quik hen to be put furth thairat, at thre seuerall tymes, and tane in at the hous-dur widderschynnes " [In curing his wife, by causing one great fire to be put on, and one hole to be made in the north side of the house, and one quick hen to be put through it, at three separate times, and taken in at the house door widdershins] (Pitcairn, 1833).
In these examples of healing we see widdershins motions being used to remove illnesses and work cures on ill people, resulting in a positive outcome for the patient. As previously mentioned widdershins motions were also associated with entering Fairy as well.

The exact use of the circle and the choice of direction depended on the situation and purpose as discussed above, but the wider concept is a recurring thread in folklore and folk magic. This idea includes everything from walking fully around a location, object, or person, to turning something like a stone in the hand with the direction of the motion having intrinsic significance to the outcome. We still see these concepts today in neopagan witchcraft, although how close or far from the folk practices the modern practices have grown is debatable.

Caiseal Chaoilte


*the concepts of casting a circle or casting a compass are effectively synonymous, and in fact the term 'compas' or 'compasse' in Scots means "a round or ring; a circle or circuit" (DSL, 2018). In practice they also seem to have many similarities, particularly the older versions.
*there are roughly two dozen variant spellings for widdershins in Scots. I'm using what I think is the neopagan standard here as the word has passed into some sort of common use through older neopagan texts. Be aware however that in older non-pagan material the word may be found in various spellings including, for example, withershins, wyddyrshins, wouderschinnis.


References
Pitcairn, R., (1833) Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland
Miller, J., (1877) Renfrewshire Witches
Carmichael, A., (1900) Carmina Gadelica volume I
Gillion, A., and Smith, J., (1953) Justiciary Cases
Geoghan, S., (2005) Gobnait: Woman of the Bees http://www.matrifocus.com/IMB05/ireland-gobnait.htm
Harold Johnson and the Cursing Stones (2011) https://vimeo.com/16714531
DSL (2018) Compas. http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/dost/compas_n
Child, F., (1882) The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
Scott, W., (1827) Chronicles of Canongate
Scott, W., (1828) The Fair Maid of Perth
Crommond, W., (1903) The Records of Elgin, 1234–1800
Wimberly, C., (1928) Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads
McNeill, F., (1956) The Silver Bough

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Following in the Tracks of Hooves - a Pilgrimage in Ireland

Sheep tracks at Healy Pass

I'm just back from a recent trip to Ireland, helping co-facilitate a tour for Land, Sea, Sky Travel to the Beara peninsula. Most of the tour, of course, was focused on that job of facilitating for the people on the tour, but I had my own moments of experience as well and as I sit here back at home processing all of that I thought I'd share a little bit of what the experience was like for me. Later I'll write a more detailed blog about the tour and the places we went. Here I just want to explore a bit about my personal experiences.

The title of this blog is based on a joke I started making early on, that we were 'following in the track of little hooves' as we went along our journey. It was only partially a joke though, as we did indeed end up following sheep tracks more than once - on Oileán Baoi they guided several of us to a beautiful spot to meditate and crossing Healy Pass on foot from one viewing point to another they led us along the side of the road. We saw sheep often, not particularly surprising, but it was delightful to see the lambs everywhere and to feel like Bealtaine was more than just pretty words and flowering trees. Following the sharply pointed little hoof prints was a way of listening to what the land itself was saying to us.

Animals more generally became something of a theme for me on this trip, although I'm not sure I can explain exactly how meaningful that was. There were domestic animals, including the aforementioned sheep as well as cows and horses; there were black dogs at portentous moments and black and white cats lurking along paths. At the Burren Bird of Prey Centre we met a variety of magnificent birds and I was able to assist by holding a barn owl, which is like a dream come true for me. There were also many wild animals that crossed my path in what seemed like important ways. When my plane landed I was greeted by the sight of rabbits in the field at the airport; I saw seven of them which seemed a good omen. When we went to the Cliffs of Moher I made friends with a Chough, who after I started talking to him as he dove around the edge of the cliff came over and landed near me for a conversation. We went on a whale watch and saw a basking shark, minke whales, and seals and when we went over to Oilean Baoi [Dursey Island] I saw dolphins in the channel. I saw swans at Loch Guir, and Gougán Barra, and Poulgorm; the two at Poulgorm hung out with me for hours (in fairness they were used to tourists feeding them and seemed very docile for swans). I also saw a wild owl at Poulgorm one evening, which felt very special. The last animal I saw at Dublin airport was another rabbit.

My Chough friend
During this trip we went to many significant locations - places that were well known or maybe less well known but archaeologically significant. They were all amazing of course and important...but the places that spoke most to me, the places I felt the most strongly connected to weren't famous ones, or at least weren't in themselves famous. I enjoyed the camaraderie at the big locations and the feeling of helping others (or trying to) in their quest to connect to these places, but for me it was the odd spots I stumbled across, sometimes fully unexpected and unintended that really grabbed me.

There was a Whitethorn outside the circle of stones at Ciorcal Liag na Gráinsí [Grange stone circle] that I immediately connected to in a deep way, and later in the trip when we came back to the site and were able to access an adjacent smaller circle there was also a solitary Thorn there that spoke loudly to me. Of course I have an affinity for Whitethorns so maybe that's no surprise. At Oileán Baoi [Dursey Island] there was an out of the way spot across from Crow Head that had some very powerful energy to it. And when we climbed up to see the stone circle(s) at Caiseal Chaoilte - or Caiseal Coillte, the signs couldn't agree on the Irish - it wasn't the stone circles that drew me but a small outcropping of rock jutting up into the air a short way off. In the same way at Gougán Barra while the Slanan healing stream was beautiful it was a spot near the shore of the lake that spoke strongly to me. I spent a lot of time at Poulgorm near our hotel, listening to the water and the wind and feeling the flow of it all around me.

The place that I connected the strongest to, by far, though was the ruins of a building at the edge of a cemetery near saint Gobnait's shrine in Baile Bhúirne. I stumbled across it entirely by accident. Our group had stopped at the tobar Ghobnait [Gobnait's well) on the way up to the shrine and when most of the group went back to the road to continue to the shrine I and a few others didn't. Instead we decided to follow a small trail through the woods. It led to the ruins of a large house, which the group stopped to explore. I headed off into the woods, following the pull of something calling me*. After some wandering through the trackless woods I found myself inside high stone walls with the ruins of a building, surrounded by blooming gorse, blackberry, young trees, and thick-growing underbrush. The building was like a siren song, calling me in**. I stood for a while as close as I could easily get, just speaking to the spirits there and listening to what they had to say to me. I could not get inside the building, which was surrounded at this point by a small stream and heavy underbrush and at then several of my adventurous companions had arrived on the scene making me reluctant to involve others in further risky shenanigans.

Ruins near saint Gobnait's shrine


We found our way into the cemetery and then over to the area where saint Gobnait's statue is, but I kept being drawn back to the site of the ruined building. I felt like I belonged in it. I wandered over to the side of the building against the road, peering into the windows, touching the stone. At the far corner was a plaque which read '1846-48 Famine Porridge House'. Reading that gave me a physical jolt. There was a haunting spirit to the place but also a sense of belonging and home that made me want to crawl through the window and move in.



I also found myself living my service to the aos sí on this trip in many ways. I listened to the spirits of the places I went, to the ones who spoke to me and the ones who didn't. I found myself compelled to work to help and heal Thorns being damaged by improper rag tree practices. I've been an advocate of proper rag tree traditions before now of course but on this trip I found the sight of damage to the trees bringing me to tears and whereas before I cared about it now I find it's a compulsion.

Removing a nylon strap from a Hawthorn; you can see the way the strap is restricting growth of the limb and the way the bark has grown into the imprint of the nylon pattern because of the tightness of the material. This will kill the entire branch over time. 

My first trip to Ireland was a profoundly initiatory experience that changed my life. This trip was about service on many levels - about doing what little I could to work for the land and the spirits of the places I was going to. It was also about being open to the experiences as they came and accepting the journey as it happened instead of projecting my expectations onto it. There was no profound moment here, no life changing shift, but it little moments and small things that made me feel a sense of connection to some places.


*not always a wise thing to do
**seriously don't be me here. The smart thing to do in this situation is not go wandering into dangerous ruined buildings.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Upcoming Releases 2018

The second half of 2018 is going to be busy for me with published pieces being released, and since I often have people asking me what I have coming out and when I thought it might be helpful to recap here.

August 31, 2018 - Seven Ages of the Goddess. An anthology by Moon Books that features a series of articles from various authors each focusing on a different aspect of the goddesses in history. I contributed a piece to this focusing on goddesses hidden in folklore. The idea behind it is the way that some goddesses became folkloric characters as paganism shifted into Christianity in europe. There are, of course, many other interesting articles in here as well.

September 18th, 2018 - The Real Witches of New England: History, Lore and Modern Practice by Ellen Evert Hopman. I was interviewed for this book and am in a section of it discussing my particular kind of witchcraft and some of my thoughts on practicing and New England witchcraft.

September 28th, 2018 - Travelling the Fairy Path. The third book in my Fairy witchcraft series this book is also (as far as I plan anyway) going to be the final one. I do like things in threes. It takes a more personal look at my practice and is meant to be a more advanced book, focused on the actual practice of this type of witchcraft.

October 26th, 2018 - Pagan Portals the Dagda. My next Pagan Portals book ,focused on the Dagda, will be out this October. I'm very excited for this one as there just isn't anything on the market focused on this deity and he is such a fascinating and multilayered god.


There are a few other books coming out this year that I don't have release dates for yet. I contributed three pieces to a wonderful Dagda anthology that is on track to publish this year, but hasn't gotten a firm date for publication yet. My 7th novel is also nearly complete and should be out either late May or early June, but again I don't have a precise date yet.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Translation - Compert Mongan

Below is a new translation I've done of a section of the Conception of Mongan. It's a very interesting story and I quite like this version which focuses more on Fiachna's wife perspective than the other common story. 


COMPERT MONGAN

... Asbertsa dagní didiu ar atá do chéle i ngúais már. Tucad fer húathmar ara chend nad forsabatár & atbéla leis. Dia ndernam mád tú caratrad berae mac de. Bid amre in mac bid Fíacnai dano. Regasa dun chath firfidir i mbárach im theirt aranícubsa & fessa in mílid ar bélaib fer nAlban. & asbert frit chéliusiu ar n-imtechta & as tussu rom foídi día chobair. Dogníth samlaid. In tan reras in cath díarailiu co n-accatar ní in tslúaig in fer sainigthe ar beolo catho Áedain & Fiachna. Dolluid dochum Fiachna in tainredach & asbert fris accaldaim a mná a llá ríam & donindgell dia chobair isind uair sin. Luid iarom resin cath dochum alaili & fich in mílid & memuid in cath ria nÁedán & Fiachna & dointaí Fíachna día chrích & bá torrach in ben .i. ben & birt mac .i. Mongan mac Fíachna & atlugestar a céli a ndogéni friss & addámirsi a imthechta uli. Conid mac do Manannán mac Lir intí Mongán césu Mongan mac Fiachnai dogarar dé. ar foracaib rand lía máthair a llude uadi matin a n-asbert Tíag dum daim dufail in matin bánglain iss é Monindan mac Lir ainm ind fir dutárlid.

- Lebor na hUidre

The Conception of Mongan

(Fiachna is off fighting in Scotland when a noble looking stranger appears to his wife at home and asks her for a meeting between them. She refused saying she would not disgrace her husband; the stranger asks if she would tryst with him to save her husband's life and she replied that she would do anything in her power to save him if she could)

[text picks up after gap]
.... He said that she should do it then because "your husband is in great danger. A terrible man goes against him and he will die by him. If you have a [sexual] alliance with me a son will come from it. Famous will be the son of Fíachna. I will go to the battle in the third hour tomorrow and it will be told by all the mouths of the men of Scotland. And I will tell your husband of these wanderings and that you sent help to him." It was done. 
When they went into the battle the gathered hosts saw the man and the warriors of Áedain and Fiachna whispered of him. He went to Fiachna in particular and spoke of the discussion with his wife before and that he had promised to give his help in that hour. then he went and fought against the others and vanquished the soldiers and the battle was won by Áedán & Fiachna.
 And Fiachna went back to his country and the woman was pregnant, that is the woman gave birth to a son, that is Mongan mac Fíachna and he thanks his wife for what she had done and she told all her adventures to him. He was a son of Manannán mac Lir this Mongán though Mongan mac Fiachna was the name on him. When the man went from [Mongan's] mother he left this poem which he said to her in the morning: I go to my house, the clear-bright morning is at hand, it is he Manannán mac Lir, the name of the man who came to you.

- Lebor na hUidre

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Odin and the Wild Hunt - Excerpt from 'Pagan Portals Odin'

The following is an excerpt from my recently released book 'Pagan Portals Odin'
Cover art by Ashley Bryner


"The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt is a group of spectral horsemen who ride the air at night, accompanied by hounds and horses, and led by a fearsome Huntsman (or in some cases Huntswoman). The Hunt is found in several areas of Western Europe as well as America and who exactly they are as well as who leads them can vary depending on where they are, so that in Wales they are known to be fairies led by the God Gwynn ap Nudd, while in Norse lands they are the souls of dead warriors, or the dead more generally, led by either Odin or Odin and a consort (Jones, 2003). In the Germanic areas the Hunt is often led by Odin under the name of Wodan, or sometimes Frau Hulda, or both together, and parts of England by Herne. There has been some suggestion that Herne is either Odin in disguise or else if Herne is a purely literary character that his later development into a deity was heavily influenced by Odin (Ford, 2001). The hunt in Germany is also sometimes led by Frau Perchta, or Frau Gauden [Mrs. Odin], who led groups of dead children or witches through the sky (Berk, & Spytma, 2002). In the areas where it is led by Odin it may be called Odensjakt [Odin’s Hunt], Oensjaegeren [Odin’s Hunters] or Odin’s Army. Odin’s connection to leading the Hunt goes back in writing at least several hundred years and speculatively in oral tradition to the 13th century (Lecouteux, 1999).

    The Wild Hunt is known to ride out at certain times of year, especially during Lent, which is usually March and April, as well as around Midsummer and Midwinter (Grimm, 1883). Meeting the Hunt was usually seen as a bad thing and people would flee indoors or avoid going out when the Wild Hunt was known to be abroad, because of the danger it represented, but it could also bring blessings to people who were clever enough to earn them. For example, in stories like “Wod, the Wild Huntsman” the protagonist meeting the Hunt is rewarded with gifts of meat and gold for his cleverness. Conversely offending the Wild Hunt might mean the person earning a more gruesome reward, such as the corpse of his own child or a severed human limb, while other times the Hunt would turn on the individual and tear them to pieces (Berk, & Spytma, 2002; Grimm, 1883).

The beings who make up the Wild Hunt itself in Norse and Germanic lands are most often the dead, often the battle dead who still appear to bear the wounds that killed them. These ghostly troops also included animals, particularly hounds and sometimes wolves, and horses that may have as few as two or as many as eight legs (Kershaw, 2000). It’s possible that these horsemen are the Einherjar, although they may also be other members of the Dead associated with Odin. 

The Wild Hunt may also have had a living counterpart, a cult of masked youths who engaged in ecstatic practices to connect to Odin and the spirits of the ancestral dead, and held processions at certain times of year (Kershaw, 2000). The Wild Hunt, particularly in Germany, had associations with blessing the harvest (Lecouteux, 1999). We may perhaps suggest that at least in Germany Odin as Wodan and his Wild Hunt was at one point connected to cultic practices that may have had many layers of purpose, possibly both connecting to the dead and blessing the land."

References
Berk, A., and Spytma, W., (2002) Penance, Power, and Pursuit, On the Trail of the Wild Hunt
Ford, D., (2001). Royal Berkshire History: Beware the Ghostly Hunt
Grimm, J., (1883). Teutonic Mythology, volume 1
Jones, M (2003) The Wild Hunt. Retrieved from www.maryjones.us/jce/wildhunt.html
Kershaw, K., (2000). The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Mannerbunde
Lecouteux, C., (1999). Phantom Armies of the Night

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Possession by Fairies or Elves

I'll note as I begin that I will in this article be using the terms elf and fairy synonymously, as general terms for Otherworldly beings. This reflects the generalized use of the terms in the source material I'm referencing in writing this. For those who prefer to see the terms as applying to specific beings, understand that what follows would then apply equally to both.

That fairies or elves are capable of possessing humans may seem like a strange concept to some people reading this, but it is a power that they were always understood to have until recently. Just as they can influence a person's perceptions through the use of illusion - glamour - they can also directly influence a person's mind by bringing madness or even by displacing the spirit and taking over control of the person's actions. Effectively what we in modern terms would call possession, although historically we see a variety of examples of this ranging from voluntary to involuntary, temporary to longer-term. Like the more commonly understood demonic possession however possession by fairies was problematic enough that cures and exorcism rituals for it exist.

Demonic possession and possession by fairies seem to have been understood as different and distinct situations, but they were also seen as somewhat overlapping in nature. Looking at the Saxon evidence we see that cures for elf-possession were found alongside exorcism for demons and in the case of one example found in the marginalia of a manuscript it simply adds the word 'aelfe' into the existing Latin rite of exorcism (Jolly, 1996). The symptoms for elf-possession in the Anglo-Saxon and Saxon evidence however is not what we would in modern contexts associate with demonic possession, necessarily, and is marked by fevers, nightmares, and madness more generally. Madness in these cases was usually described as marked changes in personality, nervousness or anxiety, or significant behavioral changes. This is reflected somewhat in a later Irish anecdotal example of fairy possession from the 19th century which also involved madness. Elves are often grouped with demons and night-hags as beings which both possess and torment humans and for which there are specific prayers, charms, and herbal cures (Jolly, 1996).

There is a specific word for such possession in Old English: ylfig. Ylfig seems to have been associated with possession by aelfe [elves] in particular and had both negative connotations which could require exorcism as well as some connections to prophecy (Hall, 2007). The fact that there was a particular word for this exact type of possession, separate from the word for divine possession [gydig], tells us that it was either widespread enough or understood enough in the culture to necessitate its own vocabulary and that is significant.

In Irish sources there are hints of fairy possession in the mythology, especially in some of the stories of the conceptions of heroes or kings believed to have both mortal and fairy fathers. Depending on how one reads the tales of the conceptions of Cu Chulainn and Mongan it can either be interpreted that the being in question, a member of the Tuatha De Danann who was also at the time among the aos sidhe, physically visited the woman or else possessed the body of the woman's legal spouse*, giving the child, effectively, two fathers. There is also a more clear anecdote of fairy possession in 'The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries' which describes a girl whose father "held communion with evil spirits" and whose house was built into a fairy hill, who came to be possessed by the fairies and was eventually institutionalized (Evans-Wentz, 1911). After two years of that she was taken to nuns and then to a Fairy Doctor who eventually worked a cure for her.

During the Victorian period some writers favored the idea that changelings* were the result of fairy possession rather than actual physical abduction (Silver, 1999). In these circumstances it is not the child's body that is taken into Fairy but only the soul, and the body left behind is then filled with a different spirit. One source described it as if the child was being overshadowed and displaced by the secondary spirit (Silver, 1999). The symptoms of a changeling then would also be the symptoms of fairy possession, which would be inline in many cases with what is seen in the Anglo-Saxon and European evidence: illness (fevers), nightmares, and significant behavioral or personality changes. By this logic charms to get rid of a changeling and return the human are actually a type of exorcism, seeking to drive out the foreign spirit and allow the original to return; tragically like some demonic exorcisms the possessed person/alleged changeling doesn't always survive the treatment.



Fairy possession is also found in mainland Europe. It is seen among the Romanian Calusari who dealt with a type of fairy called the iele; the iele possessed people as well as teaching those who followed them herbal cures (Purkiss, 2000). In Germany while outright possession is not explicitly described the elben [elves] are clearly connected to both madness and nightmares, two things that are closely tied to the ideas of fairy possession. Grimm, for example, relates that in German there were two closely related expressions for nightmares: "dich hat geriten der mar" [the night-mare has ridden you] and "ein alp zoumet dich" [an elf bridles you i.e. has a horse's bridle on you] (Grimm, 1888).

Involuntary possession by fairies seems to occur most often when a person has transgressed against the Good Folk in some way, although they may not be aware of having done so. It also occurs, looking at anecdotal evidence, to children whose parents have transgressed in some way, as we saw in Evan-Wentz's story and the theory about changelings. It is also possible that such possession can be invited by an individual voluntarily, either as a result of seduction by a fairy or through a desire for prophecy. The Calusari invited possession by the iele through trance dancing (Purkiss, 2000).

Cures for fairy possession in the Lacnunga and Leechbooks ranged from Christian rites of exorcism that included calling for the elf-spirit to be cast out to drinks made from frankincense, myrrh, and shaved agate* (Jolly, 1996). Exorcisms through prayers are common but so are casting out these spirits using salves, drinks, and incense. For example burning the plant aelfthone* soemtimes along with several other herbs, such as bishopwort and lupin, is repeatedly recommended in the Leechbooks. Another, safer, option is 'smoking out' the elf or fairy using mugwort. Smoke was believed to be an effective method to drive the elf out of a person, or as Jolly says "to purge or exorcise the internal evil" although Jolly does also discuss the difficulty of synthesizing "amoral creatures such as elves...into the Good-Evil paradigm of the Christian moral universe." (Jolly, 1996, p 136). Indeed Christianity has struggled everywhere to fit fairies into its paradigm, often settling for an uneasy compromise that places them ambiguously between angels and demons and this may be reflected in the approach to fairy possession, which is itself ambiguous.

Fairy possession is not a subject that is widely discussed in the Western world today, yet it was once commonly understood, enough so that in the 13th century Old English had a particular term for it. Unique from demonic possession, although an overlapping concept, fairy possession was marked by fevers, madness, and nightmares all of which were thought to indicate the influence of fairies on a person's mind and by extension body. Multiple cures existed for this type of possession relying to varying degrees on the aid of an expert, either a priest or a Fairy Doctor. In context it must be understood as something that cannot be clearly labeled as either good or bad, and that can be found in various places as a voluntary practice to gain knowledge from the fairies or elves as much as it can also be viewed as a punishment from them for people who offend them.


*for example in the Imramm Brain Manannán says that he is taking on the shape of a man and that he will be a vigorous bedfellow to Caintigern but Fiachra will acknowledge the son as his own.
*Personally I do not believe that any single theory explains changelings, but rather that there were likely multiple possibilities.
*please don't actually do this. I am in no way advocating the safety of this drink, nor do I recommend it.
*aelfthone is an old name for a specific kind of belladonna. I DO NOT recommend burning this unless you have experience handling poisonous herbs. Burning this herb or consuming it could be extremely dangerous. Do not do this.



References:
Jolly, K., (1996) Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: elf charms in context
Hall, A., (2007) Elves in Anglo-Saxon England
Silver, C., (1999) Strange & Secret Peoples: fairies and Victorian Consciousness
Evans-Wentz, W., (1911) The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Purkiss, D., (2000) At the Bottom of the Garden: a dark history of fairies, hobgoblins, and other troublesome things
Grimm, J., (1888) Teutonic Mythology volume 2

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Translation: Tond Clidna/Cliodna's Wave

Today I wanted to do a piece from the Metrical Dindshenchas and I thought I'd take on a new look at poem 38 'Tond Clidna I' since I will be heading off to southwestern Ireland in a few weeks.

Tond Clidna I

Clidna chend-fhind, búan a bét,
'con tuind-se tánic a héc;
 damna d'a máthair beith marb
inní dia tarla in sen-ainm.
5] Dia ndernad in t-óenach the
ac lucht tíre tairngire,
is é thuc in mnái tre cheilg,
Ciabán mac Echach imdeirg.
Rígan ind óenaig thall tra,
10] ingen dar' chomainm Clidna,
tar in ler lethan longach
tuc leis Ciabán cass-mongach.
Rofhácaib hí forsin tuind,
luid uaithi echtra n-étruimm,
15] d'iarraid selga, monur mass,
luid roime fon fhid fholt-chass.
Tánic in tond tara éis,
do Chiabán nírbo deg-shéis;
mór gním, ba dimda linne,
20] bádud Clidna cend-fhinde.
Tond dúine Téite na tríath,
issé a hainm roime in bar n-íath
nocorbáided 'mon tuind tra
ben diarbo chomainm Clidna.
25] Lecht Téite 'sin tráig-se túaid;
rogáet immese a mór-shlúaig;
lecht Clidna 'sin tráig-se thess,
fri Síd Duirn Buide anairdess.
Fliuchthar folt in Duirn Buide
30] i tondaib in trom-thuile:
cid dimda do neoch fuil ann,
is sí Clidna nosbáidenn.
Ildathach is a dá macc,
robáitea in triur ac tochmarc;
35] is mairg roadair don luing
náchasanaig ar óen-tuind.
Cóica long lótar tar sál,
teglach tige Manannán;
nocharb í 'n chongaib cen gá:
40] robáitea ar thondaib Clidna. C.
- Metrical Dindshenchas



Cliodna's Wave I

Cliodna Fair-Haired, eternal her exploits,
with this wave came her end;
the cause of her mother's death
this the matter of the ancient name.
5] When there was held the gathering of the
people of the land of promise,
it is he who took the woman through deception,
Ciabán son of Echach Imdeirg.
The Queen of the gathering in truth,
10] the maiden her name was Cliodna,
taken over the ship-full ocean
taken with Ciabán curly-haired.
he left her on the waves,
he went on a swift adventure,
15] he sought to hunt, fine work,
he went forth under the foliage, the curly-haired.
the wave came after he left,
to Ciabán no well-omened sound;
great acting, that inhospitable ocean,
20] Drowned was Clidna Fair-haired.
The wave of the People of Téite of the lords,
was its name before in this territory
Until in truth the wave drowned
a woman there who was named Cliodna.
25] Téite's grave and her strand are northwards;
she was slain amidst her great army;
Cliodna's grave and her strand are southward,
southeast of the Síd of Duirn Buide.
Wet is the hair of Duirn Buide
30] in the waves of the heavy tide:
yet displeasure to anyone's blood there,
it is Cliodna that was drowned.
Ildathach and his two sons,
were drowned the three while courting;
35] There is sorrow to those who cleaved to the ship
who weren't saved from one wave.
fifty ships went across the sea,
the household of the house of Manannán;
That wasn't a host without spears:
40] they were drowned in the waves of Cliodna.