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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.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating to read about, but reinforces my preference to let sleeping gods lie.

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