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Friday, November 2, 2018

Calling The Othercrowd Back

Recently the inestimable Seo Helrune wrote a post titled 'Restoration Not Re-enchantment' which made the point that much of our out-of-sync-ness now with the Otherworld is a direct result of christian, particularly protestant, efforts to drive off the Good Neighbours who they believed were demons. Reading her blog has had me thinking over the past week about the deep implications of this for those of us who live in Christian held lands. If we are in places where the dominant religion has been and may still be actively working to drive out the spirits that we in turn are allied with, what does that mean?

She makes a good argument in her post and certainly there's abundant evidence that some Christian traditions did indeed view the Othercrowd as demonic and classified them as demons; we see as much in witchcraft trial accounts where a person who spoke of fairy familiars and dealing with the Queen of Elfame was described by judges as dealing with devils and Satan. There are many examples where terms like elf or goblin are glossed as imp or incubus, going back at least to the 15th century in England and found in the American colonies from their inception.

Related to this is a pervasive campaign of propaganda saying that priests and other such religious men had driven out the Good People through their faith, despite continuous anecdotes and folklore to the contrary. One can argue that these stories of the religious men forcing out the fairies is another means to try to effect their removal by weakening people's belief in them and removing the power of folkloric stories tying fairies to places, as well as eroding practices designed to honor them.
For example:
Canterbury Tales, 'the Wife of Bath's Tale' 14th century:
"In the days of King Arthur, Britain was full of fairies. The elf queen danced in meadows with her companions. This is what I read, anyway. Now, no one sees elves any more, because of the prayers of friars. These friars search all over the land, blessing every building and house, with the result that there are no more fairies. Where elves used to walk, the friar himself now goes at all times of the day, saying his prayers. Women can walk anywhere they want without fearing anyone but the friar, who will only dishonor them, rather than beget demon children upon them." (Chaucer)
In Bishop Richard Corbet's 16th century poem 'Farewell, Rewards, and Fairies' he says that the fairies tolerated Catholics well enough but have all fled to other lands to get away from Protestant religion, which is why none can now be found. In a similar vein several anecdotes beginning in the 17th century mention fairies fleeing any area where church bells rang, apparently unable to tolerate the sound (Briggs, 1976). 

Perhaps we can still see echoes of this effort today not only in the disenchantment of the world and the places where the spirits have in fact been driven off but also in the wider cultural views that see the world around us as un-inspirited and empty. In the way that the dominant narrative may try to describe all things within their own cosmology only as if there could be no other possible options. 

So getting back to my opening question - for those of us who operate in a very different paradigm and for whom interacting with Otherworldly spirits, or any spirits really, is an intrinsic aspect of what we do how do we respond to this?

I think we fight back. I think we fight fire with fire, propaganda with propaganda. We spread our own stories and our own truth and talk about the reality of the spirits that are there in defiance of that dominant narrative. And if they call them demons then let them call them demons. I think we look at the world around us and see it as it is, alive and inspirited, and we learn to be aware if we aren't already of the Othercrowd when they are around us. But most essentially like repairing a rip in a tapestry I think we must actively work to fix what's been done over the centuries to, as Seo Helrune put it, restore the Othercrowd to their place in our world. And yes they can be and often are dangerous; so are wolves and bears and poisonous snakes but our world needs those as well.  

I believe we need to restore the balance that was by returning things to the way they used to be when the world was full of spirits. And I think we can do this. We can call them back. We can reopen the old pathways. We can re-find the old practices and ways. We can re-align ourselves with the Good Neighbours and restore the balance by undoing what the protestant church did when they drove those beings out.

It won't be safe but its essential.

Copyright 2018 Morgan Daimler
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  1. Thanks for writing this. I just want to weigh in as someone who spent a significant part of my life involved in deeply fundamentalist evangelical christianity, which is a huge sector of the religion in the US. I cannot speak to Catholocism, but for fundamentalists this is not a past tense effort, it's not something that happened and ended long ago, it is ongoing and aggressive. Fundamentalists truly believe in the supernatural, and that all supernatural beings other than their god and his designated representatives are evil. They are satanic, and anything that depicts or represents any type of being or idea outside of what they consider biblical must be destroyed or cast out. We actively prayed against demonic and otherworldly forces DAILY. Now, I understand not all Christians are this aggressive or dedicated, but many are, and as crazy as it may sound, they view what we do and believe as a direct threat. When I was young and became a part of the church I attended I was led to believe I had to burn my books (comic books, Brian Froud books, fiction books) in order to free me from their satanic influence. I was prayed over, and had hands laid on and spirits cast out. I spent the next 11 years "fighting the spiritual battle." So know, yes, there are many Christians who are actively acting against the balance you are seeking to restore. I think you are right, and I am doing my part (with a lot of caution and much reading of your books, for sure!) to help restore it. It's important work, thank you for what you do to write and teach about it. It's meaningful to me and I appreciate it.

    1. excellent point, and thank you for sharing that. I think this is why we have to start fighting back actively, even if that action is subversive by spreading stories and sharing experiences - and by calling Them back in ritual and word and deed.

  2. Corvid, my heart broke when I read you had to burn your Froud book. I got my first copy of "Faeries" back in 1980 when I was 10. It was my gateway.
    May you find peace on your current path!
    Besides the fervent prayers of some Christians, I also believe that the "religion" of secular materialism is just as dangerous, if not more of a threat.

    1. Completely agree about materialism being a greater threat!

  3. Hear hear! My patron, Gwyn ap Nudd, a Brythonic fairy king has been terribly demonised over the years with the spirits of Annwn consistently referred to as 'devils' in medieval Welsh literature, folklore, and saint's lives. Much of my work for him has been winning back his stories from the demonisation of Christian scribes. I'm also being prompted to look at the effects of how all the different waves of Christianity on my land from Celtic Christianity, Roman Catholic Christianity (including different forms of monasticism), the Dissolution, Protestantism have had on they way people related to the deities of place and how their stories have been obscured. It's my belief the fairy funeral legend at my local sacred site is suggestive Gwyn was worshipped there along with the marshland mother goddess who was replaced by Saint Mary the Virgin (who the church is dedicated to).

  4. I'm always curious, as well, about how much of the emphasis on the danger of the Othercrowd is a part of the demonization of them. Certainly all the Indo-European cultures have hosts of dangerous spirits they acknowledge, but it seems like much of Northern European fairy-lore has come to focus primarily upon those aspects of the Othercrowd, while often dismissing the more benign nature spirits that can also be found in, say, the Hellenic or Indian traditions.

    1. That's an excellent point. Without denying the danger, I was surprised to read a "fairy census" that came out recently, a long PDF consisting of stories related by people who believed they'd had a genuine encounter with fairies, Elves, Otherworld beings. The overall tone was more benign and peaceful than I would have expected.

    2. you might find this interesting. I have my own ideas about what trying to take his shadow represented.