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Sunday, December 22, 2019

New Liminal God: The Queen of Apples

Earlier this year there was some talk in a Fairy Witchcraft group on Facebook about a liminal god called the Queen of Apples. Several people felt like they were connecting to her and shared their thoughts on who she was. I was asked what my impression of her was.
It's important to understand here that the particular type of Fairy witchcraft I practice gets very messy when it comes to Gods. There's the traditional ones, of course, who come in from known cultures and existing mythology. There's also beings explicitly associated with the royalty of Fairy that we may consider gods but who may or may not historically have been understood as such. And there's also the third category, the liminal Gods, who are beings that have no known or shared names but go by titles and who are seen as Kings and Queens of Fairy (or similar) and also deities but have no known established mythology or stories. These liminal Gods are diverse and individual beings and while there are some that seem to be more over-arching or shared among practitioners - for example Summer and Winter in this system have their rulers which seem universal so far to everyone who engages with them - there are also myriad individual ones. Different practitioners will connect to who they connect to. I have written about many of them in my books on fairy witchcraft and have also blogged about my own personal experiences finding new ones in 'Meeting a New Liminal God' and 'Meeting New Liminal Gods: Thallea and Thessilae'. I also talk about the 7 Queens, who are liminal Gods in my opinion, in my writing about the rituals around the Pleiades cycle. The point is that when it comes to liminal gods there are no firm lines or established limits; there are the ones that have been publicly discussed and undoubtedly many more that haven't. 
So. Initially I didn't get very much about this new Queen. This happens of course as the Powers speak to who they choose to speak to and the liminal gods in particular do what they want when they feel like doing it. Nonetheless I've tried a few times off and on over the past months to connect to her and had been getting a 'not now' feeling every time. 
Today, on the winter solstice she's speaking very loudly to me. It feels like now is also a good time to share what is coming through for her. This is what I'm getting, mostly unfiltered. Obviously this is pure gnosis and people are free to take it, leave it, add to it, or whatever. I would really love to see some discussion in the comments by those who have an interest in Her or who feel like she speaks to them as well.
The Queen of Apples 
I'm using her/she pronouns here and she appeared to me as a young woman but I felt very strongly that she can and will appear however she chooses and that she may appear as a Lord of Apples if it suits her. She is both and neither, androgynous and gendered, rather like the trees themselves to be honest. It may be more fitting to use they/them pronouns but I leave that to the individual readers discretion. I suspect she will come through to some people strongly as one gender or another, to other people as neither, and to others as both or moving fluidly between.
She is the seed of new beginnings, the sweet flesh of the apple that nourishes, and the hidden death that waits within. She can be utterly generous to those who seek a home in her groves, offering safety, shelter, and nourishment but she can also be ruthlessly mercenary to those who seek what they want rather than what they need. She offers both filling food and health as well as intoxication and madness; she is as much apple juice as hard cider. She is joy and desires met, whether those desires are wise or foolish. She is the wild grove feeding all who find it and the domestic orchard that must be worked to return any benefit. Whether your dealings with her are difficulty or easy will depend on many things and may change from one encounter to the next. 
She is the flower, and the fruit, and the withering leaf. She may appear very young or indeterminant aged or very old. She is all of these.

In the facebook group discussion Brie C Marva described her this way: "a deity of brothels, personal freedom, and rowdy celebrations... She is the goddess to honor before a first date, a party, or something more adult if you follow me. Young, dark hair, dressed as a Byzantine girl not of the higher class, she seems to be pleased with offerings of wine, various incense types, and donations made in her name.". Several people had similar experiences or feelings around this deity including feeling like she had connections to sex or brothels, that she appeared dressed in the style of the Byzantine empire and appeared in the form of a younger woman or girl. Some people felt that she had strong ties to the Byzantine empire or that area. The group also suggested she might have a holy day in the autumn. 

For myself she appeared to me as a girl of about 14 initially in a grove of snowy apple trees in flower but changed as we talked into a young woman then a very old woman and at one point a young man, so...I'm unsure how I'd describe her. I didn't get the same strong cultural feel that other people did either, so I can't confirm or discount it. I'd say let her speak to you herself on that one. 
Her colours as they were shown to me were red, green, white, and brown. Her animals are the bee, deer, and worm. These are the symbols that represent her and the language that she uses to speak. Apples in any form are also hers as is honey. 
Her special time is the winter solstice and I felt strongly that she's connected to things like wassailing the apple trees, so I gather that she enjoys singing and music especially. She is a deity of sex workers, brewers, and wild things, of the disenfranchised, marginalized, and of witches. Her magic is (particularly) protective and enchanting but she also hexes as much as she heals. She belongs to neither summer nor winter but moves in each. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Return of the Otherfolk and the Puritan Egregore

For several years now there has been talk among some practitioners (of various sorts) in North America suggesting both that the Otherworldly energy present here has been increasing and that the Otherfolk themselves have been pushing through into the human world more strongly. I wrote about it on my Patheos blog in a piece titled 'Return of the Othercrowd' and Seo Helrune and John Beckett have also discussed this.

Many people approach this idea of a restoration of the Other eagerly, others with trepidation. But I haven't seen many yet discussing the inevitable pushback from the existing paradigm and I think it's important to talk about that as well in part because we are already seeing it.

So. Part of the idea that this concept rests on, much more eloquently explained by Seo Helrune in the blog I link above 'Restoration Not Re-enchantment', is that the force which originally drove the Otherfolk to the fringes of the human world was Christian Dominionism. This philosophy carried by Protestants in both Europe and colonizing North America demonized the Good Neighbours and made them into evil forces to be driven out or fictions to be dis-believed in. It strongly perpetuated the idea that the fairies had left the human world and were a thing of the past and encouraged trivializing and infantilizing them.

What we are, perhaps, seeing now in some places is the Other fighting back against that and pushing to strengthen their presence in the world again. Why now? I can only guess. Certainly they have never truly left no matter what the poets have said so it is not a matter of a return so much as a re-empowering. This seems to be happening across a wide span of time, at least a decade at this point with the last 5 years being more active, which I'd think would be expected. How long will it go on for? How will it end? We will have to wait and see.

Is this happening because of the upheaval in the human world around the same areas or is that upheaval a symptom of what is happening in with the Other? Or are both impacting each other? We don't know. There is turmoil here, but that does happen and is always happening somewhere. There is turmoil there as well which seems to be spilling over to here in some places. We are sitting in the middle of the pattern and I don't think we can see the forest for the trees, so to speak.

That all said my main point here is that as we see this increase in Otherworldly energy and this upsurge in activity we have been tending to focus on it, which is perhaps natural. But we would be wise to remember that the dominant cultural force that caused Them to be subsumed in the first place - whether you want to label it the collective puritan unconscious (in the US) or the Protestant paradigm or the egregore of the over-culture - is still there. It still exists. And whatever it is, however you choose to understand it, it is connected to millions of living and dead humans that empower it and it is going to and is fighting against this current shift. I think we are seeing that manifest in the US in many ways, small and large, and we need to be very wary during this period.

While some of us may be cheering on the Otherfolk and eager to see them returned to their former glory - whether that's wise or foolish on our parts - we must not assume that such a return or shift in energy will be easy or painless. History shows us that major shifts of any sort never are. The Other are fighting to return, and we can be very sure that the force that pushed them out will fight just as hard to keep them out. We need to be prepared for that and understand that it may mean that force, that cultural egregore, that puritan unconscious, may strengthen before (if) it is broken. And we need to understand that the Other fighting to return isn't going to be painless for us either whether we are on the sidelines or trying to encourage it to happen.

A few points I feel obligated to make:

  • remember that the Otherworld isn't one monolithic thing. There is diversity there and factions and politics. In other words, not all of the Good Folk get along with each other.
  • the Otherfolk seem to move with human populations they are attached to, meaning that in a multicultural human world we see also a kind of mixed or multicultural Other
  • the concepts above comes from private discussions with friends and represents shared gnosis more than personal gnosis. That said I realize it will not resonate with everyone. 
  • This phenomena appears to be happening in some places and not others, so take this for what it is. Not everyone has driven out and alienated their Fair Folk. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Basic Guide To Identifying Spirits

I have taught a class a few times which focuses on helping people learn to differentiate between several types of spirits they may be interacting with. The point of doing this is that what a ghost can or can't do is different from what a fairy can or can't do which is different again from what a third type of spirit might be capable of.

This is by no means a foolproof process but was intended to help people just starting out in spirit work. This guideline is based on my own personal experience and study, and so please keep in mind that this will by necessity therefore be based on spirits that I have myself dealt with. I wouldn't be confident that this will hold up without testing against spirits entirely foreign to me, although theoretically it should hold true in a general sense. My point being that there is a bit of caveat emptor with all of this.

There are many features of spirits which are shared by various groups, such as the ability to be seen or unseen, the ability to physically touch a living person, appearing in various forms, making people feel a sense of being watched, or communicating in dreams. There are also some qualities which are unique to different types and that's what we will focus on in the following sections.

Identifying Ghosts
Ghosts in this context are the disembodied spirits of a dead human which is still lingering on the earth-plane. There are other options for human spirits, ghosts are only one, but it is important to be able to recognize the presence of a ghost when there's one around. In my experience a ghost is fairly limited in what they can do to influence living humans and the harm they can do; they're greatest power is startling people and the person's own fearful reaction. That said it is possible for a ghost to possess a medium who is open and unshielded and people can be scratched, tripped, have their hair pulled, and things along those lines.

1 Ghosts are particularly noted for the way that they will influence the temperature of a room by making it drop, the theory being that they are somehow transmuting the heat into energy they can use to manifest or otherwise interact with our world.
2 They are also known for affecting electronic equipment by turning things on and off, communicating through radios, and draining batteries*. If electronics are being interfered with or messed with ghosts are a prime candidate.
3 Dogs are sensitive to ghosts - some so-called 'ghosts hunters' even use dogs in their investigations because of this - and will react when ghosts are around. This reaction usually includes barking at odd spots that seem empty, refusing to enter a room, or seeming uncomfortable in an area.
4 Things moving, usually involving a slight touch, such as something falling after being tipped off a shelf, sliding across a smooth surface, being knocked over or shifted out of place. What distinguishes a ghost doing this from other spirits is that ghosts have a limited range when it comes to interacting with the earth plane so its usually either small moves or things that involve a tiny shift or pressure to gain the result.
5 Smells that can indicate a ghost is around may include scents that were hallmarks of the person when they were alive. For example if a person wore a particular perfume every day when they were alive after death living humans may smell that scent when the ghost is around.
6 Ghosts can manifest visibly, but rarely fully to those without an ability to see them. They may be seen when they make the effort as amorphous shapes, as partial figures, or as mistlike forms.

Identifying Non-Human Spirits
I use the term non-human spirit as a bit of a catch-all for spirits that aren't human ghosts and also aren't fairies. These may include beings normally referred to as demons, shadow people**, poltergeists, or negative entities. My experiences here tend to focus specifically on dangerous or harmful spirits, so keep that in mind. There may very well be other types of non-human (non-fairy) spirits that fall outside the range of what I'm talking about below. Also its worth noting that just because these spirits can be and may be dangerous doesn't mean they exclusively are; it is possible to have positive interactions and relationships with them and some people do actively work with them. That falls outside my purview however.

1 Spirits can and will lie but there's an old belief that if you ask the same question three times the spirit must answer truthfully the third time. There are other means of obtaining honest answers as well, including asking a question you - and theoretically only you - would know the answer to, or asking the spirit to speak truthfully in the name of a higher power the spirit would obey.
2. Animals will tend to react badly to negative entities being around. This can include growling or barking aggressively (dogs), hissing (cats), or equivalent reactions in other animals.
3 Bad smells tend to be associated with these types of spirits particularly sulfur/rotten eggs or garbage.
4 Silhouettes, shadows, and dark shapes are all appearances that these types of non-human spirits can have. I have also heard of them mimicking the appearances of familiar humans or intentionally taking on forms that frighten the viewer.
5 These types of spirits are more prone to physical interactions and violence than other types, particularly scratching; I have heard claims the scratches will always be in a certain number but I don't find that to be true. They will however usually bleed and usually appear inexplicably sometimes while the person is looking at the spot.
6 These types of beings are less prone to audio phenomena than other types but things like growling may be noted. Usually the growling is sourceless, occurs near the person, has a threatening feel, but isn't followed by any action.
7 These spirits also can and will physically throw items, even larger objects.

Identifying the Good Neighbours
The Good Folk are around humans more often than humans may believe. I think that especially in the US it's not uncommon for interactions with fairies to be mistaken for other types of spirits particularly non-human spirits. I know I've seen more than one episode of a paranormal show where the people thought they were dealing with a ghost or 'demon' and it seemed clear to me it was the Good Neighbours.

1 Items disappearing entirely. While other types of spirits will move items - and fairies can as well if they choose to - fairies are particularly known for taking items entirely.
2 Cats tend to be sensitive to the presence of fairies and will start acting strangely, even for cats, when they are around.
3 Sourceless music, the sound of horses and hounds, and conversations are also hallmarks of fairy presence. Although ghosts can sometimes also manifest with sound phenomena its usually localized and connected to a specific place or event, such as the sound of guns on a battlefield or piano music in a concert hall. With fairies the sounds will be entirely out of place and may make the listener feel a strong emotion.
4 If a fairy chooses to be seen you will see them but they can also sometimes be perceived as motion in the periphery.
5 Fairies can't lie but they are masters of semantics. However this verbal honesty is a notable difference between fairies, ghosts, and other types of spirits and can be helpful to remember if you are engaged in any kind of communication with them.
6 Fairies are or can be more physical in our human reality than human ghosts and interactions with fairies can potentially be very tangible. Don't underestimate that possibility.
7 Food spoiling is another thing to make note of as a sign of fairy presence. If they are around and if they feel they are not being given what they are due or you are speaking badly of your own possessions/food they can and will take the substance from it so it spoils. I don't know any other spirit that does this.

In Practice
If you are engaged in active spiritual work that involves working with or dealing with spirits these basic guidelines should be helpful in sorting out what you may be dealing with. All of these categories are fluid though and these are only meant to be guidelines not hard rules. The more you do this the more you get a sense of certain things where it becomes almost reflexive.
If I were meeting a spirit for the first time, or if someone where describing a spirit they were dealing with, I would look at these rough qualities to consider more or less what I thought the spirit was. You can of course always ask it the requisite three times what it is. If its a ghost then I engage with it as a human without a body. If its a non-human spirit then I usually look at trying to establish its trustworthiness and whether I want to deal with it. If its a fairy I'm more respectful to start and would look at whether it seems interested in me, whether that seems healthy for me or not, whether that's a friendship/ally I want to pursue, etc.,
From there if it is something I'd like a connect with then communication is in order. Otherwise I either look at leaving its area, seeing if we can get along by ignoring each other, or getting it to leave mine if its a newcomer there.

General Advice
Whether its a ghost, non-human spirit, or fairy there are certain things that are universal. Iron is mentioned across folklore as being a ward against all types of spirits as well as baneful magics, with salt a close second. We're not talking about vampires here but having firm boundaries and not inviting things in that you don't want in is also a good practice, and if you banish something you have to be resolute about wanting it out. When you first encounter any spirit its a good idea to reserve judgment if possible until you can sort out what you are dealing with. If that's not possible then initially erring on the side of friendly caution is a good idea while you feel things out. Not everything is dangerous or out to hurt you but certainly not everything means you well either; act the same way you would with a new living human. 

*I'd just note that people have also observed batteries draining at locations associated with fairies. However generally speaking the phenomena is more widely connected to ghosts.
**I personally believe that shadow people are more a category than a specific type of being and that there can be some fairies or ghosts that are identified as shadow people. However for our purposes here I am slotting them in with non-human spirits.

Ritual For The Pleiades: The Way Opening

We are reaching the time of year for the acronychal rising of the Pleiades, when they are on the eastern horizon just after full dark, or roughly about 9pm for my latitude, This coincides with the general time of the autumn equinox and I personally choose to celebrate my ritual for it on the equinox. In my constructed mythology this  When the time of the Opening of the Way Between Worlds, when the dead and Good Folk and Others have more freedom to move within our world. 
The Opening of the Way is the fourth and final ritual in the cycle I have been working on over the last year. I am planning to perform this ritual myself on Monday (the equinox) and hope that others will also do so and offer feedback on their own results. In the next year I will repeat the rituals I have created so far and make any necessary adjustments.
So, to the ritual itself.  The offering that I will be referring to and making in this ritual is one that I use when I am home and able to cook. It is a recipe that came to me in a dream once and which I have written about before, for small honey cakes that I call Cáca Síofra.   

Opening of the Way Between Worlds
There is no point when the way between worlds is closed but there are times when the ways are wider and narrower. Something like the tide, it ebbs and flows. Also there are places in our world that have been slowly cut off from Fairy, where that energy and influence have been pushed back by other powers. At certain times of year the way to Fairy narrows, the energy that can be felt in this world lessens a bit; at others most notably in my own experience the heliacal and acronychal rising of the Pleiades, this energy increases in ways that humans perceive. It's a palpable shift. This ritual is designed to invite in and encourage this energy and this opening. It is also intended to invite the energy of Fairy back into the places where it has been pushed out over the last thousand years or so. Re-aligning and righting the balance. 

I recommend doing this ritual close to full dark, ideally when the Pleiades have risen or are visible on the horizon.
Find a good space open beneath the sky where you can see the stars. If this is not possible due to weather concerns try to set up an altar near a window or perhaps arrange some appropriate artwork near your ritual space. If necessary this entire thing can be done as a visualization exercise. My own outdoor altar for ritual work usually contains space for offerings, water in an appropriate container, candles, and a token representing the Fairy Queen I honour.
Create sacred space as you see fit if you wish to. I usually do this now by moving counterclockwise around my space sprinkling water and chanting to open the way between worlds.
Invite in any Powers you wish to. This is not a ritual for named Gods unless they are explicitly associated with the Good People of one culture or another. This is a time to invite any goodly inclined spirits, allies, Fairy Queens or Kings, or Liminial Gods in. We invite, we don't invoke, evoke, or compel. They either come as we call or they don't.
I might say something like:
"I call to all goodly inclined spirits,
spirits of the land, spirits of the air,
Fair Folk who would be my friends,
Friendly ones who aid my liminal path,
Liminal gods, Fairy Queens and Kings,
My wonderous Lady ---,
Queen of stone and well,
I invite you all to join me here
As I honour the Opening
Of the Way Between Worlds"
After this is done wait a moment and observe. Use all your sense to note if there is any obvious response to your call. This may be obvious, such as the wind picking up or the temperature changing, or it may be a more subtle feeling of presence.  don't rush but wait until things feel settled.
"Tonight the Seven Queens rise in the east,
Standing on the horizon,
as daylight falls to night
Their eldritch blue light burns brightly
A signal fire calling us back to them
The Queens dance at the world's edge
between worlds, between time,
The way that has been narrowed
Is now a road, fair and broad
The door that stood cracked
Is now being pushed to fullness
The gates are open, may
They be opened wider
The Queens look upon the land
May they bless what they see"
Put out the offerings you have brought and pour out a bit of water.
"I offer sweet honey cakes [or whatever you are offering]
And pure clean water
To the queens
To the liminal gods
To those beings that
would aid me
to the spirits of air
and of earth"
At this point if there is anything else you would like to do in your ritual - sing, dance, chant, divination, meditate, journey - do it. When you feel ready to say goodbye, say:
"The Queens light up the sky
The way between worlds is open
Our worlds are intertwined
As they have been and will be
Praise to the Queens,
May they bless us
A good word to the Fairy Rade
May they cause us no harm"
Pour out the water that is left. Say
"May my words honour the Queens
May may actions honour the liminal Gods
May my allies stand with me
May there be peace between me
And the spirits of the air and earth
May there be friendship between me
And all goodly inclined spirits."
Take down your compass/circle or sacred space however you normally would. In my case here I'd walk it clockwise sprinkling a bit of earth or leaves and asking that the space be returned to its former state. Take down your altar.
Ritual Feast
Part of my own celebration will include a feast or ritual meal the following day. This is inline with some older practices that would see the night before as the beginning of the ritual date and the following day as its continuation and would incorporate ritual feasting into the process. My plan is to do the ritual itself at midnight but treat the following day as a holiday, with small gifts for my family and a big meal the next evening. A portion of that meal will be set aside and then left out as an additional offering. I will also look at taking omens the next morning.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review - Carnival Row

There's been a lot of buzz since last year about amazon's series Carnival Row. The premise, as advertised, is a Victorian-esque world where fairies and humans live side by side with fairies mostly limited to a neighborhood called Carnival Row; a series of murders occurs which the main character is trying to solve. This is the summary of what we know going into the series, and obviously is the type of thing that appeals to me in general.

Carnival Row Title Card, fair use, source: wikipedia

I watched the entire 8 episode series through once and intend to rewatch it at some point but I've been asked a few times for my thoughts on it so I decided to write a short review here. I'll start with what I did like, then get into what I didn't, then what I found to be problematic. I am going to try to avoid spoilers here so this will be a bit short on plot details but it will include things specific to the series and world itself.

Let's begin with what I liked.
   The series is visually stunning and it's very clear that its budget was put to good use. The aesthetic is neo-noir steampunk throughout and I loved the gritty realism that was achieved in a show featuring various fairy beings. It seemed to go easy with the CGI which I also thought was a wonderful choice as in my opinion CGI is overused and often can take away rather than add to the quality of a piece. Practical effects when done well are always going to be more believable. The sets are perfect for the tone of each scene and the attention to detail in the background and costuming is wonderful.
   The acting is high quality for a serial piece, on par with the best of what's out there for anything else. The roles seem to be well cast and each player does a good job of embodying and conveying their particular character.
  The show takes on various serious 'real world' issues, particularly racism, xenophobia, and the impacts of war on populations. While I may argue it does so in an excessively heavy handed manner I do respect the attempt and liked that it wasn't afraid to go there. I also liked the, admittedly limited, inclusion of some diversity in characters sexual preferences and relationships.
   And finally I will say that, whatever criticism I'm about to give following this, I am happy to see more urban fantasy on television and reaching new audiences and I loved the idea of mashing up neo-noir, urban fantasy, and horror.

Now let's talk about what I didn't like.
  I feel that there is a serious lack of world building in the entire series. While it is true a person can read the bonus trivia with each episode to learn more in the actual episodes and overall series there is very little to no effort to explain what I consider important details about the world of Carnival Row. I mean basic things like what is the Burgue? Is Tirnanoc an island, nation, continent, what? It took me quite a while to figure out that this wasn't alternate earth but supposed to be an entirely different earth-like place and that's not a good sign. Also some serious plot holes that just annoyed me. For example, what did that sailor see since it obviously wasn't the actual big bad of the series? How did the library end up in the Burgue if the Pact took over that area before it was found? Can fae just not hold a gun? Are they technophobes? Because it seemed very strange that they never used any human tech to fight even when it meant their own kingdoms falling. I also had a serious issue with the final few episodes and why the main target wasn't actually targeted and killed when he should have been; the last victim made no sense and that whole section just felt like bad writing.
  Episode three was just oddly placed and disruptive, however necessary it was to fill in plot. I can understand why they chose not to begin with that episode then flash forward 7 years for the rest, but giving us two episodes 'present day' then a full episode 7 years in the past then back to everything present day just did not work for me personally.
  The plot itself is predictable to anyone who has read a lot of urban fantasy or high fantasy, and I was disappointed by that. As someone who probably reads far too much of those genres this meant the show felt like awkward self-insert fanfiction rather than anything refreshing or new. I have also read a lot of fanfic so I can usually feel the difference pretty quickly. The only original thing I found was the idea of fae without any real magic and that just seemed like an easy out to explain why humans had taken them over so easily.

And for the problematic.
   So. A key premise of Carnival Row is that fairies are real and live side by side with humans, in a place called 'the Burgue' in an alternate world that resembles ours during the Victorian era-ish. The fairies there are refugees from a different place which was overtaken by war, named in the series as 'Tirnanoc' and including places like Anoon and Mag More. The Fae folk themselves which we see in the show are primarily human-sized winged pixies, called pixies or fae, and Fauns, called 'Pucs', and Centaurs. Later in the show we will see kobolds depicted as squirrel sized animalistic beings, and trow which are kind of like the trolls in The Hobbit. A lot of this is purely invented, some is actual myth, and some is using names from actual folklore but for entirely new fictional creations. The series for some reason decided to blend equal parts pure fiction with names and places from existing Celtic (particularly Irish) mythology in a way that honestly makes the mythology parts look like fiction. There is also at least one place where the Irish language is used for the pixie characters language, when they refer to the human soldiers as 'faan-troigh' which I assume is Google translate minus the fada for 'wandering foot' [fán troigh]. For obvious reasons this genuinely angers me as it forwards the rewriting and warping of existing mythology, but also as writer Orla ní Dhuíll very rightly said in her recent piece 'Do Fantasy Writers Think Irish Is Discount Elvish' it is bad writing and lazy to simply shove some Irish or Irish myth in as a shorthand for fantasy.
I genuinely do not understand why the writer didn't just make it all up, rather than taking random bits from a few things to graft onto his fiction. It left a bad taste in my mouth. And for those who are shrugging this off as they read it please read Orla's article linked above and give this some serious thought. There are ways to incorporate myth and folklore into fiction and do it respectfully and well, or innovatively and well - I'd point you to Terry Pratchett, Tolkien, Peadar Ó Guilín, Ruth Frances Long, Ron C Neito, Kevan Manwaring among many others - but this is not that. This is furthering an appropriative approach that hurts the living material and culture and reshapes how mainstream culture understands these things. Irish folklore - and more widely material from other Celtic language cultures - are not just shortcuts to signal 'fantasy' to viewers or give something an exotic flavour.
   I also was very uncomfortable with the fact that most of the human characters were white and most of the people of colour were fae; except of course the lead(s). The only significant main character* who was human and a person of colour was the main antagonist, which is also clearly reinforcing some unfortunate stereotypes. Another secondary human character who was black and fairly significant was infected with a supernatural illness that made him, basically, a type of fae. While I hope that was a further attempt at social commentary it unfortunately plays into some ongoing issues that both Hollywood and fiction have struggled with in how people of colour are portrayed or included in work. This show failed the DuVernay test even with Tourmaline in my opinion and it's worth noting that the only points black characters interact with each other (twice in the whole series that I saw) it's a child talking to their father, and a very awkward tea time scene without any real direct dialogue between the black actors. Social commentary is valuable but not at the expense of forwarding already problematic tropes like the 'magical negro'.

Ultimately I neither loved nor hated the show. I think it had its good points and it also had its bad but I am still unhappy with the issues I mention here as problematic. Yes I am overly critical where folklore and myth are concerned but I enjoy a good suspension of disbelief and fun show as much as anyone. I liked Sirens and I enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; I even love Charmed which is the height of campy ridiculous television. But this is different and in 2019 we should expect better even from our fun entertainment.

*I will note in fairness there is another human character introduced late in the series played by an actress who is a person of colour and whose character is ambiguous. Nonetheless the majority of human characters are played by non-poc actors relative to the actors playing fae characters. In such a visually striking show this is notable.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Some Advice For Former Christians About Unpacking Christian Baggage

I've never made any secret that I wasn't raised Christian but rather grew up a secular agnostic, with all the fun of Santa and a magic chocolate delivering bunny. I actively got into paganism and witchcraft around the age of 11 or 12 and have been practicing since; I didn't make an effort to learn about Christianity until I was in my 20's. This gives me a different perspective on some things than people coming from a different background and sometimes that difference is more obvious than others. In particular it tends to be highlighted for me when I am accused of having Christian baggage - as I pointed out on my social media, if anything it would be more accurate to accuse me of non-initiatory Wiccan baggage - and also when I see particular ideas or concepts in paganism that do seem to be influences from the outside. I thought it might be helpful from this perspective to offer a couple suggestions for people coming from Christianity who are trying to let go of their former religion.

I want to preface this though by saying a few things first. I don't personally care if you syncretize your paganism or witchcraft with Christianity or any other monotheism. Syncretism has been going on forever. I also don't care if you personally actively blend Christianity into your beliefs and practices. Have at. Whatever works for you. What I do care about is people looking down on other people for the aspects of their former religion they may be unconsciously dragging along with them and the way that many people who converted to paganism from Christianity have come with preconceived notions that can be harmful to others. Particularly to others that don't share those ideas or ingrained assumptions.

The idea of 'Christian baggage' shouldn't be a pejorative used against people but something that you either choose to actively work with or actively overcome.

So. That said, here are some suggestions from an outsider for people coming into paganism from Christianity who want to be aware of what they are bringing with them. These are all based in my years of observing from the outside if you will and the things I have seen people focus on or be bothered by that baffle me, and which I assume then are shadows of their former belief system. These will not all apply equally and may not all matter equally to everyone and that's fine. But I do encourage people to give some serious thought to this.

  1. Don't jump to assume that everyone shares your own background and ingrained Christian associations due to growing up in a Western culture. There are some deeply ingrained cultural things that one can argue are rooted in Christian thought but in my experience the vast majority of things that former Christians assume affect non-Christians actually don't. If you are a former Christian instead of telling your never-Christian friends what you think must influence them, try listening to them instead when they talk about their own experiences. 
  2. Take time to reflect on how much you are centering Christianity in your own life, even as a pagan. In my experience this often occurs through people defining themselves as against their former religion, ie if they associate Christianity with prayer then as a pagan they don't pray, if they associate Christianity with submission to deity then they make a point of not kneeling or bowing to deity, if they associate Christianity with a personal connection to deity then they are vocally against such a thing in paganism. There is, of course, nothing wrong with preferring not to do or believe any of those things by choice but be aware of what is influencing that decision. But most if not all of these things can be found across world religions and in belief systems that predate Christianity including pagan ones. Be careful not to create a new spirituality that is simply the inverse of the old, which indicates that the old still has power over you
  3. On the other hand, be aware of how much you are shaping your paganism to look exactly like your former religion but with a Goddess instead of God. Just as you should be careful not to make a new faith that is based in animosity towards the former one you should also not strive to recreate the former one with new names slapped over the old (unless that's your goal). In either  this case or point #2 you are still keeping your old religion central in your life because everything you are doing is based on it one way or another. 
  4. Another step in decentering Christianity which I imagine will take longer is to work on not allowing it to still have power over you. Paul Huson's book Mastering Witchcraft addresses this by encouraging new witches to recite a Christian prayer backwards, something considered blasphemous. If you don't want to have any Christianity in your paganism but still feel wrong about doing certain things your new religion embraces or uncomfortable around some pagan imagery then you need to look at why that is. Basically while you should be able to be generally respectful towards any religion you shouldn't feel any more or less concerned with Christian myth, belief, or practice than you do with any other religion you don't follow. 
  5. Look at how often you use Christian mythology as examples for things or rely on Christian imagery. No, this is not just Western culture, this really is a reflection of Christian upbringing (with very few exceptions). If you aren't Christian why do you say 'damn it'? Why call on Jesus? Why use Christian theology or cosmology to explain concepts? (and yes people do this, because I have had to ask on many occasions to have something further explained because I don't know what the speaker was talking about).  I still don't understand what sin even is or the spiritual implications of forgiveness; Christianity has its own language of terms and idioms and these are not clear to people outside that sub-culture. It may take conscious effort at first but you can change the expressions you use to reflect your new spirituality.
  6. Don't assume Christianity is the default for everything. Yes Western culture tends to be majority Christian populations but the idea that this means Christian is the default is something I have only found in former Christians, perhaps because they were raised to believe that. As a non-Christian growing up I never assumed anyone's religion until they told me what it was, because why would I? 
  7. Don't shift Christian cosmology into paganism*. This may be more of a pet peeve, in fairness, but I'm seeing it more and more so I want to include it here. There is no pagan Heaven. There is no pagan Hell (except actual helheim which is something else entirely). The Gods don't save us, whatever that even means. 
A basic list here, and I'm sure it could be added to. I suppose it could all be summed up as 'look at how you are still centering Christianity in your life and find ways to stop doing that'. Obviously since I'm not coming from that background I am not the best one to offer ideas of the nitty-gritty how to there are even point out more in depth ways that former religions show up in new ones but hopefully this at least offers a start for those who want to shift entirely into something new. 

Editing to add: these points are specifically aimed at individuals trying to work through their own issues with their birth religion. Dealing with issues relating to wider cultural and institutionalized Christianity is a separate topic and one that does not fall under the purview of this article. While we may choose to root out these things within ourselves or not, looking at the wider impacts of cultural institutionalized Christianity often reveals problems and abuses that must be confronted en masse and resisted or over turned on equally wide scales. 

*unless of course you are syncretizing the two, but that's something totally different. 

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Ritual for the Heliacal Rising of the Pleiades

Continuing with our series of rituals for the cycle of the Pleiade we have arrived at the next one, the heliacal rising of the Pleiades after their conjunction with the sun. This marks the time when the stars are once again visible in the sky just before dawn and occurs now between June 18th and June 24th. I have roughed out a ritual that people can use if they'd like, in line with the others in the series. You can choose to do it early in the day, close to when when the Pleiades are in the sky now; you may also choose to celebrate the night before, perhaps including some midsummer traditions like a bonfire into your celebration. My own preference is to celebrate on the 23rd into the 24th, the liminal time just on the edge of both the end of the Pleiades rising and also the end of the solstice alignment. 
  As I mentioned in my previous post on 'A New Holy Day Cycle' this holiday acknowledges the return of the Pleiades to the sky after a 6 weeks absence. I have been calling it the The Return of the Queens, or the Returning. My own personal mythology around this event ties it strongly to the previous holiday where the Queens travelled out into our world, symbolized by the loss of the stars from the night sky. Now we see them returning from their travels, leaving our world to return to their own. When the star-fire that is the Pleiades returns to the night sky the Queens have returned to their celestial Courts, figuratively speaking.  This ritual also acknowledges another sacred star, Aldebaran, part of the constellation of Taurus which has been tied to the mythology of the Pleiades in many cultures. Aldebaran appears to follow the Pleiades through the sky - hence the meaning of the name in Arabic - but I call it the Hunter, after one of the liminal Gods in fairy witchcraft. In this case of course he isn't hunting the 7 queens but protecting them as they travel across the sky. 
 I have tried to keep this ritual fairly similar in outline and flow to the other ones, to help with the continuity. I will use a similar format in all of the rituals for this series.   

Find a good space open beneath the sky. If this is not possible due to weather concerns try to set up an altar near a window or perhaps arrange some appropriate artwork near your ritual space. However if necessary this entire thing can be done as a visualization exercise. My own outdoor altar for ritual work usually contains space for offerings, water in an appropriate container, candles, and a token representing the Fairy Queen I honour.
Bring some food to offer, perhaps honey cakes, and clean water to pour out.
Create sacred space as you see fit if you wish to. I usually do this now by moving counterclockwise around my space sprinkling water and chanting to open the way between worlds. There is no right or wrong here as long as you aren't warding out the same spirits you are trying to invite in, so go with whatever you feel most connected to as a method.
Invite in any Powers you wish to but remember this is not a ritual for named Gods unless they are explicitly associated with the Good People of one culture or another. This is a time to invite any goodly inclined spirits, allies, Fairy Queens or Kings in. We invite, we don't invoke, evoke, or compel. They either come as we call or they don't.
I might say something like: "I call to all goodly inclined spirits, spirits of the land, spirits of the air, Fair Folk who would be my friends, Friendly ones who aid my liminal path, Fairy Queens and Kings, My wonderous Lady ---, Queen of stone and well, I invite you all to join me here As I honour the journey Of the Queens and the Return of the stars" You can tailor this initiation as suits you and whatever Queen or Spirit you are calling.
After this is done wait a moment and observe. Use all your senses to note if there is any perceptible response to your call. This may be obvious, such as the wind picking up or the temperature changing, or it may be a more subtle feeling of presence.  Don't rush but wait until things feel settled before moving on.
Say: "Today the Seven Queens return to the sky
Moving from daylight to darkness Rejoining the stars, proceeding
The great guarding light of the Hunter*
Their bright blue fire a blazing torch
a beacon in the predawn night sky
a new cycle begins in the growing darkness
As they tread again the celestial path
The gates are open, may
 They be opened wider
The Queens look upon the land
May they bless what they see"

Put out the offerings you have brought and pour out a bit of water.
"I offer sweet honey cakes [or whatever you are offering]
And pure, clean water
To the Queens
To the Good Neighbours
To those beings that
would aid me
to the spirits of air
and of earth"

At this point if there is anything else you would like to do in your ritual - sing, dance, chant, divination, meditate, journey - do it. When you feel ready to say goodbye, say:
"The 7 Queens return to the sky
The Queens have travelled our world
And return again to their own
Standing in the space between
Our worlds are intertwined
As they have been and will be
Praise to the Queens,
May they bless us
A good word to the Fair Folk
May they cause us no harm"
Pour out the water that is left. Say
"May my words praise the Queens
May may actions show respect to the Good Folk
May my allies stand with me
May there be peace between me
And the spirits of the air and earth
May there be friendship between me
And all goodly inclined spirits."
Take down your compass/circle or sacred space however you normally would. In my case here I'd walk it clockwise sprinkling a bit of earth or leaves and asking that the space be returned to its former state. Take down your altar. Leave the offerings out. Perhaps take a moment to stop and listen, look, feel the energy around you. See if there is anything worth noting or any sense of presence. 
Ritual Feast
Part of my own celebration will include a feast or ritual meal. This is inline with some older practices that would incorporate ritual feasting into the celebration of holy days. My plan is to have a special meal featuring fresh vegetables and fruits, and ideally anything that could be wild gathered or otherwise harvested this time of year (obviously that would vary greatly by region). A portion of that meal will be set aside and then left out as an additional offering. I will also take omens about 12 hours after the ritual to get a feel for how things went and the wider energy going on.  
If the theories and previous experiences with these rituals hold true then the time of the heliacal rising should be one of intense energy and potential interaction with the Otherworld. Even though we are celebrating it as a time when the Queens are returning to the Courts, symbolized by the return of the Pleiades to the night sky, this isn't an instantaneous switch - just like the summer solstice marks a pivotal point where the daylight starts to wane slowly, the heliacal rising marks the point when the Pleiades begin to shift back into the night from the day but this is a process. They will not be fully in the night, from dusk until dawn, until the culmination in November.  

*Aldebaran 'the follower' also called the eye of the bull for its position in Taurus. Aligned in fairy witchcraft to the Hunter.