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Sunday, March 12, 2023

Theosophy's Impact on the Pagan View of Fairies

 Note: In this piece I'm going to be making some generalizations which may not apply to all neopagans but which do hold true for a majority that I have looked into. 

A main influence on the neopagan view of fairies, which is rarely acknowledged, is theosophy and more particularly the writings of Helena Blavatsky. Blavatsky herself is a controversial figure, accused of rampant plagiarism by her contemporaries and criticized today for her theories on race expressed in 'The Secret Doctrine'; that said her influence on neopaganism and western witchcraft traditions is profound if often ignored. In particular Blavatsky reimagined who and what fairies were and forwarded that in her writing; her ideas were picked up by occultists of her time, including WB Yeats, and seeped into esoteric thought on the subject. So, let us explore that. 

art by Arthur Rackham

First we must quickly establish the understanding of fairies in folklore. What we find across the breadth of western European material are beings who can be intangible or physical at will, who are intrinsically connected to humanity in ways that are both helpful and predatory, and who exist both in and outside of the human world. These are beings in some cases who were formerly human and who steal living humans without compunction and beings who were once Gods. They must be warded against and also propitiated to stay on good terms and avoid harm.

We must digress here for a space to discuss Paracelsus, because his views are foundational for later ideas, but are often misunderstood.
A common defense of the idea of fairies as elementals that I often see is the claim that it was actually the 15th/16th century Paracelsus who originated this idea and that it is therefore genuine. However its slightly more complicated than that, and the modern understanding that we have has been refined and influenced by other ideas, including those of theosophy.
The view Paracelsus was advocating wasn't based in the four (or five) element system or in a strict division of fairies into four groups. Rather he was discussing the nature of all things as relating to different elements - he mentions 7 - based on what they seem most connected to in his opinion. It is worth noting as well that initially he assigns sylphs to the earth, along with four other types of beings, 'sylvani' to air, and associates nymphs - not undine - with water:
"So it is to be known also further that the spirits are many, and they are each one differently than the other. For there are spiritus coelestes, spiritus infernales, spiritus humani, spiritus ignis, spiritus aëris, spiritus aquae, spiritus terrae, etc.. And the spiritus coelestes [spirits of heaven] are the angels and the best spirits, the spiritus infernales [spirits of Hell] are the devils, the spiritus humani [human spirits] are the dead human spirits, the spiritus ignis [spirits of fire] are the salamanders, the spiritus of the air are the sylvani, the spiritus aquatici [spirits of water] are the nymphs, the spiritus terrae [spirits of earth] are called the sylphs, pygmies, Schrötlein, Büzlein, and mountain men." - Paracelsus, Tractatus IV
Later in writing Ex Libro de Nymphis, Sylvanis, Pygmaeis, Salamandris, et Caetebus Spiritus [the book of nymphs, sylvanis, pygmies, salamanders, and other spirits] he would expand these groups and did include undine with water and gnomes with earth. However he didn't limit these beings to single elements, instead listing three elements that each needed, one that they existed in and two others that they were nourished by (Willard, 2020). His elementals then were more complex and nuanced than the modern versions, and were also part of a complex system through which they might reproduce with a human to create a spirit with a soul or with other elemental beings to create monsters which included by his reckoning dwarves, giants, and mermaids. He also understood these beings as having a middle nature between the physical and non-physical, and being inherently good beings who were open to evil influences but sought God and longed for souls (Willard, 2020). Paracelsus also, rather ironically to us perhaps, did not use the names he chose for these beings by choice but rather because he felt they were recognizable (despite appearing to be the source for sylph and gnome) and instead, as Willard discusses more eloquently than I can here, preferred to call them people and emphasize their likeness to humans*.

In Blavatsky's view however we see none of the folkloric fairy and only a shadow of Paracelsus' ideas. We find fairies - interchangeably called elementals and nature spirits - described as lesser beings who seek to evolve upwards into human souls and who are incapable of physical form or of higher intelligence:
"They are the Soul of the elements, the capricious forces in Nature, acting under one immutable Law, inherent in these Centres of Force, with undeveloped consciousness and bodies of plastic mold, which can be shaped according to the conscious or unconscious will of the human being who puts himself in rapport with them. . . . These beings have never been, but will in myriads of ages hence, be evolved into men. They belong to the three lower kingdoms....Elementals, as said already, have no form, and in trying to describe what they are, it is better to say that they are ‘centers of force’ having instinctive desires, but no consciousness, as we understand it. Hence their acts may be good or bad indifferently." (Blavatsky, 1893).
In modern theosophy all fairies, under any name, are lumped into the general categories of elemental or nature spirit (Theosophy World, 2023).  It is broadly understood that all named types of folkloric beings are actually cultural interpretations of specific categories of elementals/nature spirits. These beings are also more strictly limited to their single element and categorized into one of three kingdoms which all seek to evolve into mineral, seen as a transition point into higher evolution which leads eventually to human incarnation (Theosophy World, 2023).  While Paracelsus described these various spirits as very humanoid and capable of interacting with and even reproducing with humans, Theosophy sees them as entirely intangible, shaped or given appearance by human assumptions or projections, and as less intelligent and more primitive than humans. They are, from this view, nature embodied in spirit and exist in a world where humans are the ultimate goal of spiritual evolution, a state which all 'lesser' spirits seek to achieve by working their way up a hierarchy of incarnation, from the elemental state into form then into humanity. 
Another key aspect which is paraphrased by the Theosophy World website is that fairies/elementals are "neither individualized like human beings nor even yet entered on the way to such individualization, as animals and plants have been" or in other words elementals in this view are a collective consciousness, an expression of a natural force, rather than a unique or individual being. This is an aspect of the lower evolution of these spirits compared to humans, that they exist in a primitive state and are not conscious or self aware in a way that humans understand. This is also reflected in the idea that these beings lack any form of their own and are only given form by the humans they interact with. They are understood to be immoral or amoral in that they lack the cognitive ability to make moral judgements and instead act by 'natural law' (Theosophy World, 2023). This is of course sharply in contrast to Paracelsus' idea of elementals as inherently good but capable of being mislead into evil, as it positions them as incapable of any moral understanding or judgment. 

The Effect
So what are the key points that neopaganism/witchcraft have taken from Blavatsky that are at odds with folklore?

  1. fairies as incorporeal - a common idea seen in modern views that is rooted in Blavatsky but not found elsewhere is that fairies are incapable of being tangible or corporeal.
  2. fairies are beneath humans - Blavatsky placed fairies as less evolved souls and simple primitive spirits. While there are corners of neopaganism who view fairies as evolved guides there are also many who see fairies as animalistic and easily controlled by humans or existing in a hierarchy beneath humans. 
  3. fairies as nature spirits - while this is concurrent with Victorian imagery it was also a point that Blavatsky specifically wrote about, tying fairies intrinsically to the human natural world and particularly plants and minerals. In this view fairies are limited to and defined by the human natural world.
  4. fairies as elementals - widely popular now and seen even outside neopaganism is the Blavatsky idea of fairies as elemental spirits. This view generally removes the nuanced belief about fairies and reduces them to simple expressions of the qualities of an element. While claiming to be based on Paracelsus, often more strongly informed by Blavatsky. 
  5. fairies require human input to express forms - I have seen this in multiple contexts now, the idea that fairies are formless unless and until given form through interaction with a human. Put another way, humans see what they expect when encountering a fairy because they shape themselves to the human's expectation. 
  6. fairies seek human incarnation - while we have a plethora of material, including Paracelsus, which discuss the fairies desire for souls and Christian salvation it seems to be an effect of Theosophy to believe that fairies desire or seek physical form in a human body**. This seems to have blended into some neopagan/witchcraft ideas around reincarnation and the afterlife to give us a belief in witches as fairy souls incarnate in human bodies or humans being corporeal fairies who return to Fairy after death.
    We do find stories, such as that of Melusine, that discuss a fairy reproducing with a human so that their offspring will have a soul, but that is a rather different concept. 
  7. fairies as simple or childlike spirits - an outgrowth of Blavatsky's ideas of fairies/elementals as less evolved and less intelligent spirits, possibly blended with the Victorian infantilization of fairies, seems to be the idea of fairies as childlike spirits.

It should be understood that these ideas often work together or intertwine in modern thought, sometimes independent of other influences sometimes closely tied to related Victorian or new age beliefs, and sometimes woven into older folk material to create a new concept. If your understanding of fairies involves their being less than human, incapable of corporeal form, as childlike spirits, as beings who are bound to the natural world or as elemental beings embodying natural forces then you are being influenced by theosophical thought and its followers in occult and pagan philosophy. 

End Notes
*this is particularly worth noting in relation to the salamander which is envisioned as a kind of fiery amphibian creature but which Paracelsus saw as humanoid
**I am expressing no judgment on this belief, before people jump into the comments, simply tracing the available evidence for the source of the belief. 


Blavatsky, H., (1893) Elementals Retrieved from

Paracelsus (nd) Tractatus IV Retrieved from

Willard, T., (2020) The Monsters of Paracelsus Retrieved from 

Theosophy World (2023) Fairies Retrieved from

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

2022 Recap

 This year has been a challenging one for me but I kept moving forward, and I wanted to offer a quick recap here for everyone.

I had four articles published in magazines this year: “Imagining Fairyland”, Pagan Dawn, Imbolc issue, 2022 no 222 “The White Elephant in the Room: Racism and Diversity in Fairy Belief”, Witches & Pagans Magazine, issue 39, 2022 “Fairy Queens and Witches”, Pagan Dawn, Beltane Issue, 2022, no 223 “Finding the Aos Sidhe”, ev0ke magazine, June 2022
I presented "Fairies as 'Other': Gender and Sexuality Across Western European Fairy Belief" for the Folklore Open Voices: folklore for all, folklore of all conference and gave a lecture on the Aos Sidhe for the Folklore Library's conference. I was also very excited to present at Octocon in Dublin, to be on several panels, and to do a short reading of my forthcoming novel Into Shadow.
I wrote two short stories for anthologies, 'Dawn' which was published in 'Kindred Kingdoms' and 'The Herb in The Wood' which will be in the forthcoming 'My Say in the Matter', I also had a poem accepted for the latter book. I had two non-fiction pieces published in the Naming the God anthology, one on Finnvarra and one on Nuada.
I wrote the forwards for two forthcoming books, 'Bones Fall in a Spiral' by Mortellus, and 'Parallels Between Romanian and Irish Fairylore and Practice' by Daniela Simina. Both will be out next year.
I had two non-fiction books published, 'Pantheons the Norse' and 'Pagan Portals Aos Sidhe', as well as self publishing the prequel in my urban fantasy series 'Emergence'. In addition I wrote two books which will be out next year, 'Pagan Portals 21st Century Fairy' and 'Pagan Portals Freya'.
Beyond that I taught a couple classes for the Irish Pagan School and on my own offered Elves After Dark part 2 and From Leannán sidhe to Fetch. I was also the guest on various podcasts and restarted my Youtube channel which I hadn't had time to focus on much. And of course I've been continuing my translation work on Patreon, offering my patrons new English translations of Irish myths as I work on them as well as a final completed copy when its done.
That's about it for me this year. I'm hoping that 2023 is on an easier setting, to borrow a gaming term, and allows me to focus more on some of the projects I most want to get done, but we shall see.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

What Do Fairies Look Like?

When you imagine what a fairy looks like, what do you picture?

For most people the mental image is strongly shaped by pop-culture and artwork, and these in turn are largely products of an idealized cultural aesthetic, influenced by those outside actual belief. Although Tolkien-style elves may be an accurate representation of one type of Fairy being, the idea that all fairies are tall, lithe, and handsome is far from what we find in folklore. And while the images of small insect-winged* children may fit a very specific type of garden fairy, the more widespread images of winged Barbie-like beauties - wasp waisted, disproportionately large eyed, large breasted, with tiny hands and feet - is straight out of our culture's fantasies. Many modern images, such as those that depict selkies as a kind of seal mermaid with the upper torso of a human and lower half of a seal, are purely from an artist's imagination. In the same way the recent upsurge in anime and video game influenced images - those that have extremely long pointed ears, sharp features, slim figures but exaggerated sexual characteristics - don't reflect actual folklore or mythology but an artistic view that is aimed at appealing visually to an audience used to consuming a specific aesthetic. 

So, what do the Good People really look like? As with most questions relating to Themselves there is no simple answer, because the subject is too broad and diverse. I think, therefore, that the best approach is to look at a range of different types of fairies known to have more human-like forms and discuss how we see them described in folklore, in order to get a feel for the ways that these beings, overall, may appear. In order to keep this article reasonably short I'm only going to give very brief descriptions of each below:

Aos Sí - Yeats described the Daoine Maithe as looking much like human people, although prone to wearing slightly outdated fashion, although Yeats isn't an ideal source this view seems to be inline with wider Irish folklore. Described as around five feet tall, sometimes slightly taller, in most accounts from sources like the Good Folk aren't distinguished by their appearance per se but by an Otherworldliness around them or by their actions. We see the idea of their human appearance reinforced in much of the anecdotal evidence particularly stories of borrowed midwives, stolen brides, and musicians who spend a night inside a fairy hill. There would seem to be then at least one type of more powerful fairy people who do or can look very much like humans and may even pass for human to some degree. 

Y Tylweth Teg - like the aos sí generally described as human-like in appearance, usually blond haired. In some folklore said to be the size of an 8 or 10 year old child, but elsewhere described as adult human sized.

Pixies - Descriptions can vary greatly but they are known to wear green. Pixies may range in height from a few inches tall to five or six feet and Briggs describes them as red haired, with short faces, and up-tilted noses. 

The Baobhan Sithe - described as beautiful human-looking women, who wear long green dresses to hide their feet which are the hooves of a deer. Said to take the form of wolves and crows or ravens.

Brownies - generally about 3 feet tall, although folklore varies in some details, but they are usually said to dress in rough clothing or rags. Described in some sources as tanned and in others as uniform brown colour all over.

Leprechauns - look much like humans in the oldest stories, except they are said to only be about 12 to 18 inches tall. In later folklore they are described with a similar height and as looking like older men with grey or white hair and beards.  

Goblin, from 'English Fairy Tales' by J. Jacobs, 1895, pubic domain

Goblins - three to four feet tall, ranging from almost human like, although extremely ugly (by our standards), to very animalistic with whiskers, tails, claws, etc., Like other terms including elf and fairy goblin is a category as well as a specific term so there is a lot of variance here. 

Trows - in some folklore trows are described as very human in appearance, although they may appear old, shriveled, or physically deformed. In other stories however they are described as clearly inhuman, unattractive, and twisted, even in sometimes appearing as a mix of human and horse. They are often described in unflattering terms as having oversized feet, large noses, flat faces, and short limbs. They can range in height from three to six feet depending on the story. They are often said to dress in grey. 

Dwarves - Another type of fairy that has a wide range even within its grouping. In some cases they may appear as Tolkien described them, as short, barrel chested, heavily bearded men. In other cases the may have clear physical deformities such as animal feet or feet turned backwards at the ankle. 

Púca - a shapeshifter the Púca can appear as a variety of animals including eagles, goats, horses, bulls, and dogs. May also appear as a small man. 

Kelpies - can assume the form of a horse or of a dark haired person, usually but not always a man. As a horse he is appealing and fine-looking; as a person he would seem human except that his hair remains damp and may have water weeds in it if one looks closely. 

Merrows - Like traditional mermaids they have the upper torso of a human and the lower half of a fish; merrows also have webbed hands. Females are extremely beautiful. Males are hideously ugly, with green tinted skin, and deep set red eyes. Children born from the union of a merrow and a mortal are said to have scales. 

Selkies - Selkies can take the form of seals or of dark haired human-like beings. The children of selkies and humans are said in folklore to be born with webbed hands or feet.

Glaistig - May appear as a beautiful woman with slightly damp or dripping hair; as a woman wearing a long green dress to conceal her lower half which is that of a goat; or may appear in the form of a goat.  

Huldra - A kind of Scandinavian fairy that looks like a very beautiful woman but always has some hidden deformity in stories; sometimes a tail, or a hollow back. The Huldrekall (male huldra) is quite ugly with a long nose. 

Martin Brandenburg 'Elfenreigen', Public domain

Elves - elves present a unique difficulty because the English word elf is used to gloss several words in other languages and was also used for a long time as a generic. Because of this we end up with a range of beings that fall under the label 'elf' but are very different in nature and description. We may perhaps divide them into two main groupings, the tall elves and the small elves. The latter are generally described as about a foot tall and can appear as old and wizened or younger. The former group are often described as more human in appearance, although they are clearly supernatural in their abilities and are averse to iron. Grimm suggest a division in Germanic mythology of taller elves into three main groups, the ljossalfar, dokkalfar, and svartalfar, each living in different domains and having slightly different appearances; lossalfar means 'light elves', dokkalfar 'dark elves', and svartalfar 'black elves'. Snorri writing about Norse mythology described only ljossalfar and svartalfar. In Scottish and Germanic sources the tall elves may be described as beautiful and the word elf was sometimes glossed with incubus; elves were known for seducing mortal women. However in other Germanic sources elves were explicitly called ugly. 

Giants - there are also a variety of giants to be found in fairylore, beings who can be 7 or 8 feet tall or more. In English folklore these are usually named beings like the Jack-in-Irons or Jimmy Squarefoot. In other cultures these may appear as a type of being in their own right such as the Norse Jotun or Anglo-Saxon Ettin, both names meaning 'giant'. Giants may appear very human but on a larger scale or may be monstrous, such as the aforementioned Jimmy Squarefoot who was part man and part boar, or they may have extra heads or limbs.

Gruagachs - male or female, generally human-like in looks may appear as either young and attractive, or as wizened, old, and very hairy.  

Muryans - Cornish fairies that could be as small as ants. They might be shape-shifters who could take animals forms, particularly birds, but were also associated with the Heathen dead. It was believed they had once been human-sized but had shrunk over time, eventually disappearing entirely. 

This is only, obviously, a small sample of the huge array of fairies that can be found in folklore. I hope though that this has illustrated the range of descriptions we see, from human-like to monstrous, from tiny to taller, from what we may call beautiful to what we judge as ugly, from entirely human-like to animalistic, with various skin colors including green. As Katherine Briggs says "The fairy people are good and bad, beautiful and hideous, stately and of their greatest variations is size" (Briggs, 1976, page 368).  Fairy has an enormous diversity to it that far, far defies our modern cultural perceptions of 'beauty'. If we are seeking to understand and appreciate the folklore, and to connect on any level with these beings then we must understand this diversity and appreciate it for what it is without overlaying our own perceptions and opinions onto it. We must understand that each group of fairies, each kind, would seem to judge by their own standards just as we do by our cultural ones, so that what a pixie considers beautiful is not what an elf (of any type) might consider beautiful, and neither may be what a human would call beautiful. I think we limit our appreciation of Fairy when we are looking at it through our own lens of beauty, height, ability, size, skill, or mobility, rather than appreciating it and Themselves for what and who they are in themselves. 


Further Reading:
Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz
Celtic Twilight by W. B. Yeats
Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry by Yeats 
Meeting the Othercrowd by Lehinhan and Green
Teutonic Mythology by J. Grimm
Prose Edda Snorri Sturlisson
The Trows, Orkneyjar 
A Dictionary of Fairies by Katherine Briggs
Elves in Anglo-Saxon England by Alaric Hall

*on a small side note, the idea of fairies having wings is actually more recent and comes from the theater. I recommend this article 'In Search of the Earliest Fairy Wings' for a far more in-depth discussion of the subject. 

* there is some art out there that is based more closely on folklore, rather than adapting an idealized concept of what a fairy is to our modern beauty standards. What I am referencing here is specifically the more popular images found in video games, anime, and more imagination based art. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Pre-Christian Celtic Fairylore?

 I recently shared a comic by Zach Weinersmith which featured a 'traditional Celtic folklore fairy' who, at one point, mentioned stealing a human soul for the fairies' tithe to Hell. I shared it because the comic is funny but unsurprisingly - because social media is what it is - received some pushback from people over the idea of the tithe to Hell which they felt was problematically Christian in contrast to pre-Christian fairylore. 

This is one of those deceptively simple statements that's actually very, very complicated. So let's jump into why that is and why we shouldn't dismiss 'Christian' fairylore for an assumed pre-Christian lore. 

Firstly, yes the tithe to Hell is a clearly Christian concept, a belief found in Scottish folklore around the Selkirk area. The idea is that the fairies pay rent to the Devil for Fairyland, which by implication is the property of Hell. This tithe, or kain, is paid either yearly or every seven years and is paid in the currency of Hell, that is souls. Because the fairies prefer not to give up their own people they steal humans to offer up instead, which then further ties the folklore into beliefs around changelings. The layers of this concept are without debt Christian and play into the idea found across fairy belief which fits fairies into Christian cosmology by defining them as a type of fallen angel or demon-lite. 

There's no arguing that the belief is Christian and rooted in Christian cosmology.  However this is where things get complicated - saying that the tithe to Hell is a later Christian addition to pre-Christian fairy belief, while obviously true on the surface, implies the existence of pre-Christian fairy beliefs to contrast the later material to. And herein lies the rub. 

We have no recorded pre-Christian fairy beliefs, at least not in Ireland or Scotland.

Everything we have, even the oldest material which can be dated back to roughly the 7th century, was recorded by Christians in the Christian period. 

Now we can certainly theorize and extrapolate. We can look at similar beliefs in other closely related cultures that do have pre-Christian or conversion era material.  We can study the Christianity of various time periods across Europe and see how that meshes in with fairy beliefs of those times. We can study archeology that seems relevant. But we can't know for certain what the beliefs were or how they were practiced because we simply lack that information. 

It is also complicated to filter out exactly what and how much is Christian insertion. We can say with reasonable certainty that the idea of the fairies renting from Hell and paying a tithe to the Devil is foreign influence, because the ideas of Hell and the Devil are later Christian concepts. But beyond that it starts to get murky. Was the connection to changeling folklore before or after to the idea of the tithe itself? Meaning did people start to say that changelings were stolen to pay the tithe as a way to explain why fairies stole humans, or did beliefs about fairies stealing humans lead to the idea of the tithe? Was the concept of a rent to Hell entirely a new idea or based on older pagan sacrificial rites? Was the entire concept Christian cosmology influencing fairy belief or was it concepts of society and class structure around landlords and rent being reflected in the local beliefs?

Because these beliefs are fluid and adapt as time passes, there is no rigidly set pre-Christian form that we can simply look at - at best we have a scattering of clues to be traced and expanded on. And of course we have a lot of modern beliefs and practices as well. Fairylore is a living thing and must be understood that way, to be understood.  

Ultimately when we are talking about fairy beliefs across Ireland and Scotland we are talking about 1500 years of syncretic beliefs, and its impossible to unweave that completely. We can pick out the most obvious insertions - Hell and the Devil - if we're minded to and we can use a range of sources to reconstruct the likely older beliefs. But certainty is more elusive and controversial and pre-Christian beliefs will only ever be educated guesses. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Top 10 Horror Movies

 Since we're into October I thought it would be fun to do a list of my top 10 favourite horror movies - feel free to add your own in the comments. 

Outside of a few close friends most people probably don't know that I'm a big fan of the horror genre. I've watched horror since I was about 12, saw Halloween for the first time, and fell in love with the entire concept. Probably less surprisingly my preference is for supernatural or psychological horror, and I'll be honest I have watched a lot of B movies in my time so I'm certainly not coming at this with very high cinematographic standards. I'm pretty sure watching Night of the Lupus loses me any claim at being cultured on this topic (not even getting into such classics as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, or Critters). That said this is my list of top 10 favourites; I could easily have done top 20 or 50 but I didn't want this to get too ridiculous.
My standard for what makes the list are simple: what I most enjoyed watching and re-watch most often.

Top 10 Horror Movies 

  1. The Hallow - an Irish horror movie that perfectly blends folklore and horror, and shows why fairies should be feared. 
  2. A Company of Wolves - a classic film in my opinion which blurs the perception of reality. My favourite werewolf film. 
  3. Session 9 - based on the idea of a crew cleaning out an abandoned asylum, it leaves the viewer wondering what is supernatural and what is purely human horror. 
  4. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 - the sequel to the Blair Witch Project, Book Of Shadows centres on a group of people on a tour of the witch's territory that goes terribly wrong. 
  5. House on Haunted Hill (1995) - the remake of the Vincent Price classic this version is both an homage to the original and pushes the boundaries of the older film. A group of people are challenged to stay overnight in an abandoned asylum, but things quickly start to get messy. 
  6. Hellraiser - absolutely essential horror and a basic of the genre. A puzzle box which if solved opens the doors to a hellish realm and its inhabitants. 
  7. Jennifer's Body - walking the line between comedy and horror this film finds the perfect intersection of teenage drama and demonic horror. 
  8. Ringu - the original Japanese movie on which the later US film 'The Ring' was based. A cursed video tape leads to death for those who watch it. 
  9. Sleepy Hollow - a much expanded version of the classic headless horseman story. 
  10. The Prophecy - based on the idea that the war in heaven between factions of angels hasn't actually ended, and is spilling over onto earth.
I'll add honorable mentions for comedic horror classics like Idle Hands, Krampus and - of course - Shaun of the Dead. 

Since I have a special love of vampire movies and I didn't want to clutter up the first list with those I'm adding a second list just with that focus. I have seen a lot of vampire movies over the years. Same standards apply here as above. 
Top 10 Vampire movies
  1.  Lost Boys - a new family in town quickly finds that Santa Carla isn't at all what it appears to be. 
  2. Interview With  A Vampire - based on the Anne Rice novel, a tale of a vampire telling his life story to a reporter. 
  3. Bram Stoker's Dracula - based on the book, honestly just a masterpiece of acting, scenery, and film
  4. Vampires vs. The Bronx - a very supernatural twist on gentrification
  5. Vampire Hunter D - an anime classic about vampire hunter who is more than he appears
  6. Children of the Night - probably best classed as a B movie, but still on my list. A young woman and her friend accidently awaken an ancient vampire and the whole town is caught in his spell
  7. Subspecies - the classic B vampire movie. Three foreign students in Romania find out that folk tales aren't always superstition. 
  8. Dracula 2000 - a very creative expansion of Stoker's Dracula story that explores the idea of Dracula in the 21st century
  9. Fright Night 2 - sequel to the original Fright Night, it tells the story of a vampire seeking revenge on the humans who killed her brother
  10. Blade - born as his mother is being turned into a vampire, Blade is a unique being who is a blend of both human and vampire and dedicated to destroying the monsters who killed his mother. 

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Following the Pleaides

 As some people are aware for the last four years I have been researching the Pleiades from a spiritual perspective and working to create a system of rituals connected to it. As we approach the four year anniversary of the experience in Iceland which led me onto this path I wanted to recap how things have gone so far. 

image of Pleiades by NASA, public domain

I've talked about the approach I was developing to honouring the Pleiades in the past (here and here), beginning in 2018 after the initial experience that drew my attention to it; eventually I compiled that material into a book titled Living Fairy. for those unfamiliar and who don't want to read the indepth explanation at the links the short version is that while visiting Iceland in September of 2018 I and several friends had an experience after wandering outside late at night. We saw what appeared to be a large number of Otherworldly beings moving across a hillside in the darkness and the Pleiades glowing blue just at the horizon like a bonfire. Later in discussing it with my friend Cat Heath we both concluded it represented a ritual celebration by those Powers, which we theorized was tied to the Pleiades - specifically the acronychal rising of the Pleiades which we had witnessed. And from there I was sent on this path to connect the dots as it were between fairies, the Pleiades, and ritual. 

Over the last four years I have established four main ritual dates:
The conjunction around May 14th: The Darkening
The heliacal rising around June 24th: The Return of the Queens (or just the Returning)
The acronychal rising September 22: The Way-Opening
The culmination November 20th: The Rade
With those dates I created a series of rituals which connect to each and tie into a new kind of mythology around them, inline with my practice of Fairy Witchcraft. 

Additionally I noted that every 8 years the Pleiades are conjunct with Venus, a planet which can be seen as a star-like object in the sky and which is associated by some people (including myself) with a fairy goddess called the Queen of Apples. This occured in 2020 and I chose to call it the Great Gathering and created a ritual specifically for it as well. It will happen next in 2028.

One of my main struggles across the last four years has been working out the precise timing which continues to be a challenge. The dates for these events vary by latitude and while they are generally around the same times each year, with a slight and slow drift, getting the dates worked out has been a bit hit or miss for me. I don't have much experience with astrology or astronomy and haven't yet found a good program or app that can tell me when the Pleiades will be conjunct or rising, but have been slowly working it out through direct observation.
I've also found myself tending to look for close correlating solar holidays - equinoxes especially - as they are easier to track; but they aren't as accurate for timing the Pleiades. I realize some of that desire is simply to stay a bit aligned with the more popular pagan approach to holy days, which is something I need to let go of. 

On the other hand, I have had a great deal of success with the rituals themselves. While my previous experiences with pagan rituals provided a handful of intense numinous experiences my work around the Pleiades has proven to be quite intense and inspiring. So far even the least active of the rituals I've done has involved a noticeable change in the temperature around me, a stilling of the sounds, and a rise in the wind. These results have also been noted by other people working the ritual cycle, suggesting that it is the dates themselves, and perhaps the ritual structure, that are effective.
My struggle to date the events with technology has also been a success in a way because it has forced me to directly connect to the constellation by tracking it visually as much as possible. I have found a lot of value in that and in nurturing an awareness of the constellation itself beyond its symbolism.
Finally I've found that working with this has deepened my own spirituality and connection to the Othercrowd. There is a dance-like rhythm to this cycle and it speaks its own mythology to me as I go along, a story of the 7 fairy queens travelling through the year, the sky, and our lives. 

This year's acronychal rising will begin my fifth year working with this system and I remain excited to see how it continues to play out and shape itself. 

Monday, September 5, 2022

Tolkien, Stereotypes, and Diversity

 I've written here before about representation and racism in fairy media and later expanded that into a full length article which was published in Witches & Pagans magazine under the title 'The (White) Elephant in the Room: Race & Identity in Fairy Lore'. In both of these pieces I emphasized the diverse descriptions of fairies, elves, and other Otherworldly beings that we find across folklore and the way that such diversity is largely ignored by those with an agenda towards an imagined pale skinned, blond version of folklore or warped to vilify a group within a game structure to play into real world prejudices. I do think that its vital for people to look beyond the popculture surface of fairylore to appreciate the diversity of the material - and will continue to advocate for a wider understanding of this. But within this wider discussion I think we also need to be honest about the way that these beliefs are and can be twisted to support particular agendas.

With that in mind lets tackle a current controversy: diversity in Rings of Power

image by Zanstardust from 

There's been quite a hue and cry from one segment of the population over the diversity in the new Rings of Power show, by people who feel strongly that Tolkien meant for the elves to be envisioned and depicted only as they were shown in the Lord of the Rings movies. I'm not going to get into Tolkien lore here about why some aspects of this criticism don't hold water, but rather address a different issue: why Tolkien's work does need to be adjusted today. Because we are stuck with two different inherent issues: Tolkien himself fashioned his orcs along anti-Asian stereotypes; and Jackson's movies in turn portrayed them in ways that fed into anti-black sentiments. That Tolkien was working with an anti-Asian intent isn't in question, he himself says as much "The orcs...were squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types.” (Chance, 205, p 114). Compounding that Tolkien also described some orcs in Return of the King as explicitly black skinned, and very clearly defined orcs as irredeemably evil. Tolkien himself was elsewhere outspoken against apartheid, Nazism, and racial classifications, as well as anti-Semitism, and its likely the racial stereotypes that appear in his work were subconscious reflections of his own cultural milieu; however that those stereotypes are there is indisputable. While Tolkien, in a letter to his son, expressed that it was the evilness of orcs that made them what they were not their appearance and that they were to be found in the real world among all people, the idea of the orcs and goblins fitting these stereotypes was concentrated and expanded on in Jackson's movies, cementing a visual narrative that gave us ethereal Caucasian elves and violent, dangerous, dark skinned orcs and goblins. That this is canon isn't arguable, however, I will argue that just because its canon doesn't mean its acceptable. 

Many people argue that Tolkien was writing based on existing folklore, specifically Anglo-Saxon and Norse, and therefore his elves are based on that and should be kept true to that. I agree, and the Elves in Rings of Power are much closer to older folklore than those in Jackson's movies. There is unquestionably a great deal of diversity in older folklore and descriptions of elves, across both Anglo-Saxon aelfe and Norse alfar. The idea, for example, of various groups of elves described by colour appears from at least the 13th century with Snorri Sturluson  writing about the Ljosalfar or light elves and Svartalfar or black elves. His black elves appear across multiple stories both helping and sometimes competing with the Aesir, and have their own world, Svartalfheim, or black elf home (Simek, 2007). Although today we tend to give heavy moral weight to these colours, associating white with goodness and black with badness that does not seem to be a factor for Snorri's black elves; just as the light elves can act maliciously towards humans so too the black elves can be helpful and both groups are generally more ambivalent. When we add in the 'dusky elves' (dokkalfar), usually thought to be formed by human dead, the concepts get even more nuanced and complex. We are given three groups of elves with various colour associations - light, dusky, and black - who all have various interactions with humans and whose colours seem to indicate literal appearance but not morality or behaviour. 

 However while Snorri didn't play too much into this idea, with his black elves no better or worse than the Aesir in many stories, Jakob Grimm writing in the 19th century certainly did, discussing a groups of spirits as white, pale, and black and relating these to angels, the dead, and devils, then further connecting the light elves to angels and black elves to devils (Grimm, 1888, p 446). We cannot have this discussion without acknowledging that or the apparent wider cultural move towards strongly codifying spirits by colour associations which was clear by at least the early modern period in Europe. It is likely, in my opinion, that this did affect Tolkien's choices in his writing in the early 20th century. Arguably a Christian overlay trying to fit these older pagan concepts into Christian cosmology they nonetheless created a moral implication where none had been previously* and which fit in with racist ideologies.

Tolkien's choices in describing his orcs and goblins as well as his decision to refer to his various Middle Earth beings as 'races' and to describe them in ways that reflect wider racial stereotypes has had a huge and long lasting impact on both the genre of fantasy fiction as well as role playing games based on that genre. This has been written about in more depth and by better voices than my own here and here and I encourage readers to dig into these and the other articles on race on the public medievalist site. But ultimately the issue comes down to the stereotypes in Tolkien's work being taken, expanded on, and codified across the genre of fantasy, and into gaming based on that, in ways that amplify the racism within those stereotypes. The ideas of pale skinned beautiful elves in contrast to dark skinned violent orcs isn't reflective of older folklore, but of this early 20th century influence. It remains in the genre because it continues to be perpetuated, not because it is a requirement.

Just because an author writing almost a hundred years ago created material that played into racial stereotypes of the 19th and 20th century doesn't mean we must therefore continue to adhere to those stereotypes. Especially when we do have wider folklore and material that supports diversity among elves and a modern understanding that we cannot simplify good and evil into skin colours. The newest Tolkien spin off, Rings of Power, may deserve legit criticism on different fronts, but including diverse casting isn't one of them - if anything that is only reflecting the array of source material Tolkien was drawing on to begin with and the author's own expressed opinions against racial classifications. As Maya Angelou so wisely said: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."
We know better now and we also know the harm that incorporating human world racism into the fantasy genre has done. We must do better than to keep perpetuating it.

*I'll note discussion this is specifically about English and continental European colour symbolism; Irish colour symbolism around spirits tended to focus on different colours particularly red, green, and white

Grimm, J., (1888) Teutonic Mythology vol 4
Chance, J., (2005) Tolkien and the Invention of Myth
Rearick, A., (2004) Why Is the Only Good Orc a Dead Orc? The Dark Face of Racism Examined in Tolkien's World. Retrieved from
Warmbrunn, C., (2020) Dear Tolkien Fans, Black People Exist. Retrieved from
Strurtevant, P., (2017) Race: the Original Sin of the Fantasy Genre. Retrieved from 
Racism in Tolkien's Works (2022) Tolkien Gateway. Retrieved from's_Works
D'Anastasio, D., (2021) D&D Must Grapple With the Racism in Fantasy. Retrieved from's_Works