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Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Freya's Cats

 The subject of Freya's cats came up recently on social media, so I wanted to share this excerpt from my forthcoming book Pagan Portals Freya. I hope this may clarify some points, as this summarizes the information we have from the older sources and may help people differentiate between new ideas and stories and the older beliefs. 

Cats – Freya is said to travel in a chariot pulled by two cats, probably wild cats. The Grimnismal doesn’t tell us or even hint at what kind of cats they may be, saying only “Whenever Freya travels, she sits in her carriage which is drawn by cats”.  The Skáldskaparmal refers to them as ‘gib-cats’ an antiquated term for male cats, possible neutered. The actual term used in the original language for the animals is vague and they have been depicted in art as everything from small house cats to wild cats, although in modern folklore and belief they are usually envisioned as large cats.

Her ownership of these cats[1] has been the source of much speculation among scholars. O’Donoghue suggest they may represent chaos as a chariot pulled by cats would seem to be a difficult option. Turville-Petre sees the cats as representing lust, saying: “The cat, as the Norse pagans must have known, is the most lascivious of beasts.” (Turville-Petre, 1964). Ellis Davidson takes the most benevolent view and ascribes the cat association to Freya’s connection to seidhr and the cat’s reputation as a supernatural animal.

In the older sources these animals are never named, however Diana Paxson in her 1984 novel ‘Brisingamen’ chose to name the cats Bygull (Beegold) and Tregull (Treegold) as modern poetic kennings of Honey and Amber[2]. These names have gained popularity across modern pagan books and can be found in several such texts given as if they are the original mythic names of the cats.

While it is generally assumed today, and has been across artwork for many years, that the cats are indeed cats there is some question around the original word used. Older translators have no hesitation to give the word as cats or tom-cats, but Grimm in Teutonic Mythology questioned whether bear wasn’t the intended term and an assortment of other animals, including weasels, have also been suggested. Despite this there is reasonable evidence that some form of either wild or domestic cat was meant and would have been understood by the contemporary audience.

page 42, Brisingamen by Diana Paxson, 1984

[1] If one can ever be said to own a cat

[2] I was told that this was a personal choice in an online correspondence with the author, however it is also publicly referenced in Our Troth, vol 1, page 373. 

Friday, May 5, 2023

All of My Fairy Writing

  I've been asked several times about what I've written on fairies by people looking into my writing on the subject. I finally decided it would just be easier to write a quick bit here about it. I'm including articles, presentations, and books. I am not including the range of my blog material on Living Liminally or on Patheos Agora: Irish-American Witchcraft or Witches&Pagans On the Fairy Road

(updated from 2020)


      “The Witch, the Bean Feasa, and the Fairy Doctor in Irish Culture”. Air n-Aithesc, vol. 1 issue 2, Aug. 2014

“Fairy Witchcraft Master class”, Spirit & Destiny, July 2016

“Enchantment in the Modern World”, Mystic Living Today ezine July 2016

“Scottish Fairies and the Teind to Hell”, Pagan Dawn, Spring 2017

“Fairy Witchcraft: Old Ways in New Days” Watson’s Mind Body Spirit Magazine, Spring 2017

“Fairies, Word and Deed” Watson’s Mind Body Spirit Magazine, Autumn 2018

“Fairy Queens and Witches” Pagan Dawn, Lammas 2019 no 212

“Queens of Fairy” The Magical Times, Oct 2019 – March 2020, issue 27

“Conceptualizing Fairyland” Pagan Dawn, Imbolc 2020 no 214

“The Power of Transformation”, Witch Way Magazine, Midsummer special issue 2020

“Fairies and the Stars”, Pagan Dawn, Lammas-Autumn Equinox 2020, no 216

“Sexuality and Gender Among the Good Neighbours: the Intersection and Inversion of Human Norms in Fairylore”, written for Revenant Journal 2020, cut, posted on; FIS newsletter 2021

“Queens of Fairy” Watkins Mind Body Spirit Winter 2021

“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

“Marriage and the Otherworld”, FIS newsletter, 2023

“The Aos Sidhe: The Good Folk of Ireland”, Pagan Dawn. Beltane issue 2023. No 227


On Academia Edu

(Conference Presentations)

"Álfar, Aelfe, and Elben: Elves in an historic and modern Heathen context", HWU conference 2019

"Evolution of the Fairy Courts: from Scottish Ballads to Urban Fantasy", OSU Fairies and the Fantastic Conference 2019

“Unseely to anti-hero: The Evolution of Dangerous Fairies in Folklore, Fiction, and Popular Belief” Hertfordshire University’s ‘Ill Met By Moonlight’ conference, 2021

"Fairies as 'Other': Gender and Sexuality Across Western European Fairy Belief" Folklore Open Voices: folklore for all, folklore of all conference, 2022



A Child’s Eye View of the Fairy Faith, 2012 (out of print)

Pagan Portals: Fairy Witchcraft, 2014

Fairycraft 2016

Fairies: A Guidebook to the Celtic Fair Folk; 2017

Travelling the Fairy Path 2018

Pagan Portals Fairy Queens 2019

A New Fairies Dictionary 2020

Pagan Portals Living Fairy 2020

Pagan Portals Aos Sidhe 2022

Pagan Portals 21st Century Fairy 2023

Monday, May 1, 2023

Bad Meme: Beltane Edition

 Several years ago I had done a few posts seeking to clarify confusion around popular things on social media relating to specific pagan holidays including Yule, Samhain, and 'Ostara'. I've never done one for Bealtaine mostly because I haven't seen a huge amount of misinformation about it being shared around. That is starting to change, at least a bit, so today I thought I'd tackle a couple of things I've seen recently that need some clarification. 

  People are free to believe what they will from the memes and such that go around, of course, but I think its important to be clear on what the sources are, especially when they are being presented in deceptive or inaccurate ways. Or put another way you believe whatever you want to but be honest about the origins. 

fireplace, Gleann Garbh, Ireland 1 May 2018

There's a couple memes going around claiming that folklore or legend says on Beltane the queen of fairies rides around on a white horse and if you sit quietly under a tree you may see her. If you look away she'll pass by, if you look at her she may take you into Fairy for 7 years. This meme usually includes an appropriately mystic looking image.

Alright. So. The quote with the memes is an excerpt from a much longer article, circa 2000, written by Christina Aubin, titled 'Beltane'* which was originally posted on the now defunct witchvox site. This portion seems to be a mashup of some actual folklore, the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, and pure wish fulfillment. Let's take this a piece at a time then:
Folklore: Yes the fairies are out and about on and around Bealtaine. Yes this time of year you may see a fairy Rade or otherwise encounter Themselves.
The fairy queen (generic) is often but not always said to ride a white horse, when she rides out, which occurs at many different times of year (the most common associated with the white horse is probably Samhain).
The Ballad: in one specific ballad, Thomas the Rhymer, the human protagonist is lying under a tree when the fairy queen comes by and compels him into her service for 7 years. There's no date or time of year specified. Thomas seems to have been specifically chosen, is returned after 7 years and then taken again when he is much older, led by a deer who he believed was sent by the fairy queen (according to folklore).
Wish Fulfillment: there's no Irish or Scottish folklore suggesting that sitting under a tree on Bealtaine will let you see fairies. There's also no support to the idea that looking away will make them ignore you or that looking at them will grant the possibility of being taken by them for 7 years. You cannot influence the fairy queen into this.
Folklore (again): whether or not you see the Good Neighbors coming has zero direct affect on what they might do to you, in fact passing invisibly to human sight is a hallmark of fairies in folklore. It is true that its advised to pretend you don't see them if you stumble on a group engaged in an activity but that's because in many accounts if they know you see them they react violently. Which brings us to point 2, making it clear you are looking at them ends really badly as often as not.
They take humans they choose to take and while yes a percentage return after 7 years or are taught valuable things, many become base servants (think no pay, cleaning stables, drudgery), breeding stock (exactly what it sounds like), or entertainment (fun for them not you). There's a reason that we have massive amounts of material about protecting against fairies and escaping from them or rescuing people from them, because in many stories the human is taken against their will and their fate may not be pleasant.
   Yes you can safely engage with fairies. But. But caution is always advised. Would you hang out in a park and trust any random human who wandered by and started giving you orders? Fairies are not universally benevolent any more than humans are. And very few of us could qualify as a modern day Thomas the Rhymer.

   Another portion of Aubin's article is also sometimes included which suggests that in Irish folk tradition leftover food on May Eve would be given to the Good Folk as an offering or buried for them.
  Firstly it is an Irish folk belief that you don't give away any fire, salt, or food on Bealtaine lest the luck of your house be stolen. See Dáithí ÓhÓgáin's 'Irish Superstitions', Seán Ó Súilleabháin's 'Nósanna agus Piseago na nGael', or Danaher's 'The Year in Ireland' for discussion of this folk belief if you are interested. It was a custom in some places to bleed the cattle, or mix human blood and milk to give to the Daoine Maithe on May Day morning, but this was done outside the home, usually at a sidhe, and was seen as a way to divert or avert the Good Folk's potential maliciousness. you are, basically, bribing them.
   Secondly you don't give the Daoine Uaisle leftovers. Its not done, because the belief is that they deserve and want the best you have to give not the dregs. The top of a still of alcohol is theirs, as is the best of the harvested crops and milk (see MacNeill's 'Festival of Lughnasa'). So while food offerings of various kinds are traditional, giving leftovers from your own meal or food wouldn't be.

   Another thing I've seen repeatedly this year is a prayer attributed to the Carmina Gadelica which is a set of collected folk charms and prayers gathered around 1900 by Alexander Carmichael in Scotland. The version making the rounds is a blessing prayer for Beltane which asks for blessing on the speakers life, family, livestock and crops, invoking the Horned God and triple Goddess, as well as referencing 'gods'. The problem here is that although its attributed to the Carmina Gadelica, it isn't exactly from that source- it's a paganized version by Mike Nichols from 1993 which modifies the text to remove Christian material and insert neopagan material. The original text from the Carmina Gadelica refers to the Christian trinity, apostle Paul, and Christ.
   As a good rule of thumb anything credited to the Carmina Gadelica or Carmichael which calls on neopagan deities like the Horned God or Maiden, Mother, Crone, is a modern adaptation of the Christian original. There are some references in the Carmina Gadelica to fairies of various types and which may be read as pagan if you squint at them, but the collected material is clearly Christian in tone as it was recorded.
   It's important to be very clear on the actual source, as otherwise it gives the impression that the original CG was pagan which it decidedly is not. 

Finally not a new meme idea but rather a very old one that's being repeated by various sources today in some memes is that Bealtaine (Old Irish Belltaine) is named for the middle eastern god** Ba'al or a theoretical Indo-Eurpoean god named Bel. 
   The Ba'al connection has been widely disregarded today as coming from 18th and 19th century attempts to tie Celtic culture to the middle east/Mediterranean; this same period created wholecloth the so-called god 'Saman' as deity of Samhain. Or as McKillop says it in his Dictionary of Celtic Mythology: "The 19th-century attempt to link Belenus, under the spelling Bel, with the Phoenician Ba'al is now rejected".
    The connection to the theoretical god Bel is speculation based on both the Sanas Cormaic entry which supposes Bel was from the name of an otherwise unknown deity and the connection to the Gaulish Belenos and Welsh Beli Mawr. There are no definitive agreements among scholars as to this theory and whether or not Bel was an Irish deity, nor whether Bealtaine derives from a celebration to that deity. It is possible, but should be understood as a theory not an established fact.
   The etymology of Bealtaine is uncertain but it's generally thought to come from bel teine (opening fire) or bil teine (lucky fire) with lucky fire supported as a folk etymology in Cormac's Glossary (suggesting this may have been the way it was understood historically). It is usually translated as the first of May or May Day, and the name of the month of May in Irish is based on it. 

*I will note that the article has multiple factual errors or inherent assumptions beyond this particular section.
** there's some debate about whether or not Ba'al was a specific deity of a general term that could be applied to deities or used as a title. The word means 'lord'.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Current List of All My Published Work






“Healing Ritual for the Ocean Waters”, Circle Magazine issue 109 summer 2011

“A Gaelic View of Samhain”, Celtic Guide, vol. 1 issue 10 Oct. 2012

      “Celebrating Imbolc with the Family”, Air n-Aithesc, vol.1 issue 1, Feb. 2014

      “The Witch, the Bean Feasa, and the Fairy Doctor in Irish Culture”. Air n-Aithesc, vol. 1 issue 2, Aug. 2014

     “Finding the Morrigan”, Goddess Pages, issues 26 winter 2014/spring 2015

     “The Morrigan’s Call”, Pagan Dawn, no. 194 Imbolc/Spring Equinox 2015

     “A Family Bealtaine”; “The Good Neighbors”, Air n-Aithesc, vol. II, issue I, Feb. 2015

     “The Morrigan and Sovereignty” Goddess Alive e-zine Spring/Summer 2015

     “Finding Flidais, Irish Goddess of Cattle and Deer”, Oak Leaves, Summer 2015, Issue 69

     “The Role of the Morrigan in the Cath Maige Tuired: Incitement, Battle Magic, and Prophecy”, Air n-Aithesc, vol. II, issue II, August 2015

      “Three Paths, One Purpose”. Call of the Morrigan, Oct 2015

      “Samhain: Myth, Mystery, and Meaning”, Pagan Dawn, no. 197 Samhain/Yule 2015

“Crom Cruach”; “Reconstructing Iron Age Ritual Feasting Practices”, Air n-Aithesc, vol. III, issue 1, February 2016

“Experiential Spirituality” Mystic Living Today ezine, April 2016

“Fairy Witchcraft Master class”, Spirit & Destiny, July 2016

“Enchantment in the Modern World”, Mystic Living Today ezine July 2016

“The Cailleach”; “Two Views of the Leannan Si”, Air n-Aithesc, vol III, issue II, August 2016

“Medb”, Air n-Aithesc, vol IV, issue I, 2017

“Scottish Fairies and the Teind to Hell”, Pagan Dawn, Spring 2017

“Fairy Witchcraft: Old Ways in New Days” Watson’s Mind Body Spirit Magazine, Spring 2017

“Tailtiu”; “Samhain; Tradition and Transition”, Air nAithesc, vol IV issue II, 2017

“The Fire Festivals in History and Myth”; “Cermait”, Air nAithesc, vol V 2018

“Fairies, Word and Deed” Watkins Mind Body Spirit Magazine, Autumn 2018

“Seeking in the Mists: The Gods and Goddesses of Ireland” Pagan Dawn, Beltane 2019 no 211

“Fairy Queens and Witches” Pagan Dawn, Lammas 2019 no 212

“Queens of Fairy” The Magical Times, Oct 2019 – March 2020, issue 27

“Conceptualizing Fairyland” Pagan Dawn, Imbolc 2020 no 214

“The Divinity of the Tuatha De Danann”, Pagan Digest volume 01, May 2020

“The Power of Transformation”, Witch Way Magazine, Midsummer special issue 2020

“Fairies and the Stars”, Pagan Dawn, Lammas-Autumn Equinox 2020, no 216

“Sexuality and Gender Among the Good Neighbours: the Intersection and Inversion of Human Norms in Fairylore”, written for Revenant Journal 2020, cut, posted on; FIS newsletter 2021

“Lugh, God of Many Skills”, Pagan Dawn, Lammas Issue, 2021, no 220

“Seeking in the Mists: Gods and Goddesses of Ireland”, Pagan Dawn, Samhain issue, 2021, no 221

“Queens of Fairy” Watkins Mind Body Spirit Winter 2021

“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

“Marriage and the Otherworld”, FIS newsletter, 2023

“Fairies in a Modern World”, Pagan Dawn, forthcoming

“Aos Sidhe and Witches”, forthcoming

“Lugh: Lightning and Sunlight” Watkins Mind Body Spirit, forthcoming

“Freya: Love, War, and Magic”, Moon Books Magazine, forthcoming


Academic Papers

“Evolution of the Fairy Courts: from Scottish Ballads to Urban Fantasy” Ohio State University Fairies and the Fantastic Conference, 2019

“Álfar, Aelfe, and Elben: Elves in an historic and modern Heathen context” 3rd Annual Heathen Women United Conference, 2019

“Unseely to anti-hero: The Evolution of Dangerous Fairies in Folklore, Fiction, and Popular Belief” Hertfordshire University’s ‘Ill Met By Moonlight’ conference, 2021

"Fairies as 'Other': Gender and Sexuality Across Western European Fairy Belief" Folklore Open Voices: folklore for all, folklore of all conference, 2022



Short Stories

Chess: A Between the Worlds short story - 2017

Birth: A Between the Worlds short story - 2018

The Well at Carterhaugh: A queer retelling of Tam Lin – 2019

The King of Elfland: A queer retelling of Thomas the Rhymer – 2021

In the Fairy Wood: A queer retelling of Alice Brand – 2021

Synchronicity: A Between the Worlds short story – 2023




 “Shining God”, Idunna 76 Summer 2008

“Five” Circle Magazine issue 107 2010

“Consumed” Witches & Pagans issue 24, 2011

“Hammer” Circle Magazine issue 115 vol. 35 #4, 2011


“Essense” (under the pen name Seabhacgeal) The Pagan’s Muse, 2003

“Secrets”; “Alone”; “First”; “After the Drought”; “Forgiveness”, Voices of Survivors 2009

“Oíche Shamna”, Pagan Writers Presents Samhain 2011

“Snowflakes”; “Midwinter Solstice Dream”, Pagan Writers Presents Yule, 2011

“Macha’s Race”, The Dark Ones: Tales and Poems of the Shadowed Gods 2016

“Immutable” My Say In The Matter, 2023



“Connecting Past and Future: Modern Reconstructionist Druidism”, Essays in Contemporary Paganism 2013

“Past & Present”, Paganism 101, 2014

“Macha: One face of the Morrigan”, By Blood, Bone, and Blade: a tribute to the Morrigan, 2014

“Ancient Goddesses in the Modern World”; “Frigga”, Naming the Goddess, 2014

“Macha, Horses, and Sovereignty”, Grey Mare on the Hill, 2015

“Ancient Roots, Modern Faith”,  Pagan Planet: Being, Believing & Belonging in the 21Century 2016

“Guidise ocus Comairc” An Leabhar Urnaí 2016

“Goddesses of Ireland: Beyond the Ninth Wave” Goddess in America 2016

“Pagan Parenting in the 21st Century”; “The Morrigans: Ancient Goddesses in Modern Times”; “Taking the Road Less Traveled By”, iPagan, 2017

 “The Goddess Hidden in Folklore”; Seven Ages of the Goddess, 2018

“Interview with Morgan Daimler” Real Witches of New England 2018

“King of the Sidhe of Ireland: The Dagda's Role in the Aislinge Oenguso”; “An Analysis of the Dagda's Role in the De Gabail in t-Sida”; “How the Dagda Got His Magic Staff: The Power and Symbolism of the Dagda’s Club”, Harp, Club and Cauldron: a curated anthology of scholarship, lore, practice and creative writings on the Dagda 2018

‘The Morrigan’; ‘Brighid’ Celtic Goddesses 2018

‘What is Modern Witchcraft?’ Pagan Portals What is Modern Witchcraft anthology 2019

“Finnbheara”; “Nuada” Naming the God 2022

“Dawn” Kindred Kingdoms 2022

“The Herb in the Wood” My Say In The Matter, 2023

“Irish-American Folk Magic” North American Folk Magic 2023

“The Irish Sidhe Through A Folkloresque Lens: Co-opting and Redefining Irish Folklore for a Popculture Audience”, Fairies: a Companion, forthcoming



Faery by John Kruse 2020

Samhain by Luke Eastwood 2021

Parallels Between Romanian and Irish Fairy Lore and Practice by Daniela Simina 2023

Bones Fall In a Spiral by Mortellus 2023

Fairy Herbs for Fairy Magic by Daniela Simina, 2024


Old/Middle Irish Translations

The Treasure of the Tuatha De Danann: a dual language pocket book, 2015

Tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann: a dual language pocket book, 2016

Myth and Magic of Pagan Ireland: a dual language pocket book, 2019

Cath Maige Tuired 2020

Settling of the Manor of Tara 2021

Through the Mist a dual language mythology book 2021

Echtra Laegaire meic Crimthain: the Adventures of Laegaire son of Crimthan 2022

Echtra Nera 2023


Books, Non-fiction

Selected Charms from the Carmina Gadelica, 2011

Selected Prayers from Volume 1 of the Carmina Gadelica, 2011

By Land, Sea, and Sky, 2011

A Child’s Eye View of the Fairy Faith, 2012 (out of print)

Where the Hawthorn Grows 2013

Pagan Portals: Fairy Witchcraft, 2014

Pagan Portals: the Morrigan, 2014

Pagan Portals: Irish Paganism; reconstructing Irish Polytheism, 2015

Pagan Portals: Brigid, 2016

Fairycraft 2016

Pagan Portals: Gods and Goddesses of Ireland 2016

Fairies: A Guidebook to the Celtic Fair Folk; 2017

Pagan Portals: Odin, 2018

Travelling the Fairy Path 2018

Pagan Portals: the Dagda 2018

Pagan Portals Manannán mac Lir 2019

Pagan Portals Fairy Queens 2019

A New Fairies Dictionary 2020

Pagan Portals Thor 2020

Pagan Portals Raven Goddess 2020

Pagan Portals Living Fairy 2020

Pagan Portals Lugh 2021

Pantheons the Norse 2022

Pagan Portals Aos Sidhe 2022

Pagan Portals 21st Century Fairy 2023

Pagan Portals Freya 2023

Fairy: the Otherworld by Many Names 2024

Celtic Fairies in North America, forthcoming

Paid with a Kiss: Sex and love in Fairy Belief, forthcoming


Books, Fiction

Shadow, Light, and Spirit, 2012 (poetry)

Murder Between the Worlds: a Between the Worlds novel, 2014

Lost in Mist and Shadow; a Between the Worlds novel, 2014

Into the Twilight; a Between the Worlds novel 2015

Heart of Thorns; a Between the Worlds novel 2016

Fairy Gifts: a Between the Worlds anthology; 2016

Dark of Winter: a Between the Worlds novel 2017

Desire and Ashes a Between the Worlds novel 2018

Wandering: a Between the Worlds Anthology 2020

Convergence a Between the Worlds Novel 2020

Emergence: A Between the Worlds prequel 2022

Into Shadow: The Tallan Chronicles 2023

Night and Day, A Between the Worlds novella, 2023

Chasing Sunset: A Between the Worlds novel, forthcoming

Shadowed Flame, the Tallan Chronicles, forthcoming







Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Ask Me Anything - fiction

 Its been a while since I did an Ask Me Anything style blog and also a while since I wrote about my fiction so I thought that would be fun to do today. I've collected some questions from social media and am answering them here for everyone. Feel free to add additional questions in the comments if you'd like. 

Nicole: What’s your favorite fictional book that you have written?

My answer: That's actually a tough question because my fiction is my fun writing so I tend to be really fond of it. If I had to pick only one though I'd probably say Convergence (book 9 in Between the Worlds) because it let me explore some really interesting things, like writing a story where there isn't a 'villIain' per se even though there are antagonists and a world saving crisis.  

Alexandra: Who is your favorite character to write dialogue for, from your new high fantasy series, and why?

My answer: My favourite character to write dialogue for in Into Shadow is definitely Calla. She's snarky and smart and insightful and that's a fun combination when it comes to writing conversations between characters. 

Alexandra: When are we getting more Ciaran short stories?

My answer: Ciaran is such a fan favourite! He is also a really interesting character for me to write because he's much more enigmatic than most of the others in Between the Worlds. My current plan is to come out with either a book or anthology of stories from when Allie first came to Ashwood, to fill in a lot of her backstory with her human family, and Ciaran will feature heavily in that because he was Allie's first friend there and remained her friend across the years. 
I'm also toying with the idea of another wider anthology in the series which could include a variety of character's stories, kind of like in Wandering. 

Ben: What is your relationship to the characters you love? What about the ones you hate? What is your process in creating these characters?

My answer: To be honest I don't feel like a create them so much as that I get to know them as I'm writing. I'll have an idea for a story and as I start the characters unfold with the idea, so that writing them feels less like my inventing these people and more like me meeting someone new. And I think the more you write a character the more you get to know them, so characters I've written multiple books about I feel very attached to. There are definitely some that I love and some that I like a lot less but I think they are all interesting and nuanced in their own ways and I always try to show that even in unlikeable characters. To me a character doesn't feel real unless they seem to have personality and motivations to do what they do, and I like exploring that even with the antagonists. 

TeididhHello. My take on your fiction: I often wonder if you feel that you walk a tightrope of sorts, when it comes to weaving your storey around what I respectfully assume are some very private, secretive experiences and knowledge of the Otherworld. Perhaps not unusual for authors to send-a-message within their work, but what I consider to be your exquisite skill set in such matters tempts me to wonder how you maneuver within these parameters, given my assumption that you potentially deal with consequences that most authors need not worry about.

My answer: It can be a balancing act for sure. I'm writing fiction which means there are things that have to be certain ways or happen certain ways for the plot, but I'm also blending in folklore which I have a lot of respect for; I don't want to contribute to misunderstandings about these beings. And there are certain things that I can't or won't write about or which I feel I'm prohibited form discussing.
I will say that the elves in Between the Worlds do incorporate a lot of my own gnosis around these beings and probably reflect a fairly accurate picture of how I understand them and their culture (at least one group of elves anyway). So you could certainly read the books and winnow out ideas and concepts I may not have explicitly discussed elsewhere about my thoughts on elven culture, personalities, attitudes, etc.,

Cat: I remember one if the most interesting things I read of an author in regard to his writing was Bernhard Stäber about a torture scene he had to write. It was a fascinating insight into where writing stories might lead you. My question then would be, have you ever found yourself in this situation - writing about something you would rather not, taking a character you are fond of down a dark road neither of you wanted to take?

My answer: I definitely have yes. There's a rather infamous character death in Murder Between the Worlds that I didn't plan to write or want to write, but I hit a point in the story where I just knew that was the logical progression as different factors were coming together. I realize I'm the one writing the story and I'm the one who has control over what happens but I feel like to stay true to the plot I need to follow through with what the characters would do in situations, even if what they'd do is hard to write, because it feels more real that way. 

Dave: What way to buy your fiction maximizes your royalties and profits from the sale? How frequently does that change?

My answer: This really just depends on whether its my trad published work, like my nonfiction or Into Shadow, or if its my self published material, like Between the Worlds. For trad published it doesn't matter as much where its being bought as long as its bought new, because that's all royalties paid through my publisher. For my self published books however - unfortunately - amazon is the best option for me because I publish through KDP. I do also have a selection of books on but a few years ago they changed their process for uploading files and that's caused me issues in getting new material up on that site. For my self published material physical copies are also a better option, for me, than ebooks but honestly I'm just happy when people get the books in any form and enjoy them. 

Monday, March 27, 2023

Sacred Tattooing

I have always seen tattooing as a sacred process, a way to permanently embed images and symbols into the flesh that have a transcendent meaning. All of my tattoos contain this level of meaning and are first and foremost for me spiritual and secondarily art work. Even the process of being tattooed has spiritual implications for me, and I have often approached the experience as an offering to the gods and spirits. There is, so far, no concrete evidence of the Irish* using tattooing but there is evidence of tattooing in similar cultures, including the Picts and Britons which made me want to explore the concept of tattooing in the ancient world, specifically in Europe.

The earliest know tattoo work found was on the so-called Ice Man, a preserved body found in the area between Italy and Austria. This body was dated to 3000 BCE, making it over 5000 years old(Lineberry, 2007). The body displayed tattooed patterns on the lower back, knee, and ankle which led researchers to conclude the tattoos were mostly therapeutic in nature, being placed on areas with signs of degeneration (Lineberry, 2007). From this it would seem that the earliest tattoos could have been used in a medicinal fashion, although exactly how can only be guessed at.

Additionally tattooing was believed to have been used among the Scythians and Picts. Several preserved Scythian bodies have been found dating as far back as 2400 BCE and both the male and female bore tattoos, in some cases very elaborate, depicting animals and mythic images (Lineberry, 2007). In his writings Herodotus remarked that among the Scythians "tattoos were a mark of nobility, and not to have them was testimony of low birth.”. This could indicate that by the time Herodotus was writing - around 450 BCE - tattooing had become a sign of social standing. The stylized images seen in the Scythian tattoos are the same as those seen in other Scythain artwork, indicating that the tattoos reflected larger social concepts and symbolism (Kromarik, 2003). In the case of the Picts less is known with certainty because no preserved bodies have been found. Writings from secondary sources indicate that Pictish tattoos, like the Scythian, were a symbol of status and that they included images of animals (Lineberry, 2007). Herodian, writing around 200 CE says that the Celts 'draw figures of animals or symbols on their skin by pressing hot iron onto their limbs, causing great pain, and over this they rub the sap of a plant'. (Green, 2012). While this account is questionable because the writer never traveled to any of the Celtic lands and was likely repeating another person's experience there are other Roman sources that mention the use of iron implements to create permanent marks, which means it was either a widespread belief by the Romans or may have been the actual practice. As late as 600 CE a Christian bishop noted the practice of tattooing among the Picts, mentioning a process similar to that cited by Herodian, except pricking was used in place of hot iron (Green, 2012).

Drawing of ancient Britons, Netherlands, 1574
from wikimedia commons

There are Roman references to the practice of either body painting or tattooing in ancient Britain, although its uncertain which was being described. Caesar in his Gallic wars used a term which can be read as either paint or tattoo, and the stories of this practice gave them the name Pretani which can also mean either painted or tattooed (Cox, 2016). Later commentators using Caesar's writing as a source described the Britons as a people who tattooed themselves as children and who saw tattooing as a test of endurance and patience. While it is fair to be skeptical of Roman material, which was heavily biased, later 12th century writer William of Malmesbury would also comment on the Britons fondness for tattooing which he claimed was adopted by the Normans (Cox, 2016). 

Other historic cultures that used tattoos included the Egyptians, Nubians, some areas of the Americas, Austronesians, and Persians. Tattooing would spread to the Greeks and Romans, initially as a way to mark a person as being dedicated to a temple or as a slave (Lineberry, 2007). Most Roman commentators however pointed to tattooing is a barbaric practice done by outsiders, indicating that while it may have been done in those places it didn't convey social status, but rather the opposite. The advent of Christianity slowly discouraged tattooing which was seen as defiling the body, causing the practice to decline in Europe across the centuries.

The true meaning behind ancient tattoos in many of these cultures will never be known, but we do know that tattooing was a common practice among some pre-Christian European cultures, and widely found around the globe. The evidence also supports the theory that these tattoos, particularly among the Picts and Scythians, were more than mere decoration. Whether the pre-Christian Irish tattooed or not we may never know, although there is always the possibility of new evidence coming to light.

 I am comfortable with my own view of the sacredness of tattooing and will undoubtedly continue to add spiritually meaningful tattoos to my own body.

* tattooing appears to be a recent import to Ireland and thus far no evidence has been found in written material or archeology to support the presence of tattooing there in the pre-Christian period. 

Lineberry, C., (2007). Tattoos. Retrieved from
Kromarik, K., (2003). History of Tattooing. Retrieved from
Green, T., (2012). Ancient Celtic Tattooing. Retrived from
Cox, D., (2016) The Name Britian Comes From Our Ancient Love of Tattoos, retrieved from
Carr, G., (2005) Woad, Tattooing, and Identity in Later Iron Age and Early roman Britain retrieved from

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