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Friday, March 13, 2020

Book Review: Breaking Silence by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is a sequel to 'Silence' and continuation of the SERRAted Edge series.
It is a significant improvement on the last book: the plot is tighter, the characters have more depth, and the book feels more a part of the wider series.

First things I liked. The book is written in limited third person and like most others in the series does offer glimpses into other characters points of view. This is useful in context because it allows the reader a better understanding of what is going on. The characters are fairly well developed and feel like individual people, and the elves are each clearly different characters. The characters are nicely nuanced, and the relationships are complex. As with the previous book there is a lot of shades of morality and I really enjoyed the way the authors made characters that seemed to be 'good' or 'bad' be much more ambiguous than that. The big open question in the plot does get answered in a very satisfying way by the end which made the ending feel more complete.

The reason I'm only giving it 3 stars however is much like the previous book there are some significant continuity errors and plot holes. I don't want to list them here and give any spoilers, but for a couple mostly spoiler free examples: in the last book we were told the main character had Elven ancestry on both sides but now apparently it's just from her mother, and the elves refer to the mc as everything from half-elven, to part fae, to human. For another, there's a scene where 2 elvensteeds jump somewhere then on the next page...2 elvensteeds jump somewhere, as if the authors forgot that had just happened. It really would have benefited from beta readers or a good editor.
There were also some story details that I found difficult. I could have suspended my disbelief enough to ignore that the characters seem to live in a perpetual summer; Staci arrives at the beginning of summer, the events in Silence take weeks at a minimum, months have now gone by and weeks pass in Breaking Silence but its...still the same summer? Honestly it would have made a lot more sense if it was et a year later rather than 'a few months'. And much like the last book this one leans heavily into the 'wonderkid' trope and that gets hard to ignore. I had a difficult time accepting that the teenage main character was the only one actually taking down any monsters or that the adults followed her lead. The idea that a who knows how old elf would panic during a magical attack and need the teenage human to take charge was just nonsensical.

That all said it's still an improvement over Silence and the characters are likeable. I'd read a new book in the series if there was one.

Expanded form my Goodreads review here:

Saturday, February 1, 2020

A Critical Look at Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

   One of the most commonly recommended books I see in groups and on reading lists is the 1911 work 'The Fairy Faith In Celtic Countries' by W. Y. Evans-Wentz. The book is often hailed as the benchmark in fairylore and a staple of study in the field or for anyone interested in the subject. I also personally suspect its rampant popularity in modern pagan groups is due in part to it being in the public domain and easily found free online. However the book is often recommended and read by people who take everything in it equally and out of context so I think it would be helpful to discuss the text here.

To start let's be clear for what it is and when it was written 'Fairy Faith' is a very good book. It includes material from scholars who were pre-eminent in the field at the time, such as Douglas Hyde and Alexander Carmichael. It also is a treasure trove of anecdotal material of the early 20th century (found in section 1) and for that alone I recommend it. It does a wonderful job of clearly stating exactly where anecdotal material comes from which allows us to get a regionally specific look at the beliefs, something that is essential in understanding them, contextualizing them, and correlating them with current beliefs in those areas.

All of that said the book is not a perfect work (if such a thing even exists) and it is important to read it with an understanding of the flaws so that the valuable material can be found and appreciated. Let us begin by putting it in the context of the time period it was written in. Evans-Wentz began this work as a dissertation in which was first reviewed in 1907 and published the final book as we know it now in 1911. This was before the Republic of Ireland existed - Ireland was still an English colony during the entirety of the research and editing of this text. An Gorta Mór* was barely 60 years prior meaning there were people alive in Ireland who had lived through it when these interviews were done. This was, obviously, also before both world wars. The discipline of psychology was less than 40 years old and Freud had only just began corresponding with Jung, vital to remember as the book claims to incorporate ideas from that field into its approach. My point in emphasizing this is that one must read this book with an understanding that it was written in the early 20th century not the 21st century and in many ways reflects a very, very different world from our own.
Academia of this time was also different and often included personal opinions presented as if they were facts, meaning that material may be read as if it were authoritative when it is not. It wasn't uncommon for a scholar to put forth a theory with absolutely no supporting evidence beyond tenuous suppositional connections between superficially similar material, for example the idea that the visually similar words sidhe (Irish, fairy hill, pronounced shee) and siddha (Sanskrit, perfected one, pronounced sid-uh) were directly connected. The burden of proof and requirement for supporting a theory were not what we might expect of academia today.

The people who wrote and contributed to this book were not writing their own beliefs or recording their own stories. They were people of a higher social class, well educated, who may or may not speak the language of the people they were talking to, going into various areas as visitors or guests and then asking about these beliefs and stories. I often talk about discernment when it comes to reading material and I emphasize looking at who is writing the material down and this is true here. You cannot read The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries without keeping in mind who wrote that material down; as much as we might like to see it as a natural snapshot of belief at the time it is more accurately understood as a posed portrait of the beliefs, fitered through the lens of the writers.

I mentioned that not all the writers necessarily spoke the languages they were recording material from and that is an issue. There are multiple places in the book where the Celtic language material given does not align with the translation and Anglicization of that same term. For example on page 81 the author claims that suidheadchan means 'the housekeeper's little seat' while the word simply means 'seat' or 'chair'. I strongly urge readers of the book to double check all non-English terms within and never take any of it as accurate.

There is a lot of classism and bigotry that appears throughout this text, predicated largely on the fact that the people writing were often upper class educated people who considered themselves better than the 'peasants' whose stories they were recording. Evans-Wentz falls into this trap as well, describing the so-called Celts with a strong noble savage angle: "This immersion in the most striking natural and social environment of the Celtic race, gave me an insight into the mind, the religion, the mysticism, and the very heart of the Celt himself" (Evans-Wentz, 1911, page xvi). There are a multitude of references to the 'Celtic race' or the 'Irish race' (for example) because these were writers who believed that the Celtic language speaking peoples were in fact a distinctive race who was less than and more primitive than the British. This romanticism of the Celtic language speaking cultures into something simultaneously more primitive and more spiritual is something I still see in some places and it needs to be addressed and stopped.

Another major issue with this book is the outdated theories to be found in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th sections. These theories are long disproven yet keep showing back up, particularly in paganism, because people are reading works like Evans-Wentz's and taking it as accurate. One glaring example is the long discarded idea that fairies represent a folk memory of a pygmy race of humans driven out by the iron age and celtic migrations. As on page 398: " of the many threads interwoven into the complex fabric of the Fairy-Faith round an original psychical pattern may have been bequeathed by a folk-memory of some unknown, perhaps pygmy, races, who may have inhabited underground places like those in certain tumuli.". This is put forth as a theory but many seem to read it as a fact, however this one has been disproven on multiple fronts. There is absolutely no archeological evidence of a culture of smaller humans inhabiting Ireland or the UK. The cairns and tumuli are burial mounds, many with human remains found within. And the theory of a celtic population migration has largely been disproven by genetic studies (rather the Celtic influence seems to have been a shift in culture rather than mass population movements).

In general when reading this book you have to keep in mind that it was written by people who were either outside the culture being discussed or had a very high social place within them, which distorts their perspectives. The anecdotal accounts are indeed invaluable but they too must be understood for what they are which is not any kind of definitive statement but often personal opinions and experiences. The so-called scholarly sections - 2, 3, and 4 - should be taken as opinion pieces and fact checked with modern scholarship.

There is a lot of value in The Fairy Faith In Celtic Countries, but there is also a lot that needs to be questioned or ignored. I recommend the book and encourage people to read it but with a discerning eye and an understanding of the context in which it was written. It is 109 years old now and the world it was written it is very different from the one we live in; academia then was very different from what it is today. None of this is to discount the value this book can have, but that value rests on understanding the contents for what they are and not seeing them as unassailable truth in all aspects. If you read it with an understanding of the things discussed here then the book can be very useful; if you don't, if you read it all as equally true, then you will be working from a lot of inaccuracy.

*An Gort Mór, the Great Famine, which decimated the Irish population

Sunday, December 22, 2019

New Liminal God: The Queen of Apples

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

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

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

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Return of the Otherfolk and the Puritan Egregore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few points I feel obligated to make:

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

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Basic Guide To Identifying Spirits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ritual For The Pleiades: The Way Opening

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review - Carnival Row

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

Carnival Row Title Card, fair use, source: wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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