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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Basic Guide To Identifying Spirits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ritual For The Pleiades: The Way Opening

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review - Carnival Row

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

Carnival Row Title Card, fair use, source: wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 22, 2019

Some Advice For Former Christians About Unpacking Christian Baggage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Ritual for the Heliacal Rising of the Pleiades

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 17, 2019

Q & A With My Fiction

I'm still working on the next book in my fiction series, progress being slowed by several other contracted projects that have deadlines. But I thought it would be fun here to do a question and answer on social media for my fiction, to tackle any and all question people might have about my 'Between the Worlds' series.

The following may contain spoilers for those who haven't read the books or have only read the first couple.

Vyviane asks: Who is your favourite non-main character to write about?

My answer: Probably Jason although I must admit that Salarius aka Sal is also one that I enjoy a lot more than I expected to. That's probably why he keeps hanging around.

Mara asks: When will we get more about Allie's mom?

My answer: I'm currently working on book 8 which is an anthology that will include a story about Allie's mother. She is also going to show up in book 9 (which I hope to write this November) where we'll see more of her interacting with Allie and (hopefully) get a better idea of how the two courts interact with each other.

Izzy asks: Where is Ciaran from? How did he end up in Ashwood?

My answer: Ciaran is originally from Scotland but he emigrated in the 17th century after being forced to make a promise to leave his original home. He was in Ashwood before the Sundering and decided to stay even though he doesn't particularly like either the elves or the world of Fairy. He has always been the sort who lived largely in mortal earth and he dislikes the structure and rules of Fairy society. As to why Ashwood - he just liked that particular pond and that area enough to decide to settle there; it suited his needs at the time.

Vyviane asks: What are some things our elves that live in human world now really enjoying and they won't admit it? Like does Bleidd eat Fruit Loops?

My answer: Bleidd really enjoys driving cars and has a bit of an obsession with sports cars, which he won't admit because they are human made. He's actually much better with every aspect of automobiles than other elves and has even adapted some magic to them beyond the basic protection enchantments the Guard uses. Being careful about the iron he can handle most car maintenance himself and even manage some more complex repairs. 
Jessilaen has developed a love of human movies, particularly horror movies which he watches with Jason who is a huge horror movie fan. Otherwise he is still fairly new to human culture, which he finds a bit baffling and often confusing. He does admit to loving the movies but he doesn't realize humans see them, usually, as low budget affairs; he views them as 'art' and is impressed by modern human methods of storytelling which we would call b movies. He also has a significant obsession with christmas trees.

Izzy asks: What were Jess and his brother like as children? Were they children together?

My answer: Zarethyn was a very focused child who spent a lot of time working on his magical skill. He wanted to join the Elven Guard from a young age and put a lot of energy into working towards that goal. That ambition and drive is why he is now a captain. Jess has always been, well Jess. He is often easy going with things that don't matter to him but has an intensity of emotion that marks him as unusual among his peers. He is passionate in a culture that looks down on excessive emotional expressions. Jess as a child had more difficulty hiding his feelings and was prone to acting on impulse, something that he can still sometimes struggle with. He is fiercely loyal but it is his heart that drives him, whereas his brother is ruled by his head.
Zarethyn is significantly older than Jess and was an adult when Jess was born. This isn't unusual in Elven society but from a human perspective we might say that he was more of a father to Jess than a brother. Jess loves him unquestioningly and Jess is probably the most significant person in Zarethyn's life (because most of his focus is on his job).

Aleja asks: Are there any other half-elven people in town?

My answer: A few, such as the girl named Jenny mentioned in book 2 'Lost in Mist and Shadow'.  It's more common in Allie's world to see people who have one human parent and one non-elven fey parent because the elves are unlikely to spend more than one night with a person while they fey may form longer relationships or even marry humans, but there are cases like Allie's were a human and elf manage to produce a child together. Usually if the mother is human the child is raised in the human world and may not even know who their fey parent is, because of their approach to fatherhood. If the mother is elven however they would be raised in Fairy and, as Allie notes in the story, because the elves don't have any exceptions for these circumstances a half-elven person with an elven mother would be considered fully elven, while one with a human mother falls into a strange greyzone culturally and is often viewed differently.
Because the Sundering took place in 1914 there are also a small number of second generation mixed blooded people, who may have a single human or fey grandparent.

Izzy asks: What do Jess and Bleidd do when they are hanging out together?

My answer: When the two are alone together it varies between things that would be typical in Elven society or human society. Jess's comfort zone is the elven society things, which may include playing chess, reading, talking, or practicing various skills together (in their case mostly martial). Bleidd sometimes pushes him to engage more with human culture, which Bleidd enjoys at least superficially, and so they also watch movies together, walk around Ashwood, and sometimes play video games with or without Jason. Elves are suckers for games of skill of any type by the way.

Vyviane asks: Are you going to branch out from Between The Worlds and write some new fiction? If so, what are your interest?

My answer: I plan to do another book or two in the same world as Between the Worlds but with different characters. I also have some ideas for fantasy storylines. Ultimately I enjoy writing fiction and when this series wraps up, likely with book 9, I'm sure I'll have other things to write about.

Miscellaneous: I had several people ask about the characters musical tastes, i.e. Vyviane wanted to know if anyone listened to pop music, Mara asked if Jess listens to Taylor Swift, and Izzy wanted to know if Jason listened to Hatebreed. So to answer that in one place:

My answer: So, as it happens elves are not big fans of digital music or the radio because the tech in Allie's world is about on par with our world in the 1990's and the sound quality isn't good enough for them - basically their hearing is acute enough that even decent quality human recordings sound flat and false to them. You'll note the antagonist in book 7 complaining about the music in the club he went to. They prefer live music as much as possible. That said Jess likes music that is upbeat and which one can dance to, although he does generally prefer instrumental music. He's the sort that always listens to the lyrics and feels them if you know what I mean. Bleidd does like rock of any sort but prefers it live; he has been to several concerts by alternative and heavy metal bands with Jason and Syndra and he enjoyed the experience.
Jason likes heavy metal so yes we can say he listens to Hatebreed, in canon. But if anyone in these stories had a secret obsession with Taylor Swift it would also be Jason. He's multifaceted. 
Allie won't ever admit it but she feels the same way about recorded music that the elves do, for the same reason. Nonetheless at work she listens to the radio, a general pop station, which is the only station that comes in in Ashwood. Her own preferences are wildly eclectic and she can enjoy everything from classical to neofolk.

When is the next book coming out?
I'm hoping to have it done and released within the next few months. Its been taking a lot longer than I anticipated because of other obligations, and I apologize for that. It is getting done, just slowly.
I plan to write book #9, the next full length novel in the series, in November and have it out early 2020. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Cautions For Pagans Who Want to Honour the Fae Folk

My friend Seo Helrune has recently been blogging about ancestor cultus and I recommend checking out the series of posts they have out so far. Reading the series and especially their take on the pitfalls of ancestor veneration has inspired me to write my own post here about the problems that can come up for pagans incorporating the Fair Folk into their practices or who are trying to set up the equivalent of a cult for them.

Some of these points may seem obvious or self evident but they are all things I have run across, more than once, from various people. Clearly those people would disagree with what I'm about to say. I'm saying it anyway. This can be understood though as my personal opinion based on my own study and experience, but I stand by them.

So, if you want to incorporate the Good People into your pagan or witchcraft practice, here's some things I'd be aware of:

Lack of Boundaries - I'm repeating Seo Helrune to start but I think this one is an important one. Many, many people seem to approach dealing with the Fair Folk as if they are harmless, kind, higher beings* who only mean us well and therefore should be given carte blanche in a person's life. And I'm sure there are certain types of spirits and even some kinds of fairies that do fall into the 'harmless and helpful' category. But not all of them by far. And it is really dangerous to just offer a blanket invitation to anything and everything Otherworldly because you think they won't hurt you and are all sweetness and light - or they won't hurt you because you are a witch and that somehow offers you special protection. It doesn't. Boundaries and warding are not only your friend but are absolutely essential.
However tempted you are to just freely invite in anything you perceive as a fairy because its a fairy, really don't do this. At the least treat them like you would a human being, with appropriate caution until you have a sense of who and what they are.

Animism =/= the Fairy Faith - Well, not directly anyway. I'm increasingly seeing this direct equating of the Fairy Faith and animism and its concerning. It's kind of like saying Witchcraft equals Wicca. This is of course partially true because the Fairy Faith can and does easily incorporate into animism. But animism isn't the exact same thing as the Fairy Faith and that's an important distinction that has to be made. Animism is simply a term for a belief in an enspirited world. The Fairy Faith is the system of beliefs and practices around fairies and the 'practices' part is an essential aspect to it; despite the faith part of the name it isn't just believing that Otherworldly spirits exist. You can say that animism is part of the Fairy Faith but the Fairy Faith isn't synonymous with animism. If you want to incorporate the beliefs and practices of the Fairy Faith into your paganism cool but just be careful not to blur the lines and start to assume that the practices are also a hallmark of animism. Animism is really diverse and not limited to the western European/Celtic fairy faith practices.

We Don't Worship Fairies - We may worship deities associated with Fairy, including the Tuatha De Danann who are also said to be Kings and queens of Fairy hills, but we don't worship fairies in general. I think part of this confusion may come in because we do offer things to them and give them a reverential respect. Or atavistic fear. We offer to them to keep on their good side and to avert potential harm. We offer to them not because we worship them but because they are owed a portion of the harvest, and also its a pretty effective way to appease anything that's annoyed. We respect them because they can and will impact our lives for good or ill if we don't. But we don't worship them the way other religions worship Gods. It's a nuance but its an important one.

Fairies Aren't...A Lot Of The Things People Say They Are - There's massive confusion about what the Good Folk are, which is fair because it's a confusing subject. I mention this because I see a lot of people who try to incorporate fairies into their practice by pigeonholing them into a specific narrow category, usually nature spirits, elementals, or some kind of earth angel. This is really problematic because then the person moves forward as if all fairies are only and entirely that narrow thing. Which of course they aren't. So another big tip to moving forward in creating a practice with the Good Folk is acknowledging the diversity and that while you personally may only or by preference interact with a small specific group there is actually a lot of other possibilities out there.

We Don't Rule Over Them - Listen I'm just going to be blunt here I am immediately skeptical anytime I see a person claiming to be in a position of power over the Good People. Especially if its implied that position is based on caretaking in some sense. They don't need us to care for them. The meme that goes around in december talking about christmas trees being based in a tradition of bringing a tree in to give a forest spirit a warm place in the cold is total crap. The people who talk about being in charge of fairies in a certain place or of leading a group of fairies? I'm not buying it. There are methods based in ceremonial magic to command, compel, or bind fairies that's true but that doesn't grant a human rank or inherent authority over the Fair Folk. There are also cases of humans with fairy familiars but again the human doesn't have authority over that being - in fact usually the fairy was assigned to the human by the Fairy Queen and one might argue they are there in part to keep an eye on the human.

Respect Matters - Probably tied into most of the other points above, but another big mistake I see many people making is a simple lack of respect. The majority of these beings aren't twee 20th century flower fairies or the goofy fairies found in modern kids tv shows. These are beings who have been shown a level of respect for thousands of years because they can seriously mess a human up. They won't all do that and some kinds are more benign than others as was mentioned but, many can and will bring illness, madness, maiming, or death sometimes for no other reason that it amuses them to. Take the Slua Sidhe for one example of that. If you want to interact with these beings safely on any level then respect is vital. Even if you feel like you have a group you deal with that is of the small harmless sort don't forget they aren't all like that and don't let your guard down or drop the company manners.

Effort Matters Too - Far too many people jump into fairywork with no deeper knowledge about fairies than the plot of their favourite young adult novel or game and they never go any further. They treat it all like a game as well, making things up as they go along based on what they personally like or feel like doing. The truth is if you as a pagan or witch want to seriously get into this it is going to take some effort. There are good books and blogs out there to be found (avoid any that hit on the points already mentioned) and there are good youtube videos and podcasts. If you are going to get into this any deeper than knowing what to do and not to do to keep from getting maimed then you are going to have to put effort in. Lots of effort. There's no other way.

Well, that's some of my cautions and suggestions anyway. Do with them as you will.

*I'm not going to compare them to angels here because I read the Bible and angels are really scary.