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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

My Fairy Writings

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


Articles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Conceptualizing Fairyland” Pagan Dawn, Imbolc 2020 no 214

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

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

 

On Academia Edu

(Articles)

The Good Neighbours: Fairies in an Irish and Scottish Cultural Context, Air n-Aithesc 2015

Two Views of the Leannan Sidhe, Air n-Aithesc 2016

(Conference Presentations)

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

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

https://independent.academia.edu/MorganDaimler

 

Books

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

Pagan Portals: Fairy Witchcraft, 2014

Fairycraft 2016

Fairies: A Guidebook to the Celtic Fair Folk; 2017

Travelling the Fairy Path 2018

Pagan Portals Fairy Queens 2019

A New Fairies Dictionary 2020

Pagan Portals Living Fairy 2020




Euphemisms for Fairies

 It's been a common practice for centuries to refer to fairies by euphemisms, terms that are intentionally more positive than the beings being referred to. I'm going to start a list here which I'll occasionally update of these terms and, where possible, the oldest known dates of their uses. This is a work in progress, if you have references to uses of any of these terms in specific dated works please share in the comments. 

Irish

Aes Sidhe [people of the fairy mounds, modern Aos Sidhe]  circa 7th-9th century Echtra Condla

Daoine Sidhe [people of the fairy mounds]

Daoine Uaisle [Noble People]

Daoine Maithe [Good People]

Daoine Eile {Other People]


Scottish

Daoine Sith [people of the fairy hills or people of peace]

An Sluagh [fairy host]

Sleagh Maith [good people] ref 1691 rev Kirk


Scots

Gude nichtbouris [good neighbours] ref 1585 the Flyting Between Montgomerie and Polwart

Subterranean ref 1691 rev Robert Kirk

Fairfolkis, fairy folk, ffair folk  ref 1518 Douglas's Aenid translation; 1576 Criminal Trials

Gude Wichtis/Gude Wichts [good beings] ref 1576  Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland from AD 1488 to AD 1624

Seelie Wicht [blessed being] ref 1806 Jamieson's Popular Ballads

Seelie Court [blessed company] 1783 ballad of Alison Gross

Unseelie Court* [unholy company] ref. 1819 Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany vol 84  


Welsh

Tylwyth Teg/Tylwythen Deg [Fair Family] ref in the 12th century by Giraldus Cambrensis

Plant Annwn [children of the Otherworld]

Bendith Y Mamau [Mother's Blessing]


Manx

Guillyn Veggey [little boys]

Little Fellows


English

Little People ref 1726 https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=little

Wee Folk ref 1819 https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=wee 


Latin**

Pulchrum Populum [fair folk] ref 1586 Bromyard Summa Predicantium


Misc./General

Gentle Folk

Gentry

Honest Folk ref 1908 Simpson Folk Lore in Lowland Scotland

Hill Folk ref 1908 Simpson

Silently Moving People, ref 1900 Campbell, Gaelic Otherworld

Still Folk ref 1900 Campbell

Themselves

Greenies

Greencoaties

Grey Neighbours (Orkney)

Othercrowd

Shining Ones



*Technically not a euphemism, as it is a negative term

**the Latin here was used by an English writer and in my opinion reflects English euphemism of the time

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Representation and Racism in Fairy Media

 I am planning to write a full length article on this subject, however I wanted to offer a brief overview here because I feel like this is an important subject that deserves discussion. This represents my off the cuff thoughts on the subject, with the longer, citation-full article to come.


I've spoken out against racism in various areas, from Irish paganism to Asatru to folklore, but one area that I've found it to be pervasive and often unaddressed in relates to fairies, across 19th and 20th century folklore and into modern media. Despite diversity in folkloric accounts and anecdotal accounts when you ask most people in Western culture to describe a fairy or elf they don't picture this:

'Persephone' by Ashley Bryner, used with permission

But something more like this:

'Little Fairy Girl' by Janny Sandholm, public domain

A Google image search returns results that are mostly inline with the second image and only a handful like the first. The covers of most urban fantasy books featuring fairies or elves also tend to largely show pale characters. Role playing games and the book series associated with them have historically played on the racist association of white with goodness and black with evil, giving us for example the black-skinned Drow elves who are described as being utterly evil and in thrall to an equally evil black-skinned spider goddess. This ingrained idea has created an environment that can be subtly or overtly unwelcoming to people of colour who are interested in fairies which is exactly why it must be addressed.

While there is a valid argument that anecdotal accounts in folklore often reflect the demographics of the populations experiencing them folklore is a diverse and varied thing which also includes an array of beings that break out of any stereotype. We see Western European fairies with green skin as well as literal white*, fairies that are blue, grey, red, and black. Anecdotal accounts into modern times reflect this as well with people mentioning seeing fairy beings with many different skin and hair colours. And of course fairies that are not human-shaped at all. 

Why then does popular culture persist in seeing fairies as normally light skinned and often fair haired? The short answer (which will be expanded in the longer article) is that the Victorians had some ingrained notions of the [false] superiority of Western Europeans and their descendants over everyone else. This was expressed in fairylore through theories by scholars of the time that supposed the origins of fairies in primitive, dark, pygmy cultures and habitually depicted the more agrarian fairy beings as small and dark and the more noble fairies as tall, pale, and stereotypically Teutonic in appearance. This idea became embedded in the fiction that grew out of that time period, reflecting the author's biases and assumptions rather than older folklore and anecdotes. 

We are starting to see an encouraging diversity in artwork, such as the first example in the post, particularly on platforms like Deviantart, but mainstream art lags behind. Still its encouraging that imaginative fairy art is becoming more diverse and that images are getting out there that show fairies as more than just pretty white people in Renn Faire attire. In-roads have also been made in the realms of role playing games, with the recent move by Dungeons and Dragons to reclassify the so-called evil species and the idea of moral alignment so that morality and evil are completely removed from skin colour in game. Fiction has also started to show more variety in fairy depictions and to embrace the idea that this variety is a good thing.

Change can be a slow process but things are definitely moving in a better direction. Fairy fiction, comics, and role playing games are for everyone, as is a general interest in the subject, and the media we consume must reflect that. Hopefully going forward it will.  


*not the term used for fair skinned humans but white like bleached bones or clouds

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Weaving Personal Gnosis Into Personal Belief: Understanding Sex and Love in Fairy

 I often write about the more academic - let's say objective - side of my beliefs and practices. That's important because I strongly believe that we must ground our practice in something outside ourselves and having a firm foundation in structural, generational beliefs provides that. But equally important is the actual experiential side of spirituality, the parts that represent tangible connections that provide insight beyond recorded folklore. 

Personal gnosis* and the wider knowledge and practices that grow from that are vital I think to any deeper spiritual work. It is this combination of experience, gnosis, and research that inspired and fleshed out my own approach to looking at the cycle of the Pleiades for ritual dates connected to the Good Folk, and similarly a more shared-gnosis type approach that allowed connection to and understanding of the Queen of Apples. 

Despite the obvious vitalness of this gnosis I tend to keep such experiences and insight almost exclusively to myself. Partially this is because there are longstanding prohibitions when dealing with the fae folk about sharing things that violate their privacy or which may be perceived by them as gloating or which violate oaths of secrecy. Partially it's because some things really are personal. And partially its because some knowledge seems too random to potentially have value to larger audiences. 

However sometimes things I would tend to keep private tend to become public on their own and perhaps there's a reason for that. The following discussion is an example of such gnosis, something that came to me in a conversation with an Otherworldly guide and which a friend received via different means around the same time. When we realized we had both been getting roughly the same messaging on the same topic I started to contemplate whether this was something meant to be shared. I have no idea what value this will have for anyone or what you all will think of it. Consider it fiction, or modern folklore, or utterly random, or genuine insight as it suits you. 

CW: discussion of sex and rampant UPG


Sex, Love, and Fairy

This may seem like an odd topic to be discussing, or to have come up in a discussion, but it was one that in context was important. I later shared it with a friend who had gotten something very similar around the same time. The more I've thought about it since and the more I see the wider subject showing up on social media the more I've started to think that it may be important to share; it must however be kept in the context of personal gnosis coming from one particular group or type of the Othercrowd. In no way do I mean to imply this is universal to all of the Good Folk, but I do believe it is true for some, and may have some value to those seeking to engage with them.

Folklore does give us some information in this area but unsurprisingly usually from the human perspective and with an emphasis on situations that have ended badly. Humans who had fairy lovers who broke an oath and lost that lover forever, going mad at the loss. Humans who had a kelpie lover and either found a way to make him human or discovered his true nature and fled, abandoning their child. Humans who forced a selkie into marriage and lost her as soon as she could recover her seal skin. It's a noticeable pattern. There are also accounts of witches who had fairy lovers that didn't necessarily end badly, such as Andro Man who said that he had a long term relationship with a fairy queen or an English cunningman who had a fairy lover that would come to him, sometimes exhausting him; similarly we have accounts of female witches with fairy lovers over a period of years as well. But folklore and older anecdotes don't provide many details or an indepth understanding of the other side of the equation.  

The Conversation

I had noticed - as had my friend separately - that in discussions with those among the Other they never used words like sex or crude terms for sexual intercourse, but rather tended to use idioms that emphasized joining or unions. There was a wider sense of the sacredness of the act, even among those who are predatory towards humans, and a feeling of reverence around the concept. The way that they approached both sex and love seemed to be very different from the way that humans did so and, quite frankly, the way that fiction often portrayed fairies in relation to both. I am going to share part of a conversation I had on the topic:

I was talking with someone among the Other that I would consider a guide and teacher. 
Me, overtired and stressed uses the term f**king in reference to sex.
My guide, clearly annoyed: "Animals fuck. Livestock fucks. People do not."
Me: "What should I say then? Make love?"
Her: "You don't make love, you either have love or you don't. Physical union doesn't create love."
Me: "What should I say then?"
Her:...
Me:...
Her:...
Me: "You've already told me the answer and you won't repeat yourself."
Her, shrugging: "You already have the answer, yes. Union. Joining. Comaentu. To make two into one."

The Lesson

What this conversation and related ones have taught me personally, and what I have therefore incorporated into my spirituality, is the idea that the particular Otherworldly beings I am connected to have a very different approach to sex than most humans. It is seen as a deeply sacred act that represents union between two** beings on a level deeper than the purely physical, but which incorporates by nature the spirit. This is reflected in the emphasis on rejecting terms and phrases that reduce the act to something clinical or crude and instead using terms that emphasize the nature of the act as one of uniting and harmonizing. There are layers to this that are very difficult to convey here, including an implicit consent to the act and also a way of approaching all encounters of this nature with the reverence due something sacred. Sex then truly becomes a kind of prayer or worship, something that is true even when the end result is death for the human and something that is especially true for those who are long term lovers.

They also, in my experience, differentiate between love and physical union but not in a way that allows for the latter to be lessened or trivialized. Love to a near immortal being is something that I am still not sure humans can fully grasp and I don't know how to convey my understanding of it here. What I can say is that my gnosis around fairies and sex without love is that it is still something full of passion and reverence; sex with love is a genuine union of two spirits into a single whole. As with humans it's important not to confuse physical union with love, although I suspect this may be more difficult with the Othercrowd because of how they approach sex - the genuineness, passion, and sacredness may, I think, be misunderstood as love where none actually exists. 

Conclusion

Ultimately these experiences and conversations, coming from personal gnosis as they are, nonetheless give me a deeper understanding of the Othercrowd. I do not expect they will have value to everyone reading this, or perhaps even anyone reading this, but I do think its something that needed to be shared. Take it all as you will. 


*gnosis - in this use means knowledge gained from non-ordinary means such as direct communication with spirits
**two or possibly more, but my own personal discussions around this so far have focused on pairs. I don't discount the possibility of the concept including a wider diversity however. I will also emphasize this has no specific gender focus.
 


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

History and Meaning of the Word Fairy

This is a question from social media, and also a topic I see a lot of misinformation floating around about so it seems like a good topic to dive into today. What exactly are the origins of the word fairy and fae? How do they relate to each other and what do they mean?



Fae - also spelled fay* - is from the 12th century old French, likely from the older Latin Fata, meaning spirits of fate, and Williams suggests it entered French as a term for Celtic goddesses later shifting to women of supernatural power, then to an adjective meaning roughly enchanting, and finally to the place of Fairyland itself (Williams, 1991). This initial use for the place of Fairy is how the term enters English in the 13th century and we see it developing as both an adjective describing things with the nature of that place as well as a term for beings from that place. Briggs suggest that the initial adjective form may have been fay-erie, to indicate something that was enchanting or had an enchanting nature (Briggs, 1976). 

In the oldest English sources we see fairy used as an adjective as well as a noun and this adjectival use continued for hundreds of years. For example, in Milton's 17th century work Paradise Lost, book one line 781 he refers to 'fairy elves' where fairy here is an adjective describing the elves. The noun is something of a catch all for any being from the land of Fairy or with a fairy-like nature and we see it used synonymously with elf, goblin, and incubi. This 16th century example from a poem by Alexander Montgomerie illustrates this well with fairy, elf, and incubi all being used interchangeably: "The King of Fairy, and his Court, with the Elf Queen,with many elvish Incubi was riding that night.". The terms don't have a fixed description or meaning beyond 'of Fairyland' and an implication of the enchanting and supernatural. Williams perhaps summarizes this variety of application best: "...fairy in particular, but more generally any supernatural name, is necessarily amorphous, and...from its earliest use in English...no single meaning has ever been paramount." (Williams, 1991, p 457). The term is used less as an adjective now but still retains it's use as a noun, indicating and Otherworldly being; it has also had secondary pejorative meanings over the centuries of both a promiscuous young woman and a homosexual man.

The  meaning of the terms, applied to Otherworldly beings, remains vague through today with applications as an adjective and noun for both a place and beings from the place, although the application as a noun is the main one. We can find examples of fairy with both of these usages across folklore, modern anecdotes, and academia. Patricia Lysaght discusses the Bean Sidhe, an example where fairy is used as adjective**, in her book 'The Banshee'. The Fairy Investigation Society's 2017 Fairy Census offers examples of fairy as applied to various described anecdotal accounts. In some demographics the word fairy has become hyper-specialized to indicate only a type of small winged sprite, however across many other demographics the word retains its older broader meanings. This dichotomy of use by different groups means that context may be required in order to understand what the word means within any source. An academic paper using the word fairy is likely to be adhering to the broader meaning, as are occurences within folklore or traditional belief, but personal use or use within a specific group may follow the specialized meaning. This is an important distinction as the meanings have drifted so far from each other as to be nearly antithetical in nature now. 

Fairy has multiple spellings across the written record because English had a non-standard orthography until relatively recently. This means that words were spelled in any way which might phonetically convey the sounds of the spoken word. Hence we see fairy as everything from feirie to phary to faerye. There are 93 different variant spellings noted by Williams with fairy being the most common at 724 occurrences followed by faery at 131, fayry at 55, and faerie at 49 (Williams, 1991, p 459). In current academic and folklore usage fairy is the usual preferred spelling, however as with the specialized meaning of fairy gaining popularity in some niches there has been an effort by some people to distinguish fairy from faery with the prior supposedly indicating twee, Victorian fairies and the latter supposedly indicating real or legitimate fairies. Similarly there has also been a push in some demographics to use fae as a term to indicate Otherworldly beings generally where fairy is used to mean only a specific type. These spelling and semantic issues, as touched on in the previous paragraph, can cause confusion in communicating between people or groups ascribing different meanings to the terms. 

It should also be noted that fairy and fae in modern usage are English language terms and have only existed as such for about 700 years. These do not reflect Christianization as Western Europe was Christian for several hundred years prior to fae coming into French (arguably with a strong pagan connotation initially) but rather the evolution of the languages, particularly English. There were and are non-English terms within the cultures that now use fairy in an English language context, and these terms pre-date the word fairy but often have related or parallel meanings in context. As previously touched on the words elf and fairy are used interchangeably and that likely stems from the Anglo-Saxon term aelf which predates fairy but describes a similar type of being who was also equated later broadly to fairy, goblin, and incubus (Harper, 2020). In the same way in the Irish we see the Daoine Sidhe or Aos Sidhe [people of the fairy hills] or sióga whose name intrinsically implies that connection to the sidhe, the fairy hills or Otherworld. The word sidhe - modern Irish sí - like the word fairy indicates both the place (fairy mounds) and as an adjective things with the nature of the place hence sidhe, fairy hills, but also slua sidhe, fairy host, or cú sidhe, fairy hound, and in modern slang sidhe can also be used to refer to the beings of that place. Every culture will have its own terms like this, for which the English fairy is simply the best equivalent term.

It should also be noted that in many places there is a prohibition about using the term fairy and euphemisms are used instead. Euphemisms go back to at least the 14th century and can be found in across Celtic language speaking countries, as well as in older English material. One 16th century example from England uses the term Fair Folk in Latin, pulchrum populum (Green, 2016). The term Good Neighbours, in Scots, can be traced back to the 15th century. The concept behind the use of these terms rests in the belief that calling them fairies offended them and so one would want to use a term that was appealing or positive in case fairies passing by invisibly overheard the comment. 

This summarizes the pertinent information relating to these words, and hopefully may offer some clarity to the subject, which is admittedly opaque. 


End Notes
* fae and fay not to be confused with fey, a Norse originating word for someone or something doomed or fated to die
**Lysaght's book is primarily focused on Irish language terms for the Bean Sidhe, however she does touch on translations of these terms which reflect the use of fairy as an adjective

References
Harper, D., (2020) Fairy Retrieved from https://www.etymonline.com/word/fairy
   (2020) Elf Retrieved from https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=elf 
Williams, N., (1991) The Semantics of the Word Fairy: Making Meaning Out of Thin Air; 'The Good People'
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Green, R., (2016) Elf Queens and Holy Friars

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Benefits of Fairy Work

I will be the first to admit much of what I write is aimed at sharing the more dangerous sides of fairies and fairy work with people, even those interested in connecting to them, because I think many are coming to this subject with an ingrained sense of human superiority and fairy diminishment. But of course there is a beneficial side to this connection and that's also worth discussing. There's a whole history of humans engaging with the Good People and the Fair Folk teaching and aiding those they favour and that deserves air time as well.

I am usually more hesitant to write about that side because I worry that people will focus on the good and ignore the warnings to their own detriment, and also because even the good side of this work has a certain alluring enchanting quality that can consume a person. I have said before, after my 2016 experience at the Sidhe of Cruachan, that I will never be wholly in this human world again because part of me perpetually and painfully longs for the shining, golden hall I saw there.



Everyone's connection and relationship to the Good Folk is different and I do not think I am in any way a model for others to base their own path on. I share so that people may feel less alone if they do see similarities in what I do or perhaps take inspiration for their own practices. That said I think it's important to be clear about my own position in the context of the rest of what I'm going to say because I absolutely don't want people measuring themselves against me or my experiences in any way. I have been doing this for nearly my entire life and have been seriously engaged with this work for many years. I have a fairy familiar (or he has me) and I belong to a fairy queen, in the early modern witchcraft sense of those concepts. Tá mé eachlach Aoibheall. Is é mo obair saoil sin, an saol seo agus an saol eile.

The positive things for me that have come from these years of work and relationship building - at least the ones I can publicly discuss - are many, and range from educational to healing.

  • In 2012 they saved my life by intervening during an anaphylactic reaction so that someone would call 911 when I wasn't. I have told this story before but the short version was I was having a serious reaction to something I now have an epi pen for but in the moment I made the choice to go to bed. My spouse was awakened when what he described as a palm sized white moth flew into his face then disappeared when he turned the light on to look at it. I then admitted I was in trouble and he called paramedics. 
  • I have been taught many things by them, usually in dreams. I was given two different recipes, one for little cakes and one for something like a pasty, both proved to be not only edible but tasty when cooked. I've been taught about herbs I was unfamiliar with and the information was always confirmed when checked later, as well as being given magical practices. I've also been given several charms or songs in Irish, including one longer lullabye and a shorter healing chant. 
  • They got my attention as I was leaving my house and drew me over to an outlet just before a plug caught fire, allowing me to immediately intervene and save my home. 
  • They helped me find my way back to other people when I was lost
  • When I was sick in Iceland they healed me. In 2018 I was helping co-lead a tour in Iceland and while we were in Akureyri I became ill; fevers, body aches, chills, all that fun stuff that is the last thing you want to happen in a foreign country. I went out during the day and ended up following a trail of mushrooms and fairy rings until I wandered into a very strange place. I spent some time there, just talking to the Hidden Folk. That night I awoke from an uneasy sleep to see three figures standing around my bed. Instead of being alarmed I felt very calm as if this was perfectly normal. I went back to sleep and when I woke up the next morning I was fine and remained fine for the rest of the trip. 
  • They healed my daughter's back. She was diagnosed with scoliosis and was being monitored as the curve worsened. She was a few degrees away from needing a back brace to address the issue, which I was extremely worried about because she has sensory processing issues and I knew that would be difficult for her to go through. At her next appointment her back was straight, baffling the doctor. 

These are perhaps a handful of ways that having a good connection to the Fair Folk can manifest in a positive way in a person's life, although I think they will be different for everyone. But when people ask why is this worth doing, that is what comes to my mind. Because they teach me useful things and they protect me and they healed my daughter. 


Ideally I think that fairy amity is possible and essential for certain types of witchcraft. At its most basic being on good terms with the Good Neighbours means understanding what they expect from a human and what will offend them. Respect their places, and what belongs to them. Give them what is their due, which includes the first of any alcohol, a bit of milk, and whatever food falls to the floor (as I was taught anyway). Don't say thank you but show your gratitude with your actions.

A closer working relationship is also vital for those predicating their witchcraft on these spirits. This is achieved through the slow building of relationships and allies among the Othercrowd and a careful respect for Them. I usually recommend beginning by reaching out to and connecting with one's house spirits/fairies and those beings that are most connected to where you live and therefore generally most inclined towards interacting with humans in a positive way. This can be done by giving them their own space in your home and acknowledging their presence. The next step, in my opinion, is to reach out to a fairy being that is willing to act as your guide or friend; this process can be as involved as making a human friend. You may use journey work or meditation, or verbally ask out loud, or even ask your house spirits for assistance once that relationship is established. This is also the point at which its really, really important to have a good understanding of fairy etiquette, be able to distinguish a fairy from a different type of spirit, and know the basics of making deals with them. 

Beyond that we get into the level of deeply personal connections, service, and a relationship which transcends what is usually discussed or understood in these contexts. This degree is too personal, in my opinion, to dig into here and I think would truly be unique for each person. You go where you're meant to go.

On any level a good relationship with these beings should look like a good relationship with your human neighbours and friends or family. Respect their boundaries and their rules, give good gifts, know when to ask and when to be silent. Keep your word, always, and don't lie to them ever. Don't make any agreement you won't or can't keep and understand that breaking an oath or going back on your given word will have consequences. Appreciate the goodness that comes to you from them, but don't brag or boast about what they gift you with, any more than you would (should) with the same equivalent concept from humans. And ultimately once you build that trust with them trust them and let them help you move forward.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Fairy Help, Fairy Harm

Modern paganism, and perhaps more broadly mainstream Western culture, seems to constantly be trapped in a mobius strip argument about the potential help or harm caused by fairies. There is one side that argues, staunchly, that the Good Folk are entirely benevolent and benign to humans. In contrast there is another side that argues just as fervently that the Othercrowd should be entirely avoided and warded against because of the danger they represent. And then there's the people, like myself, who argue for a kind of middle ground that acknowledges the very tangible dangers but also the potential advantages to fairies. When in doubt however always act with caution and keep the risk in mind because there are serious and sometimes permanent consequences.


What I want to do here is look at the evidence we have for both sides in folklore. I think too often people, especially outside places that have maintained some degree of belief in these beings, rely entirely on their own personal experiences and perceptions. I'm not saying to ignore your own experiences of course but I am suggesting that one person's experiences don't a body of lore make. I have never drowned for example but I fully believe that people who go swimming may drown under various conditions - because I know that my personal experiences are not the sum total of the subject. Hopefully the following material will provide a wider view.

The Blessing
First let's look at a few examples of fairy help. These are harder to find in the source material and often come from folk tales rather than folklore, which should be noted. This may be because there have long been prohibitions in many cultures that believe in these beings that to brag or boast of the good they might do a human will result in that goodness being revoked. This extends to talking about a wide array of fairy interference in one's life including having a leannán sidhe [fairy lover] or learning from them. That all said:

  1. Healing physical maladies. This can include both illnesses and deformities. There is a very famous story, often repeated sometimes under the title of 'Lushmore', of a man with a hunchback in Ireland who was passing a fairy fort, heard the fairies singing, politely joined in and was reward by having his back healed. Several versions of the tale can be found on the Duchas.ie site, but one example: "He heard the fairies singing - Monday, Tuesday. The man said Monday Tuesday and Wednesday. The fairies ran up to the man and asked him to teach them that song. The man taught them the song. The fairies asked him that gift die he want he said to take the hump off his back. The man went home without the hump." (Duchas, entry 453). 
  2. Help with work. There are accounts of fairies doing work for humans they like. Often there isn't any reason given to explain why they liked that person, as we see in this example: "This man was supposed to have something to do with the fairies. The fairies used to do all the work for him at night time." (Duchas, entry 246).
  3. Money - in one late 19th century story an Irish Fairy king helps a man about to be evicted pay his rent by giving him gingerbread made to look like gold. The man is told to get a receipt when he pays, which he does, so that when the gold turns back to gingerbread the next day he can't be held accountable. This story is inline with wider tales of fairies giving money or support to people they favour or take pity on.
  4. Removing curses. In the ballad of Alison Gross a man who has been cursed by a witch is rescued by the Queen of the Seely court who removes the curse. 
I have also had what I would describe as blessing experiences, including the apparently miraculous healing of my middle child's back deformity, and I do think it is important to understand that the Good Folk can interact in a positive way with people. The possibility of positive results however should not negate the dangers. 


The Dangerous
Now that we've established the Good Neighbours can be helpful let's look at a fraction of the evidence that they can represent risk to humans. I have seen some people try to argue that all of these examples are either propaganda from those antithetical to fairies or the result of people with the wrong mindset who expected bad and so got it. I want to say this as nicely as I can: the entirety of folklore and many, many people's modern experiences are not lies or wrong because a person doesn't happen to like the way they depict the Shining Ones. If we look beyond western Europe and the diaspora we can find a multitude of examples from other cultures, including those that are still non-Christian, of equally dangerous or ambivalent spirit beings. I am actually not aware of any culture that has only benevolent spirits in their belief system, so it strikes me as extremely odd to view fairies that way.
   In the below examples we will be looking strictly at direct harm caused to humans in the human world by fairies. One can argue that such things as fairy abductions and possession also qualify as harm but those topics are nuanced and deserve a fuller discussion than what we will be doing here.

  1. Causing deformities. In point 1 above I mentioned fairies straightening a man's back in a story; that story ends with another man similarly afflicted trying the same cure and getting twice the hunch on his back for his efforts: "The fairies did not like his song and instead of taking the hump off him they put the other man's hump on him and the man went home with two humps." (Duchas, entry 454). Briggs attributes anything that deforms or warps the human body to possible invisible fairy blows or injuries, particularly issues of the joints or spine. 
  2. Killing or sickening livestock. Fairies are very well known for afflicting domestic animals, especially cows. This was sometimes called 'elf-struck' or 'elf-shot' and may be marked by a mark or lump on the animal to indicate where it was struck (Narvaez, 1991). Accounts of this can be found in the Duchas.ie archives describing the results: "Also we are told that fairies used to shoot cows, when the cows would "graze on a "gentle" spot. We call a place "gentle" when it is supposed to belong to fairies. A "shot" cow became weak and would not eat." (Duchas, entry 231).  
  3. Exhausting people nearly to death. There is another account on Duchas of a man who saw the fairies hurling in a field and went to join them only to be kept playing until he almost died of exhaustion. In folklore we find tales of fairies making people dance until they collapse or die. 
  4. They will kill you. There are many accounts of fairies physically harming or just directly killing people for offenses, so much so that Patricia Lysaght says "That physical disability or even death can result from interference with fairy property such as a rath is well attested in Irish tradition. Many examples are evident..." (Narvaez, 1991, p 45). These are often related to harm a human has done to a fairy place or fairy tree. However sometimes it's just because the person offended them by breaking the fairies' rules of etiquette, as in this example where death was threatened for trying to join a fairy song: "All the fairies went in to Harvey's fort, and they began singing and dancing and inside in the fort. One of the men had a fiddle and he began to play a tune the fairies were playing One of the fairies came out of the fort and told the man that if he played that tune again he would kill him and the man ran home as fast as he could." (Duchas, entry 75). Even into the 21st century there are stories of people dying after damaging fairy trees. 
  5. Blinding. The fairies are known to blind people, something that is found as a staple in the 'Midwife to the Fairies' stories where a midwife who accidently touches her eye with fairy ointment lets slip she can see them and is blinded or has her eye put out. An anecdotal account from late 20th century Newfoundland describes a man harrassed by faires who is eventually blinded by them (Narvaez, 1991). There is an account on the Duchas site of a fiddler who refused fairy food and was blinded in one eye by an angry fairy woman. 
  6. Tumours. Multiple accounts support victims of a fairy blast or fairy wind suffering from immediate and inexplicable swellings which are found to be tumours; there are also anecdotal accounts of people with these swellings where random objects like bones, grass, or straw are found inside them (Narvaez, 1991). 
  7. Madness or loss of cognitive abilities or speech. Anecdotal accounts from Yeats 'Celtic Twilight' to Narvaez's 'Newfoundland Berry Pickers in the Fairies' discuss the fairies driving people mad or taking away their cognitive function. Narvaez also discusses accounts of encounters which resulted in speech impairment and there are folktales of fairies taking a person's speech entirely something that is also discussed by Emma Wilby in relation to a Scottish witch who dealt with fairies.  
  8. Strokes - the term stroke for a cerebral accident or aneurysm comes from the term 'fairy stroke' or 'elf stroke' and the idea that a blow from the Good Folk could cause this physical issue. Briggs mentions this as a method used by the fairies to steal humans and livestock, but the concept behind it is also mentioned as kind of fairy punishment in 'The Good People' anthology. Paralysis is also attributed to fairy anger in some cases (Briggs, 1976). Alaric Hall discusses elf-shot at length in his book, and mentions its use on humans and animals as well as its usually permanent effects on a person. elf stroke in itself is a complicated subject and being shot by the fairies can have multiple effects on a person including many of the other issues listed here. 
  9. Bruising and Muscle Cramps - on the mildest end fairies are known to pinch, hit, and otherwise assault humans resulting in bruising and cramping (Briggs, 1976). The fairies are not averse to beating a person into cooperating as we see in an account by Wilby relating to a Scottish witch reluctant to do what the fairies were asking her; they are also not averse to beating a person because they want to as we find in an account on Duchas where a man who sees the fairies and acknowledges that he can see them is attacked and beaten nearly to death by them. 


I also want to include some anecdotal examples, both my own experiences and those that have been shared with me to demonstrate that this isn't all just old stories:

  1. Blindness - going temporarily blind for not doing what the fairies ask. 
  2. Madness - driving a person crazy to try to force compliance on an issue
  3. Physical marks - ranging from bruising to scratching
  4. Trying to Kill Someone - I have heard a few accounts of the Fair Folk causing serious bodily harm bordering on near death


Final Thoughts
There is a reason that all cultures which believe in the Good Neighbours have so very many protections against them and such caution in dealing with them.


References
Narvaez, P., (1991) The Good People: New Fairylore Essays
Duchas (2020) Duchas.ie; Fairies Retrieved from https://www.duchas.ie/en/src?q=fairies
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Hall, A., (2007) Elves in Anglo-Saxon England
Wilby, E., (2009) Cunningfolk and Familiar Spirits