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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Through the Faerie Glass

  Yesterday I read Through the Faerie Glass by Kenny Klein, a book I had high hopes for and very much wanted to like. Unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations. I decided to review it here to share my thoughts on it with everyone.
   This book is a truly mixed bag, with good material and points side by side with bad. One of the most frustrating things when reading it is that the author often states information without any references of sources, leaving the reader unable to track down how factual something is, or what an idea is based on. His bibliography is extensive but random, with everything from the Rees's Celtic Heritage and Yeats to the Bible and modern fiction novels. It is also difficult at many points to follow what the author is saying as he will make one statement at one point and then a contradictory statement later; he goes around and around about the Fey being human folk memories of people meeting more primitive peoples, or being Gods, or being supernatural, for example, intermixing theories together and stating them each on their own. He is particularly set on the Faeries being the ancient Picts who were driven into the hills, he says, by the Celts and their iron technology, although he also says the Picts themselves may be Otherworldly, magical, shamanic, etc.,. This theory was a pet one of Gerald Gardner and featured in the novel The Mists of Avalon but there is absolutely no evidence, archaeological or folkloric, to support the idea.
  Looking at the good points first the book starts with a warning against the Victorian view of faeries, and advises that the Fey are more complex and potentially dangerous than little garden sprites. The book also includes excerpts of many traditional pieces including the Ballad of True Thomas, Tam Lin, and other traditional folk songs or poems about faeries. The book also includes some good genuine folklore and belief that can often be ignored in other modern books, like the Selkies marrying human husbands or the Fey stealing children and brides.
  Now intermixed within the good we see the bad. I've already mentioned his belief that the Picts were the Faeries and this becomes the crux of several problematic points. He says the words fairies and pixies are directly from the term Picts, which is just not etymologically sound. Pict is from the Latin for painted; pixie is of unknown origin, and fairy is from the Latin for fate.He states that the Irish word Sidhe means mound dweller (it means fairy hill) and is derived from the name for the Picts who lived, he claims, in underground homes. He states that iron is a good protection against faeiries (true) but he says its because the Picts would have feared the strange new metal or else associated it with death and warfare. He also claims that the reported time difference between our world and Fairyland comes from Celts who visited with the Picts and ingested psychogenic plants that distorted their sense of time, creating a false sense of being in another world; because, he says, the Picts were shamans who used psychotropic plants and apparently gave them out to untrained visitors.
   Getting away from the Pictish nonsense, he also is very fond of the idea that Gods are actually fairies, a reverse of what many fairy faith and Celtic pagans believe. So instead of the gods being reduced into fairies, or put into the category of the aos sidhe, he says that the gods are fairies themselves along the lines of traditional pixies, selkies, etc., He says that  Rhiannon is an underworld horse fairy. Cerridwen is a bird fairy because in her myth she turns into a bird twice, and the Sumerian/Hebrew goddess Lilith is an owl fairy. Surprisingly Llew is not a bird fairy, but a Sun God, so maybe its especially goddesses? Although he does say Odin is a fairy (and that Tyr is Odin), so, I don't know. Which sums up a lot of this book.
   His section on Samhain is comic, with a very interesting discussion about how the Celts believed that Death (capital D) was wandering around on Samhain and could freely take anyone It felt like. So, he says, the Celts dressed up as ghosts to trick Death into thinking they'd already kicked it, and they placed lit turnips in front of their homes to signal that Death had already been there. Because apparently he thinks that Death leaves a glowing turnip as a "Death was here" marker; I assume so that It isn't wasting It's time going back to the same houses It's already been to. I found this extremely funny.
   The author also mixes in a lot of Middle Eastern and Hebrew material with the Celtic and talks a lot about Greek Nymphs and Dryads in a Celtic context which I thought was a bit odd, but neither good nor bad. Alright the bit about Druids sleeping by streams to receive inspiration from naiads was bad, and that bit about "Cailleach bheara" being the title of the banshee when she takes the form of a, yeah, that was kind of painful.
  Anyway, I wouldn't recommend it. There are good points but not nearly enough to outweigh the awful. I'm not going to bother with the second book about Fairy Tale rituals. I'm kind of surprised there is a second book, but I guess people who don't know better can't discern the quality of the material. Or they just don't care.


  1. One argument against the "Pict" etymology for "pixie" is the alternate, metathesized pronunciation, "pisgie" or "pisky". That wouldn't be likely if the original came from "Pict".

    Anyway, sounds like more Stepanich-style "Faerie Wicca". Good enough for the undiscriminating, I suppose. Too bad that so many people have so little regard for ancestral lore.

  2. Odin does not strike me as a faery....interesting?

    1. Definitely not a Fairy :) But he has associations with the Wild Hunt who may be the dead or may be the fairies