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Monday, October 1, 2012
the Good Neighbors
I've written before about how I approach honoring the ancestors and various Gods, and I have written before about some of my thoughts on the spirits of the Otherworld, but I've never really discussed directly how I percieve those spirits or honor them. Since the Good Neighbors comprise a huge aspect of my own personal practice I feel like I really should discuss it here. Or perhaps I am just feeling brave today, as it is said that one should not discuss one's own personal experiences.
First off I cannot emphasize enough that my view of the Fairies is very different from most other modern pagans, at least in my own experience. I have what I call an "old school" approach to them that is perfectly in line with what you'll find in Irish folklore and writing from 100 years ago by authors like Yeats and Wilde but is generally at odds with the belief in modern paganism. For me the term "fairy" is something of a catch-all that can describe any being that is not a human nor clearly catagorized as a deity, angel, or the like. Fairies can be or appear as animals or as giants, as tiny people or as very human seeming. Fairy beings often seem mercurial to humans because they operate on an entirely different culture and ettiquette system than we do. They can be cruel and vicious, or generous and kind. Some of them are helpful. Some are indifferent. And some of them think we make a very tasty meal indeed. And all of them take being insulted or disrespected very badly.
To quote the movie Labyrinth:
Sarah: Ow! It bit me!
Hoggle: What'd you expect fairies to do?
Sarah: I thought they did nice things, like... like granting wishes.
Hoggle: Shows what you know, don't it?
Pretty much like that. Except sometimes much more frightening. It always surprises me that people want to have close dealings with fairies, as its a risky thing at best for most and if you study the Celtic Fairy Faith it becomes clear that most of the honoring was done to avoid mischief or as appeasement, not to draw them in. In fact many people avoid saying the word fairy or naming a specific type of fairy for fear of drawing their attention; instead a nickname is used that invokes a pleasant image, such as Mother's Blessing or the Gentry. Fairies can cause madness, can torment a person or animal, and can cause seemingly invisible injuries, called elfshot, which might manifest as sudden unexplainable pain or cramping in a leg or arm. Strokes were once even thought to be the result of elfshot.
Why would anyone choose to offer to them or deal with them? Well on the one hand some of them are capable of doing great harm and its not a bad idea to be on their good side to avoid that, when possible. On the other they can bless a person with great luck or fortune, or even (as in the cases of the old Fairy Doctors) with knowledge of healing and magic. And for most pagans and magic workers its probably a good idea to have some knowledge of the Fey and to be respectful, to maintain good relations as it were.
Me personally? I have been aware of them for so long that they are simply another part of my life, thanks to what the Irish call the second sight. I also have what can best be described as an ancestral connection in that area that shapes how I approach the subject. By the time I was old enough to start reading the written material that's out there like the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries or Yeat's Celtic Twilight I found that it was only reflecting my own experiences, and that became not only my measuring stick to judge other books by but also a guide as I grew older on how to behave properly towards them. And yes I have had real world experiences, some good and some not so much. I've been pixie-led, I've seen fairy hounds both black as night and shining white, I've encountered land spirits of various sorts, and more. For me honoring and interacting with the Fey is done as much out of inevitability as choice, but I can honestly say that it's never been boring.
So who, exactly do I offer to and how do I see them? The Good Neighbors (the Gentry, the Fair Folk) look much like Tolkein's elves but without the pointed ears and seem to be a kind of cousin of the Norse alfar. Some of them take an interest in a person or family and will offer help and guidance, even when the person doesn't listen or goes against the helpful advice. With the Fair Folk either they like you or they do not, there is no real influencing it, although they can certainly be angered by anyone. Land spirits often take the form of an animal and sometimes of a person, but seem more primal in their nature than the Fair Folk with their structured culture. In my experience land spirits have amore territorial feeling to them which immediately sets them apart from other types of fairies, and they seem to prefer more natural offerings. And of course there are also house spirits that can be offered to, and who may appear in diverse forms, usually smaller, and can effect the luck of a home.
Now that I have explained my perspective on Otherworldly beings in general and the Good Neighbors, land spirits and house spirits in specific, on to how I honor them. I have two places I leave offerings, a hawthorn tree in my yard that has been made into a kind of clootie tree and an indoor altar created expressly for the purpose of honoring the aos sidhe, et al., Indoors I will light candles and offer food; they seem to like candy and baked goods, although for the Good Neighbors I sometimes offer jewelry. They also all seem to like milk, cream, and alcohol, with milk and cream being traditional offerings. Outside I will leave baked goods like bread or cakes, and will tie things into the branches of the tree as offerings, such as bells. I make at least one offering each week on a certain day, and additional ones on holy days and special occassions. I also do my best to remember to pay attention and listen, and I have recieved many useful messages this way; additionally of course I interact with them during spiritual journeys when I am traveling out into their space, so to speak.
I follow the belief that we should not say "thank you" to any being of Faery as it is dismissive and they don't seem to appreciate it, so when I call them in ritual, which I do, I always end by saying "May there be peace and friendship between us." I always make some sort of offering. And I always do my best to follow the various geasa associated with working with the daoine sidhe and the personal ones I have accumulated. I could not fairly say that I am closer to the daoine sidhe than the ancestors or Gods, but I can say that while the others wax and wane in interest and attention the Otherworldly spirits are a constant for me. There is probably some irony in that somewhere.