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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When Fairytales Have Teeth

  I was teaching a class last week about the types of Otherworldly spirits more likely to be found during the winter, and I had one of those moments that will sometimes happen where I opened my mouth and spoke off the cuff, as we were discussing the Unseelie Court. I pointed out to the people attending the class that contrary to what most of the young adult novels and paranormal romance currently on the market like to say, the Unseelie Court aren't the emo bad boys of the Fey world who just need a big hug and some understanding. Although its trendy now to see the darker Fey as just as kind and helpful as the Seelie Court, merely grumpy and misunderstood, in folklore there was usually a good reason people feared them and that reason was their tendency towards homicidal reactions and  eating people.

  Traditionally in some areas, notably Scotland, the Otherworld was divided into two groups, the Seelie or blessed court, who generally mean us well, and the Unseelie, or "unblessed" court, who generally mean us harm. It is of course not nearly that simple and there is a lot of fluidity between the two groups; it is not a set and rigid division. If you offend the Seelie Fey they will not hesitate to harm you, and in some cases the Dark Court can be helpful to an individual. But if we look at the bulk of fairy stories from different cultures over the course of written history it is pretty clear that people feared certain types of the Other Crowd for good reason. 

   Water horses (an each uisce) trick people into riding them only to race back to their watery homes, drown, and eat the people. Red Caps dye their hats in human blood. Bogles can bring blight to crops or attack people. And so it goes, with those who are usually described as Unseelie being found in that court because they are malicious towards people without provocation. Because, you see, its not that you have to worry about transgressing and angering them, or being rude and angering them, or anything like that; all you have to do is be at the wrong place at the wrong time and get their attention and they will be inclined to do you harm. Like a tornado or a hungry apex predator, it won't be personal but it could be deadly. 

  It is possible for an individual to earn the favor of a member of the Unseelie Court, just as its possible for someone to anger the normally benevolent Seelie Court, but generally speaking its dangerous to fall into a mindset of seeing them as safer than traditional folklore paints them, or otherwise Romanticizing them. You can choose to interact with more dangerous spirits, but part of the key to doing so safely is the constant awareness that they are dangerous. If you get too comfortable with those beings who we have the most traditional protections against - and with good reason - then eventually something bad will happen. Because all those myths and stories exist because of people who have learned the hard way, just like the reason we're told not to feed wild bears at parks. 

  Everything in the Otherworld is not safe and not all of the beings who dwell there mean us well. And quite frankly its arrogance on our part to think we know more or better than our ancestors, than the cunning folk and wise people who spent life times practicing their skill. If all these Beings were really so safe and easy to deal with, with just the right attitude, then anyone and everyone would have always done so. And we would have no stories of harm, and maiming and death at the hands of these spirits, nor would witches have been seen as dealing with dangerous things. No, the truth is that we cannot simply decide through positive thinking and a belief in the goodness of all spirits that the Other Crowd are harmless; our opinions do not make them a bunch of watered down angels with angst. 

   I have a lot of respect for grizzly bears and their place in the ecosystem but that doesn't mean I ever for a moment confuse them with teddy bears and think I can walk up and give a wild one a hug. Or one in captivity for that matter. Because a wild bear, no matter how noble and beautiful to our eyes, is still a wild bear and its going to do what its nature tells it to do, which may mean ignoring us or may mean ripping chunks out of us. Just so the Dark Court Fey may ignore us or they may hurt us, and this is why there are so many folk protections against them. 

1 comment:

  1. Well said, and yes I am respectful of that line and do not cross it if I am able to see it at the time. I pay attention to the instinctual things I feel and yes I have run like hell from a few things and people who dabble there. I don't stick my fingers in electrical sockets either. Oh and yes yes yes, those are wild assed bears and I keep my distance even from the ones who are my allies at times. I never forget who they are.