Search This Blog

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fairies and the Dead - An Excerpt from my W.I.P

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book 'Fairies: A Guidebook to the Good People'

Fairies and the Dead

The relationship and connection between the fairies and the dead is a complex one, and likely always has been. The human dead aren't fairies, except when they are. Fairies aren't the human dead, except when they might be. The places of the dead belong to the dead, except when those places are fairy mounds, like the neolithic tumuli. Even the Slua Si, whose name means 'fairy host', are sometimes said to consists of the spirits of human dead, as in some cases does the Wild Hunt, making it hard to draw any clear lines between the groups. In a very general sense we can say that human ghosts are not the same as fairies, but fairies can include people who were once human. The key difference may be, as we shall see, how exactly the human came to join the Fey.

Kildare, Ireland

There is some old Celtic belief, recorded by the Greeks and Romans, which hints at the idea of rebirth or reincarnation, that a person born in our world was dying in the Other World and a person who died in this world was born in the Other World. This idea, perhaps, explains the reason that fairies who wed mortal men were known to cry at births and laugh at funerals. It may also explain in some way why the Irish name for the Other World, an Saol Eile, literally means 'the Other Life'. It is not just another world in the sense of being a place, but it is also another life, another type of existence.

There is some suggestion that the initial depiction around the 16th century of fairies as small beings was actually related to the connection between fairies and the dead and the belief that human souls were small in appearance when separated from the physical body (Briggs, 1976). In turn this idea may reflects a related idea, that the soul was separate from the body and could leave it at times, either temporarily or permanently. We see this in the folktales were a person is taken by the fairies but their dead body is left behind and in anecdotes where a person goes into a trancelike state while their spirit is off with the fairies. The idea that the soul can be separated from the body and once separate has a reality and substance that can even be injured is an old one seen in multiple sources (Walsh, 2002). It may be difficult for us to grasp the idea of a soul as a tangible, physical thing when our modern culture tends to prefer the idea of souls as insubstantial and ephemeral but it’s clear that the older belief gave the soul substance.

Fairy tree with rags in a cemetery, Boa Island, Ireland

Another level of entanglement is more straightforward, that is sometimes the Fairies are known to take people to join them and often these people were thought to have died. In a wide array of folklore from Ireland and Wales we see stories where a young woman is thought to die and is buried, only to be seen later among the fairies in one context or another. In at least one story it was a young man who died and was buried, only to have a fairy doctor tell his family that he was among the Other Crowd; when they attempted to retrieve him he appeared and begged to be allowed to stay with the people of the sidhe (Briggs, 1976). The Scottish witch Alison Pearson claimed a dead relative was among the fairies and that it was he who acted as her familiar spirit with them (Wilby, 2005). Getting back to the earlier point about the soul as a tangible presence we must understand that these are people with presence and physicality who were interacted with and who are clearly counted among the ranks of the fairy people.

In the book ‘Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries’ several anecdotes are related that connect the Good People directly to the dead, in both the sense of describing some fairies as being humans who have died as well as saying some of them are people who were taken and thought to have died. One person related a story about a woman who died and shortly after, before the body had been buried, her husband was visited by one of the Good People who told him she wasn’t dead but taken by the fairies; the husband then waited by the body with the door open and his wife came in to see her infant at which time he grabbed her (Evans-Wentz, 1911). After being restrained and struck with a charm he had prepared the wife returned to her body, as the story was related, which revived and she went on to live a long mortal life (Evans-Wentz, 1911). In another tale with a less pleasant ending a bride died at her wedding, only to appear to her new husband later and tell him that she was actually among the fairies and that if he went to a certain place he would see her passing by and could save her (Evans-Wentz, 1911). The husband went as she’d told him to but when he saw his bride among the fairies passing by he found himself paralyzed and unable to move to grab her; he never saw her again after that, but refused to re-marry (Evans-Wentz, 1911). The people interviewed in that section of the book, who were relating the beliefs of different areas of Ireland around the turn of the 20th century, also made it clear that there were fairies who were never human and had never been human, assigning them origins among the Fir Bolg and Tuatha De Danann, as well as saying they were fallen angels. There were also those among the human dead who could and did return as ghosts or other types of undead spirits that were not considered fairies.

The entrance to Newgrange, sometimes called Bru na Si, known as a fairy mound, home of the Gods, and a neolithic burial place

The subject of the fairies and the dead is not a simple one, but it is clear that the two groups are intertwined. There are those beings who were never human spirits and those human spirits who are not and will not be fairies. But there are also those who were once human and are now fairies because the fairies themselves added the human to their ranks. The different layers of belief make it apparent that while there was crossover between fairies and the dead there was also distinction and separation of the two groups in other ways. If one could imagine it as a Venn diagram we would see fairies as one circle, the human dead as another, and the area where the two circles overlapped – how small or large that is no one can say for certain – would represent those who fall into both groups.

Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Evans-Wentz, W., (1911). The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Wilby, E., (2005) Cunningfolk and Familiar Spirits
Walsh, B., (2002) The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex

All text and images copyright Morgan Daimler

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Spirituality - Why I Don't Believe in Easy

  The other day I was talking to a friend and I happened to mention that when it comes to spirituality I no longer believe in the concept of easy. Simple, yes, because there are aspects of spirituality and spiritual practice that can be simple. But easy, oh no, easy is one of those things that will trap you into laziness and inattention. More often than not the simplest things are actually the hardest precisely because they require the most attention not to mess up. Something that is complicated or difficult by its nature requires a lot of care to do correctly and so we tend to be less inclined to slack when we do those things. Lighting a candle seems easy doesn't it, but when you are doing it with a spiritual intention you have to always guard against the simple action becoming routine and then losing its purpose and power. After all, what is the difference between lighting a candle for its physical light and lighting a candle for a spell or a prayer, except the focus and intent you put into it?

Do you see what I mean? Easy is a deception. Constant vigilance is necessary to keep simple from becoming ineffectual, and that makes simple very, very hard to do properly.

There are many aspects of pagan spirituality and witchcraft that seem easy. They aren't. And so they are usually the things that are most often neglected or messed up. Shielding. Warding. Cleansing. Offerings. These should all be simple to do, and done regularly, yet too often they fall by the wayside or are not given the attention they deserve.

The difficult thing about having a regular spiritual practice is doing the easy things well when the easy things become routine. Because what is easy is to fall into that sort of mindless action that happens when we've done something so often that the doing becomes automatic. When we light incense regularly in our spiritual practice how quickly do we stop doing it with intention and just light it so we can move on to the next step? When we pour out a bit of drink or give a bit of food as an offering to the spirits [outside of ritual] how quickly does the action become habit and the meaning get lost? doing by rote means doing by reflex without the mind engaged and with things like spirituality and witchcraft that isn't always the best idea. Easy is hard.

As soon as we stop thinking about what we are doing and why we are doing it, we are in trouble. Because like everything else, once we stop thinking about it we stop caring about, stop putting emotion and energy into it. Laziness and lethargy sneak in and it is surprising how quickly we can stop doing the 'easy' things altogether. Stop grounding and centering regularly. Stop shielding constantly. Stop cleansing often. Stop all the basic things that the complex things are built on, without realizing that in the process we are undermining ourselves.

I'm not saying everyone has to take their spirituality to a professional level, of course, there have always been lay people in every religion and its fine if spirituality is a casual concept for you. However even a casual spirituality should be done well if you are going to bother doing it at all. I mean I'm not a professional baker, but if I bake a cake I want to do my best to get the best result and the same should hold true for any endeavor including spirituality. Otherwise why bother at all?

I don't believe in easy anymore. The easier it looks, the harder it will be to do well for any length of time.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Everyone's Favorite Topic - Fairies, Humans, and Sex

  One of the most consistent threads among the folklore, and one that I've touched on previously in my articles on the Leannán Sí and Changelings, is also one that seems to endlessly fascinate modern people: fairies and humans as lovers. While some today like to scoff at the concept as the fodder of lascivious imaginations and trashy novels it is actually an idea that is found and reiterated in mythology and folklore as well as anecdotes into the modern period. As my friend over on the Seo Helrune blog points out in the article 'Elves and Sex' in the medieval period it was common for the Anglo-Saxon word for elf to be glossed with incubus, precisely because of their reputation for sexual interactions with women. Since Seo Helrune covered the Norse and Icelandic material so well on the subject I thought today I'd take a look at the Irish and more widely Celtic.

Probably the oldest examples we have of these stories come from mythology, although I admit it gets murky to delve into this in the Irish were the Gods and the aos sidhe are often only thinly divided. We have the story of Niamh and Oisín, where Niamh is usually described as a woman of Fairy although she can equally be called a Goddess as a daughter of Manannan. Although it involves reincarnation and a Goddess reborn as a human, we also have the story of Midhir and Etain, where Etain is born as a human girl and is courted and won by the fairy King/God Midhir. There is Áine, who we know is a Goddess but is also a fairy Queen, and who is the progenitor of the FitzGeralds; she took the Earl of Desmond as her lover and gave him a son, Geirriod. In a similar vein there is the McCarthy family who are said to be descended from Cliodhna - Goddess and fairy Queen. In the second two stories there are overtones of the sovereignty Goddess marrying a mortal lord to legitimize his rule, but in all the stories we see an Otherworldly being taking a mortal as a lover and in three of the tales having children with them. We could also add the conception of Cu Chulainn to this, although it is a bit more metaphysical in some versions, as we see Lugh - again a God and one of the aos sidhe at this point - coming to Deichtine either in reality or in a dream and fathering Cu Chulainn on her.

'La Belle Dame sans Merci'

Beyond the mythology we also see many examples in older folklore. There were several types of fairies specifically known for seducing mortals, including the aforementioned Leannán Sí as well as her male counterpart the Gean-cánach; these generally did so to the mortal's ultimate detriment. However stories of mortals having sexual relationships with fairies, often producing children, are found across fairylore and with a wide array of types of fairies including kelpies, selkies, aos sidhe, and lake maidens. In the kelpie lore the kelpie can be male or female and while kelpies are more known for tricking and harming people in these cases the kelpie falls in love with the mortal and seduces them. Sometimes the mortal awakes after a tryst and sees their sleeping lover only to notice the telltale bit of water-weed in their hair, or dripping water, or other give-away sign that reveals their nature and the mortal flees. Other times the two wed and only after a child is born does the mortal realize their spouse's true nature and leave; although their is one iteration of the story where a male kelpie captures and imprisons a mortal girl as his 'wife' and she escapes after a year, usually leaving behind a son. In the selkies tales the male selkie woos the mortal girl to his home under the waves, while the female is only taken as a bride to a mortal - in the stories - if her sealskin coat is taken from her. Again however children are the usual result of the marriage. You can see the pattern here. The aos sidhe stories appear under a variety of forms usually with the human being kidnapped or taken into Fairy, sometimes willingly sometimes not. The lake maidens of Wales usually are willing wives but come with geasa, and once those taboos are broken they immediately leave, like the selkie bride finding her sealskin, returning to the waters they came from. 

Some versions of the story of the MacLeod Fairy Flag say it was a gift to the family from a fairy lover who had born a MacLeod child. One of the most widespread stories found in fairylore across different Celtic cultures is that of the borrowed midwife who anoints the baby's eyes and accidently touches her own, only to be granted true sight and realize that she has delivered the half-fairy child of a local girl*. This girl has been taken into Fairy as the wife of one of its inhabitants and obviously just proven that humans and fairies are in fact cross-fertile. Which shouldn't be surprising since one of the leading theories about changelings is that fairies steal people to supplement their own population, and that doesn't exactly mean the people become fairies so much as it means the people make more fairies, as the midwife tales illustrate. The gender-flip version of this story might be the Ballad of Tam Lin although Tam Lin is more properly a Changeling as opposed to being a true fairy himself; in the story however the mortal girl, Janet, does not know that until after she's taken him for her lover and conceived his child. Only when she goes to the well he guards to gather herbs to abort the pregnancy and Tam Lin appears to stop her does she question whether he was ever human**. Many of the Scottish witches who confessed to dealing with the fairies also admitted having sexual relations with them, as opposed to the more usual demonic intercourse other witches admitted to. At least one 19th century Bean Feasa was known to have had a fairy lover as well.

In the book 'The Good People', which is an anthology of collected articles about fairies there are several discussions of more modern anecdotes. These come from interviews with people in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland conducted in the 20th century and looking at modern fairy beliefs. It is, in its own way, the next generation of Evans-Wentz's 'Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries' and it includes some discussion of fairy lovers and of the children born of these unions. Generally to have a fairy lover carried prohibitions (geasa) often of silence about their existence but sometimes it might be something like not striking the spouse three times. With the selkies, who were unwilling brides, the magical sealskin must be hidden, and in Welsh lore a fairy wife was often secured by learning her True Name which had power over her. The children of these unions were known to be uncanny and in many stories were taken into Fairy by their Otherworldly parent; those who remained in our world generally stood out as odd or unusual in their mannerisms and preferences; like their fairy parent they tended to behave in ways that seemed to defy human mores or etiquette as often as not. Children born with selkie heritage were said to long for the sea and often to have webbed hands or feet, as well as dark hair and eyes. 

So, we can see that there's a long established pattern of fairies taking human lovers. Sometimes only as lovers, sometimes as spouses, sometimes producing children, sometimes not. Usually the human half of this equation is someone who has broken social boundaries by seeking the fairies out, such as we see in stories of woman going to do their work in places known to belong to Themselves or going to wells known to be Theirs, or of people who are in a liminal state, for example about to be married. Keep in mind as well this wasn't, for the most part, figurative or imagined - not 'on the astral' as some people might say - but occured in the physical, tangible world. Other people reported seeing these beings in some cases and the resulting children were real, physical children. Usually when the person was taken into Fairy they were thought to have died, which in the parlance of Fairy means they may have actually died in our world. Give that some thought. 

Before you go rushing out to find a fairy lover of your own it is worth considering that as often as not these things end badly. And by badly I mean with the death of the mortal partner, sometimes through mischance and sometimes through violence. In other stories the mortal violates a taboo - a geis - set down by the fairy partner and loses them forever, which generally drives the mortal mad. So this whole concept is a bit more dangerous than your average Tinder hook-up, and shouldn't be treated lightly. 

*in different versions the girl was either thought to be dead, missing, or known to be taken by fairies. In all versions the midwife later sees the husband at a fair and he puts out her eye when he realizes she can see him.
**Oh Janet, really? Seems like the sort of question you might have wanted to ask a smidge earlier, if it mattered. Like before you lifted your skirt.

Further Reading:
Briggs, K., (1976). A Dictionary of Fairies
Briggs, K., (1967). The Fairies in Tradition and Literature

Silver, C., (1999). Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness
Purkiss, D., (2000). At The Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, and Other Troublesome Things
Narvez, P., (1999) The Good People

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ireland: Seeing the Stories

The idea behind today's blog is pretty straightforward - its a collection of pictures of different sites in Ireland from my recent trip along with some related lore, history, myth, or personal stories. I had been sharing these in snippets on social media and decided to collect them all into one place here and share them with a wider audience.

Display at the Bru na Bionne Visitor Centre, "Stone Balls"

"He was eating a piece of cheese. He did not then tarry to seek a stone. He put the piece [of cheese] in the sling. When Medb's forehead was [turned] towards them, he let fly the piece [of cheese] and it struck her on the crown of the head so that he killed her by the one cast in vengeance of his mother.
That is the death of Medb."
- Aided Meidbe

At the Bru na Boinne centre we saw some examples of stone balls, which got me talking to several people on the Sacred Sites tour about sling stones and ended with me re-telling the story of Medb's death via hard-cheese-sling-stone. Because I think people fail to grasp often how large and weighty sling stones actually were/are. It was really fascinating to be able to see the archaeological examples of the stones knowing how often they feature in the mythology, from Lugh to Cu Chulainn.

Image of the river Boyne

The Boyne is named for the Goddess the Bóinn, mother of Oengus mac ind Og.
A powerful Goddess, she is often referred to in mythology as 'the Boann' or 'the Boand' (modern Irish Bóinn) with the definite article 'the' used before her name in many stories just like we see with the Dagda or the Morrigan. She created the river by going to her husband's well, the well of Segais which held all wisdom, without permission and without dryness [cen tarta] to entreat its power [airigud a chumachta]. The water of the well rose up against her in waves and tore her apart as she ran to the sea, creating the riverbed behind her.
Her name likely means White Cow or Bright/Blessed Cow, from Bó Fhind

The Mounds at Knowth

Knowth is a really amazing site and one of my favorites that we visited. Consisting of 19 total mounds, 1 'great' mound and 18 smaller ones, Knowth was constructed about 5,000 years ago as a series of passage tombs. The great mound has two entrances to tombs, one on the eastern side one on the west. The smaller mounds were also tombs, and there is evidence of wooden henges on the site as well and tempe structures. Over the millenia Knowth has been used for a variety of purposes by the local people, starting as a passage tomb and later having homes built on top of the great mound, which offers a fantastic view of the surrounding land (and was insanely windy btw the day we were up there; I was sure if I let go of my phone it would end up in another county). The curbstones at Knowth are intricately decorated and the entire place has a more genuine feel imo than Newgrange which has been heavily modified by reconstruction attempts.


I really didn't feel much connection to Newgrange at all. It was by far my least favorite of all the passage tombs we visited, although when we were wandering the grounds I did find an amazing tree with some intense energy that I made a small offering at.
Newgrange is about 5200 years old - older than the Egyptian pyramids - and is aligned with the winter solstice. The inner chamber is a cruciform tomb with some beautiful decorated stones. The mound itself had been sealed at some point and heavily overgrown until the turn of the 18th century (1699) when the entrance was accidently discovered by laborers digging for stone. The ensuing centuries saw attempts at study and understanding of the location. In the 20th century the site was heavily reconstructed, including the placement of the white quartz on the face, giving us the monument as we know it today.

An image of the River Unshin

"The Dagda had a house at Glenn Etin in the north. The Dagda was to meet a woman on a day, yearly, about Samain of the battle at Glen Etin. The Unish of Connacht calls by the south. The woman was at the Unish of Corand washing her genitals, one of her two feet by Allod Echae, that is Echumech, by water at the south, her other by Loscondoib, by water at the north. Nine plaits of hair undone upon her head. The Dagda speaks to her and they make a union. Laying down of the married couple was the name of that place from then. She is the Morrigan, the woman mentioned particularly here."
- Cath Maige Tuired

The river Unshin, where it's said, at a ford of this river near Samhain time, the Dagda had a yearly arrangement to meet the Morrigan. He found her straddling the water washing herself with her hair unbound from 9 plaits and the two united. Afterwards the place was called 'Lige ina Lanomhnou' which means roughly 'Bed of the Married Couple'. she then gave him advice on dealing with the coming battle with the Fomorians and promised to use her magic to destroy the Fomorian king Indech.

Heapstown Cairn

Heapstown Cairn is a large, unexcavated cairn believed to be a passage tomb. It was once much larger but has lost an unknown amount of material over time to people taking stones for construction of walls and such. Nonetheless it is still a large sprawling mound - the largest existing cairn in Ireland - and it is quite impressive to see.
Heapstown is located to the west of Magh Tuired and in mythology it was the site of the well of Slaine which was filled with stones by the Fomorians during the second battle of Maige Tuired. Some people have come to associate this location with Airmed because of the mythology; personally I felt a strong presence of the aos sidhe here as did several other people on the tour.

Ceathrú Chaol, cairn G

The Ceathrú Chaol [Carrowkeel] passage tombs are a series of 14 cairns clustered on the hills of the Breac Sliabh mountain range. Cairn G was excavated in 1911 and is unique in that it is the only passage tomb known, other than Newgrange, to feature a roofbox, and the cairn is aligned to the midsummer solstice, according to the Megalithic Ireland website. The inside of the cairn, which can be easily accessed, features an open central chamber and three small side chambers.
The group I was with walked up to the cairns and I chose to go into cairn G. Several other people did as well and then later left to go explore other cairns but I stayed in this one. I would probably still be in this one if I had a choice about it.

The Janus Stone, Boa Island

In Caldragh Cemetery on Boa Island we went to see two stone carvings, both of which had been moved there at some point from other location. The larger figure is called the Janus Stone because it carved on each side; one side is male the other female. The smaller figure I found out later is called "the Lustyman" although it may be a female figure. The name seems to be because it was original located on Lusty More Island. Both figures appear to have become the focus of some form of offering as they had coins on them in piles, although I could not begin to guess what the intent with the coins was. The cemetery itself is extremely old and impossible to navigate without walking on graves, and as well is still in contemporary use so the energy is interesting. There was also a Fairy Thorn at the back of the cemetery area, within the fence.

Rathcroghan Mound

Once the site of an immense royal complex the Rathcroghan - Ráth Cruachan - mound is still impressive. The mound itself was once the royal seat of Connacht and is where it is said that Medb herself ruled from. It is surrounded by other significant sites including Uaimh na gCat, Medb's grave, and the place where the two bulls from the Tain Bó Cuiliagne fought, reinforcing its significance. The mound itself is immense and one can easily imagine the wooden palisades and buildings. Although it has never been excavated the way other sites have been it is clearly of great historic value. The mound itself has a curving eastern entrance and another western one, and standing on top of the structure provides a magnificent view of the countryside. Pictures really don't do the beauty of the Rathcroghan mound justice, this is one of those places you need to see for yourself.

Uaimh na gCat

Uaimh na gCat, the Cave of Cats, the Cave of the Morrigan. Also called "Ireland's Hellmouth" by some. To me, after going in and coming back out again, it will always be the Sí of Cruachan but that's another story. As we arrived I saw a rainbow in the sky and then we had a little black kitten gamboling around the entrance, which was surely a good sign at the Cave of Cats, right?
The cave itself, deep down and a slippery climb into the earth to reach, is a natural feature but the entrance is a man made souterrain which makes for an odd contrast of experience going in and coming out. You ease into the earth, reaching up to touch the Ogham carved on the lintel, and the first dozen feet in is all hard lines and sharp edges - it feels man made. It feels carved. And then that transition point and you leave behind the hand of man and move into the sections made by nature, and it just feels different. Smoother, even where its jagged. Everything here is all wet clay that sucks and clings, as if the cave means to keep you. And maybe it does. But you go anyway, into the darkness that only the deep earth can have, where sunlight has never even been a dream. And maybe you understand why people describe caves as wombs, or maybe you understand why darkness drives some people mad or terrifies them, or maybe down there you find Herself waiting.
And that's the cave.

Navan Centre & Fort

Novemeber 1st - still Samhain - went to Emhain Macha and visited an Iron Age village at the Navan Centre & Fort. The village is like a small version of Sturbridge Village or Williamsburg where the actors stay in character and the day we visited they had a special event 'A Death in the Celtic Clan'. It was really fun, but I had to be on my best behaviour as they kept talking about the Good Folk and the temptation to troll the poor actors was kind of epic - ie actor asks 'where are you from?' nice person says 'America' I'm wanting to say 'the Sí of Tlachtga where we celebrated last night', and so on3. I basically sat there covering my mouth and smothering giggles the whole time.
Inside the reconstructed roundhouse was really neat - the whole floor was covered in furs! - but wow so much iron. Also their story teller told a really neat version of the tale of Fionn and Sadb, where Sadb was turned into a deer by 'Fer Dub' [dark man] who wasn't a Druid she'd refused to marry as I'd always heard the tale but was a man of the Sí in this version sent to take her for the Unseelie Court

Dumha na nGiall

"It was then that Badb and Macha and Morrigan went to the Knoll of the Taking of the Hostages, and to the Hill of Summoning of Hosts at Tara, and sent forth magic showers of sorcery and compact clouds of mist and a furious rain of fire, with a downpour of red blood from the air on the warriors’ heads; and they allowed the Fir Bolg neither rest nor stay for three days and nights."
- Cet-Chath Maige tuired

Dumha na nGiall [mound of hostages] is a 5,000 year old passage tomb at Teamhair [Tara] at the edge of the section known as Raith na Ríg [fort of kings]. The mound is built in the same way as most other passage tombs and includes some beautiful, intricate carving of the stones at the entrance. The entrance itself was blocked with a heavy iron grate, and much to my deep dismay the visible interior was cluttered with rubbish. Seeing a place that was actively used for burials for a thousand years and which has up to 500 cremated remains in it used as a modern rubbish bin for tourists makes me beyond angry and as much as I hate seeing the entrance blocked I wish they had something solid there.
I'll add here that our group went around cleaning up all the sites we went to, picking up litter, cigarette butts, and clearing trees of ties that would have hurt them. Part of me was really happy and proud that we were doing this. Part of me was really furious that we had to.
If you are a tourist and you don't want to clean up other people's trash, at least try not to treat someone else's sacred site like your rubbish bin please.

Cloch an Fhir Mhóir

"And there [Cu Chulainn] drank his drink, and washed himself, and came forth to die, calling on his foes to come to meet him.
Now a great mearing went westwards from the loch and his eye lit upon it, and he went to a pillar-stone which is in the plain, and he put his breast-girdle round it that he might not die seated nor lying down, but that he might die standing up."
- Aided Conculaind

It was sunset as we walked across the fallow field to the standing stone which folklore and local tradition says was the place that Cu Chulain had died at. There was something very evocative about the stone jutting up from the empty field and as our group gathered around it, some people reaching out to touch the stone, I retold the story of Cu Chulain's Death starting with the Morrigan breaking his chariot. It is a good story I think, and a complex one, and as we stood in the gathering darkness as the light faded there was something powerful in telling about Cu Chulainn's final battle. We could look around and imagine the gathered army, see the chariot wheeling around, the trick of the satirists and false combatants, Laeg's death, the mortal wounding of the Liath Macha, and finally Cu Chulainn's wounding and effort to tie himself to the stone. People laughed in a grim appreciation of the irony as the hero's dead hand fell and cut off the hand of the enemy seeking to take his head and faces fell still at the part where the wounded Liath Macha went and brought Cu Chulainn's friends back to this very spot, too late to save him.
The entire experience was more moving than I expected it to be, honestly, as someone who isn't really very interested in Cu.

the Hag's Chair, at Cairn T, Sliabh na Caillíghe

Cairn T is aligned to the equinox, like the more famous Loughcrew cairn L Samhain alignment. The Cairn is barred and locked but it is possible to get the key, which we did. The inside of the main cairn is beautifully decorated, although we cleaned up a bit of litter while we were there (seriously people? lollipop sticks, wrappers, and cigarette butts?). At the outside rear of the cairn is the stone known as the Hag's Chair. The entire location is strongly associated with the Cailleach, and its said that the site was created when she was leaping from hilltop to hilltop and dropped teh stones from her apron. Folklore says that a person may sit in the chair and make a wish and the Cailleach will grant it. It didn't feel right for me to do so, so I did not when I was there. I'm a big one for trusting my gut with these things, which gets me into another point I'd like to make. Someone had left a significant amount of what looked like oatmeal on the stone which we cleaned off, as it was attracting birds and while the idea of the offering was probably really nice the resulting bird poop covering a stone people were supposed to sit on was less so. We moved it to a better location. I don't usually disturb other people's offerings but in this case I made an exception, and I'd encourage people in general to give some thought before they make offerings to A. what they offering and whether it's suitable to the area and wildlife and B. whether that's the best place to leave it. also don't leave things that aren't biodegradable or might cause issues in the future with study of the site.
The area around the main cairn includes several smaller cairns that have been opened and I was very drawn to one of those in particular. It also had some carving left on at least one of the inner stones, although it was greatly weathered. The entire site was amazing, and I would like to go back at some point.

I have more pictures, and more stories - I didn't even get into Kidlare or Dublin here! - but I think this is getting long and that's a good way to end. I hope you enjoyed this, as it was definitely a different blog today.

Copyright text and all images Morgan Daimler 2016

Friday, December 9, 2016

7 Snarky But Serious Tips for Dealing with Fairies

Inspired by the always awesome Seo Helrune blog and today's 'Eight Sarcastic But Serious Tips for Necromancy'. I give you 7 snarky but Serious Tips for Dealing with Fairies

Since fairies are pretty trendy right now and people are paying mad money to become a certified Fairyologist - or Fairy Doctor, or Fairyist, or whatever today's popular term is - I thought I'd save everyone some money and offer this free down and dirty guide to fairy work. Think of it like the Cliff Notes version to years of actual experience, study, and effort.

Why Work with Fairies? - You like to live dangerously, right? Not afraid to risk some maiming or madness or inconvenient death? Good. There are advantages to trucking with uncanny things of course or no one would do it, but I just wanted to get that bit out of the way right out of the gate. Now that we've established that you have a healthy disregard for your own sanity and safety I'll point out that those who successfully navigate dealing with the Fair Folk are usually rewarded with knowledge, luck and health. And rumor has it wealth. So there are benefits to establishing a good relationship with Otherworldly beings, and those benefits can be very valuable and even tangible. Of course you aren't allowed to talk about any of that, so should you manage to score some super secret fairy bennies just remember to keep your mouth shut about it, or, well I already mentioned the maiming and madness part right? Another benefit of working with fairies is that odds are good you'll either be given or learn to make elfshot, and who doesn't want to have an invisible means of getting even with your enemies? None of this is free, of course, but don't let little details like that bother you.

Convenience - The great thing about fairy work is that pretty much every culture has fairies, by one name or another, and so no matter where you are you'll be able to find Otherworldly spirits. A smart person would do some research and look into local folklore and stories, but if you really do like to live dangerously just jump right in and see what happens. Best case scenario it'll be fine. Worst case scenario, well, reincarnation is a thing right? Or you could do the research. Dealer's choice.

So, let's get to it then. Here's some tips.

1. Start Small - no pun intended on this one, but if you want to deal with the Fey going right to the ones most likely to eat you for dinner or to turn you into something unnatural probably isn't the best idea. Start small. Like really small. I mean, sure, in stories people like the Brahan Seer or Turlough O'Carolan slept on a fairy mound and were rewarded with amazing abilities, but there's also all those jerks who tried the same thing and went mad for the effort. The thing about fairies is that some can and will help you and bless you in awesome ways - and some can and will torment you and laugh while they do it. Also some think you are a mighty yummy appetizer. So if you begin with something like your house spirit who is already inclined to like you and build a relationship there, you can get the practice in before you move on to bigger things. Although keep in mind your house spirit can also seriously jack you up, so don't slack off just because I said it was a good place to start. Also keep in mind I'm saying 'start' not end - the idea is to slowly build up a network of friends and allies in the Otherworld. Just don't aim above your means right out of the gate.

2. Bribe Them - some people are really against the whole concept of bribing spirits. I suspect these people don't deal with many spirits. Remember how I mentioned that nothing is free? Yeah, funny thing about that is if you don't offer something in payment up front sometimes they'll decide to set the price themselves later on. You do not want this. No one wants this. Being in unspecified debt to a member of fairy is kind of like owing a favor to the mob so you are much better off to go into any dealings with Them paying upfront. I recommend butter or cream, but I'm a bit of a traditionalist. I'd avoid offering blood - your own anyway - or anything else with heavy metaphysical implications for you.

3. Negotiate - Speaking of payments you may find yourself in a situation where you are being offered something you really, really need in exchange for something else. Like your firstborn - what you thought Rumplestilskin invented that idea? Fairies taking babies is an old practice and its a lot easier if one of the parents gives them up willingly. Not all changelings were stolen, some were bargained away, and if you think I'm kidding then please, please, don't try to deal with fairies. No, really. Don't. They may ask for something else but whatever it is you should be asking yourself why they want it and whether you really want to give it up. I mean a soul seems pretty inconsequential until you don't have yours anymore. So don't be afraid to negotiate or even to say no. Sometimes it's just not worth it. Did I mention the butter and cream?

4. Manners are a Thing -  Seriously though, if you want to deal safely with the Good People then you better say 'please' and 'May I?' like you are visiting your Grandmother. And not the nice one who bakes you cookies but the strict one who doesn't let anyone slouch and has plastic on the furniture so you rotten kids won't get it dirty. Although there is a prohibition against saying 'thank you' which many people I know agree is best to follow; say something else instead which isn't 'thanks'. Why no thank you? Some people say it is dismissive, while others say that it is an admission of a debt - see point #2 for why that's bad if you've already forgotten. The key here is be on your best behavior, be polite, and remember that you aren't the one with the actual power here. Which is why you are dealing with them in the first place right?

5. Keep It Clean - I don't know if cleanliness really is next to godliness or not but I do know that the Fair Folk detest filth. You want to know a really good way to ensure that the Good People will be against you? Pee on land that is theirs. True story. A traditional method to keep them out of your home involved dirty water, and it was an old practice to always yell 'Beware' before tossing dirty water out a door or window after cleaning, because you did not want to hit a fairy with that water, should one be passing by. So if you want to work with fairies keep it clean.

6. Don't be an Ass - I suppose I could have put this under #4 but honestly its such a big issue it deserves its own bullet point. I don't know why people labor under this delusion that getting a huge attitude and treating the Good Neighbors like you are some spoiled prima donna and they are your lowly intern is a thing, but it does seem to be a thing so here we are. I have seen popular pagan authors suggesting people make their own fairy* or command fairies to certain tasks and that is just a jerk thing to do. Fairies are independent, sentient beings. Would you walk up to a stranger in the street and start bossing them around? Unless the fairy starts it first and you are being a jerk in defense of yourself or similar, just don't go there. You go there and so will they and that is not a contest you want to get into unless you are 100% confident you will win - and they have a lot more experience at it. Also way more viciousness. So for the love of all that's green and growing don't be an ass unless and until you have to.

7. Speaking of Asses Always Cover Yours - The best laid plans still go sideways so always have a worst case scenario plan in mind. Know what protections work against which fairies - because there is no one size fits all - and know when to bluff and when to run. Have an escape plan behind your back-up plan. And know exactly how far you are willing to go and what you are willing to do. I mean when it comes down to it would you kill something? Would you maim something? Remember tip #6? Well I mentioned don't be a jerk unless you have to but understand if you have to go there you have to go all the way there. You can't half-ass your jerk attitude with the fairies when that attitude is required by a situation. Which by the way is exactly why you don't want to lead off with it, because if you are going full-ass jerk then you'll be wearing iron jewelry and lighting up St. John's Wort and sulfur every day for a loooooong time. This is also why tip #1 is to start small and build up relationships, because if the shit hits the fan you'll need those allies.

So there you go.
Good luck. You'll need it.

*in fairness while they called it a fairy they were actually talking about making a thoughtform or golem. But still the principle of creating your own fairy servant is pretty offensive so here we are.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Shifting Spirituality and Fairytale Wolves

I've been thinking a lot about wolves lately. I'm in a place spiritually right now that is a bit contradictory - several events in Ireland were very empowering and intense for me and moved me into a deeper connection with the Other Crowd, but at the same time other things have become chaotic as a result. Not all of this chaos was predictable and the wolves are a good example of that. I have a long (like almost 30 years long) running relationship with birds as spiritually significant and I'm not saying that is gone necessarily but it has certainly changed. And I have never resonated with wolves before so that is an entirely new and somewhat strange feeling, yet I am being strongly drawn to them. So I began exploring what wolves symbolize to me and I started with fairytales, a subject I'd already been thinking about; the intersection of the two subjects became something of an epiphany which I'm going to try to convey here as best I can.

 Fairy tales were - if you'll forgive the expression - my bread and butter growing up; I read and re-read Grimm and watched every available Disney movie. Yeah, I was that kid. And as I got older and segued more into the older folklore and folk stories the children's fairy tales kept a place in my heart, although I was cynical enough to see the less appealing patterns in them. The princess with the tragic backstory who needed saving, or else the peasant girl with the same; in both cases the girl was almost always helpless and victimized and just waiting around for the right guy to save her and give her the perfect easy life. (Not a concept that especially appealed to me, by the way, as I always felt that the only one who was going to save me was myself). And of course there was usually the prince or sometimes a woodsman who was the hero*, rushing in at the eleventh hour to save the girl just in time. The antagonist was generally someone with inherent power in the girl's life, be that an evil queen, a step-mother, a witch, or an evil fairy - usually female by the way, because the girl's father generally died or stood by and did nothing to help her - and this antagonist was motivated more often than not by base jealousy. Not exactly the most engaging pattern once you start to see it and it did take some of the luster out of the tales for me, and that was before I got a hold of the original versions of the stories, where there mostly weren't any happy endings, just a lot of misery and retribution**.

In a few stories there is another character though - the wolf. We all know the fairytale wolf of course, the chilling howl in the night, the glowing eyes by the side of the path, the calculating predator that will try to talk you into your own destruction. The wolf, usually labeled the Big Bad Wolf, is a different kind of antagonist. The wolf isn't jealous or vengeful. The wolf isn't motivated by anger or by ambition or lust***. The wolf, you see, is simply hungry and is doing what wolves do to solve that problem and of course in the stories the wolf is anthropomorphized and so uses cleverness and guile to achieve their ends instead of simply attacking the protagonist. The wolf is the archetypal predator and in fairy tales that archetype deepens into that of the antagonist who is truly frightening precisely because they aren't motivated by human emotions, but by simple physical hunger. The wolf schemes to trick the young goats in the story of 'The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids' and Red Riding Hood in 'Little Red riding Hood' with a frightening deviousness that seems difficult to avoid. In fact in both stories the protagonists are only saved after they've been eaten, when a Hero comes along and cuts the sleeping wolf open to rescue them. Which, by the way, doesn't kill the wolf - rather the sleeping wolf is filled with stones and later wakes without realizing what's happened and usually goes to drink and falls into the river and drowns. But is the wolf really trying to kill anyone, or is the wolf teaching the other characters a lesson^? In all the stories the wolf succeeds in tricking the others and consuming them, yet in most they emerge safe - if shaken and wiser - at the end. The wolf may be a harsh teacher, but they are a ultimately a teacher in the stories: about the dangers of not listening to good advice, about the risk of letting in wolves, of the difference between safety and danger. There's some interesting layers of Fairy in there to me, of the supernatural wolf who can consume animals and people without killing them and who can't be killed even by a blade but must instead be killed by earth and water and trickery.

Little Red Riding Hood, by Gustave Dore (d. 1883) 
As I've been rethinking fairy tales, I've been re-thinking where I see myself in them. I am definitely no princess waiting helplessly for someone to come along and save me.  I'm no prince who needs a princess to save - really I just don't see myself in any way as one part of an equation that needs another person to be complete. And I'm not a woodsman or hunter with a sharp ax and a no other purpose but to pop up when a wolf needs cutting open. I've never liked fairytale witches with their mindless evil but I do like evil queens quite a lot as it happens; I admire the way they defied societal conventions to be women with real power in their worlds, but I dislike the random jealousy or paranoia-motivated homicide. But as I've been contemplating the wolf in stories I've found that I do connect to that concept. They are certainly forces of chaos and they seem to defy the whole idea of a clear-cut bad guy because they are just doing what wolves do and trying to get a meal (as opposed to overthrowing a kingdom or your standard step-child murder over jealousy) and excluding interpretive Victorian sexual innuendo they are non-sexual. And in most of the tales the wolf is also playing the role of teacher, giving harsh if memorable lessons to the others. I really resonate with that. They are the one character in the old fairy tales who isn't a victim with a tragic backstory who needs saving or a jerk with a sword who needs someone to save, or the villain driven by jealousy, or traditionally evil like the witches, etc., There's a purity in the danger the wolf represents and in the lessons they teach, as well as the beautiful contradiction of the way they reinforce the need for civilization and solid walls while they themselves live wild and untamed in the trackless woods.
I really admire that story line.

I began my wolf-quest with fairytale wolves and this re-assessment of their role, and from here (probably in future blogs) I will look at wolves in Irish folklore and wolves as they relate to witches, the Good People, and the Gods. These are all heavy, complex subjects and its a lot to unravel. Wolves relate to both the Morrigan and Odin, two deities I am strongly bound to, for one thing and I know there is a lot of material there to process. There is also a great deal of Irish so-called werewolf lore to get through. And on a purely personal level there is the spiritual, experiential side of things. For now, there's this poem I wrote as I meditated on the connection I feel with the fairytale wolf:

I am the Wolf ~ a poem
"You see I am the wolf -
no red clad, hooded maiden,
no ax wielding woodsman,
my role in this fairytale is
neither lost nor saving
but hunting and howling
running wild off the path
and sleeping sated in
your warm comfy bed.
That's the thing about wolves
we like our solitude but
we run in packs too
when it suits our mood.
And I am as much sharp
teeth and terrible claws
as I am soft, warm fur
and endless loyalty.
I am all of that and more,
enchantment and fierceness
Magic and menace.
You see I am the wolf
And in my story
the wolf always wins."
- M Daimler 2016

*There are some exceptions to these of course, like Hansel and Gretel were Gretel is the hero who saves her brother by shoving the witch into the oven. I'm speaking in general terms here.
**In most of the older versions for example 'consent' isn't really a thing, and the princess being conscious isn't even a requirement so in several versions of Sleeping Beauty she conceives twins while still under the curse. So much for that awoken by a kiss bit. In the older Cinderella after she marries the prince she forces her stepmother to dance to death, and in the original Little Mermaid Ariel fails to get the prince and becomes a wind spirit - and so on.
***I know a lot of later commentators do try to make everything in fairy tales into analogies for sex, including the wolves, but I suspect this is more a reflection on the culture of that time than the actual story. For a person who had no real wolves howling in the night to fear it might make sense to see the wolf as a symbol of lust or sex, but for the people first telling the tales who shivered at the sound of wolves in the darkness I think they meant the wolf to be a real wolf. To them the wolf was an animal who did lurk in the woods and who would eat little goats and pigs and even maybe naughty little girls who wander off the path into the trees.
^In the oldest version of Little Red Riding Hood the story ends with both Grandmother and Red being eaten and never rescued, but I'd still argue in that case the lesson is being taught to the reader, albeit with a far grimmer tone. I did say before that the original versions didn't have happy endings. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Quick Thoughts on Apotropaic Iron

there seems to be a lot of confusion about the apotropaic qualities of iron.
So, let's clear some points up.
Iron is said in folklore to protect against a wide range of spirits and negative magics including [most of] the Good Neighbors and Alfar, Ghosts, Demons, and witches. Iron objects deter the majority of the Other Crowd who are averse to its presence and things like knives, scissors, nails, and horseshoes were recommended as protective objects. It is said that cemeteries had iron fences to contain any ghosts inside. Similarly older folklore said that demons were also repelled by iron, and it was believed to break the magic of witches. A horseshoe hung up above a doorway kept out a wide range of spirits as well as protecting from baneful magic.
Many people are familiar with the term 'cold iron' and associate it today with pure or simply worked forged iron - what is technically called 'pig iron' or 'crude iron'. Historically the term cold iron was a poetic term for any iron weapon and is synonymous today with the term 'cold steel'. So when you see a reference to cold iron it is talking about an iron weapon, usually a sword or knife.
As to iron and steel - they are effectively the same substance and have been treated that way in folklore and for apotropaic purposes historically. Steel is between 90 and 98% iron depending on the alloy, so a steel object is obviously mostly an iron object.
Those who are seeking to encourage the presence of the Gentry should remember their dislike of iron and limit its presence. On the other hand those seeking protection from Otherworldly influence would do well to keep iron or steel objects around. Remember though that I said earlier it is a protection against *most of* the Good Neighbors. In folklore there are some Fae it is known to have no effect on, including Etins, Redcaps, and spirits associated with mines or forges. Other protections are required for those, like salt or silver.

*editing to add:
in my experience iron ore and stones with high iron content work the same as iron, but to a weaker degree, ie hematite which is about 70-ish% iron and magnetite (72% iron) both work to deflect negative magic and to deter ghosts, negative spirits, and the Fey who are sensitive to iron but not as intensely as worked iron (even so-called 'pig iron'). 
Iron ore is most often hematite or magnetite along with a few others with a slightly lower iron content so it makes sense that they work in a similar fashion to iron. A variety of crystals also have iron as a component which is what give them their color, such as peridot, but usually not in an amount that would act as an effective deterrent (although I think its unlikely any Fey would wear them or desire to be around them and if you offer crystals to the Other Crowd I might suggest looking for ones without iron content)

- M. Daimler, 2016

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Doubled Edge of Fairywork

Sometimes people ask me why I don't talk much about personal practice and experience with the Othercrowd, beyond a handful of anecdotes that I repeat and some fairly generic for-public-consumption stories. I'm pretty free with talking about experiences that occured with other people, about being pixy-led, or seeing fairy hounds, or items being taken and returned. And I will talk about the numinous, about the Gods even the liminal Gods, pretty easily. So why not share more of the deeper personal things?

It's a hard thing to talk about for many reasons. Certainly one is that I worry about people questioning my sanity as I talk about these experiences. Its funny how we can talk about things with Gods and people are, if not supportive, at least more willing to consider possibilities; even ghosts are met with a basic assumption of the person's sanity. But when it comes to the Othercrowd, at least in my experience, people are far quicker to jump to 'crazy' to explain away something. And of course I worry that in speaking about it I'll say too much and lose their favor which is a concern supported by folklore - the quote may go that the 'first rule of fight club is don't talk about fight club' but in my experience that is far more applicable to fairies. There's also always the worry that people simply won't believe me because its so difficult to convey these experiences in words without making them sound trite and contrived. Even I don't think some of them sound believable when I tell them, and I was there when they happened. So there's the fear that people just won't believe what I'm saying is true.

And there's the worry that they will.

I feel often like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, saying on one side to seek Themselves out for their blessings and friendship and on the other to avoid them because of their mercurial nature and danger. And the Heaven and Hell of it, if you'll pardon the expression, is that both are equally true. Because I do think there's value in keeping the old ways and the reciprocal relationship with the Good Folk that has existed for many hundreds, if not thousands, of years - and indeed part of my service to Them as a priestess is to do what I can to keep those old beliefs and traditions viable - and I think that people should be encouraged to do that. But I also think that modern pop-culture has done the Fairy Faith no favors and that people do need to be reminded of the respect and fear that They are due and why they are due it. So its seek Them out and encourage Their interest in you but at the same time be cautious of Them and don't get Them too interested. And if that's a contradiction, then consider it your first lesson in fairywork.

I talk a lot about the darker side of Fairy and the dangers of the beings who dwell within it, and I do that on purpose. The Otherworld and its inhabitants are not the stuff of young adults novels and LOTR fanfiction. I see too many people who plunge head first into seeking the Gentry out, heedless of any potential danger, and my instinct is to warn people. I'll use the analogy of hiking here, that hiking on a summer day seems really appealing because its so beautiful and looks so easy - you just start walking in the woods, isn't that nice? And you know most of the time it will just be nice and pleasant and nothing bad will happen. Nothing at all will happen except for you getting some exercise. But - oh, there's always a but isn't there? - anyone who is an experienced hiker knows that there's always a chance of getting lost, or falling and getting hurt, or being attacked by an animal, or eating something that looks familiar but isn't what you thought it was, or...or. You see? And that's what I might say that Fairy is like. And if you get lost or hurt or attacked you had really better know what to do about it.

And there's a part of me that doesn't like to talk about some things I've seen or experienced because I worry that it may give people the wrong idea, may make things seem more alluring or good than they actually are. May make people forget the danger. May create that urge in people where they want to have that same experience because they are hearing the beautiful experience and not grasping the fuller context.

I am not yet 40 years old and I have seen things that I will never stop seeing - not horrible, terrifying things either but things so beautiful it breaks the heart and so enchanting it makes everything in mortal life seem a pale shadow in comparison. Beauty is a poison in its own way, and it sinks into the bone beyond removing. The stories talk about that too but we don't want to see it most of the time because we like the idea that people can be saved from Fairy in the end and return to their lives and be happy here. But once you've heard that music and once you've seen those shining halls you lose a part of yourself to the sound and sight of it and there is no real coming back from that. The old stories talk about that too you know. And ultimately I don't want the responsibility of leading someone else where I am, aching for a world that isn't here and that nothing here compares to.

Fairywork is worth doing and it has benefits that make it worth the risk, like any other dangerous thing. But it is dangerous both in Fairy's ability to actually harm a person and the way its enchantment changes a person. It is something that must be done with care and with constant vigilance to be done well, or something that must be done lightly to be done safely, or something that can and will consume a person. I suppose I talk about the things I do because I'd rather be a horrible warning than a great example, to paraphrase Aird,.

And so when I talk about it I try to talk enough to encourage people to want to do it, but not enough about my personal deep experiences to give the impression that losing your soul to it should be a life goal. And I try to emphasize the danger so that if things go sideways people can't say they didn't know the pitfalls and bears where there along the trail the whole time.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Meeting a New Liminal God

I'm on a brief hiatus at the moment, and today is Thanksgiving here in the US, so I am re-posting this from my other blog 'Into the Twilight'. Its a look at more of the personal side of my witchcraft practice. Enjoy!

Generally speaking in my practice of Fairy Witchcraft I honor two main pairs of deities. From Bealtaine to Samhain the Lady of the Greenwood and Lord of the Wildwood hold sway as the rulers of the summer - what some may choose to call the Summer Court - and they are powerful as well during the full moon at any time of year. From Samhain to Bealtaine the Queen of the Wind and the Hunter have dominion as rulers of winter - what some might choose to call the Winter Court - and as well they are powerful during the dark moon throughout the year. I've also mentioned that there are other liminal fairy gods that people may connect to and discussed a few others that I am aware of, although I don't personally connect to them.

I've long felt that eventually I'd probably end up with seven Fairy gods for a variety of reasons, including the fact that 7 is just such a strong number in the folklore and in the system as its unfolded. But after all these years there were only the four and many times I feel as if I barely know or understand them. Which is probably a fair enough assessment really. But the thing about anything and everything to do with Themselves, even the ones that are Gods, is that you have to expect the unexpected and things often happen when you stop looking for them to happen.

So its the dark moon, and I'm up on social media and a friend happens to make a comment on her own page about polytheists needing to actually focus on doing and not talking (I'm paraphrasing). And this friend tosses out an offhand comment wondering if there is a goddess of such-and-such and unbidden I find myself wondering if there is a God of Shenanigans. Because there is a long running joke at this point about myself and a propensity for shenanigans (in the sense of mischief or high spirited behavior with maybe a small dose of secret activity). And without thinking I go to my own social media page and start typing about how if there were such a deity surely they would be a fairy god because fairies and shenanigans go together (again paraphrasing). And I joked that perhaps I should set up a shrine....and as soon as I typed it, actually as I was typing it, I had that sense of the numinous, of presence, pressing in on me, and I thought oh dear....

It seems I have found, quite without meaning to or looking, my fifth liminal fairy god. I meditated on him later and was given three names for him - titles all of them, just like the other liminal Gods prefer titles. although they so far have stuck to single titles. He told me to call him the Knight of Love, and the Keeper of Passages, and the Lord of Mischief. Shenanigans seem to sum up his nature pretty well; he is a spirit of gentle mischief and of cleverness, of high spirits and of fun, of the sort of devilment that never really results in permanent harm but can be quite irritating. I rather suspect he likes to hang out wherever the craic is mighty and may in fact influence the mood and spirit of a group or place. He inspires reckless love and passion, but all in the sense of genuine enjoyment and bliss. He loves a new adventure and seeing what's around the next turn but he also guards the pathways and roads Between - because he knows them all. He loves a good joke and admires the sort of trouble that a person gets into when they are having too much fun to care. In that sense he is a rather dangerous sort, but then he's of Fairy, so that's to be expected. Safe isn't exactly something you're going to find in abundance among Themselves. I do get the sense though that as much as he may encourage you to get into trouble he'll be equally quick to help you find your find your way out again.

I saw him as a young man, fair haired and light eyed*. I also got the impression of both endless sky and deep earthen tunnels around him, so again, pretty transitional. I believe his animals are foxes, otters, crows and swans. Both the colors red and white came through strongly with him, but he appeared dressed in black and green. I gather he'd like offerings of the traditional sort, milk, cream, bread, but also beer or hard liquor, and anything associated with happiness or good memories, or that symbolizes shenanigans by nature. He belongs to the Winter, properly, but I think he moves easily and freely between any and all times and places. I might choose to honor him especially on Samhain, as the year turns, and since I 'found' him, or he revealed himself, on the eve of the Dark moon I'd associate him with that as well.

It will certainly be interesting to see where this goes from here.

* I'd be surprised if that has any permanence to it. I gather he can appear however he chooses, which is no surprise.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Stepping Into Brigit - a Review

  Many people are familiar with my dedication to the Morrigan but what may not be as widely known is my love of Brighid. It is, by its nature, a different sort of love, but it is just as much a presence in my life in its own way. So when I was asked to help Beta test* a new course 'Stepping Into Brigit' designed for people interested in Brighid to learn about and connect to her I jumped at the chance.

The course is set up as an 11 module course, with each module containing multiple lessons, and is meant to be done - ideally - over a month. With roughly 38 overall lessons to complete (course surveys excluded) one would need to either decide to do one or more lessons a day or set aside time every few days to do a full module in order to finish in a month. What I liked about the set up though is the learning is self paced, so that you can choose to it at whatever speed you like and in whatever fashion works best for you. I took the 'chunky' approach myself and did a full module at a go because that was what worked best with my schedule, although other people may find a slower spacing better.

Each lesson is fairly thorough but also brief. At some points I felt perhaps a bit too brief, but the idea was to take time with each one and contemplate it, write down thoughts and reflections on the material, and really process it, rather than rushing through to get to the next one. They often included outside recommended reading or references to follow up, such as the Story Archaeology's entry on discussing her which should take some time to do. With that in mind the size of each lesson is pretty good, and it really was designed to encourage engagement from the student. I also like the use of mixed media throughout the course which used text, images, videos, and audio clips.

The material looks at Brighid in a holistic manner including both the pagan Goddess as well as the Christian saint, and while I didn't feel the same engagement with the material relating to the saint that reflects more of my own bias than any flaw in the course. It certainly was the most well-rounded view I think I've seen and I can't fault it's fairness in giving an equal voice to all sides. the material is generally presented without any favoring of one opinion over another and with clear citation of sources, allowing a student to draw their own conclusions for the most part about the very complex subject of Brighid pagan roots and Christian history.

Speaking of sources, I really did like the way the course offered a lot of quotes directly from source material. I think often this is the best way to let a student contemplate the original material without the filter of an author's opinion. I also like the amount of poetry included and the way that allowed me, as a student, to experience the material without overthinking it and to appreciate the beauty of the ideas presented. I also liked the option of entering feedback after each lesson, to share personal experiences or thoughts. I did feel there was a lack of more directed exercises beyond the journaling being encouraged, but I acknowledge that not all students want to feel like they have written homework to complete. The overall feel of the course was contemplative and engaging without being tedious or excessively 'school-like' in its feel, which I think will have a wide appeal to modern adult spiritual seekers.

There are many people out there interested in Brighid and many seeking classes or courses online to help them better connect to spiritual things of interest. For those looking to learn about and connect to Brighid I think this course would be a good option, if you find that online courses are generally a good option for you. As with any such course it requires a person to be self-motivated to do the lessons, and to incorporate the material in a practical manner. However for someone who has the desire to truly make use of what this course is offering I think a great deal of valuable knowledge can be gained here.

*to be clear - I was asked to Beta test the course by its creator, but this review is being offered by me freely and without any compensation. As far as I am aware I was asked to help test the course in part because of the book I had written on Brighid and my knowledge of Her, and in the interest of transparency my book Pagan Portals Brigid is recommended reading for this course. However I would not and will not endorse nor recommend anything I do not genuinely see value in and my opinions offered here are honest; had I not seen value in the course on its own merits I would simply not have reviewed it.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fairies, Witches, and Dangerous Magic

When many people think of the classical image of the witch it comes with the implicit shadow of the Devil looming over it and an inherent sense of danger. When the folklore is studied in Scotland and Ireland, however, it is not cloven hooves and hellfire that mark many witches but the touch of Fairy and interaction with the Otherworld that made them what they were, and for some of us what we are still. But people are right nonetheless to associate this kind of fairy-touched witchcraft with dangerous magic, the sort that up-ends social orders and defies the status quo, the sort that runs wild under the night sky singing to itself of madness and mystery, the sort that seeks to give power to those who society sees as powerless. And that sort of magic is without a doubt dangerous, because it is boundless and unrestricted by what Yeats called (in another context entirely) "the nets of wrong and right".

A modern Fairy Witchcraft altar for Samhain

From a traditional point of view the cunningfolk and wise women(1) worked with the right order and helped the community, but the witch worked against that order - and so did the fairies. Witches might steal a cow's milk, or stop butter from churning, or take a person's health, or a family's luck - and so might the fairies. Elfshot was wielded by the Good People, but it was also used by witches. Witches might take the form of hares to travel the countryside - and so might fairies.  A witch's purpose was often personal, instead of communal, and might seem inexplicable to their neighbors, in the same way that the Other Crowd seemed to operate with their own concerns in mind, regardless of the human community. The witch defied the social order, retaliating against offenses and taking actions to ensure their own success and prosperity instead of that of the greater communal good, a good that often enough was at odds with the witch's own interests, exactly as people might view the Good Folk acting for their own good over human interests.

Isobel Gowdie said that it was from the Fair Folk that she and the other witches got elf shot and by some accounts it was from the fairies that Biddy Early obtained her famous blue bottle. Alison Pearson, a confessed witch from Scotland, said that she learned her knowledge of herbs and herbal cures from the fairies, and I have previously discussed the claims by some historic witches that they were given familiar spirits from Fairy. The idea of witches gaining knowledge from Otherworldly sources is an old one, and in itself an idea that threatened the proper order, because things taught to people by the Gentry were inherently out-of-bounds and in defiance of a system that sought to regulate and control information and education. The Other Crowd give people weapons to fight against other humans - elfshot, Otherworldly arrows that humans cannot generally even see to defend against; they give herbal knowledge which provides magical cures in defiance of established medicine; they give visions of what is and what may be to help a witch find lost items and predict the future(2).

Along these lines when questioned a variety of witches in Scotland claimed to serve not the Devil but the Queen of Elphen or Elfhame, saying that it was this Queen who they would be brought to visit and who they served in some capacity. We can perhaps see echoes of this concept in ballads like Tam Lin or Thomas the Rhymer; in the first Tam Lin is a mortal who is taken to serve the Queen of Fairies, apparently by guarding a well at Carterhaugh, and in the latter Thomas is taken by the Queen of Elfland to serve her for seven years in an unspecified manner before being returned to the mortal world. In the case of witches it was a very literal defiance of social order, where the witch's ultimate allegiance was to no earthly person or heavenly power (by Christian standards) but to the monarch of the Otherworld itself, usually bound by formal pledges or oaths and by a renunciation of mortal order in the form of the Church.

In the examples we have of historic witches associated with fairies, whether we look at those brought to trial or those renowned in more positive ways, we most often see people who were otherwise socially powerless or limited by the society of their times. People who were poor, marginalized, struggling, even victimized by the social order. Scottish witch Bessie Dunlop claimed that she made her pact with the fairies when her husband and child were desperately ill, for example. Sometimes, as in the cases of Biddy Early or Alison Pearson, the practise of magic and of dealing with the fairies seemed to be directly related to a major life change; the death of her husband in Biddy Early's case, and an illness in Pearson's. Both arguably directly impacted the person's social status and ability to fend for themselves within their society, and both arguably gained status from their fairy-related practises, although Pearson was eventually caught up in Scotland's witchcraft persecutions. Witchcraft, ultimately, was and still should be a way for people to gain or re-gain control of their own lives.

The Other Crowd are dangerous and unpredictable in many ways, and so can witches be, which is what we see when we look at history; because anyone who worked outside of what was deemed the proper social order was a wild card as far as that social order was concerned. In Old Irish the Good Folk are called 'túathgeinte', literally leftwards or northwards people, with túath having connotations of evil, wicked, and of motion to the north instead of the luckier and more beneficent rightward/southward motions. In exactly the same context we have the words túathaid - person with magical powers - and túaithech - witch, or magic worker. In both cases the concepts are directly linked with the idea that dessel, with the sun, righthandwise, was lucky and fortuitous while túathal or túathbel, against the sun, lefthandwise, was unlucky and related to ill-luck and confusion. Both fairies and some witches(3) then went against the right order, turning against the sun instead of with it.

The magic of the Good Neighbors that was taught to these witches - what I in modern practice call Fairy Witchcraft - was about empowering the powerless and giving the witch a way to meet their own needs and to ensure their own safety. It was knowledge and magic that removed the person, to some degree, from human society and this removal made them dangerous because it realigned their allegience in unpredictable ways. This is magic that is meant to effect real change for the benefit of the witch, not necessarily for some nebulous greater good. There was - is - a cost, of course, because there is always a cost in dealing with Themselves, and sometimes that cost was heavy. But it gave and gives hope to people who were suffering and hopeless, and offers control to those who otherwise are at the mercy of others.

Walking with the sun, righthandwise, is trusting the system, whether that system is religion or something else, to bless you and take care of you because you are walking the expected way, the well-worn way. Walking against the sun, lefthandwise, is taking your fate in your own hands and disrupting that system, going against that order; it is walking with the Other Crowd into danger and uncertainty because you believe ultimately the knowledge you gain there is the greater blessing. Fairies and witches have a long history together, and it is all dangerous magic. 
Which is exactly as it should be, because dangerous magic gets things done in the end.

"Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill,
For there the mystical brotherhood
Of hollow wood and the hilly wood
And the changing moon work out their will."

 - W. B. Yeats, 'Into the Twilight'

1 understand however that these terms are fluid and one person's cunningman was another person's witch, perspective being everything in these cases.
2 not that the Brahan Seer was a witch, necessarily, but some stories do say that it was from the fairies he got his famous seeing stone, and certainly some say that Biddy Early could look into her blue bottle and see things.
3 there are multiple words in Old Irish that mean witch, and it should be understood that túaithech is only one and has particular connotations not seen in the others. I have discussed this in a previous blog 'Nuances of the word 'Witchcraft' and 'Witch' in Old Irish'

Further Reading:
Tam Lin (1997) Child Ballad 39A
Harvard Classics (1914) Volume 40: Engish Poetry I: from Chaucer to Gray
Linton, E., (1861) Witch Stories
Pitcairn, R., (1843) Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland, vol 1, part 3
Wilby, E., (2010). The Visions of Isobel Gowdie
Gregory, A., (1920) Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland
Hall, A., (2005) Getting Shot of Elves: Healing, Witchcraft and Fairies in the Scottish Witchcraft Trials. Folklore Vol. 116, No. 1 (Apr., 2005)
O Crualaoich, G., (2005) Reading the Bean Feasa. Folklore Vol. 116, No. 1 (Apr., 2005)
O Crualaoich, G., (2003) The Book of The Cailleach
Magic and Religious Cures (2014). Ask About Ireland. Retrieved from
Wilde, L., (1991). Irish Cures and Mystic Superstitions
O hOgain, D., (1995). Irish Superstitions
Yeats, W (1888). Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry
Locke, T., (2013). The Fairy Doctor. Retrieved from

Daimler., M (2014). The Witch, the Bean Feasa, and the Fairy Doctor in Irish Culture. Air n-Aithesc, vol 1 issue 2, Aug. 2014