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Monday, August 29, 2016


Labels are always a fun game to play in Paganism, Polytheism, Heathenry, what-have-you. On the one hand they can be helpful in defining how we see ourselves and what we believe and do - on the other they are only ever a general description and as often as not they divide us instead of bringing us together. I have many labels for myself because my beliefs are complex and layered, and the terms I use may describe what I do, like Druid or Bantuaithech, as much as what I believe, like animist and polytheist. I have no issue having many labels and adding or shedding descriptors when needed - life evolves and changes and so do I.

The shoreline - never the same, but always constant. Think about it.

I have toyed for a couple years now with the label of 'Álfatrú' for myself as a more precise descriptor of my belief system but I was always a bit hesitant for several reasons. Firstly in English the term is reminiscent of a certain sitcom from the 80's and that association was strong for me. Secondly, when I first started thinking of this I was fairly new to Heathenry and I wasn't sure if it was an appropriate term in contrast to Ásatrú or if it even read properly, not having any Icelandic at that point*. And thirdly, I must confess that when I tried to Google the term (Google-fu for the win) the few hits I got to English language sites came back to things that were rather perplexing to me and very contrary to my own approach.

I also wanted to avoid any confusion or implication that I was approaching all of the Hidden Folk as deities. Certainly there is overlap and some of the alfar are counted among the Gods, just as many (most) of the Tuatha De Danann are also the aos sidhe, but not all of the aos sidhe are Gods and not all of the alfar or huldufolk are deities either. Its rather its own system in itself and needs to be understood that way, as a complex system instead of looked at as a simple 'all this' or 'all that'. What makes something a God is a question I contemplate often for example here and here and understanding where I'm coming from on this issue and how the huldufolk and aos sidhe fit into things is important. Whether Gods or not-Gods you respect them and the influence they can and do have on your life. You offer to them to create reciprocity, you seek to live in balance with them, you don't harm or disrespect their places, and - if you are a witch of a certain sort - you seek to learn from them and ally with (some) of them. So I also had a concern about using a term that might read or imply an elevation of the alfar, in general, to deities or imply that I was replacing the Gods with the huldufolk, along the lines of people who use Vanatru to indicate that they primarily worship the Vanic Gods. Although the Hidden Folk are my main focus, my house spirits and landvaettir are not my Gods and I was genuinely concerned about using a term that might accidentally convey this meaning. The actual systems itself is more nuanced than most simple terms easily convey. There are alfar who are Gods, and there are alfar who who are not-Gods, and I wasn't sure if alfatru as a term would work with this understanding or not.

 Reading more about the Icelandic perspective on it, just like gaining a better understanding of the Irish, has I think allowed me to understand what the real meaning of álfatrú is in context. Álfatru simply means 'belief or faith in elves'. Similarly álfatrúar means believer in elves, and expanding that out álfatrúarfólk means people who believe in elves or more literally 'elves religious people'. Just like many people of all religious beliefs follow the Fairy Faith, many people are Álfatrúarfólk while following different religions. And just like 'Fairy Faith' means belief that the fairy folk exist and have power, so it seems does álfatrú and it includes those layers and nuances of meaning, that inclusion of degrees of power and influences from Gods to minor spirits that I was looking for and already believed in. It is not a belief in and of itself that excludes other things but rather something that describes a specific facet or focus of belief and attendant folk practices. Of all the terms beyond 'Fairy Faith' this is the most accurate to what I believe and do, although in my case it is my main focus. Of course there are Gods I acknowledge as well, but it is the Hidden Folk, the Good People, who are my main focus.

Outdoor vé, offering space to the gods and spirits

So, basically, this isn't something that anyone needs to create or invent as a 'thing'. It's not a cleverly made up word, or newly invented term. It's already a thing and its a term in use in the living culture. It means what Ásatrú means, more or less, but focused on the alfar although it so far lacks any layered overtones of added meaning creating by politics and religious denominations. It is simply a word in a different language for the belief in the Hidden Folk and like Fairy Faith it says as little or as much as we choose to see in it.

 I've been flirting with the idea of alfatru as a better label for my spirituality than Heathen and certainly than Asatru for a while (at least five years or so) but I was always held back by my own misunderstanding of the term. Realizing what it actually meant - and that it was a real word and not some Americanized thing created out of the same misunderstandings I had been worried about, was a bit of an epiphany for me. Kind of like realizing that the jacket I'd been wearing that pulled across the shoulders and whose sleeves were a bit too short actually wasn't my only option because there was a jacket which fit just right. Heathen is still a good general term of course, but it lacks the specific; Asatru is one I stopped using years ago precisely because the Aesir are not my main focus and it felt disingenuous to call myself that when most of my beliefs and practices center on the landvaettir and huldufolk (by various names and cultural understandings).  Yes it's an Icelandic term, and my actual beliefs are a mix of Irish, German, Icelandic, general Celtic, and American but for all that Álfatrú is still the single best word to describe my spirituality. Every other label I use relates to what I do, to a role I serve - Bantuaithech, Druid, Priestess of Macha, Fulltrui to Odin, Seidhrkona, Gythia - even Irish Reconstructionist Polytheist tells you what method I use to approach my religion as much as it tells you what I believe. So until I find a better word in Irish or English, Álfatrú seems to be the most fitting to describe my spirituality.

*I'm still far from fluent by the way

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Racism is Not Part of CR - Or My Heathenry

So its late summer and once again there's a flare up in the Heathen social media sphere relating to racism. Sadly this is nothing new. In fact three years ago, also in August, I wrote a previous blog partially about my opinion of racism. This is not a new issue.

This particular iteration came up when the Asatru Folk Assembly, a large US Heathen organization, made a public statement which has widely been interpreted as being both racist and homophobic/transphobic. When questioned about it they clarified that yes, in fact, they consider Asatru to be for straight 'European' people. I found myself yesterday morning being asked by several different people what my opinion was about the situation, as someone who identifies as Heathen and is also both mixed race and lgbtq. My opinion from that perspective is that its crap.

I am part of a Heathen kindred which includes people of non-European ancestry and I would far, far rather stand in solidarity and worship with my Kindred sister, who is one of the best, most honorable people I know - and a devoted Thor's woman - than I would ever want to claim any kinship to some stranger who shares nothing with me but an illusory relation based on coincidental melanin similarity. My Kindred sister is part of my innagard, and her ancestry or ethnicity is a complete non-issue. And I am lucky to have her in my life and in my Kindred. Those nidthings who judge her as less or say she has no place in her religion do nothing but show their own lack of value in doing so. My own ancestry, such as it is which includes both European and Native American, doesn't make me a better or worse Heathen, and the idea that I should be a 'feminine woman' or a 'masculine man' to properly honor the Gods shows a lack of knowledge of historic Heathenry in my opinion and a lack of understanding of gender and sexuality in general.

So there was that to start, but beyond that the other half of my spirituality got dragged into this growing debacle when someone publicly commented that Celtic Reconstruction shared the same values - racist, homophobic, transphobic values - that had started the drama to begin with. Then I was seeing people in multiple places talking about how racist CR is, and that causes me pain. Not because there aren't any racists in CR, lets be honest racists are a plague upon all religions and spiritualities, but because CR in general has always been something that was vocally anti-racist and many people who have been active in the community for years, like myself, have worked hard to emphasize that CR (and in my case Irish Recon) is not only anti-racist but also widely inclusive.

I want to be crystal clear here - CR does not support any stance, statement, or organization that is racist.

I can say this with confidence not because I myself am some sort of spokesperson for CR, but because we have a book called the CR FAQs which is as close to an accepted guidebook of CR as exists and it says in plain black and white text that CR rejects racism.
to quote: "CR is firmly anti-racist. This has been unanimously agreed upon by representatives of the established CR sub-traditions, CR elders and other long-term members of the community, including the founders of the tradition.... No matter where your ancestors were from, or what your ethnic background, you are welcome to practice CR with us.

Is that clear enough?
Anyone - anyone - who says different is wrong. Period. 

And as far as I am personally concerned the Irish Reconstructionism I practice, based on my research into the history and mythology of the pagan culture, is profoundly anti-racist, and anti-homophobic. You are welcome to honor the Gods with me no matter what your ethnic background, no matter who your ancestors were, and no matter what your sexual orientation or gender identity is. 

Beannachtai na tri Morrignae duit.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Gods and Fairies - Excerpt from Fairycraft

Gods and Fairies - Excerpt from Fairycraft

In Christian myth it is said that the fairies exist as beings that are between the nature of angels and demons; many people dismiss this as later propaganda but I believe it represents a reflection of genuine older belief. In pagan times the fairies were seen as being of the same nature as the Gods, but on a lower level, existing somewhere between the Gods and humans. Within modern Fairy Faiths the fairies - as well as the old Gods - have been greatly diminished and reduced to beings that are often seen as less than human, but this is not true to the older view.
  In Grimm's Teutonic Mythology we are told: "On the nature of Elves I resort for advice to the ON. [old Norse] authorities, before all others…..the Elder Edda several times couples œsir and âlfar together, as though they were a compendium of all higher beings, and that the AS. [Anglo-Saxon] ês and ylfe stand together in exactly the same way. This apparently concedes more of a divinity to elves than to men." (Grimm, 1882). From this we can understand that in both Norse and Germanic as well as Anglo-Saxon belief the Alfar, who were roughly equivalent to the Irish Sí, were seen as a semi-divine race of beings that were often placed alongside the Gods.
   Robert Kirk's book Secret Commonwealth, based on his 17th century experiences with fairies, says: "These Siths, or fairies... are said to be of a middle Nature betwixt Man and Angel, as were Dæmons[i] thought to be of old." (Kirk, 2007). This also shows the idea of the fairies as beings that exist above humans but below Gods in the universal hierarchy.
    Evans Wentz, writing 200 years later says: "In the Book of Leinster the poem of Eochaid records that the Tuatha De Danann, the conquerors of the Fir-Bolgs, were hosts of siabra; and siabra is an Old Irish word meaning fairies, sprites, or ghosts." (Evans Wentz, 1911) This connects the Irish Tuatha de Danann, often seen as the old pagan Gods, with the fairies. Wentz goes on to say: "In the two chief Irish MSS., [manuscripts] the Book of the Dun Cow and the Book of Leinster, the Tuatha De Danann are described as 'gods and not-gods'; and Sir John Rhys considers this an ancient formula comparable with the Sanskrit deva and adeva, but not with 'poets (dée) and husbandmen (an dée)' as the author of Cóir Anmann learnedly guessed." (Evans Wentz, 1911). Some modern authors do indeed see the reference to "Gods and not-Gods" as referring to the division between the people of skill and the common laborers, however I agree with Rhys that it more likely refers to the separation of the Gods and the fairies, in the same way that we see the Aesir and Alfar referred to in the Norse/Germanic material. There are many additional references in Irish myth to the sí, particularly the riders of the sí, acting with or at the request or direction of the Gods. It can be difficult to discern if these references are meant to indicate that the riders of the sí are the Tuatha Dé Danann or if they represent a separate force under the command of the Tuatha Dé, but I tend to favor seeing them as the "not-gods" who are allied with the Gods. If this is accepted along with the references to the fairies existing between men and Gods, then it becomes clear that the fairies exist as beings part of but separate from the Gods, and would likely have arrived in Ireland before the Gods and have been in the mounds before the Gods were driven into them.
  Are the fairies the "not-Gods" of Irish myth? It is impossible to know with certainty, but it is a possibility, and one I embrace. Whether they are or not, it can be said that they have long been viewed as powerful beings that are less than Gods but more than humans and should be given our respect. Using the framework of the old Fairy Faith provides an excellent way to do this.
Within the loose category of the term ‘fairy’ there are a huge array of different beings and it is far beyond the scope of this book to discuss them all, however it’s important for us to look at several specific types...
       It’s also always best to keep in mind that although we are seeking these beings out as allies and even friends, they must be treated with respect and caution. As Terry Pratchett said:
Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvelous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.

[i] Daemon - "(in ancient Greek belief) A divinity or supernatural being of a nature between gods and humans."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Polytheism

I've been a polytheist for a long time now, and an animist, arguably, for longer.

Polytheism is one of those deceptively easy-but-complicated things that a person says that tells you everything and nothing all at once.

I'm a polytheist - but what does that mean? Well obviously that I believe in and honor more than one deity. That would be the easy part. But the nuts and bolts of it is where the complicated comes in, because there is no one way to be a polytheist - honestly I don't think there's any hundred ways to do it beyond that basic believing. And even that gets a lot stickier than we like to think about. I say I believe in many Gods and someone else says they believe in many Gods, but are we even meaning the same thing, is our understanding of those Gods even remotely similar? How do we act on that belief? How does it shape our lives?

To me, the Gods are real, independent, individual Beings - as are the various spirits and other Powers. I see them as having various degrees of influence over the world and my life, not omnipotent but in some cases very close to it. Maybe it seems strange to frame it this way but a key part of my polytheism is an understanding that there are the Gods, the deithe, and the non-Gods, the an-deithe. The world is not simply a matter of humans and deities (defined as some sort of ultimate supernatural power) but rather is full of Powers, some of whom are easily defined as 'Gods', and some that are clearly minor spirits, but many that are in-between, that are not easily defined as either a God-exactly or as a lesser-spirit. Instead of worrying over whether something is a God I developed a system of respect and interaction that includes the spectrum of spirits. My polytheism, you see, is as much about the full range of spirits as it is about the highest Gods. It is about reciprocity, and building relationships. Its about connections. I know my Gods, and I feel that they know me - I give to them and they bless me, I create space for them and they come into it, I speak to them and they reply in their different ways.

Framed picture of landscape scene Germany circa 1945, taken by my great-uncle; Morrigan statue from Dryad Design; fox bone necklace and painted ram skull from the Forge of Awesomeness (Etsy)

I honor Gods from known pantheons, Macha, Nuada, the Morrigan, Badb, Flidais, Brighid, as well as Wodan and Frau Holle. I connect to them through mythology, folklore, language. I study the cultures they belong to, the pagan period they lived in as well as the way they survive today in other forms, hidden in fairytales and tradition. I seek to understand their connections to places and events, their original mythology and power. It matters a lot to me to feel like I have some understanding, even a small one, of the way these Gods were viewed and understood historically. But I also seek them in dreams and visions. I connect to them in the words of modern poets and authors, and I write their story in ink on my own skin.

I honor the liminal Gods, the Gods of Fairy, as well. Are they Gods by the dictionary definition? I have no idea. Do they act as Gods in my life? Yes, in my personal experience they do, and that quite frankly is good enough for me. These Beings are included in my polytheism because as far as I'm concerned they are Gods. Although I do pretty extensively study fairylore the Fairy Gods as such have no existing mythology; I connect to them entirely through experience and personal revelations. They want what other Gods want - acknowledgement, offerings, a place, respect.

My polytheism is a liminal thing, existing on the boundary between hard facts and mysticism, between known named Gods and unknown unnamed Gods. It is a daily round of devotions and offerings as much as it is spontaneous prayer and organic connection. It is rooted in history and study but it is also drinking from the well of inspiration and innovation. It is both new and old. My polytheism, along with my animism, is a foundational belief in my life, something that is key to shaping how I look at the world and how I choose to live my life. My belief in the Gods and my belief in what they want from me - to be an honorable person, to serve others in certain ways, to write about them, to live a life that reflects values I think they respect, and so on - are major factors in making my life what it is.

In daily practice my polytheism is mostly solitary - indeed I would argue and have in the past that those who seek to walk a witchcraft path that deals with or connects to Fairy will find themselves walking a solitary road even if they try to practice with others because our interactions with those Powers can only ever be individual and personal. In one many ways we all walk solitary paths because our spirituality is something that lives within us. It is experiential and those experience, even when shared, are still uniquely personal, and that's okay.

Community temple at the Morrigan's Call Retreat circa 2015

 It is also a polytheism that seeks to build bridges, to connect to others who believe in more than one God. I mentioned at the beginning that my belief may not be exactly like other peoples, and in all honesty I don't think that matters.  One of the ways that I serve Macha, and the Morrigan more generally, is by acting as her clergy at a yearly retreat (the Morrigan's Call Retreat) which sees attendees from across every possible demographic of paganism and polytheism - and She has made it very clear to me that I am to serve all of them in Her rituals. I do not get to pick and choose when Her people come to me in ritual who is worthy and who isn't, who is enough like me in belief and who isn't. If they consider themselves Hers then I act as priest/ess for them to the best of my ability when they enter that space. That was a humbling message to receive and one that taught me that while we humans may by nature try to divide and categorize and label, the Gods have a different view. My job in that context is to serve Her and build Her community, not judge or divide. And so I try to do as She, as They, want. And I try to remember that ultimately we are all doing our best to seek the same things as best we can with the tools and understanding we have.

And that is my polytheism.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Iron as a Protection Against Fairies

Iron horse shoe above a door

Many of the old folktales - as well as the new modern day experiences - show us reasons why people feared and respected the Good People. Living side by side with the Otherworld necessitated not only the wisdom to know how to properly interact if you happened upon Themselves, but also created a wide array of methods to defend against those with malicious intentions and those whose idea of mischief was best avoided. One of the main ones recommended in folklore  as well as today is iron.
There are several ways to use iron to protect yourself and your home from fairies, if it's needed. Lady Wilde suggested protecting infants from being taken as changelings by sewing a bit of iron into the hem of the child's clothes (Wilde, 1888). Another commonly recommended protection for children and babies was to hang a pair of scissors, opened into the shape of a cross, above the cradle (Briggs, 1976). A horseshoe can be hung up over the door way, points up, which not only acts to ward off fairies but is also said to draw good luck. An iron knife or cross is also an excellent protection, either carried or hung up above the door or bed (Briggs, 1976). In Welsh belief a knife, particularly of iron, was so effective a protection that should friendly fairies visit a home all knives were hidden from sight lest they be offended and if a traveling person was attacked by the Fey he had only to pull his blade for them to disappear (Sikes, 1880). Another method found in Germanic and Norse traditions is to hammer an iron nail into a post near the doorway or alternately part of the door frame. Additionally it is said to be as effective to draw a circle using an iron nail or knife around what you want to protect (Gundarsson, 2007).

A more modern, but still useful method, is the use of iron water. Fill a small spray bottle with water and add iron filings, iron dust, or a piece of iron, and allow to sit for a few days. The water can be sprayed into a room or around the home as needed.
As always keep in mind that the use of iron will not effect all fairies, as some - including mine fairies and house fairies - are not bothered by it. For those that are sensitive to it, though, it is a superlative protection. 

Antique iron keys

Those who seek to connect with or encourage the presence of the Other Crowd or spirits must be very cautious about using this metal, as it will drive away those sensitive to it. One should never, for example, cut a plant to be harvested for magical purposes with an iron knife as this will drive away the plant's spirit. We can see this belief illustrated in Pliny the Elder's description of the Gaulish Druids harvesting of Selago (Bostock, 1855). 

True forged iron is hard to come by these days and although it is the best protection steel will also work in a pinch. Steel, for those who may not have known this, is still about 98% iron with only 2% or less of alloy metals added so it can still work as iron would to protect against fairies. Generally the type of item isn't as important as the material in this case so anything made of iron that you can procure can be used for protective purposes. Its also best to remember that fairy is a general term, like animal, that applies to a wide array of beings. Iron is recommended as a superlative protection against faeries, but there will always be those who are not bothered by it. If we were to say that about 80% of fairies can't bear the touch of iron then the other 20% have no problem with it, and those would include mine faeries, forge spirits, and some house spirits; basically any fairy that would naturally exist or dwell near iron or iron ore. Also any of the aos sidhe connected to smithing don't seem to be bothered by iron.

To summarize; ultimately the amount doesn't seem to matter as long as the content is iron. The shape is also not important although it is more often recommended in a form that is sharp - a knife or nail - or combined with a holy symbol like a cross. The placement is best either on the person or very close by, especially near where they are sleeping. When placed above or next to an entrance it is believed that the presence of iron will keep out any Otherworldly beings. Although in today's world iron may be more difficult to find steel is fairly easily obtained and will work as well.

Gundarsson, K (2007). Elves, Wights, and Trolls

Wilde, E., (1888) Irish Cures, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Bostock, J., (1855) Pliny the Elder the Natural History
Sikes, W., (1880) British Goblins: Welsh folklore, Fairy mythology, Legends, and Traditions

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Morgan's Basic Guide to Dealing with Non-Human Spirits

There are many things about modern spirituality that perplex me but one that I may have mentioned before is the immediate trust that people give to spirits. I know I've mentioned it in my books and in classes so I decided it was about time to devote a blog post to the subject. The most savvy, smart people seem to throw all their critical thinking skills out the window when dealing with non-corporeal beings of any kind and often problems ensue. So let's look at some basics in dealing with spirits.

Morgan's Basic Guide to Dealing with Non-Human Spirits

  1. Spirits Lie - I'm putting this one first because it seems to be the single biggest sticking point with people. Spirits lie. Even the Fair Folk, who in my experience don't tell verbal lies will still deceive you into believing that day is night by speaking only the truth in ways that lead you to assume all the wrong things. And spirits who aren't the Gentry can and do flat out lie. There is no reason to immediately assume a spirit is telling you the truth, any more than you would assume a strange human you just bumped into was being totally honest with you. And the problem here isn't just that they can lie, its that they will lie if it suits their purposes and you can really screw yourself over if you believe them. Let me tell you a story that happened about 15 years ago when my mother-in-law and several of her friends decided to play around with a ouija board. They believed they had contacted the spirit of a child from the colonial period, and this spirit immediately began giving them a tragic backstory about being orphaned while it was alive, and dying terribly and wandering the spirit world looking for its mother for the last 300+ years. And asked them to invite it in to give it a place to stay because it was sad and lonely and they seemed so nice...this was already a field of red flags to me when I was being told about it later but of course they believed every word and invited it in. And of course the next day when one person was alone in the house this had occured in the spirit began harassing her, telling her to kill herself, and trying to convince her that the other women were out to get her. And since they'd invited it in they found they couldn't get rid of it (which is where I came into the picture). And if you were wondering no it wasn't a human ghost, it was a negative entity that fed on human pain and misery; everything it had said to them was lies designed to worm its way in so it could influence them and feed on their suffering. The moral of the story - don't trust everything a spirit tells you without trying to verify what you've been told. 
  2. Nothing is Free - even free things aren't free. Most spirits work on some kind of barter system, although what they consider a trade may not be what we expect - for example plenty will help us for an exchange of energy that we don't even notice, or for the entertainment value. Others may ask for actual payment in some form, be it a physical offering later, an action done, a task completed, or similar. Some will also help us out on the theory that we then owe them something, a debt that can be called in later. (yes I do deal mostly with the Good Neighbors so I may be jaded) Even the ones who don't work on such an obvious system however, like our ancestors or spirit guides or mentors of different varieties do assume a certain system of obligation or reciprocity is in effect - you can't expect your ancestors to show up and help you out if you consistently ignore them or actively refuse to acknowledge them. Now some people may say that angels and similar spirits operate on a different system, but I'd argue that working with them or calling on them still requires a level of engagement and belief which is, in itself, a kind of payment. Don't underestimate the value of attention as a method of payment and type of coin to spirits - there are theories after all that some types of spirits who require human attention and energy and are lost to human consciousness literally cease to exist, which may be as close to death as previously immortal beings can get (depending again on what kind of spirits we're talking about - some can actually die and be reborn in a new form, others do not seem to die in a sense we understand). As part of this, never assume something - including help or guidance - is free. Ask what the cost is and remember that negotiation is always an option. If you don't ask and just blindly agree then you are accepting whatever terms the spirit wanted, and that's usually not a good idea. 
  3. Just Because It's a Spirit Doesn't Mean It Has Your Best Interests in Mind - Seriously on this one. I know some people believe that anything without a physical body must be some kind of enlightened being or guide that is here to help us evolve or something, but that is just not true in my experience (see story in #1). I'm going to be blunt here and I'm sorry if this offends anyone who believes differently, but humans are just not the center of the spiritual universe around which all other manifest creation circles, eagerly looking for a chance to help us be the best we can be. Just like life with other people and animals, some are nice and helpful because they want to be, some will help if motivated to, some are just jerks, and some will actively try to harm us. Much like assuming spirits won't or can't lie, assuming that spirits are only ever trying to help us can cause real problems for us. Its also important to keep in mind that sometimes they are telling you the truth, and sometimes they are not trying to hurt you - they may even really be trying to help - but that doesn't mean that you won't get hurt. Spirits don't always understand what a person's physical limits are, or emotional limits, and their ideas of what's best for us are not always in line with what is actually healthy for us. So you have to keep your own limits and safety in mind all the time and set boundaries that keep you safe. 
  4. Manners Aren't Just for Visiting your Grandmother - I am often horrified by the books I see suggesting we treat all spirits rudely, with blunt orders and an assumption that they must obey us. I highly recommend not doing that around the Fair Folk if you like living and having your health. Unless you are working in a ceremonial magic tradition (or similar) that explicitly requires you to summon spirits with coercion, bind them, and force them to do your bidding using commanding language and you understand which spirits that's appropriate with, there is no reason in my opinion to go into spiritual interactions acting like you're reading from the Key of Solomon. There are certain times and reasons to command spirits, even Otherworldly ones, but if you are reading this and you don't already know what those times and reasons are then for the love of all that's holy please don't try randomly getting an attitude with the Gentry; even most miscellaneous non-Fey spirits aren't going to take kindly to it. Putting aside the fact that common courtesy is free and easy, looking at a range of any folk stories demonstrates pretty clearly that having good basic manners gets you much, much further with most spirits than acting like a spoiled, entitled child. For but one example you might read the story of Lusmore. I will note that there is a slight exception in not saying thank you, but there are plenty of other ways to express gratitude, and also that prohibition isn't universal. When in doubt silence is usually a safe way to go, but general polite speech is always a good choice when you do speak. Unless and until you are in a situation where things have already gone sideways and you need to stand up for yourself, that is, and then, as they say, take no crap and enforce your boundaries. 
  5. Always Use Protection and Have Good (Spiritual) Hygiene - not just good advice in certain real life situations, its also good advice when dealing with spirits. You don't need to drape yourself in talismans but its a good idea if you are into a spirituality where you will be actively engaging in spirit work - that is intentionally interacting with spirits - to make sure are you cleansing yourself and your space, warding it, and also have some kind of protections. Actively dealing with spirits, whether its playing around with ouija boards, making offerings to house or local spirits, or trying to connect to Otherworldly spirits will attract both things you want and things you don't want. Kind of like putting out a dish to feed local stray cats is going to get you both cats and skunks, raccoons, and possums. You can and should try to be selective in your advertising but no matter how careful and clear you are in what you are willing to allow in and deal with you're still going to occasionally get other things showing up. Maybe they're curious. Maybe they're bored. Maybe you just look tasty and they're hungry. So common sense: cleanse out the space regularly of stagnant energy (just like you'd physically clean it), ward it to keep out what you don't want (just like you'd close your doors and windows to keep out animals and weird people from your house), and have protections (just like you'd lock your doors). For example on the Fire Festivals it was a common tradition in Ireland and Scotland to burn juniper or a similar cleansing herb in the house and barn. This way at least every three months the space was being blessed and cleansed; you can of course burn a blessing herb more often and you can also use other methods like ringing bells to cleanse a space. Space can be warded by walking the boundary with fire or sprinkling blessed water or salt along the border. An individual might bathe in salt water. Hag stones might be worn or hung up for protection, as can iron (although don't use this if you are actively trying to connect to the Fair Folk), and twigs of rowan. Many religious symbols are also worn for protection. 
  6. If it Seems too Good to Be True, Be Cautious - to quote Tolkien entirely out of context, "all that glitters isn't gold". Plenty of things look too good to be true precisely because they are, and the more beautiful and tempting a spirit seems the more careful you should be. If it reminds you strongly of someone you have strong feelings for, or of yourself, or in any way hits on emotional triggers for you those should all be big red flags for you to stop and take stock before proceeding. The spirit world is full of tempting things that are, in effect, baited traps. Remember points #1 and #3 and understand that many spirits can change their appearance and that they can and will use this ability to manipulate you. Its also worth keeping in mind that just because something doesn't look attractive is not a reason to assume that it is bad or dangerous. Spirits are not a matter of the inside matching the outside, and I honestly don't know why people assume they will be. Also bear in mind that human beauty standards are not actually a universal measure, so what we happen to find attractive might mean nothing at all to certain spirits (I'm fairly sure Brownies for example don't see their lack of noses as a blemish). Just because you think its ugly doesn't mean it's bad or evil - and just because it's gorgeous doesn't make it good. Most fairies in folklore that seduce and harm mortals show up in darn nice packaging to do so. If something is going out of its way to appear, well, appealing to you then at the least you need to ask yourself why. It might be harmless, a way to establish a connection with you, or it might be hiding a trap. This is not the sort of thing you want to figure out after you've already engaged with the spirit. 
  7. Always, Always, ALWAYS, Trust your Own Instincts - again this one should seem obvious but so often I see people not listening to their own gut, to their grief. By all means don't throw common sense out the window and look without leaping - always think things through before acting because we can be influenced without realizing it. some spirits specialize in getting us to do just that, so learning to act slowly and deliberately is a good thing. But generally speaking if something feels bad or makes you uneasy, don't do it or deal with it. At the very least it means its not something you're ready for and at worst its something that is dangerous to you. If your gut is saying bad idea, your gut probably knows something you don't. Don't let your head talk you into doing something stupid, and it doesn't matter if all the cool kids are doing it, or if you've done it before, or if someone told you that you have to do it to unlock the next level of spiritual awesomeness or win a gold star. If it feels wrong trust that it is wrong and try to figure out why. Its not like there's some video game time limit where you have to Do The Thing right now or start over at level 1 again. Take your time and be sure its safe before you do it, agree to it, or go into it. This applies triple when oaths or promises are involved. Because if you do something wrong with a spirit the consequences can be profound and very, very real in the 'real' world. And some mistakes can't be fixed. 
To summarize - treat spirits the same way you would treat strange humans (or animals), with the same politeness and healthy mistrust, apply Wheaton's Law to everything, always read the fine print before signing the contract, and don't do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Do all that and you have a much better chance of successfully dealing with spirits.
"May the odds be ever in your favor"

Monday, August 1, 2016

Honoring the Beginning of the Harvest

   Today is Bron Trogain, better known by most pagans as Lughnasadh (Lunasa) or Lammas. Its a multifacted holiday for me, with Irish aspects as well as Fairy aspects. But I like the layers and complexity and I like that it isn't something simple, something easy to sum up in a quick ritual and move on from.

I always know when we are approaching this holiday, simply by watching the world around me. No matter how the year has gone, whether the summer has been hot or mild, whether we have had lots of rain or only a little, it is always right around now that the first leaves start to change color and fall. I watch as the trees go from rich summer-green to the beginnings of yellowing, watch as the the first bare branches start to appear and a handful of withered leaves decorate the drying grass. It's a subtle thing, nowhere near the drama and panoply that will be on display by September, but it is there nonetheless. Even as we enter the hottest portion of the summer the autumn is making its presence known and I see it.

Of course this holiday is very much traditionally about two things; the harvest and the community. These things are strongly present in my area today, sometimes in the same form as they always have been - the harvest is always about gathering and eating the bounty of the earth after all - and sometimes in newer forms that echo the old, as we see in today's harvest fairs. In my area I might add not only harvest fairs but also farmer's markets, a decidedly modern trend that nicely honors the spirit of the season. We gather both our own harvest if we've grown any, or in the case of my family we collect the wild harvest that has grown untended in our yard, as well as benefiting from the wider local harvest, the fresh produce and locally grown foods that are now available and abundant. We go out and enjoy a variety of local country fairs, which feature contests and competitions as well as games and amusements. The local fairs still have a very agricultural focus, with many different farm animals being shown and competing, but also have the air of a carnival with rides and games of skill. Like the old Lughnasadh celebration these fairs are not a one day thing but run for several days and the variety of them from town to town stretch across weeks - usually with a few in early August and the last in late September or early October.

I've written several times before about the way my family celebrates, so I won't get too much into that again here. Basically we harvest berries from our yard and make an offering of some of them to the Gods, spirits, and ancestors. The rest we eat. We have our own at home athletic games, and we decorate our outdoor altar as best we can with flowers, if we can find any, or otherwise with greenery. We hold a small ritual in honor of Macha, and recently we also started honoring Nuada with her after I had a dream about the two being honored together on Bron Trogain. This has been working really well for us and has a lovely feel to it.

Prayer that I heard in a dream
Another aspect of this holiday for me is honoring the Gods of Fairy Witchcraft as we move into the second part of the light half of the year. Now we are basically at the height of the rule of the Gods of summer, the Lady of the Greenwood and Lord of the Wildwood. Life is flourishing and we are at a point when we - and all animals - have the greatest abundance of food available. The young born this season in the wild are maturing and the trees and plants are producing their own fruits and seeds in order to carry on their respective species. It is a time of fertility and of celebrating the joy of being alive even as we harvest what we need to ensure continued survival. As hot and dry as the world may seem at this time* it is teeming with life and potential - and also with the need to look forward to the coming darkness that is only a short three months away. This year we celebrate Bron Trogain and honor the Gods of the Light today and tomorrow we honor the Gods of the winter on the Dark moon, the time each month to remember them. This is uniquely good timing I think as it reminds us in the midst of Summer's heat and abundance that Winter's cold and scarcity is always with us as well (just as the reverse is also true).

Fairy Witchcraft altar to the Summer Gods

The harvest has begun and we are plunging into the depths of summer, the hot days which will ripen the grains and grasses and keep our harvest on its ancient schedule. We move on from here to the equinox, then to the final harvest where we will say goodbye to summer at last and welcome winter. As always I watch the changes in the world around me, my fingers stained red with berry juice, and think of my own harvests, of fruit and of less tangible things. I pray to the Gods, to Macha and Nuada, for their blessings on me and my household. I pour out offerings and leave flowers at my Fairy thorn and ask that there always be friendship between myself and the Other Crowd.

And a dark brown moth flutters past, then back, then alights on my shoulder for several moments, resting in the shade where I stand as I hold perfectly still, before resuming its flight through the hazy air.

*in my area, of course. Your situation may vary greatly so adjust for your own circumstances, and I do encourage you to give thought to how this does apply to you where you live. Those in the southern hemisphere will be celebrating Imbolc now and not see the point of this post for another six months, but perhaps reading this then may be more useful.