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Friday, December 22, 2017

Movie Review: Bright

This is a first for me, a movie review, but I really want to do this one for two reasons: I hardly ever find decent urban fantasy as a movie and the mainstream critics have eviscerated this one which I think deserves a response. As an author of urban fantasy this genre is one that is obviously very close to my heart and I have been excited since I first saw ads for Bright because it looked like something beyond the usual, tepid, tv fair that I've seen so far. I'm not going to name names but let's just say that I haven't ever found any small screen material in the genre that held my attention. Suffice to say Bright did, and I think it deserves a review from someone who loves the genre but isn't a professional movie reviewer.
This may contain mild spoilers, so you've been warned. That said, here's my review of the Netflix movie Bright.



Bright starts out slow, with the initial half hour or so letting the audience get to know the two main characters and acclimate to their world. The particular setting is Los Angeles in an alternate reality where magic is real and Otherworldly beings not only live side by side with humanity but form a fully integrated part of society. There is no 'telling' in this movie, no voice over exposition to explain to the audience why the world is the way it is. We are simply thrown into it. The film uses the opening sequence brilliantly, I think, to explain some basics of the world using background shots and street graffiti. I applaud this choice, as I think it would have been a mistake to over explain the world or have too much set up. We are given just enough to grasp the concepts and follow along as the movie continues and the world further establishes itself. The film also does something that I am personally a huge fan of and do in my own writing which is to shift human racial issues to interspecies differences, although I will add that its clear from subtext in the movie that human racial issues haven't disappeared either. The orcs are lower-class species, humans are somewhere in the middle, elves are at the top, fairies are flying rats, and there are hints of other species including centaurs, dragons, and others* that make the world complex. Its clear although not explained in depth that within both the orcish and elvish culture there is actual culture and also conflict. The world of Bright then is multilayered and contextual.

The two protagonists are well done and well played by Will Smith, as veteran cop Darryl Ward, and Joel Edgerton, as rookie orc cop Nick Jakoby. Jakoby is a first in this world, an orc who became a police officer and there is an integral tension to his position surrounded by people prejudiced against his species. Jakoby himself with his boundless optimism and enthusiasm is the perfect foil to Ward's character, who is counting down to being able to retire and start collecting his pension. There are layers to the relationship between the two that involve perceived betrayal, actual betrayal, and hurt on several levels and I thought that was well built for this kind of movie. I've seen it described in multiple places as a 'buddy cop film' but for me it wasn't that at all, but an exploration of what happens when two 'good' people are thrown together and forced to trust each other despite themselves. I liked that Jakoby's character never stopped reaching out to Ward, and that Ward never relented to the end, and I think from my own perspective there were aspects of Jakoby's behavior that should have been viewed as coming from orc culture, including his loyalty to his partner despite it all and his desire to be a hero.

Leilah is what every movie antagonist should be: merciless, relentless, and utterly dedicated to her own cause. The film doesn't waste much time fleshing out her character, but I felt like that worked in this case; it added a level of dread to have the antagonist be, in many ways, a blank slate. The protagonists don't know anything about her except that she wants what they have and is willing to kill anyone who gets her in her way to get it. There is never any sense that she can be negotiated with or avoided - she is like a force of nature. It was refreshing to see an antagonist treated this way. She is a beautiful monster and the movie lets her be exactly that, without trying to soften her or justify her deadliness.

The Magic Task Force was a nice concept within the world, and I liked the implications that there were things behind the scenes than even the audience wasn't aware of. In a situation where you have a few good people and a lot of obviously bad people, it was interesting to have the Magical Task Force as an ambivalent unknown factor. I also appreciated the implication that there were elves in law enforcement in some way as that added depth to the world.

There was just enough foreshadowing early, particularly with the sword wielding Shield of Light member to make it clear there was more going on than just an orc cop getting bullied or Ward being stuck with a partner he didn't want. I liked that there were human and orc gangs, and there were good and corrupt cops, and I also thought the orc church was awesome. Much of the world building here, as I mentioned, was subtle and simply presented as part of the reality of the movie which allowed the viewer to be immersed in the world without being overwhelmed with explanations. There was just enough backstory and exposition in dialogue, without making the story drag.

I enjoyed the humor of the movie, which had some great one-liners as well as some good dialogue overall. There are points, especially in the beginning, that the pacing is a bit off and the tone wobbles - for example Ward's daughter seems to really like Jakoby when he shows up at their house, yet in the next scene she's angry at her father and saying that her mother says Jakoby is going to get Ward killed and she wishes her father wasn't a cop. That seemed off balance and strange. I'll also admit I didn't like Ward's wife's character at all, but that may be because she wasn't established enough and came off as flat.

There were a few plot holes that I do wish the writers had taken care of. Why did the wand make Tikka sick but not the other untrained Bright who used it? Why didn't Tikka speak English to them in life-or-death situations when yelling at them in Elvish was obviously a wasted effort? But overall I think that it was a fairly cohesive story and that it was effective at tying up its own loose ends. There was nothing in the story itself that I found badly done and the details I mention are fairly small.

I think there's a lot to like in this movie, and I enjoyed that it was solidly an urban fantasy but wasn't afraid to toss out at least a few of the popular tropes. The elves are powerful, but they are also elitists and clearly dangerous. The orcs are physically strong and clearly socially limited to menial tasks for the most part, but they aren't stupid or evil. There's no clear line between good and bad here, just people trying to survive. The special effects were good but not excessive. As urban fantasy movies go this may be the best one I've seen.
I'd give it 4.5 stars out of 5.


*there's a point in one scene where a human looking character blinks a nictitating membrane sideways across her eyes, indicating she isn't actually human, but I have no idea what she is supposed to be. Which I liked.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Why Do Elves Have Pointed Ears?

It's generally assumed in Western culture today that elves, and more widely many types of fairies, have pointed ears and the image has become so ingrained in popular culture as to be a trope. Yet why do we picture elves and fairies with pointed ears, when most descriptions from European folklore^ emphasize how human-like these beings appear?

Arthur Rackham illustration, public domain
When we look at descriptions of fairies, under different names, from folklore we generally find their human-like appearance being emphasized. In the 'Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer' Thomas initially mistakes the Fairy Queen for the Virgin Mary; in the 'Ballad of Tam Lin' Janet has to ask Tam Lin to clarify whether he is truly a fairy or was once mortal, indicating that there's no obvious physical indicators of his nature (Acland, 2017). As Andrew Lang says: "There seems little in the characteristics of these fairies of romance to distinguish them from human beings, except their supernatural knowledge and power." (Wimberly, 1965). Yeats, in the late 19th century relates this description of a Fairy woman given to him by a woman in Ulster: "She was like a woman about thirty, brown-haired and round in the face. She was like Miss Betty, your grandmother's sister, and Betty was like none of the rest, not like your grandmother, nor any of them. She was round and fresh in the face..." (Yeats, 1902). In all of these examples and others across folklore we see fairy people being described without pointed ears and notably with a very human-like appearance, usually the only indication of their Otherworldly nature comes through their actions, demeanor, an energy or feeling around them, or a perception people have of them as such.

So where then do we get the idea that elves and fairies have pointed ears? The answer is a bit convoluted and requires looking to the way that Christianity depicted demons, the way that Greeks described satyrs, and finally Victorian art.

The concept of elves and fairies with pointed ears in Western culture is likely rooted in Christian demonic imagery. This is because Christianity in seeking to explain the existence of elves and fairies fit them into the cosmology as a type of demon or fallen angel, which logically led to people imagining demonic characteristics onto fairies. As far back as 1320 we can find depictions of demons with pointed ears, usually along with other physical deformities, especially animalistic features (Bovey, 2006). These pointed ears and horrific appearances are in sharp contrast to the way that angelic and divine beings are depicted, emphasizing through physical depiction the hellish nature of these demonic beings. Whereas the saved souls and angels are emphatically human the demons are just as emphatically inhuman with their obvious animal features, including their ears. This is likely an intentional device to make the demons unappealing and frightening, in opposition to the relatable human-like angels. In folklore we also often see fairies described with animal features, including tails or webbed feet, as well as physical deformities like hollow backs; although fairies are just as often described as beautiful as they are grotesque. Because Christianity chose to depict demons in the way that it did and because they explained fairies in their cosmology as a type of demon or fallen angel, and because fairylore itself described fairies as having physical features that could fit the later Christian descriptions of demons there was a certain inevitability in the artistic depictions of the two types of beings blending together.

Although it may be understandable as to why Christianity chose to show demons as horrific in artwork, pointed ears inclusive, this does beg the question of why Christianity chose to depict its demons this way when in the Bible they are described as fallen angels, and angels are certainly not horrifically animal-like in appearance. Although some angels can look disturbing based on how they are described in the Bible - cherubim for example have four wings that are covered in eyes - most are simply referred to as 'men' without any further detail, implying that while they were not human they also weren't exceptionally strange looking (KJV, 2017). In fact in stories where they show up some people may recognize them for what they are but others often do not, which we see in the story of Lot and his angelic visitors in Genesis 19; this at least implies that they can pass as human. The Bible also makes it clear that Satan and his servants - read demons - masquerade as angels and servants of light which would seem to contradict the idea of demons having a grotesque appearance (KJV, 2017).

Looking further back though we see that there were some beings in Greek and Roman mythology that did have animalistic features and potentially pointed ears, including beings like satyrs. Satyrs were described with ears that could be either donkey like or goat like in shape, and in artwork this is easily perceived as pointed (Atsma, 2017). In the King James version of the Bible there are references to satyrs*, which may be a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for a type of spirit (Jackson, 2017). Even though a mistranslation is likely in that case it speaks to a cultural perception that related satyrs to demons. The word in question that is being given as satyr is sa'im which may be a corruption of the Hebrew seirim. In old testament demonology the seirim was a being that blended attributes of a goat and demon, based perhaps on the practice of representing a demon by a symbolic animal with similar attributes (Rodriguez, 2017). Satyrs, with their goat-like features and wild natures were an easy target to later be shifted into the bad-guys of the new religion, particularly with the goats already existing symbolism as an animal of the wilds connected to infertility and danger. It is likely then that the classical depictions of satyrs influenced that later Christian depictions of demons.

Puck, 1629 woodcut from 'Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests', public domain

Early depictions of elves and fairies in artwork show them in line with folklore depictions, that is mostly human like in appearance although they may be either beautiful or ugly and were sometimes shown as very small. As we enter into the Victorian era we begin to see elves and fairies shown with pointed ears, probably based on popular imagery of Puck which in turn drew on demonic imagery that was drawing on the depictions of satyrs (Wright, 2009). Puck was a popular folkloric figure that had long blended fairylore and demonology, understood as a type of fairy, individual being, and also a name for the Devil (Wright, 2009). This blurring of fairylore and Christian cosmology was fertile ground for artwork and laid the foundation for a wider understanding of fairies through this lens; the artists of the Victorian era slowly refined the concept so that what began as pointed ears only on the most wild of fey beings eventually spread to pointed ears even on the delicate winged nature sprites. By the 19th century artists began depicting elves and fairies with pointed ears almost exclusively. By the 20th century we see these descriptions entering written media with both prose and poetry describing elves and fairies with pointed ears. Even Tolkien tentatively described his Hobbits with slightly pointed ears and his Elves, at one time* with pointed or leaf shaped ears (Dunkerson, 2017). The concept has now become ubiquitous, spreading throughout popculture and into folklore, so that it is simply taken as a given that elves and fairies have pointed ears. More recently I have noticed a shift particularly in anime and rpgs from the smaller leaf-shaped ears of Victorian art and Tolkien to excessively exaggerated, elongated ears that stretch above or beyond the head and are more reminiscent of donkey ears in shape.

How does this all result in a modern view of elves and fairies with pointed ears? We seem to see a pattern where satyrs were, at least in part, the basis for later depictions of demons and then in turn demons influenced the perception in artwork of what fairies looked like, with the idea that fairies were a kind of fallen angel. Although in folklore we don't find many descriptions of fairies' ears and particularly not of their ears being pointed, we begin in the Victorian period to see them shown this way by most artists. These pointed ears, along with some other animalistic features, become the tell-tale signs of a being's Otherworldly nature, often in art combined with wings*. Pointed ears became a quick way to signal to a viewer that the subject of a piece wasn't human even if they seemed so in all other ways, or in other cases to emphasize their inhuman nature.

For whatever its worth, I personally haven't seen many Otherworldly beings that do have pointed ears. Your experiences may vary.

'La Belle Dame sans Merci' Waterhouse, public domain


^I'm focusing specifically here on Western culture and European folklore because I am not well versed enough in other areas of folklore to speak to the ear-shapes of fairies throughout the world. Although that would be an interesting topic to discuss the research involved is beyond the scope of this blog at this time. I would tentatively suggest based on what I know of specifically Japanese and Chinese folklore as well as Native American folklore that it's likely most fairies have round ears as when in a human-like form they are generally described as being able to pass as human or otherwise looking human, however I cannot say so with certainty without a great deal more research.
*for example, Isaiah 34:14: "The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest." - KJV Bible
*the wings come from the theater and the need to signal to audiences that an actor was playing a fairy, although I suspect this too is rooted in the later connection of fairies to demons.
*in fairness he did seem to later pull back from this description and its an open ended debate as to whether his ultimate intention was for his elves to have pointed ears or not.

References:
Bovey, A., (2006) Monsters and Grotesques in Medieval Manuscripts
Acland, A., (2017) Tam Lin Balladry
Rodriguez, A., (2017) Old Testament Demonology
KJV (2017) Official King James Bible online https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/
Jackson, W., (2017) What Are the Unicorns and Satyrs in the Bible?
Dunkerson, C., (2017) Do the Elves in tolkien's Stories Have Pointed Ears? http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/Ears.html
Yeats, W., (1902) Celtic Twilight
Wright, A., (2009) Puck Through the Ages https://www.boldoutlaw.com/puckrobin/puckages.html
Mikl, A., (2004) Fairy Paintings in 19th Century Art and Late 20th Century Art: A Comparative Study http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/lib/thesis/2004/2004mikla.pdf
Wimberly, L., (1965) Folklore in the English & Scottish Ballads
Atsma, A., (2017) Satyroi http://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Satyroi.html

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fair Folk Q & A

Recently for Patheos I did a post based on having people ask me questions on social media about the Morrigan which I answered in a Q&A format in a blog. Afterwards I had several people ask me to do one based around the Fair Folk and this is the result. As always I'll point out that this is based on my personal knowledge and experience with Themselves and also that I use the term fairies as a generic catch-all term for a variety of beings who are Otherworldly in nature. 

Eric asks about credible modern sources for sightings?
My answer - there's a site called Fairyist that has a collection of sightings, both from folklore and more modern examples. There's also a book by Marjorie Johnson called 'Seeing Fairies' that is a collection of modern sightings.

Eric also asks if I have a personal favorite encounter story?
My answer - Hard to say I have a favorite. Probably the white fairy hound was one of the ones that has stuck with me the most. That was back around '99. I was working for an ambulance company and besides emergencies we also did routine medical transfers. It was around 430 am on a february morning and we were parked next to a large grassy lot that was fenced off for construction. My partner stayed in the ambulance reading while we waited to go do our pick up at a local nursing home but I got out to stretch my legs. Standing near the fence looking into the darkness I noticed a white shape coming towards me across the field. It was large and obviously dog shaped, maybe the size of a German Shepherd, but all white. I thought maybe it was someone letting their dog run in the field, but I couldn't see any people anywhere. And it just kept running straight at me, like with a purpose. And that started to make me nervous, and then I noticed something seemed off with its gait. Like it was running with this oddly hitching movement. So it gets about 2/3rds or so across the field to where I can see it more clearly in the dark and I realize it looks like a large greyhound, but a bit heavier, and it only has one front leg kind of centered in its chest.
I have never moved so fast in my life as I did getting back in that ambulance. I scared my partner, who wanted to know what my problem was, and I said there was a dog - except when we looked out there was no dog. Nothing. Just darkness. And mind you it was impossible for it to have run anywhere in the amount of time between when I jumped in the rig and when we looked out, and the whole area was surrounded by a chainlink fence. It was just gone.

Ruth asks whether it's better to leave offerings indoors or outdoors?
My answer - there's two ways to look at this, one is that inside offerings invite them in so it can be safer to leave things outside. The other is that in a lot of folklore offerings were left in specific places inside, so it is okay to do.
I tend to favor the idea that its really the consistency that matters so, either leave things in both places or stick to one.

Benni asks whether it's true that bells drive away fairies, or if it's okay to use them in fairy related rituals?
My answer - the bells go both ways - folklore says bells, particularly church bells, drive away fairies. However bells are also strongly associated with them, including with the fairy Rade.
I was told that the sound of bells drives away negative entities, but draw in goodly inclined ones



Anita asks of the Fair Folk have human descendants?
My answer - I get asked this question a lot, and folklore is pretty clear that the answer is yes. Many Irish families trace their ancestry back to members of the Tuatha De Danann or to Fairy Kings or Queens.

Kelly asks about the effect of tuning into the Fey through cultural lenses, local folklore, and ancestral folklore?
My answer - I think all of these play a role. When we have a very strong cultural filter in place, like in any other area, it will color our perceptions. We see what we expect to see or at least give familiar names to things - I often tell a story about an each usige (water horse) in a local lake, which may or may not actually be a Celtic water horse but that name is the best I know to describe the being that is there.
That said though local spirits will always also be present and have their own tone and energy. I always recommend people look into the local folklore and fairylore of their area as much as possible.
Ancestral ties/cultural heritage can also have an effect if fey beings from that background seek us out or are drawn to us.
So like with so many things its really a matter of 'all of the above'

Ellen asks if the term Fair Folk is strictly Celtic or applies to other culture?
My answer - 'Fair Folk' as such would be a specifically Irish term for the beings who live in the fairy mounds; it can be used in a more general way or as a more specific descriptor for beings that are human-like in appearance and magically powerful (think roughly like Tolkien's elves). Other Celtic cultures have similar terms which are roughly analogous to the Irish Fair Folk, like the Welsh Tylwyth Teg [Fair Family] or Scottish Daoine Sith [People of Peace].
However the concept of fairies, as a more general term for Otherworldly beings, can be applied to beings outside Celtic cultures. If we are using the word fairy in its older sense as simply meaning 'from Fairyland'. Caution is needed here though to realize that each culture will have its own understanding of and unique beings within this wider concept.

Sara asks about the difference in experiences with Themselves, in my experience, between Europe and America
My answer - In my personal experience they are much more directly engaged and present in Europe. And yes I am including experiences in america with native fey beings. I have found that the spirits native to America that I would label as 'fairies' are more reclusive and less willing to seek engagement than ones in Europe, although I will add that I couldn't say that was something that would be true for everyone, as opposed to just my own experiences.

Brian asks who is nicer the Daoine Sidhe or the Alfar?
My answer - hands down the Alfar are nicer by any definition of the term.

Aleja asks if I think the Court system or concept of Fairy Kings and Queens occurs in America the way it does in Europe?
My answer - I have found the native fey to have a different system that is less monarchy based. But I would say that the ones who migrated over with the human populations did bring with them their social structures, including Kings and Queens and courts. How strong those are in each area will depend on different things, I think, including what sorts of Fey have strongly ingrained themselves there.
Aleja also asks about urban fey, and whether some Fey actually like iron, steel, and concrete?
My answer - there are definitely urban Fey, and have been for as long as there have been urban areas. There are also some fairies who do like iron and artificial materials. Mine fairies, for example, aren't bothered by metals and definitely don't mind being around human enterprise and construction. Gremlins are another type of fey being that are particularly connected to modern construction and metal.



Branwen asks what my experience has been in differentiating between European fairies and American ones.
My answer - well, in all honesty being able to see them probably helps me here. Sometimes just looking at a being can help differentiate what it is and what it's origins are - the local Fey here for example are small people whose skin looks like rock, and who have black hair and eyes, which is pretty distinctive from anything else ime. Otherwise though I think its like trying to figure out what specific kind of fairy it is in any context, which is about looking at where it is, what it's doing, what it seems to want, what annoys it or pleases it, and so on. It can certainly get tricky around here trying to be sure whether a fox-looking fey is something native, a húli jīng, or something Celtic that shapeshifts.

River asks what I think about human interactions with the fey relating to categories like worship, friendship, propitiation, and avoidance?
My answer - I think there's many layers to how anyone can choose to interact with them. Avoidance/propitiation is generally the safest and the most traditional. I usually recommend most people stick with that to be safe, unless they want to take on the responsibility that comes with stepping it up to another level. I think there's a place for establishing friendships/alliances especially for practicing witches, but there's risk to it, and that has to be considered. I'm not sure a true peer to peer concept is functional, but they certainly will barter and make deals. Worshiping them gets really tricky because then we have to start looking at the individuals instead of the generalities. Some fairies were Gods, or are strongly connected to Gods, and they deserve worship as much as any other pagan deity (take that as you will).

Mara asks how to handle connecting to or honouring the fairies when you have children.
My answer - All of my children have been warded very carefully until they were older. This has included iron in their rooms, as well as broom (the herb), rowan, and saint Brighid's crosses. I also teach them from a very young age how to behave and how to stay safe. In traditional cultures children would be taught from birth what to do and what not to do relating to fairies and that's an approach we honestly need to keep up today in paganism.

Vyviane asks in cases where Christian prayers are effective protections against them why do they work? Would pagan prayers work the same way?
My answer - I suspect that Christian prayers work in many cases because they are designed to be magical charms as much as prayers. I also suspect they may drive off some fairies who are offended by them, rather than that they have any actual power over the fairies. In my experience pagan prayers substituted for Christian ones generally don't work, although called on a specific deity associated with the fey that they may be cautious of can be effective. In the Irish this can be any of the Tuatha De Danann because they all have connections to the sí. In the Norse this might include Freyr or Odin, and in the Germanic more generally you might call on Berchta, Perchta, or Frau Holle.

Jonathan asks what do I think most contributed to the shift from fairies as fearsome beings deserving respect to the modern concept of Disney-fied Tinkerbells?
My answer - I blame the Victorians. Mostly.

Cathi asks how do pets usually act around fairies?
My answer - it will vary by pet. In my experience dogs don't seem to be bothered by them. Cats are either co-conspirators in mischief or else tormented by them. I have personally found that when dogs stare at empty space its usually ghosts, while when cats do it its usually fairies.

Cathi also asks can you escape a fairy by crossing running water?
My answer - depends on the fairy. It's said that if you cross running water you'd be safe from a kelpie pursuing you, for example, but there is also a story of a man who fled to America to get away from a Leannán Sí and she followed him anyway proving that the ocean was no barrier. And the Slua Sí are regularly said to cross water. For those that the answer is yes I suspect that its less that the water itself stops them and more that they are territorial by nature and won't chase you beyond their territory.



Diana asks if we should give traditional offerings like bread, milk, or whiskey or should instead offer things we like to eat now.
My answer - The traditional offerings have a lot of symbolic meaning beyond their actual value, for example both bread and milk are symbols of life and vitality and the name for whiskey in irish is literally 'water of life' [uisce beatha]. they also have the power that comes with multiple hundreds of years of tradition. I've found that cream and bread (or cake) is well received as are other traditional offerings like water or whiskey. I have also found that sharing anything that we are currently eating - literally sharing a meal - is also well received.
The only things I would personally caution against offering are heavily processed or preserved foods or meats. I avoid offering meat, generally, because it will draw the sort of fairy that prefers meat and that may not be a good idea. And it's generally understood in folklore that fairies don't consume the physical item but its essence - variously referred to as the toradh, quintessence, or foyson - which is most abundant in fresh foods and least present in heavily preserved foods.

Morrigan asks if the Fey are loyal and if so how do they show loyalty?
My answer - Yeats once wrote that the fairies have 'unmixed emotions' and I have found this to be true. If they consider you one of theirs in some way they are very loyal - the flip side of that though is they take any perceived betrayal very very badly. they reward those who are loyal to them with prosperity and good luck. they punish those who betray them with ill-luck and madness. We see this in stories where a person who proves true is rewarded over a lifetime, but someone who betrays their trust in some way (often by talking too much or bragging) not only loses whatever blessings they've gotten but is often punished harshly. For example one girl who had a fairy lover told her secret to her sister, who in turn told others; her fairy lover left her in retaliation and the girl went mad.
I guess the answer then is that loyalty goes both ways and has consequences.

Lauren asks how do They appear to me?
My answer - There's a lot of diversity here depending on how the question is intended. If we mean how do They appear as in, in what way, then I would say they appear in dreams, Journeys, and the waking world. If we mean how do they look (appear) to me then that depends entirely on what kind of being we are talking about, but I've seen everything from hounds and horses to people the size of moths to human-sized people, from things with wings to things that could pass as human if they tried. 

Amanda asks if the Unseelie can ever behave in helpful or useful ways?
My answer -  yes, they can. In my experience and in folklore there are examples of beings within the Unseelie Court who can interact positively with humans. The difference between them and the Seelie Court though is that whereas the Seelie would be more inclined to help any human who acts well the Unseelie would only do this for a particular individual, usually for a reason. What that reason is will depend on a lot of things, from a favor owed to just plain liking that person for their own reasons.
Caution is always required with the Unseelie simply because they are most likely to do humans harm without reason and to take offense over things.

Anna asks if elementals and fairies are the same?
My answer - I do realize that many people today lump elementals in with fairies - thank you alchemy! - but I don't. I see them as distinctly different types of beings and while I appreciate that some people find it easier to divide fairies up by elemental association its never been a system that works for me. I tend to stick to the older ideas of trooping or solitary, Seelie or Unseelie, or to group them by location, ie mountain fairies, lake fairies, mound fairies, etc.,.


So that covers all the questions I had received on social media. I hope people find those answers helpful, or at least interesting.  I'll repeat that this is my own experience and opinion and other people may agree or disagree. Also I tend to use the term fairy as a catch-all for any Otherworldly being, but I acknowledge that there are a wide array of specific beings and many differences within the wider category. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Respecting Fairy Places ~ An Excerpt from 'Fairies'

Since my new book 'Fairies: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk' was just released last Friday, I thought today I'd like to share an short excerpt from that work. what follows is from the introduction and is looking at how we can, and why we should, respect places that belong to Themselves:

Respecting Their Places
Many people lump nature spirits in with fairies and that is both true and untrue. Fairies are a broad category of beings and they can and do include both beings of this world and beings from the Otherworld that choose to come here. In the next chapter we will take an in-depth look at the Otherworld but I want to discuss here the importance of showing proper respect to the locations in our own world that are associated with or claimed by the fairies, whether that means true nature spirits or not.

A land spirit or the spirit of a natural feature like a tree or plant is strongly connected to the place it calls home. This is only logical really, as that physical place or object is for them like our body is for our soul – it acts like an anchor for the spirit in this world. If you think of it this way then it’s easier to understand why we should be careful and respectful of places that belong to these spirits. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all natural spaces should be inviolate, life after all is a cycle of growth and death and it can involve destruction, but just like we should show respect to the animals and plants we use for food, we owe respect to the natural places and the spirits that inhabit them. It’s also always good to keep in mind that nature spirits have the ability to influence the mood and atmosphere of a place, so happy nature spirits are always better than angry ones. Generally angry land spirits will express their feelings by making the area they influence unpleasant, causing the atmosphere of the area to be uneasy or unhappy, or cause bad dreams in people living nearby.

Respecting nature spirits is a straightforward proposition: don’t be needlessly destructive, don’t take down trees, move larger rocks, or make any big changes to an area without giving the land spirits a bit of notice (I recommend a couple days), and don’t muck up natural places in your yard or local woods with human junk or refuse. If there is a particular nature spirit, like that of a tree, that you want to connect to you can make offerings to it and talk to it. Offerings are also a good idea if you do have to do major landscaping or tree removal; honey works well, as does planting new growth or working to clean up any human messes.

Besides land spirits which exist as an intrinsic part of the world around us there are also places that belong to the fairies which are spirits of the Otherworld. These are not land spirits and are not tied to the land in these places but they have laid claim to them and feel a strong sense of ownership about them. Folklore and modern anecdotes show that interfering with or damaging places that belong to the fairies is a profoundly bad idea, and that they tend to respond in a fairly direct fashion. In Iceland both road construction and drilling that upsets the Hidden Folk tends to result in machinery breaking, ill luck, and strange happenings until the construction stops or the damage – usually to a boulder which is associated with them – is repaired. In Ireland folklore says that to interfere with a fairy tree or fairy hill can result in bad luck, illness, or even death. They are also not averse to destroying the offending human construction that is on their territory; one recent event in 2007 that made the news in Ireland was a series of telephone poles too close to a fairy hill which kept mysteriously falling down.


Traditionally places that belong to the fairies are best left alone; it is unwise to interfere with them or build on them. There are many stories, not only in Ireland but also in Iceland, of people who damaged or dug into fairy places only to suffer great ill luck, illness, or even death. In some cases even going into a place that belonged to the fairies posed a risk; in one story from Ireland a young man interfered with a well that was known to belong to the Fair Folk and in response they cursed it; when the man next went to drink from it he fell in and drowned (Ballard, 1991). If you choose to visit them it is best to do so during the day and to be careful not to leave behind a mess. It’s also advised not to relieve yourself on the ground in the area, as that is known to offend them as well. Add to that a general suggestion not to say anything in those areas especially that belittle or question their power or influence because they do respond to verbal insults. As long as you are careful not to break things, not to leave behind trash, and not to verbally provoke them you should be alright. 


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Being a Priestess of the Daoine Uaisle

  This month has been one of contemplation for me, as I look at how the last year has gone since Ireland. I've written about it, probably more than some people care to read about, because it's a big thing for me and because it's probably the overriding thing in my life this month. No matter what else has been going on my mind always spins back to the same thoughts: what does it mean to serve, what does it mean to be a priestess of Themselves, what does it mean to deal with them, and what does it mean to have this level of connection?



I want to be clear on a couple things as I begin writing this. What follows is my own personal reflections and thoughts, and while I'd hope it may resonate with other people I don't expect it will with everyone. Acting as clergy for the Gods is a highly personal and varied thing and I suspect that doing so for beings like the OtherCrowd who are not-Gods is even more so. Also it must be kept in mind that there's a huge array of beings that people may think of under the English term fairies, or any of the related non-English terms, and individual experiences with some of those will vary widely. A person who focuses on one specific kind of being may find their approach to working with or speaking for those beings vastly different from everything I'm about to say, and that's fine. While I can and often do use general terms and euphemisms I'm actually pretty specific in who and what I deal with and am in service to - the Irish Aos Sí, the people of the fairy hills.

The first thing that this dedication seems to clearly mean is writing about them. A lot.
Since coming back from Ireland last year, since that unexpected initiation, I've written two full length non-fiction books focused on Themselves (Fairies and Travelling the Fairy Path) as well as committed to a Pagan Portals book on the Fairy Queens. My blog has taken on a decidedly fairy-themed focus. I do still write about other things, but I feel more strongly compelled than I did before to try to get good information out there and to work on both preserving the folklore and older views as well as showing that modern beliefs do exist.

publication date september 2018
Secondly it means accepting that my focus now is on serving Themselves, not the human community. This has been a massive shift for me, because previously I did follow the more traditional approach of viewing priest/essing as a service to a human community, and I saw that as a duty that was important and even pleasant much of the time. I had always known there were those whose service focused more on the Gods, for example, but my understanding of that was still that it worked through a lens of human community. Now I see that in some cases service can be divorced from the human community and focused entirely elsewhere. It is a very different lens and that took me a long time to truly understand. I think before this experience I couldn't really have understood it at all except in the most abstract way.

It also means accepting and even embracing that this is something I need to be willing to publicly claim and discuss. This one has been the biggest struggle for me and it still is. Even after a year it feels strange and almost hubristic to call myself a priestess of the Good People and I do not like using that title, even though it's one I know I need to use and need to be willing to own. Oddly enough, given the change in focus for me, this is a title that was given by the human community not the Other One. The sorts of titles I get from them are very different and far more humbling - I think at this point I have been called 'servant' in at least three different languages. I suppose on the bright side at least I don't have any fear of getting too full of myself or forgetting my place around them.

Being a priestess in service to the OtherCrowd is hard work and it can be messy and unpleasant. It can also be amazing and full of blessing. But whatever it is, it is never easy. And unlike other things I have done or spiritualities I have practiced, this is not something that can be undone or changed later. There is no going back from this, and if that doesn't scare you then you aren't paying attention.

This isn't something I went looking for, although it's also not something I turned aside from either. If you really feel pulled to this, maybe look at the other path, at serving the human community by dealing with the Other not at serving the Other. Walking on this side changes a person not just figuratively but literally and that's a hard thing. I had previously had experience as a priestess to the Gods but I had never felt like I lost my sense of autonomy, like I wasn't making my own decisions. Now I feel utterly given over in ways that I could not have anticipated, and in ways I can't control. Keep that in mind, and don't forget that the cost of anything with them is equal to the value of what they are giving.

For anyone who finds the idea of this kind of path appealing, I'd warn against it. Practice Fairy Witchcraft, certainly, or whatever aspect of the Fairy Faith - or witchcraft - appeals to you. Become a priest or priestess for the human community if you feel called to as that is a vital and necessary thing. I found a lot of joy in my years of service to the human community in that capacity. But I wouldn't recommend priestessing for Themselves unless you have no choice or feel truly compelled to. It's a consuming thing, the way fire consumes, and like fire it transmutes what it consumes.




Part of why I'm writing this today is because I'm still working it out for myself, still trying to understand these changes and what they mean. The other reason I'm writing though is because I see so much out there that seems to glamourize (no pun intended) the idea of fairies and of connecting to them and I want to be sure people understand that it isn't all glitter and rainbows. It's literal blood, sweat, and tears. As much as it's alluring its also terrifying, and there's no part of it that's safe.

If you are going to do this, do it with your eyes open and keep your wits about you.

Friday, November 24, 2017

What Comes in Dreams: a Healing Charm

I've mentioned a few times before that I sometimes am given things in dreams. Sometimes these things relate to herbal knowledge and sometimes they are more complex, such as when I was told how to make Cáca Síofra. I can't always share these things, but when I can I do try to, not only so that other people can make use of them but also because I want to encourage other people to trust in what they might be getting in dreams or journeys.

One night a few weeks ago I had a dream and was given a healing chant. This happened around 1 am and I woke up afterwards but as I was very tired I didn't get up to write it down. I did remember it the next morning and had to try to figure out how to write it out properly. This was a bit more difficult than you might think because, as sometimes happens, it was given to me in modern Irish and while
 I have some modern Irish I'm much better with old Irish. When I'm given things in modern Irish I don't always know what all the words mean or how to write them out from hearing them spoken but can usually suss it all out afterwards. I do this by writing it down based on my best guess for what I think it should be and then asking my friends who are Irish speakers to help me smooth it out. In this case the next day several people helped me with the spelling and grammar (go raibh maith agaibh Caoimhin, Lora, agus Fionnuala!)

This is the healing chant as it was given to me:
"Gruaig le gruaig
craiceann le craiceann
cnámh le cnámh
feoil le feoil
fuil le fuil
casadh an chneá"

In English, roughly:
'hair with hair
skin with skin
bone with bone
flesh with flesh
blood with blood

turning/twisting the wound'

Anyone who wants to is welcome to make use of this. It's new as far as I know but it's similar in style to several other older healing chants for injuries, including, 'Charm of the Sprain' from the Carmina Gadelica and the Second Merseburg Incantation, so it's fine for me to share. It would be used by holding the hands over the injury and and chanting the words three times.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

That Time I Unseelied a Tree, and Why You Should Too

So first a story.
I have a fairy tree in my yard and I had the idea at one point to start tying ribbons on it, in the spirit of the rag tree tradition. Now usually a rag tree is by a healing well and the ribbons or bits of cloth tied on it represent prayers for healing of either the person or someone they are praying for. I knew this but still felt drawn to put ribbons on my own tree, and I don't deny I did it badly, because I simply used store bought ribbon. I can say here that my intentions were good, but I've never been a big believer that intentions mitigate harm caused. After a time the tree had quite a lot of ribbons on it, and after a time I started feeling strongly that I needed to take them off - I was even dreaming about it. But I really, really didn't want to remove them. It seemed counterintuitive and sacrilegious to do so, to remove what had been place with prayer and its own little ritual. Yet in the end it became a compulsion, and one day as I walked past the tree on my way to my car I found myself stopping, unable to go on until I removed the ribbons. I went back into the house, found a pair of scissors, and spent enough time that I was late to work taking all the ribbons off. Afterwards I felt a blend of relief and horror at having, effectively, 'unseelied' (unblessed) my tree.

Here's the thing though, as upsetting as it was for me to take those prayer ribbons off that tree, and as much as I felt like I was doing something wrong - was in effect unblessing the tree - what I did was important and necessary. The ribbons I'd put on were synthetic fibers; they were not rotting away with time but instead were strangling the branches they were tied on. In several places when I managed to get the ribbon off there was a clear indent in the branch where the ribbon had started to grow into the tree, and it was obvious to me the harm my actions had caused. I had made a critical mistake in not using natural material and in not tying it loosely so that it would either fall apart naturally or be pulled off by the wind. My well meaning actions would have killed my tree eventually, and removing the ribbons, as much as it pained me to do it, saved it.

That said, there are two main points I want to make here, first about participating in rag tree practices and secondly about removing things already tied to trees at sacred sites. 

Many people today either want to emulate the rag tree practices or look at participating in it while visiting Ireland (or other countries that have the practice) and I am urging everyone to please seriously consider what you are tying to these trees. Recently there have been some good discussion of the importance of proper rag tree practices online both by the Tara Skryne Preservation Group and other travel pages. If you want to tie a rag on a sacred tree you need to be aware firstly that rag trees are very specific trees, usually by a holy well as I've mentioned, and that you can't and shouldn't tie just anything onto the tree. Every tree you run across is not appropriate to tie things to, and just because it's at a sacred site doesn't make it a tree to tie prayers to. Also if you are going to tie things to a tree please use natural, degradable materials. And please don't push coins in o the bark, that will poison the tree. 

When you visit sacred sites and holy wells you will see many strange things tied to rag trees. Some people believe it best to leave what is already tied there alone; others advocate for removing what is and will harm the tree. This is a complicated subject because there are issues with people removing all rags from rag trees, and even cutting the trees down, in protest against the practice itself and I am by no means advocating that. However as an animist and pagan I do think we have an obligation to put the health of the tree before the symbolism of the plastic and synthetic material that is tied to it and slowly killing it. Natural material is fine and should be encouraged, but what amounts to rubbish if left there will only kill the tree that people claim to find sacred.

The reason I began this with my story was to make a point. I was deeply reluctant to take those ribbons down, even though they were my ribbons and I was being told repeatedly to remove them. There was a discussion on a sacred sites travel group I belong to recently about whether it's ethical to remove other people's ribbons from sacred trees, and in my opinion you should, even though I understand the reluctance to remove other people's prayers. Understand it on a deeply personal level. There is an almost atavistic aversion - in my experience - among spiritual people against interfering with other people's spiritual devotions. Yet ultimately we need to look beyond the intention of what have been tied on the trees and to the spirit of the trees and land itself. If we are seeking to respect those spirits, seeking to truly be blessed by these holy places, then we must act in ways that are aligned with that concept. Doing things that kill the sacred trees, ultimately are unblessed - unseely - actions. Removing plastic, non-biodegradable, metal items, no matter what sacred intent was behind their placement is ultimately a blessed, or seely, act because it saves the life of the tree. I titled this post 'the time I unseelied a tree' because that was how it felt, and it was a terrible conflicted feeling. But sometimes we must do what feels wrong in order to ultimately do that which is right.

Removing those ribbons felt like unseelie'ing the tree but in the end it resulted in an increased blessing, and much happier spirits. And I don't regret doing it at all.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

In Service: Ireland a Year Later

 This Samhain has been an interesting and intense one for me on several levels. It has been busy in purely mundane ways and it has been just as busy in spiritual ways. But more than anything I find myself reflecting whenever my mind isn't set on anything else on being in Ireland this time last year, on my experiences there and the initiation I underwent that I had not expected. I hear the water of Ogulla well, feel it cold on my skin, feel the sandy bottom of the well under my feet. I remember the feel of the mud of Uaimh na gCat under my hands and on my face, the sounds of the cave wrapping around me. When I close my eyes I see in the distance the smoke from the fires on Teamhair rising up in the darkness of a moonless Samhain night, the fires of Tlachtga at my back. Water, and earth, and fire, they all still seem immediate and present.

Uaimh na gCat
So much of life is what we plan it to be, especially spiritually. We have goals, we set intentions, we move forward towards a destination, whatever we perceive that to be. Things may not always work out the way we plan or go as we intend but more often than not we do have clear intentions. Or maybe that's wishful thinking on my part. Certainly my own spiritual life as much as it has wandered and sometimes faltered had always felt like it was in my control. And then Ireland.

Nothing that happened in Ireland was what I had anticipated or expected.

And here I am a year later and I feel like I am the same person I have always been and I am also irrevocably different. I don't know how to feel about that even now. I'm not sure that I know how to put that into words, even now, and that's a truly strange feeling for me who uses words as a tool of expression every day. But how do you explain the way a series of small events, small choices, each built on the other can lead a person inevitably to something that is both entirely predictable and entirely unexpected?

the path to Tlachtga, Samhain night, 2017
So many things in my life up to that point led me there, and yet I never saw that end result coming. I had grown comfortable, complacent, with the way things were, and maybe even a little bit arrogant. Funny how quickly that is washed away when circumstances change and you are moved from feeling like you have some status in the human community to a position where you feel like you have very minimal status in a spiritual context. As I told Lora O'Brien during a recent interview* I feel like prior to that point I served the human community but since that time I have served Themselves, and my connection to them is very much one of service. That shift alone is enormous, and I still don't know for certain where it is taking me. I'm not sure it matters on a personal level. That's one lesson I've learned in the last 12 months, not to be concerned so much about myself and my own ego but to focus on what I am supposed to be doing here for Them, at least as best I can.

For all of that if I had known what I was moving towards, what was going to happen, I would not do anything differently. I would still take that first step forward into initiation and I would still accept the role of priestess of the Daoine Maithe. Like the pull of gravity there was such an inevitability to it all that I don't think I could have chosen differently unless I went all the way back to my childhood and made myself a different person from then, and if it meant losing myself entirely what would be the point? Maybe that's inevitable with them as well, for they are known to consume people one way or another, but to quote Bukowski (probably anyway) "For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it's much better to be killed by a lover."

I chose to accept each step of the way when I could have refused or turned aside, and that has since meant a complete restructuring of things, and at the same time not. I have parted ways from Odin, and am no longer his priestess. I am still connected to Macha but it is not the same. I have been forced to look deeply into what it means to be a priestess when the role I am fulfilling is one of service to the Othercrowd not the human community. And yet at the same time so much has remained the same, changed only in its intensity.

There was a cost, of course, because there's always a cost and because it involves the Daoine Maithe that cost is layered and complicated and still playing out. There have been blessings as well, and I try to remind myself of those as often as possible.

Rathcroghan
Life goes on apace and I am standing now a year out from that pivotal dark moon. This year there was a nearly full moon shining down on me as I went out to make my offerings and celebrate the holiday. That seemed very meaningful, but in my mind the memories linger of the darkness and fires and smell of woodsmoke on the air.


*you can listen to the recorded version by joining Lora's mailing list here http://loraobrien.net/community/

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Athirne Ailgessach ocus Mider Bri Leith

Athirne Áilgessach & Mider Brí Léith

 Athirne Ailgessach mac Ferchertne. is e is doichlechu ro boi i nHerind. Dochoid co Mider Brí Léith co tuc corra diultada & doichle úad fora thech .i. ar dibe & ar dochill. Arna taidled fer do feraib Herend a thechsom do aigidecht l^ foigde. Na tair. na tair ar in chetchorr. Eirgg ass ol a setig. Sech thech sech thech ar in tres chorr. Cachfer do feraib Herend ataciched ni gebed fria chomlund a llaasin. Nocho doid a. saith riam bale i nfacced duine. Luidseom dano & mucc urgnaide leis & paitt meda co n-essad a saith a oinur. & ro chertaigestar ara belaib in muicc & in paitt meda. Co n-acca in fer chuice. Dogenta th'oínur ar se la tadall na mmuicce & na paitte uad. Cia th'ainmseo ar Athirni. Nocon erdairc ón ar se .i. Sethor. Ethor. Othor. Sele. Dele. Dreng Gerce. Mec Gerce. Ger Gér. Dír Dír iss ed mo ainmse. Ni thanic in mucc. & forfemmid inn air do chuibdigud. Dóig combad ó Dia thísta do breith na mmucce. ar nírbo anfélisium ond uairsin.
 - Book of Leinster 

Athirne Ailgessach son of Ferchertne, he was most inhospitable in all of Ireland. He went to Mider of Brí Léith co tuc cranes* of pettiness and inhospitality from him for his house that is stinginess and grudgingness. No man of Ireland visits a his house looking for hospitality. 
"Do not come. Do not come" said the first crane. 
"Go out!" said his companion. 
"Beyond the house, beyond the house" said the third crane. 
Every man of Ireland who saw them would not succeed in battle that day. 
He did not eat where there were people. He went once and a prepared pig with him and a skin of mead to eat his fill alone. And he settled his mouth on the pig and the skin of mead. He saw a man coming towards him. He wanted to be alone when he was touching the pig and the skin. 
"What name is on you?" said Athirni. 
"Nothing famous is on me" he said "that is Sethor Ethor Othor Sele Dele Dreng Gerce Mec Gerce Ger Gér Dír Dír is my name."
 He [Athirni] didn't take [back] the pig. And he was unable to compose a satire. It is likely someone of God had come to carry away the pig. He was not ungenerous from that hour.

*Cor is a word for a bird that can be a heron, crane or occasionally stork.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Critical Look At The Secret Lives of Elves & Fairies

I know it's been awhile since I did a book review and this actually isn't one that I wanted to do, but one that I have finally accepted that I needed to do. So today we are going to take a look at John Matthews 2005 book 'The Secret Lives of Elves & Faeries'. I will preface this review with two things: I have no personal issues with Matthews work in general and have often used his Druid Source Book and Seers Source Book as references; and I am going to focus this review on the issues I have with this work being marketed as nonfiction and why I believe it is actually fiction. I do not dispute that people may, and indeed probably do, find inspiration and value in this book but I think it is vitally important to understand it in the context of fiction rather than as historic truth, such as that may be.



Once again we see a book marketed primarily to a pagan audience that takes the track of being newly revealed material found in a heretofore undiscovered historic text, in this case the alleged personal journal of Rev. Robert Kirk author of the 17th century work 'The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies'. There should be some immediate red flags with this, even for people unfamiliar with other authors like Douglas Monroe and Steven Akins who have tried this same line to sell their books. First of all such a personal journal if it existed would rightly belong to a museum, university or library - indeed the existing manuscripts for 'The Secret Commonwealth' can be found today in the University of Edinburgh Library and National Library of Scotland. Secondly, as was touched on in point one by my mention of two locations for his real books, despite modern views of the idea of journaling Kirk's actual book was written in a series of tiny journals not one single large book (Manwaring, 2017). That aside however it should be noted that had a new and previously unknown journal belonging to reverend Kirk been found it would have made headlines and been the subject of significant academic study. In contrast this book was apparently only seen by Matthews, never seen again afterwards, and never mentioned or written about by anyone else in the last 12 years.

During the period when Matthews claims this private journal was written and Kirk was off adventuring with fairies and exploring the subterranean world Kirk was actually confined to a sick bed for the most part and was dictating 'The Secret Commonwealth' to his cousin Robert Campbell (Manwaring, 2017). This means that Kirk, while able to get out and take short walks near his home would have been physically incapable of the lengthy explorations depicted in Matthews book, which are clearly established as physical and not spiritual journeys and occured right up to the point of Kirk's death or alleged disappearance*. This also calls into question the premise of Matthews book, that The Secret Commonwealth was excerpted from Kirk's personal journal material aka The Secret Lives, since we know that The Secret Commonwealth as we have it is at least partially from dictated material and was otherwise pieced together from material found in several different journals, rather than from a single manuscript.

An equally significant point that must be made is that Matthews book 'The Secret Lives of Elves & Faeries' printed in 2005 contains paragraphs worth of material previously printed in his 2004 book 'The Sidhe'. It must be kept in mind that The Sidhe is a book of material Matthews says was channeled to him in Ireland in 2003/2004 from the aos sidhe after he visited a sacred site, and Secret Lives is, by Matthews assertion in the book itself, Reverend Kirk's own writing from 1691/1692. This is not an insignificant amount of material or a few sentences here and there but nearly full pages of text, paragraph after paragraph, repeated word for word from one book to the other. I'm including photographs of the two books side by side with some of the relevant doubled text underlined, because it is too much to write out in full here, however to give a small sample:
The Sidhe, page 22: "We are an ancient people. We were here long before your kind walked on this earth. We remember everything and have seen everything that took place here for many thousands of your years. We do not measure time as you do, so that for us time passes slowly. We do not speak of our origins to anyone not of our race; but it is certain that we emerged from the earth as you yourselves did, though much sooner in the history of the world."
The Secret Lives of Elves & Faeries: "We are an ancient people." Kee told me. "We were here long before your kind walked on this earth. We remember everything and have seen everything that took place here for many thousands of your years. We do not measure time as you do, so that for us time passes slowly. We do not speak of our origins to anyone not of our race; but it is certain that we emerged from the earth as you yourselves did, though much sooner in the history of the world."
On the left is text from Secret Lives, on the right text from the Sidhe
For anyone interested the doubled text that I have personally noted can be found in these places: The Sidhe (TS) page 22-23, 3 paragraphs duplicated in Secret Lives (SL) on pages 32 - 33. TS page 23 1 paragraph duplicated in SL page 34. TS page 52, 3 paragraphs doubled in SL on page 61. I realize that some people may immediately respond to this by arguing that perhaps Matthews and Kirk were told the same things. I would personally have some arguments against that idea, but taking it as is for the moment even if we assumed it was true it would not result in this amount of duplicated text. Reverend Kirk writing in the 1690's was not writing in modern English as Matthews is, and as anyone familiar with Kirk's Secret Commonwealth may realize the language Kirk wrote in is not always easily read by modern English speakers. It is early modern English mixed with a language called Scots, and looks like this: "Ther Women are said to Spine very fine, to Dy, to Tossue, and Embroyder: but whither it is as manuall Operation of substantiall refined Stuffs, with apt and solid Instruments, or only curious Cob-webs, impalpable Rainbows, and a fantastic Imitation of the Actions of more terrestricall Mortalls, since it transcended all" (Kirk & Lang, 1893). Even if we assume that the message the two men received was the same the way they each recorded it, more than three hundred years apart, would have been radically different.

Relating to that last point, the language issue. Secret Lives of Elves & Faeries is labeled clearly as Reverend Kirk's personal journal, and opens with a story by Matthews about how he found this journal and came to publish it. And yet the book in several places misuses words and terms from Gaidhlig and Scots that Kirk would have been fluently familiar with**. Even if we account for Matthews supposedly translating the text and updating the language it would not excuse these errors. In modern Gaidhlig the fairy folk are called sithe and in Secret Commonwealth Kirk refers to them as sith. In Secret Lives Matthews has Kirk calling them by the Irish term 'sidhe'. At one point in Secret Lives Matthews has Kirk telling a story in which Kirk's fairy friend Kee incorrectly uses the Scots word foyson as a verb when it is a noun. In another place the Unseelie use the Gaidhlig term 'sluagh' as a nickname of sorts for Kirk, even though sluagh is a collective noun that means 'assembly, folk, people'; while Matthews offers the in-text explanation, allegedly from Kirk, that says sluagh is a term for a dead human who won't pass on, this is a fabrication. The Unseelie calling Kirk sluagh is like them nicknaming him 'crowd'. All of these are also red flags that the person writing the text wasn't familiar with or fluent in these languages, and make it impossible for it to be the writing of a man who spoke both languages.

In The Secret Commonwealth Robert Kirk never mentions there being two courts. This is because we don't see any references to the Unseelie Court prior to the 19th century. Before that the fairies were referred to only by the term Seelie Court, which was used as a euphemism more than a descriptor of an actual court. In contrast Matthews book is very much based on the idea of there being two courts, and of one court being benevolent and the other malicious. Even this ignores the folklore that warns of the dangers presented by the Seelie Court, but that aside it is at best a glaring anachronism to see the Unseelie Court mentioned in a book allegedly written hundreds of years before that concept was known to exist.

The final thing I may note is simply a matter of history. Kirk's Secret Commonwealth was a book written from the perspective of a folklorist recording native beliefs and carefully framed in a strongly Christian worldview. Matthews Secret Lives in contrast paints a picture of a man who was deeply personally involved with the fairy folk and was avidly writing down his personal experiences with the idea of sharing what he was writing with family and perhaps even a wider audience. During Kirk's lifetime in the area of Scotland he lived in people - men and women - were being persecuted and executed for practicing witchcraft on the basis of associating with fairies. Had Kirk actually written such a text and had it been discovered, minister or not, he would have faced trial and execution as did others like Andro Man and Betsy Dunlop, a fact that Kirk would have known. Such a journal would have been a death sentence, and while it suits our romantic modern notions to imagine such a thing the living Kirk would never have been foolish enough to write about his desire to share his experiences and writings with his family. People died for such things.

Ultimately people may find The Secret Lives of Elves & Faeries to be fulfilling and even inspiring. They may enjoy the vision Matthews paints of Fairy, his weaving together of some of Kirk's material from The Secret Commonwealth and well known folklore like the story of the Stolen Bride or Borrowed Midwife with his own ideas and material. But any reader must understand this book in its context as fiction, which it does not admit to being. To fall into the trap of seeing this as what it isn't, as the actual writing of Reverend Kirk, is highly problematic and does a disservice I think to Kirk's actual writing and to the older folklore.

For myself when I'm in the mood for fiction centered on rev. Kirk I'll stick to Kevan Manwaring's book 'The Knowing' which is both honest about its nature and an excellent novel full of genuine fairylore. For a great scholarly look at Kirk's book I highly recommend Brian Walsh's book 'The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex'.


*I'm actually in the camp that does believe that Kirk was taken by the Sithe as his body was found dead near the fairy howe (hollow). This is, of course, disputed in different sources and there is a great deal of folklore around Robert Kirk's death or possible disappearance.
**Kirk had translated the Bible and psalms into Gaidhlig.

Reference
Manwaring, K., (2017) The Remarkable Notebooks of Robert Kirk https://thebardicacademic.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/the-remarkable-notebooks-of-robert-kirk/
Kirk, R., and Lang, A., (1893) The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Two Short Translations

Lugh scéith,
scál find,
fo nimib ni raibe
bed mac nÁine aidhlibthir
Arddu déib doen,
dron daurgráinne,
glan gablach,
aue Luric Loegaire.
Myles Dillon. "The Consecration of Irish Kings". Dublin: Celtica


Warrior's shield
fair hero,
under heaven none as bold
as the son of Aine,
higher than men,
strong sun-oak
bright branching,
grandson of Luric Leogaire



Grainne to Fionn
ut dixit Gránni ingen Cormaic fri Find.
'Fil duine
rismad buide lemm díuderc,
ara tribrinn, la dia tribrend, in m-bith ule, la m-buide,
la h-uile h-uile, cid díupert.'
- marginalia Amra Columb Chille

Spoken by Grainne daughter of Cormac to Fionn:
"There is a person
On whom I would gladly look,
 Who I would give, would give the entire world, the world, 
all of it, even if it is a fraud."