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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Will o' the Wisp

  The Will o' the Wisp is an interesting thing to study, possibly a ghost or a fairy from one view and a swamp phenomena by another, one that may be explained by scientific means but whose folklore persists. There is debate even today about whether the Will o' the Wisp is supernatural or a natural occurrence and explanations for it include both optical illusions as well as spontaneous ignition of swamp gasses. There is also a rich array of folklore around it which offers many explanations of it from that viewpoints as well as stories of dealing with it

In recent times it has become less common for people to see Will o' the Wisps, and many accept the scientific explanation although science itself has never been able to reproduce or measure them successfully. When the phenomena appears it can be as small as a candle flame or as large as a torch, pale or bright, and the light will reflect off of nearby objects (Sanford, 1919). Colors can vary and may include green or white and the phenomena has been seen passing through windows and doors and inside buildings although it is most commonly seen over or near water, particularly swamps. Explanations for what causes it include bioluminscent plants and animals, gases given off in the process of decay, and bubbles of plasma, although no single theory can or has been proven (Drudge, 2016).

In folklore the Will o' the Wisp has many different names which are indicative of the folklore attached to it. The common name of Ignis Fatuus is Latin for 'fool fire'. It is also known variously as Bill-with-the-wisp, Hobbledy's Lantern, Jack-a-lantern, Jenny-with-the-lantern, Jenny-burnt-tail, Peg-a-lantern, Joan-in-the-wad, Kit-in-the-stick or Kitty-candlestick, Kitty-with-the-wisp, the Lanternman, Pinket, Friar Rush, Gyl Burnt-Taylf, Hinky punk, and Hobby Lantern (Briggs, 1976). It's possible that like so many other types of fairies we are not looking at one specific being but rather a range of beings who all fall under the umbrella term of 'Will o' the Wisp' because of how they appear and what they do. In that case any being who shows up in the dark of night bearing a light to mislead travellers could be called a Will o' the Wisp even if we also know it as another distinct being such as the Pwca.

The nature of the Will'o'the'Wisp can be either mischievous or malicious depending and they have been known to both lead travellers harmlessly astray and also to lead them to their deaths. They do this by appearing as lights in front of lost travellers; as the traveller follows the light the light moves and leads them astray. In the case of the mischievous spirits this may mean into a ditch or in circles but for the dangerous ones it could mean off a cliff or into a bog where they drown. They are also known to attack people directly in some folklore, physically chasing them, driving them mad with a touch, or causing a burning sensation on the bottoms of the feet (Ashliman, 2016).

The Will o' the Wisp is often explained as a human spirit of some sort that has been cursed to wander by night bearing a light. the purpose of this light also varies and depends often on why the spirit is cursed to wander. In some areas of Scotland it was said to be the spirit of a girl who had died and spent her afterlife searching the area near the shoreline for a plant used in dyeing cloth; and that she did so because she'd been too greedy in hoarding the dye when she was alive (Ashliman, 2016). In other stories, for example, it was someone who illegally moved boundary markers or cheated neighbors and is set to wander with a light to show where the true boundary is. In the Netherlands and parts of Germany there is a belief that Will o' the Wisps are spirits of unbaptized children who will approach people and try to lead them to water hoping to be baptized (Ashliman, 2016). They can be dealt with by either offering them baptism or throwing graveyard dirt at them.

By other accounts though the Will o' the Wisp is a fairy. In Wales both the Ellydon and Pwca take on the role of the Will o' the Wisp, leading travellers astray. Stokes describes one such incident with the Pwca here: "[A] peasant who is returning home from his work, or from a fair, when he sees a light traveling before him. Looking closer he perceives that it is carried by a dusky little figure, holding a lantern or candle at arm's length over its head. He follows it for several miles, and suddenly finds himself on the brink of a frightful precipice. From far down below, there rises to his ears the sound of a foaming torrent. At the same moment the little goblin with the lantern springs across the chasm, alighting on the opposite side; raises the light again high over its head, utters a loud and malicious laugh, blows out its candle, and disappears up the opposite hill, leaving the awestruck peasant to get home as best he can."(Stokes, 1880). In parts of Germany they are viewed as a type of gnome who can help lost travellers if petitioned to do so and paid for their help, but who will also lead astray those who annoy them (usually by seeking them out); protections against them include walking with one foot in a wheelrut (Ashliman, 2016). In another German story they are described as having wings and flying, and one appeared to attack a girl while she walked because she was singing a song which mocked the spirit (Ashliman, 2016).

There is a distinct crossover as well between the two beliefs, that the Will o' the Wisp is human spirit and that it is a fairy, which we see in many versions of the Jack o Lantern story. In that classic tale, generally viewed by folklorists to fall into the auspices of Will o' the Wisp lore, a person makes a deal with the devil but outwits him by some means and eventually finds himself turned away from both heaven and hell alike. Left to wander in the cold darkness between worlds after a time he finds a light or is given one, which he uses to light his way. In a version of the story related by Stokes in 1880 the reader is explicitly told that the man, having been turned away from both afterlives, was turned into a fairy (Stokes, 1880). This is reinforced by Danish lore which states that a Jack o Lantern is the soul of 'an unrighteous man' and that one should never call on him or point him out if you see him but that turning your cap inside out will protect against him, which is true to fairylore (Ashliman, 2016). This may reflect wider beliefs that fairies themselves are those who belong to neither heaven or hell, something we see in both narratives about the fairies origins as fallen angels and also some beliefs that relate dead humans as fairies.

The Will o' the Wisp is an intriguing and unusual fairy - or spirit - one of the few that science has sought to explain and also one of the more well documented as a phenomena. I have never seen one myself, but my husband has once in the swamp behind our home. Are they natural phenomena? Ghosts? Fairies? I think perhaps the answer is all of the above.

Sanford, F., (1919) Ignis Fatuus; Scientific Monthly vol 9 no 4
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Ashliman, D., (2016) Will-o'-the-Wisps
Sikes, W., (1880) British Goblins
Drudge, C., (2016) A New Explanation for One of the Strangest Occurrences in Nature: Ball Lightning

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Di Chetharslicht Athgabála

Di Chetharslicht Athgabála

Fo chosmailius dorigne Finn húa Baiscne. In tan búi in fian oc Badamair for brú Siúire dodechaidh Cúldub mac húi Birgge a síd ar Femun ut Scotti dicunt co mbert a fulacht núadaib. Co teóra aidchi amin degéni friu. Isin tres fecht iarum norat Finn co luid riam i síd ar Femun. Fortngaib Finn la techt isa síd co torchair allda anall. A ndosreng fris a láim fritninnle in ben asin tsíd & escra fliuch ina láim iar ndáil isin úair riam & doinsort a comlaid frisa síd co ndruid Finn a mér itir in comlaid & in ursain. Gabais iarom a mér ina béolu. Adonic as afrithisi foopairt dicetal. Fortnosmen an imbas condebert: ‘Tair Femen fuigial formuig meis mui muic cetson sirchrand sirlúath laith find sra aulad Cúlduib chanmae.’

Cinn ree iarom dobertatar mná braite a Dún Iascaich a tír na nDésea. Dobreth ingen álainn léo. Atecoboride menma Find in ben dó. Focairdd sí menmain for in gilla búi léo .i. Dercc Corra mac húi Daigre. Ar ba hé a abras-side. Céin fonnuithea fulacht léo léim & doléim in gilla tarsin n-indiu. Tre sin didiu carais an ingen é & asbert fris laa n-aill ara tísed cuice i lighe. Ní foét són Dercc Corra déag Finn. Atagegai domnid dó. Cotsáid fri Finn & asbert: ‘Fortaprom ar écin!’ Asbert iarum Finn fris: ‘Éirgg es’, ol sé, ‘de m' inchaib & rotbia essomon trí laithi & teóra n-aidchi & fomcialta-sa ó suidhiu inund!’
Luid didiu Derc Corra for loinges & arfoét caill & imtighed for luirgnib oss n-allta (si uerum est) ar a étrumai. Laa n-aill didiu do Find isin caill oc a cuingidh-som co n-aca Find in fer i n-úachtar in craind & lon for a gúalainn ndeis & find-lestar n-uma for a láimh clí, osé co n-usce & hé brecc bedcach and & dam allaith fo bun in craind & ba hé abras ind fir teinm cnó & dobered leth n-airne na cnó don lun nobíth for a gúalaind ndeis, no-ithed feisin al-leth n-aill & doicsed a uball asin lestar n-uma búi for a láimh clí & norandad i ndé & docuireth a leth don dam allaid búi fo bun in craind. No-ithad som iarom in leth n-aill & no-ibed loim fair den uisce asin lestur huma búi for a láim co mbo comól dó frisin n-iich & a n-oss & in lon. Friscomarcar didiu a muinter do Finn cia bo hé hisin crunn, ar nínathgéntar som dáigh celtair díclithe búi imbe.

Is de dobert Finn a hordain ina béolo. Addonich as eisib afrithisi fortnosna a imbus & dichan dicetal co n?eipert: ‘Con fri lon lethcno contethain cotith in dithraib Dercc Corra comól fri hich ni ba filliud fabaill a uball fín mblais cona fricarbaith mac úi co dedail Daigre.’ ‘Dercc Corra mac húi Daigre’, ol sé, ‘fil isan crund’.

 The Four-Regulations of Impounding Property

 Then when the Fian were at Badamair near the border of the Siúire, emerged Cúldub son of Ûi Birgge from the síd of Femun (as the Scots say) and he carried off their cooking. For three nights he did this to them. That third time afterwards  Finn went before him to the síd of Femun. Finn forcibly seized him as he went into the síd and he fell wildly there. He draws against his hand and encounters the woman from the síd and a full water vessel in her hands after distributing that time from it and she jammed the door against the sid and between the door and doorpost Finn thrust his finger. He thrust his finger into his mouth. Then he began to chant an incantation. Illuminated by the imbas he spoke. 'Before Femen evil judgement forms my sow, first-good-omen, longlasting-tree, longlasting-swiftness, shining sovereignty against tomb of Cúlduib I sing'

A time later they carried off captive women from Dún Iascaich from the land of the Désea. A beautiful girl was carried off by them. Desired the mind of Fionn the woman for him. Love was in her mind for the servant they had, that is Dercc Corra son of úi Daigre. This was his habit. Always when they were cooking he would leap and leap back, the servant there every day. For this reason the girl loved him and said to him one day that he should lie down with her.  Dercc Corra wouldn't consent to this because of fondness for Finn. She desired vengeance(?) against him. She incited against Finn and said: ‘He has ravished me!’
Then Fionn said to him: ‘Go’, he said, ‘and get out of my sight and you shall have a truce of three days and three nights then be on guard in your seat just the same!’

Then Derc Corra went under banishment and lived in a wood and went on shin-bones of wild deer (if that is true) by his lightness.One day then Fionn was there in the wood seeking him when Fionn saw a man in the top of a tree and a blackbird beside him on the right and a white-vessel of metal in his left hand, and with a fish and he a leaping trout and a wild stag at the base of the tree & and this the action of the man breaking open nuts and he would give half the kernel of the nut to the blackbird eating on his right side, he himself would eat the other half and he would take an apple from the metal vessel in his left hand and divide it in two and give half to the wild stag at the base of the tree. He would eat the other half afterwards and drink the water from the metal vessel that was in his hand so that they feasted together then the fish the deer and the blackbird. His followers questioned Finn then about who was in the tree, because they didn't recognize him because of the concealment concealing him [his disguise].

So then Fionn placed his thumb in his mouth. He is illuminated as he bites and he begins to chant imbus and dichan dicetal saying: ‘With a blackbird half nut vanishes(?) circles(?) the wilderness Dercc Corra agreement of eating turns his course his apple fair tasting against sharp teeth son of úi Daigre.’
‘Dercc Corra son of úi Daigre’, he said, ‘there in the tree’.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Story Behind Pagan Portals Fairy Witchcraft

Every book that's written has a story about the motivation behind it's writing, and this is the story behind Pagan Portals Fairy Witchcraft.

In 2013 I was on social media one day and I stumbled across a link on a page which purported to discuss 'Faerie Witchcraft'. Clicking on it showed a convoluted and confusing hodge-podge of paragraphs that wandered between nonsensical and silly - calling the mid-winter holiday 'Nollaig' for example, which literally means Christmas in Irish, but implying it was an older and genuinely pagan name for the holiday*. It took the common modern approach of treating the fairies as a kind of hybrid between elementals and nature spirits, shoe-horned into a tight corset, and then shoved into a pagan framework. Being rather feisty myself I went back to my own social media page and ranted a bit about kids these days staying off my lawn and bemoaned the growing trend of blending this view of fairies into a pagan framework.

And then I had one of those moments that will sometimes happen, where I felt like they were saying to me, 'If you don't like it, do something about it.' And I stopped, sort of mid-word as I was typing on facebook and I thought about that. Because venting to my friends whenever I ran across something that seemed so offbase to me was fine but ultimately it didn't accomplish very much. The mainstream perception was still what it was. And so I started to think about what I could really do about that and the idea of a book came to me. I had written one book at that point for Moon Books so I had an idea how the process worked but I was uncertain about writing anything about Themselves and also nervous about writing anything about my own personal style of witchcraft. It was one thing after all to write about my spirituality in a more general sense or to write about the theory of things and another entirely to write about how I actually did things myself.

Nonetheless the idea wouldn't go away and I kept feeling pushed to do it. I felt like it was something that the Good People wanted, as trite as that may sound, to have that option out there for people seeking to connect to them from a neopagan framework. There were a few things in print but they inevitably were separated from the root cultures in important ways, usually through the addition to different degrees of ceremonial magic or Kabbalah**. My own focus was on the Fairy Faith without that overlay, and with my pagan religion as a base instead of Catholicism. That made it something different from what I was seeing elsewhere, and that difference had its value.

So I decided to write the book as a Pagan Portal, a very basic introductory text. It would give people the idea of what was possible and a direction to go in if it interested them. It would put the option out there. I really struggled over calling it Fairy Witchcraft though, as I am not personally a fan of the 'f' word however I eventually acknowledged that to reach the people who were looking for it meant it needed a very clear and obvious name. So subtelty went out the window for the sake of a clear message. I rather think that amuses Them actually.

And as it turns out that voice telling me to 'do something about it' was right, or at least correct in that there was a need for it. Certainly people seem to find something meaningful in it and the Pagan Portal was followed up by a full length in depth book, with a third book coming out next year. In the end I am glad I listened, and glad I took that chance - and very glad Moon books took a chance on me.

*spoiler alert - Nollaig is from the Old Irish notlaic which in turn was borrowed from the Latin natalicia - 'birthday'
**I'm not judging that by the way, just saying that it takes the beliefs in a different direction from the folk beliefs of a hundred or two hundred years ago, which were more what I was working from. Obviously I add in neopagan influences to evolve things in a unique direction.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Måran - Night Mares

The following is an excerpt from my new book 'Following the Fairy Path' which should be released in 2018. It will be the third book in my Fairycraft series. This excerpt is discussing one particular type of spirit being or fairy that comes at night and torments sleepers.

The Nightmare, John Fuseli, 1781, public domain


They are a type of being who come at night while you are sleeping, paralyzing you, and bring fear and nightmares. The name for them, Måran or singular Mår is related to the same root word we get our modern word nightmare from, and indeed that is why we have the word – nightmare, night mare, a mare that comes at night. Mare is the Old English while Mår is the German which I use to avoid confusion with mare meaning a female horse. The word Måran is usually translated as goblins, night-goblins, or incubi but I would suggest that Måran are best understood as entirely their own type of being. Much like so many other of the beings we have discussed they are not straightforward though, and there are also some Mår who are human witches with the ability to intentionally or unwittingly project to people at night and oppress them, and as well Måran are often confused with other similar nighttime beings and occasionally with elves (Seo Helrune, 2017). It is important when dealing with them to learn to differentiate between a possible attack from another human that has the same symptoms as the Måran, malicious activity by elves, and activity by Måran.
In folklore Måran are always seen as female beings and it is possible to capture them, usually by blocking whatever place they entered through; it was believed that unless they could go out exactly as they had come in they lost their power (Ashliman, 2005). In several stories a man captured a Mår and then married her, something much like we see in the Selkie tales, and the new wife would act like any other human woman, even giving him children, but if she could ever get him to show her the place she’d entered that he’d blocked and clear it she’d leave immediately. In one tale a Mår is captured when the victim stays awake and sees her enter as a cat and then nails one of her paws to the floor; by morning she has transformed to a young woman (Ashliman, 2005).
When Måran appear they generally come alone and afflict a person in their sleep by perching on their chest. They cause a feeling of paralysis and fear, and can also sometimes make breathing difficult, creating a feeling of pressure or weight on the chest. In folklore they can kill both people and animals (Ashliman, 2005). An old term for this is ‘Old Hag’ although nowadays its known as sleep paralysis and scientific explanations remove spirits from the equation (Seo Helrune, 2017). Some people who are attacked by Måran also experience a sexual overtone to the experience which is partially why the word was translated as incubi and also why I think they are associated with elves, who themselves were often associated with incubi as well. It should be noted however that elves or in this case specifically the Anglo-Saxon aelfe were usually male and the Måran were believed to be female beings, suggesting that we may indeed be looking at two different beings here with a similar method of attack in some cases. This idea is supported by Alaric Hall in his article ‘The Evidence for Maran: The Anglo-Saxon ‘Nightmares’ in which he argues persuasively that Måran were in fact always seen as female and the translation of incubi was an early confusion between texts, and might more properly have been given as succubi.
Because attacks by Måran where not uncommon in the past there are many methods of dealing with them. Blocking the keyhole (if the door has one), placing your shoes backwards – ie laces facing the bed - by the bed, and then climbing into bed backwards can protect you from attack; animals can be protected by placing a broom near them (Ashliman, 2005). Also Måran like many fairies, ghosts, and spirits can be warded off with iron which should be placed near or under the bed. A salve or powder can be made with herbs including Lupin, Betony and Garlic (Seo Helrune, 2017). Mugwort can also be burned to ward off dangerous spirits. There are also a variety of charms to protect against Måran, such as this one which uses a single hair of the person’s head to mime tying up the Mår while saying:
The man of might
He rode at night
With neither sword
Nor food nor light,
He sought the mare,
He found the mare,
He bound the mare
With his own hair,
And made her swear
By mother’s might,
That she would never bide a night
What he had trod, that man of might.”
(Black, 1903; language modified from Shetland Scots)
There is also this one from Germany:
I lay me here to sleep;
No night-mare shall plague me,
Until they swim all the waters
That flow upon the earth,
And count all the stars
That appear in the firmament!”
(Ashliman, 2005).
I have had an experience with a mår once so far. I have never had sleep paralysis before in my life but I woke up in the middle of the night, unable to move or speak, surrounded by a pervasive sense of malevolence and dread. There was a strong sense of presence with this and a kind of impending doom. At first I was disoriented, because I'd been asleep but then honestly I got really angry because I'd had a long difficult day and I was so not in the mood to deal with anything supernatural. I drove the spirit off and forced it out of the house by visualizing bright light shoving it away. Took several minutes of slow effort but it worked.
In talking later with other people on social media I was surprised to find out how common these encounters seemed to be among people I knew, even casually. I think for those who deal with extra-ordinary things and Otherworldly beings it’s important to be aware of the Måran and know how to combat them if they attack either you or anyone you know. 

Seo Helrune 'Maran, Night-Walkers and Elves, Oh My!
Black, G., (1903). County Folk-Lore, vol. 3: Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning the Orkney & Shetland Islands
Ashliman, D., (2005) Night-Mares

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Finnbheara - Fairy King of Connacht

 Generally speaking we have more named Fairy Queens than Kings but we do have a few examples of named Kings as well. Finnbheara is one of the Kings of the fairies in Ireland who is known variously as Finvara, Finveara, Fionbheara, Fin Bheara, Fionnbharr or Findbharr. His name may mean 'Fair Haired' in Old Irish; O hOgain however suggests the name is an oblique reference to the summit of Cnoc Meadha or the cairn found there. He is said to be the king of the fairies of Connacht, with his home at Cnoc Mheada in county Galway. MacKillop suggests that his popularity in later folklore gave him the title of king of all fairies in Ireland and also of king of the dead*.

Finnbheara was originally one of the Tuatha De Danann, he is mentioned as such in the Agallamh na Seanoach and is also said to be a brother to Oengus mac ind Óg and youngest son of the Dagda according to the Altram Tige Dá Medar. His mother is not mentioned. In the altram Tige Dá Medar he is called Finnbarr Meadha and he and Oengus get into a violent disagreement after he disparages one of Oengus's foster daughters while visiting Oengus's home. He is also sometimes said to be a rival of Donn Firinne, another Fairy King, although O hOgain suggests that the two could represent complementary rulers of the year in much the same way other scholars have suggested Áine and Grianne represent the summer and winter suns.

He is generally described as a handsome man, sometimes said to dress in black (Briggs, 1976). We can perhaps assume from his name that he is fair haired. In one story he appears in a coach drawn by four white horses and in another he is riding a black horse (Briggs, 1976). Finnbheara has a strong association with horses in general and with horse racing in specific, and in one tale he appeared to aid Lord Hackett by acting as jockey to his horse in a race before disappearing (O hOgain, 2006).

Finnbheara is married to the Fairy queen Una but he has a reputation for his love of mortal women, and women in general. In the aforementioned Altram Tige Dá Medar he had traveled to visit his brother in order to see Oengus's foster daughters, who had a reputation among the Tuatha De for their beauty and manners. In a story from folklore he abducts a woman named Eithne and keeps her for a year until her husband successfully wins her back from him by digging into Finnbheara's sidhe, salting the earth there, and freeing her from the enchantment she was under by removing a piece of fairy clothing she was wearing (MacKillop, 1998). In the Feis Tighe Chonain he appears as an Otherworldly rival competing with Finn mac Cumhal over a woman (O hOgain, 2006). In many other anecdotal tales he was known as a womanizer and for taking mortal women into his sidhe, even though his own wife was said to be peerlessly beautiful.

A mercurial figure, Finnbheara is well known for abducting people but also for blessing those he favors. He heals a sick woman in exchange for food, and is known for rewarding any blacksmith brave enough to try to shoe his three legged horse (MacKillop, 1998). He is known to appear to mortals and offer them aid of various kinds, but especially aid in horse racing, and then sometimes to invite them into his sidhe. These invitations may be a trap but on other occasions the person would be his guest at a feast, often finding the other guests to be dead people they had known previously, and would return safely to mortal earth the next day (Briggs, 2006). The success of crops in Connacht are also thought in folk belief to rest on both Finnbheara's presence in the area and his favor. In some folklore the crops bloom when Finnbheara and his fairies win at hurling against the fairies of rival provinces (O hOgain, 2006). In one anecdotal tale the fairies of Ulster challenged the fairies of Connacht and the two met and fought as clouds in the sky and "it was thought that Finnbheara won because there were good crops in Connacht that year." (MacNeill, 1962, page 593). It was generally believed that there was a standing rivalry between the Good People of Ulster and Finnbheara's people.

Finnbheara is an interesting figure in folklore and one who has a more complex history than is sometimes appreciated in fairylore. A member of the Tuatha De Danann and also a Fairy King, possibly also ruler of the dead, known to abduct mortals but also to aid them for little or even no recompense. He bridges the space between mythology and folklore, found in myths from the 12th century and also in modern day folklore around Cnoc Meadha. Those who seek to better understand the way that the Tuatha De Danann have merged with and affected our understanding of fairies can learn a lot by studying Finnbheara's stories.

*the relationship between the fairies and the dead is complicated but we also see this sort of crossover with Donn Firinne, who is called both a Fairy King and a god of the dead.

MacKillop, J., (1998) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Altram Tige Dá Medar
O hOgain, D., (2006) The Lore of Ireland
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
MacNeil. M., (1962) Festival of Lughnasa

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

How I Became an Author

I was asked the other day to share the story of how I became an author, so today that's what I'm going to talk about.

I'll be the first person to admit I never thought this is what I'd be doing at this point in my life, although I can't say its entirely a shock either. When I was in high school I co-wrote an unfinished book with a friend and I was always writing poetry. But it's also true that writing and reading have never come easily for me and the idea of making a career of it wouldn't have been my first thought.

I am severely dyslexic as well as dyscalculaic; I didn't learn to read until I was in second grade, after years of special classes. It would be fair to say that my initial experience with the public school system was difficult and there were other bumps in the road as I went along. Once I did learn to read I very much enjoyed the ability to lose myself in other worlds and to learn from diverse sources, but writing, particularly spelling, never ceased to be a challenge. I don't know how to explain what its like to someone who isn't dyslexic but part of the challenge is that when I make an error no matter how many times I re-read the sentence or word I may not see the mistake. The only way I know to compensate for this issue is to proof read everything dozens of times (including books) and even then there will still be mistakes in them.

So perhaps you can see why if you'd asked me years ago if I thought I'd ever be an author I would have said no. Its not that I didn't think I could tell a good story or had anything valuable to say, but I am aware of the learning disability that I live with and how it effects my ability to communicate in writing.

Two things happened though which set me on the path of public writing. Firstly I was in a position where I was not writing everything by hand anymore (which I had done previously) and instead I was typing on a computer which offered spellcheck services that helped me greatly. Secondly I was a member of a Druid Order in the late 2000's which required dedicants to complete a project to become Druids. My project was to repaganize sections of the Carmina Gadelica, and my mentor for the project, Ellen Evert Hopman, suggested that the finished project would be valuable to put out as a book so that other people could also use it. I had never thought to do something like that before but self-publishing at that point in time made it feasible. And so I did it, realising a small book of repaganized prayers. I was so inspired by the project itself that I went on to do another selection from the same source this time aimed at charms as well as prayers; this was also released as a small book and then the two were combined into an omnibus edition.

I was emboldened by this writing success to begin a blog, this blog, as a resource for the community. I envisioned it as a place to share research I was doing and to offer good sources for people as well as just to share my thoughts on things. Its undergone different changes over the last 6 years, but I do hope that it has at least provided a resource for people, if nothing else.

In all honesty that probably would have been the end of it  - I had no further ambition beyond occasionally submitting poetry to magazines or anthologies - but shortly afterwards I was approached by small publisher through a friend because they were looking for someone to write a children's book on the Fairy Faith. It was my first publishing contract for a book. Not too long after that I had the idea, inspired by a book by Cat Treadwell, to use my blog material as the basis for a book. I put it all together and submitted it to a newer (at the time) imprint called Moon Books. Why Moon? Several reasons, including that I had friends who wrote for them at the time and that I liked the ease of their submission process online. My first full length non-fiction book came out of that, Where the Hawthorn Grows, which is a look at my thoughts on Druidism* and being a Druid in America. From there of course I have written other titles for Moon, and I found that I not only enjoyed writing but seemed to be good at it. I currently have seven books out with Moon, two more forthcoming in the next six months and three more under contract.

Once again though, it probably would have stayed with non-fiction if not for another friend and a conversation. I hadn't written fiction since high school but I had seen several friends on social media talking about doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo) in November and I kept thinking it looked like fun. I am always coming up with stories in my head but I had never written any of them down, at least not since the 90's. But I was talking with my friend Catherine Kane in 2012 about a NaNo project she was doing that ended up as a published novel 'The Land that Lies Between'** and when I mentioned having some NaNo envy she strongly urged me to try participating just for fun. In 2013 I did give it a try and I quickly realized that I genuinely love writing fiction, specifically urban fantasy, and to my surprise what was supposed to be a project just for fun took on a life of its own. I had taken to posting little plot summaries and word counts on my social media as a motivator to hit my goal and 'win' NaNo and I had several people asking me when they could read the finished book. This led to a brief attempt to find an agent (lots of very polite responses saying they liked it but weren't interested) and then to submit to a trade publisher. I was offered a contract on the first book, but I decided to self publish because they wanted me to re-write something in the book which was intentionally being left a mystery and because I knew at that point it was meant to be at least a trilogy and I was afraid if it didn't sell well the other books wouldn't see print. I am really glad I chose to self publish my fiction as its given me the freedom to write the series up to book #6 and to release new books on my own schedule.

I never planned to be an author but writing is something I really enjoy doing. I seem to be reasonably good at it, and I hope that my work on both my blogs and my books has been useful to people. I used to say, after each book, that I felt like that would be my last one and I wouldn't write anything else but I think at this point I will write until I feel like I have nothing else to add and no more stories to tell.

*I don't actually consider myself a Druid anymore, as my path has diverged from there and returned to focusing solely on witchcraft, however I will say that I still think Hawthorn is a good book.
**I highly recommend it by the way if you enjoy urban fantasy that is light and fun to read.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Bean Sí

Following up on last week's post about fairies of the battle field this week I want to look at the Bean Sí. The name itself simply means 'fairy woman' and is found in a variety of spellings including the anglicized Banshee. As we shall see though the Bean Sí may or may not actually be a fairy, although she is often considered one in both historic and modern folklore.  

When we look at exactly what the Bean Sí may be and what her origin is we find there's no simple answer, but multiple options ranging from literary to folk tradition. MacKillop in his Dictionary of Celtic Mythology says that "In folk etiology the banshee was thought to be the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth, or of a murdered pregnant woman." (MacKillop, 1998). Lysaght in her very thorough work 'The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger' has an entire chapter on the topic which elucidates the following possible theories:
- She may be a fairy
- She may be one of the Tuatha Dé Danann
- She may be the child of a fairy and a mortal
- She may be a human woman, living, abducted by the fairies but allowed to return to caoin for her family
- She may be a fallen angel
- She may be the spirit of an unbaptized child
- She may be the ghost of a murdered maiden, killed by a family member
- She may be a human soul working off misdeeds in a fashion like purgatory (specifically the sin of pride which is why according to folk tradition the banshee has long beautiful hair she combs out)
- She may be someone who was a keening woman when she was alive who was negligent in some way and so must pay by continuing to serve as a keening woman in death
- She may be someone who was a woman who lost her family tragically and never stopped mourning them

 It is possible that like so many other kinds of fairies the answer to the Bean Sí's origin isn’t one or the other but a combination, with these fairies being made up of some who are mortal dead and others who have always been fairies and may be related to Badb of the Tuatha De Danann. There is certainly no reason to expect a single origin or explanation for the Bean Sí when we already know that very few things with the fairies are either simple or straightforward. 

The Bean Sí is a female spirit who is known for attaching herself to a particular family and appearing whenever someone in that family is about to die. In one account a Bean Sí attached to a family near Lough Gur came when a woman of the family was dying and both of the woman’s sisters heard sad fairy music playing (Evans-Wentz, 1911). Some people say that only those in the family she is attached to can hear her cry (Ballard, 1991). In other stories the Bean Sí may appear on the night of a death wailing or keening in mourning and may be heard by anyone in the area of the dying person. The sound she makes has been described in a variety of ways including like the sound of a crying fox, howling dog, or moaning scream, but most often is heard as a woman keening

 The Bean Sí, particularly in Ireland is often said to be very beautiful, appearing as a young woman, although in other places such as Scotland she may be described as a very old woman (MacKillop, 1998). She is often described as a grey figure or a woman wrapped in a grey cloak, although by other accounts she wears a long grey cloak over a green dress with her eyes deep red from crying (Ballard, 1991; Briggs,1976). Others say that the Bean Sí wears white, or white with red shoes, and has long golden hair (MacKillop, 1998; Logan, 1981). She brushes her hair with a special comb and it is considered very dangerous even today to pick up a stray comb you find laying on the ground, in case it belongs to this spirit. Folklore tells of those who find a silver or gold comb and bring it home only to be confronted at night by horrible wailing and scratching at the windows until they pass the comb out on a pair of tongs which is pulled back in twisted and broken (O hOgain, 2006). 

The Bean Sí is particularly associated with several goddesses among the Tuatha Dé Danann, including Badb and Cliodhna. In same areas of Ireland the word badb (pronounced in those dialects as bow) is the name used for the Bean Sí; like that famous war Goddess the Bean Sí is able to take the form of a hooded crow (MacKillop, 1998). Cliodhna is sometimes called the 'Queen of the Banshees' and she acts as the Bean Sí for the McCarthy family, who are said to be her descendants, appearing to cry and announce a death in the family. 

Many people today fear the Bean Sí as the cause of deaths, but in most folklore she is clearly not the cause but merely an omen of the inevitable. She would appear just before or at the moment of death to announce the event to the family and others gathered around the ailing person. Over time her appearance in this capacity and association with immanent death seems to have given her a more sinister reputation, although some authors do suggest that she began with a clear association with the Goddess Badb and the battle field and only slowly switched to the more personal and passive death messenger we know today. If this is so then the Bean Sí may be slowly shifting back into her earlier and more actively dangerous persona as modern belief re-imagines her as fearsome and possibly fatal to those who cross her path. 

Evans-Wentz, W., (1911) The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Ballard, L., (1991) Fairies and the Supernatural on Reachrai
Logan, P., (1981) The Old Gods: The Facts about Irish Fairies
Lysaght, P., (1986) The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger
MacKillop, J., (1998) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology

Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Fortune, M., (2016) The Bow/ Banshee
O hOgain, D., (2006) The Lore of Ireland