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Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Dearg Due

 With Samhain approaching I decided to write about the Dearg Due, the closest to a classic vampire that can be found in Irish folklore. Almost immediately though I ran into a slight problem, in that I can't find any references to this being in actual books on folklore. The only sources in which I could find the Dearg Due mentioned were more modern works and mostly ones that focused on vampires specifically. This has left me a bit skeptical of the Dearg Due's true origins, but nonetheless I'll relate the story here. It is the time of year for ghost stories after all.

First a bit about the name. Many sources will explain this name as meaning 'red blood sucker' but I think this unlikely. Dearg does indeed mean red, but Due is a more difficult word to interpret. In Old Irish the name may mean 'red owing' or 'red place', but I think it's more likely the name comes from modern Irish 'Dearg Dú'* which could be read as 'red evil' or 'red darkness'. As far as I can tell the words blood and sucker aren't involved.

So, the story then. As it goes around the internet and in the vampire books: Long ago in Ireland there lived a beautiful maiden, the daughter of a rich and greedy father. Many men came from across the land to try to win her hand in marriage but the girl had fallen in love with a local peasant and refused all others. Her father wouldn't allow this and forced her into a loveless marriage with an older man who was terribly cruel to her. Eventually, when she realized her true love wasn't going to rescue her, the girl killed herself. Before dying the girl renounced all that was good in the world, cursed God and those who had made her suffer in life, and swore she would get her revenge. And so it was that after she was buried she rose again from her grave as the Dearg Due; some say that she hunts and kills those who are guilty of hurting others, while others say she seeks out the innocent, especially children and young men to be her victims.

Like traditional Western European vampires the Dearg Due is a human being who died and was buried, and rose from the dead to torment the living. Like those other vampires she roams the night seeking to steal the life force from the living. Unlike other vampires the Dearg Due is not a type of being but a specific individual, and it is said her grave still exists in county Waterford. She only rises from her grave once a year on the anniversary of her death and she can be held in check if stones are kept piled on her grave.

It's hard to pin down how old these stories are or whether they are truly rooted in older mythology or represent a blending of newer thoughts. Certainly they lack the overt fairy folklore we see in the stories of beings like the Baobhan Sithe of Scotland which are also vampiric in nature, or even the more bloodsucking types of Leannán Sidhe found across Celtic speaking countries. But the stories of the Dearg Due are interesting and at the least represent an evolution in folklore as different cultural influences came into play.

*dú in this case is a form of dubh, literally meaning black

Further Reading:

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.

Manwaring, K., (2017) The Remarkable Notebooks of Robert Kirk
Kirk, R., and Lang, A., (1893) The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies

Thursday, October 12, 2017

An Poc Sí - The Fairy Stroke

One of the most feared weapons of the fairies was the fairy stroke or poc sí, sometimes also called the fairy blast. There are several modern Irish expressions associated with this term including 'poc aosán' which is a term for a sudden illness, 'poc mearaidh' meaning a touch of madness, and 'buaileadh poc air' meaning to be elfstruck or bewitched (O Donaill, 1977). In Old Irish this might be called poc aosáin [fairy stroke] or áesán [fairy sickness]. Associated with the Slua Sí [fairy host] and the sí gaoithe [fairy wind] the fairy stroke was a sudden and otherwise inexplicable illness marked by a change in behavior and health. MacKillop suggests that this term is where we get the term stroke from for cerebral hemorrhages or aneurysms (MacKillop, 1996).

The fairy stroke could afflict both humans and animals but was differentiated from the similar elfshot in its symptoms and method of application. Unlike elfshot which used an arrowhead, sometimes invisible, to injury a person, fairy stroke was caused by a blow from the fairies themselves, or in rare cases being struck by a blunt object they threw. Fairy stroke might manifest as a sudden seizure or else a loss of mental acuity, which may be temporary or permanent (MacKillop, 1996). Getting the fairy stroke, like many things associated with fairies could be a double edged blade as it cost a person their health and mind but was also believed to convey a special esoteric knowledge (Wedin, 1998). There was also some crossover with changeling folklore as in some cases those who had received the fairy stroke were said to have actually been taken by the fairies while either a glamoured object or decrepit fairy was left behind instead (MacKillop, 1996). This is also true of those afflicted by elfshot indicating that both could be used either to torment people or as a means of taking those humans who the fairies desired.

Those who were struck by the blast might simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time, may have transgressed a fairy rule, or may have failed to adequately protect themselves. One anecdote from Newfoundland tells of a woman struck by the fairy blast because she passed through a crossroads without carrying a bit of protective bread in her pocket while another man received the blast for trying to cut down a tree the fairies didn't want cut (Reiti, 1991). In other examples people were approached by fairies who either offered them items or wanted them to do things and when the people refused the Fey folk threw items at them; wherever the item struck the person was afflicted with pain, sometimes resulting in lifelong debility and other times in madness and eventual death (Reiti, 1991).

Lady Wilde includes this charm for curing the fairy stroke in her book:
"There is a very ancient and potent charm which may be tried with great effect in case of a suspected fairy-stroke.
Place three rows of salt on a table in three lines, three equal measures to each row. The person performing the spell then encloses the rows of salt with his arm, leaning his head down over them, while he repeats the Lord's Prayer three times over each row--that is, nine times in all. Then he takes the hand of the one who has been fairy-struck, and says over it, "By the power of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, let this disease depart, and the spell of the evil spirits be broken! I adjure, I command you to leave this man [naming him]. In the name of God I pray; in the name of Christ I adjure; in the name of the Spirit of God I command and compel you to go back and leave this man free! Amen! Amen! Amen!" (Wilde, 1888).

MacKillop, J., (1996) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Wilde (1888) Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland
Wedin, W., (1998) The Sidhe, the Tuatha de Danaan, and the Fairies in Yeats's Early Works; William Butler Yeats Seminar
Reiti, B., (1991) 'The Blast' in Newfoundland Fairy Tradition
O Donaill, (1977) Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Fairy Doors and Fairy Houses

There are two things that are trendy right now, although I wouldn't say either is exactly new: fairy doors and fairy houses. The principle behind each is simple and how serious or kitschy it is depends entirely on the person making it. A fairy door is a small door, usually at least several inches high, that can be plain or decorative, and which is designed to be placed against a surface to mimic the presence of a real door. A fairy house* is a small house, again simple or decorated, usually a foot or so high, that is intended to represent the home of a small fairy.

100 year old Japanese Maple in the sun

Fairy Doors - As far as I've been able to find with my ametuer investigating the modern phenomena of fairy doors seems to trace to Ann Arbor Michigan and the early 90's although they didn't start appearing in random public places until 2005. Originally the idea of illustrator Jonathon Wright the fairy doors began as artwork, although it should be noted that Wright moved on to writing about and hosting a website dedicated to 'urban fairies' and calls himself a fairyologist (NPR, 2006). One can now purchase them from a variety of specialty companies as well as mass market catalogs and they also feature in the work of different artists. Some fairy doors open up to tiny rooms, rather like doll house rooms, and the implication is that these are where fairies live. Others are simply doors placed against flat surfaces, meant to replicate the above idea. We even see them now painted onto things, to give the impression of a doorway where none actually is.

So on its face the idea of fairy doors seems fairly tame. It was originally aimed at children, created by Wright to delight and encourage belief in his wife's preschool students (NPR, 2006). I will be honest though, I have never been a fan of fairy doors particularly the indoor ones. Many people use them as a sort of blanket invitation to Otherworldly beings and while I do understand that they are approaching it with the belief that fairies are little winged sprites that are full of glitter and love that doesn't actually change the fact that an open door is an open door. When people are inviting fairies in, whether they have a set idea of what a fairy is or not, they are still putting out a blanket invitation to any fairy being who may want to come through that doorway. I tend to be very hesitant about the idea of any sort of open doorway like that, and having such a thing around children given the folklore of children being taken by the Fey just isn't something I would do. If a person really wanted to have a fairy door I would at the least ward it and keep it from actually being used as a passageway for anything to travel through. For myself my children's rooms have iron and broom in them not open doorways.

Under specific circumstances such a doorway could be useful, if a person was in a situation where they needed to open a passage for a spirit or fairy. I would be very cautious about doing this however unless I was very sure of exactly what was coming through. It isn't easy to filter such an opening.

Fairy Houses - Fairy houses have a complex history and while they seem to be rooted in the late Victorian period, with its shift to viewing fairies as garden spirits, they draw on the older folklore concepts of giving the fairies of your home and land a place and offerings. Having a fairy house indoors represents offering a space to your house fairies, while having outdoor fairy houses, theoretically is a type of offering to the spirits, the fairies, of that place. These are strongly reminiscent of the Roman household shrines to the lares familiaris, shrines which housed objects devoted to household spirits and where offerings could be placed (Connor, 1994).

Like Fairy doors, Fairy houses have taken off as a cultural idea recently and can even be found as public art displays and in museums. They are so popular that books have been written about them and one can easily find instructions for making different kinds of fairy houses online, as well as a wide range of images of them. Fairy houses are limited only by a person's imagination, and while they are certainly often viewed as nothing more than decorative items they can also have practical uses. A fairy house can serve as a point of connection to your house fairies and yard fairies and also as a place to leave offerings, just as the shrine to the lares did for the Romans.

While I am extremely cautious of fairy doors I am quite pro fairy houses. A fairy house, while admittedly often kitschy and twee, is a way to offer a permanent place to the spirits that are already present in your home and yard. Obviously they don't need such a thing but it's a symbolic gesture to them, a way to say that you appreciate their presence and efforts.

Doors and Houses - The key difference between the two, and the reason that I like the one and not the other really comes down to the intention behind them. A doorway by its nature will always be an entrance to a place and it is dangerous from my perspective to have something like that open to the Otherworld and with a sort of carte blanche invitation attached. After all just because a person is assuming that all fairies are pleasant little winged sprites who bring luck and happiness doesn't actually make it so. To have such a door and a welcome mat in front of it means that one can't be certain of what may come through that door. In contrast a fairy house is aimed at a more specific type of fairy from the off, either in the house for a house fairy (or house spirit more generally) or in the yard intended to offer a home for the fairies in your garden. Fairy houses are also by their nature designed to be specific to the fairies that are already in place, rather than open portals to anything wandering by. In one case you are inviting things in; in the other you are offering a place to what is already there.

Popculture will always shape and affect our beliefs and practices, sometimes more than we realize. For many people fairy doors have become a ubiquitous concept, yet as we have seen they are a recent addition to our culture, brought in initially to delight small children. Fairy houses were a feature of late Victorian era gardens yet they reflect older ideas relating to shrines for spirits in the household. I believe one should be approached with caution and the other can be useful if we look beyond their bright colors and small features and give serious thought to the metaphysical implications they carry with them.

*there's a range for what may be considered a 'fairy house' but what I'm mentioning here are the sort that can be bought or built for inside the home or permanent placement in the yard. When I was a child back in the 80's I used to build these instinctively, if you will, but out of wild materials in the woods. Little acorn cups and tiny bark plates, tables of stone and wood, beds of twigs and pine needles, walls of stone and branches and leaves - you get the idea.

NPR., (2006) The Wee Fairy Doors of Ann Arbor, Mich.
Connor, P., (1994) Lararium

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."