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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Fairy Priestessing: When Your Spirituality Swallows You Whole

In a lot of the pagan community I see an approach to spirituality that is a bit like a video game: you start and you achieve different levels as you go, until you beat the game and win. This bothers me on a couple levels which I'd like to address before I get into the meat of today's blog which is going to be about my own experiences of living as a priestess of the Good Folk. Firstly the idea that spirituality is supposed to progress in an accomplishment sense, I think, sets up an attitude of competition and of progress for its own sake. In reality I don't believe our spirituality should ever be about competing with anyone else - no 'keeping up with the Joneses' here - nor about moving forward just so that we don't feel like other people are moving past us. If a person always remains at a certain level by choice, that's fine; if they are perfectly happy without titles or degrees or any of that that's also fine. I also think that the idea that spirituality is about constantly earning degrees or titles or 'winning' in any sense is deeply problematic because it shifts the focus from the actual spiritual growth to the perceived prize. Earning a title or degree shouldn't be about the title itself but about the experience, ability, wisdom, and yes spiritual growth, that comes with earning it. And finally I think it makes the things being earned seem like rewards instead of what they actually are in many cases: responsibilities.
So that's some food for thought as we dive into this.

I never sought out the current situation I'm in*, although I suppose there was always an inevitability to it. Years before I actually went through my initiatory experience I was already being pulled into deeper work with the Daoine Maithe, although it was happening slowly enough that I almost wasn't paying attention to it myself. I was, prior to 2016, dedicated to Odin and Macha and a lot of my focus was on assorted work related to them. I'm mentioning this here because I want to be clear on two points. Service to Themselves is optional, of course, but you are not necessarily going to be the one seeking Them out. They have their own agency just as the Gods do and they will act in whatever ways they believe serve their own best interests. Also I see people who seem to think that dedication to or priestessing for the Good Neighbours is a desirable life goal or the ultimate purpose of a path that is focused on the fairies. As if its a mark of pride to be able to say that you are a priestess of Themselves.
I find that idea extremely concerning.

Now, I realize that there's all kinds of Otherworldly beings out there and my experiences with specifically the Irish Daoine Sí may not resonate with people dealing with a totally different kind of being. Fair play to you. But since there's a lot of material out there extolling a sparkly happy life of fairy friendship I feel rather obligated to offer a counterpoint. Not all fairies are nice, and not all dedication to Fair Folk of any variety will result in whimsy and excess twee.

Historically we don't see surviving references to people who served as clergy to the Daoine Uaisle, although I suspect that the mná feasa and fairy doctors took part of this role into the modern era, as possibly did the witches. However it's also important to note that especially for the bean feasa and fairy doctor a big part of what they did would be to protect people from fairies or heal people from injuries caused by fairies - they were arguably not about serving the Gentry but about serving the human community and acting as a kind of go-between. Actual clergy is a different matter in my opinion, so understand that what follows is based on my personal experiences and interactions rather than a lot of historical material** and is looking not at what I actually do, but the effect that this service has had on my life.

There are different kinds of priests and certainly one kind is the sort that is focused on serving the human community and acting as an intermediary for the human community and the Powers. I am not that kind. I am the other sort, although I used to be the first kind when I was dedicated to the Gods. Now I am another kind of priest, the kind who serves the Powers and acts as an intermediary for them to the human community, and that may seem like semantics but its a very important distinction. What I do is what is in their best interests, as I understand it and as its conveyed to me, and sometimes that's at odds with the human community.

 I'm very hesitant about putting some of this out there because I don't want it to be misunderstood, and I am perpetually walking a thin line of what I can or can't say. In this case I feel like this needs to be said and hopefully can help people trying to find their own way with this path or service. If no is still an option I encourage you to seriously consider it, but if you have passed that point then I hope my words can perhaps offer a sense of camaraderie along the way.
 If this is the path you are meant to be on, then by all means walk it. But I want people to go in with their eyes open and an awareness that there are dangers and sacrifices that go along with this. There's a cost for the blessing. Also this is in no way a situation where the person with the biggest prohibitions or strangest restrictions is in any way more devout than anyone else. In my experience each aspect of what is asked of us has a very specific purpose and that purpose, whether personal or more general, is something that serves them and has nothing to do with how other humans perceive a person. What they ask is generally subtle and not flashy or obvious most of the time. To put this another way I've never yet been asked to wear a giant flashing sign that says I Totes Serve the Shining Ones and I'm pretty cynical of people whose devotion is attention seeking rather than results focused.
On a related note: be proud of whatever it is you do, especially if it has taken hard work to get there, but never forget that ultimately this isn't about you. I will also say that my own personal experience has been one where the Fair Folk often and repeatedly emphasize a need for me to remember my place, and that place isn't a high one. The Fairy Queen's nickname for me, affectionate as I like to hope it is, nonetheless translates more or less to 'servant'.

Consent is an essential concept with the Gentry but their idea of consent, like so many other aspects of their etiquette, is not the same as the human concept. Yes, they do often require a person to explicitly agree to a thing, usually verbally, but that consent does not have to be freely given. A glance at Irish folklore illustrates that they are more than willing to compel a person's agreement and that consent under duress or threat is still binding. It's important to remember that, and that there is no loophole that says you don't have to abide by an agreement you made in such a situation. There's a reason that we see stories of people who chose to be maimed rather than forced into consenting to a fairy agreement they didn't want to be part of. Once you have agreed to something - once the deal is struck - getting out of it is often nearly impossible. Giving consent, verbally or by action, is the same as signing a legally binding contract and is treated as such, and breaking it is harder than you'd imagine.

Understand that once you've agreed to something, sworn an oath, or made a commitment there is no further negotiating and you may be surprised by some of the terms that come down and effect you. This is why I tend to always emphasize the need to negotiate like a high priced lawyer getting paid thousands by the hour and always look for the small print. Yes there's consent at least by their definition and yes you can say no, but once you've said yes there's no arguing that you didn't understand what you were agreeing to. Let me quote an excerpt here from my book 'Travelling the Fairy Path' at this point:
"Here's the thing though, about getting into this sort of spirituality. If you choose to do this kind of work then there's an understanding that you are agreeing to all the terms, including the ones that haven't been specified beforehand. And if you try to get around something they are emphasizing as important, often enough, they may give you a bit of time to toe the line voluntarily then they will step in and influence things themselves."

So that all said, I want to point out three ways that being a priestess of the Good Neighbours has affected my life. I am not saying this is the template for how such a thing would be for anyone else, but I am offering it as my own experience and something to consider for anyone who may consider this.

Diet - This began a few years before the initiation but has slowly grown more rigid. I am not supposed to drink caffeine, eat heavily processed foods, or red meat. I am supposed to focus on fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, dairy, minimal white meats or fish and clean water. Anytime I have tried to deviate from what they 'suggest' there's some sort of mishap with the food or drink involved or I get physically ill.
Since then I've also learned that this specific diet is similar to the ayurvedic sattvic diet as well as reminiscent of the diet of a fairy doctor Yeats mentions and ties into dietary issues Cutchins discusses in his book 'Trojan Feast'. I don't know why this emphasis on freshness and specific foods but talking to two different friends have raised a few theories. One, suggested by a Buddhist friend, is that a more sattvic diet may make a person more psychically open or capable. Second, the Good People themselves are known to take the essence or toradh from foods and this may be roughly analogous to the sattvic quality in foods, and also explain why they would prefer I eat food that still has as much of that 'toradh' as possible.
  However I will point out that this is not necessarily an easy diet to live by, especially on a tight budget and with food sensitivities. And its even harder when travelling. There are points when I simply don't eat because I don't have any other viable options.

Prohibitions - So here's a thing that the brochures leave out. There's this concept of spiritual prohibitions which are things that either must be done or must not be done. These prohibitions are not things people take on themselves, for the most part, but are things that are put on a person by others particularly Otherworldly beings or authority figures. Let me just be blunt here, a spiritual prohibition sucks. These aren't just casual things and they aren't lightly taken on or ignored, and you don't get to decide whether or not you feel like following one. To break one is to, in effect, violate an aspect of the agreement that's been made with the Otherworld and the consequence is severe. Sometimes a loss of health, luck, or sanity. Sometimes death. No I'm not kidding.
   At the moment I have two relating to the Gentry. I cannot cut my hair, although minimal trimming for health is allowed. I also cannot knowingly go into a Christian church or active sacred space, and I cannot enter a cemetery where a Christian funeral is being held. The second prohibition is one that clearly impacts my life in a dominantly Christian culture and with primarily Christian extended family. No, there are no exceptions.

Exclusivity - As someone who deals with the Good People there is no issue with also being a devout worshipper of deities or practitioner of spirituality of any kind. As a priest who serves them however in my experience they expect a degree of exclusivity. They don't share their toys, to use an expression. If you go to that next level with the Gentry then expect that any other deep divine connections you have will at the least be changed and at the worst be severed; not all at once or immediately perhaps but it will happen. I lost a decade long dedication to Odin after becoming their priestess and six months or so after that lost my place as a priestess of Macha.
They will not stand for divided loyalty.

Physically - This is a weird one, I admit but I have no real explanation for it outside of this work. Yes I have looked into physical explanations, yes I have looked into environmental reasons, and nothing. My entire life my hair has been pin straight. As I mention above I was given a prohibition about cutting my hair which I have not done now in almost two years, barring slight trimming. My hair has inexplicably gone from straight to ringlet curls and waves; I jokingly refer to them as 'elf curls' because they are nothing like actual elf locks but I don't know what else to call them. Maybe this doesn't sound like a big deal, but firstly it's a very odd thing to have your hair suddenly, randomly become totally different than it always has been before, and secondly I had no practical idea of what the heck to do with it. Curly hair is complicated.
  Will it stay this way forever? I don't know. Will it keep getting curlier? I don't know. But it certainly makes it clear to me the degree that my life belongs to them now, which I suppose was the entire point.
  I share this aspect, ultimately, so that people will be aware that they can and will change you physically whether or not you want them to. Maybe just so that you are always aware that they can.

I like to use the analogy of spirituality as a path because the path is wherever you happen to be walking. Sometimes it's already created and other times you are creating it as you go. The path of Fairy witchcraft is a particular one and it's not for everyone, and priestessing for the Good People even more so. If Fairy witchcraft is a path you walk then priestessing is what happens when the path opens up and devours you whole. It has changed many aspects of my life that I never expected it to touch and I am perforce reminded almost constantly that my dedication is interwoven into every aspect of my day. I wouldn't change any of this and I am grateful for all of it, but it isn't easy and people need to know going in that it won't be.

*I won't bore people here with what amounts to years of backstory but for those who haven't regularly followed my blog I'll recap briefly with links: I've written and talked about the Good People as part of my life for as long as I've been writing; I went to Ireland in 2016 and ended up in a spontaneous Otherworldly initiation; this messed me up for about 6 months; it also meant some serious life changes.
**although I do have a few references that back up some of what I've experienced or been guided to do, specifically in Yeats discussing fairy doctors and Wilby discussing how some witches served the fairies. I'd rather focus here on my own personal experiences though and let that be taken for what it is.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mystic South 2018

This past weekend I flew down to attend the second Mystic South conference in Atlanta Georgia. As I understand it the conference is focused on an appreciation of uniquely southern magic and practices but also open to looking at the wider pagan community, and includes a special track for academic presentations. Quite frankly they had me at the idea of academic material because that isn't something you see a lot of at other pagan conferences.

I originally submitted two workshop ideas and one academic presentation; all three were accepted. Additionally I was asked to be on one panel and one live podcast. Then, life being what it is, an opening came up to do an additional class when scheduling had to be moved around, so a fourth class was added. On the one hand, this was a good thing (I think) because I definitely felt like the trip was worthwhile, always a worry for me when travelling like this isn't exactly inexpensive. On the other hand though I was basically going flat out from the time our plane landed at 6 am friday morning until we arrived back at the airport to head home at 5 sunday night. 4 classes, 1 panel, and 1 podcast appearance was a lot to try to do in 59 hours, considering I do need to sleep and eat as well and in retrospect a little less willingness to jump in to everything may have served me better. The biggest downside to things being so hectic was that I wasn't able to attend many other workshops or have much time to decompress, which is an introvert essential.

So, Mystic South.
First of all I think this was the most fun I've had at a bigger pagan conference, despite my interesting life choice to schedule so much. The organizers are amazing, the volunteers were amazing, and the overall feel of the conference is amazing. Did I mention that it was amazing? It wasn't perfect by any means, nothing is after all, but the feel of it was friendly and fun and the class line up was a great blend of more academic and more experiential.

I taught a class Friday called 'Trading on the Goblin Market' which was about dealing safely with the Good People - think of it like a crash course in fairy lawyering. Friday night I had a small spot on the Desperate Housewitches live broadcast along with several other presenters. That was super fun. Friday itself is a bit of a sleep deprived blur - my friend and I had to get up before 3 am to catch our plane - but I did reconnect with friends and meet some facebook friends in person.

Saturday began with a morning conversation with friends over hot chocolate (for me) before I taught a class on Celtic Fairies in America (kind of self explanatory). Afterwards I managed to catch one of the academic presentations 'The Effects of Muse Misuse in Popculture' by Clio Ajana which was fascinating. She talked about the way that a Hollywood movie and its later remake shaped our understanding of the muses and the problem of sexualization of the muses in popular culture. I'm looking forward to that presentation possibly being published as a paper.
After lunch I had my own academic presentation of my paper on the evolution of the Fairy Courts in popular culture. I was very nervous about this because I have never done a formal academic presentation before and I haven't done a presentation with a power point since college. I think it all went well though and I was really impressed with the questions and comments afterwards.
I also attended a panel on navigating paganism as a person of colour. I'm still processing that discussion, which I think was a lot to unpack. It probably is a topic that needs more than an hour to really get into, and I do wish there had been a woman on the panel itself, although in fairness the moderator was a woman. As someone who is white-passing mixed race I think conversations like that panel are essential and I was really glad to see it as part of the conference.
Dinner was a large social affair replete with both casual conversation and deeper philosophical discussion on the future of paganism and witchcraft. Saturday night ended with a really fun 'swamp witch' themed party which I dubbed 'pagan prom'; it was a blast and I actually danced although not as enthusiastically as my travel companion. Costumes had been encouraged so I dressed up as a swamp fairy because that seemed close enough to swamp witch. Plus I hardly ever have a reason to where my horns in public.

Sunday I had a panel first thing in the morning about Reconstructionism. I was surprised to see how well attended that one was for something so early on the third day of the conference, but it seemed to go well. I thought the moderator asked good questions and I felt like the flow on the panel was good, although at a few points I felt like I was talking too much. That might just be my own issue though. After that (and with a side trip to get checked out of our room) I had a class on Wodan and the Wild Hunt. It's always fun to start out a class by warning people that I have publicly called Odin a *ahem* shifty bastard before - yeah I didn't use the word shifty. Close though. But the class itself I think went well and it was interesting to discuss Odin, Wodan, and the fluidity of who and what the Hunt is.

Beyond that recap - I had several good conversations with friends, old and new, and was able to connect in person with people I'd previously only known online. I met some wonderful people whose knowledge and passion for their subjects was beyond impressive.
And I did something I almost never do at these things - I had fun.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Remembering Uaimh na gCat

The entrance is in a field, beneath a hawthorn.
It is an unassuming opening into the earth, but there is something intimidating about it. The darkness beyond the stone and grass is deep and full. It invites you in at the same time that it warns you away. But this is why you have come to this place, seeking this cave, seeking this darkness, and you won't be deterred now.
You move into the liminal space of the entrance, pausing and turning to look back at the light you are leaving behind. Above you there is a stone lintel, carved with ogham. Reaching up you trace the lines, the stone cool beneath your fingers. Then, resolved, you turn away from the world above and begin descending into a different world.
The stone path is not easy but clearly bears the marks of human hands. At first. Your feet feel for steps carved into the passageway, your hands sliding along the walls.
In this place you can't rely on sight so your other senses lead you. You touch the walls and feel with your feet. You smell the fullness of the air. You hear taste moisture and earth on your tongue as you breath. You hear your own movements but also the dripping of water, and the stillness which is its own sound.
Everything is damp and slick and there is a sense of subtle peril. As you move downwards the man-made steps give way to rough rock and you feel the pattern of the path changing beneath your feet, even through thick soled boots. The darkness is different here, thicker, heavier, alive.
The downward journey levels out and you are walking flat now, the space expanding out around you as you enter the cave itself. It is cool here, and damp; the walls are wet and the air you breath in feels like some greater being's exhalation. The floor is inches of clay mud that grab at you and try to hold you in place, making every step forward a battle. Nonetheless you move forward, crossing the main section of the cave until you reach the far side where it begins to climb again before leveling off and disappearing into stone. The mud is like a living thing, moving with you, around you, on you.
You are still now, hands and legs muddy, leaning into the stone wall, feeling the darkness as it encompasses you. It has its own pulse, its own rhythm, and standing there you become part of it, enveloped by it. There is a voice in that darkness that speaks to you, and you listen.
You listen.
When you finally re-emerge into the world above you are not the same.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fairies and Aliens: an Opinion Piece

To begin, nothing I am going to say here is groundbreakingly original. But this is a topic that comes up from time to time and I want to address my own opinions on it, as within the community of people who believe in the Good Neighbours there tend to be a couple schools of thought. Suffice to say that the people who hold the opposite opinion to mine use the exact same evidence but argue the other angle.

So, a question that comes up for those who study fairies and/or folklore is what if any connection might exist between fairies and extra-terrestrials?

Here's my personal opinion on it, given as a personal opinion (so no reams of citations).
I believe that modern stories of aliens and alien abductions are actually fairies and fairy abductions re-framed to fit within 20th and 21st century human expectations. Fairies have been a part of belief and folklore as long as we have written stories from the various cultures we find them in*. However as we have moved, culturally, into the modern and post-modern period fairies have largely in the dominant culture of America become relegated to children's stories and nostalgia. This left a contextual void for people having experiences to use to explain what they were experiencing. This void was filled by fiction and film as popculture embraced the idea of extraterrestrials and our cultural consciousness became saturated by these new stories.
The first aliens appear in fiction as early as 1887 (in a short story titled Les Xipehuz) and in Hollywood in the silent films of the early 1900's; the idea however really bloomed post world war II in both speculative fiction and film. The first UFO sighting in the US is thought to have occured in 1947; the first reported abduction in 1961.

When we compare fairylore and alien and UFO lore we see some striking similarities:

In traditional fairylore fairies are well known to steal people, sometimes permanently sometime temporarily. In cases where people are returned they may have terrifying stories of their experience and may have physical marks. In turn alien abduction stories also feature aliens stealing people sometimes for benign purposes, or obscure ones, sometimes for cruel reasons. The people are returned with nightmarish memories and sometimes physical marks. The Slua Sidhe are noted to lift people up into the sky and they as well as some other types of fairies were said to carry people across the sky or fly with them, returning them later; modern UFO encounters sometimes include people being taken up into alien crafts and carried away only to be returned to earth. The reason for taking people, including forced reproduction, are also consistent between both fairy stories and alien abductions although how the two play out historically versus currently vary.

Time is often noted to move differently in the world of Fairy; so too those who describe alien abductions often talk about weird issues with time. Particularly in Fairy it has been said that what feels like a day there will be much longer amounts of time here and similarly in alien abductions people describe being gone for minutes that were really hours or hours that were really days.

Some fairy encounters, including those with beings like the Mâran, include sleep paralysis and overwhelming fear that occur to a person in their bed. In the same way alien encounters are sometimes described as happening to a person who is sleeping and wakes to find themselves unable to move and terrified. The descriptions of both types of encounters look almost identical when the type of being isn't mentioned, although the modern alien encounters usually involve abduction as well which the Mâran do not. 

Food can play a role in both fairy encounters and alien encounters. In traditional fairy encounters fairies would often offer food to people, usually with the intent of trapping the person in Fairy so that they could not leave. In some alien encounters the person is offered food of various sorts as well although the intention is unclear. In fairylore when the food was refused there are stories of the fairies trying to force the person to eat the food or drink the liquid, or physically punishing them for refusing; in the same way in some alien abduction stories there have been accounts of people forced to eat or drink substances, in some cases violently.

Fairies were noted to dance in circles and to leave behind fairy rings in their wake. These could be rings of mushrooms or of darker or lighter grass. UFOs have also been noted to leave circular marks in places they have been seen landing , sometimes flattened grass sometimes burned areas. Similarly the idea of strange lights being attributed to fairies has a long history in folklore, often associated with danger, while UFOs are described as both lights in the sky as well as strange lights seen through trees. These sites afterwards, of both types, are noted to have strange properties and effects on people.

Appearance is an issue that is also brought up but given that fairylore tells us that the Good People can use glamour to appear however they want - and to make our surroundings appear to us however they want - I find this particular angle the weakest. If we expect them to look like what science fiction has taught us aliens will look like, I have no doubt that is exactly what we see during an abduction experience.

There are people who will say that we see far fewer fairy encounters today and fewer fairy abductions, yet now we have this phenomena of alien encounters and abductions, which have many of the same hallmarks. To my mind it seems that the fairies are no less active but have simply switched how people are perceiving their activity so that those who believe in or are open to believing in aliens get aliens, while those who believe in fairies continue to have experiences more in line with older folklore. Fairies used to be feared and that fear had power; aliens still are feared as an unknown and technologically superior factor.

So ,short answer, I think alien encounters and abductions are just fairies dressed up in modern guise. Which is a pretty effective method of both misdirection and control, if you happen to be Them.

For further on this subject I suggest reading 'Passport to Magonia" and "Trojan Feast" both of which discuss fairies and aliens as an interwoven subject.

*there is of course no way to know how long they have existed in oral cultures

Monday, July 2, 2018

Why Fairy Doctor Shouldn't Be the New Trendy Title

I'm seeing an upswing in ads online for fairy doctor courses. It's a simple premise and one that we see in other practices and spiritualities as well: pay your money and get certified as a fairy doctor.
I have some problems with this, and it bothers me enough that I feel that I should probably say something about it here.

My usual caveats stand: I am not telling anyone what to do or what terms to use but I am urging people to give some serious thought to the appropriateness and appropriation that may be going on here. I would also point out that whenever Irish cultural terms are being used it should be Irish cultural context and Irish people who ultimately act as the litmus test for use. It is not for us, as people outside that living culture, to take that term and redefine it in ways that suit us. 

I don't want to get excessively ranty, here, so let me just say a few things. 

Firstly as far as I know traditionally, like bean feasa, being a fairy doctor wasn't something you necessarily decided you were but something your community decided you were. Certainly there were, and still may be, people who were known in their communities and even further afield as fairy doctors. People got reputations for being able to tell when it was fairies that had caused an illness or injury and to handle harm caused by them. And there may well have been those who intentionally set themselves up that way - but the key is the community had to accept and respect that the person actually had the knowledge and skill to back it up. It wasn't a matter of having paid x amount of money and receiving a nice diploma saying you passed a course; it was a matter of actually doing the work and earning the reputation. 

You also darn sure better have the skills to back up the claim because if people are coming to you with Otherworldly problems its not just going to be little stuff like 'my keys keep disappearing' it's going to be 'I think I'm going mad, I can't stop dreaming of fairies, and I wake up covered in bruises'. It's worth remembering that fairy doctors were only called in when everything else, from common folk remedies to grandmother's secret cures, had failed. A fairy doctor is an expert, and I am beyond skeptical that any online or in-person course can teach this unless we are talking PhD levels of time and effort.

Both Yeats and Wilde discuss fairy doctors in their books, and while those sources have their issues, they are consistent in how the describe the fairy doctors of the 19th century: people known to have a connection to the Good People; thought to have learned their skill from that connection; able to discern the cause of supernatural afflictions be it witchcraft or fairies; able to cure with charms, chants, or herbs (Yeats, 1888, Wilde 1991). Most were said to have the Second Sight and used it so they could deal with the Good People and also tell where fairy paths were (Yeats, 1888). Wilde mentions that fairy doctors would not accept any payment for their services but only take barter or gifts in exchange, although such exchanges were expected; we see this illustrated in stories of Biddy Early who was called witch, bean feasa, and fairy doctor.  

Becoming a fairy doctor was not a matter of human tutelage, although Wilde suggests that they did teach their skills to their own children and Yeats says they would teach a single successor before they died. Instead becoming a fairy doctor was usually seen as something they learned directly from the Daoine Maithe usually through abduction by the fairies for a time, regular visiting with them, or a near death illness (Locke, 2013; O Crualaoich, 2003; Wilby, 2005). Unlike other practices then fairy doctors are somewhat unique in that the connection they had and knowledge they gained from the Otherworld was pivotal and not something by most accounts that could simply be taught, anymore than the Second Sight could be.

There are also indications from the source material on the 19th century fairy doctors that they were always people who, perhaps because of their strong connection to the Fair Folk, were considered odd. They were prone to going off - being away with the fairies - and to knowing more than they should about what had and would happen. They had peculiar personal habits, such as one man from Innis Sark who Lady Wilde described thus: "He never touched beer, spirits, or meat in all his life, but has lived entirely on bread, fruit. and vegetables...He will pay his share at a feast, but neither eats nor drinks of the food and drink set before him...Though well off, he never, even in his youth, thought of taking a wife; nor was he ever known to love a woman. He stands quite apart from life, and by this means holds his power over the mysteries. No money will tempt him to impart his knowledge to another, for if he did he would be struck dead--so he believes." (Wilde, 1991).

To summarize. Fairy doctors were/are people whose communities declare them such, not individuals who self label. Fairy doctors must be absolute experts at discerning and dealing with dangerous fairies and harm caused by them (and witches). Fairy doctors usually have the Sight, are taught directly by the fairies (are often referred to as friends of the fairies), and are skilled with magic and herbs. Fairy doctors don't accept money for their skill or knowledge relating to their craft. Fairy doctors don't choose to be fairy doctors; the job chooses them. Fairy doctors don't blend in to human society very well. 

I'm honestly not sure why anyone would want to be a fairy doctor given what it entails, but honestly unless you feel like the majority of that description legitimately applies to you I would suggest not calling yourself by the term. And if you really aspire to fairy doctorhood then I wish you luck and fortitude. You will need it.


Yeats, W., (1888) Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry 

Locke, T., (2013). The Fairy Doctor. Retrieved from Crualaoich, G., (2003) The Book of The Cailleach
Wilde, L., (1991). Irish Cures and Mystic Superstitions

Wilby, E., (2005) Cunningfolk and Familiar Spirits

Friday, June 29, 2018

Book Release - Desire and Ashes

I'm excited to announce that the 7th book in my Between the Worlds series 'Desire and Ashes' is out today in paperback and on ebook.

From the back cover:
Bookshop owner Allie McCarthy is settling into life as a new mother along with her two spouses. She's got her hands full with an infant and a business to run, trying to walk a fine line between the human world she considers her home and the world of Fairy which is becoming more and more of a presence in her life. The last thing she wants is another complication in an already complicated life.
Then leaving work one night she finds a man collapsed on the sidewalk near her store, who has somehow been left an emotional blank. She has no idea how or by who but when she calls emergency services for help Detective Riordan, Allie's friend on the town's police force, shows up and tells her this isn't the first person they've found like this. The police mage has no idea what's happening to these people because they show no signs of magical trauma, but the police are hoping that Allie might have some ideas. Detective Riordan asks for her help investigating the case. She wants to say no; she's had her fill of being dragged into dangerous situations trying to do the right thing. But it quickly becomes clear that she is going to have to get involved whether she wants to or not because the town is in a lot more trouble than anyone has realized – and if the true cause comes to light before Allie and her family can stop them she’ll be the prime suspect in a crime the Elven Guard punishes by death.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Good Fairy Fiction

I often talk about my concerns with modern fiction and its portrayal of fairies, particularly the way they end up being humanized. While I understand why this happens and I can even appreciate it when reading it I see a lot of material from fiction that is clearly purely from an author's imagination making its way into modern pagan belief as if it were genuine folklore. Obviously that's a concern to me on multiple levels. Because of this I was recently asked for a list of books I would recommend for people looking for good fairy-themed fiction.

Top Recommendations
These are the main books that I suggest people look for if they want good folkloric depictions of fairies in modern stories. No books is going to be 100% perfect but these are as close as I can think of, and they are also good stories.

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett - a book in Pratchett's Disc World series I chose Lords and Ladies specifically because his view of the elves here is pretty spot on for how inhuman and inhumane they can be. To quote the book: “… people didn't seem to be able to remember what it was like with the elves around. Life was certainly more interesting then, but usually because it was shorter. And it was more colorful, if you liked the color of blood.”

Faery Sworn by Ron C Neito - a very creative story but overall fairly true to the folklore. Some variance on what the Seelie and Unseelie courts are called, but does a great job of including things like aversion to iron, viciousness, time slip between Fairy and earth, and etiquette. My only critique would be at the idea that there are only single beings in some of the categories we know from folklore, ie 'the kelpie' 'the nucklevee', but that's a fairly minor quibble.

The Knowing by Kevin Manwaring - hard to find at the moment, an excellent blend of older fairylore and the modern world. Based on the story of rev. Robert Kirk but imagining his descendants into our time, very accurate to older fairylore.

Secret of the Kelpie by Lari Don - a children's book, beautifully illustrated, and extremely true to folklore. A nice and necessary balance to many modern urban fantasy and young adult books that try to paint kelpies and other unseelie fairies as the good guys.

Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar - a unique look at urban fairies, although I usually try to avoid stories of small winged fae this one is worth the read. I particularly liked the multicultural aspects the author brought into the city fairies.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark - complicated story about magicians in 19th century England but has a great deal of fairylore in it as well as accurate depictions of the Good People

Spiritwalk by Charles de Lint - set in Canada, focused around a building, great mix of Celtic and North American fairylore.

Secondary Recommendations
These are also good books, however they do venture further from the folklore and need to be read with a grain of salt.

Modern Faery Tale series by Holly Black - gets points for portraying fairies along mostly traditional lines, and as ruthless and often cruel; loses points for tons of YA tropes and some major plot holes.

The SERRAted Edge series and Bedlam Bard series by Mercedes Lackey - Primarily written in the 90's the SERRAted Edge series* looks at the aos sidhe in modern America and includes a lot of folklore as well as some creative innovation, like the elves reacting to caffeine as if it were an addictive drug. The series is a bit dated at this point. The related Bedlam Bard series, which is set in the same universe and has some crossover, is also decent.

Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire - modern fairies in America, reasonably close to folklore in many respects especially as regards politics in Fairy.

The Elfhome series by Wen Spencer - really interesting and creative look at an alternate reality where science has created an interdimensional gate that has accidentally shifted modern Pittsburgh into elfhome. Mixes tech with magic in fun ways, and uses Japanese folklore as a base, however it does take some creative liberties with that folklore that a Western audience may not fully recognize.

So there you have it. That covers my main recommendations and some secondary recommendations. Generally speaking I think most urban fantasy, while my favorite genre, tends to fall into the secondary recommendations (I'd even include my own in that by the way) because in order to create the story liberties with the folklore have to be taken, especially where there are romantic themes or subthemes which is almost the entire genre. It's often a safe bet to say if the fairies or a fairy in the book are main characters and even slightly relatable or sympathetic then liberties are being taken with the folklore (Faery Sworn is a notable and unusual exception).

*caveat I do not recommend the newest book in the series, Silence, which is co-written by Cody Martin. It ventures far from the rest of the series, and while the folklore isn't entirely inaccurate the book is not well written.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Fairy Donuts are Off Limits

Recently I had written a blog about viewing Fairyland as modern and reassessing our conceptions of it and its inhabitants. Following on that I saw a post by Chas Clifton on his blog at Letters from Hardscrabble Creek 'In the Land of Fairy Don't Eat the Pentagram Pizza' which touched on my blog as well the post by John Beckett that had inspired mine, but Clifton also went further to talk about modern human food in Fairy and suggested "there might be some tempting restaurants".

And that has me thinking, because he makes an excellent point that definitely needs to be brought up. Just as we tend to have an anachronistic view of Fairy itself and those within it, seeing medieval towns and tunic clad, hose wearing people, we may also anachronize the food. Or at least have a very specific idea of what food we'd be offered. And like so many other instances where there can be danger when we let our guard down if we are watching out for the ubiquitous fairy apple to be offered to us by a cloak-clad crone as we walk a dusty road we may unthinkingly take the lemonade offered by the friendly child or the biscotti offered as a free sample in front of a cafe.
And we'll forget that all of these are the exact same delicious trap. 

When we look at folklore it's very clear - and I've discussed before - that eating the food of Fairy is dangerous. It binds a person to the place, either through obligation or transmutation. But when we think of what food we'd be offered what do we imagine? 

Probably not donuts and milkshakes.

I can understand why people tend to have a set idea of what food they'd be offered in Fairy. In the folklore it's often simply called food and that's not helpful. When it is specified, in the Adventures of Connla or the Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, we see apples being mentioned. Not for any Christian symbolism in my opinion, at least not originally, but for older mythic themes of youth and immortality. Apples and the Otherworld have very old connections afterall, to the point that Manannán's realm there is named 'region of apple-trees' [Emain Abhlac]. In Rosetti's poem 'the Goblin Market' the fairy food was fruit of various kinds. It's easy to go with the idea of fruit, and because we have an ingrained view of Fairyland as primitive and existing in our past people tend to naturally picture historic dishes or simple foods. And in fairness you may encounter or hear stories of people being offered that sort of thing; In Cutchin's book 'Trojan Feast' he mentions modern encounters where people were offered berries, pancakes, and milk to name a few. So that does still happen and I don't want to imply it doesn't. 

But just as there are cities to be found in Fairy and modern encounters of fairy beings that look very much like humans but are not* we may also encounter or be offered fairy food that is not what we expect. Personally I find baked goods to be pretty common, especially sweet breads, rather like bread-shaped cakes, and little cakes. I think though that if they were trying to lure a person in they would offer whatever seemed most alluring and innocuous to that person. If you happen to run into a group of the Good People who are trying to trap you they may offer you the prerequisite apple, but they may also offer you chocolate chip cookies just like you loved as a child or invite you to sit down to that aforementioned pizza, which just happens to be your favorite. There was a post on Tumblr that mentioned the Good People using a coffee shop to trap the unwary, where you were fine if you stuck to what you paid for but you were doomed if you accepted anything offered for free - because in Fairy nothing is ever free. 

So always remember my friends, no matter how much you want that donut in Fairy just say no and keep walking on. 

* see Fairy Census entry #22 for one example 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Morrigan's Call Retreat 2018

 The beginning of June, for the fifth time, I headed off to the Morrigan's Call Retreat to share in fellowship with other people who honour the Great Queens. Every year I teach workshops at the Retreat and help in the rituals; I see old friends and make new connections with people. My experiences over the years have been good ones and I always write about them when I get back.

Bridge entering the location of the Retreat

This year has been a bit different for me and was both bittersweet and nostalgic.

Last year I shared a cabin with three friends, Mel, Angela, and Jaime. It was a cabin that I had been in before and I like staying in; it has personality. We had a good time bunking together and it was fun to be with friends. The location is beautiful and last year we woke to the sounds of crows in the trees and the nearby river. It was nice to stay with friends I don't see in person often, like Angela and Jaime, and I enjoyed spending some time with Jaime at the Retreat because she and I had a variety of similar interests including fairylore. And she's just a great person to be around in general.
 At the end of last summer Jaime was killed by her ex-boyfriend.
I still miss her.
This year I was in the same cabin, with my other two friends, that we were in last year and it was hard not to think of the person who wasn't there. It was both good to remember how happy she was there and sad to be reminded of what had happened. We set up a picture of Jaime in the cabin so that she would be with us again*; I certainly found my mind going to her often over the weekend.

I was also faced with dealing with the way that my spirituality has shifted, whether I wanted to or not. Ireland 2016 was pivotal for me, which I wrote about after I got back, and as time has gone by things have only shifted further and settled into what they started to become then. I had to accept my dedication to Odin ending and now at this year's Retreat I have been faced with my dedication to Macha ending as well. My understanding of myself in relation to the work I do and the way I have honoured the Gods has had to be re-assessed, which is not a bad thing but is not an easy thing either. Being in service to - dedicated to use a more relatable term - the Othercrowd and realizing they mean that to be an exclusive focus in most ways requires some realigning on my part, especially as the idea of that kind of monofocus has never been part of my mindset before.

This was the first year that I wasn't able to attend any other workshops. It isn't that I didn't want to, in fact I had planned to, but I found myself instead in several good very in-depth conversations. So rather than getting to soak in other people's structured wisdom and knowledge I learned from others organically and casually, sitting around a table as the sun set or walking through the woods. There was a lot of conversation and a feeling of building community in a different way, directly one-on-one through discussions rather than in workshops.

This was also the first year that I had a lessened role in the rituals at the Retreat, something that related to my shifting spirituality. My role as a priestess is no less active - actually felt more active this year in my service to the Daoine Maithe - but it was not expressed by speaking for or allowing Macha to speak through me. That, for me, is in the past. The rituals were still powerful and moving and I was glad to have the role in them that I did; people seemed to find both the rituals and the Temple moving.

I taught three workshops at the Retreat: Meeting the Morrigans, Shapeshifting in Irish Mythology, and Fairy Queens. It's always difficult to judge how classes are received but as far as I was able to tell they seemed to go well. There was a lot of interest and they are all subjects that I could talk about for more than an hour easily so there was lots of material to go over. The Fairy Queens class was especially fun to do for me as I work on my book project with the same focus.

This year in many ways was one of transition for me and that can be a painful thing even when it's necessary. One thing that has stayed the same throughout the years is the feeling of community and unity that comes with the Morrigan's Call. So many people from diverse paths and diverse backgrounds and yet everyone for those few days comes together to honour the Morrigan. It gives me hope see it, and to see it continuing from year to year.

the river near our cabin

* there was also a lovely framed picture of her in the Temple

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Modern Fairyland, or Experiencing the Otherworld as a 21st Century City

John Beckett recently wrote a blog which tangentially touched on two things I want to expand on here: the way neopagans Romanticize the world of Fairy and experiencing a place in Fairy that seemed much like modern America. I think that both of these points deserve some discussion and that they tie together so it makes sense to tackle them together. I do want to preface this by saying that while I can and usually do to some degree point out textual evidence to support my points* in this case going to be discussing my own personal experiences or what people in this context would describe as UPG (unverified personal gnosis). I tend not to talk much about this aspect of my practice for my own reasons but I think in this case it is necessary to some degree. People are, as always, free to either accept what I am saying or not but I would encourage skeptical readers to at least consider what I am saying. Certainly my experiences are no more or less valuable as anecdotal evidence than what is found anywhere else, I think.

It is true that modern pagans seem prone to describing and viewing Fairy through a primitive lens. When people talk about experiences there they are usually couched in terms of wilderness and wild places or occasionally of settings that may be described as historic such as castles or cottages. And that is not to say that these places can't be found in Fairy just as we can find these places in our own world, because they certainly do exist both here and there. But there is a definite and noticeable  favoring of the sorts of Otherworldly scenery that correlates with the places in our own world people tend to say we are most likely to find Themselves as well. Many pagans talk of Fairy as if it were one vast forest or Europe stuck in medieval times.

There's a couple problems with that in my opinion that are worth addressing. First of all I'm always wary of anything that narrows our understanding of Fairy rather than expanding it. The more restricted any view of the Otherworld is the quicker we will be faced with unmanageable contradictions. Secondly this is problematic because when we look at the evidence we do have from folklore and earlier anecdotal evidence we find that by and large people who went into Fairy found it to include not only the aforementioned wilderness but also cities, and usually the places people visited were either much like the ones on earth or similar to what had existed within living memory. Or put another way people discussing going to Fairy a hundred years ago weren't usually seeing medieval villages* but rather described places just like they had left on earth or places reminiscent of their grandparents or great-grandparents times. This is also what we generally see in descriptions of clothing, with the Good People being described as wearing either contemporary fashions or those a generation or two out of date*. So I do think that the wider community would do well to seriously re-assess how Fairy is being imagined and why, and consider broadening horizons.

Now for myself a large part of my personal practice is predicated on Journeying or being taken in trance or dreams to Fairy. I haven't spoken too much about this because by and large these are personal experiences and I don't think sharing them is necessary or adds value to the wider dialogue. However in this case I'd like to share a few instances where places were visited that were neither wild nor primitive.

  • There is a place I have been to on several occasions which I think of as a kind of 'Grand Central Station' although there are no trains there. It is a multi-level building, stone with a lot of brass or bronze fixtures and what seem to be electric lights, with large archways that lead off from a main area. There are clocks everywhere and glass windows. It seems to act as a transfer point where people can choose their destination and then pass through an archway to find the road that will take them there. 
  • I have stayed in a place that is very much like a small modern house, with running water, indoor plumbing, and a functional kitchen. The only thing that wasn't entirely modern was that it was heated by a fireplace. Otherwise though, what acted at least like electric lights, a stove and refrigerator, all the usual comforts. 
  • Several cities in the Otherworld that I have experienced seem distinctly modern, with paved roads, traffic lights, and a mix of residential, entertainment, and business areas. None of these are uniform but like places on earth they each have their own personality - one reminded me a bit of some older New England cities where the buildings seemed older than the overall energy of the place, while another was very sleek and modern and had a very rushed feel to it as if everything was in motion. Not to disabuse anyone's idealized ideas of what Fairy might be but these were not perfect versions of cities either, they had some shady looking beings (not unique to cities by any means) hanging around, there was rubbish in the streets and by the buildings, and one consisted of nothing but one way streets.
I have of course also been to places that were wilderness, and places that reminded me of human habitations from various time periods - but then again I've been to the same variety of places in this world as well. I know some people feel that whatever we see or experience in Fairy reflects our own expectations but I disagree; I have often seen things I didn't understand and so couldn't reflect an expectation and sometimes have pointedly not gotten what I expected. I rather loathe cities myself and if I were to expect one in Fairy I would probably imagine it either as an ideal small city or some sort of perfect past vision of an early modern city and that is definitely not what I have experienced. I will also admit that I haven't seen anything resembling cars myself in the places I've been even though I would expect them in settings that seem so modern but I have seen a lot of metal work in bronze and various alloys. I also haven't seen any guns. That isn't to say there aren't any motor vehicles or modern weapons there, just that I haven't personally experienced them. 

I suspect that our relationship with the world of Fairy and the relationship of its inhabitants with us is far more intrinsic and symbiotic than we realize. Perhaps the way that time moves differently between us affects our perceptions of this but it seems clear that there is a mimicry that occurs either intentionally or coincidentally, or even because of the influx of humans to Fairy. Perhaps it comes from their own observations and visits among us in this world. It is safe to assume I think that this pattern which has occured across folklore into the 20th century is not about to stop now.

What my experiences have convinced me of is that Fairy is a stunningly diverse place and we shouldn't underestimate that. 

Not Fairyland. A hotel in California. But hey I needed an image so here we are.

*in my book 'Fairies' I have an entire chapter on the land of Fairy and it's really too much to summarize here, but suffice to say there's a good amount of literary and scholarly evidence to be discussed
*of course there are some exceptions, but again we can find places in our own world that reflect various historical time periods as well.
*let us all take a moment to appreciate the idea of one of the Gentry appearing today in bell bottoms and tie dye, or a poodle skirt.

Verba Scáthaige - a translation

Today I am going to offer a translation piece I did from the Ulster Cycle, a look at Scathach's words to Cu Chulainn when he left her training to return to Ireland.

Incipiunt uerba Scathaige fri Con Culainn oc scarad doib isna rannuib tair. Ro scaith do Choin Culainn lanfogluim in milti la Scaithaigh. Do aurchechain Scathach do iarum ind ni arad m-biad, con-eipirt friss tria imbass for ossna.
Imbe eir hengaile
arat-ossa ollgabud
huatha fri heit n-imlebair .i. tain bo Cuailgne
Cotat curaith ciallfaithir
fortat braigait bibsatur
bied do chailcc culbeimnech
cruoch fri srut Setanta .i. proprium nomen do Choin Culainn.
Tithis fithog foibharamnus
fethal feula fedchlessaib
fearba do Breig m-braitfiter
braighit di thuaith tithsithir
tren cithach coictigis
cichis do buar m-belata
ba hoín fri slog sirdochrae
silfis de fhuil flandtedman
fernaib ilib idlochtaib
cuan dia-lilis loscandaib
lin do-fedat ildamaib
ilar fuili firfith-
for Coin Culainn cen colainn
Ceisfe alag n-enchride
al de dalaib dedairbe
didirn brodircc brisfithir
bruthaich fri toinn trechtaide
frissin m-belend m-bandernech
belenn di chet clesamnach
cichet biet banchuire
baiti Medb sceo Aillellai
arat-osa ollgabadh otharlighi.
Ucht fri h-echtga irgairgi
at-chiu firfeith Finnbennach Aei
fri Donn Cuailngi ardburach & cetera.

Here begin the words between Scathach and Cu Culainn as they parted in the eastern area. This occured after Cu Culainn completed his military training with Scathach. Scathach foretold to him then the things to happen in his life, speaking through imbas forosna [poetic illumination].

When arises a bird-of-valor
Vast-danger awaits you
Few against a great herd, that is the Cattle Raid of Cooley
Harsh against your senses
Striking necks to breaking
Your [sling] stones will be buffeting
Gory against Setanta's stream, that is your proper name Cu Chulainn.
Swearing oaths stripping young trees
Halidom of bloody weapons-feats
Cows to Breig [Meath] will be raided away
Your people's captives will be slain
Strong blows for a fortnight
Your cattle will go on the crossroads
You alone against a marauding host
Showers of blood, deadly-blood-red
On the shields of many warriors
A band who clings like vermin
A multitude they will lead many cattle
An abundance of deep wounds
On your flesh Cu Chulainn
You will suffer a wound of heart-blemishing
Beyond the second partition of it
Therefore urging ravaging battle-breaking
Furious against a thundering wave
Against a hero of iron-blows
A hero of many weapon-feats
A women-troop will beat their breasts
Overwhelming Medb and Ailill
Healing in a sickbed awaits you.
A face against long-fierce slaughter
I see well-muscled Finnbennach Ai
Against the Donn of Cooley loud bellowing and so on.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Dangerous Things - A Poem

I may be cynical
but I have earned it
so I laugh
I do
when I hear people
talking about
the Good People
being drawn by wind chimes
and shiny baubles
although I probably said
much the same once myself.
I shake my head
at the idea
that They wish us
nothing but well.
Cynical, yes
sharp as a thorn prick
coated in blood
sharp as salt heavy
on the tongue
sharp as the longing
for an Saol Eile.
They have never been
and people forget that
at their own peril
It is always
degrees of risk
My life used to be
my own
before the rath
before the cave
before the fire on the hill
My hair used to be straight
My heart used to be whole
People can keep
their windchimes and baubles
their human made 'elf-locks'
misnamed madness
their wishful thinking
I will tell you plainly
wishes are dangerous things.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Frogs in Irish Folklore

So a little while ago a good friend asked me about what, if anything, I had heard relating to frogs and Irish folklore. I had to admit that while I personally associated frogs with the Good People I wasn't entirely sure why and I couldn't recall offhand any specific frog folklore. So its been on the back of my mind for a few weeks now and recently while on the site I decided to see what I could find. Since there was more frog folklore than you might expect it seemed like a good idea to share it here with everyone. 

Frogs in Celtic myth in general are obscure and hard to find much information on. However we do know that they had some position of importance, whatever that may have been because frog bones have been found in faunal deposits in Gaul. In a chariot burial in Marne 100 frog bones were found along with boar, pig, and duck in a pot (Green, 1992). Miranda Green suggests that the presence of frog bones in burial sites may relate to teh animals amphibious nature and connection to both life and death.

When we look at Irish folklore we find more material about frogs covering a variety of topics. The following is a summary of folklore from the awesome Meitheal Dúchas site:
Frogs and weather: yellow frogs mean fair weather, black frogs mean rain. Frogs croaking or coming inland mean rain or storms. Yellow frogs can also mean dry weather.
Frogs Guarding Treasure: there are many stories where a person digging for gold will find the hole suddenly spewing copious amounts of frogs until they are driven off, and in one case where men were digging at the roots of a hawthorn the frogs jump out and nearly eat them. Often the frogs were described as unusually large, sometimes the size of a person's head, and they may simply chase the treasure hunters off with sheer numbers while in other stories they were actively dangerous. In many of these accounts the people who seek the treasure guarded by the frogs die soon afterwards. 
Frogs as Fairy Punishments: One story tells of Poteen makers who forgot to give the first glass of a batch to the fairies and later that night found themselves surrounded by thousands of frogs. They believed these frogs had been sent by the Good People as a punishment. 
Frogs and Fairies: frogs also seem to be associated more generally with the Good People, for example we see this in the poem 'the Wreck of the Ferry Boat'
"So Hanly, elves of every ilk,
Draws from his vast domain,
From Cooltacker he draws little folk,
From Sheeane little men;
From Clounshee both frogs and waterdogs [otters],

And green-caps from the glen"
And it's said that it's unlucky to get water from a well with a bucket that may have milk still in it as the frogs will get the butter for the year, which is reminiscent of the lore about not giving out milk or butter on May day as it may be one of the Good People asking and they'll take your luck for the year. 

There is also a story of a man who dreamt for three straight nights of treasure* in a specific location under a stone; on the fourth night he went out with a neighbour to dig for it. The two men used holy water to mark a circle around the stone to keep the fairies out and began digging. The fairies appeared in the form of horses but couldn't approach due to the circle of holy water so when the men found the gold the fairies turned it all into frogs. Nonetheless the men filled their sack with the frogs and when they got home they found the sack filled with gold.
Frogs as Omens: frogs in the house are bad luck or sign of a coming storm and a frog in the house at night is an omen of death. 
Frog Bones: in one account there's a mention of the use of frog bones in a love spell. It says that if a woman loved a man she could take a live frog and place it in a box until it died and all the flesh was gone. She would then remove the 'wish bone' from it and hide it in the clothes of the person she fancied. According to the folklore the person would immediately fall in love with the woman.

That covers the selection of frog folklore I was able to find, excluding only the use of frogs in folk cures which I feel falls into a separate discussion. It's clear that frogs in lore are more complex than one might assume, and that there is indeed a long and complex association between frogs and the Daoine Maithe although it is one that is rather difficult to fully understand. We might gather from what can be seen here that frogs represent a connection between the living and the dead as well as this world and the Otherworld and that, generally speaking, they act as guardians and protectors of that which belongs to the Fair Folk (keeping in mind that these are not merely frogs but large, fierce frogs that can eat a person or effect their luck). The use of frog bones is an interesting practice, relating back perhaps to the hidden power of the frog and its connection to the Otherworldly powers.

*the pattern of dreaming three nights in a row of treasure in a location is something we see in various folk stories. 

Frogs (2018) Meitheal Dúchas 
Green, M., (1992) Animals in Celtic Life and Myth

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tri Cuirn o Cormac ua Cuinn - The Three Goblets of Cormac grandson of Conn

Today I'd like to offer a shorter translation piece for you:

Cuirn sin tucad do Cormac u Cuinn dar muir
Feacht n-ann do luid Aedh Oirdnidhi mac Neill Frosaidh mic Fearghuile mic Maile Duin do ordugud fer cuigid Connacht. Do luid dar Eas Ruaidh ocus do baithed a fuis meisi ocus a cuirnn ann. Tainic Aedh co riacht Corca Tri, co n-deisidh a tigh righ Corca Tri. Coeca righ do riguibh Eirenn maille re h-Aedh.
Longuis Aedh adhaigh domhnaidh ocus an rigraidh: ocus cia ro loing Aed, ni sib digh, uair ní bai corn lais, or do baitheadh a cuirnn ocus a cuaich ac Ath Enaigh uas Eas Ruaidh, oc tiachtain don t-sluadh thairis. As amal immoro robai Aed cona sibh digh a leastur aile o ra dealuigh re cich a mathar acht a curn. Ba bron tra do righ Corca Tri ocus dia seithid, each ic ol ocus righ Erenn gin ol. Togbuis Angal a lamha fri Dia, ocus feicis gin codladh gin tomailt co madain, gu n-eabert a bean fris ara barach, ‘Eirg,’ ar si, ‘co Dirlus Guaire mic Colmain, uair ba tealach feile ocus naire o aimsir Dathi anall, dus an fuigbithea corn tria firta na feile ann.’ Cechaing Angal righ Corca Tri tar dorus na ratha amach, ocus tuisleas a cois deas, co ra tuisil cloch leis isin lis .i. an cloch do bai ar belaib an t-suirn a rabudar na tri cuirn as deach robai a n-Eirinn .i. an Cam-corn ocus an Litan ocus an Easgung. Cuirn sin tucad do Cormac u Cuinn dar muir, ocus ro folaig Niamh mac Lugna Firtri an dara comalta do Cormac u Cuinn, iar n-dith Cormuic, co toracht Coirpri Lifeachuir dar muir ocus cia ro fritha na cuirn aile la Cairpri, ni fritha na cuirn-siu co h-aimsir na næmh ocus Aeda Oirdnidi mic Neill, or tucad cealtar tairsib o Dia, co ru-s-foillsid do righ Corca Tri tria firta na feile.
Altaigis a buidi do dia an t-i Angal ocus beiris leis na curna, cona tri lan do mid inntibh. Do-bert a
laim Aeda Oirdnidi righ Eirenn, ocus atlaigi do dia ocus do-bert an Litan a laim righ Ulad, ocus do-bert an Easguing a laimh righ Connacht, ocus fagbuis aigi budhein an Cam-cornn. Co toracht iartain do Mailseachloinn mac Domhnuill, co tuc-sidhe do Dia ocus do Ciaran a coitcinne co brath.
- RIA MS 23 O 48: Liber Flavus Fergusiorum, 1435-40

The Three Goblets* of Cormac Ua Cuinn
There was one time Aed Oridnide, son of Nial Frosach, son of Feargal, son of Maelduin, came to bring order to the men of the province of Connacht. He went over Eas Ruaid, and his table-attendants and his goblets drown there. Aed went until he reached Corca Tri, and rested at the house of the king of Corca Tri. Fifty kings of the kings of Ireland were along with Aed.
Aed ate on Sunday night and the kings [as well]: but though he ate he drank no drink, because he had no goblet, because his goblets and his cups were submerged at Ath Enaig, above Eas Ruaid, as the army was taking it. It was thus around Aed with them drinking from other vessels of great distinction as if from the breast of their mother but his goblet alone [was missing]. It was a sadness for the king of Corca Tri and his wife that the horse nearby was drinking and the king of Ireland without drinking. Angal raised his hands to God, and went on without sleep [and] without food until morning.
The next day his wife said to him: "Go," said she, "to Dirlus, to Guaire son of Colmain, for that has been the house of welcome and generosity from the time of Dathi on, to see if you would get a goblet there through his wonderful generosity."
Angal, king of Corca Tri, proceeded through the door of the fort outwards, and his right foot slipped, and a stone fell from the fort that is the stone that covered the mouth of the division(?) where were the three goblets that were best in Ireland that is the Curved-Horn, and the Litany, and the Eel. These were the goblets that were brought by Cormac grandson of Conn over the sea; and they were hidden by Niamh son of Lugna Firtri, the second foster-brother of Cormac grandson of Conn, after the slaughter of Cormac; and Cairpri Lifeachuir came over the sea, and though the other goblets were found by Cairpri, these goblets were not found till the time of the saints and of Aed Oridnide son of Nial. Because a cloak went to cover them of God, until they were revealed to the king of Corca Tri, through his wonderful generosity.
Angal gave thanks to God, and went with the goblets, with the three full of mead. He put them in the hands of Aed Oirdnide, king of Ireland, who gave thanks to God, and put the Litany in the hands of the king of Ulster, the Eel in the hands of the king of Connacht, and reserved to himself the Curved-Horn.
Successively afterwards [it went] to Maelsechlainn son of Domhnaill; it went as a peace-offering to God and to Ciaran, generally, until Judgement.
- RIA MS 23 O 48: Liber Flavus Fergusiorum, 1435-40

*I'm translating corn here as goblet but it can also be read as drinking horn. Certainly drinking horn has a more poetic feel with the names Curved-Horn and Eel, and the word tends to convey meanings attached to those shapes. I just went with goblet because it felt more regal in context. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Online Fairy Resources

I've posted various recommended reading lists before but I thought it would be both helpful and fun to post a selection of assorted links to online resources for the subject of fairylore here that don't fall into the realm of 'recommended reading'. There are after all other media one can look to for education on the subject and there's some great music and fiction as well. Many of these are also more modern looks at fairylore and show, I think, the way that the Good Folk continue to interact with people and the way that stories and poetry act as vessels for the older folklore to be carried forward.

Kin Fables by Five Knights Productions is an excellent series of short independent films with fairy themes
Dr. Jenny Butler gives a great interview on youtube about Irish Fairy Lore
There's also this short video of a modern fairy encounter that I recommend people watch.
Michael Fortune has a wonderful series of videos on Irish folklore, some of which focus on fairy beliefs. These are must watch in my opinion.
Ronan Kelly's Ireland (linked above) has an episode 'Pat's East Galway Fairies' that also worth a watch.
You can find several videos of Eddie Lenihan on youtube, of varying quality, and I suggest watching them all. Lenihan is a well known story teller in Ireland and he has fought in the past to keep a fairy tree from being destroyed for the sake of a road.
Lora O'Brien offers a fabulous class on the Irish Sidhe on her website.

Fiction and Poetry
Charmingly Antiquated on Tumblr has a great comic about a university taken over by the Fey.
Five Knights Productions also has a graphic novel series titled Kin available online
Rosamund Hodge has an excellent short story online called 'A Guide for Young Ladies Entering the Service of the Fairies'
Lora O'Brien's 'The Fairy Lover' is a fascinating look at the Leanan Sidhe, and 'The Banshee in Italy' is worth a read for certain.
Author Jennifer Lawrence has several excellent pieces online including 'Tam Lin's Garden' and 'Rebuttal: The Faerie Queen's Reply' that represent good, modern takes on the story of Tam Lin

Professor Ashliman of the University of Pittsburgh has a very useful site called 'Folktexts' that I recommend people checking out as a solid online non-fiction resource
Another great non-fiction source is the folklore site Duchas. There is a great deal of fairylore to be found there, although in fairness not all has been transcribed into English.

Audio Resources and Music
Bluirni Bealoidis has a great podcast focused on fairies titled 'Fairy Forts in Folk Tradition'
The BBC program 'In Our Time' has an episode titled 'Fairies' that presents a variety of views on the subject
There's a large array of songs that could be recommended, of course, but below I'll offer a selection of some that keep with the more traditional views.
Heather Dale, "The Changeling Child' and 'The Maiden and the Selkie'
Mor Gwyddelig's version of Buain a Rainich is very good and bilingual.
There's also several good versions of Tha Mi Sgith or A Fairy's Love Song.
Coyote Run has a very good take on fairy lore with their song 'Finnean's Dance'
Some of the old ballads can be listened to as well such as 'Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight' and 'Tam Lin'.
I'll end with one of my favorites songs with a fairy theme: