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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cowalkers, Fetches, and Fylgjas

I often see a lot of confusion in modern paganism between three related but distinct concepts: the co-walker, fetch, and fylgja. These three concepts come from different cultures and can be described by some contemporary writers as equivalents however when we look more closely at the concepts within the root cultures it becomes clear that they are not so much equivalents as loosely similar concepts.

The Co-walker - This concept comes to us from the writings of rev. Robert Kirk who is clear that the Co-walker is a type of fairy being attached to but separate from a human being. Kirk describes the Co-walker as looking identical to a living human and being seen by other humans both during the  lifetime of the person they are attached to as well as after the human dies although they eventually return to their own people (Kirk & Lang, 1893). While Kirk doesn't describe the Co-walker as being dangerous, or indeed as doing much more than occasionally being seen by other humans as an omen that the living human would be arriving at that location soon, he does make it clear that people with the Second Sight abstained from eating meat at funerals or banquets to avoid sharing a meal with a Co-walker (Kirk & Lang, 1893). Kirk says that people who are able to see such spirits and distinguish them from living humans saw them among the pallbearers carrying the casket at funerals as well as eating at funerals and feasts, implying perhaps that such spirits used their form to move unnoticed among humans. Kirk himself had no idea why the Co-walkers chose to attach to humans saying "It accompanied that person so long and frequently, for ends best known to itself, whether to guard him from the secret assaults of some of its own folks, or only as a sportful mimicry to counterfeit all his actions." (Kirk & Lang, 1893, pages 43 -44 language updated by me)

Fetch - A concept in England that is rather obscure in nature the Fetch in folklore is a copy or duplicate of a person which appears as an ill omen, usually of death (Briggs, 1976). Also called a wraith or double the Fetch would be seen by the living person or those who knew them, generally right before they died (Harper, 2018). In more recent material the Fetch has been given many of the qualities and abilities of the Fylgja, although in older folklore it is clear that the Fetch or wraith was only viewed as a death omen.

Fylgja - A Norse concept, a fylgja may be an independent protective spirit or a projected part of the person's own soul; when it is the person's own soul it usually takes an animal form. Fylgja can follow family lines and there are examples in Norse myth, such as in Hallfraedarsaga, of Fylgja who were inherited through generations  or seemed to be primarily attached to one individual but would also aid family members (Gundarsson, 2007). In modern books Fylgja are often compared to or equated to Fetches, but they lack any sense of ill-omen; the Fylgja was viewed as positive and seen as both protective and luck-bearing. It was common for a person's Fylgja to be of the opposite gender although we should note that in tales this occurs most often with men having female Fylgja and sexual elements or relationships were not uncommon between a man and his fylgja-woman. Fylgja may mean 'follower' or 'following' and they can act in decisive ways to aid the human they are connected to, providing knowledge as well as physical protection (Gundarsson, 2007). Claude Lecouteux strongly connects the Norse concept of the Fylgja to fairies, arguing that Celtic examples of fairy women who act as tutelary spirits and protectors of family lines as well as those who attach themselves to individual humans are the same beings that the Norse would label as Fylgjas (Lecouteux, 1992). He refers to these spirits as 'Doubles' and points out their many similar characteristics and functions to Fylgja.

It is understandable why there is such confusion between these terms, especially as all three are sometimes called 'doubles' in English. I have myself used and written about the term Fetch in a more Fylgja sense based off what was written in the book Our Troth volume 1 (generally a good source) something that I am now less comfortable using. The more I've researched it the more I've found a clear association with the Fetch as a death-omen rather than a helper spirit. Similarly a Co-walker is clearly not a Fetch - Kirk writes about those under the name wraiths later in the same section of his book - and does not fit the description of a Fylgja. I would also note, to avoid further confusion, that these spirits are not what we would term Familiar spirits either, as the Fylgja either attaches to family lines or a person at or before birth, the Fetch is a double of a living person, and the Co-Walker duplicates a living person for its own obscure reasons while the Familiar spirit is given to or chooses a person later in life and acts as a mediator and aid in their magical and spiritual work. I think for myself I might start using the term 'Follower' to describe in English the type of guardian/guide spirit that we see in some folklore and stories and which fits the category of the Fylgja to avoid this confusion of terms.

Gundarsson, K., (2007) Elves, Wights, and Trolls
Briggs, K., (1967) A Dictionary of Fairies
Kirk, R., and Lang A., (1893) The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies
Lecouteux, C., (1992) Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies
Harper, D., (2018) Fetch; Online Etymology Dictionary

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Personal Gnosis and Research

I am asked on occasion how I balance out personal gnosis and research.

Honestly for me I see the two things as complementary so they just go together naturally for me. I know that there can be a perception that gnosis and existing mythology or folklore don't get along or aren't necessary to each other but for me I can't imagine having one without the other. The corpus of existing beliefs and myths are the bedrock for me and everything else comes from and is built on that. But just like an actual structure you need more than just a slab of rock and that's where the personal gnosis comes in, that's what builds things up and decorates it.

Mythology and folklore I think are indispensable and vital to my practice probably because my own life tends to have such a strong metaphysical or mystic bent to it. Researching and having knowledge of the existing folklore and the stories is an essential checks and balances system for me to help me validate things I see or experience and also to help me innovate in my own rituals and magic. And of course the beliefs of the living culture and of the written records form the bulk of my own beliefs and understanding of cosmology and theology. Researching these things can be time consuming and tedious but since we don't live in a pagan dominated culture anymore where these beliefs and stories are the norm its important to immerse ourselves as much as possible. Research becomes a way to make these things so deeply ingrained in our minds that we don't just believe them but we know them to our core, reflexively. We have to make it so that 'thinking pagan', if you will, is our natural state and that does take effort even if we aren't undoing decades of indoctrination in another religion (and I know many people are) because we live in a culture that every day reinforces materialism, monotheism, and disenchantment which are all the antithesis of animism and a polytheistic worldview.

The flip side of that is the personal gnosis, which makes up more of my daily spirituality than people might see from the outside. My spirituality is a very experiential thing but having a strong grounding in the folklore helps me filter out what is legitimate and what is just my head talking to itself. I think anytime personal gnosis is involved there is always a very real concern of both the gnosis overwhelming the person and also of a person misinterpreting the message; and of course it's very easy to convince ourselves that we are receiving something from outside that is actually just our own will or desire in one form or another. This is where its so helpful to look at the existing mythology and folklore to help filter out what is likely genuine from what is likely not. For example if I have a vision of the Morrigan urging me to be more passive and just let other people have their way with things knowing what I do of the mythology I'd be highly suspicious that this was just my head trying to give me an easy way out of a situation.

So for me research and knowledge of the mythology and folklore are less about balancing gnosis as they are about complimenting it. The two work together and guide my spirituality together. When they come into conflict its a chance for me to grow and reflect on why and how I am going to respond to that conflict.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Good Translations of Irish Myths

Responding to another social media question: what are my favorite translations of [old/middle] Irish material?

I don't know that I necessarily have favorite translations, per se, so much as favorite translators. So if I have a choice I tend to look for work by Kuno Meyers or Elizabeth Gray when possible because they are two of my favorites. Meyers because he footnoted like nobody's business and he's very good about discussing alternate possible reads which I really appreciate. Gray because her work is newer and so incorporates newer understandings of the language. Macalister isn't bad and his work on the Lebor Gabala Erenn is valuable especially for the notes and appendices, but he tends to take the easiest English translation option rather than (in my opinion) what might be the most accurate. Dunn's Tain Bo Cuiligne is decent although like most translators especially of his period he tends to add material. I abhor Whitley Stokes and may never forgive him for his appalling treatment of the Cath Maige Tuired.

Whitley Stokes is actually the reason I started teaching myself old/middle Irish, so that I could read the Cath Maige Tuired for myself after I realized how much he was both adding in and editing out. And that sort of thing is exactly why you have to be very careful about translations especially of this material. Older Irish doesn't lend itself to literal translation to English because to an English speaker what is rendered tends to look clunky and redundant, however in altering the material to better suit an English language audience the feel and spirit of the original is, again in my opinion, often lost. What we are left with my seem beautiful in English but it may not reflect the original story, only the translators opinion of the spirit of the original story and that quickly becomes perspective and opinion.

I highly recommend checking out University College Cork's Irish Sagas Online which includes side by side renderings of many important texts in the original older Irish, modern Irish, and English.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Why Is Macha Considered One of the Morrigan and Not Nemain?

For day four of my 30 Day Content Challenge I'm answering another question from social media - why Macha and not Nemain?

I'm interpreting this question to mean why is Macha considered one of the Morrigan and Nemain isn't, which is both a straightforward question and also a layered one.

The simple answer is that we know Macha is one of the three Morrigan because she is referred to explicitly as such in several of the glossaries and we know Nemain isn't because she is at no point in the source material called the Morrigan or one of the Morrigan.

The complicated answer is that while Macha's connection to the Morrigan is easy to establish and fairly clear - she is repeatedly referred to as one of the three daughters of Ernmas with the Morrigan and Badb, is listed as one of the three Morrigans with the same two sisters, and acts along with them in stories - Nemain's connection is more convoluted. We can clearly say that she is a war and battle goddess and she acts in ways that are similar to what we see the Morrigan doing. She is also very closely tied to Badb, who is one of the Morrigan. In fact some scholars including RAS Macalister have theorized that Badb and Nemain originally formed a grouping together and only later did Badb become associated with the Morrigan, and then even later the Morrigan and Badb became connected to Macha.

Badb and Nemain share similar epithets including 'red' and 'red mouthed' and Nemain is sometimes referred to as 'Nemain, that is the Badb' or 'Nemain that is the Badb Catha'. It is likely that Badb's name like the Morrigan is also a title but in this case we can see the use of it applied to Nemain indicating their close ties to each other. Nemain is also referred to as Be Neit which may mean wife of Net* or woman of battle and is itself a name or title we see applied to other war goddesses. Nemain is said to be the wife of Net along with Badb in some sources, while others say she is his wife along with her sister Fea; unlike the three daughters of Ernmas Fea and Nemain are daughters of Elcmar. This is not a clear subject however, with some scholars like Heidja favoring the idea that Nemain is Badb's true name, while others like Gulermovich-Epstien seeing Nemain as one of the multitude of Morrigan goddesses but indirectly connected.

Pagans often tend to view Nemain as one of the three Morrigan because she is listed as such in modern books, possibly because a late 19th century book by Hennessey on the Morrigan discussed Nemain quite a bit. We can say with certainty that she is not one of the three if we are looking specifically at that specific grouping, but we can also say that she does appear together with Badb inciting battle and causing strife. While we can confidently include her among Irish war goddesses whether or not she is one of the Morrigan per se will probably always be an open question.

*Net is an obscure war god

Friday, November 2, 2018

Calling The Othercrowd Back

Recently the inestimable Seo Helrune wrote a post titled 'Restoration Not Re-enchantment' which made the point that much of our out-of-sync-ness now with the Otherworld is a direct result of christian, particularly protestant, efforts to drive off the Good Neighbours who they believed were demons. Reading her blog has had me thinking over the past week about the deep implications of this for those of us who live in Christian held lands. If we are in places where the dominant religion has been and may still be actively working to drive out the spirits that we in turn are allied with, what does that mean?

She makes a good argument in her post and certainly there's abundant evidence that some Christian traditions did indeed view the Othercrowd as demonic and classified them as demons; we see as much in witchcraft trial accounts where a person who spoke of fairy familiars and dealing with the Queen of Elfame was described by judges as dealing with devils and Satan. There are many examples where terms like elf or goblin are glossed as imp or incubus, going back at least to the 15th century in England and found in the American colonies from their inception.

Related to this is a pervasive campaign of propaganda saying that priests and other such religious men had driven out the Good People through their faith, despite continuous anecdotes and folklore to the contrary. One can argue that these stories of the religious men forcing out the fairies is another means to try to effect their removal by weakening people's belief in them and removing the power of folkloric stories tying fairies to places, as well as eroding practices designed to honor them.
For example:
Canterbury Tales, 'the Wife of Bath's Tale' 14th century:
"In the days of King Arthur, Britain was full of fairies. The elf queen danced in meadows with her companions. This is what I read, anyway. Now, no one sees elves any more, because of the prayers of friars. These friars search all over the land, blessing every building and house, with the result that there are no more fairies. Where elves used to walk, the friar himself now goes at all times of the day, saying his prayers. Women can walk anywhere they want without fearing anyone but the friar, who will only dishonor them, rather than beget demon children upon them." (Chaucer)
In Bishop Richard Corbet's 16th century poem 'Farewell, Rewards, and Fairies' he says that the fairies tolerated Catholics well enough but have all fled to other lands to get away from Protestant religion, which is why none can now be found. In a similar vein several anecdotes beginning in the 17th century mention fairies fleeing any area where church bells rang, apparently unable to tolerate the sound (Briggs, 1976). 

Perhaps we can still see echoes of this effort today not only in the disenchantment of the world and the places where the spirits have in fact been driven off but also in the wider cultural views that see the world around us as un-inspirited and empty. In the way that the dominant narrative may try to describe all things within their own cosmology only as if there could be no other possible options. 

So getting back to my opening question - for those of us who operate in a very different paradigm and for whom interacting with Otherworldly spirits, or any spirits really, is an intrinsic aspect of what we do how do we respond to this?

I think we fight back. I think we fight fire with fire, propaganda with propaganda. We spread our own stories and our own truth and talk about the reality of the spirits that are there in defiance of that dominant narrative. And if they call them demons then let them call them demons. I think we look at the world around us and see it as it is, alive and inspirited, and we learn to be aware if we aren't already of the Othercrowd when they are around us. But most essentially like repairing a rip in a tapestry I think we must actively work to fix what's been done over the centuries to, as Seo Helrune put it, restore the Othercrowd to their place in our world. And yes they can be and often are dangerous; so are wolves and bears and poisonous snakes but our world needs those as well.  

I believe we need to restore the balance that was by returning things to the way they used to be when the world was full of spirits. And I think we can do this. We can call them back. We can reopen the old pathways. We can re-find the old practices and ways. We can re-align ourselves with the Good Neighbours and restore the balance by undoing what the protestant church did when they drove those beings out.

It won't be safe but its essential.

Copyright 2018 Morgan Daimler
Find more of my work at 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

When What You See Has No Name

I had a dream last night that involved, among other things, seeing a group of small birdlike beings with fangs. They were about the size of ducks, covered in soft fuzzy white-grey downy feathers all over and where their beaks would have been instead they had muzzles full of a multitude of sharp fangs.
I have no idea what exactly they were although I feel that they were Otherworldly. They were also clearly dangerous.

Why am I sharing this story? I often have people come to me with encounters they've had with various beings, looking for names for what they've encountered. It's understandable. It's human nature to want names for things and to seek understand what we've experienced by relating it to a body of existing knowledge. When we first see a new animal we might have the same urge to find a name for it and seek out basic information about it. The problem we can run into though with beings not from our world is that even with the amazing store of folklore we have sometimes we encounter things that have no names and no known stories.

When people run into these unnamed or unknown* spirits and realize that they are unknown there is often a tendency to react by doubting themselves. As if just because the spirit they encountered can't be easily named and categorized the person themselves can no longer trust what they experienced. I think we need to be careful not to fall into that mindset that the only spirits and Otherworldly beings who exist are the ones who have already been recorded and defined by previous human generations; remember that even in the mortal world humans still sometimes discover new species. In the same way when we encounter the Otherworld and its inhabitants we should keep in mind that not everything there is known and defined by human understanding - indeed I would argue that its hubris to think that humans have such a complete understanding of the Otherworld as all that.

We also need to keep in mind that when it comes to the Other we aren't just talking about a single 'place' as it were or type of being. For myself I can speak with some confidence about whether something was likely a human ghost, and about a variety of types of fairies, especially from Irish, Scottish, and some Germanic cultures. But there are many, many other types of Otherworldly beings besides those, and beyond that there are many types of beings that are Other but not fairy necessarily. I doubt highly that anyone could identify beings across the entire range of possibilities. Instead a person would need to specialize and when someone encounters a being they may need to research or ask around across a variety possibilities before you may find what you encountered. And even then you may not have a name for it.

And that's still alright. A personal experience is no less valid just because what you saw or experienced can't be found in a book or wasn't shared by other people you know. I'd suggest (as always) making notes about the experience, what you saw, how it acted, what happened, and so on because that might be useful later in discerning at least the nature of what you encountered. But don't worry that just because you can't find it in a folklore book or grimoire that it doesn't exist. There's a lot more out there than can be found between the pages of books.

*for the record I don't believe they are actually truly unknown. I suspect the knowledge or stories of them have either been lost or is simply not readily available to the person

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Chilling Adventure of Sabrina - One Witch's Thoughts

Netflix recently released a new series, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, based on the comic book series of the same name. I don't generally get into television much but I decided to give this show a try for three reasons: it's a sort of spin off of Riverdale which is one of my oldest child's favorite shows, pre-release buzz said there'd be a non-binary character in the show, and the previews seemed to depict an intriguingly dark story (I love horror). It came out on 26 October and had 10 episodes.

So, first a bit of content warning. The show is firmly in the horror genre in my opinion and it has graphic violence that might be upsetting to some people. This includes hanging/lynching, throat slitting, suicide, and cannibalism including of a child. There is also a fairly graphic autopsy scene, and some bullying of a gender non-conforming student which includes physical assault.

The premise of the show is that the main character, Sabrina, is a half witch and half mortal who is supposed to fully commit to the witch side of her nature but doesn't want to give up her mortal life and friends. In the show witches are clearly defined as supernatural beings who live much longer than humans and have supernatural powers, taking them out of the realm of reality and into fantasy. In this aspect it reminded me of some urban fantasy I have read. The witches in Sabrina's world are not in any way pagan or neopagan witches but are based solidly in Christian mythology, fashioned from historic diabolism and theistic Satanism with some early modern witchcraft elements, which I liked. The course of the season follows Sabrina's life as she struggles to deal with this conflict, while being pressured to conform to her family, manipulated by outside forces to follow a certain path, and while she is trying to hide her secret from her friends while also trying to help them in various situations.

The show is set in a timeless period that evokes earlier America of the 50's through 70's without quite being specific. It is styled well and has a great soundtrack which is one of the best I've heard for being perfectly fit to the mood and feel of the show. It also isn't afraid of humour, both subtle and more obvious, and there's a lot of popculture and comic references worked in. The show more generally has a macabre and snarky humour to it that I really appreciated and doesn't seem afraid of mocking itself or the topics its featuring. I particularly love the little idioms the witches use that reflect their own culture yet are mirrors of the dominant Christian one they are clearly created to reflect, darkly as it were.

Before we get further into why I like the show let's look at a few cons. There are a few scenes that include partial nudity of the actresses which I did not like in a show where we are supposed to believe these characters are 15 and 16 year old children. I'm well aware the actors are all over 18, but the idea that they are playing younger teenagers still bothered me in context. It was unnecessary. I also felt like naming the school's women's group W.I.C.C.A. was unnecessary and while I'm sure it was supposed to be some sort of joke I found it annoying especially in context. Generally the special effects were good but there are points where they are so bad it's obvious, such as the apple trees (in full flower and with barely any apples, during apple picking supposedly in late October?). There are also a couple plot holes that really nagged at me, I don't want to post spoilers, so I'll only offer this small example: how is there a list of well known familiars and named familiars in books if they die when their witch dies? Finally there are some glaring mispronunciations including Samhain and Macha, which I would have expected to be correct in a production like this.

So that's some of my criticism. You'll notice I'm not criticizing the Satanic/Diabolic elements and that's because those things don't bother me. Firstly because its framed as clearly fantastical - I mean seriously people come back from the dead - and I give fantasy a freer reign in creating its world. Secondly though and just as importantly because those elements, at least the ones that aren't pure fiction or commentary on fundamentalist religion, are based on history and folklore. The idea of witches marks that don't bleed? The idea of blood pacts with Satan? Cannibalism? Those really are from historic witch hunting texts and accounts of diabolism. There are witches who worship Satan as the fallen angel who challenged the Christian God and who follow a real world religion based on what is shown in the show, minus the murder and mayhem. There are other aspects that reflect early modern witchcraft and practices that people who identify as witches today may still engage in. 'Goblins' (aka fairies) as familiar spirits who take animals shapes to aid the witch? Blood pacts with spirits? Cursing ones enemies? All things we find in history and folklore.

In fact the show includes quite a lot of genuine folk magic and folklore which was a nice change from most witchy tv that's pure made up nonsense. I loved seeing all the yarn magic. Without the horror aspects the magic and witchcraft here is closer to my own than anything in Charmed or Bewitched and I honestly enjoyed seeing it, seeing a tv witch using eggs to divine if a curse was placed, and using protecting charms, and looking to little folk omens to foretell the future. I get that the witchcraft in this show isn't everyone's cup of tea, but quite frankly - just like tea - witchcraft is too diverse for any one flavor to please everyone. I don't get into the Satan worship or diabolism for myself (I take my tea without sugar) but I loved seeing the early modern witchcraft aspects and the folk magic. I also quite enjoyed the Latin and the occult references that are worked in.

Now as to what I liked. The cast is very diverse, and the show really emphasizes women and women's power. There's a refreshingly good number of people of color and particularly women of color in the show and two of these are significant and powerful characters (Roz and Prudence). The show embraces various expressions of sexuality from the expected heterosexuality to pansexuality and queerness which I loved; it even touches on monogamy and polyamory. There is one character who struggles with their gender identity and we get to follow that struggle through the episodes, as they slowly seem to embrace who they are. It challenges ideas about free will and choice in our lives and questions what it means to be a good person in an ambiguous world. In making the witches and their Church of Night just as rigid and religious as any Christian fundamentalist the show makes some very good commentary on the dangers of blindly following any tradition for its own sake and of trusting a higher power or authority figure that has its own agenda. The story arc is strong and builds well over the episodes and I think that the characters themselves are well developed within what is a fairly short amount of time. But most of all I loved the message - verbalized in the final episode - to "own your power" because that is something we all need to hear right now.

I'll finish this out by saying, for those of you who have watched the show - my two favorite characters are Ambrose and Hilda ;)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Rabbit Bone Divination - Developing a System

I little while I go I started feeling a nudge to create my own divination system with bones. I was driving home and the idea came to me, and I tried to push it aside because it seemed too complicated for me to take on right now, but the idea just kept lingering. I kept getting the idea of using rabbit bones* for this purpose and it just wouldn't go from my mind. I finally asked for some kind of omen and as I crested a hill a wild rabbit hopped into the road in front of me; I slowed and the rabbit looked right at me before slowly hopping back the way he'd come. My feeling with this was that he was trying to get my attention, but I wasn't totally clear on the purpose so I risked asking for clarification - and turned a corner only to have a second wild rabbit run next to my car in someone's yard for about 30 feet before breaking off.
To me this was a definitive sign that I should pursue this new divination method, even though I was very uncertain about how it would actually work.

I took a leap of faith and started moving forward with the project. I got a selection of small rabbit bones (from the feet) and I put them on my altar. I sat with them and meditated on how this should functionally work. My feeling was that it would be a system involving throwing bones down on a cloth, but nothing else was really coming to me for it. I decided that a good approach would be to ask for a bit of assistance.

Last night before I went to bed I repeated three times:
"Coinín, coinín, coinín
Speak to me truly
Coinín, coinín, coinín
Tell me what I need to know"

I woke up with the image of bones being shaken and thrown down in my mind, and these words:
"One for fate
Two for chance
Three for loss
Four for romance
Five for life
Six for death
Seven for the Fair Folk
Who steal your breath
Eight for dark
Nine for light
Ten for aid
Eleven for spite
Twelve for health and
Blessings felt
Thirteen for fate
Yet undealt."

Each line, to me, represents a specific possible answer to a person's future although I also think this charm could have other uses**. What I gained from this was the idea to use thirteen bones and throw them down onto a small cloth marked with a circle and then look at how they fall and how many fall within the circle. I will chant the charm before I throw the bones.

Meditating on this later today I also got the impression to burn one side of each bone, so that one side would be dark and the other plain. This could be used for yes/no questions or other points where clarification is needed as well as to indicate the overall tone of a result.

*I am using roadkill bones for this purpose. My general preference with bones is to use those that are found rather than, shall we say, otherwise acquired.
**another obvious use is as a simple omen where anything that appears in numbers would be counted and the count compared to that line of the charm

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Miscellaneous Q & A

I thought it would be fun to do another question and answer blog today so I asked for questions on social media and here they are along with my answers:

Rei asks: On the subject of fairies, do you think there are wildly different beings in different parts of the world with different 'rules of engagement' as it were? I've had some experiences here in Appalachia that do not seem to hold to the same rules like for example apologizing/thanking seems OK even polite depending who you're dealing with.
My answer: wildly different no, but different yes. I think we can find beings throughout the world that might fit the wider definition of what we would call in English 'fairies', that is Otherworldly beings that come into our world and follow specific patterns of behavior including interacting with humans in specific ways. When it comes to the etiquette I like to compare it to human culture. If you travel around the world what is good manners in one place may actually be rude somewhere else, so it's always good to try to learn the local customs as it were.

Rebecca asks: Do you have any fairy resources that are not Irish? I have some Scottish based books that I got from your bibliographies but can't find much on Welsh or general British.
My answer: there's an older book called 'British Goblins: Welsh Folklore, Fairy Mythology, Legends, and Traditions' by Wirt Sykes. I would also recommend checking out this site
For British I'd recommend British Fairies by John Kruse as well as the blog of the same name here

David asks: In old Irish tradition the good people like the finer things which were available at the time; cream, butter, meat and so on.
If we accept for arguments sake that they exist in a different time realm, so to speak, then would you say that today's offerings should now also be the finer things available to us, such as champagne, fine wine, delicacies and so on?
My answer: I tend to think the times change but their preference for quality hasn't. But then I also think that the whole point was always twofold - to make sure humans remembered that the Good Neighbours were owed a portion, and that they expected the top of the harvest not the bottom. Or put another way I'd never risk giving skimmed milk

Maggie asks: Are there any references to Brighid and fairies?
My answer: Not that I know of but I will dig a bit deeper and see what I can find

Pamela asks: I know there's lots of theories as to why they dislike iron, l was wondering what your personal opinion is about why they dislike it so much?
My answer: my personal theory is that iron is very grounding and disrupts their magic. They avoid it because it reduces their ability to effect the world and control things and may also be directly harmful to them. Rev. Kirk theorized their bodies were partially made of energy and if he is right then a grounding material like iron might physically harm them. Although I'm starting to wonder if it may not be a more straightforward and literal allergy to the metal, but I also tend to believe they are or can be physical beings as much as tehy are or can be non-physical beings. 

Eliza Marie asks: What are your thoughts on comparisons between older accounts of encounters with the Gentry and modern day "alien abduction" experiences?
My answer: I personally think that alien encounters are modern interpretations of fairy encounters. I think that as humans stopped believing in fairies as real powers who were dangerous and could take people, and started to believe in dangers from other planets we start to see fairy abductions and encounters shifting into alien ones. Since fairies have always been known for using glamour to effect what humans see and perceive it would make sense that humans expecting outer space monsters would get them.

Kathryn asks:Do you have an suggestions for further research on Yeats and the Fellowship of the Four Jewels?
My answer: Not something I'm familiar with relating to Yeats, but looking into Ella Young's writings may prove more fruitful. If you haven't already I'd read Graf's book 'W. B. Yeats Twentieth Century Magus: An In-Depth Study of Yeats's Esoteric Practices & Beliefs, Including Excerpts from His Magical Diaries.'

Pamela asks: In the remscéla where the Morrigan meets Cuchulainn and has the one legged horse with chariot pole sticking through it's head, do you have any idea what that description is supposed to translate to the reader other than super otherworld weird?
My answer: The Tain Bo Regamna is one of my favorite stories. Often in mythology we see one eyed, one limbed beings as symbolic of cthonic forces - for example the Fomorians are described this way in some instances. We also see the corrguinecht or crane-wounding-magic being done in a position of standing on one foot with one hand behind the back and one eye closed. To me this indicates that not only is the horse clearly Otherworldly but it is also rather ill-aspected, either cthonic in nature or sinister. I suspect a person hearing the story told would have immediately identified this description with a being that is unsainly or otherwise of a dangerous Otherworldly nature, foreshadowing what happens later in the story. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Two Book Reviews: The Winnowing of White Witchcraft and British Fairies

Today I'd like to offer two short book reviews of texts I've recently read that I enjoyed very much. They are extremely different books, but both valuable I think in their own ways.

The first book I'd like to review today is 'The Winnowing of White Witchcraft' by Edward Poeton, with an introduction by Simon Davies.

The book is a new release of a 17th century book that had never been published. It was written as an anti-witchcraft treatise in the 1630's (exact date unknown) but is aimed less at what we might expect [read: diabolism] and more at cunningfolk and similar folk practices in England. The author was a physician and had strong opinions about the healing practices of cunningfolk which he criticized through this treatise and by trying to equate cunningfolk directly to more diabolical witches. The text is set up as a dialogue between a cleric, doctor, and uneducated country man; the country man frequents cunningfolk and the other two are set in the text to persuade him to stop by convincing him such folk are just as bad as actual witches.

Although an argument against cunningfolk it provides a good amount of information about what such people were doing at the time, as well as giving a descriptive 14 point list of what activities a witch, specifically a white witch or cunningperson, could be identified by which included being observant of "good and bad dayes, and of lucky and unlucky howers"; identifying and aiding bewitched people; divining with personal objects [psychometry]; use of spells and charms that they term prayers; and reliance on omens. It also mentions a person having a familiar spirit which they first called an angel of God then admitted was a fairy. There are small bits of folk magic practices throughout the work. The text is heavily footnoted and annotated throughout and includes a wealth of valuable material for a person studying early modern witchcraft or cunningcraft.

If this subject interests you then I'd say it's a good read with some interesting information in it, particularly as it is an original 17th century source. It was published by the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and it is very well done, with an exceptional introduction and footnotes throughout. The introduction does a wonderful job of setting the cultural tone that the text was written in and establishing who the author was, both essential points.
I will however add two caveats: at $45 it is very expensive for a 77 page book and you do need a working ability to read early modern dialects, particularly those meant to be intentionally archaic and rustic. Another review I had seen of this book (which actually motivated me to find a copy) gave the impression the third speaker in the text was nearly unintelligible and while I did not find this to be so other readers may have more difficulty with his sections. A small example to illustrate: "
Cham zorry master doctor, that you shud ha zuch a conzete o mee: I tell ee truely (I thong God vort) I dee ze my prayers ery morning, whan I wash my vace an honns, An zo agen at night whan cham abed..."
[I am sorry master doctor that you should have such a conceit of me: I tell you truly (I thank God for it) I do say my prayers every morning, when I wash my face and hands, and so again at night when I am abed...]

The second book I'd like to review if 'British Fairies' by John Kruse.

I had recently become aware of a blog 'British Fairies' and then found out that the blog's author John Kruse had a book of his collected material under the same title, so I decided to seek out a copy. 

The book is divided into three parts; the first part further into three subsections. Overall there are 35 chapters and they are all fairly short and set up much as a blog article would be. This style lends itself to easier reading, which is good because the author has a more cerebral tone and approach to the subject that some readers may prefer in smaller doses. The first part is titled "the Character and Nature of British Fairies" with subsections on basic characteristics, attributes, and human relations. The second part looks at fairies in art and literature; the third focuses on "themes and theories" relating to fairies. 

The book is 186 pages and is well research and thoroughly cited and footnoted throughout.

This is a book that is going on my list of 'must reads' for fairylore. It is well written and thorough, and takes a much needed deeper look at specifically British fairylore focusing on primarily England, Cornwall, and Wales. The author touches on all of the vital areas one would hope to see in such a text, from questions about whether fairies have physical forms to how they came to be viewed as tiny childlike girls with wings. The chapters are really more like short essays on particular subjects, perhaps betraying its origins as a blog, and often include bullet point lists summarizing key points but this works to the book's advantage rather than detracting from it. One may choose to read the whole book through, read short sections at a time, or use the text as a reference for specific topics. 

The text retains a loose air of skepticism, never committing to belief or stating disbelief, however it does approach fairies through the lens of traditional folklore while tracing the shift into a very different modern understanding of who and what fairies are. The overall tone is one of exploration and seeking answers. I do not, of course, agree with everything the author believes but the material is well written and the arguments presented are persuasive and supported. There's a wealth of material in these collected essays and the format makes that material accessible while covering a lot of ground. 

I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in the subject, particularly if your focus is more on England, Wales, or Cornwall.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

What Is a Fairy Court?

  It was recently brought to my attention on social media that not everyone may understand exactly what a royal court is or how one functions, and specifically how this relates to the fairy courts. Today I want to address this issue and try to offer some clarity on the subject for anyone who is curious. 

'Riders of the Sidhe' by John Duncan

It's important to understand that when we talk about fairy courts we may be talking about two distinctly different things. This double meaning and usage comes from the Scots language where the word court means both a group attending on royalty and more generally a group or company. Because much of our fairylore about the courts in a general sense comes from the Scots speaking areas of Scotland this double usage of the word has found its way into modern fairylore, but a lack of understanding of the language means the nuance may be lost. 
Firstly the term fairy court is used as a general term to define an entire group of fairy beings, and by that understanding it's nature is very broad. When we talk about the Seelie Court (or it's antithesis the Unseelie Court) we are not talking about a specific royal court, but are using the term in that second general sense for all types of beings who may owe allegiance to the monarchy of that court, the Queen of the Seelie Court or Nicnevin who is reputed to be Queen of the Unseelie. However all beings with such allegiance are no more members of the royal court itself than all people in England are members of the English royal court. When we say they are part of the Seelie court we are using the term very generally, and that is probably the more common usage we find. The idea of this general use of 'Seelie court' started as a euphemism, a way to refer to all fairies in a positive manner which is why it is so intentionally inclusive. 
The second way the word can be used, the first definition, relates to the specific group of beings who would attend or serve a Fairy Queen or King; we see this use in ballad material and in some anecdotes. That gets us into what we are going to be addressing in depth here, the Fairy court as a royal court of Fairy. In that case we are talking about a very specific grouping of individuals around and related to the Fairy royalty of a place. With this use of court we swing from overly broad to very particular, as you shall see. 

A royal court, fairy or mortal, is set up in roughly the same way and represents - effectively - the royal household. The royal court would include the ruling monarch, their immediate family, royal advisors and counselors, courtiers*, court officials (such as the chancellor, purser, and chamberlain), entertainers, body servants and some servants more generally, ladies-in-waiting, courtesans, knights, heralds, doorkeepers, cupbearers, ushers, grooms, huntsmen, and clergy (Pattie, 2011; C& MH, 2014). Ladies-in-waiting were usually the wives of nobles attending court (effectively courtiers) or sometimes widows of such nobles who had the task of keeping the Queen company, entertaining her, and keeping her up on the general goings-on at court as well as what was essential gossip. The Queen would also have maidservants or handmaidens who were not nobility and were servants in truth that would handle her personal needs. Defining who was or wasn't in the court could be somewhat nebulous but effectively anyone who was in regular - usually daily or nearly daily - contact with the royal family and made their home at the royal court may be considered a member of the court. How many people a court was comprised of could vary widely from a relatively small number into the thousands depending on the size and power of a kingdom. 

Being a member of the court did not mean having rank in it, however. Having rank within a court meant having a specific title and duty within that court relating to serving the monarch, and the system of rank as one may assume was hierarchical. Certain titles implied a great deal more power and influence than others, and some positions, like master huntsman or master falconer, where usually held by members of the nobility (C & MH, 2014). To quote the article 'Officers and Servants in a Medieval Castle': "The presence of servants of noble birth imposed a social hierarchy on the household that went parallel to the hierarchy dictated by function." (C & MH, 2014). This is referencing human royal courts however it applies equally to courts in Fairy; rank in a court is a matter equally of birth and function within the court itself, and everything is a matter of rank. 
The court would be subdivided into sections by area of function and these in turn would be overseen by one individual and a series of lesser ranking assistants. Lower ranking members may wear the livery of the royal family to indicate specifically who they serve. Sections included the living quarters of the royals, the royal wardrobe, the stables, the kitchen, and hunting; each one was then subdivided sometimes into many smaller parts. The kitchen at large for example had a variety of very specific domains including: cooking area; buttery, pantry, confectionery, cellar, larder, spicery, saucery, scalding-house, and poultry (C & HM, 2014). A scullery maid would not likely interact with the Queen but would report to other lesser kitchen workers who in turn reported to higher ranking kitchen workers and on up the chain of command. Other sections were similarly complex, although how much or little would depend on the overall size of the household and court. 
If this sounds complicated that's because it is, and no less so for Fairy courts than for human ones. 

If you want a good illustration of a modern human royal court's officials you can look at the royal court of Norway here. For a good list of medieval ranks and positions there is this article, which I quoted and cited above. 

We should note that it is called a court for the same reason our modern legal court bears the name - because the royal court was a place where the Queen or King would make laws and give legal judgements. They would also receive tributes and taxes and generally take any actions to govern their country that was necessary. In this sense a royal court is both a collection of people and a place - it is the sum total of those people closest to the monarch but it is also the place that the monarch rules from. A portion of the officials at court would be people whose jobs would be assisting in overseeing the actual running of the country and implementation of the laws and orders of the monarch. This includes the exercise of military power as well as economic, which would be controlled by the monarch but delegated to court officials to actually handle executing. The location may be one set place, may move between several, or may always be changing. The court is, effectively, the center of government for any monarchy.

The ruling monarch has a court; the members of their court do not have their own courts because only the ruling monarch has the authority to make governmental decisions, military decisions, and judgements of law. So a Fairy Queen would have her court but her children and other close relatives would not have their own courts unless they are ruling monarchs in their own right of their own territory or have been given specific authority to rule as a representative of the Queen in a different location. In the same way, non-royal nobility do not generally have courts although in some rare cases they might depending on the degree of authority they have over their own territory.  

One example of a Fairy court of the type we are discussing comes from the ballad of Tam Lin. When Tam Lin is talking to his lover Janet about how she can rescue him he tells her this:

Then the first company which comes to you
Is published king and queen;
Then next the second company that comes to you,
It is many maidens.
Then next the company that comes to you
Is footmen, grooms and squires;
Then next the company that comes to you
Is knights, and I'll be there.

- Tan Lin 39G (modern English)

What we are seeing described is the Fairy court riding out in procession in groups, with the royalty first, then the queen's ladies-in-waiting, then the more general retinue of servants, then the knights at the rear. This is fully inline with what we might expect of a royal court, although I would imagine other nobles riding along with the king and queen. 

When we see fairy courts portrayed in modern fiction they are often greatly simplified or not well explained which may give people a shallow view of what they are. A fairy court, whether that of the Seelie or Unseelie Queen or any of the Irish Fairy monarchs, would be complex and include a variety of beings that were part of the ruler's household, from close family to servants who waited on the royal family, as well as the same range listed above from advisors to huntsmen. These are usually beings who would be in permanent or near permanent attendance on the royal family, with the exception of knights who may be sent out or assigned specific tasks that took them away from the court. Again we can look to Tam Lin as an example of this, as he was a knight within the Queen's court but had been given the task of guarding a specific well in the forest of Carterhaugh. Courtiers, especially nobles, may also spend part of their time away from court, but would generally be expected to spend most of their time attending to the Queen or King. 

To understand and appreciate the fairy courts we need an understanding of what they are. Human royalty still exists in some places and still has courts, although largely symbolic now, and there is no indication that fairies do not still operate with a monarchy system which would include royal courts. At the least understand that these courts would include the royal household as well as courtiers, and that rank within a court would be an intersecting matter of birth and function. Everyone in a court has a function which ultimately serves the monarch, and the court itself is both representative of the monarch's power and a tool to exercise that power. 

Hopefully this article has helped provide a very basic understanding of what such a court would consist of and include and roughly how one would function. 

*courtiers are almost a topic unto themselves to be honest. A courtier was a person who attended the ruler at court and could include members of the nobility, servants, secretaries, merchants, soldiers, clergy, friends of the ruler, lovers, and entertainers. They may or may not hold actual rank in the court depending on a variety of factors. What defined someone as a courtier was the amount of time they spent hanging around the royal court, whether or not they ever actually even interacted with the ruler. 

Acland, A., (2018) Tam Lin 39 G retrieved from
Heirarchy Structure (2018) The Royal Court retrieved from
Pattie, T., (2011) Medieval People, Titles, Trades, and Classes retrieved from 
C&MH (2014) Castle Life: Officers and Servants in a Medieval Castle retrieved from
Brosius, M., (2007). The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies
Thoms, W., (1884) The Book of the Court: Exhibiting the History, Duties, and Privileges of the English Nobility and Gentry.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Elfin Knight: an Excerpt from 'Travelling the Fairy Path'

The following article is an excerpt from my forthcoming book 'Travelling the Fairy Path'. It looks at material from the ballad 'The Elfin Knight' and what we may learn from it as people interested in fairylore. I find it particularly valuable in what it may teach is about the importance of consent for witches when dealing with the Fair Folk in certain situations, particularly sexual ones. We see themes of such compulsion appearing in some of the stories we have in folklore, most often relating to female fairies like the selkie brides, so I thought this example of a human woman or girl compelling a male fairy was a good example to use here.
   In the context of the book it appears in a chapter discussing the ballad material more generally and what we can learn by analyzing it. Much of the book itself is focused on more practical and experimental material; this is the most academic chapter but I think offers a nice balance with the more practical and philosophical parts.

The Elfin Knight

This ballad is more familiar to most people in its later song form as ‘Scarborough Fair’ but in this older ballad the context is clearly supernatural. Later versions slowly lose this aspect and become a simpler song: in one example, variant I, about a woman trying to avoid marriage to an older man, and in others of one lover asking a person to remind another of them and ask them to complete impossible tasks. In the older versions the supernatural is clearly on display, telling the tale of a woman who wishes for an Elf Knight as her true love, and he responds by giving her a series of seemingly impossible tasks to complete to win him. She in turn gives him a series of equally impossible tasks to earn her as his wife. Below I will include one of the oldest versions which dates to 1670 (Caffrey, 2002). Then I’ll discuss some of the variations; as with many of the ballads there are multiple versions and some have significant differences.

The Elfin Knight Version 2B
1My plaid7 away, my plaid away
And over the hills and far away
And far away to Norway,
My plaid shall not be blown away.
The Elfin knight stands on yonder hill,
 Refrain: Ba, ba, ba, lillie ba
He blows his horn both loud and shrill.
Refrain: The wind has blown my plaid away
2He blows it east, he blows it west
He blows it where he likes it best
3 ‘I wish that horn were in my chest,
Yes and the Knight in my arms next!
4 She had no sooner these words said
Than the Knight came to her bed.
5 ‘You are too young a girl’, he said
‘Married with me that you would be.’
6 ‘I have a sister younger than I
And she was married yesterday’
7 ‘Married with me if you would be
A courtesy you must do for me.
8 ‘It’s you must make a shirt for me,
Without any cut or seem’, said he.
9 ‘And you must shape it knife- and sheerless,
And also sow it needle and threadless.’
 10 ‘If that piece of courtesy I do for you
Another you must do for me.
 11 'I have an acre of good untilled land,
Which lays low by yonder sea shore.
12  'It’s you must till it with your blowing horn,
And you must sow it with pepper corn.
13 ‘And you must harrow with a thorn
And have your work done before the morning.’
14 ‘And you must shear it with your knife
And not lose a stack of it for your life.’
15 ‘And you must stack it in a mouse hole
And you must thresh it in your shoe-sole.’
16 ‘And you must prepare it in the palm of your hand
And also stack it in your glove
17 ‘And you must bring it over the sea
Fair and dry and clean to me.’
18 'And when you've done, and finished your work,
You'll come to me, and you’ll get your shirt.'
19 ‘I’ll not abandon my plaid for my life;
It covers my seven children and my wife.’
20 ‘My maidenhead I’ll then keep still
Let the Elfin Knight do what he will.’
 (modified from Child, 1898)

This is a complex ballad and one that stands in stark contrast to others like Tam Lin and Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight. Like the latter though we see this one beginning with a young woman hearing an Elfin Knight blowing his horn and wishing aloud that she had him for her own, and like ‘Lady Isabel’ the elf seems compelled to immediately respond by going her. He does not seem to want to do this and we can gather his reluctance since his first comment is that she is too young for him, which she counters by saying that her younger sister was just married. In most versions the girl’s age is unspecified although she does seem to at least be of marriageable age; only in version D is her age given as the very young 9 years old and we may interpret his challenge to her there as a way to put her off until she’s older. In version A the Elf Knight says not only that she is too young but that ‘married with me you ill would be’ and in version C he asks her ‘Are you not over young a maid; with only young men down to lay?’ (Child, 1898). When she insists despite his concern over her age that she is acceptable – by referring to the marriage of her younger sister – he issues her a challenge, more kindly worded in version B above and more bluntly said in C ‘married with me you shall never be; until you make me a shirt without a seam [etc.,]’.

Looking at this section several things are clear. The Elf Knight seems to have no choice in responding to the young woman when she hears his horn and wishes for his company. He also seems unable to simply refuse her advances when she expresses a desire to marry him, or at the least to have sex with him. Instead he responds to her insistence by giving her a list of things she must do to earn him as a spouse, in all versions this seems to include making a shirt that is not sown or cut, and not touched by iron. In several alternate version there are additional requirements including:
D: '…wash it in yonder well,
Where the dew never wet, nor the rain ever fell
And you must dry it on a thorn
That never budded since Adam was born.’
Or alternately from version C:
And you must wash it in yonder cistern
Where water never stood nor ran
And you must dry it on yonder Hawthorn
Where the sun never shone since man was born.’
In both of these we see the key to the additions being the idea of washing the shirt in water that is not ordinary water and drying it on an ancient thorn tree that has either never flowered or never seen the sun for as long as humans have existed.

The girl responds to these challenges with a set of her own which in most versions are more complex than what she has been asked to do and involve plowing, planting, harvesting and preparing an acre of land in ways that are just as impossible as the shirt she has been asked to make. In some versions the land is said to ‘lay low by yonder sea strand’ but in some others it is specifically ‘between the sea and the sand’ (Child, 1898). We may perhaps assume the challenges are more difficult and numerous because the Elfin Knight is assumed to have a greater ability to achieve the impossible tasks than the girl is.

In the later variations the ballad ends with the young woman telling the Knight that when he has completed his task and is ready to present the literal fruit (or at least grain) of his labor he can return for his shirt. However in the two earlier versions, A and B, the woman responding with challenges of her own seems to free the elf of the compulsion he was under (or at least a portion of it), as he replies to her telling him when to come for the shirt by saying he won’t ‘abandon his plaid for his life; it covers his seven children and his wife’. In other words he doesn’t want to give up his own bed and family for this young woman. She at least has the good grace then to reply that she will keep her virginity and he can do as he will, certainly setting him completely free at that point.

There are also variations of the refrain which is presented here in the oldest form of ‘ba ba ba lillie ba; the wind has blown my plaid away’ which is found in variants A and B; versions C, D and E are fairly similar with the second line saying ‘and the wind has blown my plaid away’ but the first line varies from ‘over the hills and far away’ to ‘blow, blow, blow wind blow’ except version E which uses the opening line of the refrain from versions A and B. the refrain for version F is ‘sober and grave grows merry in time; once she was a true love of mine’ and marks the first version with no mention of the Elfin Knight. G introduces the famous lines ‘Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; and you shall be a true lover of mine’ and H blends the previous two giving us ‘every rose grows merrier with thyme; and then you will be a true lover of mine’. I returns to the older version with ‘Hee ba and balou ba’ as the beginning but the reference to the wind blowing away the plaid to finish; J uses nonsense words. K’s refrain is ‘Sing ivy, sing ivy; sing holly, go whistle and ivy’ while L uses the variant ‘Sing ivy, sing ivy; sing green bush, ivy and holly’; finally M returns to a version of ‘Every rose springs merry in its time; and she longed to be a true lover of mine’. It is likely that the earliest refrains which rely on references to the wind blowing away the plaid are symbolic and that the plaid in this case was meant to represent either a loss of innocence or security. Caffrey in his article ‘The Elfin Knight Child #2: Impossible Tasks and Impossible Love’ suggests that the plaid is meant to have sexual connotations and that is certainly likely throughout the ballad. The other versions of the refrain include a selection of herbs: ivy, holly, rose, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Ivy was used in love magic and had protective qualities; holly is favored by fairies and also has protective qualities but interestingly was known as a plant that protected the heart against love (MacCoitir, 2006; MacCoitir, 2003). Rose not surprisingly has a long history as a symbol of love and also of beauty. Parsley is associated with lust and fertility; sage for fulfilling wishes; rosemary for love and lust; and thyme for love and attraction (Cunningham, 1985). All of these plants then have significance relating to the meaning of the ballad itself and for our purposes should be considered in the use of magic relating to working with or drawing the Fair Folk or love magic generally.

I think we can see from this that it is possible for a person to compel a Fairy being, particularly an Elfin Knight, if they hear his horn being blow and wish for him in that moment. However I think that this ballad along with ...‘Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight’ make it clear that it may be either unwise or dangerous to make such a wish. You may get what you wish for but in one case the result is a homicidal lover, while in the other it is a deeply reluctant one. Many of us may wish we had an Otherworldly lover or spouse but these ballads show us that forcing Fairy beings into these relationships does not work out well.

7A plaid is a length of cloth that can be worn as mantle but also serves as a bedcovering. In this context I might suggest the bedcovering meaning is intended although one might also see it as applying to a mantle being worn.
8In this version as well note that she does not claim that she has a younger sister who is already married but that she ‘has a sister eleven years old; and she to the young men’s bed has made bold’. This does not seem to be a persuasive argument for the Elf Knight however who continues to put her off.

Caffrey, N., (2002) The Elfin Knight Child #2: Impossible Tasks and Impossible Love
Child, F., (1898) The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
Cunningham, S., (1985) Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs
MacCoitir, N., (2003) Irish Trees
 --- (2006) Irish Wild Plants

Friday, July 27, 2018

Reconstructing Early Modern Witchcraft Resources

I draw on a lot of resources for my own practice of witchcraft, and at this point I've moved away (for the most part) from looking at how other modern practitioners do things and instead draw on ideas about how historic witchcraft was likely done. I combine that with folk magic practices and the Fairy Faith to create the practical system that I use for my witchcraft.

Here is a list of some of the main sources that I use:

  • 'Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits' and 'The Visions of Isobel Gowdie' by Emma Wilby. Two of my top sources, they deal with both early modern witchcraft as well as touching on fairy beliefs and practices. 
  • 'Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History' by Owen Davies. Another good look at early modern magical practices which includes some fairy beliefs. 
  • 'Between the Living and the Dead' by Eva Pócs. A look at early modern witchcraft practices in eastern Europe.
  • 'The Witch Figure' edited by Venetia Newall. A collection of essays on witchcraft in folklore and across different cultures. Quite a bit of fascinating and useful material.
  • 'Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies' by Claude Lecouteux. A look at the soul complex within european belief but includes a lot of valuable lore about witches and fairies that is applicable to practice. I found it especially relevant for dream work and journeying. 
  • 'Scottish Fairy Belief' by Lizanne Henderson and Edward Cowan. Primarily focused on fairy beliefs (and also on my list for that subject) but this book includes a good amount of witchcraft material as well, including some actual methods of dealing with fairies used by fairy doctors and mná feasa. 
  • 'Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland' by Andrew Sneddon. Not actually one of my favorites as I find the title deceptive - its focus is more on the outbreaks of witchcraft accusations among protestant communities in Ireland. However it does touch to some degree on folk practices and Irish witchcraft in the final chapter so it has its uses. 
  • 'The Silver Bough' by F Marian McNeill. A look at Scottish folk beliefs more generally it includes some very useful sections on witchcraft and fairy beliefs. 
You'll notice there aren't many Irish specific books in there. Well, I haven't yet found a good solid historic text on Irish witchcraft, although I keep looking. For that area I comb through a wide array of Irish specific folklore, anthropology, and academic pagan texts and look at anecdotal material relating to cultural beliefs. 

And although I don't really draw on other modern practitioners there are a few who I enjoy reading or have found thought provoking or useful*. Not all of these are people who necessarily consider themselves witches, per se, and they aren't necessarily people I agree with 100%, but they are writers I think are worth considering. For that list we'd have:
  • 'A Grimoire For Modern Cunningfolk' by Peter Paddon. Peter was a great guy and I enjoy his writing style and approach to the subject. 
  • 'Call of the Horned Piper' by Nigel Jackson. One of my favorites for modern traditional witchcraft, I found it really resonant. 
  • 'Essays From the Crossroads 2016 Collection' by Seo Helrune. So I admit I'm a big fan of Seo Helrune. Love this book, love the blog (which you can find here). More focused on ancestor work than I am but very insightful and deliciously blunt and willing to confront hard truths. 
  • 'A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality' by Lora O'Brien. Another of my favorite books, not witchcraft specific exactly but full of good material, much of which I find touches on actual practices. I also enjoy Lora's blog which can be found here 
Speaking of blogs:
  • Sarah Anne Lawless has a great blog here that I very much enjoy and recommend. I don't agree with everything she says or all her conclusions but I love her perspective and find her material always raises good points (even when I disagree).
  • Via Hedera - a great blog looking at green witchcraft, animism and generally interesting witchcraft related subjects. Not exactly tradcraft but lots of great food for thought in related practices.

So that covers all the main things I can think of. Some books and some blogs, some academic some personal, a mix of material. When it comes to my own practice I look at these resources as well as the body of fairylore that we have, see what works and what doesn't through experience, and go from there. 
*I am aware that there are many other books on the market in the genre of traditional witchcraft. Generally speaking I have either read them already and they just didn't resonate with me, or I haven't been able to get a copy yet (Gemma Gary is on my wish list for example).