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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 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.