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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
safe
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.