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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). 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Fairies and the Dead part 2

So I'm recently running into this idea that all fairies are the human dead.
Let's unpack that because its complicated. 

I have written about the intertwining of fairies and the dead before in a blog that was an excerpt from my book 'Fairies'. The subject is very convoluted and there really is no direct answer to the question "Are the fairies human dead?". Ultimately we would have to say yes, no, and maybe. So instead of going for simple let's look at the mythology and folklore and explore a bit about why they are connected and why not all fairies human dead. 

Yes there are some humans among the Good People although its a bit unclear whether they are/were actually dead or whether the Fair Folk took them alive and made it seem like they had died with glamour and changelings. Let's leave that aside however and just assume okay they are dead and were taken and made into fairies. Humans becoming fairies is a thing in folklore, sure. However there's nothing in folklore indicating that all the Daoine Maithe are former humans and there's material that does indicate that some of them have never been human. 

The Riders of the Sidhe [fairy mounds] predate the Tuatha De Danann going into the fairy hills in Irish mythology and are referenced in the Fate of the Children of Tuirenn as being allied with the TDD prior to their war with the Fomorians. This is, in mythology, prior to the arrival of humans in Ireland. The TDD themselves are said to be among the fairies - the aos sidhe - now after having gone into the fairy hills when humans took over Ireland. There are also types of fairies that are not humanoid at all or primarily, things like water horses for example. And I would hope it would be obvious that nature and land spirits are not human. 

A big aspect of the 'human dead are fairies' argument hinges on the idea that some of the known fairy mounds are actually neolithic burial sites. This is true. But there are a few problems with this argument as a basis for assuming that the fairies are human dead or rooted in human dead as a belief. First of all we have no idea if our iron age ancestors were aware that the neolithic mounds were burial sites; just because we know this now does not mean they knew it. Secondly, and more importantly, not all fairy hills are neolithic burial mounds and not all sites believed to be homes of the fairies are mounds. There are fairy hills that are old forts (not burial sites) and there are places like lakes, trees, caves and mystic islands also associated with the Good People. There is a spot on the side of Benbulben that is literally unreachable by humans that is said to be a doorway to Fairy. So we need to be very cautious in reducing this to simply neolithic burial mounds = sidhe = aos sidhe= human dead. It is not that simple. 

There is also an abundant amount of folklore in Ireland relating to ghosts and hauntings as well as practices connected to the seasonal visitations of dead relatives that make it clear that traditionally there was a degree of separation between most human spirits and fairies. It was never assumed that everyone who died went into the fairies. quite the opposite. And one should remember that a person taken by the fairies could be theoretically rescued - there are stories of this being done successfully. But I have never once seen a story in folklore of a person bringing a ghost or regular dead person back to life.
Folklore and anecdotes make it clear that the Good Neighbours only take specific people for particular reasons. If they take a person and make that person into one of their own there is a reason for it, always. Maybe as a servant. Maybe breeding stock. Maybe to increase their own numbers or (in Scottish lore) to pay a tithe. Maybe as a nursemaid. But there is always a reason they want that specific person. 

So yes, some human dead become fairies but *not all* and not all fairies are former humans. Some are Gods, some are Otherworldly beings, some are nature or land spirits. Some are simply fairies and always have been.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Fairy Priestessing: When Your Spirituality Swallows You Whole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mystic South 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Remembering Uaimh na gCat

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fairies and Aliens: an Opinion Piece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 2, 2018

Why Fairy Doctor Shouldn't Be the New Trendy Title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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