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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.


References
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 https://www.patreon.com/morgandaimler 

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