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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Basic Guide To Identifying Spirits

I have taught a class a few times which focuses on helping people learn to differentiate between several types of spirits they may be interacting with. The point of doing this is that what a ghost can or can't do is different from what a fairy can or can't do which is different again from what a third type of spirit might be capable of.

This is by no means a foolproof process but was intended to help people just starting out in spirit work. This guideline is based on my own personal experience and study, and so please keep in mind that this will by necessity therefore be based on spirits that I have myself dealt with. I wouldn't be confident that this will hold up without testing against spirits entirely foreign to me, although theoretically it should hold true in a general sense. My point being that there is a bit of caveat emptor with all of this.

There are many features of spirits which are shared by various groups, such as the ability to be seen or unseen, the ability to physically touch a living person, appearing in various forms, making people feel a sense of being watched, or communicating in dreams. There are also some qualities which are unique to different types and that's what we will focus on in the following sections.



Identifying Ghosts
Ghosts in this context are the disembodied spirits of a dead human which is still lingering on the earth-plane. There are other options for human spirits, ghosts are only one, but it is important to be able to recognize the presence of a ghost when there's one around. In my experience a ghost is fairly limited in what they can do to influence living humans and the harm they can do; they're greatest power is startling people and the person's own fearful reaction. That said it is possible for a ghost to possess a medium who is open and unshielded and people can be scratched, tripped, have their hair pulled, and things along those lines.

1 Ghosts are particularly noted for the way that they will influence the temperature of a room by making it drop, the theory being that they are somehow transmuting the heat into energy they can use to manifest or otherwise interact with our world.
2 They are also known for affecting electronic equipment by turning things on and off, communicating through radios, and draining batteries*. If electronics are being interfered with or messed with ghosts are a prime candidate.
3 Dogs are sensitive to ghosts - some so-called 'ghosts hunters' even use dogs in their investigations because of this - and will react when ghosts are around. This reaction usually includes barking at odd spots that seem empty, refusing to enter a room, or seeming uncomfortable in an area.
4 Things moving, usually involving a slight touch, such as something falling after being tipped off a shelf, sliding across a smooth surface, being knocked over or shifted out of place. What distinguishes a ghost doing this from other spirits is that ghosts have a limited range when it comes to interacting with the earth plane so its usually either small moves or things that involve a tiny shift or pressure to gain the result.
5 Smells that can indicate a ghost is around may include scents that were hallmarks of the person when they were alive. For example if a person wore a particular perfume every day when they were alive after death living humans may smell that scent when the ghost is around.
6 Ghosts can manifest visibly, but rarely fully to those without an ability to see them. They may be seen when they make the effort as amorphous shapes, as partial figures, or as mistlike forms.

Identifying Non-Human Spirits
I use the term non-human spirit as a bit of a catch-all for spirits that aren't human ghosts and also aren't fairies. These may include beings normally referred to as demons, shadow people**, poltergeists, or negative entities. My experiences here tend to focus specifically on dangerous or harmful spirits, so keep that in mind. There may very well be other types of non-human (non-fairy) spirits that fall outside the range of what I'm talking about below. Also its worth noting that just because these spirits can be and may be dangerous doesn't mean they exclusively are; it is possible to have positive interactions and relationships with them and some people do actively work with them. That falls outside my purview however.

1 Spirits can and will lie but there's an old belief that if you ask the same question three times the spirit must answer truthfully the third time. There are other means of obtaining honest answers as well, including asking a question you - and theoretically only you - would know the answer to, or asking the spirit to speak truthfully in the name of a higher power the spirit would obey.
2. Animals will tend to react badly to negative entities being around. This can include growling or barking aggressively (dogs), hissing (cats), or equivalent reactions in other animals.
3 Bad smells tend to be associated with these types of spirits particularly sulfur/rotten eggs or garbage.
4 Silhouettes, shadows, and dark shapes are all appearances that these types of non-human spirits can have. I have also heard of them mimicking the appearances of familiar humans or intentionally taking on forms that frighten the viewer.
5 These types of spirits are more prone to physical interactions and violence than other types, particularly scratching; I have heard claims the scratches will always be in a certain number but I don't find that to be true. They will however usually bleed and usually appear inexplicably sometimes while the person is looking at the spot.
6 These types of beings are less prone to audio phenomena than other types but things like growling may be noted. Usually the growling is sourceless, occurs near the person, has a threatening feel, but isn't followed by any action.
7 These spirits also can and will physically throw items, even larger objects.



Identifying the Good Neighbours
The Good Folk are around humans more often than humans may believe. I think that especially in the US it's not uncommon for interactions with fairies to be mistaken for other types of spirits particularly non-human spirits. I know I've seen more than one episode of a paranormal show where the people thought they were dealing with a ghost or 'demon' and it seemed clear to me it was the Good Neighbours.

1 Items disappearing entirely. While other types of spirits will move items - and fairies can as well if they choose to - fairies are particularly known for taking items entirely.
2 Cats tend to be sensitive to the presence of fairies and will start acting strangely, even for cats, when they are around.
3 Sourceless music, the sound of horses and hounds, and conversations are also hallmarks of fairy presence. Although ghosts can sometimes also manifest with sound phenomena its usually localized and connected to a specific place or event, such as the sound of guns on a battlefield or piano music in a concert hall. With fairies the sounds will be entirely out of place and may make the listener feel a strong emotion.
4 If a fairy chooses to be seen you will see them but they can also sometimes be perceived as motion in the periphery.
5 Fairies can't lie but they are masters of semantics. However this verbal honesty is a notable difference between fairies, ghosts, and other types of spirits and can be helpful to remember if you are engaged in any kind of communication with them.
6 Fairies are or can be more physical in our human reality than human ghosts and interactions with fairies can potentially be very tangible. Don't underestimate that possibility.
7 Food spoiling is another thing to make note of as a sign of fairy presence. If they are around and if they feel they are not being given what they are due or you are speaking badly of your own possessions/food they can and will take the substance from it so it spoils. I don't know any other spirit that does this.

In Practice
If you are engaged in active spiritual work that involves working with or dealing with spirits these basic guidelines should be helpful in sorting out what you may be dealing with. All of these categories are fluid though and these are only meant to be guidelines not hard rules. The more you do this the more you get a sense of certain things where it becomes almost reflexive.
If I were meeting a spirit for the first time, or if someone where describing a spirit they were dealing with, I would look at these rough qualities to consider more or less what I thought the spirit was. You can of course always ask it the requisite three times what it is. If its a ghost then I engage with it as a human without a body. If its a non-human spirit then I usually look at trying to establish its trustworthiness and whether I want to deal with it. If its a fairy I'm more respectful to start and would look at whether it seems interested in me, whether that seems healthy for me or not, whether that's a friendship/ally I want to pursue, etc.,
From there if it is something I'd like a connect with then communication is in order. Otherwise I either look at leaving its area, seeing if we can get along by ignoring each other, or getting it to leave mine if its a newcomer there.

General Advice
Whether its a ghost, non-human spirit, or fairy there are certain things that are universal. Iron is mentioned across folklore as being a ward against all types of spirits as well as baneful magics, with salt a close second. We're not talking about vampires here but having firm boundaries and not inviting things in that you don't want in is also a good practice, and if you banish something you have to be resolute about wanting it out. When you first encounter any spirit its a good idea to reserve judgment if possible until you can sort out what you are dealing with. If that's not possible then initially erring on the side of friendly caution is a good idea while you feel things out. Not everything is dangerous or out to hurt you but certainly not everything means you well either; act the same way you would with a new living human. 


*I'd just note that people have also observed batteries draining at locations associated with fairies. However generally speaking the phenomena is more widely connected to ghosts.
**I personally believe that shadow people are more a category than a specific type of being and that there can be some fairies or ghosts that are identified as shadow people. However for our purposes here I am slotting them in with non-human spirits.

Ritual For The Pleiades: The Way Opening

We are reaching the time of year for the acronychal rising of the Pleiades, when they are on the eastern horizon just after full dark, or roughly about 9pm for my latitude, This coincides with the general time of the autumn equinox and I personally choose to celebrate my ritual for it on the equinox. In my constructed mythology this  When the time of the Opening of the Way Between Worlds, when the dead and Good Folk and Others have more freedom to move within our world. 
The Opening of the Way is the fourth and final ritual in the cycle I have been working on over the last year. I am planning to perform this ritual myself on Monday (the equinox) and hope that others will also do so and offer feedback on their own results. In the next year I will repeat the rituals I have created so far and make any necessary adjustments.
So, to the ritual itself.  The offering that I will be referring to and making in this ritual is one that I use when I am home and able to cook. It is a recipe that came to me in a dream once and which I have written about before, for small honey cakes that I call Cáca Síofra.   

Opening of the Way Between Worlds
There is no point when the way between worlds is closed but there are times when the ways are wider and narrower. Something like the tide, it ebbs and flows. Also there are places in our world that have been slowly cut off from Fairy, where that energy and influence have been pushed back by other powers. At certain times of year the way to Fairy narrows, the energy that can be felt in this world lessens a bit; at others most notably in my own experience the heliacal and acronychal rising of the Pleiades, this energy increases in ways that humans perceive. It's a palpable shift. This ritual is designed to invite in and encourage this energy and this opening. It is also intended to invite the energy of Fairy back into the places where it has been pushed out over the last thousand years or so. Re-aligning and righting the balance. 

Ritual
I recommend doing this ritual close to full dark, ideally when the Pleiades have risen or are visible on the horizon.
Find a good space open beneath the sky where you can see the stars. If this is not possible due to weather concerns try to set up an altar near a window or perhaps arrange some appropriate artwork near your ritual space. If necessary this entire thing can be done as a visualization exercise. My own outdoor altar for ritual work usually contains space for offerings, water in an appropriate container, candles, and a token representing the Fairy Queen I honour.
Create sacred space as you see fit if you wish to. I usually do this now by moving counterclockwise around my space sprinkling water and chanting to open the way between worlds.
Invite in any Powers you wish to. This is not a ritual for named Gods unless they are explicitly associated with the Good People of one culture or another. This is a time to invite any goodly inclined spirits, allies, Fairy Queens or Kings, or Liminial Gods in. We invite, we don't invoke, evoke, or compel. They either come as we call or they don't.
I might say something like:
"I call to all goodly inclined spirits,
spirits of the land, spirits of the air,
Fair Folk who would be my friends,
Friendly ones who aid my liminal path,
Liminal gods, Fairy Queens and Kings,
My wonderous Lady ---,
Queen of stone and well,
I invite you all to join me here
As I honour the Opening
Of the Way Between Worlds"
After this is done wait a moment and observe. Use all your sense to note if there is any obvious response to your call. This may be obvious, such as the wind picking up or the temperature changing, or it may be a more subtle feeling of presence.  don't rush but wait until things feel settled.
Say:
"Tonight the Seven Queens rise in the east,
Standing on the horizon,
as daylight falls to night
Their eldritch blue light burns brightly
A signal fire calling us back to them
The Queens dance at the world's edge
between worlds, between time,
The way that has been narrowed
Is now a road, fair and broad
The door that stood cracked
Is now being pushed to fullness
The gates are open, may
They be opened wider
The Queens look upon the land
May they bless what they see"
Put out the offerings you have brought and pour out a bit of water.
"I offer sweet honey cakes [or whatever you are offering]
And pure clean water
To the queens
To the liminal gods
To those beings that
would aid me
to the spirits of air
and of earth"
At this point if there is anything else you would like to do in your ritual - sing, dance, chant, divination, meditate, journey - do it. When you feel ready to say goodbye, say:
"The Queens light up the sky
The way between worlds is open
Our worlds are intertwined
As they have been and will be
Praise to the Queens,
May they bless us
A good word to the Fairy Rade
May they cause us no harm"
Pour out the water that is left. Say
"May my words honour the Queens
May may actions honour the liminal Gods
May my allies stand with me
May there be peace between me
And the spirits of the air and earth
May there be friendship between me
And all goodly inclined spirits."
Take down your compass/circle or sacred space however you normally would. In my case here I'd walk it clockwise sprinkling a bit of earth or leaves and asking that the space be returned to its former state. Take down your altar.
Ritual Feast
Part of my own celebration will include a feast or ritual meal the following day. This is inline with some older practices that would see the night before as the beginning of the ritual date and the following day as its continuation and would incorporate ritual feasting into the process. My plan is to do the ritual itself at midnight but treat the following day as a holiday, with small gifts for my family and a big meal the next evening. A portion of that meal will be set aside and then left out as an additional offering. I will also look at taking omens the next morning.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Review - Carnival Row

There's been a lot of buzz since last year about amazon's series Carnival Row. The premise, as advertised, is a Victorian-esque world where fairies and humans live side by side with fairies mostly limited to a neighborhood called Carnival Row; a series of murders occurs which the main character is trying to solve. This is the summary of what we know going into the series, and obviously is the type of thing that appeals to me in general.

Carnival Row Title Card, fair use, source: wikipedia

I watched the entire 8 episode series through once and intend to rewatch it at some point but I've been asked a few times for my thoughts on it so I decided to write a short review here. I'll start with what I did like, then get into what I didn't, then what I found to be problematic. I am going to try to avoid spoilers here so this will be a bit short on plot details but it will include things specific to the series and world itself.

Let's begin with what I liked.
   The series is visually stunning and it's very clear that its budget was put to good use. The aesthetic is neo-noir steampunk throughout and I loved the gritty realism that was achieved in a show featuring various fairy beings. It seemed to go easy with the CGI which I also thought was a wonderful choice as in my opinion CGI is overused and often can take away rather than add to the quality of a piece. Practical effects when done well are always going to be more believable. The sets are perfect for the tone of each scene and the attention to detail in the background and costuming is wonderful.
   The acting is high quality for a serial piece, on par with the best of what's out there for anything else. The roles seem to be well cast and each player does a good job of embodying and conveying their particular character.
  The show takes on various serious 'real world' issues, particularly racism, xenophobia, and the impacts of war on populations. While I may argue it does so in an excessively heavy handed manner I do respect the attempt and liked that it wasn't afraid to go there. I also liked the, admittedly limited, inclusion of some diversity in characters sexual preferences and relationships.
   And finally I will say that, whatever criticism I'm about to give following this, I am happy to see more urban fantasy on television and reaching new audiences and I loved the idea of mashing up neo-noir, urban fantasy, and horror.

Now let's talk about what I didn't like.
  I feel that there is a serious lack of world building in the entire series. While it is true a person can read the bonus trivia with each episode to learn more in the actual episodes and overall series there is very little to no effort to explain what I consider important details about the world of Carnival Row. I mean basic things like what is the Burgue? Is Tirnanoc an island, nation, continent, what? It took me quite a while to figure out that this wasn't alternate earth but supposed to be an entirely different earth-like place and that's not a good sign. Also some serious plot holes that just annoyed me. For example, what did that sailor see since it obviously wasn't the actual big bad of the series? How did the library end up in the Burgue if the Pact took over that area before it was found? Can fae just not hold a gun? Are they technophobes? Because it seemed very strange that they never used any human tech to fight even when it meant their own kingdoms falling. I also had a serious issue with the final few episodes and why the main target wasn't actually targeted and killed when he should have been; the last victim made no sense and that whole section just felt like bad writing.
  Episode three was just oddly placed and disruptive, however necessary it was to fill in plot. I can understand why they chose not to begin with that episode then flash forward 7 years for the rest, but giving us two episodes 'present day' then a full episode 7 years in the past then back to everything present day just did not work for me personally.
  The plot itself is predictable to anyone who has read a lot of urban fantasy or high fantasy, and I was disappointed by that. As someone who probably reads far too much of those genres this meant the show felt like awkward self-insert fanfiction rather than anything refreshing or new. I have also read a lot of fanfic so I can usually feel the difference pretty quickly. The only original thing I found was the idea of fae without any real magic and that just seemed like an easy out to explain why humans had taken them over so easily.

And for the problematic.
   So. A key premise of Carnival Row is that fairies are real and live side by side with humans, in a place called 'the Burgue' in an alternate world that resembles ours during the Victorian era-ish. The fairies there are refugees from a different place which was overtaken by war, named in the series as 'Tirnanoc' and including places like Anoon and Mag More. The Fae folk themselves which we see in the show are primarily human-sized winged pixies, called pixies or fae, and Fauns, called 'Pucs', and Centaurs. Later in the show we will see kobolds depicted as squirrel sized animalistic beings, and trow which are kind of like the trolls in The Hobbit. A lot of this is purely invented, some is actual myth, and some is using names from actual folklore but for entirely new fictional creations. The series for some reason decided to blend equal parts pure fiction with names and places from existing Celtic (particularly Irish) mythology in a way that honestly makes the mythology parts look like fiction. There is also at least one place where the Irish language is used for the pixie characters language, when they refer to the human soldiers as 'faan-troigh' which I assume is Google translate minus the fada for 'wandering foot' [fán troigh]. For obvious reasons this genuinely angers me as it forwards the rewriting and warping of existing mythology, but also as writer Orla ní Dhuíll very rightly said in her recent piece 'Do Fantasy Writers Think Irish Is Discount Elvish' it is bad writing and lazy to simply shove some Irish or Irish myth in as a shorthand for fantasy.
I genuinely do not understand why the writer didn't just make it all up, rather than taking random bits from a few things to graft onto his fiction. It left a bad taste in my mouth. And for those who are shrugging this off as they read it please read Orla's article linked above and give this some serious thought. There are ways to incorporate myth and folklore into fiction and do it respectfully and well, or innovatively and well - I'd point you to Terry Pratchett, Tolkien, Peadar Ó Guilín, Ruth Frances Long, Ron C Neito, Kevan Manwaring among many others - but this is not that. This is furthering an appropriative approach that hurts the living material and culture and reshapes how mainstream culture understands these things. Irish folklore - and more widely material from other Celtic language cultures - are not just shortcuts to signal 'fantasy' to viewers or give something an exotic flavour.
   I also was very uncomfortable with the fact that most of the human characters were white and most of the people of colour were fae; except of course the lead(s). The only significant main character* who was human and a person of colour was the main antagonist, which is also clearly reinforcing some unfortunate stereotypes. Another secondary human character who was black and fairly significant was infected with a supernatural illness that made him, basically, a type of fae. While I hope that was a further attempt at social commentary it unfortunately plays into some ongoing issues that both Hollywood and fiction have struggled with in how people of colour are portrayed or included in work. This show failed the DuVernay test even with Tourmaline in my opinion and it's worth noting that the only points black characters interact with each other (twice in the whole series that I saw) it's a child talking to their father, and a very awkward tea time scene without any real direct dialogue between the black actors. Social commentary is valuable but not at the expense of forwarding already problematic tropes like the 'magical negro'.

Ultimately I neither loved nor hated the show. I think it had its good points and it also had its bad but I am still unhappy with the issues I mention here as problematic. Yes I am overly critical where folklore and myth are concerned but I enjoy a good suspension of disbelief and fun show as much as anyone. I liked Sirens and I enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; I even love Charmed which is the height of campy ridiculous television. But this is different and in 2019 we should expect better even from our fun entertainment.

*I will note in fairness there is another human character introduced late in the series played by an actress who is a person of colour and whose character is ambiguous. Nonetheless the majority of human characters are played by non-poc actors relative to the actors playing fae characters. In such a visually striking show this is notable.