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Sunday, August 16, 2020

Weaving Personal Gnosis Into Personal Belief: Understanding Sex and Love in Fairy

 I often write about the more academic - let's say objective - side of my beliefs and practices. That's important because I strongly believe that we must ground our practice in something outside ourselves and having a firm foundation in structural, generational beliefs provides that. But equally important is the actual experiential side of spirituality, the parts that represent tangible connections that provide insight beyond recorded folklore. 

Personal gnosis* and the wider knowledge and practices that grow from that are vital I think to any deeper spiritual work. It is this combination of experience, gnosis, and research that inspired and fleshed out my own approach to looking at the cycle of the Pleiades for ritual dates connected to the Good Folk, and similarly a more shared-gnosis type approach that allowed connection to and understanding of the Queen of Apples. 

Despite the obvious vitalness of this gnosis I tend to keep such experiences and insight almost exclusively to myself. Partially this is because there are longstanding prohibitions when dealing with the fae folk about sharing things that violate their privacy or which may be perceived by them as gloating or which violate oaths of secrecy. Partially it's because some things really are personal. And partially its because some knowledge seems too random to potentially have value to larger audiences. 

However sometimes things I would tend to keep private tend to become public on their own and perhaps there's a reason for that. The following discussion is an example of such gnosis, something that came to me in a conversation with an Otherworldly guide and which a friend received via different means around the same time. When we realized we had both been getting roughly the same messaging on the same topic I started to contemplate whether this was something meant to be shared. I have no idea what value this will have for anyone or what you all will think of it. Consider it fiction, or modern folklore, or utterly random, or genuine insight as it suits you. 

CW: discussion of sex and rampant UPG


Sex, Love, and Fairy

This may seem like an odd topic to be discussing, or to have come up in a discussion, but it was one that in context was important. I later shared it with a friend who had gotten something very similar around the same time. The more I've thought about it since and the more I see the wider subject showing up on social media the more I've started to think that it may be important to share; it must however be kept in the context of personal gnosis coming from one particular group or type of the Othercrowd. In no way do I mean to imply this is universal to all of the Good Folk, but I do believe it is true for some, and may have some value to those seeking to engage with them.

Folklore does give us some information in this area but unsurprisingly usually from the human perspective and with an emphasis on situations that have ended badly. Humans who had fairy lovers who broke an oath and lost that lover forever, going mad at the loss. Humans who had a kelpie lover and either found a way to make him human or discovered his true nature and fled, abandoning their child. Humans who forced a selkie into marriage and lost her as soon as she could recover her seal skin. It's a noticeable pattern. There are also accounts of witches who had fairy lovers that didn't necessarily end badly, such as Andro Man who said that he had a long term relationship with a fairy queen or an English cunningman who had a fairy lover that would come to him, sometimes exhausting him; similarly we have accounts of female witches with fairy lovers over a period of years as well. But folklore and older anecdotes don't provide many details or an indepth understanding of the other side of the equation.  

The Conversation

I had noticed - as had my friend separately - that in discussions with those among the Other they never used words like sex or crude terms for sexual intercourse, but rather tended to use idioms that emphasized joining or unions. There was a wider sense of the sacredness of the act, even among those who are predatory towards humans, and a feeling of reverence around the concept. The way that they approached both sex and love seemed to be very different from the way that humans did so and, quite frankly, the way that fiction often portrayed fairies in relation to both. I am going to share part of a conversation I had on the topic:

I was talking with someone among the Other that I would consider a guide and teacher. 
Me, overtired and stressed uses the term f**king in reference to sex.
My guide, clearly annoyed: "Animals fuck. Livestock fucks. People do not."
Me: "What should I say then? Make love?"
Her: "You don't make love, you either have love or you don't. Physical union doesn't create love."
Me: "What should I say then?"
Her:...
Me:...
Her:...
Me: "You've already told me the answer and you won't repeat yourself."
Her, shrugging: "You already have the answer, yes. Union. Joining. Comaentu. To make two into one."

The Lesson

What this conversation and related ones have taught me personally, and what I have therefore incorporated into my spirituality, is the idea that the particular Otherworldly beings I am connected to have a very different approach to sex than most humans. It is seen as a deeply sacred act that represents union between two** beings on a level deeper than the purely physical, but which incorporates by nature the spirit. This is reflected in the emphasis on rejecting terms and phrases that reduce the act to something clinical or crude and instead using terms that emphasize the nature of the act as one of uniting and harmonizing. There are layers to this that are very difficult to convey here, including an implicit consent to the act and also a way of approaching all encounters of this nature with the reverence due something sacred. Sex then truly becomes a kind of prayer or worship, something that is true even when the end result is death for the human and something that is especially true for those who are long term lovers.

They also, in my experience, differentiate between love and physical union but not in a way that allows for the latter to be lessened or trivialized. Love to a near immortal being is something that I am still not sure humans can fully grasp and I don't know how to convey my understanding of it here. What I can say is that my gnosis around fairies and sex without love is that it is still something full of passion and reverence; sex with love is a genuine union of two spirits into a single whole. As with humans it's important not to confuse physical union with love, although I suspect this may be more difficult with the Othercrowd because of how they approach sex - the genuineness, passion, and sacredness may, I think, be misunderstood as love where none actually exists. 

Conclusion

Ultimately these experiences and conversations, coming from personal gnosis as they are, nonetheless give me a deeper understanding of the Othercrowd. I do not expect they will have value to everyone reading this, or perhaps even anyone reading this, but I do think its something that needed to be shared. Take it all as you will. 


*gnosis - in this use means knowledge gained from non-ordinary means such as direct communication with spirits
**two or possibly more, but my own personal discussions around this so far have focused on pairs. I don't discount the possibility of the concept including a wider diversity however. I will also emphasize this has no specific gender focus.
 


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

History and Meaning of the Word Fairy

This is a question from social media, and also a topic I see a lot of misinformation floating around about so it seems like a good topic to dive into today. What exactly are the origins of the word fairy and fae? How do they relate to each other and what do they mean?



Fae - also spelled fay* - is from the 12th century old French, likely from the older Latin Fata, meaning spirits of fate, and Williams suggests it entered French as a term for Celtic goddesses later shifting to women of supernatural power, then to an adjective meaning roughly enchanting, and finally to the place of Fairyland itself (Williams, 1991). This initial use for the place of Fairy is how the term enters English in the 13th century and we see it developing as both an adjective describing things with the nature of that place as well as a term for beings from that place. Briggs suggest that the initial adjective form may have been fay-erie, to indicate something that was enchanting or had an enchanting nature (Briggs, 1976). 

In the oldest English sources we see fairy used as an adjective as well as a noun and this adjectival use continued for hundreds of years. For example, in Milton's 17th century work Paradise Lost, book one line 781 he refers to 'fairy elves' where fairy here is an adjective describing the elves. The noun is something of a catch all for any being from the land of Fairy or with a fairy-like nature and we see it used synonymously with elf, goblin, and incubi. This 16th century example from a poem by Alexander Montgomerie illustrates this well with fairy, elf, and incubi all being used interchangeably: "The King of Fairy, and his Court, with the Elf Queen,with many elvish Incubi was riding that night.". The terms don't have a fixed description or meaning beyond 'of Fairyland' and an implication of the enchanting and supernatural. Williams perhaps summarizes this variety of application best: "...fairy in particular, but more generally any supernatural name, is necessarily amorphous, and...from its earliest use in English...no single meaning has ever been paramount." (Williams, 1991, p 457). The term is used less as an adjective now but still retains it's use as a noun, indicating and Otherworldly being; it has also had secondary pejorative meanings over the centuries of both a promiscuous young woman and a homosexual man.

The  meaning of the terms, applied to Otherworldly beings, remains vague through today with applications as an adjective and noun for both a place and beings from the place, although the application as a noun is the main one. We can find examples of fairy with both of these usages across folklore, modern anecdotes, and academia. Patricia Lysaght discusses the Bean Sidhe, an example where fairy is used as adjective**, in her book 'The Banshee'. The Fairy Investigation Society's 2017 Fairy Census offers examples of fairy as applied to various described anecdotal accounts. In some demographics the word fairy has become hyper-specialized to indicate only a type of small winged sprite, however across many other demographics the word retains its older broader meanings. This dichotomy of use by different groups means that context may be required in order to understand what the word means within any source. An academic paper using the word fairy is likely to be adhering to the broader meaning, as are occurences within folklore or traditional belief, but personal use or use within a specific group may follow the specialized meaning. This is an important distinction as the meanings have drifted so far from each other as to be nearly antithetical in nature now. 

Fairy has multiple spellings across the written record because English had a non-standard orthography until relatively recently. This means that words were spelled in any way which might phonetically convey the sounds of the spoken word. Hence we see fairy as everything from feirie to phary to faerye. There are 93 different variant spellings noted by Williams with fairy being the most common at 724 occurrences followed by faery at 131, fayry at 55, and faerie at 49 (Williams, 1991, p 459). In current academic and folklore usage fairy is the usual preferred spelling, however as with the specialized meaning of fairy gaining popularity in some niches there has been an effort by some people to distinguish fairy from faery with the prior supposedly indicating twee, Victorian fairies and the latter supposedly indicating real or legitimate fairies. Similarly there has also been a push in some demographics to use fae as a term to indicate Otherworldly beings generally where fairy is used to mean only a specific type. These spelling and semantic issues, as touched on in the previous paragraph, can cause confusion in communicating between people or groups ascribing different meanings to the terms. 

It should also be noted that fairy and fae in modern usage are English language terms and have only existed as such for about 700 years. These do not reflect Christianization as Western Europe was Christian for several hundred years prior to fae coming into French (arguably with a strong pagan connotation initially) but rather the evolution of the languages, particularly English. There were and are non-English terms within the cultures that now use fairy in an English language context, and these terms pre-date the word fairy but often have related or parallel meanings in context. As previously touched on the words elf and fairy are used interchangeably and that likely stems from the Anglo-Saxon term aelf which predates fairy but describes a similar type of being who was also equated later broadly to fairy, goblin, and incubus (Harper, 2020). In the same way in the Irish we see the Daoine Sidhe or Aos Sidhe [people of the fairy hills] or sióga whose name intrinsically implies that connection to the sidhe, the fairy hills or Otherworld. The word sidhe - modern Irish sí - like the word fairy indicates both the place (fairy mounds) and as an adjective things with the nature of the place hence sidhe, fairy hills, but also slua sidhe, fairy host, or cú sidhe, fairy hound, and in modern slang sidhe can also be used to refer to the beings of that place. Every culture will have its own terms like this, for which the English fairy is simply the best equivalent term.

It should also be noted that in many places there is a prohibition about using the term fairy and euphemisms are used instead. Euphemisms go back to at least the 14th century and can be found in across Celtic language speaking countries, as well as in older English material. One 16th century example from England uses the term Fair Folk in Latin, pulchrum populum (Green, 2016). The term Good Neighbours, in Scots, can be traced back to the 15th century. The concept behind the use of these terms rests in the belief that calling them fairies offended them and so one would want to use a term that was appealing or positive in case fairies passing by invisibly overheard the comment. 

This summarizes the pertinent information relating to these words, and hopefully may offer some clarity to the subject, which is admittedly opaque. 


End Notes
* fae and fay not to be confused with fey, a Norse originating word for someone or something doomed or fated to die
**Lysaght's book is primarily focused on Irish language terms for the Bean Sidhe, however she does touch on translations of these terms which reflect the use of fairy as an adjective

References
Harper, D., (2020) Fairy Retrieved from https://www.etymonline.com/word/fairy
   (2020) Elf Retrieved from https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=elf 
Williams, N., (1991) The Semantics of the Word Fairy: Making Meaning Out of Thin Air; 'The Good People'
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Green, R., (2016) Elf Queens and Holy Friars