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Monday, August 2, 2021

Feri, Faery Wicca, Fairy Witchcraft...Which is Which?

 There are several very similarly named traditions of witchcraft connected to fairies out there and this has long caused confusion. Which, given the subject relates to fairies, is perhaps inevitable or at least predictable. Nonetheless I thought that today it would be helpful to offer as much clarity on this as possible by briefly discussing the different traditions to illustrate how they are similar and different and how they may choose to incorporate - or not - fairies. It may be impossible to dispel the confusion entirely, particularly as each different group tends to claim it is the most accurate and genuine or the only one passing on the true beliefs. Hopeful this article will still offer some clarity on an admittedly muddy subject.
This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive discussion of these groups but only a basic outline to give readers a general idea of what they are and how they began, and hopefully a place to start digging further if they choose to.
I am going to present everything in chronological order to help illustrate the flow with this and also show readers a rough evolution of these groups within the last hundred years or so. 

The Fairy Faith 
Although not a tradition, per se, or witchcraft in any way, the Fairy Faith is an important place to start with this subject. The term Fairy Faith was coined in the late 19th/early 20th century by folklorists studying fairy beliefs who needed a simple term to describe what they were studying. The Fairy Faith is the collected beliefs and practices of people who believe in fairies as contained in folklore and anecdotal accounts; as such it is less a cohesive system of faith as it is a loose collection of concepts that all relate to fairies. There is no prerequisite to this belief (beyond the belief itself), no required religion, no initiation or acceptance. And as with all such folk traditions the name it was given by outsiders is not generally what people within the 'faith' call what they believe and do. The general focus of the Fairy Faith is on protecting against fairies and mitigating harm caused by them, and most stories have this focus. 

Feri 
The Feri Witchcraft tradition was founded in the 1960's by Victor and Cora Anderson
Author and Feri initiate Sara Amis describes Feri as a strand of Trad Craft, that is a non-Wiccan initiatory approach to witchcraft. Feri is often conflated with or confused with various forms of Fairy Witchcraft, something that is exacerbated by the alternate spelling 'Faery' sometimes used for Feri by other initiates or more widely with the Fairy Faith but it is its own distinct tradition. Feri is based heavily on Anderson's teachings which in turn were heavily influenced by his own ecstatic and experiential beliefs rather than older or traditional folklore, although Anderson himself claimed his tradition was identical, except for cultural framework and terms, to the 'Faery Tradition' taught by RJ Stewart which is more strongly drawing from older folklore. Opinions among modern initiates about how much fairy material is included in Feri varies, with Amis saying there are some ties to general fairylore (non-culture specific) and inclusion of some fairy beings, an anonymous source saying that they felt fairies and fairy folklore didn't play a significant role, and a third initiate Shae saying that fairies are important but are understood through a different lens based on the traditions approach to several things. Amis and the anonymous source agree that a fairy king and queen play a role in Feri, however not a king and queen found elsewhere in folklore. 

Faerie Faith
Founded by an offshoot of the MacFarland Dianics; this group isn't specifically fairy focused, per se, although it does include fairies but rather loosely 'Celtic' and uses Graves' Tree calendar as a framework for teaching. It blends an array of concepts from Bach flower essences to Jungian archetypes into its system which emphasizes cohabitation with the unseen world.

Faery Tradition
Created in the 1980's by RJ Stewart this approach blends older fairylore, especially from the ballad material, with new age ideas and Kabbalah to create a unique new system. Stewart has written several books about Faery Tradition and also teaches widely on the subject. The Faery Tradition views fairies, generally, as allies to humans and protectors of nature. Teachings within the tradition seem to be aimed at helping the human connect to and work with these spirits for positive ends. 

Faery Wicca
Founded in the 1990's by author Kisma Stepanich (now Kisma Stepanich-Reidling) it is very loosely based on Irish and wider Celtic language speaking folklore heavily mediated through the author's personal lens. The original books about this tradition were pulled from publication and have long been overshadowed by accusations of plagiarism. Despite the name this tradition of modern Wicca is only tangentially connected to fairies or fairy beliefs, with its primary focus on a pseudo-Celtic framework applied to a more standard neo-Wiccan approach. 

An Creideamh Sí
The name for the Fairy Faith as Gaeilge [in Irish] this term was coined around the turn of the 21st century by Catholic priest Sean O'Duinn as an Irish language alternative for the English 'Fairy Faith'. As with that term this is not, of course, what people in Ireland who believe in fairies would call their system of belief which generally has no name. 

Faery Seership
Founded in the mid 2000's by Orion Foxwood Faery Seership is a collection of beliefs and practices shaped by both European and  Appalachian culture which takes the view that fairies are 'earth angels' and cousins to humanity and seeks to help humans realign with the earth and all living beings. Foxwood has several books on the tradition as well as a CD,  DVD, and offers classes.  

Fairy Witchcraft
A tradition founded in 2014 by me, based on my years of practice and experience. Fairy Witchcraft blends early modern witchcraft, neopagan witchcraft, and folkloric fairy beliefs into a cohesive system with an emphasis on allying with and connecting to fairies and the Otherworld. The name for the tradition is descriptive, as it is basically witchcraft focused on fairies; even the Gods acknowledged are ones connected to or based in Fairy folklore. No initiation or formal training is required and the tradition is mostly a personal one that anyone can claim if they follow the basic tenets outlined in the books describing the practice. 

Fayerie Traditionalism
Publicly appearing in 2018 with the publication of a book describing the beliefs and practices of the tradition, Fayerie Traditionalism was founded by author Robin Artisson from an amalgam of source material and the author's own practices and experiences. It incorporates an understanding of fairies and animism into its framework, through the interpretation of the author, as well as blending in material relating to fairies from the grimoires. Artisson has several books out on the subject now as well as a website.

Witchcraft with Fairies
The concept of witchcraft with or connected to fairies is an old one which can be traced back at least four hundred years (see Emma Wilby's 'Cunningfolk and Familiar Spirits' for more on this). Besides the specific traditions and groups discussed here there are of course a multitude of personal approaches and practices today which may be based on what would be called the Fairy Faith but aren't as cohesive as a a formal tradition. It is impossible to know how many people may follow this system or a spirituality that incorporates these beings in any sense - folkloric, popculture, or new age - and to what degree. 


The Fairy Wood, Henry Meyenell Rheam, 1903

I hope that this quick guide can offer some clarification for those who find the many similarly named groups confusing or who are just starting to explore the idea of witchcraft connected to fairies. I have done my best to present all of this without any bias and not to insert my own opinions on each of the groups/traditions being discussed but its impossible to do so completely so I do encourage readers to explore further on their own and to ask others in the community for opinions. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Why Do We Envision Fairies As Tiny?

 

fairy from the movie Labyrinth

For many people today the word fairy immediately invokes images like the picture above, of a tiny winged being. In today's post I want to discuss specifically the idea of fairies as tiny, because its so pervasive and yet largely a popculture concept, albeit an early modern one. So, why do we envision fairies as tiny?

The fairies of folklore - historic and modern - are depicted across a wide range of sizes and forms, from about 18 inches tall to well over 13 feet. These beings are known as shapeshifters and their size is often fluid and changeable, or at least human perception of their size isn't constant. Also specific types of beings are known to have particular sizes and appearances, such as the selkies who are human-like on land and seals in the water. In many Irish fairy encounters the beings are described as more or less human sized, a feature we see as well in Scotland. Some specific beings like Leprechauns were known to be about 18 inches to 3 feet tall, depending on the story. As with so many aspects of folklore this subject isn't clear cut or easy to simplify but includes a spectrum of possibilities. However we can say in a very general sense that the idea of tiny, insect sized or smaller fairies isn't common across Western European folklore. 

Where we do find tiny fairies is in England, particularly English literature but with possible roots in older folk beliefs. Katherine Briggs discusses several medieval English examples of what she terms 'diminutive fairies' which are described as about as tall as a finger is long; these were either specific types of beings or specific individuals in context, rather than all fairies more generally. The earliest such account comes from Gervase of Tilbury in the 13th century who describes beings he calls 'Portunes' which are between a half inch and a foot tall* (Briggs, 1976). While a foot tall is on the smaller end of fairy sizes within folklore in general it isn't as tiny as we will find later as fairies are refined into the early modern period literature.

The earliest description I have found in writing of tiny fairies comes from Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, completed in 1597, where he describes the fairy queen Mab as 'In shape no bigger than an agate stone; On the forefinger of an alderman' (Shakespeare, 1980). Mab is not only as tiny as the stone in a finger-ring but is said to travel in a wagon fashioned from insect parts: wheels spoked with spider legs and a wagon cover made of grasshopper wings. This idea is expanded several decades later in Michael Drayton's 1627 'Nymphidia' a poem which describes the English fairy court. In this poem the fairies are firmly established as tiny beings who can fit into flowers and use small natural objects for their construction - spider legs to build walls and bats wings to cover their roofs, for example. This comes to us from English literature (the literate class as opposed to direct folk belief) and is an idea we will see repeated in later works as well, blending the idea of diminutive fairies with Paracelsus's elemental divisions of these beings to create the tiny air and earth fairies that would later take hold in popular imagination. As to why fairies were so far reduced, as Diane Purkiss so aptly says it: "The Elizabethans and even more so the Jacobeans loved the miniature. In their hands, fairies shrank to tininess." and "Reducing the other to miniature scale reduces it to manageability too, making it laughable." (Purkiss, 2000, ps 181 & 182). Despite this diminishment the fairies of this period were still seen as having power and influence, particularly over human dreams, madness, and crops.

Fairy Hordes Attacking a Bat by John Anster Fitzgerald 1860

The Victorian era is one of the most pivotal points in how popular culture today would come to view fairies, with a surge in interest in romanticized folklore, nature, and entertainment. The fairies of folk belief became subjects of retellings and fairies more generally were rewritten and redefined away from  dangerous and powerful beings and into the fodder of children's stories and art. These fairies were firmly rooted as well in the miniaturization that had begun with Shakespeare and persisted through English literature and poetry, finding expression in Pope's 1712 'Rape of the Lock' for example where fairies are definitively small and generally powerless as well as in William Blake's late 18th and early 19th century works which described tiny fairies. Victorian era literature though took these existing ideas and framed them for children, reducing fairies not only in size by favouring the insect comparisons but also infantilizing and moralizing them. As Carole Silver explains it: "As the elfin peoples became staples of children's literature, the perception grew that they themselves were childish....Some of the tales promoted a false set of conventions, one that made, the fairies tiny and harmless - moral guides for children or charming little pets - and a tradition of sentimentalization and idealization developed." (Silver, 1999, p187). Being tiny was then directly connected to both being childlike and being powerless, creating a being that was physically miniature and more decorative than dangerous. 

Into the 20th century this idea was further refined in popculture with Cicely Mary Barker's flower fairies and with JM Barrie's Peter Pan taking to the stage. While fairies in art during the Victorian period were often shown as small both of these sources were popular and gained wider traction in the popular imagination and refined fairies down to their essential tweeness. Barker's fairy art featured tiny childlike fairies connected to and often clothed with specific flowers and plants. Her fairies then were small enough that flower petals could form a skirt for one and an acorn the perfectly sized cap for another. Barrie's Tinkerbell in print was both feminine and seductive but on stage transformed into an indistinct ball of light who communicated through the sound of bells, existing largely through Peter Pan's perception and translation (Kruse, 2019). The tiny, glowing, nature-bound fairy may well be understood as the conglomeration of all of these influences into the 20th century. 

The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, by Joseph Noel Paton, c. 1849

So while tiny fairies can be found in older material, particularly in England, they represented only a small portion of the wider range of fairies. The image above of Oberon and Titania's quarrel in A Midsummer Night's Dream displays this range of sizes and appearances, including both human sized beings as well as tiny ones, rather than the exclusively tiny sized fairies that some modern sources depict. It is also important to understand that tiny fairies are largely coming from English literary traditions rather than folk belief, a point that Silver notes in her book and which we have traced out here. The tiny fairies that are seen and experienced today and which can be found in modern fairylore exist parallel to older folk beliefs, often contradicting them, and represent one unique strand of belief rather than the entirety.


*the text is sometimes given as 'half an inch' but Briggs rightly suggests this is a scribal error as that size is incompatible with the actions described - such as carrying a young frog - within the text. Despite this the error has undoubtedly influenced later perceptions of the size of fairies. 

References

Purkiss, D., (2000) At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, and Other Troublesome Things 
Kruse, J., (2019) "Ray of Light" Tinkerbell and Luminous Fairies', retrieved from https://britishfairies.wordpress.com/2019/01/06/ray-of-light-tinkerbell-and-luminous-fairies/ 
Shakespeare, W., (1980) Romeo and Juliet. Retrieved from http://shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/full.html
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Silver, C., (1999) Strange & Secret Peoples: Fairies and the Victorian Consciousness

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Excerpt - Pagan Portals Lugh

 I'd like to offer an excerpt from my recently released book Pagan Portals Lugh. This particular section comes from chapter 5, looking at Lugh in the modern world. 

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Lugh’s importance has changed over time, of course, as Christianity came in, but he has not been relegated to obscurity by any means as some of the other Tuatha De Danann were. Time has shaped people’s understandings of Lugh in new direction however which can be shown by looking at his depictions over the last hundred years or so. In this chapter we will look at the way that Lugh has been depicted in modern retellings of his stories, which often vary significantly from the older mythology, how he has been shown in mass media, and Lugh in modern paganism.

Modern Folklore

We have examined Lugh’s place in the older mythology and in older folklore but he can also be found in more recent folklore, some of which has been created by the fertile imaginations of authors during and since the Victorian period. It’s important to understand these newer  threads and how they have been woven into the older in the last 150 years. It is up to the reader to decide their place and value, but whether you accept or reject them they do form part of our understanding of who Lugh is.

Jeremiah Curtin, Hero-tales of Ireland, 1894 – Lugh continues to be found in modern Irish folklore and as was true historically this folklore can often be very regionally specific. One example of this is seen in Curtin’s late 19th century work which preserved folklore from the area of Donegal and gives us versions of the Lugh and Balor story that are largely different from older mythology. Curtin’s retelling has been presented already in chapter 2 so it won’t be recapped again however one key change to be emphasized here is the shifting of Lugh (called Lui in the story) into a wholly human figure. This sort of euhemerization is common in later material and Williams in ‘Ireland’s Immortals’ notes the prevalence of historic and ancestral figures named Lugh or with names that are variants of Lugh who are described in fully human terms yet are certainly meant to be reflections of the older deity.

W. B. Yeats – also writing in the late 1890’s we find Yeats, a poet and amateur folklorist, as well as occultist. Yeats wrote of Lugh, and the other Tuatha De Danann, in both poetry and prose and did much to help spread their popularity although his depictions were more concerned with evocative descriptions than passing on genuine folklore. The Lugh of Yeats was a more romantic figure and one intrinsically linked to the sun. This reflected Yeats own personal approach to deity as expressions of moods or imagination (Williams, 2016). From this view gods become a way to convey wider themes in a poetic work or embody the desired mood or atmosphere of the text. Yeats also did much to shift the existing understanding of the sidhe as a numberless multitude into the commonly listed pantheon of Tuatha De Danann we find in books today (Williams, 2016).

Augusta Gregory, Gods and Fighting Men, 1904 – Lady Gregory may represent the first example of widely read re-tellings of myths, where the core of the older mythology or story is retold in a new and partially fictionalized way. Her work was popular and has gained popularity again today, possible because it is easily accessed free online. This may present a challenge for readers that are new to Irish myth because her writing often combines multiple conflicting versions of tales, as well as her own ideas, into one whole that is presented in a way that may seem like genuinely older material.

Her writing is too extensive to recap full here but for example her chapter ‘The Coming of Lugh’ combines material from the Lebor Gabala Erenn, Cath Maige Tuired, and Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann along with her own flourishes into a single story the like of which had not existed previous to her writing it. She places Lugh in a central position throughout the story, repeatedly emphasizing his prophesied importance in driving out the Fomorians. For a second example in her chapter ‘The Hidden House of Lugh’ she retells the Baile and Scáil, but she adds material where Lugh is speaking to Conn so that she related his prophecy which is not found in the older text and she doesn’t have Lugh stating that he is a dead human, but rather at the very end of the text has him simply declare himself ‘Lugh son of Ethniu.’

Ella Young, Celtic Wonder Tales, 1910  – Ella Young was born in Ireland and emigrated later in life to California, USA. Considered an expert in Irish mythology she toured various universities and taught Celtic studies at Berkley. Despite this expertise her book ‘Celtic Wonder Tales’ takes extreme liberties with the older mythology, rewriting stories completely in places and creating new material in others. Her ‘Celtic Wonder Tales’ has become a common resource in the past hundred years and is enjoyed for its poetic text and evocative descriptions.

In Young’s work we first meet Lugh in a story titled ‘The Coming of Lugh’ which retells the Cath Maige Tuired in parts but with alterations. Young’s version begins with Manannan taking the child Lugh, who she calls a Sun God, away with him into Fairy from Ireland. She describes a variety of animals including lions, panthers, and unicorns that keep Lugh company as he grows. While he is with Manannan the Fomorians come to Ireland and steal the Dagda’s cauldron and the spear (another of the treasures) leaving only the stone of Fál which prevents the Fomorians from fully taking over. Finally Lugh reaches his 21st birthday and Manannan makes a show of giving him a  gift, the sword1 which is the fourth treasure and which has been in Manannan’s keeping. When he touches it Lugh remembers Ireland and pledges to go back. To help him Manannan equips him with a horse and armour. Lugh returns with a fairy host to Ireland, passing invisibly thanks to Manannan’s magic until he reaches Nuada’s court. He requests entry and is denied until he lists all his skills after which he is allowed in, then he best Ogma in a test of strength and plays chess. Finally Nuada proclaims him ‘Ildana’ and Lugh plays music on the Dagda’s harp which, according to Young, causes the seasons to turn. He lulls the court to sleep and slips away.

Lugh’s presence inspired the Tuatha De to rebel and they go to Uisneach. A battle is about to begin when Lugh and the fairy host appear, Young comparing his approach to the rising of the sun. the Fomorians are destroyed save 9 men who Lugh sends back to Balor to tell him and the other Fomorians that the De Danann are free from their oppression.

Lugh shows the Tuatha De Danann the sword and asks them for the other three treasures which they admit have been lost except for the stone. He then has them all swear an oath with the earth of Ireland on the sword and stone to fight and destroy the Fomorians. Shortly after this his father is killed by the sons of Tuireann and the earth sends a wind to tell Lugh. Lugh finds his fathers body and gets the tale of his death, then goes to the assembly and accuses the sons of Tuireann who Nuada orders killed. Lugh stays his hand however and asks instead that they gain items useful in the upcoming battle. They agree to these terms and set off to acquire the list of items Lugh requests2 engaging in adventures for each one. The three gain many of the treasures and Lugh, aware that they only have two left, decides they are succeeding too easily and puts a spell of forgetfulness on them so that they return early, however he immediately regrets this and sends out a second spell so that if the feel badly for what they have done they will not forget. They have no regret so they return early and are sent out a second time to gain the last two items. They manage to do this but are mortally wounded in the process. Finally dying they return to Ireland to give Lugh the items they have gained. Tuireann begs Lugh to heal his sons with the healing skin and so Lugh gives them the choice to be healed or to pass to the next life; they choose to go to the next life3.

Next Young retells a version of the battle between the Tuatha De Danann and the Fomorians. The two groups meet and fight but Lugh stays back waiting for Balor who he believes will not enter the fight until later. A few days pass before Balor does appear and then Lugh and he have their epic confrontation. The two meet an a scene that describes the clash of darkness and light, with Lugh throwing the spear into Balor’s eye and Balor dissolving into shadow.

This summarizes Young’s stories about Lugh, which hopefully the reader can hold in contrast to the Irish mythology discussed in chapter 2. Young’s Lugh is devoid of the fierce and tempestuous nature of the mythical Lugh and presented instead as a figure of light – figurative and literal – who acts as a saviour figure to the Tuatha De Danann.

Peter Berresford Ellis, Celtic Myth and Legend, 1989 – Ellis is an English historian and novelist who has written nearly 100 books, including several on Celtic mythology. ‘Celtic Myth and Legend’ is his attempt at retelling various famous myths from the Celtic language speaking cultures and includes a creation myth of the author’s own imagination.

The book begins with a chapter titles ‘The Ever Living Ones’ that combines Ellis’s own fictional creation story with a retelling of the Cath Maige Tuired. As with Young, Ellis takes creative liberties with the mythological material, for example attributing the sword to Lugh (not the spear which he gives to no one) and giving Lugh’s lineage as an odd combination of the possible fathers we find in mythology, saying that he was the son of Cian who was the son of Cainte. In Ellis’s version Lugh was kept from the battle of Maigh Tuired because the De Danann saw him as too valuable to risk and said “his was the wisdom needed to serve humankind” (Ellis, 1989 p 31). He also explains Nuada placing Lugh in charge for thirteen days as a means for Lugh to share his wisdom with them, before they set nine warriors to guard him from the battle. When Nuada was killed in the battle Lugh escaped and set out to join the fight, his arrival appearing like the sun’s rising to the Fomorians. Lugh kills Balor with his sling and then leads the Tuatha De Danann to victory.

Ellis ends that section of text with a passage claiming that Lugh was reduced into the folkloric Leprechaun and that is how his fame and memory have been preserved. We will discuss this assertion separately later in this chapter, but suffice to say here that it is less than accurate.

Ellis goes on in the following chapters to retell several other Irish myths, including the Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann with more accuracy. Although these retellings are written in a more exuberant manner than the originals and include expanded conversations the main themes and characters are kept relatively true to form. In itself this is good, but combined with the imaginative and less accurate earlier chapter this can be very misleading to readers who may struggle to sort out the accurate from the imaginative.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Recommended Translations of Irish Myths

 Responding to a 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 may seem beautiful in English but it may not reflect the original story, only the translator's 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. For those seeking reasonably accurate versions of a selection of the stories Cross & Slover's 'Ancient Irish Tales' offers a fairly good, close to the original, version of many of the more popular stories.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Co-Walkers, Fetches, and Fylgja

 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. In some forms of (modern) traditional witchcraft the fetch is viewed as a spirit partner or familiar spirit attached to a specific witch or human, sometimes called a fetch-mate.

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
Daimler, M., (2020) A New Dictionary of Fairies

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

10 Red Flags in Spiritual Books

 I've written before about 7 Warning Signs of a Bad Fairy Source but I wanted to expand a bit here and look more generally at red flags of books that may be problematic. Some of these things will overlap with the previous list and many won't but I think they all are important criteria for judging whether a book or other source might not be solid, especially in today's world where material is proliferating at such a fast pace. None of these, except maybe point #1, are necessarily signs that you shouldn't read a book but they are definitely indicators that caution and extra discernment is needed. 

I don't generally tackle people's personal gnosis in things like this because I feel like personal gnosis is just that, personal. It isn't for me to judge whether its true or not in any wider context, unless its being put out publicly with the expectation that others must or should accept it. That said some of these guidelines will apply to people's personal gnosis that is shared in books or other sources, such as point #4, and I stand by what I am saying here. That doesn't necessarily invalidate that person's beliefs but it should give other people, at the least, pause in considering whether that belief is meant to apply to anyone outside that individual. 

This one checks several on the list


  1.  Super Secret Translations/Sources - #1 red flag and the most easily spotted. When a book claims its text is or is based on a one of a kind ancient or historic text that only the author ever got to see or translate...just put the book down and walk away. Nothing good will follow. I have seen this multiple times in pagan and fairy books and every single time its obviously just a way for the author to try to claim a false authority for their own writing. And however valuable that writing may seem to those who do read it, its coming from a poisoned well in my opinion when the premise is a non-existent text, especially since the books that use this that I have read include multiple other red flags from this list.

  2.  Relying On Outdated Sources - A less serious red flag, but exceedingly common, are books that rely solely or largely on very old outdated sources. If the bibliography is mostly works from the 18th and 19th century* and the author is trying to use those to discuss modern beliefs and situations then at best its going to be inaccurate and lacking nuance. Older texts from those periods are notoriously problematic for multiple reasons: the bias of the authors, the class difference between author and material being recorded, the agenda of the author, the tendency for 'folklorists' of the times to include their own fiction or opinions in with recorded anecdotes, flagrant racism, etc.,. This material can be useful when understood in context but shouldn't be relied on as the sole sources for modern spirituality. 

  3.  No Sources - Obviously if the author is being clear they are relaying their own gnosis this doesn't apply, but if the book includes history, other people's anecdotal accounts, or discussion of factual information that can and usually would be sourced and it isn't then that's usually not a good sign. Referencing a source allows a reader to check that source for themselves; not doing so means the reader is entirely dependent on the author's paraphrased or retold version and I have found numerous instances where I recognized a source (usually Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries) being used in ways that intentionally or not distorted the actual material being repeated - but without that clear reference a reader who wasn't familiar with the source wouldn't realize that. 

  4.  'Everyone Else is Completely Wrong But Me' - Another significant red flag is when an author claims that they are the sole source of accurate knowledge on any subject or the only purveyor of genuine truth. Run, don't walk, away from this sort of approach because it leads directly into cults of personality and literal cults. 

  5.  Pseudowords - Pseduowords aren't necessarily bad if they are acknowledged as such - if the author is clear they made up a word or term for their own practice that's fine. If they say it was channeled to them but aren't claiming its part of any real human language or system also fine, as such. But if they are putting the word forward as a genuine term that they claim exists and has a history but which can't be verified in anyway except by them (see: tenalach) you need to be very skeptical. 

  6.  Invented Terms - Again if the author is honest about this it isn't a problem but when the term is presented as if it were a legitimate term within a wider community or spirituality when that community has no idea of the word or term, that's a big problem. (see: Seabhean). 

  7.  Misused Other^ Languages - Other languages are not, in fact, blank templates that can be redefined at the whim of outsiders. Words have set meanings, even in dead languages like Old/Middle Irish or Latin, and obviously especially in living languages. It is not even remotely okay for an author to take a term from a language they don't speak and redefine it for their own agenda and when tyhat happens in a book its a big red flag. For example Kisma Stepanich in her Faery Wicca books claiming that shillelagh is what wands are called or misusing the term ollamh. 

  8.  False History - Always be cautious of any book that gets basic history dates and facts wrong or claims an alternative history that is incompatible with established facts. And yes I do know that history is far more fluid than set in stone but if someone is claiming, for example, that Irish independence occured in the 19th century not the 20th and involved vampires and it was all covered up to hide the existence of vampires you really should see that as a red flag. Really, really. 

  9.  Racism/Antisemitism - This one may seem obvious but its surprisingly common in spiritual books to see both racism and antisemitism** slipped in with a veneer of either historical or spiritual acceptability. Books that include the outdated and racist theory that fairies were a primitive, dark race of people driven out by light skinned/haired invaders are a good example, and moreso books that advocate the even more blatantly racist 'African pygmies = fairies' theory. Any source talking about 'Irish slaves' should get a hard pass, as should anything getting into antisemetic 'lizard people', New World Order, or similar. 

  10.  Plagiarism - another one that I'd think should be obvious but any instances of  plagiarism of other works in a source is a big red flag. Don't trust a source that is presenting other people's work or writing as their own. This is where checking reviews of a book or source can be very helpful as often plagiarism will be mentioned by reviewers if its an issue; not to say you should automatically trust any random accusation of such online but if you see one you can dig further into it to see if it has substance. 
I do realize some of the linguistic stuff may be difficult to recognize as either legitimate or not, so I always encourage readers when encountering a new term in any book to take a few minutes to research the term. If you do a quick internet search and all the results go back to the author you are checking up on that's not a good sign. You might notice that several of these, particularly around language, are aspects of cultural appropriation, which is true, but as people seem to find that subject in general confusing and hard to parse I thought it would be more helpful here to highlight the specific areas that should be watched for instead of just making CA a point in the list, however that is definitely something to be aware of and watchful for.  

*the exception being when beliefs of that time are being discussed or specific material, like a ballad, is being analyzed within its own time frame. even then modern scholarship should be included as well.
other in this context meaning any language that isn't native/known to the author or speaker.
** I could add misogyny, transphobia, and xenophobia here but so far at least these seem to be more fringe (thankfully) and more easily recognized and called out by people - although I will say xenophobia is definitely on the rise. I'm highlighting specifically racism and antisemitism because I see them far too often and far too often accepted and justified across a range of spiritual works.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Imcallaim na Morrigan: the Morrigan, Cu Chulainn, and love?

 There is perhaps no other scene from Irish mythology that causes more confusion than the imcallam na Morrigna or so-called 'Buan's Daughter' section of the Táin Bó Cuailgne [TBC]. This is the scene where the Morrigan in disguise as the daughter of a king named Buan [literally 'lasting' or 'enduring'] goes to Cu Chulainn and first tries to tempt him then threatens him. 

This is the Faraday translation of the passage:
"Cuchulainn saw a young woman coming towards him, with a dress of every colour on, and her form very excellent.
' Who are you? ' said Cuchulainn.
'Daughter of Buan the king,' said she. 'I have come to you; I have loved you for your reputation, and I have brought my treasures and my cattle with me.'
'The time at which you have come to us is not good. For our condition is evil, through hunger. It is not easy to me to meet a woman, while I am in this strife.'
'I will be a help to you
..
[edited out from Faraday the original text is Cu Chulainn's response "It is not for a woman's arse I have come."]
.. I shall be more troublesome to you,' said she, 'when I come against you when you are in combat against the men. I will come in the form of an eel about your feet in the ford, so that you shall fall.'
'I think that likelier than the daughter of a king. I will take you,' said he, 'between my toes, till your ribs are broken, and you will be in this condition till a doom of blessing comes (?) on you.'
'I will drive the cattle on the ford to you, in the form of a grey she-wolf.'
'I will throw a stone at you from my sling, so that it shall break your eye in your head; and you will be in that state till a doom of blessing comes on you.'
' I will come to you in the form of a hornless red heifer before the cattle. They will rush on you on the plains (?), and on the fords, and on the pools, and you will not see me before you.'
' I will throw a stone at you,' said he, 'so that your leg shall break under you, and you will be in this state till a doom of blessing comes on you.'
Therewith she goes from him
."
- http://adminstaff.vassar.edu/sttaylor/Cooley/Faraday/Conversation.html 

The text following the edited portion is nearly a duplicate of the final back and forth between the Morrigan and Cu Chulainn in the TBR where she threatens to come at him in the three forms to make his combat with an equally matched warrior unfair in order to ensure that he is killed. This is the culmination in the TBR to a contentious meeting between the two and which ultimately results in a prediction of the TBC.

Looking at the misunderstandings of the Buan's Daughter passage there's two layers to the confusion, so let's start with the widespread assertion that this shows that the Morrigan loved Cu Chulainn and that she turned against him when he spurned her. If we actually read the text of the passage its not nearly that clear. He doesn't actually refuse her initially, he tells her it isn't a good time for him to "meet a woman" and only when she then offers to explicitly aid him in his efforts does he say that it isn't for sex that he's defending the border; this may be a reference to other occasions on which there are attempts to bribe him away from Ulster by offering him a woman, including Medb's own daughter. The Morrigan is also in disguise, having put on a richt or assumed form because he has of course already seen her in what may be her true form* in the Táin Bó Regamna [TBR] and in both the Buan's daughter encounter and subsequent 'Healing of the Morrigan' passage we see her appearing to him in very different disguises. Why is this? Because the two of them have an established and contentious relationship with each other, albeit one that is far more complex than simply adversarial. In the TBR for example when he realizes the woman he has been speaking to is the Morrigan he tells her that had he known the whole time they would have had a different encounter, implying he would not have parted so amicably from her. Similarly in the Healing of the Morrigan passage of the TBC when he realizes that he has healed the Morrigan he says that if he had known it was her he would not have done so. So why then is she coming to him at all? It is certainly odd given their previous interactions for her to suddenly go to him and declare her love while offering to help him in battle. One interpretation is that the scene isn't about seduction but is a test of Cu Chulainn's dedication to defending Ulster. From this view then the Morrigan isn't trying to actually proclaim her love but rather is seeing if he can be led into abandoning his post with the lure of a beautiful woman. He refuses and the two instead engage in battle, or at least she attempts to further test him by attacking him while he is battling the warrior Loch. I will note in fairness that some scholars do accept a romantic tone to this passage which leads us into the next point, which is the validity of the passage itself.

Although often treated as if it were ubiquitous to the TBC now, in fact this encounter is not found in other versions of the text, which more clearly and directly relate the Morrigan's attacks on Cu Chulainn to the TBR. For example this is from Dunn's version based on a text that doesn't include the Buan's Daughter incident but instead references back to the remscél of the Táin Bó Regamna:
"Then it was that the Morrigan daughter of Ernmas came from the fairy dwellings to destroy Cuchulain. For she had threatened on the Cattle-raid of Regomaina that she would come to undo Cuchulain what time he would be in sore distress when engaged in battle and combat with a goodly warrior, with Loch, in the course of the Cattle-spoil of Cualnge."
http://adminstaff.vassar.edu/sttaylor/Cooley/LochMor.html 
This has led some scholars, including Baumgarten in Éiru volume 34, to suggest that the insertion of the Buan' Daughter passage in that version of the TBC was a later one by scribes trying to explain the reason the Morrigan attacked Cu Chulainn in the story. This may reflect scribes who were unfamiliar with the remscél or, as Baumgarten further suggests, were trying to reconcile a misreading of one line within the TBR. This pivotal line is a comment by the Morrigan to Cu Chulainn (Yellow Book of Lecan version), "Is oc diten do baissiu atusa ocus biad" [I am and shall be guarding your death] which Baumgarten argues was a misrendering of "Is oc dídin do báis-siu atáu-sa ocus bia" that is "I am and shall be bringing about your death" (Baumgarten, 1983). In previous translations the error was forwarded that the word was a form of ditiu, which means protecting or guarding, despite that not fitting the context of the TBR passage which is clearly threatening and not protective in nature; Baumgarten instead suggests the correct term is díden meaning to lead to or bring about. 
Baumgarten's view has been accepted widely enough that it is given in the eDIL as an example of the word díden, in contrast to the older interpretations that rely on connecting the word to dítiu, however unlikely that seems in context. In this view the romantic overtones of the Buan's Daughter passage were created based on the assumption that the Morrigan had promised to protect Cu Chulainn in some sense and was appearing to fulfill that role, only becoming antagonistic when he refused her aid (Baumgarten, 1983). Even in this I might argue that there is less of romance at play and more a sense of guardianship, albeit one created through a linguistic misunderstanding.

The Buan's Daughter section has resulted in some modern readers and people interested in Irish mythology assuming that the Morrigan was in love with Cu Chulainn** and became his enemy only after he rejected her. I do not believe the text itself supports that assertion or that the wider interactions between those two figures can justify such a view, and think that there is ample evidence that the passage was indeed a later insertion to explain a misreading of the TBR. While this doesn't, obviously, negate the existence of the Buan's Daughter passage it should be taken into account when trying to understand the wider dynamic at play between the Morrigan and Cu Chulainn so that excessive weight isn't given to that single encounter and so that it may be understood within a wider context.


End Notes
*its uncertain but as his encounter with her in the TBR is unexpected and does not seem to be one she prearranged the 'red headed woman' is the best candidate for the Morrigan's true humanoid form, in my opinion. She is of course a shapeshifter so most often when she appears in stories she is described as being in a certain form.
**I am perhaps understating this, as I have seen some extreme claims based on this passage including that the Morrigan was desperate to bear Cu Chulainn's child or was deeply heartbroken after his 'rejection'. Neither of these or the other outré claims sprung from them are supported in mythology or folklore but all seem to be rooted back in this single passage.  


References
Baumgarten, R. (1983). Varia III. A Note on Táin Bó Regamna. Ériu, 34, 189-193. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30007756 
Daimler, M., (2015) Táin Bó Regamna. Retrieved from https://lairbhan.blogspot.com/2015/03/tain-bo-regamna.html
Dunn, J., (1914) Táin Bó Cualgn
eDIL (n.d.) electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language. retrieved from http://www.dil.ie/
Faraday, L., (1904) The Cattle Raid of Cualgne

Cuchulainn's death, by Stephen Reid 1904


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Are The Irish Gods, Gods?

  Every cultural type of paganism has its own unique little issues, things that go around within that particular community. Usually these are not things based in facts, but are a kind of urban legend, a statement made at a some point that was then repeated and taken as fact and slowly takes on a life of its own until it gains a kind of truth of its own, no matter how disconnected it may be from the actual root culture, historic fact, or myth. In Heathenry you see this with the [false] idea people constantly repeat that only those who die in battle go to Valhalla or that Valhalla is a universal goal, a kind of heaven, while Hel is a terrible place to be avoided. In Irish paganism what I see going around fairly often is the assertion that the Irish Gods were not, in fact, Gods at all. 

 This argument is put forth on several assertions. Firstly it's claimed that we have nothing recorded or written by the pagan Irish themselves therefore we have no idea who or what they considered Gods. The second assertion is that none of the Tuatha Dé Danann are ever referred to as Gods in any of the existing material, and that this is because they were never seen as being Gods at all just fictional characters. Both of these arguments are used, sometimes by people within the Celtic pagan community, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, as with the "we know nothing about Druids" line its simply an excuse to justify someone tossing out the historical material and making up whatever they like. Sometimes its an attempt to disparage Irish paganism. The responses to being told the Irish Gods aren't Gods are often sincere but emotional, so lets try a different approach here. 

   To address the assertion that we have nothing from the pre-Christian pagan Irish so therefore we don't know anything about their Gods, I honestly find that argument disingenuous. That statement is generally true of cultures like the Picts and neolithic Irish, but while we do not have any primary sources for the pagan Irish we have an abundance of secondary sources. We have mythology preserved by early scribes during and immediately after the conversion period and we have later folklore which preserved the memory of deities in certain areas. These secondary sources can be cross checked in some cases against other Indo-European cultures, both other Celtic language cultures and other closely related I-E ones because we know that I-E cultures had not only certain patterns of deities but also certain deities who can be found across cultures. Nuada is an excellent Irish example of that: a mythic figure, found among the Irish Tuatha Dé Danann who fits a wider pattern of the wounded king God seen in related cultures and who has clear cognates among the Welsh, British, and Gaulish. Archaeology is a significant tool as well, as studying  archaeological sites can tell us where ritual centers were and whether areas from myth and folklore did have ritual significance. We know from these sites that the Gods honored there were worshiped with offerings, and stories like "The Taking of the Sidhe" imply that such offerings were necessary for the people to receive blessing and abundance. We can also study place names and the way that folklore around specific deities focuses at a location. The different Tuatha De Danann had their own sacred places and real world sites that belonged to them. Like putting together pieces of a puzzle no single piece gives us an answer but when we put them all together we see the bigger picture. 
    Speaking of secondary sources, the second argument claims that nowhere are the Irish Gods, that is the Tuatha De Danann, called Gods. This is simply untrue. Some examples from the source material with the word for god or goddess in bold: 
  •     "ben in Dagda…día sóach(Gwynn, 1906). 
    the Dagda's wife…the shapeshifting goddess. 
  •    "‘H-i Ross Bodbo .i. na Morrighno, ar iss ed a ross-side Crich Roiss & iss i an bodb catha h-i & is fria id-beurur bee Neid .i. bandee in catæ, uair is inann be Neid & dia cathæ’.
    "In the Wood of Badb, i.e. of the Morrigu, for that is her wood, viz. the land of Ross, and she is the Battle-Crow and is called the Wife of Neit, i.e. the Goddess of Battle, for Neit is the same as God of Battle.’" (Meyers, 1910)
  •  "Brigit .i. banfile.... bandea no adratis filid," (Sanas Cormac, n.d.) 
    Brighid, that is a poetess...a Goddess poets used to worship" 
  •   "Manannan Mac Lir... inde Scoti et Britónes eum deum maris uocauerunt..." (Sanas Cormac, n.d.)  
    Manannan Mac Lir...
    the Irish and British called him the God of the sea 
  • Dagda .i. dagh .i. día soinemhail ag na geintíbh é, ar do adhradháis Tuatha Dé Danann dó, ar bá día talmhan dóibh é ar mhét a chumachta (Stokes & Windisch, 1897)
    Dagda that is a good god that is an excellent god he was of the pagans; because the Tuatha De Danann adored/worshiped him, because he was a god of the world to them, because of the greatness of his power
  This is only a small sample but it makes it clear that while each and every one of the Tuatha De Danann may not have been called Gods explicitly several of them were. It would seem very illogical for the people recording this information to retroactively promote fictional characters to deities during a period that was still in transition from one religion to another, when the populace would still remember the older beliefs. When the different iterations of the myths are studied I believe a pattern can be seen wherein the Gods are slowly demoted over time, so that the Morrigan is clearly a goddess in the oldest versions of the material but by the later period has become a spectral figure. Similarly Áine is clearly originally a goddess who slowly devolves into a fairy woman and then mortal girl. This pattern would not seem to fit with the idea that the Gods were never divine, but only a Christian literary device. 
   Were the Irish Gods understood to be Gods historically? It seems clear that they were. They have sacred sites, they have myths and folklore, they have cognates and related deities in other Celtic cultures, they are called Gods in the older texts. 
 Are the Irish Gods, Gods? Yes.
References:
Gwynn, E., (1906). Metrical Dindshenchas
Meyer, K., (1910). The Wooing of Emer
Sanas Cormac (n.d.) http://www.asnc.cam.ac.uk/irishglossaries/texts.php?versionID=9&ref=150#150
Stokes, W., and Windisch, E., (1897) Irische Texte




Copyright Morgan Daimler

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Power in a Name

 There is a lot of power in names and naming, so today I want to look at the way we see that played out in mythology and folklore. I thought this would be a good topic to discuss in particular because of the confusion I sometimes see around the idea of True Names and magical names within modern paganism. So let's look at what True Names and magical names are, and the difference between them, with some examples from mythology and folklore.


A True Name is the name that resonates with a being's soul or otherwise identifies that being on the deepest level. This is not necessarily the name you are given by your parents at birth, although we'll look at the power that your birth name can have later. Your True Name is a deeper metaphysical thing, something that you may or may not ever find if you are human, and something that you guard as more precious than your life. Knowing a being's True Name gives you power over that being and allows you a level of control of them. In the Cath Maige Tuired we see this when the Dagda encounters a Fomorian princess who demands he carry her on his back; he refuses until after asking him his name three times* he is forced to reveal his True Name, and knowing it she repeats the request using it and he is forced to comply. In the familiar story of Rumplestilskin we see knowledge of a True Name as the only way for a woman to get out of a contract she has made with a dwarf. This motif and variations of it are found throughout Europe, with either the firstborn child or the woman herself as the agreed upon pay for the Otherworldly being unless the Name can be discovered. Knowing a True Name means knowing the true nature of a being which allows that being to be commanded against their will, and this is exactly why knowledge of a True Name was hidden.

As I mentioned, your birth name does also have power over you. Perhaps anyone who has ever experienced an angry parent yelling their full name at them is already aware of this. Seriously though, even though your birth name is something given to you by others it has the power of blood and kinship bound up in it, and it is tied to your soul all the same, although not as strongly as your True Name. In most folklore it was understood as unwise to give your name to Otherworldly beings, because knowledge of your birth name gave them knowledge of you to some degree. We see examples of this in stories such as 'Maggy Moulach' where a fairy (in that case a Brownie) tragically loves a mortal; when he had asked her name, she told him it was 'Mise Fein' [Me Myself]. The young woman eventually is forced to throw boiling water on the amorous fairy, mortally wounding him, and when he was later asked who had harmed him he answered 'Me Myself' preventing his mother from seeking revenge against the girl. Names have power, even the ones our parents have given us.

As adults we can choose our own names. We can assume nicknames, or we can even (in most countries as far as I know) legally change our names. There is a long and deep seated tradition of adults changing names to shed the name they were given at birth and assume a new name as an adult, usually to better reflect who the person was. We see this in mythology with Setanta becoming Cu Chulainn; Gwion Bach becoming Taleisin; Deimne becoming Fionn Mac Cumhaill. There is power in naming ourselves, but we should choose wisely as well, because just like birth names the names we give ourselves hold power over us and create connections. Cu Chulainn taking his name also meant taking a gies against eating dog meat, and it his fate was bound up in that taboo.

It is from the power that your name has, I believe, that we see magical names coming in, particularly in ceremonial magic. A magical name was originally meant as a pseudonym, a way to keep your identity hidden from spirits and likely to act as a layer of magical defense from unfriendly people, witches and non-witches. Or perhaps we might say more aptly it was used to create a specific alternate identity for dealing with them. Magical names, like any good persona, were about creating an ideal image for the self, rather than a true reflection of the self. So, for example someone's True Name might be Echaire [horse-keeper] but they may take a magical name that is much grander and more impressive sounding like 'Storm Raven' or 'Ocean Rider'. People also often use the names of deities, mythic heroes, famous magicians of the past, and powerful animals for their magical names. Magical names did build power with use, but could also be shed and remade as needed. Think of them a bit like clothes or armor. Even with this though there was historically usually a layer of secrecy between a person's magical name and real name, an attempt to keep the two separate and distinct, so that in ritual or with fellow practitioners no other name would be used except the magical, and outside of those contexts no name except the birth name would be used.

At some point in the modern era I think the ideas of True Names and magical names were confused somehow, so that people began to think that a magical name was supposed to be a true reflection of self rather than a projection of power and confidence. From this we start to see two things happening, firstly magical names that are intended to reflect as much of a person's soul as possible, and secondly the public use of magical names in non-magical contexts. Or basically the entire concept of magical names became less about esoteric spirit work naming and more of a tribal assuming-a-new-name-with-a-new-community process. One is not better or worse than the other, but they need to be understood as distinctly different things. A public name that you use because you feel it fits you better than the one your parents gave you, isn't a magical name. And it isn't your true name either, or I hope it isn't if your sharing it around so publicly.

Names have power. We can take control of that power by choosing what we want people to call us, by naming ourselves. Even assuming a nickname is an act of power. We can use magical names. We can even seek, and sometimes find, our True Name But we shouldn't forget the lessons that mythology and fairy tales have taught us about the value of the power of the names and the need to guard the names that mean the most to us. Not all names are meant to be shared.

* there is also significance to the repetition of the number three, and of asking a question three times.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Urine & Dirty Water: Fending Off Fairies With Filth

   The Good Folk across several cultures are well known for their preference for cleanliness and their strong dislike of people and places that are unclean as well as things, like urine and dirty water, that are similarly unclean. They avoid humans who they judge not to meet their cleanliness standards and on the same side of that coin may be warded off by using the things they dislike.  I'll include examples here for illustration.

In England we find Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet writing about a fairy named Mab - whose name itself references a slovenly woman - who punishes lazy women by matting their hair: "This is that very Mab; That plats the manes of horses in the night; And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs."

Katherine Briggs, speaking generally about fairies in her 1976 Dictionary of Fairies mentions how dirty water left in a home might be punished by leg injuries or pinching. She also mentions that habitual uncleanness was a trait abhorred by the fairies and one which they frequently punished. 

In some Irish folklore dirty wash water was a ward against fairies, keeping them out of a home. In other regions however the opposite effect resulted from not throwing dirty water out, as having it standing in the home allowed fairies to enter. There are several accounts of folklore around the need to call out a warning before throwing out or dumping dirty water, lest the Good Folk passing invisibly by be splashed by it and then seek to punish the person who had thrown it. 

Similarly in Scotland there are several accounts of fairies who would appear at a door to ask the household to throw their wash water out elsewhere because it was draining into a fairy place. We can find examples of that in a story from Ulster which relates how the request by the fairies was usually quickly complied with, and another which mentions that the fairies were not to be annoyed and dirty water had to be carefully disposed of. 

Urine, like dirty water, offended the fairies* and also acted to keep them away. In Ireland urine was used to drive off a changeling, and we have accounts such as that of Bridget Cleary, where the presumed changeling was doused in urine with the idea that it would cause the fairy to flee and force the return of the stolen human. 

We have this from county Kerry, discussing the use of urine as a protection:
"To keep the fairies away from stealing or harming children the mothers washed them in urine and then the good people would not come near."
https://www.duchas.ie/ga/cbes/4742085/4734431/4923997

And from Limerick a slightly longer story:
"Many years ago there was a woman living near Kilfinane and she had an only daughter who was very handsome. One morning when she was going to school she was passing through a field in which there was a lios [fairy fort]. When she was passing the lios a beautiful red haired woman stood in front of her and took her in to the lios to mind her child. And in the evening when the other children came home from school she left her go. The following morning the same thing happened and was going on for a number of days and the girl never told her mother about it but the mother noticed that her daughter was getting delicate. One day a neighbour came to her and asked her what was wrong with her daughter that she wasn't going to school. The mother said that her daughter left the house every morning to go to school, but she said that she noticed her getting delicate and not eating her food like she used to. So she asked the little girl that night about not going to school and where was she spending the day and the little girl said "Don't blame me mother I was called by a lovely lady and she took me into her house to mind her baby for her and when the children used to be coming home from school she used let me go." Her mother was very worried and did not know what to do. So she went to an old woman who was a neighbour of hers to get her advice. And the old woman told her to tell her daughter to ask the lady what cure was there for a pet calf that would be pining away. And the next morning the little girl asked the lady for the cure and she told her to tell her mother that the best cure was to wash it in urine for nine morning, so when the little girl came home she told her mother what the red haired lady said. And the mother went and told the old woman about the cure. Then the old woman told the mother to bathe her daughter next morning in the urine. And she did. When the girl was passing the lios the next morning in her way to school she was met by the lady who told that she couldn't interfere with her anymore."
https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4922044/4846951 

An account from Donegal relates how a man set up a cowshed in a way that the urine from the cows flowed into the home of the local fairy queen, annoying her so that she killed and injured his cows. On the advice of an old woman, who the neighbours later decided was herself a fairy, he moved the cowshed and his luck turned around. 

This is only a brief overview of some of the accounts of fairies being averse to dirty water and urine but hopefully it offers the reader a sense of the wider beliefs. Fairies are, as Briggs discusses at greater length, beings that prefer cleanliness and order and tend to react poorly to the opposite conditions even punishing those who they feel are slighting them or intentionally failing to offer then an appropriately clean place, as we see in a Welsh story of a servant girl who is punished for failing to set out clean water for the fairies. This aversion can be used against them as shown in the stories about urine being used to protect children**.


End Notes
*there are similar beliefs in Iceland, where the expression 'driving out the elves' is slang for urination, as it was believed that urinating offended the Álfar and would cause them to leave an area. 
** I'm not personally advocating bathing babies or children in urine. I am merely presenting it here as a folk belief to illustrate the fairies abhorrence of the substance and its power over them. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Critical Reviews: Why They Matter and How to Spot a Good One

 Critical reviews are important but are often misunderstood or maligned, particularly in communities which emphasize harmony or focusing on the good over the bad. While I can understand this desire the truth is that a critical review can be an important way to address misinformation presented in nonfiction books or various issues in fiction. These issues are important to address because without a fair counterpoint being offered many readers, particularly of nonfiction, may not be aware of issues that are significant such as radical factual errors. Critical reviews are also important to authors, because they allow an author to see where they may have misstepped, been inaccurate, can be more clear, or where particular demographics may have been offended or ignored. A critical review should be a learning tool for the reader and the author, highlighting things that needed improvement, editing, or revision. 

No book or author should be above or beyond criticism and the idea that anyone is should be a red flag for people that things are edging into personality cult territory. Fair and balanced criticism is essential and should apply to anyone.

The following are of course entirely my own opinions and suggestions.

Basic Guidelines for a Nonfiction Critical Review

  • A good critical review should critique content. If a review is attacking the author personally then you aren't reading a review of the book you are reading a review of the author, which is an entirely different thing. Criticism of content is valuable and can help people learn to distinguish good information from bad or see where errors are occurring which they may not have the knowledge of the subject to spot themselves. It can be important to frame a book in the context of the author's biases but ideally this shouldn't feel like an attack but rather give context to the wider review. For example pointing out that an author doesn't come from the culture they are writing about isn't an attack but can be important context for a review. 
  • A good critical review should not be a vehicle to attack an author, viewpoint, or group. This one is fairly obvious but if the entire point of the review is just to have an excuse to write an attack piece aimed at something besides the book itself then it isn't a good review. If the book opens up the author, perspective, or group to criticism based on the content of the book that's a different story, but if the two are largely unrelated then they should be treated separately. The only exception to this would be if the author has a known history of blatant harmful behavior or opinions which readers should be made aware of. For example if the author is a known neoNazi or pedophile; even in those circumstances however it should be presented as a caveat emptor [buyer beware] not attack.
  • A good critical review should align criticism with the subject. A book on folklore should be discussed based on folklore, for example, just as a book on witchcraft should be discussed through that lens. Criticizing a book on folklore based on personal experiences is never going to result in a solid review, just like criticizing a book on witchcraft through the lens of, say, modern American Protestantism won't result in a good critical review. 
  • A good critical review should offer solid examples of what is being criticized. Ideally this should be in the form of quotes from the text being reviewed which are then discussed, with counterpoints or better information offered. Vague mentions or hints of what might be the issue that are never well defined do not make for a good review.
  • A good critical review should have no logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are, quite frankly, a huge issue in many of the arguments people put forth even though they actually don't support what the person is trying to say. 
  • A good critical review should be clear on what the issues with the book were. After reading a good critical review a person should have a clear understanding of what the criticism was, how it was supported, and how the issues affected the book overall. 


Basic Guideline for a Fiction Critical Review
  • A good critical review should be aimed at content. Just like with nonfiction the point is to critique the book not the person's feelings about the author. Although there are some circumstances where an author's personal history or background may come into play that should ideally be tied into examples from the book itself. 
  • A good critical review should look at things like: pacing, plot holes, repetition, character development, dialogue, and believability. Some of these things, like pacing, will always be a personal preference by the reviewer but others like plot holes are more objective. 
  • A good critical review should warn about spoilers. If the review is going to give away key plot points or character's fates its important to warn the reader before they get to that section; some people do not want that sort of advanced knowledge if they are still trying to decide whether or not to read the book. 
  • A good critical review should be honest. If a person is criticizing something that bothered them personally they should acknowledge it. In contrast if they are critiquing something that has a factual basis - say the author radically misrepresented how quickly travel riding a horse is - that should be addressed on that basis. In other words it should be clear if the reviewer is saying "I didn't like how this was handled" versus "that's not how that physically works".
  • A good critical review shouldn't shy away from addressing issues of prejudice. Its entirely fair to criticize a book for falling into problematic tropes like the Magical Negro (or Magical Jew or Magical Queer, etc.,) or failing the Bechdel Test or similar. Good reviews shouldn't feel like they are trying to find these issues to point out however and should be able to offer clear examples.
A final note: criticism of grammar and spelling. In my opinion grammar and spelling should only be criticized if the mistakes are blatant, constant, and distracting to the reader. 

one of the more important critical reviews I have written was for Matthews' 'Secret Lives of Elves & Faeries'