Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Cailleach

 This material is expanded from the Cailleach entry in my book 'Gods and Goddesses of Ireland'.

The Cailleach's Stone, Cork, picture by me 2018

“Ebb-tide has come to me as to the sea;
old age makes me yellow;
though I may grieve thereat,
it approaches its food joyfully….
I am Buí, the Cailleach of Beare;
I used to wear a smock that was ever-renewed…”
-          The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare

The Cailleach, or Caillech in Old Irish, is a complex deity who seems to have roots in Neolithic Ireland. Cailleach is from a word that means ‘veiled woman’ or ‘elderly woman’ but in later usage was a pejorative generally used to mean hag or witch. In Ireland she is called the Cailleach Beara or Beare for the Beara peninsula which is her main habitation, although in folklore she is also sometimes given the epithet of Béarrach; the Old Irish word berach means sharp or horned. The Cailleach Beara’s true name is said to be Buí, a word that may mean ‘yellow’1. Alternately it may originally have been Boí, a word related to the one for cow (bó) and it’s possible that she was at one time a cow goddess who represented the land and its sovereignty on the Beara peninsula2. This idea is somewhat supported by her legendary possession of a powerful bull, the Tarbh Conraidh, who had only to bellow to get a cow with calf. Certainly she is strongly associated with Beara and because of the irregular orthography of Old Irish either version of her name is possible, although Buí is better attested, appearing in the well-known poem ‘The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare’. MacKillop suggests that she may also previously have been known as Dígde, a sovereignty goddess of Munster, and Duineach whose name he gives as meaning ‘[having] many followers’, both of which were subsumed into the single identity of the Cailleach Beara at some point3.

  Several different goddesses are called ‘Cailleach’ in Irish myth including the Cailleach Beara of Cork and Cailleach Gearagáin of county Cavan4. The most well-known however is the Cailleach Beara, who is strongly associated with south west Ireland. She is considered a sovereignty figure, the archetypal crone who appears offering the throne to a potential king in exchange for intimacy; those who reject her in this guise will never rule but those who embrace her as an old woman will find her transformed into a beautiful young woman and will themselves become king. She is also credited with creating many of the standing stones and geographic features in various areas, who folklore claims are people or animals that she transformed; her bull the Tarbh Conraidh for example was turned into a stone in a river by her when he tried to swim across it to reach a herd of cows on the other side. In other parts of Ireland including Connacht, Leinster, and Ulster the Cailleach Beara is seen as the spirit of the harvest who inhabits the grain and flees from the scythes in the form of a hare5. In many areas harvest traditions included the practice of leaving the final sheaf standing in the field and naming it the Cailleach, or of dressing the final sheaf as an image of the goddess.
   The Cailleach as Buí is said to be one of the four wives of Lugh, although other sources say that she had seven husbands; she is also said to have had 50 foster children6.  The Cailleach is generally described as an old woman but she also can appear young, and is considered the progenitor of some family lines including the Corca Duibhne7. A tenth century poem says that she was the lover of the warrior Fothadh Canainne. Folklore claims that she has two sisters, also named Cailleach of their respective areas, who live in Dingle and Iveragh8. She is associated with a standing stone, the Hag's Stone or the Cailleach Bheara [hag of Beara], resting above Coulagh Bay, Cork (see image above). The story is that the Cailleach was Manannán's wife and she turned to stone waiting on shore for him to return from the sea. Some say that the stone is her face, still looking out at the water. The stone is on a steep hillside but can be reached by following a narrow path. It is visited by people who leave offerings on and around the stone
  It is said that the Sliab na Cailligh in county Meath were created when the Cailleach flew over the area and accidently dropped the stones9. Cairn T at this site also has a large roughly chair shaped stone at the rear of eth mound known as the Hag's Chair, where people sometimes leave offerings; its said that if you sit in the chair you may be granted a wish. Leaba Chaillí, the Hag's Bed, in Cork is a wedge tomb associated with her, where local folklore claims she both lived and was buried. She is strongly associated with several areas in Ireland including the Beara peninsula and Slieve Daeane in Connacht10. Although she is found in Scotland as well she is not considered a pan-Celtic deity and so there is speculation that she represents a likely pre-Celtic divinity that was absorbed into Celtic culture at a later point11.

The Hag's Chair at Sliabh na Callaigh, picture by me 2016

  The Cailleach in Scotland has a different although related character, associated more tentatively with the harvest but also with the winter and storms. Called the Cailleach Bheur [beur meaning sharp or cutting in Gaidhlig] she was associated with the bitter winter wind and snowstorms as well as with creating geographic features which bear her name12. In the 1917 book “Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend” we learn that the goddess Bride (Irish Brighid) ruled over the summer half of the year, from Beltane to Samhain, and the other half of the year was ruled by the Cailleach. There are a variety of stories about how the year changed rulers which either feature the two goddesses contending against each other or describe them as aspects of one being. In one version Angus is the Cailleach’s son who falls in love with Bride, so the Cailleach imprisons her which causes winter to come to the land; only when Angus finally succeeds in freeing her on Imbolc does winter begin to relent13. In other versions of the story the Cailleach must drink from a magical spring, either on Imbolc at which point she transforms into Bride, or at Beltane at which point Bride is freed14.

  In the Cailleach we see a complex and ancient deity, perhaps rooted in pre-Celtic belief but certainly once a powerful sovereignty goddess. It was she who created several features of the landscape of Ireland and Scotland making her cosmogonically significantly, and it is she who controls the storms of winter in Scotland. The Cailleach may appear old or young, and may give sovereignty to kings, even divine kings if we see her as Lugh’s wife and the source of his legitimacy as king of the Tuatha De Danann. Although she is often considered a more obscure deity today, and her place among the Tuatha De Danann is somewhat uncertain, she seems to have been very significant historically and certainly maintains a powerful place in folklore today.

1Murphy, 1956
2O hOgain, 2006
3MacKillop, 1998
4Smyth, 1988
5O hOgain, 2006
6MacKillop, 1998
7Smyth, 1988
8O hOgain, 2006
9Smyth, 1988
10MacKillop, 1998
11Monaghan, 2004
13McIntyre, 2015
14 McNeill; 1959; McIntyre, 2015


MacKillop, J., (1998) A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
McIntyre, M., (2015). “The Cailleach Bheara: a Study of Scottish Highland Folklore in Literature and Film”. Retrieved from
McNeill, F., (1959). The Silver Bough, volume 2
Monaghan, P., (2004) Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore
Murphy, G., (1956) Early Irish Lyrics: eighth to Twelfth Centuries
O'hOgain (2006) the Lore of Ireland 
Smyth, D., (1988). A Guide to Irish Mythology

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Three Book Reviews: Folklore 101, Fairytale 101, Sex Education 101

Today I wanted to do a combined review of three books by the same author, dr Jeana Jorgensen, because while the topics vary the wider purpose of each book is the same, to offer a solid basic introduction to a complicated topic. This goal is admirable and one I share myself, because I think that its important to have material that can bridge the gap between layperson and academic, and can offer a way for people to either get a basic grasp of a subject or offer a starting point for those seeking to study something more deeply. Dr Jorgensen's books succeed marvelously at this goal.

Folklore 101: An Accessible Introduction to Folklore Studies. 
   Folklore is one of those subjects that can seem simple on the surface but which has surprising depth and breadth to it, and this book serves as a perfect, easy introduction to that complexity. Folklore 101 begins by explaining what folklore is and why folklore is important then segues into a section containing 13 basic folklore concepts which form an important basis for understanding the wider subject. Following this is a shorter section discussing three "big categories" of folklore: verbal, customary, and material culture. Then the author offers 27 specific folklore genres, clearly explaining each one and providing examples. This is followed by a section on special topics, discussing 11 types from women's folklore, disability and folklore, and the intersection of folklore and literature. The book wraps up with a conclusion that looks at how folklore can and does effect all of our lives and how the information in the book can be used on a personal level. 
   Dr Jorgensen masterfully presents the academia of folklore in a way that is approachable and the book is structured so that it builds of off itself, making it easy to move from one section to another, and simultaneously deeper into the subject. I also really appreciated that the author didn't shy away from tackling more difficult issues within folklore, including the concept of 'American' which is often used as shorthand for mainstream white US culture. For many people who have a narrow idea of folklore as story this book will be an eye opening read; you may particularly enjoy the sections of folk speech and jokes. 

Fairy Tales 101: An Accessible Introduction to Fairy Tales
   If you ask most people what a fairy tale is they will probably respond with an example like Cinderella or Snow White, but if pressed to describe what a fairy tale actually is will probably be unable to give a clear explanation; fairy tales are a core part of culture but are somewhat ephemeral. Fairy Tale 101 embraces this ephemeral nature and rather than trying to fit it into a small box, explores the range of concepts and stories that make up fairy tales across history, beginning with the author's description of what makes a fairy tale what it is. The opening section includes 10 topics that help establish an understanding of the fairy tale and ground readers in the wider concepts involved with them. This is followed by a section containing 10 articles or blogs that dig deeper into issues that frame fairy tales, from 'original' versions to tale types to why which translation you use matters. The next section is academic articles by dr Jorgensen, including two papers about the intersection of female agency/femininity in fairy tales and one on masculinity. The book wraps up with a section on resources, which is invaluable for those seeking to move forward and learn more. 
   Fairy Tale 101 is more academic in tone than Folk Lore 101, but still stands as a great introduction in my opinion. It helps readers navigate the often confusing, sometimes genuinely baffling, genre of Fairy Tales, and the way the book is set up as a series of, in effect, short articles, makes reading it and absorbing the material easier than it would be in a book using a more typical chapter structure. This is my go-to recommendation for anyone interested in learning more about fairy tales, whether that's out of personal interest or academic interest. It offers all of the need to know basics as well as a bit more depth in some areas, and sets a reader up with a great foundation to go forward from. 

Sex Education 101: Approachable Essays on Folklore, Culture & History
      I had been eagerly awaiting this book since I first found out about it, and it did not disappoint. I should probably preface this by saying that my own degree is in psychology but I am active in the folklore field, I am a long time advocate of comprehensive sex ed, and a fan of dr Jorgensen's other books, so I went into this with high expectations - and I was not disappointed. 
     Sex Education 101 is not another book focused on the how-to's or anatomy of sex, but rather is a comprehensive look at the beliefs that we have and forward about sex, how those influence and shape us, and the way that story and belief affect our understanding of and relationship to sex. The introduction outlines what the book is and isn't and the author's intentions, then the book moves into sections on the folklore of sex, how sex actually works, the history of sex ed, taboo topics, and the case for sex ed. Each of these sections is broken up into various shorter articles which makes the text both easy to get into and also perfect for both referencing and reading one article at a time. Articles are clearly titled and each one works on its own and within the wider flow of the book. 
   I appreciated that Sex Education 101 took an honest look at the US history of the subject, from Kellogg and Graham's obsession with anti-masturbation foods to conversion therapy, and how that has impacted generations of people. It worked to both define and debunk common misconceptions that are perpetuated through both formal and informal channels, and explored the history of sex education and the ways that various cultural factors shaped it. All in all this book is essential not only to gain a better understanding of how we culturally understand sex but also why, and the way that 'facts' can be shaped by belief. highly recommended to anyone who wants to understand sex, beliefs around sex, or get a glimpse of cultural history on the subject. 

Ultimately I think all three of these books are essential reading, and each helps clarify a confusing and complex subject. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

My Published Work to Date 2023

 This year's updated list of all my published work. 2023 may best be described as the year of the magazine articles, but I did squeeze some other things in as well.





“Healing Ritual for the Ocean Waters”, Circle Magazine issue 109 summer 2011

“A Gaelic View of Samhain”, Celtic Guide, vol. 1 issue 10 Oct. 2012

      “Celebrating Imbolc with the Family”, Air n-Aithesc, vol.1 issue 1, Feb. 2014

      “The Witch, the Bean Feasa, and the Fairy Doctor in Irish Culture”. Air n-Aithesc, vol. 1 issue 2, Aug. 2014

     “Finding the Morrigan”, Goddess Pages, issues 26 winter 2014/spring 2015

     “The Morrigan’s Call”, Pagan Dawn, no. 194 Imbolc/Spring Equinox 2015

     “A Family Bealtaine”; “The Good Neighbors”, Air n-Aithesc, vol. II, issue I, Feb. 2015

     “The Morrigan and Sovereignty” Goddess Alive e-zine Spring/Summer 2015

     “Finding Flidais, Irish Goddess of Cattle and Deer”, Oak Leaves, Summer 2015, Issue 69

     “The Role of the Morrigan in the Cath Maige Tuired: Incitement, Battle Magic, and Prophecy”, Air n-Aithesc, vol. II, issue II, August 2015

      “Three Paths, One Purpose”. Call of the Morrigan, Oct 2015

      “Samhain: Myth, Mystery, and Meaning”, Pagan Dawn, no. 197 Samhain/Yule 2015

“Crom Cruach”; “Reconstructing Iron Age Ritual Feasting Practices”, Air n-Aithesc, vol. III, issue 1, February 2016

“Experiential Spirituality” Mystic Living Today ezine, April 2016

“Fairy Witchcraft Master class”, Spirit & Destiny, July 2016

“Enchantment in the Modern World”, Mystic Living Today ezine July 2016

“The Cailleach”; “Two Views of the Leannan Si”, Air n-Aithesc, vol III, issue II, August 2016

“Medb”, Air n-Aithesc, vol IV, issue I, 2017

“Scottish Fairies and the Teind to Hell”, Pagan Dawn, Spring 2017

“Fairy Witchcraft: Old Ways in New Days” Watson’s Mind Body Spirit Magazine, Spring 2017

“Tailtiu”; “Samhain; Tradition and Transition”, Air nAithesc, vol IV issue II, 2017

“The Fire Festivals in History and Myth”; “Cermait”, Air nAithesc, vol V 2018

“Fairies, Word and Deed” Watkins Mind Body Spirit Magazine, Autumn 2018

“Seeking in the Mists: The Gods and Goddesses of Ireland” Pagan Dawn, Beltane 2019 no 211

“Fairy Queens and Witches” Pagan Dawn, Lammas 2019 no 212

“Queens of Fairy” The Magical Times, Oct 2019 – March 2020, issue 27

“Conceptualizing Fairyland” Pagan Dawn, Imbolc 2020 no 214

“The Divinity of the Tuatha De Danann”, Pagan Digest volume 01, May 2020

“The Power of Transformation”, Witch Way Magazine, Midsummer special issue 2020

“Fairies and the Stars”, Pagan Dawn, Lammas-Autumn Equinox 2020, no 216

“Sexuality and Gender Among the Good Neighbours: the Intersection and Inversion of Human Norms in Fairylore”, written for Revenant Journal 2020, cut, posted on; FIS newsletter 2021

“Lugh, God of Many Skills”, Pagan Dawn, Lammas Issue, 2021, no 220

“Seeking in the Mists: Gods and Goddesses of Ireland”, Pagan Dawn, Samhain issue, 2021, no 221

“Queens of Fairy” Watkins Mind Body Spirit Winter 2021

“Imagining Fairyland”, Pagan Dawn, Imbolc issue, 2022 no 222

“The White Elephant in the Room: Racism and Diversity in Fairy Belief”, Witches & Pagans Magazine, issue 39, 2022

“Fairy Queens and Witches”, Pagan Dawn, Beltane Issue, 2022, no 223

“Finding the Aos Sidhe”, ev0ke magazine, June 2022

“Marriage and the Otherworld”, FIS newsletter, 2023

“Aos Sidhe and Witches”, Witch magazine, issue 34, February 2023

“The Aos Sidhe: The Good Folk of Ireland”, Pagan Dawn. Beltane issue 2023. No 227

“Freya: Love, War, and Magic”, MoonScape, 2023

“Lugh: Lightning and Sunlight” Watkins Mind Body Spirit, Summer 2023

“Seidhr: Freya’s Gift to the World”, ev0ke July 2023

“Fairies in a Modern World”, Pagan Dawn, Lammas issue 2023 no 228

“The Otherworld Across Cultures” Magical Times, 2023 issue 29

“Raven Queen: the Morrigan, Battle, and Sovereignty” SageWoman magazine forthcoming

“The Otherworld and the Tides of the Year” Pagan Dawn, forthcoming

“Human Experiences of the Otherworld” ev0ke, forthcoming


Academic Papers

“Evolution of the Fairy Courts: from Scottish Ballads to Urban Fantasy” Ohio State University Fairies and the Fantastic Conference, 2019

“Álfar, Aelfe, and Elben: Elves in an historic and modern Heathen context” 3rd Annual Heathen Women United Conference, 2019

“Unseely to anti-hero: The Evolution of Dangerous Fairies in Folklore, Fiction, and Popular Belief” Hertfordshire University’s ‘Ill Met By Moonlight’ conference, 2021

"Fairies as 'Other': Gender and Sexuality Across Western European Fairy Belief" Folklore Open Voices: folklore for all, folklore of all conference, 2022

“Deviance and the Liminal: fairies as justification for social subversion” Brown University’s Norm and Transgression in the Fairy-Tale Tradition: (Non)Normative Identities, Forms, and Writings conference 2023

“Selling Your Soul to the Fairy Queen: witches and fairies in 17th century Scotland” Witchcraft and the Supernatural in Belief, Practice, and Depiction conference 2023



Short Stories

Chess: A Between the Worlds short story - 2017

Birth: A Between the Worlds short story - 2018

The Well at Carterhaugh: A queer retelling of Tam Lin – 2019

The King of Elfland: A queer retelling of Thomas the Rhymer – 2021

In the Fairy Wood: A queer retelling of Alice Brand – 2021

Synchronicity: A Between the Worlds short story – 2023




 “Shining God”, Idunna 76 Summer 2008

“Five” Circle Magazine issue 107 2010

“Consumed” Witches & Pagans issue 24, 2011

“Hammer” Circle Magazine issue 115 vol. 35 #4, 2011


“Essense” (under the pen name Seabhacgeal) The Pagan’s Muse, 2003

“Secrets”; “Alone”; “First”; “After the Drought”; “Forgiveness”, Voices of Survivors 2009

“Oíche Shamna”, Pagan Writers Presents Samhain 2011

“Snowflakes”; “Midwinter Solstice Dream”, Pagan Writers Presents Yule, 2011

“Macha’s Race”, The Dark Ones: Tales and Poems of the Shadowed Gods 2016

“Immutable” My Say In The Matter, 2023



“Connecting Past and Future: Modern Reconstructionist Druidism”, Essays in Contemporary Paganism 2013

“Past & Present”, Paganism 101, 2014

“Macha: One face of the Morrigan”, By Blood, Bone, and Blade: a tribute to the Morrigan, 2014

“Ancient Goddesses in the Modern World”; “Frigga”, Naming the Goddess, 2014

“Macha, Horses, and Sovereignty”, Grey Mare on the Hill, 2015

“Ancient Roots, Modern Faith”,  Pagan Planet: Being, Believing & Belonging in the 21Century 2016

“Guidise ocus Comairc” An Leabhar Urnaí 2016

“Goddesses of Ireland: Beyond the Ninth Wave” Goddess in America 2016

“Pagan Parenting in the 21st Century”; “The Morrigans: Ancient Goddesses in Modern Times”; “Taking the Road Less Traveled By”, iPagan, 2017

 “The Goddess Hidden in Folklore”; Seven Ages of the Goddess, 2018

“Interview with Morgan Daimler” Real Witches of New England 2018

“King of the Sidhe of Ireland: The Dagda's Role in the Aislinge Oenguso”; “An Analysis of the Dagda's Role in the De Gabail in t-Sida”; “How the Dagda Got His Magic Staff: The Power and Symbolism of the Dagda’s Club”, Harp, Club and Cauldron: a curated anthology of scholarship, lore, practice and creative writings on the Dagda 2018

‘The Morrigan’; ‘Brighid’ Celtic Goddesses 2018

‘What is Modern Witchcraft?’ Pagan Portals What is Modern Witchcraft anthology 2019

“Finnbheara”; “Nuada” Naming the God 2022

“Dawn” Kindred Kingdoms 2022

“The Herb in the Wood” My Say In The Matter, 2023

“Irish-American Folk Magic” North American Folk Magic 2023

“Three Cauldrons” untitled, forthcoming

“The Irish Sidhe Through A Folkloresque Lens: Co-opting and Redefining Irish Folklore for a Popculture Audience”, Fairies: a Companion, forthcoming



Faery by John Kruse 2020

Samhain by Luke Eastwood 2021

Where Fairies Meet: Parallels Between Romanian and Irish Fairy Lore and Practice by Daniela Simina 2023

Bones Fall In a Spiral by Mortellus 2023

Fairy Herbs for Fairy Magic by Daniela Simina, 2024


Old/Middle Irish Translations

The Treasure of the Tuatha De Danann: a dual language pocket book, 2015

Tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann: a dual language pocket book, 2016

Myth and Magic of Pagan Ireland: a dual language pocket book, 2019

Cath Maige Tuired 2020

Settling of the Manor of Tara 2021

Through the Mist a dual language mythology book 2021

Echtra Laegaire meic Crimthain: the Adventures of Laegaire son of Crimthan 2022

Echtra Nera 2023

Táin Bó Cuáiligne forthcoming


Books, Non-fiction

Selected Charms from the Carmina Gadelica, 2011

Selected Prayers from Volume 1 of the Carmina Gadelica, 2011

By Land, Sea, and Sky, 2011

A Child’s Eye View of the Fairy Faith, 2012 (out of print)

Where the Hawthorn Grows 2013

Pagan Portals: Fairy Witchcraft, 2014

Pagan Portals: the Morrigan, 2014

Pagan Portals: Irish Paganism; reconstructing Irish Polytheism, 2015

Pagan Portals: Brigid, 2016

Fairycraft 2016

Pagan Portals: Gods and Goddesses of Ireland 2016

Fairies: A Guidebook to the Celtic Fair Folk; 2017

Pagan Portals: Odin, 2018

Travelling the Fairy Path 2018

Pagan Portals: the Dagda 2018

Pagan Portals Manannán mac Lir 2019

Pagan Portals Fairy Queens 2019

A New Fairies Dictionary 2020

Pagan Portals Thor 2020

Pagan Portals Raven Goddess 2020

Pagan Portals Living Fairy 2020

Pagan Portals Lugh 2021

Pantheons the Norse 2022

Pagan Portals Aos Sidhe 2022

Pagan Portals 21st Century Fairy 2023

Pagan Portals Freya 2023

Fairy: the Otherworld by Many Names 2024

Celtic Fairies in North America, 2024

Paid with a Kiss: Sex and love in Fairy Belief, forthcoming

Pantheon: The Irish forthcoming


Books, Fiction

Shadow, Light, and Spirit, 2012 (poetry)

Murder Between the Worlds: a Between the Worlds novel, 2014

Lost in Mist and Shadow; a Between the Worlds novel, 2014

Into the Twilight; a Between the Worlds novel 2015

Heart of Thorns; a Between the Worlds novel 2016

Fairy Gifts: a Between the Worlds anthology; 2016

Dark of Winter: a Between the Worlds novel 2017

Desire and Ashes a Between the Worlds novel 2018

Wandering: a Between the Worlds Anthology 2020

Convergence a Between the Worlds Novel 2020

Emergence: A Between the Worlds prequel 2022

Into Shadow: The Tallan Chronicles 2023

Night and Day, A Between the Worlds novella, 2023

Chasing Sunset: A Between the Worlds novel, forthcoming

Shadowed Fire, the Tallan Chronicles, forthcoming

Monday, December 4, 2023

Christmas Traditions, Paganism, and Some History

 Every year I see social media absolutely flooded with terrible misinformation about the 'pagan' origins of several Christmas traditions. I wrote about this in 2015, covering some of the main claims at the time but that was 8 years ago and its worth revisiting this one. There is a driving determination to claim that Christians stole absolutely everything from pagans which I think we need to seriously re-assess. History is rarely if ever so simple and as well we, as modern pagans, end up leaning into a victim narrative that is easily disproved and that doesn't help us. There are plenty of things to be legitimately angry with the Christian church(es) for but 'stealing' holidays and traditions from pagans isn't really one of them.

I do want to note before we dive into this and the angry comments begin that there are certainly some practices related to Christmas that do have older pagan roots, so I am not claiming that all things Christmas are not pagan, but on that same hand it doesn't mean that all things Christmas were originally pagan. As with most things its a blend, and that blend by and large occured organically over the centuries as converted people continued their own older traditions. While it is true that in some situations the Church did intentionally and with forethought co-opt pagan things - building churches on the sites of pagan temples being a prime example - in most cases with folk practices it was the people themselves who continued or adapted the traditions for themselves. This is a process called syncretization, which occurs when people try to combine or reconcile various, sometimes antithetical, beliefs or practices. A good example of this would the way that fairies were fit into Christian cosmology as beings who were between angles and demons. Usually the church authorities didn't support these practices or ideas and tried at various points to stamp them out as 'unchristian', efforts which by and large failed as people continued to follow the traditions anyway. 

I think we too often forget that the world we live in today isn't the world of 500, or 1,000, or 1,500 years ago. Christianity wasn't always the dominant religion - it began as a small religious sect in a pagan world, so its logical that pagan influences affected it. I think we also forget that not all practices and beliefs are ancient, humans innovate and create new things and beliefs and traditions. Its the nature of things. 

Now hold onto your butts, history incoming....

Christmas trees - probably the most common claim I see is that Christmas trees were pagan. They were not. There is absolutely no evidence that any European pagan culture cut down trees in the winter and brought them inside to decorate. There is a longstanding practice of bringing in boughs of evergreens, holly, and ivy to represent life overcoming winter but that is a far different practice than Christmas trees, and one that has continued to co-exist alongside Christmas trees even through today. 
     One major argument I see supporting stolen Christmas trees is people citing Jerimiah 10:3 and 10:4:
"3 For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.
Now on the surface this may seem to possibly support the idea that the old testament (not Christianity btw this would have been written around the 5th century BCE) banned decorating trees brought into a home. However, the passage is being intentionally cherry picked out of context to create this illusion. It is actually banning the creation of idols which is clear if you look at the surrounding lines:
"2 This is what the LORD says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them.
3For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.
5Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.
    So if Christmas trees aren't pagan then where did they come from? The answer is 15th century Germany and what were originally called 'paradise trees', trees that were decorated outdoors in conjunction with paradise plays, in honor of the feast day of Adam and Eve on 24 December (Tikkanen, 2023; Waxman, 2020). The trees would be decorated with apples to represent the Tree of Knowledge in the garden of Eden, as part of the retelling of that story; later paradise tree decorations expanded to include tinsel, wafers, gingerbread, nuts, straw, and thread (Waxman, 2020). By the 17th century these paradise trees were being set up inside homes, decorations included candles, and they had come to be known as Weihnachtsbaum [Christmas trees] establishing the tree as we know if now (Tikkanen, 2023; Waxman, 2020). As Germans emigrated out to other places they brought the Christmas tree tradition with them, most notably spreading the practice to England in the late 18th and 19th centuries through the German spouses of King George III and Queen Victoria (Tikkanen, 2023). 
    Christmas trees have a very explicitly Christian backstory which isn't in any way pagan. They were outdoor church decorations celebrating a story from Genesis which eventually was taken indoors in people's homes. Its pretty straightforward. 

December 25th - There are several things that float around claiming that Christians intentionally placed Christmas on the winter solstice to co-opt pagan celebrations. The truth is, as usual, more nuanced than that.
   Basically the dating of Christmas, aka Christ's birth, was based on two key factors: the belief that Jesus died on the same day he was conceived reflecting the idea that his life, like other saints and prophets, was 'perfect', and the idea that he died on the vernal equinox (Henry, 2021). If he died on March 25th, the Roman official equinox date*, then they logic went he must have been born nine months after that date on the solstice, December 25th** (Henry, 2021). This was all established during the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, so fairly long after Jesus' life but also fairly early in Christianity's existence, so while we might side eye the use of equinoxes and solstices to anchor these dates we have to also remember that the Christianity of that period was a product of its time and that solstices and equinoxes weren't understood as 'pagan' holidays but as significant cosmic events. The dating of Jesus birth in December wasn't based on any winter pagan holiday but on this idea that he died and was conceived on March 25th and ergo was born nine months from that date. The fact that it happened to be on the winter solstice just reinforced, for the people doing these calculations, that he was in fact hugely significant and a prophet. To quote Dr Andrew Mark Henry: "Though, rather than outright “stealing” between Christians and pagans, scholars see this as everyone (pagan, Christian, and otherwise) having a vested interest to link their god to a day already considered cosmologically important for half a millennium: the Winter Solstice." (Henry, 2021). 
  In other words, Christians didn't steal the date of Jess birth from pagans but arrived at the idea through their own calculations, however the fact it aligned with the winter solstice was a bonus that reinforced the idea there theory must be correct. 

Mistletoe - it has become absolutely ubiquitous to claim that kissing under the mistletoe is pagan, to the point that even generally reputable sources like the History Channel or Smithsonian include the allegedly Norse myth of Loki trying to kill Baldur with Mistletoe only to have Frigga cry over it, her tears turning to berries and reviving Baldur - which is of course not a Norse myth at all but a Victorian rewriting of the actual myth. In the story's non-Victorian version Baldur is killed when his brother Hodur throws a mistletoe dart at him, and Hel offers to release him if everything in the world cries for him, however one giantess (possibly Loki in disguise) refuses so he stays in Helheim.  A much less romantic mistletoe story to be sure.
  The truth is that kissing under mistletoe as a folk practice began in 18th century England, being noted in print for the first time in 1784 in the lyrics to a song (Moon, 2018). There are no references to the practice prior to this in any text, including those that specifically included superstitions about the plant, nor does it appear in any songs before the 1784 example (Moon, 2018). Exactly how the practice originally began is a mystery but we can be certain of where it started and in what century, and there's no evidence that it was pagan or had any pagan influences. In point of fact it is likely that the later Victorian story of Frigg and the mistletoe was created at that time to explain the existing practice of kissing under it, not the other way around. 

Puritans Banned Christmas Because it Was Pagan - another thing that floats around as 'proof' of Christmas's pagan origins is the fact that puritans in New England banned the celebration in the 18th century. It is true that the puritans, a breakaway protestant sect that emphasized extreme piety, banned Christmas celebrations in 1659 because they said such celebrations distracted people from proper religious discipline and de-emphasized the holiness of every day, however it should also be noted that they banned all holidays, including Easter, for similar reasons (Tourgee, 2021). They didn't believe in celebrating any holiday and saw them as excuses for drunkenness and bad behaviour. In fact they directly called such holiday celebrations superstitions which offended God and related them to the popular Christianity they had left behind in Europe (Tourgee, 2021). It is also likely that the 'pagan' roots of Christmas decried by the sources were actually Catholic, as Catholics were and still are referred to as pagans by some protestant churches and groups who feel that veneration of Mary and saints, in particular, isn't a true Christian practice.
   So basically, puritans did ban Christmas, not because it was pagan but because it was too much fun and might make people forget to seriously focus on God 24/7.  

Let's talk about this:

    Since this particular meme is showing up everywhere this year I also want to note that while people in Western civilization like to assume the Christianity is the dominant force everywhere in everything, that is untrue. It is a major world religion, no doubt, but not the only one. So a meme claiming that Christmas is when 'all faiths' put aside their own beliefs to be pagan is not only grossly inaccurate but also quite frankly offensive to all the other non-Christian faiths out there who don't celebrate Christmas in any way. 

      There are many things we can and should be angry at the various flavours of Christianity for, including current issues from purity culture to abuse to LGBTQ persecution. But stealing traditions that are patently not stolen isn't on that list. Let's focus on fighting against the things we should care about and can do something about, and worry less about trying to create narratives that suggest everything Christians do was stolen from pagans, especially when its clear that these things were not. Maybe its easier to be angry at injustices that supposedly happened hundreds or thousands of years ago but we need to focus on what's happening now.

End Notes
*this wasn't the actual equinox date but the date to was observed by Romans. 
**again not the actual solstice but the official Roman celebration date. This is why we don't use the Julian calendar anymore. 


Henry, M., (2021) Twitter thread Retrieved from Moon, K., (2018) Why We Kiss Under the Mistletoe. Retrieved from 
Bible references sourced from,shapes%20it%20with%20his%20chisel.&text=They%20adorn%20it%20with%20silver,so%20it%20will%20not%20totter. 
Tikkanen, A., (2023) How Did The Tradition of Christmas Trees Start? Retrieved from,day%20of%20Adam%20and%20Eve. 
Waxman, A., (2020) How Christmas Trees Became a Holiday Tradition. Retrieved form 

Folkard, P., (2015)  Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics Embracing the Myths, Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore of the Plant Kingdom
Tougree, H., (2021) How the Puritans Banned Christmas. Retrieved from 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Review: Celtic Goddesses, Witches, and Queens Oracle


I have always had a weakness for tarot and oracle decks because I love to see the different artistic interpretations applied to each card. But, as anyone who is interested in them knows, the market has become really glutted with decks over the last few years, to a degree that its hard to maintain any excitement for them (at least for me). There are a few exceptions to that though and this deck was one of them. When I first heard that Danu Forest and Dan Goodfellow were putting out a Celtic themed deck I was intrigued, in part because I have long been a fan of Goodfellow's art, and love his style. Because of how overstuffed the market is I wanted to do a short review of this deck today to give other people a better feel for what the deck is and why its worth getting. 

The deck came out at the end of October and is available from the usual sources, including amazon

First let me just say that I was very impressed by the box the cards come in. That may seem like a strange place to start, but many companies have reduced the quality of the packaging for their decks, probably to save money, so its nice to get a deck that's in a really solid box. Usually when I get a deck I transfer it to a pouch if I intend to use it because I know the boxes will disintegrate in a bag or purse, but with this one I'm comfortable leaving it in the box.  Honestly I took this as a good sign before I'd even looked at the deck. 

The deck itself is comprised of 40 cards, each featuring a figure from myth from one of the Celtic language speaking cultures. The card stock is nice and heavy, the cards a good size for shuffling, and each image is distinct. The art is beautiful, and in my opinion captures the overall feeling of each being depicted in the cards, which includes a range from figures like Boudica and Melusine, to the Morrigan and Artio. If you aren't familiar with Dan Goodfellow's art you can check it out here. 

The deck comes with a paperback book, the same size as the cards, written by Danu Forest. Much more involved than the usual small booklet this runs 196 pages offering an in depth description of each card as well as a small section suggesting various spreads for divination.  Each entry has a full color depiction of the card,  the being's name, culture of origin, name pronunciation, a exploration of the figure it features in myth or folklore, suggested meaning in divination, and a short prayer.  Its a much more thorough and informational book than I usually find with these kinds of decks and I really appreciated that. The author obviously put a lot of effort into research and tried to give readers a real feel for who these beings were and are. 

Celtic Goddesses, Witches, and Queens Oracle is a wonderful combination of exceptional art and a thorough guidebook, making it an ideal divination option. The imagery is vibrant and evocative, allowing the cards to speak on their own, and the guidebook is a perfect compliment, expanding on the imagery and offering more depth to each figure. This deck could be used for various forms of divination but could also be an ideal devotional tool, helping people connect through story and prayer. The best option I've seen for this subject.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Book review: Bogowie

 Doing things a little different today, a book review of a subject I actually don't know much about. I thought it would be fun to dig into a subject that's new to me so today we're going to be talking about T. D. Kokoszka's book 'Bogowie: A Study of Eastern Europe's Ancient Gods'. This one is out through my publisher Moon Books.

Bogowie is a fascinating dive into Slavic paganism from an academic angle, covering a range of related topics from deities to folk magic. It may seem a little intimidating at first - at 430 pages its certainly not a light read and each chapter is thoroughly backed up with relevant sources, cited meticulously - but the writing style is straightforward and it includes retellings of various folktales which nicely break up the informational sections. I found the balance in the book was good and the material, while dense, was understandable and well written. 

Bogowie starts, quite sensibly I think, but discussing exactly who the Slavic people were and are  to establish the scope of the book. The author is also honest throughout that this area of study is particularly difficult in part because of the complex history of Slavic cultures and in part because of the scarcity of older sources. The author was honest that the subject gets little attention and is often dismissed outright because of the lack of written material focused around it. I appreciated having all of this covered because I felt that it gave me a good understanding of both the wider subject as well as the intentions of the author in writing the book, which appears to be a much needed addition to the existing material on the topic. 

With an Introduction and 14 chapters the book is well organized and through, but not as dry as one might expect. To start it explores various historic cultural connections between Slavic people and others, as well as laying out the development of the Slavs across history and various influences on that development. From that point the text goes on to look at specific mythic figures including Baba Yaga, Mokosh, Perun, Volos, the Zoryas, Svarozhichi, and Chernobog, while analysing deeper mythic concepts and exploring related cultural material. This includes Christian syncretism within the folk belief which I found especially interesting. The author also digs into beliefs around death and the soul, as well as exploring magical practices in the cultures and holy days. Its thorough but not, in my opinion, overwhelming, and manages to convey a lot of information in ways that hold a reader's interest. 

 The book nicely blends history, folk belief, and practice in a way that I think people will find interesting and digestible. The author does a good job of explaining the core principles and concepts he covers in ways that even people new to folklore studies will understand, while keeping the text interesting and engaging. I would recommend this for anyone who is particularly interested in Slavic paganism but also for anyone who enjoys folktales and is curious to learn something new. This one really covers all the bases.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Fairy Folklore in Coraline

In 2021 I had started a series of posts examining fairy folklore found in popular movies and shows. I've been on a bit of a hiatus from that but wanted to return to it with a look at Neil Gaiman's Coraline (the movie, not the book). Obviously I am not trying to argue here that the author's intention was to frame the story this way, although it may well have been, but what I want to do here is to highlight aspects of the movie which play into or seem to echo older fairylore. 

In truth this topic deserves a full paper and a full indepth analysis, but for our purposes here I am only going to be touching on the wider ideas in more general ways to give readers an idea of the subject. 

Spoilers ahead. 

Coraline is a stop motion film which came out in 2009, based on the book by Neil Gaiman. 
A brief synopsis: The movie opens with a short segment focused on the making of a doll, which then floats, to all appearances, into the sky at which point we segue to a girl who looks exactly like the doll. This is the eponymous main character Coraline, who we learn has just moved and is terribly bored as her parents work from home on a catalog they are writing. Coraline uses a dowsing stick to try to find an old well. She wanders to a circle of mushrooms, covering the old well, and meets her landlady's grandson, Wybie, who she says talks too much and doesn't listen. Wybie gives her the doll version of herself, saying that he had found it in his grandmother's trunk and its very old. Returning home she explores her new house, an old Victorian which has been turned into three apartments. In her home she finds a small hidden door which has been sealed off and locked, but open opening it with a very distinctive key sees only a bricked up wall. Later that night Coraline wakes from her sleep to see a jumping mouse (belonging to one of her neighbors) which leads her down to the secret door, now opening to a strange glowing tunnel. Crawling through this Coraline emerges into another world that mirrors her own, complete with alternate versions of the people she knows including her parents; they identical to the real world versions except they have buttons for eyes. The feral cat that Wybie had befriended is there as well, without button eyes but with the ability to speak. Waking up in the real world the next day she wonders if she was dreaming, so the following night she lures the mouse back and follows it a second time. The alternate world is a place that offers endless entertainment and her 'other mother' is attentive and generous in contrast to Coraline's own, busy mother. On the third day Coraline enters the secret passage while she's awake because she wants to return to the seemingly perfect world, only to find that it isn't as perfect as she'd thought. The Other Mother tells her she can stay forever if she accepts her own set of button eyes and Coraline finds herself in a battle for her own freedom and the freedom of three ghost children who had previously accepted the Other Mother's deal. Escaping home she finds that her parents have mysteriously disappeared and realizes the Other Mother has taken them prisoner to force her return. She does so and finds herself playing a game to win her freedom, the ghost children, and her parents.

Folklore in Coraline:

- doll as changeling. The main folkloric theme that might be found in Coraline is the changeling motif, or variations of it. The doll is reminiscent of the inanimate objects found in some changeling stories which are swapped for a human when they are stolen into Fairyland. The wider plot of Coraline also works with this, showing the attempts by the Other Mother to seduce her into the Other world, and ultimately to force her into it. One of the three ghost children was the sister of Coraline's landlady who disappeared many years ago; the landlady refers to her as 'stolen' which again echoes changeling folklore. The entire concept of something Other Worldly trying to lure a child away to steal them from the human world is, of course, the basic premise of changeling folklore.

-Other Mother as fairy. Another strong theme throughout the movie is that of the Other Mother as a fairy. While in the story she is more explicitly tied to spiders one can read her depiction as reflective of wider fairylore. She is initially identical to Coraline's mother, but with button eyes, but when Coraline begins to defy her she loses that form, transforming into something monstrous and only loosely resembling a human. Both the cat and the ghost children warn Coraline the the Other Mother is powerful but inhuman, having created everything that Coraline sees in the Other World to trap her (and the other children) but who is incapable of love. Her attempts at mothering are monstrous, marked at first by excess and then by cruelty as she alternately seeks to endear Coraline to her then to force her affection. The ghost children also tell Coraline that once they had given in to her the Other Mother consumed their lives, reminiscent of stories of the more predatory fairies. It is also clear as the movie progresses that the Other Mother is un control of her world and her punishments for those in that world who disobey her are harsh. 

- 'other' world. The existence of the other world is also strongly reminiscent of fairy folklore, which suggests the existence of both the human world that we are familiar with and another world which is adjacent to but separate from the human world, which is more magical and follows different rules. The other world of Coraline is a place of wonders and impossible things, but it is a world that follows rules. As with the folkloric Otherworld it can only be reached in very specific ways (unless you are a cat) and is best reached with a guide. The other world as its created by the Other Mother caters to Coraline's desires, including a Wybie who can't speak and must listen. 

- fairy ring. The movie begins and ends with Coraline stepping into a fairy ring; initially right before she receives the doll/changeling and then ultimately as she banishes the remnants of the Other Mother and the only key to the secret door. In folklore fairy rings - rings of mushrooms - are seen as a sign of fairy presence and is believed that stepping into one can be dangerous and in some folklore that it can open a person to being stolen by the fairies. 

- mice as guides. The mice are fascinating characters in the story, owned by Coraline's neighbor who has a 'mouse circus' but acting seemingly at the behest of the Other Mother and possibly created by her or influenced by her. They act as Coraline's initial guides into the other world, but later in the story an 'other' mouse nearly betrays her, showing that they are not truly on her side. 

-cat as guide. The cat also acts as a guide, but one who is more clearly aligned with Coraline than the mice. His reasoning for helping her is unclear although he tells her very early on that the Other Mother hates cats and that the two have an antagonistic relationship. The cat offers Coraline advice and directly assists her in her 'game' against the Other Mother; he helps her in both her world and the other world.

- offer of food. The first thing that happens when Coraline meets her Other Mother is that she is offered food. In folklore eating this food would trap a person in the land of Fairy which doesn't happen in Coraline, but it still seemed noteworthy that this was her first significant interaction with the Other Mother and to me hints at the dangers of the place she is in and the subsequent attempts by the Other Mother to steal her or trap her in the other world.

- green. The colour green, strongly associated with fairies in folklore, appears in a few significant places in the movie. Coraline's downstairs neighbors advise her not to wear green, they later give her a green holed stone/planchette, and when Coraline is trying to beat the Other Mother by finding the missing souls the full moon of the other world slowly turns green (and button like). 

- eyes. There is a lot of complicated folklore around eyes even through a fairylore lens. The button eyes in Coraline seem to represent belonging to the Other Mother but may also relate to losing humanity to stay in fairy. It is interesting to note that in the ballad of Tam Lin the fairy queen tells Tam that had she known he would betray her she would have replaced his eyes with knots from trees, implying that he would have stayed loyal had she taken his eyes. In the movie this may also play into the eyes as window of the soul and the idea that taking the eyes and replacing them symbolized taking the soul. Any of these theories would play into various fairylore about stolen humans being turned into fairies or otherwise trapped in the world of Fairy. 

- passage of time. Although not a major aspect of the movie time seems to flow differently for Coraline when she is with the Other Mother. Her visits often involve more time passing in the other world than appears to pass in the real world, except when she goes through on her own and escapes, after which it seems like she has been gone for a longer period of time in the real world than had passed in the other (based on the rotting groceries on the table). When her parents are stolen and won back they are unaware of how much time has passed while they were gone. 

- holey stone. Although it may just as arguably be a planchette (a tool used with ouija boards to help communicate with the dead) the triangular green object given to Coraline by her neighbors has always reminded me of a holed stone. In folklore a holed stone is protective and also can be used to dispel fairy illusion if one pears through the stone. Coraline uses it for both purposes and her neighbors, arguing over its purpose, suggest it is good for finding lost things and also for keeping away bad things. 

- dreams as gateways. A final and subtle nod to some fairy folklore is the way that Coraline passes into the other world in her dreams the first two times she visits. While we have abundant stories of people traveling to Fairyland in physical form (as Coraline does later on) we also have stories of people going via trance or dreams. 

This has been a short list of the most prominent fairy folklore within Coraline. I hope that readers have found this interesting and that this may offer a different perspective next time you watch the movie. While not positioned as such I think there's an interesting argument to be made for Coraline as a modern changeling story. Perhaps I'll write a full paper on it one day.