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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tri Cuirn o Cormac ua Cuinn - The Three Goblets of Cormac grandson of Conn

Today I'd like to offer a shorter translation piece for you:

Cuirn sin tucad do Cormac u Cuinn dar muir
Feacht n-ann do luid Aedh Oirdnidhi mac Neill Frosaidh mic Fearghuile mic Maile Duin do ordugud fer cuigid Connacht. Do luid dar Eas Ruaidh ocus do baithed a fuis meisi ocus a cuirnn ann. Tainic Aedh co riacht Corca Tri, co n-deisidh a tigh righ Corca Tri. Coeca righ do riguibh Eirenn maille re h-Aedh.
Longuis Aedh adhaigh domhnaidh ocus an rigraidh: ocus cia ro loing Aed, ni sib digh, uair ní bai corn lais, or do baitheadh a cuirnn ocus a cuaich ac Ath Enaigh uas Eas Ruaidh, oc tiachtain don t-sluadh thairis. As amal immoro robai Aed cona sibh digh a leastur aile o ra dealuigh re cich a mathar acht a curn. Ba bron tra do righ Corca Tri ocus dia seithid, each ic ol ocus righ Erenn gin ol. Togbuis Angal a lamha fri Dia, ocus feicis gin codladh gin tomailt co madain, gu n-eabert a bean fris ara barach, ‘Eirg,’ ar si, ‘co Dirlus Guaire mic Colmain, uair ba tealach feile ocus naire o aimsir Dathi anall, dus an fuigbithea corn tria firta na feile ann.’ Cechaing Angal righ Corca Tri tar dorus na ratha amach, ocus tuisleas a cois deas, co ra tuisil cloch leis isin lis .i. an cloch do bai ar belaib an t-suirn a rabudar na tri cuirn as deach robai a n-Eirinn .i. an Cam-corn ocus an Litan ocus an Easgung. Cuirn sin tucad do Cormac u Cuinn dar muir, ocus ro folaig Niamh mac Lugna Firtri an dara comalta do Cormac u Cuinn, iar n-dith Cormuic, co toracht Coirpri Lifeachuir dar muir ocus cia ro fritha na cuirn aile la Cairpri, ni fritha na cuirn-siu co h-aimsir na næmh ocus Aeda Oirdnidi mic Neill, or tucad cealtar tairsib o Dia, co ru-s-foillsid do righ Corca Tri tria firta na feile.
Altaigis a buidi do dia an t-i Angal ocus beiris leis na curna, cona tri lan do mid inntibh. Do-bert a
laim Aeda Oirdnidi righ Eirenn, ocus atlaigi do dia ocus do-bert an Litan a laim righ Ulad, ocus do-bert an Easguing a laimh righ Connacht, ocus fagbuis aigi budhein an Cam-cornn. Co toracht iartain do Mailseachloinn mac Domhnuill, co tuc-sidhe do Dia ocus do Ciaran a coitcinne co brath.
- RIA MS 23 O 48: Liber Flavus Fergusiorum, 1435-40

The Three Goblets* of Cormac Ua Cuinn
There was one time Aed Oridnide, son of Nial Frosach, son of Feargal, son of Maelduin, came to bring order to the men of the province of Connacht. He went over Eas Ruaid, and his table-attendants and his goblets drown there. Aed went until he reached Corca Tri, and rested at the house of the king of Corca Tri. Fifty kings of the kings of Ireland were along with Aed.
Aed ate on Sunday night and the kings [as well]: but though he ate he drank no drink, because he had no goblet, because his goblets and his cups were submerged at Ath Enaig, above Eas Ruaid, as the army was taking it. It was thus around Aed with them drinking from other vessels of great distinction as if from the breast of their mother but his goblet alone [was missing]. It was a sadness for the king of Corca Tri and his wife that the horse nearby was drinking and the king of Ireland without drinking. Angal raised his hands to God, and went on without sleep [and] without food until morning.
The next day his wife said to him: "Go," said she, "to Dirlus, to Guaire son of Colmain, for that has been the house of welcome and generosity from the time of Dathi on, to see if you would get a goblet there through his wonderful generosity."
Angal, king of Corca Tri, proceeded through the door of the fort outwards, and his right foot slipped, and a stone fell from the fort that is the stone that covered the mouth of the division(?) where were the three goblets that were best in Ireland that is the Curved-Horn, and the Litany, and the Eel. These were the goblets that were brought by Cormac grandson of Conn over the sea; and they were hidden by Niamh son of Lugna Firtri, the second foster-brother of Cormac grandson of Conn, after the slaughter of Cormac; and Cairpri Lifeachuir came over the sea, and though the other goblets were found by Cairpri, these goblets were not found till the time of the saints and of Aed Oridnide son of Nial. Because a cloak went to cover them of God, until they were revealed to the king of Corca Tri, through his wonderful generosity.
Angal gave thanks to God, and went with the goblets, with the three full of mead. He put them in the hands of Aed Oirdnide, king of Ireland, who gave thanks to God, and put the Litany in the hands of the king of Ulster, the Eel in the hands of the king of Connacht, and reserved to himself the Curved-Horn.
Successively afterwards [it went] to Maelsechlainn son of Domhnaill; it went as a peace-offering to God and to Ciaran, generally, until Judgement.
- RIA MS 23 O 48: Liber Flavus Fergusiorum, 1435-40

*I'm translating corn here as goblet but it can also be read as drinking horn. Certainly drinking horn has a more poetic feel with the names Curved-Horn and Eel, and the word tends to convey meanings attached to those shapes. I just went with goblet because it felt more regal in context. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Online Fairy Resources

I've posted various recommended reading lists before but I thought it would be both helpful and fun to post a selection of assorted links to online resources for the subject of fairylore here that don't fall into the realm of 'recommended reading'. There are after all other media one can look to for education on the subject and there's some great music and fiction as well. Many of these are also more modern looks at fairylore and show, I think, the way that the Good Folk continue to interact with people and the way that stories and poetry act as vessels for the older folklore to be carried forward.

Kin Fables by Five Knights Productions is an excellent series of short independent films with fairy themes
Dr. Jenny Butler gives a great interview on youtube about Irish Fairy Lore
There's also this short video of a modern fairy encounter that I recommend people watch.
Michael Fortune has a wonderful series of videos on Irish folklore, some of which focus on fairy beliefs. These are must watch in my opinion.
Ronan Kelly's Ireland (linked above) has an episode 'Pat's East Galway Fairies' that also worth a watch.
You can find several videos of Eddie Lenihan on youtube, of varying quality, and I suggest watching them all. Lenihan is a well known story teller in Ireland and he has fought in the past to keep a fairy tree from being destroyed for the sake of a road.
Lora O'Brien offers a fabulous class on the Irish Sidhe on her website.

Fiction and Poetry
Charmingly Antiquated on Tumblr has a great comic about a university taken over by the Fey.
Five Knights Productions also has a graphic novel series titled Kin available online
Rosamund Hodge has an excellent short story online called 'A Guide for Young Ladies Entering the Service of the Fairies'
Lora O'Brien's 'The Fairy Lover' is a fascinating look at the Leanan Sidhe, and 'The Banshee in Italy' is worth a read for certain.
Author Jennifer Lawrence has several excellent pieces online including 'Tam Lin's Garden' and 'Rebuttal: The Faerie Queen's Reply' that represent good, modern takes on the story of Tam Lin

Professor Ashliman of the University of Pittsburgh has a very useful site called 'Folktexts' that I recommend people checking out as a solid online non-fiction resource
Another great non-fiction source is the folklore site Duchas. There is a great deal of fairylore to be found there, although in fairness not all has been transcribed into English.

Audio Resources and Music
Bluirni Bealoidis has a great podcast focused on fairies titled 'Fairy Forts in Folk Tradition'
The BBC program 'In Our Time' has an episode titled 'Fairies' that presents a variety of views on the subject
There's a large array of songs that could be recommended, of course, but below I'll offer a selection of some that keep with the more traditional views.
Heather Dale, "The Changeling Child' and 'The Maiden and the Selkie'
Mor Gwyddelig's version of Buain a Rainich is very good and bilingual.
There's also several good versions of Tha Mi Sgith or A Fairy's Love Song.
Coyote Run has a very good take on fairy lore with their song 'Finnean's Dance'
Some of the old ballads can be listened to as well such as 'Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight' and 'Tam Lin'.
I'll end with one of my favorites songs with a fairy theme:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Magic in Motion - Circles and Compasses in Folklore

The idea that movement in magic has significance is of course an old one and can be found in both folk magic and folklore. In witchcraft we see this reflected in the idea of casting a circle and in some forms of modern traditional witchcraft in casting the compass*, and we also find the idea in references to early modern witchcraft which involve the idea of moving directionally around a space either deiseal [clockwise] or tuathail [counterclockwise]. This same idea is reflected in Irish and Scottish folk practices where sacred spaces such as grave yards or holy wells were first circled three times deiseal before being entered.

Movement in circles is seen for a variety of purposes, including taking oaths, enchantment, breaking spells, and protective magics (Wimberly, 1928). We see the idea in various ballads and stories of a person circling or moving around a place or person in order to cast magic on them. This idea also exists in folk magic, such as we see in the Carmina Gadelica in Caluinn a Bhuilg 63 where the visiting carolers circle the house three times deiseal to drive out negative spirits and Oidhche Challaig 66 where inhospitably treated singers circle the fire tuathail before reciting a curse on the house (Carmichael, 1900).

The idea of a circle being used for protection is also an old one. There are examples from The Ballad of Tam Lin where the variously-named protagonist uses holy water to create a protective circle or compass around herself, apparently to avoid detection by the Fairy Rade:
"There's holy water in her hand,
She casts a compass round,
And presently a fairy band
Comes riding o'er the mound
." (Tam Lin 39D)
Generally the protagonist takes this action after being explicitly told to by her fairy lover:
"Ye'll do you down to Mile Course,
Between twall hours and ane,
And full your hands o holy water,
And cast your compass roun
'" (Tam-a-Line 39G)
Wimberly suggests that the references to holy water in these versions are reflections of the later use of milk or water to rescue Tam Lin by bathing or submerging him, and also that it may represent a later Christianization of the pagan practice of using protective circles/compasses. In either view the act seems to secure a level of protection for both the protagonist and later her lover as well by creating a barrier against the Good Folk (Wimberly, 1928). The ballad also suggests that while within this circle the protagonist was invisible to the Fairy Rade passing by, and was only finally seen when she moved to pull her lover down from his horse. 

The direction of the movement was important, with circling done in a deiseal way, with the sun [clockwise], being seen as blessing or protective:
"So let me walk the deasil round you, that you may go safe out into the far foreign land, and come safe home." (Scott, 1827)
"...the kindred of the deceased carried the body ashore, and, placing it on a bank long consecrated to the purpose, made the Deasil around the departed." (Scott, 1828)
In some cases this is referred to as 'right and round' or 'right and around' (Wimberly, 1928). McNeil wrote that all festivals started with the deiseal circumambulation three times of the site or the specific item like bonfire or holy well (McNeill, 1956). Bullán stones are turned deiseal to work cures or for healing prayers and it was once the common practice for holy wells to be circled deiseal before being entered. The concept behind this magic hinges on the idea that moving deiseal, or towards the right hand side or south, is a naturally positive and beneficial direction which follows the motion of the sun.

In sharp contrast compassing tuthail, or widdershins* in the Scots language, was seen as having a very different purpose. It was sometimes referred to as 'wrongwise' or 'contrariwise' and represented going against the natural order, towards the left hand side or north, or against the motion of the sun. It is a direction strongly associated with witchcraft and also with invoking Fairy:
In the Ballad of Childe Rowland the protagonist's sister is taken into Fairy after going around a church widdershins, with the implication that this action opened her up to fairy abduction; in the same way to gain entrance to rescue her the protagonist must walk three times round widdershins himself. 
"Margarat Davidsone quhan scho sa the new moyne scho ran thrys widdersones about" [Margarat Davidson when she saw the new moon she ran thrice widdershins about] (Crammond, 1903).
"The wemen maid fyrst thair homage [to the Devil], and nixt the men. The men wer turnit nyne tymes widderschinnes about and the wemen sax tymes" [The women made first their homage {to the devil} and next the men. The men were turned nine times widdershins about and the women six times](Pitcairn, 1833)
"Upon the pronouncing of some words, and turning himself about wider-shins, that is turning himself round from the right hand to the left, contrary to the natural course of the sun" (Miller, 1877).
When bullán stones are used for cursing they are turned tuathail and there are some accounts in folklore of stones being held in the hand and turned tuathail to enact hexes as well.

However while widdershins does have a particularly strong association with hexing and negative magic today, and is even viewed by some Christians as both unlucky and even blasphemous in relation to sacred sites, it was used for positive ends including healing and its historic association with witchcraft is likely, in my opinion, why in modern terms we view it entirely as negative. Some examples of positive uses:
"The said Aliesone past thryse widdershynnis about the said Issobel hir bed muttering out certane charmes in unknawen wordis … and thairby cureing of the said Issobell of hir diseas " [The said Alison passed thrice widdershins about the said Isobel's bed muttering out certain charms and unknown words...and thereby curing the said Isobel of her disease] (Gillion & Smith, 1953)
"In cureing of his wyfe, be causeing ane grit fyre to be put on, and ane hoill to be maid in the north side of the hous, and ane quik hen to be put furth thairat, at thre seuerall tymes, and tane in at the hous-dur widderschynnes " [In curing his wife, by causing one great fire to be put on, and one hole to be made in the north side of the house, and one quick hen to be put through it, at three separate times, and taken in at the house door widdershins] (Pitcairn, 1833).
In these examples of healing we see widdershins motions being used to remove illnesses and work cures on ill people, resulting in a positive outcome for the patient. As previously mentioned widdershins motions were also associated with entering Fairy as well.

The exact use of the circle and the choice of direction depended on the situation and purpose as discussed above, but the wider concept is a recurring thread in folklore and folk magic. This idea includes everything from walking fully around a location, object, or person, to turning something like a stone in the hand with the direction of the motion having intrinsic significance to the outcome. We still see these concepts today in neopagan witchcraft, although how close or far from the folk practices the modern practices have grown is debatable.

Caiseal Chaoilte

*the concepts of casting a circle or casting a compass are effectively synonymous, and in fact the term 'compas' or 'compasse' in Scots means "a round or ring; a circle or circuit" (DSL, 2018). In practice they also seem to have many similarities, particularly the older versions.
*there are roughly two dozen variant spellings for widdershins in Scots. I'm using what I think is the neopagan standard here as the word has passed into some sort of common use through older neopagan texts. Be aware however that in older non-pagan material the word may be found in various spellings including, for example, withershins, wyddyrshins, wouderschinnis.

Pitcairn, R., (1833) Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland
Miller, J., (1877) Renfrewshire Witches
Carmichael, A., (1900) Carmina Gadelica volume I
Gillion, A., and Smith, J., (1953) Justiciary Cases
Geoghan, S., (2005) Gobnait: Woman of the Bees
Harold Johnson and the Cursing Stones (2011)
DSL (2018) Compas.
Child, F., (1882) The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
Scott, W., (1827) Chronicles of Canongate
Scott, W., (1828) The Fair Maid of Perth
Crommond, W., (1903) The Records of Elgin, 1234–1800
Wimberly, C., (1928) Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads
McNeill, F., (1956) The Silver Bough

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Following in the Tracks of Hooves - a Pilgrimage in Ireland

Sheep tracks at Healy Pass

I'm just back from a recent trip to Ireland, helping co-facilitate a tour for Land, Sea, Sky Travel to the Beara peninsula. Most of the tour, of course, was focused on that job of facilitating for the people on the tour, but I had my own moments of experience as well and as I sit here back at home processing all of that I thought I'd share a little bit of what the experience was like for me. Later I'll write a more detailed blog about the tour and the places we went. Here I just want to explore a bit about my personal experiences.

The title of this blog is based on a joke I started making early on, that we were 'following in the track of little hooves' as we went along our journey. It was only partially a joke though, as we did indeed end up following sheep tracks more than once - on Oileán Baoi they guided several of us to a beautiful spot to meditate and crossing Healy Pass on foot from one viewing point to another they led us along the side of the road. We saw sheep often, not particularly surprising, but it was delightful to see the lambs everywhere and to feel like Bealtaine was more than just pretty words and flowering trees. Following the sharply pointed little hoof prints was a way of listening to what the land itself was saying to us.

Animals more generally became something of a theme for me on this trip, although I'm not sure I can explain exactly how meaningful that was. There were domestic animals, including the aforementioned sheep as well as cows and horses; there were black dogs at portentous moments and black and white cats lurking along paths. At the Burren Bird of Prey Centre we met a variety of magnificent birds and I was able to assist by holding a barn owl, which is like a dream come true for me. There were also many wild animals that crossed my path in what seemed like important ways. When my plane landed I was greeted by the sight of rabbits in the field at the airport; I saw seven of them which seemed a good omen. When we went to the Cliffs of Moher I made friends with a Chough, who after I started talking to him as he dove around the edge of the cliff came over and landed near me for a conversation. We went on a whale watch and saw a basking shark, minke whales, and seals and when we went over to Oilean Baoi [Dursey Island] I saw dolphins in the channel. I saw swans at Loch Guir, and Gougán Barra, and Poulgorm; the two at Poulgorm hung out with me for hours (in fairness they were used to tourists feeding them and seemed very docile for swans). I also saw a wild owl at Poulgorm one evening, which felt very special. The last animal I saw at Dublin airport was another rabbit.

My Chough friend
During this trip we went to many significant locations - places that were well known or maybe less well known but archaeologically significant. They were all amazing of course and important...but the places that spoke most to me, the places I felt the most strongly connected to weren't famous ones, or at least weren't in themselves famous. I enjoyed the camaraderie at the big locations and the feeling of helping others (or trying to) in their quest to connect to these places, but for me it was the odd spots I stumbled across, sometimes fully unexpected and unintended that really grabbed me.

There was a Whitethorn outside the circle of stones at Ciorcal Liag na Gráinsí [Grange stone circle] that I immediately connected to in a deep way, and later in the trip when we came back to the site and were able to access an adjacent smaller circle there was also a solitary Thorn there that spoke loudly to me. Of course I have an affinity for Whitethorns so maybe that's no surprise. At Oileán Baoi [Dursey Island] there was an out of the way spot across from Crow Head that had some very powerful energy to it. And when we climbed up to see the stone circle(s) at Caiseal Chaoilte - or Caiseal Coillte, the signs couldn't agree on the Irish - it wasn't the stone circles that drew me but a small outcropping of rock jutting up into the air a short way off. In the same way at Gougán Barra while the Slanan healing stream was beautiful it was a spot near the shore of the lake that spoke strongly to me. I spent a lot of time at Poulgorm near our hotel, listening to the water and the wind and feeling the flow of it all around me.

The place that I connected the strongest to, by far, though was the ruins of a building at the edge of a cemetery near saint Gobnait's shrine in Baile Bhúirne. I stumbled across it entirely by accident. Our group had stopped at the tobar Ghobnait [Gobnait's well) on the way up to the shrine and when most of the group went back to the road to continue to the shrine I and a few others didn't. Instead we decided to follow a small trail through the woods. It led to the ruins of a large house, which the group stopped to explore. I headed off into the woods, following the pull of something calling me*. After some wandering through the trackless woods I found myself inside high stone walls with the ruins of a building, surrounded by blooming gorse, blackberry, young trees, and thick-growing underbrush. The building was like a siren song, calling me in**. I stood for a while as close as I could easily get, just speaking to the spirits there and listening to what they had to say to me. I could not get inside the building, which was surrounded at this point by a small stream and heavy underbrush and at then several of my adventurous companions had arrived on the scene making me reluctant to involve others in further risky shenanigans.

Ruins near saint Gobnait's shrine

We found our way into the cemetery and then over to the area where saint Gobnait's statue is, but I kept being drawn back to the site of the ruined building. I felt like I belonged in it. I wandered over to the side of the building against the road, peering into the windows, touching the stone. At the far corner was a plaque which read '1846-48 Famine Porridge House'. Reading that gave me a physical jolt. There was a haunting spirit to the place but also a sense of belonging and home that made me want to crawl through the window and move in.

I also found myself living my service to the aos sí on this trip in many ways. I listened to the spirits of the places I went, to the ones who spoke to me and the ones who didn't. I found myself compelled to work to help and heal Thorns being damaged by improper rag tree practices. I've been an advocate of proper rag tree traditions before now of course but on this trip I found the sight of damage to the trees bringing me to tears and whereas before I cared about it now I find it's a compulsion.

Removing a nylon strap from a Hawthorn; you can see the way the strap is restricting growth of the limb and the way the bark has grown into the imprint of the nylon pattern because of the tightness of the material. This will kill the entire branch over time. 

My first trip to Ireland was a profoundly initiatory experience that changed my life. This trip was about service on many levels - about doing what little I could to work for the land and the spirits of the places I was going to. It was also about being open to the experiences as they came and accepting the journey as it happened instead of projecting my expectations onto it. There was no profound moment here, no life changing shift, but it little moments and small things that made me feel a sense of connection to some places.

*not always a wise thing to do
**seriously don't be me here. The smart thing to do in this situation is not go wandering into dangerous ruined buildings.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Upcoming Releases 2018

The second half of 2018 is going to be busy for me with published pieces being released, and since I often have people asking me what I have coming out and when I thought it might be helpful to recap here.

August 31, 2018 - Seven Ages of the Goddess. An anthology by Moon Books that features a series of articles from various authors each focusing on a different aspect of the goddesses in history. I contributed a piece to this focusing on goddesses hidden in folklore. The idea behind it is the way that some goddesses became folkloric characters as paganism shifted into Christianity in europe. There are, of course, many other interesting articles in here as well.

September 18th, 2018 - The Real Witches of New England: History, Lore and Modern Practice by Ellen Evert Hopman. I was interviewed for this book and am in a section of it discussing my particular kind of witchcraft and some of my thoughts on practicing and New England witchcraft.

September 28th, 2018 - Travelling the Fairy Path. The third book in my Fairy witchcraft series this book is also (as far as I plan anyway) going to be the final one. I do like things in threes. It takes a more personal look at my practice and is meant to be a more advanced book, focused on the actual practice of this type of witchcraft.

October 26th, 2018 - Pagan Portals the Dagda. My next Pagan Portals book ,focused on the Dagda, will be out this October. I'm very excited for this one as there just isn't anything on the market focused on this deity and he is such a fascinating and multilayered god.

There are a few other books coming out this year that I don't have release dates for yet. I contributed three pieces to a wonderful Dagda anthology that is on track to publish this year, but hasn't gotten a firm date for publication yet. My 7th novel is also nearly complete and should be out either late May or early June, but again I don't have a precise date yet.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Translation - Compert Mongan

Below is a new translation I've done of a section of the Conception of Mongan. It's a very interesting story and I quite like this version which focuses more on Fiachna's wife perspective than the other common story. 


... Asbertsa dagní didiu ar atá do chéle i ngúais már. Tucad fer húathmar ara chend nad forsabatár & atbéla leis. Dia ndernam mád tú caratrad berae mac de. Bid amre in mac bid Fíacnai dano. Regasa dun chath firfidir i mbárach im theirt aranícubsa & fessa in mílid ar bélaib fer nAlban. & asbert frit chéliusiu ar n-imtechta & as tussu rom foídi día chobair. Dogníth samlaid. In tan reras in cath díarailiu co n-accatar ní in tslúaig in fer sainigthe ar beolo catho Áedain & Fiachna. Dolluid dochum Fiachna in tainredach & asbert fris accaldaim a mná a llá ríam & donindgell dia chobair isind uair sin. Luid iarom resin cath dochum alaili & fich in mílid & memuid in cath ria nÁedán & Fiachna & dointaí Fíachna día chrích & bá torrach in ben .i. ben & birt mac .i. Mongan mac Fíachna & atlugestar a céli a ndogéni friss & addámirsi a imthechta uli. Conid mac do Manannán mac Lir intí Mongán césu Mongan mac Fiachnai dogarar dé. ar foracaib rand lía máthair a llude uadi matin a n-asbert Tíag dum daim dufail in matin bánglain iss é Monindan mac Lir ainm ind fir dutárlid.

- Lebor na hUidre

The Conception of Mongan

(Fiachna is off fighting in Scotland when a noble looking stranger appears to his wife at home and asks her for a meeting between them. She refused saying she would not disgrace her husband; the stranger asks if she would tryst with him to save her husband's life and she replied that she would do anything in her power to save him if she could)

[text picks up after gap]
.... He said that she should do it then because "your husband is in great danger. A terrible man goes against him and he will die by him. If you have a [sexual] alliance with me a son will come from it. Famous will be the son of Fíachna. I will go to the battle in the third hour tomorrow and it will be told by all the mouths of the men of Scotland. And I will tell your husband of these wanderings and that you sent help to him." It was done. 
When they went into the battle the gathered hosts saw the man and the warriors of Áedain and Fiachna whispered of him. He went to Fiachna in particular and spoke of the discussion with his wife before and that he had promised to give his help in that hour. then he went and fought against the others and vanquished the soldiers and the battle was won by Áedán & Fiachna.
 And Fiachna went back to his country and the woman was pregnant, that is the woman gave birth to a son, that is Mongan mac Fíachna and he thanks his wife for what she had done and she told all her adventures to him. He was a son of Manannán mac Lir this Mongán though Mongan mac Fiachna was the name on him. When the man went from [Mongan's] mother he left this poem which he said to her in the morning: I go to my house, the clear-bright morning is at hand, it is he Manannán mac Lir, the name of the man who came to you.

- Lebor na hUidre

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Odin and the Wild Hunt - Excerpt from 'Pagan Portals Odin'

The following is an excerpt from my recently released book 'Pagan Portals Odin'
Cover art by Ashley Bryner

"The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt is a group of spectral horsemen who ride the air at night, accompanied by hounds and horses, and led by a fearsome Huntsman (or in some cases Huntswoman). The Hunt is found in several areas of Western Europe as well as America and who exactly they are as well as who leads them can vary depending on where they are, so that in Wales they are known to be fairies led by the God Gwynn ap Nudd, while in Norse lands they are the souls of dead warriors, or the dead more generally, led by either Odin or Odin and a consort (Jones, 2003). In the Germanic areas the Hunt is often led by Odin under the name of Wodan, or sometimes Frau Hulda, or both together, and parts of England by Herne. There has been some suggestion that Herne is either Odin in disguise or else if Herne is a purely literary character that his later development into a deity was heavily influenced by Odin (Ford, 2001). The hunt in Germany is also sometimes led by Frau Perchta, or Frau Gauden [Mrs. Odin], who led groups of dead children or witches through the sky (Berk, & Spytma, 2002). In the areas where it is led by Odin it may be called Odensjakt [Odin’s Hunt], Oensjaegeren [Odin’s Hunters] or Odin’s Army. Odin’s connection to leading the Hunt goes back in writing at least several hundred years and speculatively in oral tradition to the 13th century (Lecouteux, 1999).

    The Wild Hunt is known to ride out at certain times of year, especially during Lent, which is usually March and April, as well as around Midsummer and Midwinter (Grimm, 1883). Meeting the Hunt was usually seen as a bad thing and people would flee indoors or avoid going out when the Wild Hunt was known to be abroad, because of the danger it represented, but it could also bring blessings to people who were clever enough to earn them. For example, in stories like “Wod, the Wild Huntsman” the protagonist meeting the Hunt is rewarded with gifts of meat and gold for his cleverness. Conversely offending the Wild Hunt might mean the person earning a more gruesome reward, such as the corpse of his own child or a severed human limb, while other times the Hunt would turn on the individual and tear them to pieces (Berk, & Spytma, 2002; Grimm, 1883).

The beings who make up the Wild Hunt itself in Norse and Germanic lands are most often the dead, often the battle dead who still appear to bear the wounds that killed them. These ghostly troops also included animals, particularly hounds and sometimes wolves, and horses that may have as few as two or as many as eight legs (Kershaw, 2000). It’s possible that these horsemen are the Einherjar, although they may also be other members of the Dead associated with Odin. 

The Wild Hunt may also have had a living counterpart, a cult of masked youths who engaged in ecstatic practices to connect to Odin and the spirits of the ancestral dead, and held processions at certain times of year (Kershaw, 2000). The Wild Hunt, particularly in Germany, had associations with blessing the harvest (Lecouteux, 1999). We may perhaps suggest that at least in Germany Odin as Wodan and his Wild Hunt was at one point connected to cultic practices that may have had many layers of purpose, possibly both connecting to the dead and blessing the land."

Berk, A., and Spytma, W., (2002) Penance, Power, and Pursuit, On the Trail of the Wild Hunt
Ford, D., (2001). Royal Berkshire History: Beware the Ghostly Hunt
Grimm, J., (1883). Teutonic Mythology, volume 1
Jones, M (2003) The Wild Hunt. Retrieved from
Kershaw, K., (2000). The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Mannerbunde
Lecouteux, C., (1999). Phantom Armies of the Night

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Possession by Fairies or Elves

I'll note as I begin that I will in this article be using the terms elf and fairy synonymously, as general terms for Otherworldly beings. This reflects the generalized use of the terms in the source material I'm referencing in writing this. For those who prefer to see the terms as applying to specific beings, understand that what follows would then apply equally to both.

That fairies or elves are capable of possessing humans may seem like a strange concept to some people reading this, but it is a power that they were always understood to have until recently. Just as they can influence a person's perceptions through the use of illusion - glamour - they can also directly influence a person's mind by bringing madness or even by displacing the spirit and taking over control of the person's actions. Effectively what we in modern terms would call possession, although historically we see a variety of examples of this ranging from voluntary to involuntary, temporary to longer-term. Like the more commonly understood demonic possession however possession by fairies was problematic enough that cures and exorcism rituals for it exist.

Demonic possession and possession by fairies seem to have been understood as different and distinct situations, but they were also seen as somewhat overlapping in nature. Looking at the Saxon evidence we see that cures for elf-possession were found alongside exorcism for demons and in the case of one example found in the marginalia of a manuscript it simply adds the word 'aelfe' into the existing Latin rite of exorcism (Jolly, 1996). The symptoms for elf-possession in the Anglo-Saxon and Saxon evidence however is not what we would in modern contexts associate with demonic possession, necessarily, and is marked by fevers, nightmares, and madness more generally. Madness in these cases was usually described as marked changes in personality, nervousness or anxiety, or significant behavioral changes. This is reflected somewhat in a later Irish anecdotal example of fairy possession from the 19th century which also involved madness. Elves are often grouped with demons and night-hags as beings which both possess and torment humans and for which there are specific prayers, charms, and herbal cures (Jolly, 1996).

There is a specific word for such possession in Old English: ylfig. Ylfig seems to have been associated with possession by aelfe [elves] in particular and had both negative connotations which could require exorcism as well as some connections to prophecy (Hall, 2007). The fact that there was a particular word for this exact type of possession, separate from the word for divine possession [gydig], tells us that it was either widespread enough or understood enough in the culture to necessitate its own vocabulary and that is significant.

In Irish sources there are hints of fairy possession in the mythology, especially in some of the stories of the conceptions of heroes or kings believed to have both mortal and fairy fathers. Depending on how one reads the tales of the conceptions of Cu Chulainn and Mongan it can either be interpreted that the being in question, a member of the Tuatha De Danann who was also at the time among the aos sidhe, physically visited the woman or else possessed the body of the woman's legal spouse*, giving the child, effectively, two fathers. There is also a more clear anecdote of fairy possession in 'The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries' which describes a girl whose father "held communion with evil spirits" and whose house was built into a fairy hill, who came to be possessed by the fairies and was eventually institutionalized (Evans-Wentz, 1911). After two years of that she was taken to nuns and then to a Fairy Doctor who eventually worked a cure for her.

During the Victorian period some writers favored the idea that changelings* were the result of fairy possession rather than actual physical abduction (Silver, 1999). In these circumstances it is not the child's body that is taken into Fairy but only the soul, and the body left behind is then filled with a different spirit. One source described it as if the child was being overshadowed and displaced by the secondary spirit (Silver, 1999). The symptoms of a changeling then would also be the symptoms of fairy possession, which would be inline in many cases with what is seen in the Anglo-Saxon and European evidence: illness (fevers), nightmares, and significant behavioral or personality changes. By this logic charms to get rid of a changeling and return the human are actually a type of exorcism, seeking to drive out the foreign spirit and allow the original to return; tragically like some demonic exorcisms the possessed person/alleged changeling doesn't always survive the treatment.

Fairy possession is also found in mainland Europe. It is seen among the Romanian Calusari who dealt with a type of fairy called the iele; the iele possessed people as well as teaching those who followed them herbal cures (Purkiss, 2000). In Germany while outright possession is not explicitly described the elben [elves] are clearly connected to both madness and nightmares, two things that are closely tied to the ideas of fairy possession. Grimm, for example, relates that in German there were two closely related expressions for nightmares: "dich hat geriten der mar" [the night-mare has ridden you] and "ein alp zoumet dich" [an elf bridles you i.e. has a horse's bridle on you] (Grimm, 1888).

Involuntary possession by fairies seems to occur most often when a person has transgressed against the Good Folk in some way, although they may not be aware of having done so. It also occurs, looking at anecdotal evidence, to children whose parents have transgressed in some way, as we saw in Evan-Wentz's story and the theory about changelings. It is also possible that such possession can be invited by an individual voluntarily, either as a result of seduction by a fairy or through a desire for prophecy. The Calusari invited possession by the iele through trance dancing (Purkiss, 2000).

Cures for fairy possession in the Lacnunga and Leechbooks ranged from Christian rites of exorcism that included calling for the elf-spirit to be cast out to drinks made from frankincense, myrrh, and shaved agate* (Jolly, 1996). Exorcisms through prayers are common but so are casting out these spirits using salves, drinks, and incense. For example burning the plant aelfthone* soemtimes along with several other herbs, such as bishopwort and lupin, is repeatedly recommended in the Leechbooks. Another, safer, option is 'smoking out' the elf or fairy using mugwort. Smoke was believed to be an effective method to drive the elf out of a person, or as Jolly says "to purge or exorcise the internal evil" although Jolly does also discuss the difficulty of synthesizing "amoral creatures such as elves...into the Good-Evil paradigm of the Christian moral universe." (Jolly, 1996, p 136). Indeed Christianity has struggled everywhere to fit fairies into its paradigm, often settling for an uneasy compromise that places them ambiguously between angels and demons and this may be reflected in the approach to fairy possession, which is itself ambiguous.

Fairy possession is not a subject that is widely discussed in the Western world today, yet it was once commonly understood, enough so that in the 13th century Old English had a particular term for it. Unique from demonic possession, although an overlapping concept, fairy possession was marked by fevers, madness, and nightmares all of which were thought to indicate the influence of fairies on a person's mind and by extension body. Multiple cures existed for this type of possession relying to varying degrees on the aid of an expert, either a priest or a Fairy Doctor. In context it must be understood as something that cannot be clearly labeled as either good or bad, and that can be found in various places as a voluntary practice to gain knowledge from the fairies or elves as much as it can also be viewed as a punishment from them for people who offend them.

*for example in the Imramm Brain Manannán says that he is taking on the shape of a man and that he will be a vigorous bedfellow to Caintigern but Fiachra will acknowledge the son as his own.
*Personally I do not believe that any single theory explains changelings, but rather that there were likely multiple possibilities.
*please don't actually do this. I am in no way advocating the safety of this drink, nor do I recommend it.
*aelfthone is an old name for a specific kind of belladonna. I DO NOT recommend burning this unless you have experience handling poisonous herbs. Burning this herb or consuming it could be extremely dangerous. Do not do this.

Jolly, K., (1996) Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: elf charms in context
Hall, A., (2007) Elves in Anglo-Saxon England
Silver, C., (1999) Strange & Secret Peoples: fairies and Victorian Consciousness
Evans-Wentz, W., (1911) The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Purkiss, D., (2000) At the Bottom of the Garden: a dark history of fairies, hobgoblins, and other troublesome things
Grimm, J., (1888) Teutonic Mythology volume 2

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Translation: Tond Clidna/Cliodna's Wave

Today I wanted to do a piece from the Metrical Dindshenchas and I thought I'd take on a new look at poem 38 'Tond Clidna I' since I will be heading off to southwestern Ireland in a few weeks.

Tond Clidna I

Clidna chend-fhind, búan a bét,
'con tuind-se tánic a héc;
 damna d'a máthair beith marb
inní dia tarla in sen-ainm.
5] Dia ndernad in t-óenach the
ac lucht tíre tairngire,
is é thuc in mnái tre cheilg,
Ciabán mac Echach imdeirg.
Rígan ind óenaig thall tra,
10] ingen dar' chomainm Clidna,
tar in ler lethan longach
tuc leis Ciabán cass-mongach.
Rofhácaib hí forsin tuind,
luid uaithi echtra n-étruimm,
15] d'iarraid selga, monur mass,
luid roime fon fhid fholt-chass.
Tánic in tond tara éis,
do Chiabán nírbo deg-shéis;
mór gním, ba dimda linne,
20] bádud Clidna cend-fhinde.
Tond dúine Téite na tríath,
issé a hainm roime in bar n-íath
nocorbáided 'mon tuind tra
ben diarbo chomainm Clidna.
25] Lecht Téite 'sin tráig-se túaid;
rogáet immese a mór-shlúaig;
lecht Clidna 'sin tráig-se thess,
fri Síd Duirn Buide anairdess.
Fliuchthar folt in Duirn Buide
30] i tondaib in trom-thuile:
cid dimda do neoch fuil ann,
is sí Clidna nosbáidenn.
Ildathach is a dá macc,
robáitea in triur ac tochmarc;
35] is mairg roadair don luing
náchasanaig ar óen-tuind.
Cóica long lótar tar sál,
teglach tige Manannán;
nocharb í 'n chongaib cen gá:
40] robáitea ar thondaib Clidna. C.
- Metrical Dindshenchas

Cliodna's Wave I

Cliodna Fair-Haired, eternal her exploits,
with this wave came her end;
the cause of her mother's death
this the matter of the ancient name.
5] When there was held the gathering of the
people of the land of promise,
it is he who took the woman through deception,
Ciabán son of Echach Imdeirg.
The Queen of the gathering in truth,
10] the maiden her name was Cliodna,
taken over the ship-full ocean
taken with Ciabán curly-haired.
he left her on the waves,
he went on a swift adventure,
15] he sought to hunt, fine work,
he went forth under the foliage, the curly-haired.
the wave came after he left,
to Ciabán no well-omened sound;
great acting, that inhospitable ocean,
20] Drowned was Clidna Fair-haired.
The wave of the People of Téite of the lords,
was its name before in this territory
Until in truth the wave drowned
a woman there who was named Cliodna.
25] Téite's grave and her strand are northwards;
she was slain amidst her great army;
Cliodna's grave and her strand are southward,
southeast of the Síd of Duirn Buide.
Wet is the hair of Duirn Buide
30] in the waves of the heavy tide:
yet displeasure to anyone's blood there,
it is Cliodna that was drowned.
Ildathach and his two sons,
were drowned the three while courting;
35] There is sorrow to those who cleaved to the ship
who weren't saved from one wave.
fifty ships went across the sea,
the household of the house of Manannán;
That wasn't a host without spears:
40] they were drowned in the waves of Cliodna.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Meeting New Liminal Gods - Thallea and Thessilae

A lot has changed for me in my spirituality in the last few years, as anyone who follows my blog knows. But I do still follow the path I - for lack of a better term - call Fairy Witchcraft. And while I now focus my worship more on a specific Fairy Queen, who I feel fits the role of a liminal Goddess, I haven't stopped exploring who and what the liminal Gods are. And just like I had written about in November of 2016 I do sometimes run across new (to me) liminal deities; because Fairy Witchcraft was always meant to be a living and evolving tradition I wanted to share that here.

Today I want to talk about two liminal Goddesses I have started connecting to. Unlike the others who kind of organically came to me over time and exploration these two I found, because I was specifically looking for a deity of healing that felt like they fit in with the beings I already acknowledged. It was a slow process finding the right fit here and when I did finally meet the power I was seeking I was genuinely surprised to realize it was not one but two.

They are sisters, although what they do is very different, but as I have gotten to know them better I have come to believe they are like two sides to one coin despite their differences. They seem to act together as a pair and although I am not sure they are twins, per se, they seem very closely linked to each other; I have never seen them apart even when I am only trying to connect to one or the other.

Thallea, Lady of Roses: a power of healing and growth. I see her with skin like fresh turned earth, her hair a subtle dark green that always seems to be moving slightly, her eyes are black. Although she is focused on healing her mannerism is abrupt and brisk and I found her often impatient even though she is very kind. She is always in motion, like her hair, and rarely rests or sits still. She sings or hums when she heals and her presence is very warm. She is everything passionate about life and the struggle to live and keep living. Roses, especially pink roses, seem to be her symbol.

Thessilae, Lady of Thorns: a power of battle and death. I see her with skin like bone, dark hair and with black eyes like her sister. Her demeanor is calm and precise and she is a study in contrasts - still and peaceful when she is passive and a flurry of precise motion and deadly aim when she is active. I found her temperament to be much more calm and even soothing than her sister's. She may not seem at first like a healer but she is the aspect of healing that comes in the final release from suffering and pain and the transition out of the physical form. Her symbol is the blooded thorn.

An important thing to understand about these two is that in many ways they act together and they don't seem, in my experience, to differentiate at all between health and death as success in healing - both are the cessation of illness after all. They are compassionate and caring but they are, ultimately, Fey and they don't see things the same way we do; to them the spirit goes on in one form or another either with renewed physical health or freed from one body to be reborn in the next. It's just something to keep in mind if you decide to connect to them yourself.

Editing to add pronunciation:
Thallea - Thah-lee-ah with the 'th' like in this
Thessilae - Thehs-sih-laye

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Seven Years in Fairy

We sometimes see people referencing or discussing the idea of a person being in service to Fairy or going into Fairy for a set amount of time and then coming back to mortal earth, at least for a while. Often in folklore when this occurs it is for a very precise amount of time and what we most often see is 7 years. This pattern repeats in both folklore and ballads. 

It's said that the bean feasa and fairy doctors in some instances would be 'taken' for 7 years and then come back to serve the human population. Or, as Yeats puts it: "The most celebrated fairy doctors are sometimes people the fairies loved and carried away, and kept with them for seven years" (Yeats, 1888). Although the text does also clarify that not all fairy doctors are taken in this manner, it is interesting to note that 7 years is specified so exactly for those who are. We also see this number showing up in some of the ballad material as the number of years that a person will be taken to serve in Fairy before being returned to earth.

'Thomas the Rhymer and the Queen of Elfland' by K. Cameron, image in the public domain

Thomas the Rhymer was gone seven years and then returned, at least temporarily. In the ballad after meeting the Queen of Elfland by chance she says to him:
"Now, ye maun go wi me," she said,
"True Thomas, ye maun go wi me,
And ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro weal or woe, as may chance to be.
Thomas is then taken into Fairy and serves the Queen for the required 7 years before being returned to earth with a pair of shoes and new coat - both green* - and the gift of prophecy and true speech. By some folklore accounts she later sent a white hind and stag to guide him back to the Otherworld.

In the ballad of 'The Faerie Oak of Corriewater' the Fairy Queen says that the young man she's taken to be her cupbearer will serve her for 7 years.
"I have won me a youth," the Elf Queen said,
"The fairest that earth may see;
This night I have won young Elph Irving
My cupbearer to be.
His service lasts but for seven sweet years,
And his wage is a kiss of me."
In this instance the person being taken is filling a specific role, although it is also implied that he will also be the Queen's the lover. Unlike True Thomas Elph Irving's payment for his 7 years of service is simply a kiss from the Queen, indicating that what exactly one does in the Otherworld or the reason one is taken has an important impact on how one may be treated and the compensation one receives. 

Although it's never explicitly stated in the ballad of Tam Lin, and there is much debate about how long Tam Lin has been in Fairy and how old he was when he was taken, it may possibly be argued that he had served the Queen for less than 7 years. When he convinces his pregnant lover, Janet, to free him he tells her that the fairies pay a tithe to Hell every 7 years, that the tithe is due November 1st (within a few days), and that he is afraid that he will be given in payment because he is 'so fair and full of flesh'. While not conclusive the implication is that he may not have been there for the previous tithe, hence his concern that Janet free him before the next one. It is of course also worth noting that here again we do see the number 7 showing up as significant.  

As with anything relating to Themselves there are other options seen, including being taken permanently or, as sometimes happened with nursing mothers, being taken until the fairy baby was weaned. However 7 years of service seems to be a common contract, and is a number we see repeated in ballads and folklore.

*green is a colour strongly associated with the Good People

Acland, A., (1997) Tam Lin
Child, F., (1882) The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
Yeats, W., (1888) Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Fairy Taboos - #4 Food

Fairy taboos around food are complicated and layered, and each aspect tends to have its own rules and repercussions. For this blog we will break the prohibitions around food down into three categories and try to summarize each one as concisely as possible.

1 - Eating Food from Fairy.
     The most well known prohibition around food and fairies is certainly the rule not to eat fairy food. The general belief is that to eat the food of fairies is to be irreversibly bound to them and their world. We see a wide range of anecdotes centered on this idea, usually featuring a human who has encountered a group of fairies and been invited or inveigled to join them, been offered food or drink, and is then cautioned by a human among the group (often recognized as a recently deceased community member) not to take the offered meal. The warning always includes the explicit message that if the food or drink is accepted the person will not be able to leave and return to the mortal world or their family. In the ballad of 'Childe Rowland' the protagonist is advised to "bite no bit and drink no drop" when he goes to Fairy to rescue his sister if he wants to succeed and return again to earth with her. There are some exceptions to this, particularly in situations when the food is being offered by one of the monarchy of the Otherworld, but overall this is one of the most consistent prohibitions we find.

2 - Giving Food to Fairies.
     There is a long standing and deep seated understanding that fairies were entitled to a portion of the human harvest, including both crops and animals. We see this beginning in Irish mythology where the Dagda negotiates an agreement with the Gaels to give the Gods - who have gone into the sidhe to live - a portion of all their grain and milk in exchange for the Gods allowing the crops to flourish and cows to be in milk. Over time this concept was extended and shifted to the fairies more generally. In the modern period we find examples in MacNeill's book 'Festival of Lughnasa' that discuss the fairies being given a tithe of the crops during the harvest, with an understanding that such a tithe is due to them. While this may not at first seem like a taboo it should be understood in the context of an action that had to be taken in order for humans to prosper.

3 - Fairies Claiming Food.
     Related to point #2 is the idea that fairies will claim food they want, under different circumstances; this may be an extension of the idea that they are owed, by longstanding agreement, a portion of what humans harvest. Evans-Wentz relates anecdotes in 'The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries' of the belief that if food fell or was dropped it was being claimed by the Good People and should be left to them. Along those lines Campbell in 'The Gaelic Otherworld' and Kirk in 'The Secret Commonwealth' both discuss the fairies removing the substance from food items, either in the fields or on the stove. This theft of the essence of food, rather than its physical presence, is attributed by Campbell to the owner of the item speaking badly of it. Another widespread folk belief in both Ireland and Scotland was that any berries left unpicked after Samhain belonged to the Good Folk and that eating them was unhealthy as they had been either spit on or urinated on by the púca, as a means of claiming them. Food that had been given to the fairies, or claimed by them, should not be eaten by humans as it was thought to have no value to it, although there are accounts of animals eating it. This falls into the area of a taboo as it was believed that taking what the fairies had claimed for themselves was at best very unlucky.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fairy Rings

  One particular bit of folklore that is still especially relevant today is that of fairy rings, also called fairy circles, elf rings, or elf circles. In Welsh they may be known as cylch y Tylwyth Teg [literally 'circle of the Fair Family']. The concept of these rings can be found throughout the different Celtic language speaking countries as well as the various diaspora and some Anglo-Saxon and German lore as well. Fairy rings appear as either a dark circle of grass or as mushrooms growing together in a ring, and less often as a circle of dead grass or small stones. It is said in folklore and common belief that this ring marks a place where the fairies have danced or where they like to dance. In the 12th century there was an English belief which attributed rings of daisies to elves dancing (Hall, 2007). The fairies love of dancing is well known as is their penchant to take people who disturb their revelry, either as a punishment or through a desire to keep the person in Fairy (Evans-Wentz, 1911).

Fairy ring of Clitocybe nebularis (“Clouded Agaric”) photographed near Buchenberg in the Allgäu by Josimda – Own work,CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Fairy rings can appear in different sizes, from three feet across to ten times that size (Bennett, 1991; Gwyndaf, 1991). If they were the sort made of darker green within a field then they would be either moss or much darker green grass and were notable because "no rushes or anything grew on it" (Gwyndaf, 1991). From a scientific perspective fairy rings are created by the fungus mycelium and when they grow above ground can include a variety of mushroom species, both poisonous and edible. Even the dark grass circles or less common dead grass rings are the result of mycelium though, as the fungus naturally grows upwards and outwards in an expanding circle and effects the nutrient content of the soil, resulting in the visible fairy ring effect (Mushroom Appreciation, 2016). The scientific explanation doesn't necessarily contradict the fairylore explanation, and the two beliefs are compatible with each other. For example, in some folklore it isn't the fairies dancing that causes the circle but rather the existence of the circle that draws the fairies to dance there (Bennett, 2001).

A person who comes upon an active fairy ring might see the dancers within it, and even the instruments, but hear nothing from outside, although in other stories hearing the music acts as a lure to draw an unsuspecting mortal in. Most people had a clear aversion to the idea of entering a fairy ring as it was known that to do so risked the fairies coming and taking the person away. In one Welsh story preserved in the late 20th century a person was questioned about why they avoided fairy rings and they relayed the tale of a boy named Robin Jones who entered a fairy circle one evening; he saw the fairies dancing and after what seemed to him a few hours in their company he asked to leave only to return home to find that a hundred years had passed (Gwyndaf, 1991). In a similar tale a man stopped outside a fairy ring, just to watch the fairies dance within for a few hours, and lost fifteen years of time for his dallying (Gwyndaf, 1991). Often the person would dance for what seemed like a night to them, or even only a few minutes, and then be allowed to leave only to find that a year or more had passed. Some fairy rings appear to have been used as a sort of trap to intentionally lure mortals, especially children, that the Fey folk wished to take and these people if they entered the ring would never be returned (Evans-Wentz, 1911). Other times however it seems to be only chance that leads a person to find fairies dancing in a ring; in accounts from Brittany some who join them are treated well and released unharmed with little time passed while those who offend them while they dance are forced to join the circle until they collapse form exhaustion or worse (Evans-Wentz, 1911).

Once in a fairy ring, by choice or by compulsion, a person could not leave unless they were freed by the Good Folk or rescued by another human being.  In one Scottish tale a man fell asleep in the middle of a fairy ring and woke to find himself being carried through the air by the angry fairies who dumped him in a city many miles away (Briggs, 1978). In the above example of Robin Jones the boy was allowed to leave when he asked politely to, although upon leaving he found that so much time had passed on earth that everyone he knew in life had died. In another story a boy was taken through a fairy ring and tried to leave later with a golden ball to show his mother; the fairies took the ball back and threw the boy out after pinching him until he was thoroughly bruised (Evans-Wentz, 1911). He re-emerged and returned home to his mother to find that several years had passed.

Several options were available for those seeking to rescue a comrade from a fairy ring. One Welsh method of securing a person's release was to place a stick of rowan across the boundary of the ring, breaking it (Gwyndaf, 1991). Some suggest throwing specific herbs, including thyme, into the circle, and of course iron is seen as superlative method of both disrupting a fairy ring and protecting oneself from angry Fey (Hartland, 1891). Any iron object would suffice and could be used to break the edge of the ring or could be tossed into the circle to disrupt the dancing. Another method was for someone safely outside the circle to reach in, sometimes by stepping on the perimeter of the ring, and grab the person as they danced past (Briggs, 1978). Even if they were rescued though many times the person could not truly be saved, and those who had danced with the fairies in a fairy ring were known to pine away afterwards or else, if they had been taken for a length of time and allowed to leave they might rapidly age or turn to dust when the truth of their long absence from mortal earth was revealed to them in their home place, then occupied by strangers (Brigg, 1978).

There is a strong belief that if one finds a fairy ring it should not be disturbed, not only because of the possible danger, but because there is a sacredness to the space set aside within them. If one were to damage a mushroom associated with a fairy ring reparations would be offered to avoid punishment (Bennett, 1991). In Scotland and Wales it was generally unthinkable by those who believed in the Good Folk to consider intentionally damaging the ring or mushrooms, and it was believed that those who did so would be cursed (Bennett, 1991; Gwyndaf, 1991). In one Irish story a farmer who knowingly built a barn on a fairy ring fell unconscious afterwards and had a vision telling him to take down the barn (Wilde, 1888).

Fairy rings are still found today although perhaps fewer people see the footsteps of the Fey in them, and more see the science of mycelium. In the spirit of tradition though it doesn't have to be one or the other but can both, in truth, and we can still see the enchantment and sacredness of the footsteps of the Good People in fairy rings without denying the knowledge of their natural cause. If you keep your eyes open and your sense sharp you may find a ring of dark grass or new grown mushrooms in your yard or the area you live in.
Although perhaps you'll think twice about stepping across its boundary.

Bennett, M., (1991) Balquhidder Revisited: Fairylore in the Scottish highlands, 1690- 1990
Briggs, K., (1978) The Vanishing People
Gwyndaf, R., (1991) Fairylore: Memorates and legends from Welsh oral tradition
Mushroom Appreciation (2016). Fanciful Fairy Rings
Evans-Wentz (1911) The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Wilde, E., (1888). Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland
Hall, A., (2007). Elves in Anglo-Saxon England
Hartland, E., (1891). The Science of Fairy Tales

Excerpted from my book 'Fairies'

When Dedication Ends

There's a good amount of discussion out there about honoring deities (or spirits) and about dedication to a deity. What I want to talk about today is something I don't see being discussed much - when dedication ends.

An image of the German Woden

When I began my pagan path I really wasn't aware of the idea of dedicating oneself to a deity, or several even, but over time I not only started to read about the idea but I started to see it in action. I met people who described themselves as a priest or priestess of a specific deity and I saw the way that dedication could impact a person's life. Nonetheless I hadn't felt pulled to that level of focus on any God or group of Gods during my first years as a pagan, although I certainly had my favorites. My spirituality was always a complex thing with different layers of focus between the Gods, the Good Folk, and magical practices and I was fairly happy with what it was.

It wasn't until I began following a Heathen path in the mid-2000's that I felt called to formally dedicate myself to a deity. While I had developed what I would describe as a sense of closeness with several deities when I started practicing Heathenry I very quickly felt pulled to Odin. In what seemed to me the blink of an eye I found myself beset by dreams of a pair of ravens with a one-eyed rider and haunted during the day by his presence. My life took a decidedly weird (wyrd?) turn and within a year I was standing before witnesses making oaths, pledging myself to Odin*.

I don't regret it. For a decade I considered Odin my fulltrui; I learned to read the runes and studied seidhr, I became the gythia of a kindred, connected to the Hidden Folk under new guises. Odin was a driving force in my practice of Heathenry, staying with me as I shifted from a more Norse to a more German approach. He became my muse and my poetry was dedicated to him. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy - Odin is a hard one in many ways and even his kinder faces present interesting challenges. But I loved him and I loved being dedicated to him.

Then, after a decade, it ended.

I was pulled into a deeper relationship with the aos sidhe and that shifted things profoundly for me. Before I knew it, and to my utter shock, I found that my connection - my dedication - to Odin was over. I meditated and had an experience of Odin coming to me and telling me I was freed from my oaths to him. I didn't believe it at first but when I went to several people I trusted who were good with divination or channeling they all confirmed it. I paid weregeld for the oath anyway, for the people who had witnessed my oath, and just like that it was over.
I don't think I truly understood why the Norse called such dedication 'fulltrui' until that friendship was gone.  Of course I can still honour Odin - and I do - and of course I can still call on him in ritual. But it isn't the same. It isn't that close, personal feeling, that friendship anymore.

People talk about building dedication and about finding patron deities, but no one talks about when those relationships end, whether that end comes from the deity choosing to break the connection or the person doing so. Its painful, as painful as losing an important human relationship is. When you are dedicated to a deity that deity becomes a part of your life on a regular basis and having that suddenly gone is a shock - it's like losing a friend.

I had to learn that it was alright to grieve that relationship. I had to tell myself it was alright to be sad that things had changed and that I was allowed to be sad that I wasn't formally dedicated to a deity I had spent 10 years of my life closely connected to. And that was hard. Painfully hard. But things change and even in devotional polytheism dedication isn't always for life, even when we go into it planning that it will be. The Gods have agency and independent will and sometimes what they want diverges from what we want. Sometimes what they plan isn't what we plan. And sometimes we grow in a different direction and that growth takes us away from the place that our dedication was rooted in.
And that's okay.

*I also dedicated to Macha around this same time - I found the two were a good balance for each other, and given how challenging Odin could be I am glad I had that balance.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Exorcism for a Leannán Sí

Recently in my wanderings through source material I ran across  particularly interesting folk charm in the 1854 'Transactions of the Ossianic Society'. The entry was first in Irish and then translated into English, with some notable variances from the Irish, and dealt with a spoken charm used by a Catholic priest to expel a Leannan Si from a woman named Shighile Tabaois [Sheela Tavish].

This is the text of the charm in Irish

This is my transcription from the above*:
"An t-Aithar Conn O'Domhnaill
ag díbirt a Lennan Síghe .i. an Stalcaire, ó Shíghile Tabaois.
Cros Chríosd ort a Shíghile, ód' ghearrán nuadh,
Cros fhírinneach Iosa ad choimead buan;
Ur an síghbharra ro shínear led' gheal-chnámha suas,
Ud choimhdeacht 'san oidhche 's ad chufáil chruaidh!
     Ní bhfuil sígh-bharra ó'n n-dílinn go geal-tráigh thuaidh
Maoil-chnoic ná mín-lir le cruinneamhuil sluagh;
Ná h-aoirfead le laoithibh na sean-rádh suagh,
Muna g-cuirid ó Shíghile an spreasán duairc!
     Sgríbhfead go h-Aoibhill go geal-tráigh thuaidh,
Ríg-bhean na bruighne 's lionán sluaigh;
Díoghaltur ir díbh-fheirg, ir cufáil chruaidh,
Do thabhairt do'n t-sígh-barra so Shíghile 'sa chongmháil uainn?
     Saoilim gun sígh-bharra gan choimead cuan,
Do díbridh ó shíghe-chnoic an Lorán Ruadh;
No fíor-spreas o Aoife na sean-radh i d-Taudhmhumhain
Do sgaoileadh le draoigheacht-chlir na n-Danann n-duairc!
     Sgaoiliom le síghe-chnoic an spreasán uainn,
No le slim-shreabhaidh líossa na srután luaith;
D'á chuibhrioch go cíocrach le Seannaid shluaigh,
Tre luighe leatra, a Shíghile, gan chead d'fhághail uainn?"

And this is the English translation from the book;
"Father Conn O'Donnell
composed this song in order to expel a Leannan Sighe, or incubus, from Sheela Tavish.
The Cross of Christ be upon you, Sheela, against your new incubus,
Let the true Cross of Jesus protect you forever;
From this fairy that lies close to your snow-white bosom,
Who accompanies you at night and gives you hard cuffs.
     There is not a fairy that existed since the deluge, even those of the white northern strand,
And of the broad-topped smooth lioses where their hosts assemble,
That I will not satirize by the lays of the old sayings of the sages,
If they will not banish this dull midge from Sheela.
     I will write to Aoibheall of the fair northern strand,
The Queen of the Bruighin, and the Familiar (spirit) of hosts;
To inflict vengeance with the wrath of hard cuffs,
Upon this fairy that haunts Sheela, send him away from us.
     I suspect he is a fairy that has no place of rest,
And was expelled from the fairy hill of Loran Ruadh;
Or is a genuine imp sent from Aoife of the north,
That was loosed by the expert spells of the surly Tuatha De Dananns.
     Let us expel to the fairy hills this sullen midge from us,
Or to the bright waters o the Lee of the rapid currents;
There to be strongly fettered by the Shenad [Shannon's] hosts,
Because he slept with you, Sheela, without your leave."

I'll point out quickly to start that the English translation is a bit loose from the Irish. For example the two terms given as 'incubus' don't actually mean that. We have stalcaire which can mean a stubborn person or a stalker, and gearrán which is a term for a horse, often a gelding. We see a similar thing with the word being glossed as 'fairy' - sighbarra - which might more accurately read as 'barrow fairy'. That one is worth noting as it specifically identifies this leannan si with the barrows, or ancient burial mounds. In the same way when the text calls him 'a pest' or an 'imp' sent by Aoife the Irish term spreas means a 'worthless person'.

This is a really fascinating piece of folk magic, effectively a type of ritual exorcism but what makes it interesting to me is that it calls on both the priest's own God - Jesus - as well as the fairy Queen Aoibheall. It also implicates both Aoife, as another Fairy Queen, and the Tuatha De Danann more generally, for possibly setting this spirit on the woman in question. The chant also includes the claim by the priest that he will not hesitate to satirize any spirits who won't help him to banish this leannán sí, an unusual suggestion since one might assume that he would usually resort to calling on his own deity for that.

'Exorcism of a Leanná Sí' is only one example of the way that folk magic, fairy belief, and the dominant religion blended into a cohesive system of practice in early modern Ireland. We may look at this approach and say that it is an attempt to cover all the possibilities, as it were, in assuring that a cure is achieved. Or we may see it as reflecting the multiple cultural threads that influenced people, including clergy, even in the 19th century. In any case it is an important piece of evidence and also a useful charm.

 *any errors in my transcribing the Cló Gaelach are entirely my own. I have included the original text for the reader to see for themselves.