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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Imram Brian Meic Ferbail

One of the Imramma, or 'Voyage' stories, dating to possibly the 8th century. I can only find a small portion of the text in Irish to translate but it is an interesting section and offers insight into how far back the concept existed that to live on one of the Otherworldly islands meant to be unable to return to our world without immediately dying should you touch the earth.

Imram Brian Meic Ferbail

[gap: chasm in MS/extent: uncertain]Lil in chertle dia dernaid boí in snáthe inna certle hi lláim inna mná consreng dochom poirt. Lotar iarom hi tegdais máir arránic imda cach lánamna and .i. tri .ix. n-imdae. In praind dobreth for cach méis nír ircran díib
Ba bliadain donarfás dóib bith and ecmaing batir ilbliadna ni tesbi cach mblas. Gabais eólcaire fer diib .i. Nechtan mac Collbrain. Atchid a cenel fri Bran ara tía leis dochom nErend. Asbert in ben ropad aithrech in fáboll dálotar cammae. & asbert in ben arná tuinsed nech díb a tír & ara taidlitís léu in fer fodnácaibset i n-Inis na Mell tar essi a chéli.
Dollotár iarom co tornachtatár in dáil hi Srúib Brain. Iarmofochtatarside dóib cía dolluid in muir. Asbert Bran messe or se Bran mac Febail. Ni beram achni aní sin ol a chéli di híu. Atá i ssenchassaib lenni chena Imram Brain.
Docurethar úadib in fer asin churuch. Amal condránicside fri talmannaib na Herend bá lúathred fó chetóir amal bid hi talom no beth tríasna hilcheta bliadna. Is and cáchain Bran in rand so.
Do mac Colbrain ba mór mbaíss
tórgud a láme fri aís
can nech dorratad toind usci glain
tar Nechtan mac Collbrain.
Adfet iar sin Bran a imthechta uli o thossuch co tici sin do lucht ind airechtais & scribais inn rundnu so tre ogum & celebrais doib iar sin & ní fessa a imthechta ónd úair sin.

- Lebor na hUidre

Wandering of Bran son of Ferbal

[begins after gap in text]
The white ball of thread was in his palm, the thread of the ball of thread was in the woman's hand pulling them towards port. Then they went into a large house where they found a bed for every couple there that is three times nine beds. The meal given on every platter was not emptied from them.
There was a year's growth to them in that world there but it happened that there were many years with no savour lacking to them. A longing for home took a man of them that is Nechtan son of Collbran. Bran saw his kindred against him that he should go with him to Ireland. The woman said an assault of regret would be the going nevertheless. And the woman said therefore none of them should touch the land and that they visit with the man left in Inis na Mell [island of delight] who they'd left out of their companions.
They went afterwards until they came to a gathering at Srúib Brain [Bran's headland]. The men asked who it was that had come across the sea.
Bran said "It is me, Bran son of Ferbal."
"We do not recognize this one" the other person said. "[but] There are old stories of Bran's Voyage."
He puts himself out, the man [Nechtan], from the coracle. So that as soon as he was against the earth of Ireland he was dust immediately as if he'd been under the earth without life through many years. Then chanted Bran the section following:
"To the son of Colbrain, was a lack of judgment
Bringing his hand against a lifetime
without conferring any wave of pure water
to Nechtan son of Collbrain."
Then Bran told of all his wanderings from the start until then to the people gathered there and wrote these sections in Ogham and told them farewell and no one knows his wanderings from that hour.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Morrigan and Morgen le Fay

One source of much confusion is the connection - or lack thereof - between the Irish goddess the Morrigan and the Welsh Arthurian figure Morgen le Fay*. I've been meaning to write about this for a while but have hesitated because I am admittedly weak on the Welsh end of things and didn't want to do a disservice to the subject. However I've had several people ask me recently about what connection there might be between these two, so I feel like this needs to be said.

The short answer - historically there is no connection between the Morrigan and Morgen le Fay.

The Morrigan - The Morrigan is an Irish goddess with complex associations to battle, war, death, prophecy, sovereignty, magic, incitement, and victory. Her name in older forms of Irish was pronounced roughly 'MORE-rih-guhn' and later forms 'MORE-ree-uhn' and meant either great queen or phantom queen, depending what etymology one favors. We have a wide selection of mythology and folklore featuring her and it's clear that when she shows up she's an active force in whatever she's doing.
   The Morrigan has two sisters, Badb and Macha, who she appears with in some myths usually performing battle magic; in the Tain Bo Cuailgne she also appears with Nemain and Be Neit for the same purpose. The Morrigan in later mythology would come to be associated with night terrors and specters, viewed as demonic because she could not easily be turned into a meek saint.

Morgen le Fay - Morgen le Fay is a character first found in Arthurian stories, specifically the 12th century works of Geoffrey of Monmouth, where her name was initially spelled Morgen le Fay. It is worth noting that this spelling is significant because while both Morgan and Morgen are men's names (also worth noting) they are pronounced differently - Morgan evolved into the modern Welsh Morcant while Morgen became Morien (Jones, 1997). In the 12th century Morgen would have been pronounced, roughly, 'Mor-YEN' (Jones, 1997). The name Morgen is generally believed to mean 'sea born'.
  Geoffrey was collecting local stories from Wales and publishing them in France and while he certainly didn't invent Morgen for his Viti Merlini there is no way to know for certain how much or little he shaped the character as he preserved her. Which in fairness is true for all of the Arthurian characters he wrote about. That aside however Geoffrey's Morgen was a priestess, one of nine sisters connected to Avalon. In the 15th century Morgen would be renamed Morgan by Thomas Malory and recast as King Arthur's scheming half-sister who was set against both Arthur and his wife Guinevere.

The Evidence - One of the main arguments connecting the names is that they sound the same to modern English speakers, but I hope it's clear here that in Irish and Welsh the two names sound very different. They also have different meanings and that is significant. Another argument that favors their being the same deity is that they are both connected to magic, but while one may argue that both do indeed practice enchantment the nature of the magic they practice seems to be vitally different and outside of that single similarity the rest of their associations are very different. Morgen is connected to healing and, perhaps, to guiding the dead or dying to Avalon/the Otherworld; the Morrigan is associated with death and battle but nothing in her mythology relates her to healing or to a role as a psychopomp. People also argue that their stories have similar themes, but this is clearly not so: the Morrigan is married to the Dagda and may or may not try to seduce Cu Chulainn in one story while Morgen in various stories is married, is adulterous, and even tricks her own brother into conceiving a son with her; the Morrigan incites battles by directly encouraging people to rise up and fight while Morgen in some of her stories sows discord in more subtle ways; the Morrigan's main location is a cave, Uaimh na gCat, while Morgen's is an island on a lake, Avalon. These are only a few examples just to illustrate the very different natures of the two beings.

The Morrigan and Morgen le Fay are often associated with each other in modern paganism, perhaps because they are both perceived as powerful and potentially dangerous women who have gotten a bad reputation that they may not deserve. Both certainly were vilified and demonized over time as stories evolved, the Morrigan going from a goddess to a night specter and Morgen from a priestess of Avalon to an incestuous and usurping sister of the king. I certainly understand why people see associations between the two, although for myself I'd be more likely to picture them sharing stories at the bar over shots together than to believe they are the same being or energy.
   I cannot say whether or not Morgen is a deity or ever was a deity, nor do I deny that someone does answer when people call on Morgen le Fay today. What I can say is that there's no evidence that the Morrigan and Morgen le Fay share any roots or that historically the two have any connection to each other.

*I am aware that in modern terms her name is often given now as Morgan la Fey however I am choosing to go with the older original spelling used by the first person to write her name down.

Recommended Reading:
MacKillop, J., (2006) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
Jones, H., (1997) Concerning the Names Morgan, Morgana, Morgaine, Muirghein, Morrigan and the Like. Retrieved from
Gray, E., (1983) Cath Maige Tuired
Dunn, J., (1914) Tain Bo Cualgne
Morgan la Fay (2018) The Camelot Project; University of Rochester. Retrieved from

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Christian Symbols to Protect from Fairies

The relationship between the Good People and the sacred objects and words of Christianity are complex. Some fairies are utterly unbothered by the symbols and ritual actions of the new religion, some are very concerned about their own place within Christian cosmology, while others seem to violently abhor anything relating to the 'new' religion. Those who show an aversion to these symbols and prayers can naturally be warded off using them.

 Some examples:
-Redcaps were known to fear very little, but some of the few things that could ward against them included Christian sacred objects and prayers, specifically the sign of the cross or the sound of bible verse being read aloud.
- In the ballad of Alice Brand the Elf King wants to be rid of two trespassers to his wood but because they are Christians he cannot act against them, so he must send someone under his sway who is not affected by such things.
- A brownie who was well known in a particular area was driven off forever when a well-meaning priest attempted to baptize him. The moment the holy water struck the brownie's flesh the fairy shrieked and fled never to be seen again (Briggs, 1976). In another anecdote a brownie was upset by the homeowner reading the Bible (Wilby, 2005).
- In one area of Scotland fisherman at sea would never say the words "church or manse or minister" to avoid offending the spirits and possibly endangering themselves (Wilby, 2005).
- In some versions of the ballad of Tam Lin, Tam Lin advises Janet to make a compass [circle] around herself with holy water while she waits for the Fairy Rade on Halloween; this renders her invisible to their sight and senses until she moves out of the circle.
- Signing a cross three times over a fairy captive or human-turned-fairy would release them from Fairy or break any magic holding them
- Baptism was a common protection for infants against fairy abduction, and Robert Kirk notes that it was a regular practice in Lowland Scotland for a Bible to be kept in the room of a woman in childbirth to ward against fairy intrusion.

Wilby suggest in her book that this avoidance of Christian symbols and prayers - which is not universal even in the Celtic countries - is likely rooted in the animosity that the Church itself created with its attempts to demonize the Fair Folk. Briggs, for her part, suggests that the cross is actually an older symbol, predating Christianity, that represents the liminal space of the crossroads where the fairies have less power and could be used either as a physical object or as a motion to ward them off. In either case the equal armed cross has been noted to be efficacious against Themselves in some circumstances, and would often times be combined with the use of iron by crossing two nails or opening a pair of scissors and hanging them up. Christian prayers, the sounds of church bells, and holy water are also mentioned as protections or things that will frighten off some fairies, although we should emphasize some.

Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Acland, A., (1998) Alice Brand
Wilby, E., (2005) Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits
Kirk, R., (1893) The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Fairy Taboo - #3 Names

Another taboo that we see among many of the Good People relates to names. Names have power and we find in many cases both an aversion to saying the names of certain types of the Daoine Maithe as well as an avoidance of personal names. Even nicknames have power and when we look at anecdotal evidence we find that often rather than giving a name to a fairy that a person might have regular encounters with a person or group might call them by their description.

First let's look at the wider taboo involving euphemisms. In this case the name in question is a collective one, for the entire group. There is a longstanding belief that to speak of them may draw their attention* and that it is always better to get positive attention than negative. Certain terms have been known to anger or annoy them, although which terms exactly aren't agreed on: at various points it was taboo to say aos sí or daoine sí or fairies, although at present fairies is the most often avoided. Euphemisms have been used since at least the 16th century to avoid the more direct terms, and these euphemisms were intended to be pleasing if they drew the fairies attention. So instead of fairies, elves, or goblins (interchangeable terms until recently) which all could raise their ire a person would say, for example, Fair Folk, Other Crowd, Mother's Blessing, or Seelie Wichts [Blessed Beings].

Beyond that we have an avoidance of personal names. Names have power, and using a being's name gives you power of them - or them power over you if they know and use your name. Because of this in folklore we rarely see any fairy willingly giving its name unless its in repayment for a debt of some sort or a deeper relationship is involved. Invoking a fairy's name, or even giving one a nickname, is often enough to drive one off as we see in stories like Tom Tit Tot or Rumplestiltskin. Finding out a fairy's name or intentionally giving one a nickname is one method of banishing a being who is causing problems are endangering people. Keep in mind however that this method of getting rid of a troublesome fairy also angers them and that can later come back to haunt the person.

When we see discussions of fairies who were known to interact regularly with people in anecdotes or stories, often that being is known not by a name but by a descriptive term based on what they look like or where they are associated with. Yeats related an anecdote of a woman whose mother had a friend among the Good People, who they simply called 'the Wee Woman' (although she was human sized) and Brownies are usually identified by the area they occupied, such as the Brownie of Cranshaws. A Scottish clan had a bodach attached to them which acted much like a Bean Sí in foretelling death and was known as the Bodach Glas, or 'Grey Man' (Briggs, 1976). In some cases we do have more well-known fairies whose names we do know, like Jenny Greenteeth or Meg Mullach [top/summit], but these tend to be the exception rather than the rule and they seem to still involve aspects of description or places.

Generally it is best to use euphemisms when talking about the Good People, so that if you get their attention they won't be offended by how you are speaking of them. You'll rarely know a fairy being's name, and if you do by chance it's better not to use it often, but descriptive names based on physical appearance or place are acceptable. One of the quickest way to offend the Daoine Uaisle is violating the taboo they have around the use of names so it is good to keep this in mind.

*one wonders if writing about them has the same effect. If it's true that they took rev. Kirk for his book Secret Commonwealth then perhaps we should all be more careful in what we put down on paper or screen as well. 

Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Morrigan is not my Sex Goddess

I want to start off by acknowledging that we all see the Gods differently and I know that sometimes a person can relate to a deity in a way that is unusual (comparatively) or unique to them; maybe this is how they need to see that deity for personal reasons. What I want to address here is something that I've seen more and more often among people discussing the Morrigan, and that is the idea that she is a goddess of sex or sexuality - not that an individual relates to her that way but that it is a definitive part of who she, as a deity, is. People even claim that it is one of her main purviews. I've seen it said in many places by many different people, and in a wider way we can see it reflected in the way she is often shown in artwork: scantily clad (or nude), alluringly posed, oozing sex appeal even on a battlefield or among corpses. 

Banshee by WH Brooke, 1824, public domain

I won't address the statue issue here, as John Beckett recently blogged about that and I think he covered the imagery aspect of the discussion fairly well. I will only say that I don't think clothes or lack of clothes is the problem. I love Paul Borda's Morrigan statue, which depicts her nude and as a warrior. I don't find it sexy at all or male gaze oriented and I think that's the key. One can be naked and powerful or one can be naked and vulnerable, and too often the 'nude Morrigan' artwork shows her as the latter. And I'm sorry people but when she's being shown looking like a very young woman who couldn't physically hold the blade she's carrying - or is holding it point down over her own foot! - it's pretty clear that the image isn't meant to depict a powerful goddess but simply an attractive female body.

What I want to discuss here is why, exactly, this idea of the Morrigan as a goddess of sexuality and sex is problematic to me and why it concerns me to see it spreading.

One of the most often repeated things I run across is the idea that the Morrigan has lots of lovers among the gods, or her stories are full of sexual trysts with gods and mortals. So let's start by looking at the Morrigan's mythology and when and how often she has sexual encounters. Don't worry this won't take long.
The Cath Maige Tuired:
"The Dagda had a house at Glenn Etin in the north. The Dagda was to meet a woman on a day, yearly, about Samain of the battle at Glen Etin. The Unish of Connacht calls by the south. The woman was at the Unish of Corand washing her genitals, one of her two feet by Allod Echae, that is Echumech, by water at the south, her other by Loscondoib, by water at the north. Nine plaits of hair undone upon her head. The Dagda speaks to her and they make a union. Bed of the Married Couple was the name of that place from then. She is the Morrigan, the woman mentioned particularly here." (translation my own)

Tain Bo Cuailgne: "
Cú Chulainn saw coming towards him a young woman of surpassing beauty, clad in clothes of many colours. 
‘Who are you?’ asked Cú Chulainn. 
‘I am the daughter of Búan the king,’ said she. ‘I have come to you for I fell in love with you on hearing your fame, and I have brought with me my treasures and my cattle.’
‘It is not a good time at which you have come to us, that is, our condition is ill, we are starving (?). So it is not easy for me to meet a woman while I am in this strife.’
 ‘I shall help you in it.’ 
‘It is not for a woman's body that I have come.’
‘It will be worse for you’, said she, ‘when I go against you as you are fighting your enemies. I shall go in the form of an eel under your feet in the ford so that you shall fall.’ 
‘I prefer that to the king's daughter,’ said he.'"
 - Tain Bo Cuailgne, Recension 1, O Rahilly translation

So there you go. That's it.
In the first example we see the Morrigan and the Dagda having a pre-arranged meeting at a set time and place, and it should be noted that the two are likely married. The reference above notes this when it says the place they lay together was called 'the Bed of the Married Couple' and the Morrigan is called the Dagda's wife in other sources like the Metrical Dindshenchas. In the second example - which please note does not occur in all version of the Tain Bo Cuailgne - we see the Morrigan approaching Cu Chulainn disguised as a young woman and proclaiming her love for him. I am highly suspicious, as are several scholars, of the genuineness of this and believe it is most likely a trick to try to get him to abandon the ford he is guarding. Some scholars have suggested this bit of narrative was added later by scribes unfamiliar with the Tain Bo Regamna who needed an explanation for why the Morrigan then set herself against Cu Chulainn. In any event as you can see she never actually offers him sex or tries to seduce him, although she does offer her love and her goods as what would have been either a wife or as a mistress.

In fairness I will add that there is, as far as I'm aware, one description of Herself appearing naked, from the Cath Magh Rath:
"Bloody over his head, fighting, crying out
A naked hag, swiftly leaping
Over the edges of their armor and shields
She is the grey-haired Morrigu
(translation mine)
In this text the Morrigan is specifically described as grey-haired and a hag, and is leaping over an army about to engage in battle, shrieking. 

Why then is it repeated so often that the Morrigan is a sexual goddess and has multiple sexual encounters?

At this point I think a lot of it is simply the internet effect, where one website stated it as a fact at some point* and now it gets repeated and passed on as fact. The idea appeals to people for different reasons. In my own experience I have found that some men like the idea of the Morrigan as a goddess of sex and as sexual because it allows them to relate to her the way they would to a beautiful human woman. I have seen some women like this idea because they find it sexually empowering for themselves. There is also, of course, the fact that in video games and fiction she's shown as sexual and sex focused, and while those are fiction and entertainment we can't underestimate the way that does impact how people start to subconsciously relate to the deity.

Macha Curses the Men of Ulster, 1904, public domain

That all sounds like it could be good, but it concerns me on a couple levels. Firstly, while I do appreciate the desire for women to feel sexually empowered and to look to a goddess as a role model here, reshaping the Morrigan to do it is only reinforcing existing Western ideas of beauty and female power - we focus on the Morrigan as a young beautiful woman who is powerful because she engages in sexual relationships with men on her own terms. That seems great on the surface, sure, but what about seeing her as beautiful as the naked hag? As the red-haired satirist? As a crow or raven? What about seeing her as powerful without a man? Or simply acknowledging her power as a goddess of battle, incitement, prophecy, and sovereignty? Basically my question is why do we have to make her into something she isn't when she already is beautiful and powerful in a different way

The other side of that coin, the objectification, is a more complicated problem. It seems to me to rest not on redefining her power but on reducing it by taking a fearsome goddess of several things that are genuinely terrifying for humans and making her into a deity of things humans find pleasant and enjoyable. Instead of a deity of war and death she becomes a goddess of sexual pleasure; instead of a screaming hag above armies she becomes a young girl with come-hither eyes and barely there clothes. And to me that speaks volumes about containing her power by limiting her to ideas and to an image that our culture sees as both safe and inherently disempowered.

Yes gods evolve and change with their worshippers, but that change in the past was usually organic and a slow process. We live in a world now where a single person can assert something as fact and that assertion, based in nothing but one person's opinion, can then spread quickly and far as fact - and that in my opinion is not how the evolution of gods has ever worked before. When we take a being with history and depth and layers of mythology and detach them from their own stories and personality and make them nothing more than a mirror for our own desires we aren't engaging with deity anymore, whether we see deity as archetype or as unique individual beings. Perhaps in time there will be a new deity - a new version - of the older goddess created from this milieu of rootless belief. But it will not be the Morrigan of Irish culture, it will be something created from modern beauty standards and sexual mores. And we need to be aware of that and of what that really means.

So, the Morrigan isn't, in my opinion, a good candidate for a sex deity - but then who is? Well, I think when we look at the Irish pantheon the Dagda as sex god makes a lot of sense. But I also think that all the same cultural reasons why we, collectively, want to force this title into the Morrigan are the same reasons we avoid it for the Dagda. When we make a powerful female figure more sexy we make her safer, particularly when we are using imagery and language that hinges on defining her by roles our society sees as weaker. When we make a male figure more sexually imposing though one of two things happens: its comedic or its frightening. The Dagda is a physically big figure, a warrior, powerful - the idea of his being a sex deity may frighten some people. He is also often mislabeled as an 'all father**' deity and envisioned as a kind of red-haired, portly Santa-type and our culture really dislikes seeing that as sexy, we'd much rather find comedy in it. And that is also something I think we should give some serious thought to.

People are always free to hold their own opinions. I have shared mine here, and my reasoning for why I think and feel as I do. The Morrigan is not a sex goddess for me, or a goddess of sex or sexuality. But she is fierce, and beautiful, and powerful. She is a goddess of personal autonomy and of the sovereignty of kings. She is the land, blood soaked after battle, and the shrieking cry of warriors plunging blade-first into conflict. She is the voice that inspires the downtrodden to rise up and fight for freedom, and the whispers of prophecy foretelling the fate of all. She is awesome in the oldest sense of the word. And that is enough.

*this is exactly how the idea that falcons are connected to her and that she is a goddess of rebirth happened. One website more than a decade ago, run by someone who was very honest that they were posting channeled and personal material said it, and it spread from there. Once it was accepted into the common belief no one really knew where it had come from or why they believed it.
**as I've said previously ollathair doesn't mean all father but great or ample father. It certainly connects him to abundance but not to physical proliferation. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Fairy Taboos - #2 Privacy

 Having looked at the common (but not ubiquitous) prohibition of the fairies against humans saying thank you to them, now let's turn to another even more prevalent fairy taboo, that of secrecy. The idea with this one is that the Good People do not like to find out they have been seen, unless they are choosing to show themselves, and they prefer people not to talk too freely about benefits they have received from the fairies.

It is a common theme in many anecdotes and stories for the fairies to fiercely guard their privacy. They are well known to react badly to being spied on in many cases and to expect humans who they favor to keep any gifts and friendship largely a secret. We see this idea played out in stories of borrowed midwives who accidently anoint their own eye with an ointment that grants true sight of fairies only to admit having the ability later and be blinded, as well as in tales of fairy lovers who abandon their human sweetheart when that human tells a single person of their existence. In some stories of those who received money from the fairies, when they spoke too openly about it or bragged they found the money stopped coming to them or even in a few stories that the wealth they had been given was reduced to leaves, gingerbread, or the like. In all but the rarest cases once offended the fairies good favor was withdrawn and contact ceased, despite any effort by the human to regain it. As with the 'thank you' rule this is not an absolute blanket prohibition and we do see exceptions where a person is allowed to speak of them or forgiven for breaking this rule, but when they react badly they react extremely badly, as in the blinding example already given.

As with many of these taboos the exact reason for it is never spelled out explicitly but we can perhaps offer some possibilities. I think to begin we need to break this down into the two issues we are actually dealing with which are related but separate; their dislike of being observed against their will or without their consent, and their dislike of being spoken of by someone who has agreed not to do so. In the first case the real issue is that the Good Neighbours prefer, generally, to move unseen in the human world and when this invisibility is somehow breached by a human it upsets them. There is a clear logic to their reacting badly to being seen when they do not wish to be, since moving unseen is a main way they survive in our world and is one of the many ways they have power here. The second issue, however is as much one of trust as concern over actual privacy as it represent someone telling a secret they have usually been asked not to tell. It is also true in a wider sense that they dislike people who brag overmuch and tend to respond to human arrogance by taking actions to punish the people; in these cases someone who receives a boon from them and then talks too much of it may find their good luck withdrawn simply because they have annoyed the Gentry with their bragging.

Why do the Good People not want everyone to know how active they are in the world or how many people are receiving their blessings? Perhaps because the Fey folk are a people with their own agency and agenda and they prefer to control who knows of them, sees them, and receives good from them.

It is an old belief that if you have the Second Sight and see the Good People when it's clear they don't realize you can see them that you should not in any way acknowledge that you can see them; I suggest this same approach to anyone who thinks they may have seen the fairies unawares. If you are fortunate enough to have gotten a gift from them or if they have done you a kindness and it was a one time thing it is generally safe to talk about it, however if they have a pattern of helping you, or if they have asked you or made you promise not to speak of what was done on your behalf you must not do so. If you are unsure if its alright to talk about a personal experience or something you've seen, my best advice is to err on the side of caution.

Emhain Macha, 2016, copyright M Daimler
Further Reading:
Yeats, W. (1888) Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry
Lenihan and Green (2004) Meeting the Other Crowd
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Narvaez, P., (1991) The Good People

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Spirituality and Modern Sacred Prohibitions

I've talked before about the way that spirituality can sometimes end up affecting the way we live our lives in a blog called 'Reshaped Living' and I think it's important to understand the way that personal gnosis can directly influence us. Another way that spirituality can influence our lives is with the taking on of spiritual prohibitions or directives, which may be related to our spirituality in a wider sense or may be specific to us and come from an initiation or intense spiritual experience.

We see personal prohibitions or directives in many different religions including mainstream monotheistic ones, particularly around food where a religion might declare a certain food off limits for followers of that religion, or in turn might require the consumption of something. In historic Irish paganism these prohibitions and directives would be called geasa (singular geis), although it should be understood that geasa were not taken lightly. Except where they are specific to a role, like kingship, they were for life and once in place remained in place until the person died.

  A geis is something the you either must do or must not do in order to maintain your luck and health, and breaking a geis means certain doom usually orchestrated by Otherworldly powers. We can find a wide array of examples of geasa in Irish mythology from those placed on kings when they took the crown to those of a more personal nature that might might be given at birth. A prohibitive example might be taken from Da Derga's Hostel were Conaire isn't supposed to invite a person alone into a place he staying in after sunset, while in contrast a directive geis would be seen with Fergus's requirement always to accept hospitality offered to him. Geasa are never, in stories, taken on by a person but are always placed on a person by an outside force or power. They also in many examples relate to an individual's spiritual connection to an animal, other being, or group; we see this in Conaire's geis not to hunt birds to whom he was related through his Otherworldly father, Cu Chulainn's not to eat dog meat since he was connected to that animal through his name, and Diarmuid's not to hunt the Otherworldly boar that his fate was bound to.

Some people argue that geasa only apply to kings, heroes, and other very rare important people based on the examples we have from mythology but I think there is a strong argument from folklore that the idea behind geasa was applied to many people across demographics in different ways. Although I might not call them geasa in the modern world the underlying concept of something that must be done or not done to maintain one's luck and health remains true. Yeats relaying an anecdote about a fairy doctor relates specific habits and dietary restrictions, such as not drinking alcohol or eating meat, which were strictly adhered to and had clear spiritual overtones. Cultural or communal prohibitions, such as not disturbing fairy mounds, also argue for a wider application of this concept.

In modern spirituality a person might acquire such a sacred prohibition when they achieve some type of initiation; for example when I became a priestess of the Othercrowd I was given a prohibition not to cut my hair. Interestingly I know several people who have a similar prohibition against hair-cutting for different spiritual reasons in paganism. Such a thing could come from the person initiating you, from the Gods in whatever form you feel such messages come, or may be a standard thing in your tradition for that type of ceremony. Becoming a priest or priestess in particular often seems to come with a sacred prohibition or prohibitions for people. As with the older concept, these prohibitions are generally permanent and cannot be transgressed without serious consequences for the person, and so should not be taken lightly or viewed as something to jump into getting.

A sacred prohibition can also come in the modern world through pure personal gnosis, although I will personally caution here that in these cases because of the gravity of these prohibitions I always recommend double or triple checking the message. This can be done by asking a neutral third party - someone who has no stake in the answer - who is good at divination or channeling to see if they get the same or a similar message. To use myself as an example again (because I don't like using other people as examples without permission) I also have a prohibition from Themselves not to enter into a Christian church or any place where active Christian worship is being conducted*; as I have no dispute with Christianity myself this prohibition surprised me and I was careful to get it verified before accepting it as genuine. People may have prohibitions through personal gnosis that could include an array of different things but the most common ones I have seen or heard of relate to food, drink, hair, or the need to always do or say something specific at certain time or place.

Sacred prohibitions in the modern world are not a subject we discuss often, nor are they an aspect of modern spirituality that is often focused on. Yet the core idea of having a spiritual prohibition or directive is not uncommon in my experience and is something that I not only have myself but also that I know many other people who have. These prohibitions or directives can impact a person's life in ways that may include social aspects, and I think for that fact alone it's worth wider understanding and consideration.

*I have my suspicion as to why this is, and I think it relates to a long standing animosity between some of the Daoine Maithe and the new religion. Emma Wilby discusses some aspects of this in her book 'Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits' but it boils down to the way the Church tried to demonize the Good Neighbors, and the way that hostility became two-sided over time.

Yeats, W., (1888) Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry