In folk religions respect is of the utmost importance because everything has a vitality, every thing has a life and so any action will have an impact on another soul which has its own powers and its own ability to impact the world. Thus a person’s interaction with the magical world must be about seeking to have respect for one’s fellow humans, for nature, for objects, and the spirits, fairies, kami, etc that inhabit all of these. With this in mind there are three fundamental types of spells and prayers which people use in Folk Religions.
Not so much spells as a way of interacting with the things around a person to ensure that they have good luck, while avoiding bad luck. In Celtic lore such respect meant asking permission before moving a stone or cutting a tree so that the fairy within wouldn’t be offended. In Japan such respect included warning the spirits that live within the earth before peeing on the ground so that they could move out of the way and wouldn’t grow angry and curse the one who had wronged them. To utilize respect people would think about what might be offensive to nearly every object/spirit and try to mitigate it. This doesn’t usually mean not doing something, rather it means giving fair warning that one is about to do something, while apologizing and or asking permission to do it. Such respect keeps a person safe while making more likely that their spells wills succeed.
2-Charms or Spells
Charms utilize a person’s own abilities and powers as well as those of other spirits in order to achieve a goal. There are two things one must keep in mind when crafting charms and spells. First that Celtic lore states that humans are related to the fairy, thus the Celtic Folk Religions tells us that we can potentially have great abilities and knowledge. Second one must keep in mind that everything has certain powers and so these powers can be used to enhance the impact of one’s own powers.
Thus charms involve a person utilizing certain objects, herbs and or short chants in order to gain help from other powers as well as well as a short set of words or actions designed to draw out a person’s own powers (such as sympathetic actions and poems). For example, one Cornish charm used to remove corns from one’s feet called for a person to show their bare feet to the moor while telling the corns to vanish nine times.
An interesting charm of Finnish origin to prevent wasp stings is as follows;
O Siilikki, woods’ daughter-in-law, pray discipline thy wee ‘winged bird,’ hide away thy ‘feathered chick,’ bind up its wings, confine its claws, to prevent it stabbing with its pike, to prevent it sharpening its steel. Kuutar, conceal thy children now, hide, Päivätär, thy family, and follow not a wizard’s wish, don’t be made jealous by jealous folk.
This charm is interesting because in not only makes a request of a nature spirit to keep wasps away, it makes a request of two other magical beings to keep wizards from using their magic to make wasps from stinging.
3-Closer Relationships and Contracts
The most complex of all three forms of folk magic involves both the development and utilization of a relationship with spirits which in many ways can be likened to a contract. Sutras, prayers, songs, offerings and similar things were done either to create a contract between a person and spirits, deities, fairies, etc; or to honour a pre-existing contract. Songs, feats, celebrations and sutras are useful to this end because they attract spirits and fairies to a place and allow these beings to enjoy the company of humans. This is a large part of what Samhain, Beltane, Yule and similar holidays were and are.
In many cases such celebrations involved things specifically designed to invite fairies to come among the people. Yule and Beltane both involved bringing trees and greens into the village and home so that fairies and similar nature spirits would have a place to reside among humans during the festivals. Other celebrations involved actually building figures out of straw or similar materials for the spirits to reside in so that people might dance with them or make offerings to them directly.
Not all contracts are so simple to honour as creating beautiful music and celebrating an event. Often such contracts require that those humans honouring them follow a very specific set of instructions involving; chants, songs, movements, specific offerings, and formulas which must be followed to the letter. It is these more complex contracts that required druids to learn for years, even decades to learn to fulfil.
Because folk magic is about relationships rather than formulas the exact nature of any contract, charm or respectful action is based not only one what a person is trying to accomplish but whom they are requesting help from. This is why understanding the nature of fairy and deity as well as the personalities of specific fairies and deities is the most important part of folk magic.
Nukiuk is a folklorist who has been studying the relationship between Eurasian Folktales and beliefs in order to better understand the ancient religions. You can find more of his research of fairies at http://www.zeluna.net/fairies. You can review many of his resources at http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/resources.html