Tag Archives: celts

Ladies of the Lakes

The Lady of the Lake raising her arm from the water to offer Excalibur to Arthur is a powerful image, one of the defining images of Arthur’s myths, I think.

Working on the graphic novel adaptation of Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, I’ve been obliged to notice that it’s not just one lake lady. Also, as a personal note, in some versions, Nimue/Vivien is a lady of the lake.

The second, less famous lake lady rocks up to Arthur’s court bearing a sword only a good knight can pull from its scabbard. This is a bit of an evil joke, because the man who takes the sword is then fated to kill someone he loves with it. Swords from lakes may be magical, but they aren’t reliably benevolent.

Who are these ladies? Spirits of place? Half-forgotten deities? Literary plot devices? A bit of minds-eye candy?

As I’ve been colouring on the project, I’ve thought about them a lot. I’d like to offer my unsubstantiated personal uncertainty on the subject. (It’s not gnosis, I really don’t know…)

We know the Celts made offerings to water, including offerings of weaponry. There are sites, in lakes, where lots of booty was thrown in. I think this has to be connected. One possibility is that the ladies of the lakes are a vague folk memory of the lake beings to whom those offerings were made. Another option is that they’ve come into being to explain the underwater hoards. It makes sense if you find a treasure under a lake to imagine it belonged to someone, and from there it’s not very far to the strange women lying in ponds distributing swords as a basis for a system of government.


What is Druidry For?

Permit me the indulgence of starting with a strawman. The sort of Druid for whom Druidry is lovely, because nature is lovely, and everything is love and the universe is lovely and everything happens for the highest good and for a reason and by the way did I mention, it’s all lovely? Not entirely a strawman because these ideas do exist. The lovely Druidry of just getting to say how lovely it is, how lovely we are. Would you like some lovely sauce on that? Lovely.

It doesn’t work for me. Yes, the rainbows and sunsets are charming, yes the bird song is exquisite and I see all of this. I also see the road kill, the plastic rubbish in the streams, and the dead look too many people have in their eyes. Poverty isn’t lovely. Sickness isn’t lovely. I don’t think the universe loves us, benevolence is certainly not a given.

And then there’s the small matter of the Celts. Everything I know about the Celts tells me that they were a wild, passionate, creative, intense sort of people, willing to fight to the death over a matter of honour. In the art and the stories, in the traditions that seem to have come from there over the centuries, I see passion. Rage and jealousy exist alongside overwhelming love. Lust is as important as romantic attachments in terms of causing things to happen. And yes, we have reason to think of the ancient Druids as wise peacemakers and knowledge holders in this culture. It would be ridiculous to think that they held wildly different values from those around them, though.

For me, Druidry is about how to live well in a tradition that is full blooded, life embracing and passionate. It’s not about withdrawing from the world to a state of perfect calm. It’s not about taming emotions into submission. The Celts were a tempestuous, fighty people (in so far as it is fair to even use the word ‘Celt’ to represent a vast array of tribes over a long period, but, it saves time, so please indulge me). For this life to be viable, there must be balances, co-operation, times of harmony and productivity. We can’t all spend our entire time having fiery Celtic warrior meltdowns because we felt insulted. Pride and honour, necessity and responsibility all have to be balanced up, and for me, entering into a nature-based path of spirituality and philosophy is about learning how to do this well.

There should be times to be boastful and riotously drunk. There should be times when we react with fury and fight tooth and nail for honour and for what is right. There should be times for deep reflection and introspection. I want a life that embraces these things, not something harmless, bloodless, toothless that can only say ‘well, that’s lovely, isn’t it?’


An Absence of Ancient Druids

I’ll confess up front that when I first came to Druidry I knew very little about the history of Druids. There were many things I did know a bit about… Taliesin and Amergin were familiar names, for a start. I was taking an interest in Paganism from late in my teens, exposed, inevitably at that time, to people who claimed ancientness for Witchcraft, and expecting Druids to be to some degree at least, peppered with genuine survivals from the Celtic era. I was young, I ask that you cut me some slack!

I went to my first few Druid-led rituals, rather thinking they would be based on ancient wisdom. No one told me what they were based on. I looked around at the Druid Orders, especially the Ancient Druid Orders, and a niggle of doubt crept in. At what point would an ancient Druid Order have been re-named to remark upon its ancientness? I started reading, and asking, and poking about and slowly got some sense that the idea of modern Druidry as a direct descendent of ancient Druidry, was actually a bit daft. There are fragments we use that are older, but much of it comes from the revival Druids, or more recent invention.

Then I read Blood and Mistletoe, which demonstrates that we really can’t be too confident about anything.

This has led me to several conclusions. The first is to note that modern Christianity looks nothing like Mediaeval Christianity, which is a long way from what people were doing in those first few hundred years AD. Secondly, all religion is made up. Even if you postulate some divine inspiration, religion is a human response to the idea of the sacred. Every word of ritual, every prayer, every rule and idea was made by a person at some point. Those which have been tested over time may have more substance. However if only age confirmed authenticity, then we might all still be Catholics believing in a flat earth. Alchemy is older than science.  Judaism is older than Christianity. Paganism may be older again, but we don’t know enough about what they were doing in the first place. Using age to prove authenticity is not reliably a good idea.

We cannot have authentic ancient Druidry. They did not write anything down. If we did find something written down by ancient Druids, we’d pretty much have compromised the whole process because that basic tenet of their being an oral tradition would have gone. If we did today what Celts of thousands of years ago did in the context of their times and culture, would that be authentic? You only have to glance at the Christians to see that other religions evolve over time to respond to the world. So not only can we not have the past, but we also can’t have the trajectory Druidry would have taken had it been left to continue. It wouldn’t have been called Druidry, that much at least we can be sure of.

At which point the temptation to quit and just call yourself an animist, or go back to ‘pagan’ is huge. Many people who start out as Druids find the language and history so problematic that they leave. This is in many ways a shame because it knocks out the people who often know most about the history and its implications, leaving behind people who know so little that they can still image they really are doing ancient Druidry and the people who get excited about titles. Of course in between there are a lot of people who stay, and who know and who grapple continually with the issue of what it means to use the word ‘Druid’. We should be uneasy about it, that uncertainty stops us getting smug or complacent.

Something about the word ‘Druid’ and the idea of Druids keeps drawing people. Not just for the romance and the beards, but a sense of something deeper, a possibility waiting to be embraced. Beyond the titles and the history, beyond the endless squabbles about who isn’t doing it right, there’s a sense of something. A glimmer of possibility that there may be a real thing out there, intrinsic to the land and the natural world, awash with inspiration and creative potential, spiritual and rational all at once, and just waiting for us to listen. Druidry seems as good a name for it as any other. Names are, after all, just feeble human attempts at making sense of the world. Actual Druidry, is bigger than us and surprisingly tolerant of all our silliness.


Exile

For the ancient Celts, exile was worse than death. It makes sense – for a culture that believed in reincarnation, death was not such a big deal. The honoured dead remained part of the community, their memory kept alive by story and song. To be exiled was to have no place to belong, no one to remember your deeds, it was to lose your land, your identity, your whole place in the world.

These days, exile might not seem like such a fearful thing. That, however, rather depends on how you relate to the process. Should you be willing to shrug your shoulders and move on to next town, where you aren’t known and you can start over then no, exile from a place doesn’t mean much. If you have a deep relationship with land that could be sorely compromised by broken relationships with people, it’s a whole other thing. If your sense of self is embedded in being part of a particular group – often true of religious people – then exile or excommunication can be deeply damaging. If you are the sort of person who feels keenly a need to belong, to be accepted and know where you fit, exile is disaster. The loss of a job can easily be exile from community on just these terms.

I’ve been through experiences that felt a lot like exile to me. The social group from my teens disintegrated, inevitably, and I left the area too. Something was lost that could not be returned to, because it no longer existed. That was my first taste of what it meant to have nowhere to belong, and it took me a long time to get over it. The community in my geographical area during my twenties was lost to me when I had to leave. I kept what lines of communication open that I could, but it’s not the same as being with people. Those were just circumstantial. Nothing personal, just life. Not my fault.

Three years ago, I felt like an exile from the Druid community. That was all about me – not about anything I’d done wrong, or badly, I might add, but a knock on from being in crisis and seeming like a liability to others as a consequence. For a while I had no idea if I could even call myself a Druid any more. Interventions from other people in the Druid community made me realise that it wasn’t a case of exile. It’s taken me three years to piece together what happened, but most of it came from just one person. It doesn’t take much. I’ve seen that with other people, too. When you really care about something, when you’re really invested in it, heart and soul, then the smallest push out of the communal circle has far greater impact. For anyone holding positions of authority and leadership this is a vital point to bear in mind. Anyone who is serious may be far too easily persuaded that you don’t think they are good enough. Most people are not ego-maniacs, riddled with delusions of grandeur and feelings of self-importance that allow them to shrug off suggestions that they can’t cut it as a Druid, don’t belong, aren’t good enough or aren’t welcome.

Experience of wider culture has brought me into contact with a fair few people who habitually use sledgehammers to crack walnuts. People who hammer home the point because they expect not to be listened to or taken seriously if they are gentle. People who shout and demand when they should go softly and ask nicely. I assume that’s underpinned by a lot of insecurity, but when you get that in people who are visible and dominant, the result can be a lot of people disempowered and slinking away into exile. It’s not good.

I, for one, am a walnut; sledgehammers really aren’t required. I watch what I do, all the time, wanting to make sure I am fair, properly understanding things, not hurting anyone needlessly and so forth. A word if I get it wrong will have me running around trying to put things right. Get out the sledgehammer, and I will shatter, and there will be nothing much I can do after that point.

It’s been a very odd ten days or so. I’ve lost something that mattered to me, but in the same time frame, someone else who I very much admire, value, respect and feel inspired by has moved deliberately towards me, asking for more of my time and creativity. (Thank you, Talis).

When the Druid I had been following turned me away 3 years ago, Philip Carr Gomm swept by and offered me a place at OBOD, where I had studied years before. Not a huge fanfare, but a listing for my book on the OBOD site, and a celebrant listing, and a feeling of having a place to be, of being wanted and valued and not out beyond the edges of community after all. Community is never about the opinion of one person, no matter how important or in charge they seem to be.

I think the moral of this story is that if one person demoralises you and pushes you away, even if they seem to have power, don’t believe that they speak for the community as a whole. They probably don’t. In my experience, not at all, in fact. And if you do lead, bear in mind that exile was supposed to be a punishment for the most serious crimes, for the things that could not be rectified, where no restorative justice was possible. Not for minor offences, real or imagined, and not as a way of propping up your own sense of importance.


Karmic Druid

Karma crops up in a number of traditions. There’s reason to think the ancient Celts believed in reincarnation, and that debts could be repaid in future lives, but we don’t really know if they had the kinds of ideas that crop up in other cultures. We don’t have clear rules about how to feel and behave (maybe our ancestors did). This means that we don’t have a clear collective sense of what actions would constitute good or bad karma for a Druid.

Karma can be seen as a form of justice, repaying us for good work, punishing mistakes. That can be comforting if you get no justice in this life. It can encourage us not to seek justice, and to blame victims (it only happened to you because you have bad karma). I do not like that attitude. If we mistake material success for spiritual reward, we’re on a very slippery slope, with those who have money and power effectively getting some kind of divine endorsement to do as they please, and no responsibility for those less well off. If poverty is proof you were a ‘bad person’ in a former life, there are problems for your whole culture, and there will be no compassion.

I happen to think compassion is a good thing.

I’m troubled by the idea of karma as some sort of points system, a bit like a store loyalty cards, where you save up good karma for a reward. It tends to suppose that someone or something is keeping score, and that there are mechanisms by which this can occur. It seems a rather restrictive way of thinking about existence, and not actually helpful. Especially given we don’t know what the rules are.

Tentative forays into Jainism presented me with some interesting ideas. Jains view karma as being more like a substance, or set of substances, that stick to you as a result of your actions. So, do good things, get good karma sticking to you. No external judgement is required, it’s a simple mechanism akin to eat more chocolate, gain more weight. Interestingly Jains don’t see good karma as an entirely good thing. Any karma ties you into the cycle of death and rebirth, the aim is to escape from karma. So, while good karma is better than bad karma, the idea is to step out of life and not have any karma at all. For a Druid whose path very much affirms being in the world, this is not a perspective I can work with. Nonetheless, it is an interesting idea to consider.

The more science is able to tell us about structures in the body and the way the mind functions, the clearer it becomes that what we do shapes who we are. How we think forms pathways in the brain. What we think forms habits, paths we quickly and easily walk. Our lifestyles shape our bodies, in all kinds of ways. We are what we eat, what we drink, what we breathe. We are how much exercise we get. We are our stress and fear, our hope and delight. It all contributes to us as corporeal beings. Mind, emotion and body are not separate things, but part of the same system.

For me, karma is what we do to ourselves. It is the bodily legacy of our own choices. That doesn’t mean the shit that comes into our lives is deserved and of our making. It means that how we react to the crap, and to the good stuff, is who we are, and that’s our karma. I don’t know if we take that with us beyond death or not, but there’s plenty enough to be going along with in this life.

I perceive the world as fearful, hostile and unkind. Often I find that the word is a scary, hostile, unkind sort of place. How much of this is to do with how I choose to make sense of my experiences, how I choose to live what happens to me? Could I choose differently? I talked recently about choosing innocence. Could I go further and choose not to be afraid, even as alarming things bear down on me? And if I could change that, would I not have changed my karma?

Pagan ethics generally are, as Christine Hoff Kraemer has identified, largely virtue ethics. In cultivating personal virtues, we shape our paths and ourselves. I am increasingly of the opinion that I want courage as a personal virtue. The only way to get it is by cultivating it. Courage fits well with what I know of the Celts, it strikes me as being a good, Druidic virtue to aspire to. I want to believe I can survive and thrive. I want not to be afraid anymore. I do not want to feel that all the bad stuff in my life is somehow of my making.


Proto Druids

It’s been my privilege on a number of occasions now to see people discovering that they want to walk the Druid path. Frequently there’s an attendant process of working out that lots of the apparently disparate strands of their lives are in fact all things that will become part of their Druidry. I went through this one myself, and it was rather a surprising process. The Bardic grade of OBOD consisted a lot of going ‘bloody hell that as well eh?’ which was a good sort of experience.
So, I thought I’d put together a list of things that tend to already be in the lives of proto-Druids, for people who were wondering if the might be. If you spot one I’ve missed, add it in the comments please! If you’ve got an interest in, or are actively undertaking a number of these, you may be a proto Druid!

Environmental issues and green living, alternative living choices, compassionate living.
Philosophy
Trees
Herbs
Folk music, myths, story telling
Divination
Harps
Celts – ancient or modern.
Archaeology
Astronomy
An enthusiasm for being out of doors.
A call to service, volunteering work.
A need to do creative things – craft, arts, performance, or being the sort of person for whom cooking or making a garden for example, is an art form.
A passion for language, possibly manifesting in poetry, or other forms of writing, or the enjoyment thereof.
Social justice
Feeling a bit out of kilter with modern society
Peace work
Animal welfare
Healing – bodies, minds, humans, nonhumans, places, communities
Teaching
Meditation, or contemplating things a lot
If you feel a pull towards making, holding and facilitating real communities
Ancient sites
Liminal places (in fact if you already know what liminal means, give yourself extra proto-druid points)
A hunger for the numinous and for inspiration.


Bubbling Up

This week’s instalment of Theo Wildcroft’s Sacred Body series contains my favourite bit – the idea of Bubbling Up https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/sacred-body-part-2-bubbling/. I’ve been studying Druidry for some time now, I’ve read Blood and Mistletoe, I’m conscious of the flaws in writing about Druids from the time and the likely weaknesses of mediaeval texts as source material. For some, that pretty much makes impossible the idea of authentic modern Druidry. However, the one idea I keep coming back to, is that the ancient Celts got their Druidry from somewhere. Not in the sense of revelation, monotheistic style (I assume). My belief is that ancient Celts got their Druidry from the land, the rivers and trees, the mountains, the cranes, aurochs, badgers, buzzards, mice and so forth. Most of that is still here.

Like Theo, I am conscious of how many artificial structures surround our daily lives. Sat here in my metal boat, with this box of plastic wizardry on my knees, typing words that will be read by people I’ve never met… we’ve created a rather fantastical and unreal sort of world. And yet… every few seconds I inhale. Air, one of the elements, with me moment to moment. Real. My boat depends on a stove for heating, I cook on gas. There’s fire in my life, every day, another element, another realness. Water, hopefully on the outside of the boat. The earth is right next to the canal, I tread on it regularly. The sky is above me every day. My food came from plants that lived, grew in soil, experienced light. If I raise my head I can see the willows, thinking about leafing, tentatively getting busy out there. Even in my constructed, human environment, nature is present. I also notice that the moss growing on my boat’s fenders do not see human construct, just a place to call home. Birds shit on the roof just as they would on the ground. I may see a human construct, but to the rest of nature, it shows every sign of just being more environment. Maybe a bit sterile and drab, but the spiders do their best to correct this.

It’s terribly easy to go ‘ooh, nature is my sacred text’ and then not really do anything with that. What can you do? It’s out there, we’re in here… and as long as we see the divide, holding ourselves as separate, we are separate.

For the ancient Celts, survival meant understanding the natural world. This soil. That tree. Those weather conditions. All of it immediate, some of it longer term – when to plant, when to harvest, what to kill and what to leave. I don’t claim to know what the ancient Druids got up to, but understanding nature must have been in the mix. That doesn’t have to mean placing ourselves on the outside with a clipboard. You can stand on the shore and watch the sea, or you can get in it and learn how to rise and fall with the waves. Or you can drown.

Druidry, for me, is increasingly about participating. Not standing back as an intellectual observer, but being in the scene, in the moment, acting and reacting, and paying attention. This land, that tree, another seagull crapping on my boat…


Druidry and western philosophy

I find myself once again thinking about the relationship between philosophy and Druidry.

Modern philosophy grew out of a tradition that goes right back to the ancient Greeks. Not the ancient Celts. Most of what we know about ancient Celtic philosophy comes from what we can extrapolate from Roman writing and mediaeval texts. At best, it’s an inexact science, but I think it would be entirely fair to say that whatever Celtic (and therefore ancient Druidic) philosophy looked like, it did not look like the history of philosophy that we now have. There’s plenty of Roman writing to suggest that the Celts had their own philosophers, and that the Druids were the thinking classes. But what did they think?

As a modern Druid, I felt pretty much obliged to poke around in philosophy. I did not enjoy the experience. To me, what I encountered felt too sterile, too abstract. That which pre-dates science is in many ways proto-science, trying to make sense of reality. In many ways the models we have now, based on empiricism, research and observation, are better models than the random guesswork of the ancients. So, while there’s an element of academic interest, it does feel a bit pointless to me getting bogged down in the history of human guesswork and confusion. I would rather turn to psychology research to ponder the workings of the human mind, than to philosophy, which depends almost exclusively on introspection and self reporting to try and make sense of mental phenomena. Again, philosophy was the proto-science for psychology. I am not at all fascinated by all the debates spawned by Christianity. I am sad about the history of fear that goes with how the church responded to thinking, I feel it’s useful to know the gist, but I have finite time, and learning the ins and outs of who burned whom when and for what bit of heresy, does not inspire me.

My feeling, undereducated in this area as I am, is that philosophy as a subject rapidly gets bogged down in its own language and habits of thought. To someone who is not an initiate of the mysteries, encountering it is often bewildering and frustrating. I ask this, what does it achieve? Are the dominant thought forms of our times driven by academic philosophy? Or by the mentality of the marketplace? Are we driven by a desire for truth, or political expediency? There seems to me to be a horrible gap between where academic philosophy goes, and where the unconsciously held philosophies that guide us all, get their power from.  I guess that makes me more interested in social science, some kind of anthropology of the here and now.

Being able to think, question and reason are liberating, powerful tools that can help us fight superstition, stupidity, short term thinking and self destructive behaviours. Most people will not turn to Plato or Spinoza for that.

I confess that I’m not that interested in who exactly came up with what about where ideas come from when pondering the issue thousands of years ago. I care about how people here, and now, think, and don’t think. I don’t see any place for Druidry, modern or historical, in the tradition we’ve got, and I wonder about the potential for new lines of philosophy. What happens if we take what we know, and start asking all the basic questions about how and why again, looking at now, looking at the future not the past, looking at need, and what would help rather than throwing energy into pondering impossible intangibles that do not help us to be better people, live richer lives or take better care of what is around us. I don’t give a shit about Kant. I don’t think he can tell me how to turn public thinking away from short term profit towards long term survival.

We need a Druid philosophy stream that is not about mainstream academic philosophy, but is about us, here and now. Maybe all that means is that we need to keep asking awkward questions in public places and challenging each other to come up with something resembling answers.


Guest Blog: Fairies and the Soul

By Nukiuk

“Would you not like to be a fairy?…and live with me in this garden where the sun never ceases to shine and where it is summer all the year?”

Queen of the Fairies offering to make a girl a fairy

Although the above quote comes from a Greek, rather than a Celtic Tale the offer and opportunity for the human soul to become a fairy was a common belief throughout all of Eurasia. Even the breeze which stirs the trees causing the leaves to rustle and the wood to creak was once believed to be the sounds of ancestral spirits speaking to us, for it was in the trees, rocks, rivers and waterways that the human soul resided. The Celts believed that the souls of the dead would go into trees planted near their graves. The  Altaic peoples who gave the Celts their words for horse among things, believed that the human soul became the spirits of the lands, rocks or trees when they passed on and that these spirits could later be reincarnated as humans. Thus we see people’s souls become nature spirits(fairies)  and that these nature fairies  become human souls.
It is more than nature spirits that human souls can become when they pass on, however, for the “Faces of friends and relatives, long since doomed to the battle trench or the deep sea, have been recognized by those who dared to gaze on the fairy march. The maid has seen her lost lover, and the mother her stolen child, and the courage to plan and achieve their deliverance has been possessed by, at least, one border maiden.” In other words the souls of the dead continue to live on among the fairies. The banshee were the souls of ancestors which appeared as beautiful maidens in order to help their family, as they were originally as much about blessing infants and giving advice as they were about giving warnings and meeting the spirits of those who had died. “There is a legend told of the Macleod family: (that) Soon after the heir of the Macleods was born, a beautiful woman in wonderful raiment, who was a fairy woman or banshee, (there were joyous as well as mourning banshees), appeared at the castle and went directly to the babe’s cradle. She took up the babe and chanted over it a series of verses, and each verse had its own melody. The verses foretold the future manhood of the young child and acted as a protective charm over its life. Then she put the babe back into its cradle and, going out, disappeared across the moorlands.” In another tale, the banshee of Grants Meg Moulach would stand beside the head of the family and advise them on playing chess. (F.S. Wilde, 1887)
So although people tend to associated banshees with death, they are really about life, for they are the souls of those who love a family so much that they continue to give it aid and inspiration. It was their place to inspire poets and artists, thus ancient Celts believed that such skills were gifts of the fairies, gifts of one’s ancestors. Thus when Christians claimed that fairies were the souls of the unbaptized dead it may have been true in part that many fairies were indeed those who had passed on in centuries passed.
What this means is that at least one human soul, if indeed the ancient Celts believed that humans have multiple souls (a point which, I argued here )is the same soul which resides in fairies. This seems even more likely when one considers that there are tales of fairies becoming human when they live among humans and eat human food for long enough. Further there are many Celtic tales of a person bringing a loved one back from the fairy court. In other words the Celts believed that the door could under special circumstances, that fairy and human souls were interrelated enough that one could become another.

 

Nukiuk is a folklorist and artist who is using Eurasia’s folk tales and beliefs to better understand the ancient folk religions. You can read more about his thoughts on tree fairies at http://fairies.zeluna.net/2011/11/tree-spirits-are-fairies.html. The References for this and other articles are at http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/resources.html.


Guest Blog: Water Fairies

By Nukiuk

 

Cool grey and green lichen covered stones surround the small pool which reflects the sky above, a small slash disturbs the crystal clear waters and a coin drifts down to join hundreds of others, each representing some wish, each a desire. For hundreds, even thousands of years people have cast votives into this well as an exchange to aid in their hopes. Such wells dot the Celtic landscape, and are perhaps some of the last remnants of the first religion of the Celtic lands.

Down the hill a ways the river bends and flowing water saturates the ground allowing the trees to grow a little thicker as they seem to stretch just a little ways out into the farms. Once these trees would have been decorated with cloth in the spring, offerings for the fairies of the water which lived within the river. For water fairies were the most important of all fairies among the Celts according to Briggs. Such fairies granted wishes and fertility, they aided in the growth of crops and kept people safe for thousands of years. When Julius Caesar was planning to invade the Celts he received reports that they primarily worshipped water fairies. Further among the Irish Danu, the mother goddess of the Tuatha De Dannan was associated with rivers. Among the Gauls Deo Matrona who was associated with the river Marne was the “Mother Goddess.”

It should come as no surprise then that Arthur’s greatest sword, the one which would not only help him keep his kingdom in tact but which also would not break was given to him by a water fairy. It was after all the water fairies which were people’s protection and comfort. In one tale a woman is forced to flee her home as she was tormented by horned witches. Eventually she collapses, weeping beside a well. It is here by the water that a voice speaks to her giving her the knowledge of how to rid her home of her tormentors. Such stories are typical of water fairies, which, being shy beings tend to avoid being seen by humans. Even so they do sometimes appear, most often in the form of an animal.

The Grimm Brother’s fairy tale of “Little Brier Rose” begins with a Queen and King who want a child and water fairy who grants them that wish.

“One day while the queen was sitting in her bath, a crab crept out of the water onto the ground and said, “Your wish will soon be fulfilled, and you will bring a daughter into the world.” And that is what happened.”

There are two pieces of knowledge we gain from the water fairy in the tale of “Little Brier Rose;” the first is that such fairies often take on animal form. In the Scottish fairy tale of “Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree” the water fairy which acts as an oracle appears as a trout. Other fee’s and water fairies appear in the form of giant eels. As I argued in Water Spirits as Fairies the tales of the Loch Ness Monster likely come from the tales of water fairies in eel/serpent form. Indeed the first written encounter with one of these creatures is of a Christian Missionary trying to banish it, not as a physical being but as a spiritual one.

The continuation of this tradition in “Brier Rose” with the appearance of the crab shows us that water fairies were important to people up into the 19th Century. Indeed in the other version of Sleeping Beauty the King and Queen actively go out to the sacred wells in order to gain a child.

The fact that the water fairy gave the King and Queen of “Sleeping Beauty” a child is interesting because water fairies can to some extent see the future. In other words the water fairy in the story of sleeping beauty was the only active being in the story, she was the one who set the story into motion, so it was she who could be said to be the author of the tale. The water fairy was most likely assigned this role in the story not just because she was the provider of fertility, but because fairies are lovers of art and beauty. Sometimes this means that humans, and the story of humanity are their art.

There are a few important things to bear in mind about water fairies, first is that they are lovers of the journey of the state betwixt and between one and another. In one tale a Welsh farmer falls in love with a water fairy and offers her some cooked bread but she claims it’s too hard, so he offers her some dough and she says it’s not done enough so he offers her some half cooked bread and she accepts this gift.

One must keep this in mind both when giving gifts too and receiving wisdom from water fairies, because while they seek to aid humans they never give a full answer, the picture they give humans is unclear so that the humans will have to take the journey on their own. It is only through the journey after all that a person is able to gain true knowledge and appreciation. This is the realm of water fairies to provide both knowledge and fertility.

As with all things done by the fairy in Celtic tradition continuing to work with water fairies wasn’t always so simple. They are after all enigmatic creatures, for they will providing water to drink and aid in the growing of fields but will also bring floods. This is why people worked so hard to develop and maintain a relationship with water fairies. Often travelling in procession every spring to the sacred waters, singing and praising it. Further they offered the water fairies gifts, most often of cloth but also of more valuable goods, for a relationship with water fairies as with all fairies is one built upon a bond which humans must foster.

 

Nukiuk is a folklorist who has been studying Eurasia’s folk religions and fairies, you can learn more about this at http://zeluna.net/.

To see the references for this article visit http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/resources.html.