Tag Archives: faerie

The Knowing

The things that get passed down through our family lines, the stories, and demons, the things that are part of us because we’re playing out historical dramas, have been a fascination of mine for a long time. How we break free from all that, or work with it, or make peace with it… There’s a modern tendency to see ourselves as self-made people, products of now, of our immediate environments and education, and not to go poking into how generations of experience might have had a hand in shaping us. Yet here in the UK, land ownership still owes a lot to the Norman invasion. Inequality has deep roots.

Stories pass down family lines. Obvious ones are anecdotal or about descent and history. Less obvious ones just say things like ‘that’s not for the likes of us.’ In singing families, songs pass down through generations as well, and tradition bearers of this sort have done a lot to keep folk alive. I don’t have that depth of ancestry – my grandmother came to folk during the sixties folk revival, but I do have songs I learned from her singing them, and with luck a grandchild or great grandchild of mine will be able to feel that they have a musical lineage.

There aren’t many authors I’ve run into who explore the magical possibilities of music – Charles De Lint, obviously. I guess part of it is that the character breaking away from roots and tradition seems more inherently exciting than the character who is steeped in or reconnecting with their family traditions. Dramatic change is the stuff of conventional fiction, especially speculative fiction. Deep rootedness seems at odds with that.

These are some of the many thoughts sparked by reading Kevan Manwaring’s The Knowing. It’s a speculative novel deeply rooted in faerie folklore and traditional stories. The central character, Janey, comes from a line of women who are song bearers, and the magical power of song is critical to her journey. Drawing on the tales of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, and on the curious history of Robert Kirk, and on the folklore in the landscape of both Scotland and the Smoky Mountains, this is a story with deep roots. It’s also a story set very much in the here and now, full of unexpected turns and twists.

For most of human history, song and storytelling have been intrinsic to our lives. It’s only really post industrialisation than the majority of us have been uprooted from our traditions and encouraged to accept mass produced entertainment instead. What used to be a shared culture has been replaced by economic ventures. But, I also see these same modes of communication being used to reclaim tradition and breathe new life into it. With a background in storytelling, Kevan is well placed to bring old enchantment into the world in new forms. It’s not the means of delivery that matters most, but what it is that we have to deliver.

Find The Knowing here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Knowing-Fantasy-Kevan-Manwaring-ebook/dp/B06XKKFGFV/

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Halo Quin

Today I want to do a shout out for fellow Moon Books author Halo Quin. You can read my mini-review of her book ‘Your Faerie Magic’ here, and below is a video of Halo doing a book reading.

 

Halo has an enterprise called The Goblin Circus – I’ve seen her do the introduction to this performance and am really keen to see the whole thing, it looks like an absolute hoot. She did a guest blog for me about the goblins, which you can read here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/faeries-and-goblins/

And a flavour of the Goblin Circus may be found here…

 

I’ve done two Druid Camps with Halo as part of the mix, she’s an absolutely lovely person, so please do check out her work. Her blog is here – https://haloquin.net/

 

Halo 1


Shapeshifting with Tam Lin

Tam Lin is an ancient Scottish story full of love, magic, faerie complications and a lot of shapeshifting. Many versions exist, but the short explanation is: Tam is a young man, falls off his horse while hunting, taken by the faeries to live with them, goes round seducing young ladies in the woods. Seduces Janet, gets her pregnant. She comes back looking for a herb to terminate the pregnancy, he tells her the faeries are going to sacrifice him to Satan at Halloween, and how to save him, she shows up, pulls him from his horse, hangs onto him as he shifts and eventually gets a naked man she can take home. It’s a good story, and there are a lot of places to go with it.

This version doesn’t have any angry faerie queens in it. Just a strange young man, who wanders the forest. A young man who has become more of a shade than a man, and who she has to hold through his transformations so that he can turn back into the kind of person you can realistically take home.

I find this incredibly resonant. Take out the faeries, and what you have is a story that reflects something about bringing back someone who is lost and wandering. I’ve had nights like this, when the difference between life and death is the person who can hold you as you flail, howl, and sometimes bite. A lot of the versions have Tam Lin become a burning brand of iron. Anyone who has tried to hold someone in crisis can expect it to be tough. Mostly it’s not a case of one hard night fending off faerie transformations. Seeing the snarling wolf and the snake within the other person, seeing their teeth and their broken animal self, seeing where they are dangerous and where they are wounded… generally it takes more than a night of holding to make that journey. It takes a lot of holding the burning iron.

But sometimes, at the far end of it, when you have weathered everything there is, when you have heard it all, sometimes what you are left with is another person, whole in their skin and naked in their vulnerability. Someone who might, after all, be able to go back to the village and take up life as a person again.


A brief history of egrets

There were no egrets in Gloucestershire when I was a child. They are not part of the traditional or ancient fauna of the UK, although people do get them a bit muddled up with herons, storks and cranes. The egrets have simply extended their range, and have arrived of their own volition, claiming a niche along our waterways. They aren’t that numerous nor do they breed prolifically, so it’s not appeared to cause much trouble.

When I originally wrote Hunting the Egret, I had not actually seen an egret in person. I’d seen images online, and fallen entirely in love with them. My first egret encounter was on the Somerset coast, and made me cry. Moving back to Gloucestershire, I found the egrets had made it this far, as I had envisaged in the novel, so I came to the redraft able to add details from experience. Although it turned out I didn’t need to change much – I had them pretty much figured out.

White creatures tend to feature in myth and legend as guides to the otherworld. White stags and white hares are probably the most common, white horses, and white dogs also have definite faerie associations. There are lots of stories linking swans to magic as well. In nature, very few things are pristine white. There’s snow and milk, and naturally white creatures and birds. Before humans invented bleach and white paint, mostly we lived with earth shades. Brilliant whiteness didn’t feature much, your white robed Druid (imagining they did exist) would probably have been somewhat off-white, dependant on sun bleaching, and not able to access the kinds of chemicals we now soak our clothes in regularly. Whiteness was unusual, and therefore all the more startling.

Seeing an egret fly out of the mist in the strange light of early morning, is a magical experience. They have the brilliant, pristine whiteness that suggests they may be harbingers of the otherworld. The slow flap of their wings has a stately quality, and, like cranes and herons, they are very good at standing still; poised and majestic. Being water birds, they tend to live along the margins, in the places that are neither quite land, nor water, making them powerful personifications of liminal places. Seeing one perched in a tree is a tad surreal, but like herons, they do favour tree perches and nest on branches.

Being relative newcomers, there is no British mythology around egrets, and no stories to tap into. No Mrs Tiggywinkle or Fantastic Mr Fox equivalents. As a child I loved the tales that shamelessly personified animals and made them accessible to me – Wind in the Willows, Duncton Wood, Farthing Wood, Brambly Hedge, Beatrix Potter… No doubt in other countries there are stories about egrets, but I have none, and that adds to their mystery rather. They have come from another world (France, not Faerie as I understand it) and we have not characterised them with tales, as yet.


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.