Tag Archives: spirits

Druidry, place and thunder

I feel very strongly that Druidry should be rooted in where you are and that your relationship with your landscape should be part of it. This in turn calls for developing a deeper knowledge about what your landscape is like and who else lives in it. Time invested in knowing the land, encountering the spirits of place and being present through the seasons can be a large part – or even the whole – of your Druidry.

One of the things that makes my locality really unusual, is how storms behave here. This is an area of hills and interconnecting valleys. The hills are big enough that sounds will echo off them, and they are close enough together that some sounds will bounce between them. This means that most thunder storms are extra noisy and have a lot of reverb.

However, sometimes a storm will get down between the hills, and then the effects are dramatic. We had one yesterday where the thunder rolled for more than a minute at a time as the sound moved back and forth between the hills. It’s a really dramatic effect in the daytime, and more so at night.

For a person who thinks in terms of deity, this is clearly a place where the thunder Gods speak. For a person of a more animist persuasion, this may seem more like a conversation between the thunder and the hills. For a person who doesn’t believe in anything much, this is a dramatic experience born of the natural landscape. However you come at it, the experience is a significant one.

I’m not persuaded there are right answers to how we think about these things. Just pick the perspective that makes sense to you and allows you to enter into something you find meaningful. Sacredness is bigger than us, all we can ever do is respond in a limited, human way.


Spirits of air

I have mixed feelings about the autumn. Crisp and colourful autumns can be delightful, but the years where storms tear the leaves off early, and the damp, grey autumns I find tough. However, there is something that becomes visible when the leaves are down, and that’s a truly magical thing…

Today I watched as a tiny whirlwind danced its way across the grass near my flat. Tiny in the scale of whirlwinds, but perhaps four foot high at its peak. I could see it, because of the fallen leaves. No doubt the wind spirits are at play throughout the year – I do sometimes see them dancing in old leaves and playing with litter. There was one in the doorway to Gloucester Cathedral, some years ago. But, when there’s a thick carpet of leaves to whip up, it is so much easier to spot them passing.

I’m sure there are logical explanations involving wind, the shape of the space and so forth. Rationally speaking, it’s just a little whirlwind. But I can’t see the world purely in those terms. I can’t watch that wild, dancing column of leaves and not feel a sense of awe and wonder. It doesn’t matter what the explanations are, or how explicable it all is – this is nature. This is energy. This is something real happening. For me, it is magic.


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.


Signs from nature

I recently read a rather new agey book, which talked a lot about the presence of angels (author William Bloom, if anyone was wondering). It included such notions as nature being the face of spirit and that if we pay attention to nature, it will give messages to us. I’ve also recently read a Ross Heaven book on shamanic healing, and that too offered the idea of messages from nature. Now, on one hand I do divination and the idea of simple things that give inspiration and prompt insight works fine for me. But on the other hand…

I spend a lot of time close to nature. I’m living on a small boat on a large canal, there’s a lot of water, trees and wildlife right outside my window and I’m out there in it every day. I see a lot of nature. I’ve watched the grebes diving at twilight, and seen them enough to know perfectly well that they aren’t there for me; they are there for the spot they like to fish in at sunset. I know when the bats and badgers are likely to come out, which bit of towpath the toads favour, where the owls like to perch, and where to hear a cuckoo in the spring.

Encountering any of these things as a one off, they might feel mystical and magical in the sense of conveying specific meaning to me. Living with them every day, I can’t take them as personal omens. I can see how the weather impacts on some of them, seasons, times of day. I see that all the living things around me have their own needs, communities, habits. I will gasp with the sheer pleasure of seeing a tern, I am delighted by the badgers. I know where to find them, and I know I won’t see any of them so much in really bad weather, or at the season when they are elsewhere. There is a magic in experiencing nature.

It seems a touch arrogant, to me, to imagine that the natural world has nothing better to do than run round bringing us messages about whether to apply for that job, or whether to ditch a lover. My honest impression is that unless I am directly interacting with it in some way, the rest of nature couldn’t care less whether I live or die, succeed or fail. If I have bread crusts, the swans will love me, for a little while. If I am noisy, the birds will fly away from me. The more time I spend with them, the less able I am to see patterns of meaning in nature that do not pertain to the other living entities. I am also ever more conscious that these are spirits too, all of them from the tiniest bug on my finger tip to the big fish that occasionally leap at dusk. They are all spirits. They all have their own paths to follow. Do any of them taking my coming and going for an omen?


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.


Guest Blog: Origins of the Celtic Folk Religion

By Nukiuk

The greatest rivers have many source just as the Celtic Folk Religions which are some of the richest and most complex sets of beliefs in the world do not have a single source. The Celtic belief system comes from many lands and many peoples who exchanged ideas, philosophies and most importantly fairies and deities. Such exchanges in religious knowledge was common, thus Arito the Celtic Bear Goddess is likely of Ugric origin and Celtic Shamanism was likely greatly influenced by the Ugrics and Altaic peoples.
Such influences and origins provide those who are studying folk religions with advantages in better understanding a given people because while many aspects of the Celtic Folk Religions have been lost to Christian Raiders and the steady decay of time, some of the missing pieces to the puzzle that is the Celtic Folk Beliefs can still be found among those who once shared a religion with or influenced the Celtic peoples. Further the study of these related folk religions can aid those who are trying to build relationships with Celtic Fairies will gain insights into additional ways to do so.

The Indo-Europeans
The Celtic language is an Indo-European language which tells us that at least some of the Celtic faith has the same roots as the Roman, Germanic, Greek, Hindu, and Slavic faiths. Indeed many Romans were disturbed by the similarities between the Celtic and Roman philosophies as they could not understand how a people they considered to be ‘barbarians’ and developed not only such a complex and rich system but a system which was so similar to their own.
Forming on the Eurasian Steppes the Indo-European language came to dominate most of Europe and Southern Asia all the way to India. Initially the Indo-European peoples worshipped formless spirits and fairy like beings which they believed inhibited both natural and important manmade objects. Such beings were not worshipped in temples, but rather in the forests, mountains and along the waterways where they lived.
While today the Hindus of India and the Kalasha people are the only Indo-Europeans who are still primarily pagan, many records still exist of the beliefs of the Greeks and Romans, while folk religions and myths were recorded of the rest which gives us many more pieces to the puzzle.

The First Peoples of Isles
The Indo-Europeans were not the first people to inhabit the Celtic lands, many folklorists of the past have presumed that fairies were nothing more than a pre-existing people. While such notions are supported by the Irish belief that the Tuatha de Danann or the Cornish belief that Pixies had been driven underground by the coming of humans and powerful Druids the nature of things beings brings into question their previous relationship with humanity. What’s more as much as 85% of the DNA of the Welsh and Irish populations comes from pre-Indo-European sources, even in the modern era. In other words the Indo-Europeans might have supplied the Celtic language, but the majority of the Celtic people came from the first peoples of Europe. Thus the majority of the Celtic peoples’ DNA comes from the peoples who built Stonehenge. Although these people left no records I have argued that Europe’s Folk Religions which primarily focuses on the worship of water deities, Earth spirits, The Fates, along with the spirits of stones and hills gives us the best idea of what this early religion was.

The Etruscans
The Proto-Celts formed next to the Raetic people who are related to the Etruscans. These peoples paid greater attention to Banshee figures than were the other Indo-Europeans and so this could be the source for the Celts closeness to these fairies. Further the Etruscan peoples paid closer attention to portents than other European peoples with the exception of the Celts so it seems likely that the Celts were influenced greatly by the Raetic peoples’ faith.

The Ugric Peoples
The Ugric people include the Finnish and Estonians as well as the people who are often called ‘the last Pagans of Europe,’ the Mari of European Russia. The Ugric peoples believed in fairy-like beings which lived in the forests and could help or harm people. Their deities and peoples were often led by Merlin-like figures. As previously mentioned the Celts relationship with Arito the Bear Goddess was likely influenced by the Ugric peoples, as was Merlin, Shamanism and the general idea of magic.

The Altaic Peoples
The Celts get their word for horse from the horsemen of the Eurasian Steppes who became the Turkish, as well as the Japanese, Mongolian and Korean peoples. This shows us not only that the early Celts had contact with the Altaic people but that the Altaic peoples likely had big influence on the Celts conception of horses (some of the most sacred animals in Celtic Lore) and possibly on the Celts’ conception of war. The Altaic peoples were the peoples who developed the idea of the ‘Worlds Tree,’ they are also known for believing that the mountains and hilltops are an otherworld for spirits and fairy like creatures.
To better understand the Altaic Folk Religions one can still study the Japanese Religion which has its roots in the Altaic belief system as does Korean Shamanism, Tengriism, and many forms of Siberian Shamanism.

As previously mentioned these relationships to the Celtic beliefs can make it easier to fill the gaps left in our knowledge of this ancient religion. Further, just as the people who were related to the Celts were inspired by many sources so can the great scholars of today.

Nukiuk is a Folklorist who has been using fairy tales to learn more about Eurasia’s folk religions. You can learn more about his work at http://zeluna.net/.
You can learn more about the Indo-Europeans and the origin of Europe’s fairies at http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/origins-of-europes-fairies_14.html.

References at http://fairies.zeluna.net/p/resources.html


Of Druidry and time

One of the things I’ve become really conscious of this week, is that engaging with nature has a time element to it. Different parts of the day belong to different entities. The same place has a very different character, set of inhabitants and, arguably, spirit, depending on time of day. While the sun is up, I have birds and butterflies. At twilight the fish are jumping, the bats and owls come out, the toads are more active. Into the night there are foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, and at least rumours of otters. I’ve seen glow bugs lately as well.

We all have to sleep. When we’re asleep, we’re not out there encountering the wildlife or engaging with the spirits of place. I find that I can’t go messing about with my sleep patterns without consequences, so while the odd all nighter, random early morning and the such is ok, mostly for my own wellbeing I need a fairly stable sleep/wake pattern.

One of the consequences of needing to engage with the rest of the world, is that I can’t have the summer sleep pattern I really want. I’m a creature of twilight by preference, but to do dawn and dusk when the nights are so short here, I would need to sleep for a few hours in the middle of the day. One of my longstanding ambitions is to have the time and space for experimenting with how this affects me.

No matter how deep a spiritual bond we have with a space, there will always be things we do not know about it. If I’m watching the fish, I will not see what the birds are doing. The more attention I give to one aspect of what is around me, the more likely I am to miss something in the bigger picture. There are balances to strike, between focus and wider awareness. We need that bigger picture – without context, and a sense of how it all fits together impressions readily distort. We also need the deeper, more involved relationships. And thus we come back to the issue of time. There’s only a finite number of hours at our disposal. I cannot forage with the badgers, and dive with the terns, and sing with the dawn chorus and the evening blackbirds and have time to work and eat and fulfil other duties and needs.

Therefore there are always going to be times when what happens around me remains a mystery.  I may get odd glimpses. When I say ‘hello spirits of place’ even though I know the place well, I hold an awareness that I am also speaking to the mysteries, the unknown, the things that come out to play when I am asleep.

There were eleven badgers last night, one rabbit who I watched for ages, one fleeting visit from a fox cub, and a great number of glow bugs, several bats, and no doubt far more small things that I didn’t see. Hello mysteries.