On the Fairy Road

An exploration of historic and modern Fairy beliefs, and more generally Irish-American and Celtic folk beliefs, from both an academic and experiential perspective.

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Considering Perspective with Sources

In my last blog here I talked about blending personal gnosis and folklore or other people's anecdotal accounts. Today I want to look at another important factor to consider as you set off on the Fairy Road - considering the perspective of the sources you are using. We live in a time when there are possibly more resources for studying fairies than ever before but the quality of these sources is, shall we say, exceedingly wide ranging. There are an abundance of good quality sources of course but people seem to take any and all such material equally rather than giving different weight to each based on its individual biases and viewpoint.

Considering a source's perspective is very important in deciding how to approach the material - to put a twist on an old saying 'not all sources are created equal'. And not all sources share a common view or understanding even of the same subject. The way that the educated English of the early modern period understood and approached fairies is very different from the way that the people in rural communities seemed to have done the same, and both are very different again from how people in Ireland in the same period understood the Daoine Sidhe. Lowland Scottish folklore about fairies found in the ballad material has its own perspective as well. And all of these differ from anecdotes we may find today in those same places. We also have to consider that people - myself included - who are outside the living cultures may have a different perspective as well.

A few specific cultural examples:

English Resources - There was a time when it was difficult to find good sources for specifically English or English focused British fairies online but luckily today that has changed. The British Fairies blog is one example and Cummins' 'The Rain Will Make a Door' series is another. One must simply keep in mind when reading these that they are primarily focused on one culture and often one perspective within that culture, working off of specific material. The same can be said of books on the subject. While paganism seems obsessed with all things Celtic academia tends to overfocus on English fairies in many areas giving us an abundance of scholarly material discussing early modern fairy beliefs in England, usually through the grimoire material or literature, particularly Shakespeare and Spenser. This focus on written material recorded by the elite of the time, or written at least partially divorced from folk belief as the literature was, undoubtedly skews people's perspectives.

Irish Resources - Irish fairylore is also more present than it has been, and has always been quite popular, although given the amount of unfortunately poor material to be found over the last few decades I'd advise extra discernment. Online I personally have found a lot of value in Duchas.ieMythical Ireland, Circle Stories. Lora O'Brien's folklore videos, Michael Fortune's fairy videos (both found on youtube), and the site 'Ireland's Folklore and Traditions', but each of these sources has its own particular viewpoint and understanding of the material it is sharing.  Printed material is also more present but requires discernment, I suggest researching the author to find out what their background is and what their connection to the culture is; someone in it actively working with the folk beliefs is always a better resource. This will also help give you an understanding of the author's perspective which they are writing or speaking from to give you context for their material. 

Scottish Resources - Like English material there was a time when Scottish was a bit more obscure. Most of the resources were preserved in a handful of 19th century books until recently when we started to see a renewed academic interest in the subject and some quality online material. Like the English and Irish the key when assessing Scottish material is to look at what perspective the author is writing from and also what focus their writing is taking. Someone looking at the Scottish ballad material is taking a very specific viewpoint which must be considered differently than someone writing about folk beliefs in Barra. 

My point with all of this is that when looking at any fairy resources it's important to consider the perspective of the author. It's easy to generalize out from one very narrow perspective and assume that is true for all fairies - and I suspect that's why so many people I run across in America now think the Scottish fairies tithe to Hell is a universal thing all fairies do (its not) - but while some things may be generally true many are culture specific. The way that a 17th century English magician related to fairies will be vastly at odds with the way someone in the Irish countryside in the 19th century understood the Daoine Maithe. This is true for all media relating to the subject, from academia to paganism. People writing from within the culture have a different understanding than those outside it and those within it in a position of privilege will have a different view than people without. As we seek to move forward into a deeper understanding of who and what these beings are we must not only weed out the poor sources but also know that the good sources have their own biases and viewpoint which affect how we need to understand them. 


The double sided 'Janus' figure at Caldragh Cemetery, Boa Island

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Morgan has been a practicing witch since the early 90's with a focus on the Fairy Faith and fairylore. She has written over two dozen non-fiction and fiction books on topics related to Irish mythology, witchcraft, fairy folklore, and related subjects. Morgan has also taught workshops on these same topics across the United States and internationally. In her spare time she likes to study the Irish language in both its modern and historic forms.


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