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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Three Approaches to Fairy Work

As I've studied both older folk practices relating to fairies and modern methods I've observed three basic approaches. Today I'd like to take a quick look at these, with an understanding that there is no one that is better or worse than the others; they are simply different ways to relate to the Fair Folk that have developed organically over time. All of these exist in the historic record as well as modern practice. 

1. Appeasement/Warding - Probably the most common approach to dealing with the Good People is simply to prophylactically give them what you are willing to and which they want - usually milk, butter, or bread - to avoid them taking what you don't want to give and which they also want - cows, human children or adults, or your luck or prosperity. The other side of that is to ward against them with iron, specific herbs and charms, or Christian items. These two things, appeasement and warding, are usually paired together as joined practices. The majority of people who acknowledge the existence of fairies, in my own experience and study, take this approach if any. 

2. Folk Magic - This would fall into the realm of what is now commonly called in English witchcraft and many forms of cunningcarft* which dealt with fairies. There is evidence of people who would interact directly with the fairies to get information or teaching (particularly about herbs and healing) but there were not necessarily specific terms for this in Irish or Scottish Gaidhlig as related to the fairies although mna feasa [wise women] were sometimes known for having such knowledge. The folk magic approach was dichotomous with some practitioners focusing on protecting humans from the fairies and fixing damage done by them and other practitioners working with them or for them occasionally to the detriment of other humans. 
   The folk magic approach tended to be informal and structured around simple rituals, charms, and the use of materials found at hand. Fairies might be dealt with as in point one, but also could be more actively interacted with particularly to gain knowledge. In some cases folk magic might be used to gain the return of those taken by the Othercrowd or otherwise afflicted by them.

3. Ceremonial Magic - The final approach would be ceremonial magic, a much more formal and structured methodology. Fairies through this lens tend to be incorporated into the wider cosmology of angels and demons, often referred to interchangeably as such in the grimoire material. This view, possibly because of that, tends to utilize rituals or spells that compel, bind, or dominate fairies in order to enforce the magician's will. To do this many of the spells use a variety of names of the Christian God invoked against the fairy being called on or using those names to compel them to appear. 
  The ceremonial approach involves the magician borrowing authority from a higher power, historically the Christian God or Virgin Mary, in order to achieve control over the Good Folk. This relationship then is based in a particular cosmology and world view that is more humancentric and also reliant on the power of the deity being called on and magician's ability to follow the ritual format exactly. Such rituals were generally used to gain knowledge, power (invisibility, for example), to find treasure, or to gain an Otherworldly lover, for a few examples. 

This is only a very brief overview of this subject and each approach. Indeed one could write at length about any one of the three approaches quite easily. Hopefully this has at least given readers a basic understanding of the subject and the differences inherent in each. Those interested in digging deeper can look into the books listed under references below. 


*I would note that there are some references to cunningfolk who did use a more ceremonial approach, including versions of the same rituals used by ceremonial magicians. 

Briggs, K., (1959) The Anatomy of Puck
Harms, D., Clark, J., and Peterson, J., (2017) The Book of Oberon
Poeton, E., (2018) The Winnowing of White Witchcraft

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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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