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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Morgan Daimler

Morgan Daimler

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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Bealtaine is upon us once again, as the round of the year passes in due course. This is always a popular holiday, as people celebrate the arrival of warmer weather (in areas that see distinct weather shifts anyway) and renewed agricultural activity and activity in the natural world. Holidays at this time of year are celebrated by many different types of witches and pagans and may be called by several different names although my own focus is on Bealtaine, both as it was traditionally celebrated in Ireland as well as specific ways that I have personally adapted practices for myself. 

Bealtaine stood opposite Samhain on the calendar and in many ways represented opposite themes; where Samhain was a time of harvest and of the Dead, Bealtaine was a time of blessing and planting. It was on Bealtaine that the herds were sent out to their summer pastures, and in the old stories it was on this day that many important events occurred such as the Tuatha de Danann first arriving in Ireland. It is said that in ancient Ireland all fires were put out on the eve of Bealtaine and then the Druids would light a sacred fire at Tara which would be passed from hilltop to hilltop and home to home until all the fires were re-lit. (Wilde, 1991). Bealtaine is the beginning of summer and was the time that contracts were renewed, herds moved, and crops planted.

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Pangur Bán

This is a translation I did in 2016, but I thought it would be fun to share here today. Its a well known 9th century Irish poem about a scholar and his cat called Pangur Ban. The following original Irish is from Stokes' 1903 Thesaurus Paleohibernicus; the English is my own.

Messe ocus Pangur bán,cechtar nathar fria saindán;

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Through The Mist

Its said in Irish mythology that the Aos Sidhe have the power to conjure a mist, the ceo draiochta, which hides them from mortal sight and allows them to pass through the human world as they will without human interference. They teach this magic to the Tuatha De Danann when those Powers go into the sidhe so that they too can pass unseen when they will. 

For someone studying fairies or seeking a path that is based in fairy belief this magical mist may or may not be a factor in physically seeing fairies but on a figurative level it certainly seems to be an issue in finding out anything about them. Information is hard to find and often distorted, like the image of a landscape through a heavy mist, and terms are fluid and hard to define. The more you walk into the mist the more lost you feel. The more you learn the more questions you have. 

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Some Brighid and Imbolc Facts
With Imbolc fast approaching there is a lot of information going around about both the holiday and the goddess. I thought it might be helpful here to offer some basic information about both, sourced from the original texts.
The name Brighid comes from the older name Brig or Bric, which means power, vigour, strength, authority according to the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language. It is in this form that we find older references to the goddess, such as in the Cath Maige Tuired. In later use, such as the Sanas Cormaic we see it spelled Brigit and there are now several variants. Its suggested the earlier root in proto-Indo-European would mean high or height giving us 'exalted one'. The popular idea that Brighid comes from Breo-saighead or Breo-aighead meaning "fiery arrow" is a fanciful folk etymology from Cormac's Glossary. This is the full entry: "Brigit .i. banfile ingen in Dagdai. is eiside Brigit baneceas (ł be neicsi) .i. Brigit bandee noadradís filid. arba romor ⁊ baroán afri thgnam. is airesin ideo eam (deam) uocant poetarum hoc nomine cuius sorores erant Brigit be legis Brigit bé goibnechta .i. bandé .i. tri hingena in Dagdai insin. de quarum nominibus pene omnes Hibernenses dea Brigit uocabatur. Brigit din .i. breoaigit ł breoṡaigit." (Brigit - a poet, daughter of the Dagda. This Brigit is a woman of poetry (female poet) and is Brigit the goddess worshipped by poets because her protection was very great and well known. This is why she is called a goddess by poets. Her sisters were Brigit the woman of healing and Brigit the woman of smithcraft, goddesses; they are three daughters of the Dagda. Almost all Irish goddesses are called a Brigit. Brigit then from breoaigit or breoshaigit, 'fiery arrow').
Its unknown what Imbolg means but the leading suggestion is i-mbolg "in the belly" although alternatives have also been suggested over the years. The name is referenced in the Táin Bó Cuiliagne and Dindshenchas, usually as a time marker, ie "luan samain sáinriuth cossin cetáin iar n-imbulc" (monday of Samhain particularly until the Wednesday of Imbolg). We also find this reference to Imbolc in the Dindshenchas: "iar n-imbulc, ba garb a ngeilt" (after Imbolc, rough was their herding). There is no information as far as I am ware of older celebration practices for this holiday.
An alternative name for the holiday is Oimelc or Oimelg, possibly meaning "ewe's milk", oi meilg, although this name appears to be later and less common. We see a reference to Oimelc in The Wooing of Emer: "55 To Oimolc, i.e., the beginning of spring, viz., different (ime) is its wet (folc), viz the wet of spring, and the wet of winter. Or, oi-melc, viz., oi, in the language of poetry, is a name for sheep, whence oibá (sheep's death) is named, ut dicitur coinbá (dog's death), echbá (horse's death), duineba (men's death), as bath is a name for 'death'. Oi-melc, then, is the time in which the sheep come out and are milked, whence oisc (a ewe), i.e., oisc viz., barren sheep."
We also have this about Oimelc in the Sanas Cormaic: "oimelc .i. oimelg .i. isí aimser andsín tic ass caerach." (Oimelc that is oimelg that is the season when the sheep are in milk.)
I know this is a lot of references and facts to throw out there but beyond the huge array of personal practices and folk customs these are the main factual items that I see coming up either skewed or inaccurately relayed. I hoped it would help to provide some basics for people to work outwards from.
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When we look for sources of information about fairies we often, logically, turn to folklore and anecdotal accounts. And so we should as these are good, solid sources of information. But we do have another sources about the Irish Good Folk, and arguably an equally important source: mythology. In Irish culture these beings aren't limited to later folklore but appear throughout written mythology as well, going back to the 5th* century Echtra Condla.

In the earliest account, the aforementioned Echtra Condla, we find a story of a woman of the Otherworld who appears to Connla, son of the king. No one else can see or hear her but they can see Connla's interaction with her. She tells him that she is of the people of the fairy hills and describes the place as "an immortal land where there is no death or the sin of transgressions. We have our harvest feast without labor; peace cloaks us without strife". She then invites Connla to go with her, his father's druid intervenes, blocking her for a time, but eventually Connla does indeed go with the fairy woman, never to be seen on earth again. 

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We all have biases, its part of human nature, but many people don't acknowledge their biases, and may not even be aware of them. Its important in both spirituality and life to try to root out where our biases are and see how they are effecting, for good or bad, our interaction with things around us. This is something that I have been thinking a lot about today as I see the effects of bias within various fairy-interest communities. 

We relate to the world through a series of mental schema which act as shortcuts for our minds to assess situations and organize information. These schema are essential to the way the human mind works because they provide frameworks for us to relate to the world around us quickly and efficiently. However this mental process lends itself to the formation of biases, or ingrained beliefs and ideas about people and things. Biases are slightly different from schema but are part of the same wider mental process that looks for shortcuts to processing and understanding information. Biases are usually learned or taught and can be positive or negative, for example a person may have a positive bias towards teachers or a negative bias towards people who are unemployed. 

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In honor of the first snow of the year where I am, arriving today, and Samhain tomorrow, I'd like to share my translation of a 9th century Irish poem:

Scél lemm dúib:
Dordaid dam,
Snigid gaim,
Ro-fáith sam;
Gáeth ard úar,
Ísel grían,
Gair a rith,
Ruirthech rían;
Ro-rúad rath
Ro-cleth cruth,
Ro-gab gnáth
Guigrann guth;
Ro-gab úacht
Etti én
Aigre re
É mo scél.
- 9th century Irish
I have news for you:
The stag bells,
Winter snows,
Summer has gone;
Wind high and cold,
The sun low,
Short its course
The sea running high;
Deep red the bracken
Its shape lost,
The wild goose has
Raised its accustomed cry;
Cold has seized
The birds’ wings
Season of ice
This is my news.
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