An introduction to Faerie.
What are Faeries?
Few words are as evocative to the magically or imaginatively minded as that of Faerie, and faeries. Beings of wonder and enchantment, beauty and peril, faeries are known throughout the world by many names, as magical beings who live close to our world, but mysteriously are not part of it. They go by many descriptions and have many regional characteristics, but in Britain and Ireland they are known mostly as faeries, the Sidhe, the gentry, the shining ones, and in later folklore, the dismissive title of ‘the little people’, in an attempt to play down their power and importance to a critical clergy. Living close to our human realm, faeries are beings of spirit, whose use of physical forms is akin to our use of clothes; they can and often do move in and out of different appearances at will for a variety of reasons. However, one defining characteristic which remains apparent from human contact with them is the distinct feeling or sensation their presence produces. It can be described as ‘heady’ or ‘intense’ but can also produce feelings of euphoria and spiritual, even physical ecstasy. Yet it is also unique from the sensations caused by other spiritual encounters. The touch of Faerie once felt, often has profound effects on the psyche and the person’s energy field, evoking great yearning and longing to experience it once again. Several times it has been described to me by my faerie allies as being due to the fact that their energy signatures vibrate at a very different, and yet compatible rate to ours, and their proximity to us causes our energy fields to subtly, and sometimes dramatically alter, opening up whole new vistas of awareness for us to experience.
Faeries are intimately connected to the soul of our planet, and they draw in and direct energy straight from Source/ God/Goddess, as it manifests as the earths spiritual heart. This can sometimes lead to confusion between what could strictly be called faeries, and the wider races of nature spirits which abound across every inch of our earth. This connection to the earth has also lead various schools of New Age thought and monotheistic religion to place faeries in a of hierarchical view of the universe, as some sort of lesser, or even ‘fallen’ angel, and sometimes reducing them to tiny childlike beings of Disney-land style fantasy. But genuine encounters with Faerie show no such correlation. Faeries, as they are usually experienced in Britain and Ireland, and as the history of encounters with them suggest in our folklore and mythology, which stretches for thousands of years, simply do not fit into any such narrow version of reality, or New Age fashion. Defying easy human categorisation or definition they encourage an awareness of something far more expansive and profound.
Types of faery.
Trying to classify different types of faery is a complicated matter. Many are shape-shifters, which change their size as well as appearance at will, often as a means of communication and expression. Very few faeries as encountered in the Faerie tradition or in folklore are actually small, the ‘little people’ being both a term used to play down any threat they may pose to the Christians as well as a humorous, familiar phrase to call them, actually referring to the fact that they are anything but ‘little’, like calling a large man ‘tiny’. Often faeries are larger than humans, and many are much, much larger, but size is of little real importance as their scale is as mutable as many of their other characteristics. Some have male or female forms, whilst others appear to be neither or choose to dwell between the two, whilst many, particularly faerie queens, appear to have the ability to ‘breathe’ other faeries into being.
Another way of approaching some form of classification is to distinguish between those who are predominantly hive beings, and those who are solitary. Hive beings may be so close in their consciousness to one another as to be almost one collective being, but can also be a looser ‘troop’ of faeries, such as are encountered at the Faerie courts, where they are ruled by a faerie king and queen. Such troops of faeries are known in folklore to hold ‘faery raides’ riding en-masse across the landscape, and through the air, particularly at Samhain and the summer solstice, and also favouring full moons and stormy nights. The faery raide is akin to the Wild Hunt, where the hunter gods such as Woden, Herne and Gwyn, who is also a faerie king, pursue the souls of the dead to take them to the underworld.
Solitary faeries, which are often more attached to a specific geographical site, can include household faeries and those attached to families, such as cousins and co-walkers, as described by Robert Kirk in his book ‘the secret commonwealth of elves, fauns and faeries.’ However, again, this is not always so. Both hive and solitary faeries may be either friendly, aloof, or blatantly hostile to human contact depending on the individual faery, and the circumstances. There are no absolute rules, although there are taboos and customs concerning faery contact which it is wise to adhere to.
Many faeries align themselves with other forces of nature or elemental energies. Hence some faeries appear to be more tree or plant- like in their appearance or dress. Others show a liking for water, or fire, or air in their general appearance, whilst others take the forms of our ancestral styles of dress such as Bronze Age armour, animal skins or Celtic plaid. Again, these are to express their personal preferences and to add layers of expression in their communications, particularly with humans. Thus it maybe seen that faeries use a form of mimicry drawn from their previous experiences with humans to aid in their communications with humans of later generations. Faeries with wings are conspicuously absent from the Faery and folklore of the British Isles and Ireland, as well as from the experiences of contemporary Seers, being instead a remnant of Victorian children’s book illustration and popular culture. Some faeries, which work and dwell closely with the soul of the earth, serving her as a goddess, become lit with an internal luminescence which can grow or diminish according to circumstance and mood. These are described by the visionary AE as ‘opalescent beings’ and are more powerful and mysterious than the Shining Ones, although all these classifications should be seen rather as a continuous blur and progression than rigid definitions. It is this that often causes human confusion in seeing the differences between faeries and nature spirits, as these too evolve and change over time, and form hive beings of greater and greater wisdom and stature, whilst at the same time retaining elements of individuality. Some naturally grow closer to Faerie in their natures, whilst some faeries grow closer to nature spirits, and all are drawn continuously closer to the heart of the earth goddess, and thereby closer to the Source of creation.
Faerie cosmology/ the Otherworld.
The question of ‘where is Faerie? ’ has been answered in many different ways and yet also remains a mystery. In the British Celtic cosmology, Faerie is often located within the underworld, Annwn, due to the tradition of using barrow mounds as a point of entry, although it can also be found in the upper world, Gwynfed, as a place of eternal youth and paradise, and in Abred the spiritual aspect of our own, middle world. In the Irish tradition, Faerie or the Otherworld, is also entered via barrow mounds, or in a journey across the sea. In the Irish tradition the Otherworld takes the form of many islands, and is a more detailed cosmology, with many different types of Faerie realm. There are also the four cities of the Tuatha de Dananns, from which they came to Ireland as gods and goddesses, before retiring into the hills and mounds (sidhe) to become the faerie race, the ‘Sidhe’ still encountered today. The four cities are Otherworldly centres of great power, and each of the four treasures of sovereignty, the Hallows, came from them to Ireland, gifting the mortal realm with objects of incredible power and magic. The four cities are Falias in the north, from which the stone of Fal was brought; the city of Gorias in the east from which Nuada’s sword, the sword of the moon was brought, the city of Finnias in the south from which came the spear of Lugh and Murias in the west from which was brought the cauldron of plenty and regeneration, which was the Dagdha’s. The four treasures are the greatest of Faerie symbols.
Faerie can sometimes be entered easily and even by mistake by some, whilst for others gaining entry is a quest which takes them years, or is never fulfilled while they wait near its entrance wasting away filled with yearning and sorrow. Common ways of entry are via a doorway in a barrow mound as mentioned earlier, or through a hole in a tree. Sometimes, trees growing upside-down are climbed between the worlds, roots to branches, so that the seeker lands in Faerie from above. Wells and crossroads are also entry points, as are the splits in lightning struck trees. Entry can also be gained by sleeping under elder tress or sitting in vigil by hawthorns. Following Faerie paths can sometimes lead there, but these are very hard to find and even harder to follow except by chance, or Faerie influence. Most entry to Faerie is undertaken by spirit journey, similar to shamanic spirit flight, and physical entry to Faerie cannot occur without invitation and is a rare and potentially dangerous undertaking.
Offerings and contact.
Faeries are easiest to contact at the liminal times and places, dawn, dusk, noon and midnight, on sea or lakeshore, the boundaries between old tribal lands, the entrances to barrows, on Ley lines which were once known as dragon lines, and of course upon the mysterious Faerie paths which sometimes shift and change position. Woodlands and wild places are also good for contacting faeries. As trees hold positions on all the three realms, of middle, lower and upper world, they are natural places for the worlds to connect and intermingle, and all faeries love trees for their own sake as well as their position as liminal, multi-dimensional beings. Humans have long made offerings to the faeries, not as an obligation or tithe, but as a mechanism for building and maintaining good relations, and continuing this ancient practice is essential for good Faerie contact. Offerings of milk, cream and cakes are traditional. It is likely that our Neolithic ancestors made them offerings of fat or some sort of butter, as deposits of ‘bog butter’ have been found ritually buried in the peat bogs of Ireland and this was probably also practiced in Britain. I prefer leaving offerings of butter as my faerie allies have always suggested this, so for me, discovering this archaeological fact was very satisfying. It has opened up new human directions in confirming just how far back the ancient comradeship between human and faerie really goes, as well as suggesting and informing more ways of working with them that our Neolithic ancestors may have practiced themselves.
Offerings of song, acoustic music, and dance are also welcome and well loved by faeries, as much of our folklore relates. Try singing ‘nonsense’ songs, drawing your inspiration ('awen ' in the Welsh, 'imbas' in Irish) from the natural world and trying to give voice to the spirits of the land surrounding you. Be open to the magic, and remember to be honest, polite, and honourable in all your dealings with the Fey, and you shall in time, be gifted with allies and faerie friends that may accompany you and your family for generations.
Remember, offerings should always be biodegradable and not ruin the environment you are endeavouring to respect as sacred. Clearing an area of rubbish or pollution is an excellent offering an is always appreciated by all surrounding nature spirits as well as the faeries.
Also remember the Faerie taboos on worked iron, which disrupts the natural flow of energy and can banish unfriendly faeries, as it cuts the lines of life force that surround all things. Bronze, copper and silver have the opposite effect, healing the energy flow, and attracting faeries and nature spirits of all kinds.
Blessings of the Sidhe upon you.
Copyright Danu Forest 2010.