fae, Holiday Celebration, Paganism, Spiritwork

Bealtaine with the Local Fair Folk

As frequent readers of this blog might guess, my upcoming Bealtaine* plans will revolve around the Fair Folk. While most folklore tells us to ward and protect against Them on festival days, here in faery-witchcraft-land, it’s a holiday to celebrate connections with Them, instead. I plan to do a simple solitary ritual on Oíche Bealtaine (May-Eve), and give offerings to a Local Fairy Queen who is an ally of mine. I call her the Rosegay Queen, since she seems to be associated with wild roses. I’ll also be paying my respects to the royal couple she has claimed descent from, Úna and Fionnbharr. To that end, I have some mead, and I’m thinking about making some of the Fairy Cakes Morgan Daimler learned to make in a dream. Perhaps I’ll top them with hawthorn jelly (it is SO GOOD), and maybe I’ll get some rose flavored tea or floral lemonade.

I was hoping to buy a young hawthorn tree this spring, but was warned not to because of the 17 year cicadas, which are due any day now. (Apparently they can stress and kill young shrubs!) So my May Bush this year is probably the rhododendron out front again – but I suppose that’s in keeping with the rose theme, as another name for those is the rosebay!

I’m still planning the menu for the family dinner, which usually is the bulk of the household observation of holidays. I tend to stick to dishes with ingredients that are in season locally. I have in the past made a strawberry-filled salad, but I think the strawberries are going to be a little later this year. The wild violets are coming up, though, and those are edible! I may do a side salad with violets and a quiche with local eggs, goat cheese, and fresh herbs. My herbs are all regreening in the bed out front, and I should have plenty. Maybe I’ll use some of the baby green onions, too – those will need thinning soon!

After dinner we’ll probably have a fire in the pit outside, and do a short round of offerings and prayer, like my household does for most holidays. My kiddo really likes to watch the fires, and even though he’s not really clear on what’s going on yet, he’s keen to be involved! As he gets older, he’ll understand more and can decide how much he wants to participate but for the moment he likes to toss things in the fire whenever he’s allowed to!

I haven’t decided yet if I’ll do my solo ritual after the rest of them go to bed, or earlier, at sunset, but I’m leaning towards earlier rather than later. None of the rest of the people in my household really interact with the Fair Folk much. Not on purpose, anyway, though sometimes They follow me home or come in to deliver a message, or some such. I try to keep “office hours” as best I can, but serving a Fairy Queen is a full-time job! Still, there are some perks, and with any luck I’ll be dreaming of celebrations in the Otherworlds on Oíche Bealtaine, as I have sometimes in the past. (And returning home in the morning, Gods willing!)

* Yes, I know this isn’t how a lot of people spell it, but I think it’s important to use the Irish spelling when I’m going to be honoring Irish Fairy Monarchs, and this is the modern Irish spelling. Living culture and all that. See Also: Úna and Fionnbharr, both of which have other Old Irish spellings.

fae, Spiritwork

The Best Place to Meet The Good Neighbors Might Just Be Your Neighborhood

John Beckett wrote an article recently, about how we as pagans and magical workers ought to be paying attention to changes between the worlds, and I enjoyed it, and generally agree. As I think back, more than half of what I’ve done this past year in my spiritual-magical practice was just dealing with Otherworldly situations of one type or another:

  • Establishing and then maintaining relationships with who I refer to as my “Locals”, after I moved in March 2020
  • My regularly-scheduled oracular work, much of which focused on Otherworldly goings-on
  • Discussing Otherworldly turbulence with other practitioners (both local and not)
  • Divination to gain insight into Otherworldly encounters, both mine and others’
  • Helping friends and acquaintances deal with their own Otherworldly encounters
  • Etc.

The other less-than-half consisted mainly of ongoing divination studies, maintaining relationships with my Deities and other Allies, celebrating holidays, and using magic to help problem-solve mundane issues as they cropped up — business as usual in my life. I’ve also done my fair share of gardening and baking from scratch and attempting to entertain a lonely toddler who couldn’t go to the park or the pool during the pandemic, of course! But I think Beckett’s point that we need to be doing more than just mundane prep work, that we need to be monitoring the changes between the worlds is very important.

The article gives a rhetorical question: “So, what do we need to do to pay attention to the changes that are happening in the Otherworld and between the worlds?”, and then goes on to answer that: build foundations, be places you can observe, listen to your senses (including the inner ones), explore by journeying. Anyone who is familiar with Beckett’s writing will be unsurprised to see daily practice listed under foundations, and regular practice is definitely important, but I must admit my own practice is more “every couple of days on average” than strictly “daily”! I’ve never managed to do *anything* every day for longer than three weeks, but I do 3-4 days a week just fine for months at a stretch! So don’t be too disheartened if your practice looks more like mine, but I still generally agree with this point. It’s the second one that made me pause.

The second heading is titled “Put yourself in places to see what’s happening”, and while I agree with the starting premise (“if you want to encounter an Otherworldly person, your odds are much better if you put yourself in a place where they’re more likely to be”), I can’t say the same for the second half. It emphasizes the importance of going to wild places, and ends with the phrase “the wilder the better.”

I disagree.

I don’t think wilder is always better, when it comes to seeking out Otherworldly beings. Most of the Fair Folk I’m in most frequent contact with, I met somewhere nearby, often in one of the local suburban stream valley parks. I live in Northern Virginia, and while a lot of these parks are large and fairly sprawling, my chronic illnesses sometimes make it difficult to go longer distances across more complicated terrain, so I usually stay on or near the path, almost always somewhere I can still hear traffic noise in the background. And yet, I have encounters. Numerous encounters. Most any time I go out with the intention of finding a Local to wherever I am, in my own neighborhood, or in someone else’s (back when we could gather in groups!), I find Someone. Liminal times and places can be helpful, and the paved trails around here are liminal in their own way (as most people are only passing through) but they certainly aren’t very “wild”.

I think part of the reason that I have so many suburban encounters is simply because I, and most of my nearby friends, live in suburbia. That is the environment I am in the most often. In the places I frequent the most, I begin to develop relationships with the land wights and the nature spirits, as a matter of course, and along with that comes the possibility — or perhaps the likelihood — that I will eventually encounter whatever Otherworldly Neighbors also frequent these places. So if I walk out my door with the intention of meeting my Good Neighbors, I usually do. They have already “seen me around”, we already have friends in common, and the foundations for mutual hospitality have already been laid.

If I am somewhere very new to me, like when I travelled to conferences and events (back when those were in person!), I will give offerings and introduce myself to the land and the nearby nature spirits first, before I attempt to introduce myself to the Otherworldly Locals, and while I usually manage to find Them and exchange hospitality, it is in the wilder places that I have gotten the most push-back. Things like token acceptance, but no chit-chat; a sense of knowing that my offering is accepted, but no visions; only the bare minimum politesse. They are more standoffish, and I have fewer common relationships to draw on, especially when the human hosts are unknown to me. If I were looking for a new ally to help me better understand our current turbulence, I wouldn’t do it there. Do you talk to people who live somewhere else about your local weather and local politics, or do you talk to your nearby neighbors? I would think for most of us, it’s the latter, especially if we’re trying to understand the patterns, and not just recounting anecdotes. Your internet friends three timezones away might find your story about April Fool’s Snow interesting, but they don’t have the same kind of local knowledge as someone who’s lived in your town their entire life. When it comes to climate change, I’m interested in the wisdom of local humans. When it comes to the Otherworldly turbulence of Tower Time, I turn to the wisdom of Good Neighbors who’ve been been Local since before I came to this town — and perhaps also since before I was born, or before my grandparents were born, though they probably wouldn’t tell me!

The rest of Beckett’s advice seems good. Learning to develop one’s subtle senses is usually helpful, though I haven’t read Mat Auryn’s book, so I can’t comment on that, specifically. Exploring via journeys is something I’d also recommend, though I would suggest newbies start with Lora O’Brien’s Otherworld Journeys classes over at the Irish Pagan School. The first class is free, and after that there’s a lot of material at the higher levels. It isn’t how I learned to journey, but it does work well as remote learning for practitioners at any level. Experienced folk should be able to easily adapt to her methodology — I did! And the method is also designed specifically for the Irish Otherworlds, and as such, is designed to minimize some of the associated danger. I will still echo Beckett’s next point, though — this isn’t Safe. Exploring the Otherworlds isn’t safe, trucking with spirits isn’t safe, working for Deities isn’t safe, witchcraft isn’t safe. But it’s necessary work.

Likewise, I agree that sharing our stories is vitally important. I’ve been doing more of that, mainly on social media (in FB groups or on others’ posts mostly, and a couple of Discord servers), and in the few groups I was a part of pre-pandemic that I’m still regularly attending Zoom sessions for (which at this point is only the Potomac Ondvegisulur Seidr Guild, as the Fellowship Beyond the Star is somewhat on hiatus currently, though I hope to get back involved with our local UU Pagan group, Fox and Fungi at UU Reston). It helps to compare notes, to figure out what seems to be a larger pattern, and what may be a personal fluke instead. I have put some of it on this blog, and should maybe do more of that in the future, but with how fast everything seems to be changing, and with how deep into UPG Woo Land a lot of my stories are, at the moment I’m more comfortable sharing only the broad strokes of those insights in public, or contributing some details when they align with someone else’s experience. What and when to share, and when to keep silent instead, is a line I’m still figuring out how to walk, and I tend to err on the side of silence. Lately, however, I’ve been feeling like I should share at least the general shape of my interactions with the Fair Folk, and this seemed like a good place to start.

Note: Another thing worth mentioning, though it would have interrupted the stream of my discussion above, is that what most white Americans think of as “wild” or “wilderness” is a colonial construct, especially when the adjectives “pristine” or “untouched” get thrown around.  A lot of these places were carefully and gently tended by indigenous peoples for generations, possibly hundreds or thousands of years, before the settlers showed up and declared them “untamed”.  For more information on this, I suggest researching the importance of fires for maintaining the Great Plains, and the nurturing of berry patches and sugar maple forests in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Lakes regions.

Celtic Polytheism, fae, Paganism, Spellwork, Spiritwork

Riders on a Baleful Wind, and a Charm to Keep Them at Bay

This time of year, between the autumnal equinox and Samhain, is when I notice the most activity from a loose grouping of spirits I’ve begun to refer to as Riders on a Baleful Wind. I’m referring both to the Wild Hunt ⁠(or, really, Hunts, plural) and also to some of the Fair Folk⁠—trooping fairies who travel near these dates*, and groups like the slua sí, who are also associated with wind or storms, and overlap somewhat with the folkloric Wild Hunt.

As a folklore motif and a mythological archetype, the Wild Hunt is prevalent across much of Northwestern Europe, and the Hunt of each region has its own leader. Often these leaders are Pre-Christian deities associated with war or death, like Odin/Woden and Gwyn Ap Nudd. Other times they’re figures associated with the aos sí, like Manannán Mac Lir, or they’re said to be famous ghosts, like Herne the Hunter. These folk tales came with European Immigrants to the Americas as well, and here the Hunt is sometimes known as the Ghost Riders. (Some of you will be familiar with the song, I imagine.) Besides the leader, who or what exactly the rest of the company is varies from tale to tale. Sometimes they are human dead, sometimes they’re said to be fairies or demons, but most frequently these groups seem to be something of a motley crew. The overlapping circles of the Fair Folk, the Gods, and the Dead are difficult to pick apart, and it’s especially difficult to draw any clear lines when we’re looking at the Wild Hunt and related groups of weather-riding unfriendly otherworldly beings.

Unfriendly and intimidating though they may seem, not all of them are actually malevolent. That’s why I term them “baleful”, not “baneful”, and each individual group poses a different type and level of danger. Malevolent or not, however, they’re generally not spirits most witches want in or around their homes or places of business, and with that in mind I’ve been working on a charm object to add a little additional protection to whatever wards you already have in place.

Warding Charm

The charm itself is fairly small and would easily blend into an autumn wreath. The ingredients are pretty simple as well: a sweetgum ball, some red yarn, and iron water.

SWEETGUM BALL: One per charm, dried, preferably with the stem attached.

Part of the work I’ve been doing with the Ogham for the past two years (or more, really, but I think it was two years ago that I really started diving in deeply in a structured way) is finding local plants that have similar energy to the plants of the tree ogham list.** Sweetgum, a tree indigenous to my area, has an energy that I think is similar in some important ways to Blackthorn. While it doesn’t have thorns, it does have spiky seed balls, and its sweet-scented sap, like blackthorn sloes, is actually very bitter tasting. Additionally, it’s a favored food of luna moth caterpillars, an insect I have long associated with nocturnal fairy beings. Blackthorn is sometimes said to belong to or to ward off the Othercrowd, and I find Sweetgum fits that niche as well. I have since learned that sweetgum balls are also used in hoodoo for protection, which dovetails nicely with both my experience of the tree, and this charm.

RED YARN: Or thread, I suppose. Enough to wrap around the sweetgum ball twice at perpendicular intersections, and tie off to leave tails for hanging.

I decided to spin my own yarn. I’ve wanted to learn to spin for a long time, but until recently thought I was allergic to wool. It turns out, I’m probably reacting to a chemical used in the commercial processing, because I did a test with a friend’s fleece-to-homespun and had no redness, no itching, no bumps, no hives! Excited, I borrowed a drop spindle and purchased some red-dyed roving from an artisan supplier. They included a sample of some other colors and I used that to figure out a technique for spinning. That way, once I started on the red roving, I could focus more on spinning my intent and my power into the yarn, instead of still figuring out what the heck I was doing. If you don’t spin, I recommend braiding embroidery floss as a good alternative for adding your intent and power to the string. Something like: I’m a badass witch and I protect this space; I decide who enters and who the wards keep out.

Iron Water: Soak some nails in water with a little splash of apple cider vinegar for a few days. When it’s ready, dip the sweetgum ball, yarn and all, into the water and let it get saturated.

I doubt I need to tell most of my readers that iron is known to ward off the Fair Folk, but just in case you need the refresher: that’s why we’re using iron water. You could also stick those very nails into this charm if you wanted, but that’s a bit stronger than I wanted for my personal charms, and it would be a little too strong for some allies I don’t want to keep out. I wanted something vaguely iron scented. Enough iron to say that I know what I’m about, but not enough iron to deeply offend those who are welcome across my threshold.

This is also probably a good time to tell you that this charm, as I’ve made it, is basically a “No Tresspassing” sign. It’s not going to do much good if it’s your only line of defense. If you have decent house wards, though, and gods or allies you can turn to in times of need, that sign will be enough to make those Riders more inclined to go around, rather than through. There are fewer obstacles elsewhere, and easier prey to be found. As with most predators, that’s usually enough, as long as you don’t provoke them.

* Though the ones who travel near the autumnal equinox may be following the Pleiades, not the equinox. See Morgan Daimler’s recent writings on that for more information.

** Nota Bene: The Ogham is an alphabet, and it’s not just about trees. Trees are one of the ogham lists. There’s also word ogham, skill ogham, bird ogham, even dog and waterway ogham. Eventually I’ll make my own local herb and bird and waterways lists, too, and maybe a modern skills ogham. But a lot of my general witchy practice includes work with plants, so trees seemed like a good place to start.