Beltane is the anglicised version of our Irish word Bealtaine – still in use and meaning ‘the month of May’ in our own language. Bealtaine is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature, and it is associated with important events in Irish mythology.
Irish folklore still holds the legacy of the traditions and customs associated with this ancient festival. Bealtaine and Samhain are the original two turning points for the ‘wheel of the year’ in Ireland. That’s May Eve and Hallowe’en, in case you’re not familiar.
These major Irish Pagan Festivals were pivotal – literally – times of upheaval of change for our ancestors over 8,000 years ago when the Hunter Gatherer societies moved from their Summer to Winter camping grounds at these seasonal turning points, and they still resonate through the landscape and the Irish communities to this day.
Bealtaine – May Eve is a sidheógai [of the fairies] evening in the country. Green branches are placed over the doors of homes and stables, supposed to keep out the fairies from doing harm to the stock. The cabins and dairies are all locked this night to prevent fairies from taking away the milk and butter. (County Clare)The Schools Collection –
There are many strange customs connected with Beltane – May Eve. The ancient May Eve customs are now dying away. Long ago the young children especially girls used to go around from house to house dressed in beautiful flowers. These youngsters used to sing a song at each house and get a few pence in exchange. In former times May Eve was regarded as a great festival. The following were the principal customs connected with May Eve in ancient times. First sweep the threshold clean, sprinkle ashes over it and watch for the first footprints. If it is turned inwards it means a marriage and if it is turned outwards it means a death. Secondly May Eve pick it up and put it on a plate, sprinkle with flour and at sunset you would see the initials of your true love’s name. Thirdly light a bush before the house on May Eve and it is considered to keep away thunder and lightning. Another old custom was to go out May Eve and gather armful of yellow flowers known as May Flowers. These are strewn at the gate of every field, outside the doors of homes and out-houses and even on the housetops. It is considered that these would keep away ill-luck, evil spirits and disease. (County Limerick)The Schools Collection – https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4922074/4850082
Many old beliefs and customs were attached to May Eve and the month of May itself. For instance may-flowers were scattered around the house to keep away the fairies. Another old belief was that if a person washed his face in the May Eve dew he would not get sunburned during the Summer or he would not get wrinkles. Persons leaving presents of fresh milk and honey for the fairies would have a plentiful supply of butter and milk through-out the whole year. If a person was hit on the head with a bow-tree stick on May Eve he would not grow any more. Long ago the cow’s udder was washed with May-flower (?) on May Eve so that she would give plenty milk during the year. A person going through briars three times on May-Eve and saying “all the butter come to me” would have the power to steal butter. If a person went out on May morning and skimmed the water off the well he would be boss of the village for that year. Another old custom was to tie cowslips to the cow’s udder in order that the butter would not be stolen.The Schools Collection – https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427930/4358799
There is a rhyme about the month of May as follows:-
“A wet and windy May
Chills the haggard with corn and hay”
On May Eve people gathered different varieties of flowers and herbs which they mashed up. This mashed substance was called “Bealtanach”. It was rubbed on the cow’s udder and tits on May day. It was then believed that the cow would give a much better supply of milk and butter. (County Mayo)
Beltane, or Bealtaine as we prefer it, is a truly remarkable time of year in the Irish calandar, whatever religion you’re following.
It’s a powerful time when ‘the veil is thin’, as they say, and if you double down on this by being at locations which are traditionally ‘thin places’ in Ireland, and by tuning in to the customs and magic that have been carried through for countless generations… well. You’re tapping into pure Irish Draoícht right there.
Today, I wanted to learn about Wolves in Ireland.
Hold up, actually, let’s back it up a bit, and explain where I’m coming from, for those who aren’t familiar.
Each month on My Patreon Membership Site I release a series of Rewards through various tiers of membership/support. For example:
There are other reward tiers and benefits, but if you want more on that just pop over to My Patreon and take a look. The point I’m making is… each month, I look for inspiration for the Irish Folklore or Irish Mythology story to write, the Guided Journey to create and record, and the Sacred Site to visit.
This month (November 2018), I will be visiting one of the oldest Ogham stones in the country.
Now, it’s notoriously difficult to date stone, particularly when a lot of the Ogham Stones in Ireland have been moved out of context from their original positions and functionality.
But we know this one is pretty feckin’ old due to the lack of vowel affection… but I also love the inscription, which has been translated as: “Of Conda son of the descendant of of Nad-Segamon”.
The truly cool part of that though? (I mean besides the fact that we’re reading an inscription in an ancient script and language from 1600 years ago? Coz that bit’s pretty cool too, right?!)
The primitive name Cuna, or more recently Conda, means ‘champion of wolves’.
Champion of Wolves!
And so we get to the part – eventually – where I’m wanting to learn more about wolves in Ireland.
When I’m researching for my Patreon Stories each month, if I don’t have a particular character or deity from Celtic mythology or Irish legends that I want to have a look at, I’ll often dip into the Schools’ Collection over at Dúchas, the National Folklore Archive. It’s an amazing resource, do go and check it out.
Flipping through the transcribed Irish folklore tales about wolves, a particular one piqued my interest.
Only the second page of it was transcribed, so I quickly typed up the first page and registered it for approval (please do consider some transcription volunteering if you’re up for that!). Here’s the result, it’s not long:
Once upon a time there were two wolves on the Sliabh an Iarann mountains. The wolves used to kill everything they used to catch on the mountain. The people of the district sent for a man named Gildary (Gildea) to shoot the wolves. When the wolves would hear a whistle they would come to the place where the whistle was let. Gildea went up to the mountain and he started to whistle and one of the wolves came. Gildea fired at him. He had to hit him on the head between the two eyes on the star of his forehead. He had to shoot him with crooked sixpences. He fired several times at the wolf. At last he fell dead in the river which bounds Slievenakilla and Carntulla. The water ran red with his blood from the place where he died down to Lake Allen. After that the other disappeared. The wolf that was shot was much longer than a dog. The people were very glad when the wolf was killed because they could graze their cattle and sheep on the mountain then.
[ARCHIVAL REFERENCE] The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0206, Page 214
Now, a couple of things stand out for me here.
Sitting with it for a while, a story began to formulate, about the Tuatha Dé Danann – what happened to the members of the tribe who weren’t big names in the tales?
All of the elements matched up within the story I was telling, but I was a little stumped still about those crooked sixpences.
At first I thought about maybe a werewolf/silver connection, and wondered if my friends who study Irish lore as I do would have any insight.
Morgan Daimler, as usual, was exceptionally helpful (GRMA mo chara). But even they hadn’t come across the sixpence thing specifically.
Going with the possible wolves and silver bullets connection, I began to research what the old Irish sixpence was made of (Nickel, then a Nickel and Copper alloy), but that didn’t shed any light.
It was only when I saw the picture and was reminded of what it looked like that things started to make sense. An Irish Sixpence carried the image of a wolfhound. So, we’re into sympathetic magic territory now.
If I want to charm a weapon to harm a specific being, a great way to do it is to use an image to represent that being, name it for the target, and then bend or break the weapon – symbolically killing the being that it represents.
Now, if you add the physical element of doing that symbolically and energetically, and then using the bent weapon to literally shoot the target… there folks, we have ourselves some powerful magical weaponry. Powerful enough to kill a member of the Aos Sí.
Excited as I was to include this element in my story, I did a quick check in with myself (and my good friend Morgan), to make sure I wasn’t twisting the tradition in any way to suit my own ends.
Cultural Appropriation is difficult when it’s your own culture, granted, but I do still like to stay aware and make sure my work is faithful and respectful at all times.
Satisfied that what I wrote is “fair and true to the spirit of the folklore”, I finished the rest of the story.
Which sort of ended up accidentally also as a gay wolves love story, a little in passing, but there you go. Homosexuality is also fair and true to the spirit of the Irish tradition, as it happens 🌈👍
And that my friends, is an example of how we can unravel Old Magic in Irish Folklore. I teach a LOT more about Irish Magic in my courses on the Irish Pagan School:
The story we’re discussing is for Patrons only currently (but if you sign up for $3 now you’ll get instant access to that story PLUS over a year’s worth of other Tales of Old Ireland, and a new one every single month!) – Sign Up for $3 Here.
Or, if you’re reading this in December 2018 or beyond, you can go read the story right now…
In the center of Waterford there lies a place which long ago was the stronghold of the ‘Fir Bolgs’. This place is a large Lios descending into the ground for about two feet, and then in underneath for about four yards. At the end of this a round room is entered.
This room is built around with brick on either side. In the left hand side there is a trap door and a long dismal passage going down for about three feet and then there is heard the soft lapping of the river. About three miles down is the river. The Lios is surrounded by a deep trench going all around it. There is a legend told about the Lios, true or not.
There was a widow who had her house not very far from the Lios. This poor woman had only one child, a little girl. The child, when young used to spend her time picking flowers.
So, one May evening, she was picking a bunch of flowers as usual when she heard strange music in the direction of the Lios. The girl was young and had no sense and went to examine the matter. When she came near the Lios she saw a strange sight, a band of fairy people dancing, singing and playing music.
But, to the girls amazement, they advanced towards her and laid a magic spell over her and changed her into a fairy. Then they went back to the Lios with their comrades and all was over until morning.
In the morning the child thought of home, in spite of the magic spell that had bewitched her. She succeeded in arriving at the Lios when she found herself in the most admirable land of dolls, boys, dresses and everything that could attract one. She began to play with her new toys and forgot all about home. Soon the Queen took her by the hand and brought into a room.
She was made sit on a stool and was handed a bottle of milk and a whitethorne branch. She drank it and she was changed into a Princess.
When the Queen died she became Queen of Fairyland and was over all the fairies.
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0637, Page 129
Image and data © National Folklore Collection, UCD.
Let’s go now to a lake away in Italy, where a group of distinguished visitors – all elegant and intelligent folk, we can be assured – had gathered on the private yacht of a good friend of theirs, an Italian Nobleman by the name of Count Neilsini.
He was a proper gentleman, of refined tastes and company; so one of his guests, a Colonel, was very surprised to notice a crooked, grubby woman with her back to them, right down at the end of the boat. Due to the seating arrangements, the other guests were not in a position to observe as he was. Politely, he said nothing, but continued to watch her shuffling and swaying about down there, with no apparent purpose or employment.
Eventually his curiosity got the better of his manners, and he queried the Count as to who the queer looking old thing could possibly be, while keeping her in view out of the corner of his eye. The Count’s response concerned him, for he was assured that there were only the visiting ladies present, and one young stewardess elsewhere.
The other guests looked on in trepidation as he quickly rose from his seat, turning the corner and disappearing from their view, but not from their hearing, as he continued to protest that he was indeed correct, and he would fetch back the strange woman to prove it. His assertions turned to a scream of horror though, and when the other guests got to him he’d collapsed in a heap on the deck. There was nobody else to be seen at all.
By the time they’d brought him round, and the gibbering had stopped, he was the fuller for three large brandies but not exactly calm yet. The Count of course was demanding to know what had happened, but all the sense they could get from him was that he’d seen the woman’s face as she turned on his approach, and it was like “nothing belonging to this world.
It was a woman of no earthly type, with a queer-shaped, gleaming face, a mass of red hair, and eyes that would have been beautiful but for their expression, which was hellish. She had on a green hood, after the fashion of an Irish peasant.”
One of the ladies present was American, of Irish descent, and had heard of such a thing before. When she suggested that the description was like that of an Irish Banshee, the others laughed, but the Count grew pale, and decided to partake of some restorative brandy of his very own.
It turned out he was actually an O’Neill, or at least descended from one. His family name was Neilsini, but had been O’Neill not more than a century before, when his great-grandfather served in the Irish Brigade. On the Brigade’s dissolution at the time of the French Revolution, the Count’s grandfather had escaped the massacre of officers, and fled across the frontier to Italy in company with an O’Brien and a Maguire. When he died, his son (who had been born there, and was far more Italian than Irish) changed his name to Neilsini, and from then on the family was known by that name – but the blood in his veins was still Irish. None of the others knew what it could mean?
His concerned American guest solemnly explained that the appearance of the Banshee is a harbinger for the death of someone close in the family, though the person who shall die will never see the Fairy Woman for themselves. The Count quickly sent word to land that his wife and daughter were to be looked after well that night, and he would return first thing in the morning, for he was frightened it’d be them the Banshee claimed.
He needn’t have worried so much about them though, because just as his yacht touched shore – but before he set foot on Italian soil again – wasn’t the Count himself seized with a violent attack of angina pectoris, and died before the morning.
And that’s not the only time I’ve heard such tales of the Banshee, not by a long shot, but sure, they are all stories for another day.
Find a fresh one every month (plus a host of back content tales!) with the ‘Tales of Old Ireland’ Storytelling Reward for just $3 on www.Patreon.com/LoraOBrien.
It’s been suggested a couple of times that I should get on ‘the other side of the interview’, and talk about my own Irish Spirituality, and Pagan or magical practices. So recently I queried my Community for their questions on Irish Paganism and Spirituality (or my history/practice in particular). Then I went on FB Live and recorded the Video, which you’ll see below.
Morgan Daimler what is your favorite subject to teach or write about and why?
Morgan Daimler What do you think is the best way for someone to get started with Irish Spirituality, and how can a person (anywhere) avoid the usual pitfalls of bad information while building an understanding of the spirituality and the Gods and spirits?
Mac Tíre Would you have any advice specifically with regards to connecting to deity (even more specifically An Morrigan) E.g. like what you were saying in your interview with Oein DeBhairduin about contracts. Also appropriate offerings and what NOT to do.
Cat O’Sullivan Sometimes no matter how hard you try to avoid it you end up having to deal with the other crowd (the Good Neighbours, The Sidhe, the Irish Fairies). What would you recommend. Bargain, banter or banish?
Teididh McElwaine Question: Could you recommend how to wisely pursue like-minded, serious people in our respective communities? Thanks! (eg. Pagan community building)
Victoria Danger Yay! What parts of your devotion/practice/spirituality are centered on joy? Tell us about the parts that are fun or feel good 😊
Gemma McGowan Apart from teaching, writing and political activism (which I know is already a lot!!!) what other areas do your Gods ask you to actively work in e.g. Devotional practice, ritual, healing, specific types of magical work?
Cheryl Baker What does daily/weekly/monthly practice look like for you?
Marocatha Bodua Brigiani I’d love to hear you talk about magic vs religion in Irish spirituality – are those pieces separate for you, are they not separate, how do they integrate or not in your practice.
Branwen Stephanie Rogers Aside from the lore and researching, what do you consider foundational to your practice and spiritual well being?
J-me Fae What is a practice that you, personally, would like to see folks outside of Ireland integrating into their work on Irish Spirituality? What do people do that most honors the gods and land you love?
SallyRose Rivers Robinson What altar items do you see as making up an Irish Spiritual altar? Is there specific things that should be there? Specific things that shouldn’t? Is it strictly personal choices?
Pamela Holcombe Question: I hear you say you found yourself Wondering around the otherworld many times throughout your life before you understood the way of traveling there so curious what your most profound experience was there or scary interesting experience was? Also I find that I sometimes end up on my island in my dreams and travel around in the other world in my dreams do you do that also and do you think it’s pretty much like a journey we do awake?
Izzy Swanson What Carl Jung book would you read first? I printed a list of his collected works. My head may explode. I am most interested in his definition of the psychopomp.
Darla Majick What do you think about The Morrigan whiskey? I have it on our Morrigan Altar and love the bottle. Its not the best whiskey out there but it’s definitely not the worst. Ive blessed and cleansed ours before just putting in on Her altar. WE did ask her if she liked it and we did not get a negative response from her
Alanna Butler GallagherHave you ever tried to draw what you saw (in the Otherworld, ref. Pamela’s Q above)? That experience illustrated sounds like it would be a learning point for other people to not do that type of thing for the craic 🤔
J-me Fae Do you have any specific recommendations for parents looking to support their kids in building authentic connection with Ireland? I read the stories to them, share *some* of what I am doing with them (but I’m wary there), and we are all learning Irish together, but at least one of them is hungry for more
New Pagan Interview Series: I’m talking to people from international Pagan communities about their spiritual path, and the Facebook groups they help to organise and run.
When and where did your interest in Pagan/Earth based Spirituality begin?
Whilst my vocabulary and intellectual understanding did not go far till I was twelve I would say it was present from my earliest memories. This came through in my interest and love of myths and faerie tales, which I still have. I give talks on this subject and perform storytelling to this day.
I talked to everything: trees, toys and animals and loved films that involved magic, witches and wizards. I always wanted to be one.
With this I also had psychic experiences, some I interpreted as evil or dangerous which I have learnt as I matured were not. I would see and speak with faerie and other beings and in some ways it held such a common place I didn’t realise it was magical though I still wanted magic.
How did you practically go about getting started, and what resources did you have available to you – eg. books, teaching courses, events, people you met?
I wanted to explore all this more and when I was 12, an esoteric shop opened in my local high street. I can’t recall how but I had funds for some books and used my local library to take on as many books as I could on magic, paganism and divination.
I met some pagans early on but they wore glittery robes and to my mind were more style over substance, this made me keep my distance.
As I got older I tried again and found some intelligent, interesting and wonderful people.
Additionally I joined a spiritualist circle which allowed me to practice my communication with spirits as well as divination and healing.
What does being Pagan mean to you? (or your term of choice, please explain!)
Pagan to me today is an umbrella term for those practicing earth based spirituality, often reinvented or restructured, which is good as a religion of the earth should evolve, which a religion of the book tends to struggle with. I am more inclined to use the term witch or magician as my focus is on magical work. To me these are working titles, I am not interested in hierarchical titles or being called adept etc (which I am not) simply I work with various powers and in doing so these terms are titles of that.
Some see more in them and that is fine and some romanticise the terms and I am not sure how I feel about that. For me I have simply answered a calling but I still have to clean the kitchen and iron my clothes.
To me a Pagan path is essentially, a narrative of the earth, within various traditions are its own nuances.
What sort of things do you do on a daily/weekly, monthly or seasonal basis to explore or express your Spirituality?
I do daily meditations and simple rituals of stillness. Seasonally I perform basic rituals to bring in the power of the season to flow through myself, home and land. Or I just walk amongst nature and let myself connect. On Spring Equinox I like to go to Kew Garden for example. I like to walk in my local woods and see how things are growing and how it feels.
What advice do you wish someone had given you, that you would like to give people starting out on this path?
I realise that magic is in all things. It is in ritual and conversation it is in the kabbalah and the sun, the moon and the rain. It is all around us all the time and in our childhoods. I realised one day I knew more than I realised and that the bible I was raised in (not fundamentally) was full of magic, along with the faerie tales I grew up with.
It may seem obvious that faerie tales are full of magic, but getting at the patterns within them and the magical messages took me time. When we mature we think magic isn’t faerie tales, we know it as something practical and powerful. In being mature we let go of Childish things, but there is a difference being childish and being childlike and being childlike. Being childlike is a gift.
I think mystery is in that we know more than we are aware of and that awareness comes from experience.
What is the name of the Facebook Group you admin, and how did you get involved there? (please feel free to provide group details eg. member numbers or general guidelines, and a link to group)
The Centre of Pagan Studies has been going on for some time. I got involved last year after reading Philip Heselton’s biography of Doreen Valiente. I had been looking to give back to the Pagan community and found Doreen to be an inspiration person who had been involved so decided to offer to help. [The Centre for Pagan Studies FB Group is Here.]
What is the most frustrating thing for you about being involved with that group?
I think it can be frustrating to find the right vocabulary. In magic and Paganism we do not really have our own language so we have to work quite philosophically to communicate effectively. I have seen people essentially agree with each other but end up arguing as their words are interpreted differently. Ultimately it is not really a problem just a shame it’s hard to bypass.
What is the most satisfying thing for you about being involved with that group?
The fact that we remember those who came before us who made strides for Paganism. We have set up blue plaques for people like Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente. Also people involved are very engaged in the subject matter and we discuss often some ancient practices which some people still practice or have come across. We attempt to provide both an educational resource (giving talks for example) and discussing these subject matters keeping it organic and shifting.
If you could guarantee that each group member had read AT LEAST one book before joining, what book would that be?
I think it would be hard to pin point one book but I would go back to faerie tales. To have read some of the Grimm brothers work and look into the early stories as well as the colour books (The yellow fairy book, red fairy book etc compiled by Andrew Lang).
There are some great occult books out there and some bad ones, though I found all of those helped me develop a magical vocabulary.
Further to this I would encourage to read history and anthropology as well as classical texts.
Anything else you’d like to share?!
Whilst books are great the essence of magic is doing it and living it. The essence of paganism is in practicing it and living it. Keep it simple and embrace the stories you were told growing up and the cartoons you may have seen (often based on these books). When you have conversations remember language is insufficient to express magic and spirituality. So take care. When I talk to magical practitioners of various traditions if you work to find a common language, we find we have a lot in common.
I would encourage people to tread lightly and to take their time and to listen.
Richard Levy works with the Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation.
BIO: I began my pagan path at a young age but and magic is something I feel was always a part of my life. But with time I learned how to nourish this part of myself. I feel today we are encouraged to ignore these parts of who we are and it is something we re-learn. It is in many ways learning to do what breeze and river and bird do naturally. I studied philosophy and theology at university and whilst I did not have formal training I learned a lot from people I met along my path from Children to adults. Should people want to contact me about the interview they can contact me on: email@example.com
It starts with the Sidhe, good readers, The Good Neighbours, or the Fairies as you may know them.
The Irish have a very matter of fact view of the Sidhe, whatever we call them by. Today and tomorrow, hawthorn trees and bushes will be left right alone, because the fairies like to rest there. Best not to disturb them, just in case. It is happening somewhere in Ireland every day, by people who would not, not ever in a million years, think of themselves as any sort of Pagan type.
The fairies are still respected, and largely feared. You don’t annoy them, neither through ignorance or thoughtless action. And a lot of us here in Ireland couldn’t even tell you – or wouldn’t at least – why this is so.
At a time when (mostly innocent) people were being burned and hanged all across Europe, in the tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands – figures are unclear, even yet, but 9 million seems a little on the excessive side), Ireland was relatively unscathed.
Were there less odd old women in rural villages here? Anybody walking through a rural village in Ireland today will likely find themselves tripping over odd old women, so that seems unlikely.
They are a staple of Irish village life, in all their muttering moustachioed glorious strangeness, and I seriously doubt the Middle Ages were any different. So why the lack of burning or hanging for the odd old Irish women, compared to contemporary European counterparts?
A theory of mine is the sheer practical integration of the fairy culture over here. Picture the scene in a small German village (Germany displayed perhaps the most voracious of appetites for witch rooting and killing, whole villages were decimated) – odd happenings abound, milk turns sour, butter won’t churn, children and animals sicken, even die… the villagers begin to look around suspiciously for the cause.
Often, suspicion alights on the odd old woman who lives at the edge of the village, smells a bit peculiar, maybe has a bit of extra knowledge about animals, plants, or healing, and before you know it, the poor oul one finds herself tied to a ducking stool and taking a bath she hadn’t planned for. You get the picture – clichéd, certainly, but these things are clichés for a reason.
Same deal, in an Irish village… the villagers instead begin to wonder if someone has been throwing their dirty wash water out in the wrong place, and look to their own homes for the remedy – a little extra butter left out, or whiskey or cream, a few other bits and pieces of fairy friendly house or farm work that might need to be picked up on again, and that’s that. The odd old woman on the edge of the village gets to stay smelly and dry and muttering to herself for a wee while yet.
And it still holds today. The average Irish person now probably won’t be integrating fairy culture into their everyday life, but when they come across it, either from a modern Pagan type or the old boy down the pub who still remembers, it’s given a respectful listen at least, even if it’s then usually passed over with a casual shrug.
But if it comes in the form of a warning, the listening gets a bit more careful, and there might even be actions taken, or not taken as a result. When asked directly, they will say they don’t believe in fairies, for the most part – but maybe that there’s no harm in being careful.
Better safe than sorry, right?
Excerpt from ‘A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality’, by Lora O’Brien
2012, Wolfpack Publishers, Ireland.
The fire crackled and hissed, as life escaped from sticks and seeped from turf that had lain long idle in watery bogs. Each new noise made him jump a little, each spark that fell seemed fascinating to a mind that hungered to focus on something, attend to anything but the blank white page before him.
There was no sound from outside the cottage though, at this hour even the night creatures usually heard shuffling along on their business were abed. He had sat through the long, empty darkness all alone, again, since he had banished her from the house. He couldn’t have accepted what she had to offer. The price was too high, the cost too great to bear. Many had warned him through long years of training, of the possibility that she might appear. Or one like her, for there were many who sought the likes of him in this land, many who would pull and call and tempt and offer the worlds to a poet’s soul. His Masters had gone through it with each apprentice, and when it came his time to teach he had issued the same dire warnings, extolled the same ghastly consequences.
Out of the mounds they came, the Leanán Sidhe. Fairy Lovers: bright was their light, their gifts, their love. Strong burned the creative fires that they stoked and tended in a poet’s soul; his musical, magical, poetic inspiration, but with the gifts were balanced the ties that bind, for once a Fairy Lover gained entry to a man’s body and soul, she did not ever give them back. Their love was a deadly delight.
She had come to him first on a night just like this. A fire burning in the hearth of his small cottage on the hillside, a long and lonely night awash in the void of mundanity, with not a trickle or a spark of creative inspiration to be found. The gentle tap tap tapping on a window, thought at first to be a branch or twig, but persistent enough to breach the miasma surrounding his heavy head. When he opened the door, she stood a little out of the light that spilled into the night, back from the threshold, and she spoke to him quickly, offering all the things they had said she would, in a voice as soft as the velvet nub on a new calf’s horns. He listened, and was tempted, and resisted; refusing to invite her inside, refusing to accept the offers… but knowing that his refusal bound her to him as surely as he would be bound to her if he had accepted.
That was three moons ago now, and she had never left.
Constantly calling, she haunted his dreams, and shadowed the windows of his house as she circled each night. Her voice came to him awake or asleep, whispering dreams when he had no defences, tapping at his attention when he would try and concentrate, or create. Useless, pointless exercises that served no purpose other than to frustrate him. She stayed beyond his reach, impossible to banish, although the Rowan and cold iron charm his old Master had recommended for the threshold served the purpose of ensuring that she could not cross, no matter the weakened state she found him in. He was safe inside.
As he stared again at the plain white sheet that signalled his failure, his lack of resource, he realised that he’d had enough. In a dream, he rose from the table in the centre of his room, and walked to pull open the door. Reaching up, he ripped the charm from the lintel, raised his arm, and threw his protection out into the blackness beyond. Then he waited.
When she came, it was with a sigh of silk that instantly calmed his mind and balmed his spirit. His eyes drank her beauty, as she touched his flesh and entered his home. She would drink of his love, and give in return, and his pages would fill with bounty… until she took all that he was.
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The subject of fairies in Celtic cultures is a complex one that seems to endlessly intrigue people. What exactly are fairies? What can they do? How can we interact with them? Answering these questions becomes even harder in a world that is disconnected from the traditional folklore and flooded with modern sources that are often vastly at odds with the older beliefs. This book aims to present readers with a straightforward guide to the older fairy beliefs, covering everything from Fairyland itself to details about the beings within it. The Otherworld is full of dangers and blessings, and this guidebook will help you navigate a safe course among the Good People.
Those who know me, know I’m no stranger to Daimler’s work.
Is it too early to start raving about this book? It might be too early to start raving about this book.
Inside you’ll see chapters on…
Each chapter is excellent, academic and in-depth but eminently readable; treated with Daimler’s usual deep passion for the topics, and a touch of soft humour here and there.
Ok, now I’m gonna rave about it. I LOVE THIS BOOK!
As a native ‘Celtic’ (Irish) priest of the Old Ways here in Ireland, I view all of Daimler’s work as an invaluable resource, and highly recommend anything that flows from that brain.
The world needs more people teaching everyone how not to get screwed by the Fair Folk 😉
(these are affiliate links, I’ll get a few cents if you shop through them, but it doesn’t cost you anything!)
There was a young man in Clare, a miller’s son, whose name was Padraig. He worked hard for his father, for they hadn’t much, but every day he went to the mill he would have to shout and shuffle the lazy labourers out there to get them to do even a tap of work. One of the days, when they had a big order on, he couldn’t even get them to raise a toe, never mind a finger, and when he went to check at end of day, didn’t he find them all fast asleep – and not a bit of the corn was ground for the order.
Frustrated and furious, he walked out along the stream for a bit, and was sitting head in hands when he heard a fierce snorting behind him. Turning, he met a large black bull, pawing the ground and about to charge. Now, Padraig knew there was no such bull with his family nor with the neighbours, and his own mother was a fairy woman, who’d been telling him old tales since he was born – so he could well recognise a Pouca no matter what form it was taking. He stood and said that if the Pouca would help his family that night, he’d give him his own thick coat to wear, for it was fierce cold. He laid the coat over the shoulders of the bull, and it rested down meek as a lamb, then lumbered off back up to the mill. Padraig sat for a while by the stream, his head much quieter, and waited, for the fairies don’t like to be disturbed in their work. After a time, he saw an old man leave, away into the scrubland behind. The poor thing was skin and bones, and cold even with the heavy coat draped over him, for he was dressed only in rags beneath. When Padraig went into the mill though, he saw the corn all ground; a week’s work had been done in a single night and it certainly wasn’t the labourers who’d done it, for they were still snoring.
The next night, Padraig was back by the mill at the same time, with a drop of whiskey and a bit of a cake his mam had made, and left them by the door. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before he heard the mill working away, and he knew again it wasn’t the labourers, for they were all still down at the pub. He went and dismissed the lot of them, and was back in time to see the Pouca leave the same as the last night. This happened every night, and the family grew very rich, for the miller was getting a week’s work done in a night, and he never had to pay a wage other than the whiskey and a bit of cake of an evening. But Padraig grew tired of seeing the Pouca heading off through all kinds of weather with not even a shoe on his foot, nor trousers to keep his skinny old legs a bit warm. So he got a superb suit of clothes made up, and left them out one night in place of the usual whiskey and cake.
He watched the Pouca find them, try them on, and preen as he examined himself looking like a fine gentleman. Indeed, he must have thought himself such, and fine gentlemen don’t labour each night in a mill, so he took himself off to see the countryside, and laboured no more. But Padraig didn’t mind, for they were wealthy by then, and sold the mill for good profit. He made a match after with a Lord’s daughter, and had a fine wedding party with all the trimmings. At the feast, he found a grand golden cup laid up at the top table, and knew it to be a gift from the Pouca, so he insisted that only himself and his bride drink from it that day, and every day thereafter. The couple never had a day’s bad luck in their lives from then on, and their descendants went on to many adventures with the fairies.
But sure, they are all stories for another day…