Faeries, druids, and Christianity

There are only ten more days until I leave for Ireland, and all I’ve only been thinking about faeries and the celtic otherworld, along with how I should go about getting euros while still in the United States. Everything seems to be in order for my first ever trip abroad (or, as “in order” as it could ever be), and most of my time has been spent reading 100-year-old accounts of faerie visitations, stories which range from sightings of a ghostly chariot that carries away the souls of the dead to leaving windows and doors open in houses to prevent faeries from getting caught in homes.

As I’ve been reading and researching, I’ve limited my scope to average superstitions and general interactions between modern Ireland and its mythological past. There were, originally, a lot of different ways I could go. There are still some communities that not only celebrate Ireland’s mythological past, but claim to belong to it. The History Channel did a special on magical locations in Ireland and Wales, and at the Hill of Tara, a very important Irish mythological landmark, the host of the showed interviewed a modern day druid. Similarly, at a recent excavation in the British Stonehenge, modern druids blessed the site before the dig began. With these discoveries I have been able to focus my project. I am very interested in individuals like those modern day druids, but I think I want to enhance my investigation regarding average Irish citizens and how they interact with their past. And, of course, relate that to the modern political situation and cultural traditions. If I have time, though, I still hope to speak to some druids, maybe comparing that extreme acceptance to others’ resistance to Celtic mythology.

Another aspect of the research that has really caught my attention is the way in which Christianity involves itself in Irish mythology. Ancient Celtic religions, of course, existed in Ireland before Christianity spread. Saint Patrick is credited with bringing the religion to Celtic druids, and there is a fascinating story regarding his infiltration of the Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of Irish Kings, that anyone interested should read. In Wentz’s work, many individuals characterized their relationship with faeries as having to do with Christianity. Eventually, the faerie definition even changed, and the Tuatha de Danaan were characterized as unfallen angels. One of the reasons I was so drawn to Ireland academically was the fact that its literature has remained relatively untouched by Christian influences. The Christian monks who put together the stories that had traditionally been told orally added few Christian traditions, and those which were added are easily recognized when reading. In my mind, this tolerance towards what would have been considered paganism allowed the faerie tradition to remain intact, even as Christianity thrived in the country. Famines were at times explained through faerie activity rather than drawing on Christian reasoning. When the race of men who currently inhabit Ireland, The Sons of Mil, invaded, the Tuatha de Danaan were given the area beneath Ireland to inhabit. Their world became Tir na Nog, the land of eternal youth, and some claim to still see the souls of the dead passing over the land, on their way to live with the faeries in Tir na Nog. It became a sort of Irish heaven, still existing hand-in-hand with the Christian heaven.

Comments

  1. Jill Found says:

    Katie, your project sounds really cool! I’m excited to hear more about your progress now that you’ve gotten to Ireland, I’m sure you’ll find some interesting things. I think the interaction between Irish Christianity and Ancient Celtic religions and how they relate to how people view they “mystical.” Can’t wait to read more!