Bringing the faeries home

My research was largely based on my experiences going to different sites around Ireland. I was lucky enough to do so, and will forever look back at this summer as one that changed my life, but one unsatisfying aspect was the fact that I didn’t have any physical evidence of my research. And I wasn’t happy with the prospect of leaving all of it in Ireland. Fortunately, though, I was able to bring it home in one very important way: through books.

I was very interested in the manner through which faeries are portrayed in modern Irish literature. It was a fascinating aspect of my research, on par with visiting the different locations. And I bought a LOT of books. It was quite an act, fitting them into multiple suitcases and trying not to sell my first born to the airline in order to get them home. But I did get them home, luckily, and have read quite a few. Largely, I can fit Irish faerie literature into three categories: children books, spiritual books for religions such as wicca, and historical works about the Celts.

The first category, books for children, sports titles like “A Field Guide to Irish Fairies” and “Favourite Irish Legends.” The former is a fairly dependable work that describes variations of fairies that have become popular in cultural depictions of the Irish fairy faith. It has standard entries such as leprechauns, changelings, and banshees. The latter is just a compilations of famous stories from Irish mythology, written in a manner suitable for children. Almost all the books I found regarding Irish heroes were written for children.

Medb puzzle

The second category has to do with describing how one may harness the magic of Irish gods and goddesses in a spiritual manner in order to supplement the Wiccan faith. They contain fairly accurate passages about gods and goddesses, but will always finish with spells one can perform or special concoctions one can drink in order to get the mythical ‘magic’ for themselves. This interpretation was one I never ran into in Ireland, so I can only imagine that these types of works are garnered specifically for individuals of those beliefs who use mythological characters in order to achieve a spiritual desire. I thought these books were fascinating in the way they allowed people to directly interact with this Irish mythology, but they were misleading as well, because the modern Irish faerie is more likely to have something to do with Christianity, specifically the Catholic Church, than they are the Wiccan religion. What is most fascinating about the remnants of fairy faith found throughout Ireland is how it is molded in order to coincide with the contemporary world.

My name written in the Celtic language Ogham.

And the third category is one with which I had already had a great deal of interaction. Books about the Celts always include quite a bit about Celtic mythology because that was, of course, a huge part of the Celtic lifestyle. They are fascinating, especially when I can read them and draw clear connections between those ancient beliefs and modern superstitions. Like the importance of boundaries in that they weaken the distinction between this world and the otherworld — May 1st and November 1st are still incredibly important days in Ireland, especially with those who still sport those old superstitions, because that is when the two halves of the year meet, creating boundaries. Important events often happen on roads, near fence lines, or by a river — either man made or natural boundaries. I would say that these types of books were most widely circulated in Ireland, along with children’s books.

Only three books, in my mind, adequately and accurately portray how many in Ireland still view faeries, and how the beliefs have developed alongside modernity: “The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries” by W.Y. Evans-Wentz (the work off of which I based my research), “The Book of Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland” by W.B. Yeats, and “Meeting the Other Crowd” by folklorist Eddie Lenihan. The first I have already explained was immensely helpful, just in exposing me to the beliefs that several still hold, or that the grandparents of many Irish people held. The second, by W.B. Yeats, was fascinating, not only in giving standard information about how individuals interact with faeries, but in exposing more about how Yeats interacted with these beliefs. He and Lady Gregory were invaluable in their collection of Irish stories and folklore.

But the third book, I think, has inspired me the most in my attempt to continue my research later on. Published in 2001, it is a fairly modern work that contains testimonies from Irish individuals of stories they were told regarding faeries or personal experiences. I think what makes these three books most important in my mind is that they aren’t referring to fairies, or even gods or goddesses. They’re referring to faeries — remnants of those gods and goddesses, the forgotten people of the Tuatha de Danaan. They aren’t depicted as little people or as screaming women warning of doom. They’re otherworldly <i>people</i>. Testimonies will explore the manner in which priests or people of the Church will interact with the Otherworld. There are several that just tell stories of an Irish person going home and suddenly finding themselves joining in a faerie football game. And almost always the individuals are afraid — they fear being taken by the faeries. They can’t eat their food or be with them at a certain time or they will risk being lost forever. And that’s, I think where a great deal of the superstition comes from. Fear, and a belief in something else. Something that’s not as black and white as modern religion, but something that comes from an ancient past. And that’s why Ireland, especially, is so absolutely unique. Because even though Christianity has a solid foothold in the country, and even though monks came in and converted the ‘pagans,’ the mythology was never lost. It still isn’t lost.

(And I may not have physical evidence, but I do have two stones: one from Knock Ma, the other from Knocknarea. I guess I’ve brought the faeries home in that way, too.)