Thinking About – Faerie, Fairy, and the Box of Woo

For the past eighteen months I’ve been immersed in an Otherworldly Journey. It started last April when Cerri and I took a working holiday in Wales. We booked a little self-catering cottage just outside Bala and there, in this tiny little space, I began typing away on my iPad. If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll know that this was the culmination of many years thinking about how best to tell the tales that have been of such nourishment and joy to me. I’m talking of course of the tales of the Four Branches of the Mabinogion (Y Mabinogi).

I listen to a lot of Pagan podcasts, and read as many of the Pagan blogs as I can, and I’ve noticed that the Faerie have, for some, been placed in the Box of Woo, along with Unicorns, love and light, and other so-called New Age thinking. I get that. The Victorian Tinkbell Fairy, with her gossamer wings, and sparkly wand has, within the popular psyche, replaced the Fae’s folkloric origins. Large numbers of people now attend Faerie Festivals – I play my music at some and they are great events. But these are not the Faerie with whom I have walked for the duration of this Journey. Of course, like many people my relationship to the Fae has been ongoing since my childhood. But the depth and meaning of that relationship has taken on a whole new meaning now.

The Faerie of folklore are a far cry from the gossamer winged tiny beings that live in the films of Disney.

Ok, this is difficult.

I don’t want to come across all well ‘ard Pagan here. One of the things that makes me uncomfortable is when I listen to, or read something, that gives the impression that to be of value in Paganism things must be well ‘ard. Before I go too far I must say that I value the depth of love and light too, as well as the shadows, and what lessons can reside there. The fulcrum of balance should be considered – too much love and light and one can lose the ability to exist in the apparent world. Too much shadow and one can disappear up ones backside thinking love is for wimps – when in fact it can be one of the hardest feelings to express. But as is so often said, the greater the light, the darker the shadow. One cannot exists without the other.

So now I’ve got that out of the way I’ll get back to the Faerie.

These Otherworldly beings exist in mythologies all across the globe. Not all call them Faerie, but there is another realm that, for many centuries, has been placated with offerings in the countryside, outback, and bush. Here in Britain we have a rich tradition of Faerie Lore. From the Highlands of Scotland to the tips of Cornwall and the South East the Fae have made their presence known to those who have the sight to see. In Ireland the Old Gods and heroes are said to have retreated from our apparent world into the Hollow Hills through the Sidhe mounds. Here in Sussex the Pharises (a corruption of ‘Faerieses’, in old Sussex dialect) still haunt the old hill forts. One of them, Puck, has found a home in plays and books, but the Puck is also related to the Bucka, Pooka, and many another mischievous and challenging Spirit. Put the Bucka in the Box of Woo? Yeah. Good luck with that… Try to do the same with the Cornish Spriggan and we might have to address our ideas of what actually lays in the shadows.

The Fae of folklore are to be respected, and given space too. To me the Spirits of Place are also a part of the Lore of Faerie. The Spirits that live within the waters of Llyn Tegid, the heights of Dinas Emrys, or the ramparts of Chanctonbury Ring to me are very real. When I went to some of the sites associated with the Mabinogion last April I felt those Spirits, those denizens of Annwn, turn their heads towards me and look deep into my soul. Testing me. I was about to tell their stories. I asked for their blessings and promised my best to do them honour with my words and music. The Power I felt from Annwn was overwhelming. Again, put that into the Box of Woo? I don’t think so.

Annwn is a place of heroes, and also the place of the Andedion, the Grey Folk. Arawn, with his pack of hunting hounds, with white fur and red ears, Rhiannon of the pale horse rides across our hills still, carved into the land by ancient hands, her story for to share. Lovely Branwen, and her brother the mighty Bendigeidfran are already knocking on my door as I place the finishing touches on the First Branch, and look towards Harlech, and Ireland, for the Second Branch.

In my opinion the Faerie shouldn’t be placed in the Box of Woo. Their tales are the very Bones of Albion itself. Not just Albion, but many other lands too. On a very self-centred level our stories and old songs help us to reconnect to the soil beneath our feet, to the lake, to the mountain. They help us develop relationship. And as that relationship deepens, so the tales of the Bones of the Land reveal more and more to us. Upon the wind that blows across the land, the tales of the Grey Folk can be heard as whispered voices from some Other land – a land utterly alien to ours, but that exists in exactly the same space.

22 Comments

  1. Paul Newman August 15, 2017 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    Boom.

  2. Kevin Thompson August 15, 2017 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    Help out an American brother – well ‘ard?

    • Damh the Bard August 15, 2017 at 12:52 pm - Reply

      Well hard. It’s a London colloquialism that means tough. Like a tough guy.

    • John Chambers August 15, 2017 at 12:57 pm - Reply

      Well = seriously, ‘ard = hard (serious, difficult, or challenging.)

      It’s another way of saying “hard core.”

  3. Canu August 15, 2017 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    Feels like great stuff coming, Damh! The land and fae are calling us, both to task and to partnership. Blessing as the fire in your head springs forth while you stand with a foot in each world.

  4. John Chambers August 15, 2017 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    One of the most difficult things to do in the over-rationalized modern world is to accept the idea that not everything has well-defined edges, and that the fuzzy edges, or liminal zones, are the gateway to a different world of new perspectives, new ideas, and freedom of the spirit. Consider the river and the bank. Most of us love sitting beside the river, on the bank with friends, family, and a picnic as it burbles along. There is that nice clean boundary. When you get to a marsh, where the water moves slowly, and rushes and reeds mislead us about where land begins and river ends, most are less comfortable there, but that slow-moving water passing through those grasses is being filtered and cleaned and hosting a huge variety of wildlife. On the one hand, you have the dragonfly and the frog, and on the other, you have the leeches ready to latch on to that unprotected big toe, but they are all part of the web of life. The ancient Druids seemed to have understood this and were drawn to these zones of transition. Follow them and free your mind and spirit.

  5. andrew bridges August 15, 2017 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    I couldn’t agree more.

  6. gwyx August 15, 2017 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    This was beautiful. Thank you from my heart.

  7. Anne August 15, 2017 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    100% agree with what you’ve written. I have felt the presence of the Fae many times & I always listen to what they are telling me. I know that they have been with me all my life & I’m thankful for their presence.

  8. Terri August 15, 2017 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    well said!

  9. Heather August 15, 2017 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    Very nice article!
    It seems to me sometimes like many of the qualities originally ascribed to the Fey have in recent times been co-opted by the Vampire. The tall, beautiful, immortal, otherworldly, dangerous, magically powerful being that puts a mirror to our human nature by being somehow ethically different than us used to be the Fey, while the Vampire was little more than a ghoul. Now the Fey are represented as Tinkerbell and the Vampire fills their place. But our current conceptualization of them does not change their nature or history.

    • Cathie Rayes August 16, 2017 at 12:01 pm - Reply

      Oh my gosh! This makes so much sense to me–and the current vampire craze was inexplicable before!

  10. Sion ap Thomas August 16, 2017 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Your comment “When I went to some of the sites associated with the Mabinogion last April I felt those Spirits, those denizens of Annwn, turn their heads towards me and look deep into my soul. Testing me. I was about to tell their stories. I asked for their blessings and promised my best to do them honour with my words and music.” struck a real chord with me in a slightly different context.

    There are regular discussions on “folk” boards about whether you need to learn the words of the songs you sing or whether you can just read them. I don’t want to get into that discussion itself (everyone is different and the most important thing is for songs to be sung) but I’ve always felt that I should know a song fully before I sing it. Most people talk about respect for the listening audience but I’ve always felt I do so more out of respect for the song itself. Getting to the point, the songs I sing tend to be narrative songs and your phrase “those denizens of Annwn, turn their heads towards me and look deep into my soul. Testing me” sums up what I feel perfectly. It’s not so much the song as those who stand behind it, whose stories are being told, that I feel are watching me and saying “If you really care for me you’ll tell my story from the heart”. I doubt I’ll try to explain it to the usual folk song discussion participant that way – in fact I try to stay out of the discussion most of the time – but you’ve clarified something for me. Thank you.

  11. Ann August 16, 2017 at 10:33 am - Reply

    WOW!!!! Well said, childhood knowledge as well, not from fairy stories either. Goosebumps throughout article.

    THANKS

  12. Sonia Smith August 16, 2017 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    Ah yes, a well written article Damh.

    I think you have voiced here a lot of what many of us feel. It is sometimes difficult to get to know the Fae in some ways as they have their own peculiarities. Those places where the veil is thin, those times when circle is cast and the Gates open. Or when you dream in waking or sleeping moments.

    We have a legacy in the Old Tales. The Arthurian stories, the tales like Melusine of Lusignan, the folklore of different places. The Fae peep round corners at us as we read, or as we listen to song or story, or sit in woodland glades, or up on high hills or stone circles. We feel them there, yet they are elusive quite often. But often in dream they come. Beautiful, yet somehow dangerous.

    Thank-you for this, it has evoked something from the Bones of Albion, and maybe elsewhere too.

  13. Louise August 16, 2017 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    Thank you, I suddenly feel very stilled, wondering who is watching me. It’s so easy to get disconnected these days and this blog post made me stop and feel that sense of awe again <3 We may not see these other worldly beings, even if we really believe they are there – I wonder if it is the same for them – maybe they don't see us as much as sense us when we come close to their boundaries. Either way they know when their stories are being told. Some lovely comments on this post 🙂

  14. Lorrimunn August 16, 2017 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    I agree totally Damh! Giiving some the impression that they are pink and have gossamer wings is probably them having a joke on us!
    They rule their own ‘kingdom’ and you tread very carefully….. but I wont write the essay. The old myths tell the story better than I can.

  15. Much Miller August 17, 2017 at 9:01 am - Reply

    It would seem that as humanity has strayed further and further from our natural origins and become more and more “civilized” we have successively diminished and trivialised the stature and the magic of those beings that live on the otherside of the threshold beyond the seen — In truth I personally feel that we come from there ourselves and have been given the 3 dimensional experience with the body clothing we have for some reason – it is a puzzle we need to fathom out. Its almost as if we try to diminish them as a way of convincing ourselves that they don’t really exist, they are just our imagination and this serves for the ends of materialism for that mindset can kid itself that it can sit more easily as the forests are cut down, the rivers dammed up, the mountains mined, the oil extracted etc. but one gets the feeling that if anything their stature is actually growing and their forces are gathering in order to out this back in balance. Blessings from the Somerset Levels, lands of transition!!!

  16. Pamela Meekings-Stewart August 18, 2017 at 6:43 am - Reply

    “In Aotearoa, New Zealand, in the misty mountain tops or deep in the forests lived the patupaiarehe – fairy-like beings who were seldom seen. They could lure people away from safety with the music of their flutes, and had magical powers and special knowledge. Some believe that red-haired Māori are their descendants”. No Maori warrior, All Black or NZ Druid would dare consign them to the Box of Woo! Kia ora

  17. michelle August 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Definitely agree.

    I find the Box of Woo tends to belittle and trivialise whatever is put in there and panders to our egos and need to be dominant of the natural world – a little like the Christian philosophy of God making the world and everything in it and giving Man dominion over it all. Most of the time its an unconscious thing since we’ve been told we’re the most important thing in the world and can treat it as we like for centuries.
    You only need to connect with the Elemental world ( IF they’ll let you and you ask them VERY nicely ) for a second to realise there’s no way they’re going in any box, Woo or otherwise. They are where they belong, its us who are trespassing. They view us with every approach from tolerance to indulgence, irritation to anger and if you’re really stupid, outright fury depending on our attitude and actions. They deserve respect, courtesy and recognition that they’ve been here longer than we have.

  18. Margaret Coles August 20, 2017 at 10:36 am - Reply

    There is a place named The Asha Centre in The Forest of Dean, some of you will know of it. Forests are most special areas to me, having lived as a child near Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, I felt the trees were always waiting for me to join them. Asha is really part of sacred ground, having St Anthony’s well water running through it’s grounds. I know that all the Earth is sacred, but some areas are more than willing to demonstrate this to seekers. When some serious clearing work had to be done, I was asked to communicate with the Deva’s and explain to them, the reasons for this exercise. I stood at the top of the grounds and called out, honoring their care and reassuring them that the work was to cleanse and further support the natural advantages of this sacred place.The exercise went on very smoothly and improvements are ongoing in the sense of bringing out the energy for the benefit of all. It is a place where one can visit, perhaps feeling weary, even ill and care worn. Everyone leaves, having experienced what ever level of support they may have needed and all know they are loved. Added blessings to all. Margaret.

  19. Icy Sedgwick August 24, 2017 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    I grew up in Newcastle so I’ve grown up with the tales of the Fae in Northumberland…and they are very definitely NOT fluffy and sparkly. Ironically, we have a few tales connected with the Genius Loci through the Roman occupation of the area so it seems they understood the idea of place-bound spirits even if we don’t. But you can thank the Victorians and their sanitisation of the faery as part of their cult of childhood for the current depictions of them.

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